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What It Means To Finish

Last week I received word from my editor: on my end, NOTHING LEFT TO BURN is complete.

I’m done.

Finished. Done. Complete. In the fall of 2005, I committed to writing a novel about a girl named Audrey. And now, in the fall of 2017, I have finally (FINALLY) finished the task and that story (albeit a very different version of it) is being sent to the printers and will be bound in hardback. What the hell. What the hell. A passion and task that has been in my life FOR LITERALLY HALF OF MY LIFE. What! What does my life look like without a draft of this book waiting on my desktop? What does it look like without the periodic reshuffling of index cards, the swapping an hour for an hour within the plot? What does it look like–a year where I don’t break my heart trying to understand Brooks as a character, all the while trying to reconcile my own teen romance?

What will I do with all of the new space in my mind?
(Continue to attempt to develop and write the three books blinking on my desktop).

And how do I feel having completed the book that has, in some capacity, been haunting me for over a decade?

Relieved.

While finishing my second round of proofreading, I finally let myself acknowledge the weight of this book. Finally, I came to terms with the fact that NLTB hurts. Reading it hurts. Writing it hurt. Revising it hurt. Working on that beast was akin to an intensive therapy session x 10. Perhaps it was self-preservation that I didn’t put a name to the particular ache that developed whenever I turned to work on it.

This book has done me good. This book has seen through my life, acting as a place to periodically return to and shed my skin. This book is a reminder of my life and growing up. Of being a teen. Of learning what it means to be honest. Understanding the weight of identities and how easy it is to take on a story that isn’t your own. I think of NOTHING LEFT TO BURN and I think of being kissed for the first time and, later, the first strike of heartbreak.

I think of living up north in Humboldt County. I was nineteen and I hadn’t opened the manuscript in over half a year. A new document. It was raining in Humboldt but it was burning in Orange County. And, in the span of one hour, I wrote a new first chapter for NLTB: the morning after Audrey loses her virginity, waking to an evacuation. That first chapter has only been minorly tweaked since then, line edits, a paragraph cut and added. I felt something big after fast drafting that new chapter but I never could have guessed it’d stick as well as it did. I never would have imagined that new first chapter would inspire me to center the timeline around a wildfire and trash my original plot, along with what I was trying to say, along with Audrey’s boyfriend who was named Kevin and then named Luke, who then *became* Brooks–someone entirely new.

I think of NOTHING LEFT TO BURN and I think of being curled up on my bedroom floor at fifteen, my first rejection beside me–a written letter, the last hardcopy rejection I’d receive. I think of those tender months after treatment, opening the document for the first time in nearly a year, terrified and thrilled. I think of being fourteen, a Friday night, at my family’s desktop with a Diet Coke, realizing that I preferred writing to social gatherings. I think of being thirteen in the bed when I still had that pink comforter. Thirteen, midday, in bed, half asleep, books stacked around me, the TV on in the background–Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban–thirteen and typing furiously instead of completing my school work.

Thirteen and falling in love with writing for the first time.

This book, so small and quiet as it is, as grown alongside me.

It’s a gift that I didn’t realize the weight of NOTHING LEFT TO BURN until my final read. But perhaps that’s how it is, how it always will be: I won’t understand the pain of each book until I’m letting it go. And that’s the thing, I am finally ready to let Audrey and Brooks go. Finished. Done. I feel complete. It’s a strange thing. A year ago at this time I was diving back in for a significant revision, wondering how the hell I’d possibly be comfortable calling it done within the year.

Surprise. I’m more than satisfied and it’s bonkers surreal.

So how do I feel? I don’t feel much–I’m still processing, surely–but I know I feel grateful. Calm. Relieved. I feel utterly lucky that I have the opportunity to share this story, and to have a clear-cut line that calls it done. (I’m also a tad terrified that it will take me another decade to produce a second book but that’s both unfair, already proven inaccurate, and a post for another day.)

I’m free. Is that a bad way to feel? I don’t think so. I’m free. NOTHING LEFT TO BURN is no longer mine. It belongs to the reader. It belongs to the reader who finds herself in Audrey, in Brooks, in Grace. Or it belongs to the reader who doesn’t click with the story but maybe, maybe, gained something from it regardless–even if it’s a declaration of not being a fan of me and a slight fear of fire. I can say what I think NOTHING LEFT TO BURN is about but, in the end, now, it’s not for me to interpret.

I am so beyond happy, exhausted, relieved.

But, all of that said, cheers to fourteen-year-old me who finished the first draft of that first version, and–I think–would love how the story grew.

I’ve loved the development of this book (and, more than that, my development as a writer) an awful lot, growing pains and heart aches and all.


Summer 2017.

Summer happened. Too quick. Or maybe mercifully so, considering I want for fall and winter all year long, considering how hard the 80 degree August days hit me. But summer happened and I’m not entirely sure how to compartmentalize it. This was my first summer that was not defined by a move, a significant change. I didn’t graduate from college. I didn’t transfer colleges or drop out of graduate school. I didn’t move from Alaska to California via car and then to Washington five weeks later. I didn’t hop cities within California or Colorado. I stayed still.

 

This was, in fact, my first summer that wasn’t defined by a move or a change of a similar magnitude since 2007. That makes my head ache. Ten years. My first summer where the summer was just… being… doing the life thing… since 2007, since I was fifteen and sixteen?

 

And 2007. That summer was defined by two lengthy Colorado visits, the afternoon storms while I was there, a on and off again boyfriend I adored, Eclipse Prom (though this is memory playing tricks on me because that Twilight event was in the spring, wasn’t it?), a stray cat that followed me home and stayed in room until she ran away, cutting my hair to my shoulders because I’d dyed it black only to strip it down too many times and it was so damaged and all the hair had to go to start fresh and god. God. Did that haircut really do a number on my self-esteem. The summer of 2007 was defined by the loss of my childhood golden retriever and, in the late August days, the arrival of the black lab that would go on to change my world.

 

This summer, 2017, it started with moving that black lab from California to Washington (ha–so I guess a move held a huge play). This summer, 2017, I imagine that in ten years, another decade, 2027, I’ll remember this summer as something strangely sweet. Every dream of the previous year true: living side by side with my dog, the daily hikes, how she gallops into the creeks and into Puget Sound every time we hit the beach, how she walks through the forest like a queen, never strays from my side when another creature comes near. Before Bellatrix moved in, I’d often go days without leaving my apartment, unwilling to go to the mailbox unless it was the pitch of night. Since June, I’m outside in my rain boots and shorts within minutes of waking, and I’m outside again, and then again, and then again for a longer time. I’m not so afraid of the sun these days. I’m not so afraid of being seen because doing so, taking my dog out, it gives her the greatest joy, so I find myself putting on her leash more than she even needs–because it’s a mood boost for the two of us. So, it’s been a dream of a summer. A summer with my dog.

 

 

But this summer wasn’t only Bellatrix and me. It was long nights at my desk working on proposals, working on freelance projects, working on what I can’t even recall. Days of sitting still, sitting so still in my darkened apartment, sitting still yet dizzy, too hot. No AC. I’m a joke: I finally broke and bought a giant fan yesterday, September 8th. I turned 26 this summer, in August and, in a single day, I was dropped from my father’s health insurance and into Medicaid: an event I’ve been dreading since before the ACA, before the age was pushed by several years. I’ve been on a waitlist to see my new psychiatrist since the spring and I have another month to go but I still have hope, even though my monthly prescriptions cost some hundred dollars without coupons. It was a summer of hope, of learning to hope, to shut the fuck up with the panic and act instead. Or take a break. I’m still so bad at taking breaks–only took three in July and August combined (not counting writing retreats, which do feel like work, are work in some regard), and that is not a source of pride but a wake-up call. TAKE DAYS OFF FROM WORK. WEEKENDS ARE FOR HEALING. I’m learning to be kinder to me. That’s what this summer has been. That’s what I’ve tried to let it be.

 

 

It was also a summer of a writing retreat in British Columbia with new friends, of a write-in with two of my best friends, of static heat and wildfires up the coast. Sparkling water and near-frozen bananas and reading sixteen books. It was a summer. Months that bleed back in my mind to spring. Where did one end and the other begin? If I blogged regularly, weekly, bi-weekly, the season wouldn’t even be worth noting. It was a summer like any other: stagnant, endless sun, relentless heat, decent enough, all things considered. I even ate some watermelon last week.

 

 

But that’s not entirely true–decent enough–because, this summer, I not only had my dog with me, always, but I also held NOTHING LEFT TO BURN for the first time. Something I’ve been working toward since I can remember: me, ten, fifth grade, on the tetherball court, me, punching that ball in the terrible way I did, punching that tetherball and imagining what my first book would look like, imagining holding a book with my name on it. Me, six, in the principle’s office in some fluffy dress, passing over a bundle of construction paper and proclaiming my dream to write. My entire life. I’ve worked for this always and will continue to do so. It sounds so silly, trite, almost pathetic. But it’s not. It’s my truth and I think it’s sort of lovely.

 

This summer, I held my first novel–still unfinished but so close, tangible, real. And though I wouldn’t have been able to recognize what it’s become, it’s the story I held so dear back in 2007, that summer, the second summer after having completed my first book–there was a lot of writing in bed that summer. It feels like I should say I wouldn’t have believed it–that if you’d told me at fifteen and sixteen that I’d be holding my book, prepping for its publication–it feels like I should say I would not have believed this to be the truth. But that’s a lie. Looking back at teen-me–god this will be cheesy–but looking back, I’m proud of that girl. That girl had no doubt. I had no doubt that I’d make my dream, my goal, a reality. It was just a matter of when. Of continuing to work, not giving up, holding on with my teeth. I remember saying that maybe it would happen soon but maybe it’d happen when I was ninety. And I say this now to me and others about book two, book three, book four. There are no guarantees but damn will I always be writing.

 

Even still, despite what perhaps some might call teenage arrogance, that moment in early August was a fantasy: holding my book for the first time. A shock. I couldn’t breathe. I still feel strange, fluttery, terrified when I spot a copy on my bookshelf or when I learn someone read it and loved it. I am so lucky. I am so, so lucky. A summer with my black lab and a summer of a lifelong dream coming true, the bliss of living with the dog who is great love of my life, and the bittersweet relief of the reality that nothing is permanent, especially not the heat

It rained for the first time in three months last weekend and it felt like coming home because, let’s be real, summer has never felt like mine.

 

 


Pitch Wars 2017!!!

Dear lovely regular blog readers: this post will be an abstraction from my usual personal musings (and sorry I’ve been MIA this summer! THINGS are happening!) as it’s PITCH WARS time. This year I’m mentoring with the fantastic Rachel Griffin, and this post is dedicated to our wish list (thus the “we”). If you’re a writer with a completed, nearly ready to query manuscript, do check out this fantastic contest!

 

Our First Meeting!

 

Welcome to the mighty co-mentoring team of Heather Ezell and Rachel Griffin. We are SO EXCITED that it’s finally the time of year when life takes a full swing into PITCH WARS MANIA.

If you’re looking for relentless enthusiasm, excessive capitalization, and a ton of exclamation points, you’ve come to the right place! Especially if you write young adult because that’s all we’re accepting. 😉

 

THE WISHLIST OF WONDERS!

What do we want?

 

We will not be mentoring:

 

A few of our favorite books that reflect what we’re hoping to see in our inbox:

 

Still with us? Fantastic!

 

YOUR POTENTIAL MENTORS!

Twin Peaks!!!

We’ve both been through Pitch Wars as mentees (Heather was Rachel Lynn Solomon’s alternate in 2014 and Rachel was Heather’s mentee last year!) and made it through to the other side, both with stronger manuscripts, agents, and incredible friends. We’re utterly passionate about this contest, this community, and helping other writers, and we both have backgrounds in teaching. Mentoring is a fabulous way to tap into that love for both of us. We can promise you that when we fall in love with your manuscript, we’ll be your fiercest champions and most loyal fangirls.

We were snooping on the #PitchWars hashtag and saw that some hopefuls want to know what our strengths are, so here you go:

Heather is great with emotional arcs, atmospheric writing, building up your setting so it jumps off the page, and helping writers develop and grasp their voice.

Rachel is great with pacing, getting your hook in deep and early, setting up stakes, and character motivation.

Which is a great segue into our mentoring style.

We’ll both be involved with all elements of the process, from big developmental edits, all the way down to line edits. We’ll push you harder than you thought possible, and we’ll make you work. We won’t sugarcoat anything, just like we won’t hesitate to tell you how much we utterly LOOOOOOOVE something. We’ll cheer you on the entire way, pick you up when you’re down, and give you all the pep talks when you need them. And, come November, you’ll have a stronger manuscript and an incredible sense of accomplishment. We want to make you feel damn proud of the work you did during your two months with us, and we hope you love your manuscript more than you ever have before.

 

ARE YOU OUR MENTEE?

Your co-mentors!
You’re ready to work. We’re not going to give you a few line edits and send you on your way. Nope. We’re going to pull your manuscript apart and help you stitch it back together. (Rachel started her edits last year by rewriting her entire manuscript in first person present, from its original third person past. And that was just the start. Then we did developmental edits, character arcs, subplots, and line edits!).

We’ve both been on the receiving end of many editorial letters, so we know how painful it can be to approach revisions and all that follows. As your mentors, we promise we’ll be here to support you, send love and make game plans, talk through the roadblocks and more. We will communicate primarily via email and, if you’re into it, text messaging (we’re into it, especially when it’s time to gush, share nerves, and burst into excitement). 

You’re open to changes. We’ll never say you have to make a specific change, but we want you to really think through our suggestions and be ready to answer questions.  

You believe in yourself and your writing.

You’re motivated and self-disciplined.

You’re awesome and friendly and won’t be weirded out by our constant enthusiasm and mushy tweets about how much we adore you.

 

STILL WANT TO KNOW MORE?

Heather

Considering this is my blog, you can find perhaps too much info on me if you want to, and there is obviously a bio page that gives you the run down of who I am, but hey! Hello.

I grew up in Southern California, visited my beloved Colorado Springs frequently through my teens until I settled there to earn my BA from Colorado College. I more recently spent two years in Interior Alaska for grad school and TAing composition until I jumped south to the PNW to escape Alaska’s sun (I’m not kidding). Teaching freshmen and sophomore composition is the best job I’ve had to date. These days I work primarily in freelance editing and book coaching. I occasionally pinch myself–working with fiction writers is as fabulous and rewarding as teaching disgruntled college students, plus I don’t have to change out of my lounge wear.

My own writing history? I penned my first novel at thirteen, revised for an agent at fifteen, wrote a second book at sixteen, and–though I didn’t sign with an agent until some eight years later–I was constantly learning about the industry and the craft through the thick of it. If you DO go back through my posts here on this wee site, you can read about my various detours of this long haul journey. But, ultimately, I signed with my agent Sarah Davies at Greenhouse Literary, and we sold my debut, NOTHING LEFT TO BURN, to Marissa Grossman at Razorbill-Penguin. It releases on March 13, 2018 (!!!!!!) and I’m still in disbelief.

I currently live in Washington State (only an hour or two south of Rachel depending on whether or not the I-5 behaves and 3 hours from ~Forks, WA~ [hey, guess what, Rachel and I both adore Twilight! the more you know!]). My apartment has a spiral staircase that leads up to a loft with lovely lighting, rain or shine–this is where I do most of my writing, whether at my desk or on the floor. If I cross the street, I can hop into a lush rainforest and, from there, I’m a mere fifteen-minute walk to an often stormy beach. I really, REALLY like that forest. All of this is very critical for you to know: spiral staircase and Twilight and all. I share my home with the love of my life, my family’s black lab, Bellatrix, and a guy named Regan, who is also pretty great. My professional bio states that I practice ballet and this is true in mind but *whispers* my trips to a studio have been on hold for a bit because BALLET IS PRICEY when you’re out of school. Please don’t tell my publisher (Ben or Marissa, hi, if you’re reading this, I should be back at the barre by NLTB’s release date, please don’t change the jacket flap!).

Some trivia: I moved fourteen (sixteen?) times between 2009 – 2016, don’t have a spleen, prefer -30F degrees to 80F, completed my BA in 2 1/2 years, started writing seriously after a fabulous stint of Harry Potter fan-fiction, can’t live in cities because of the stimulation, have an obsession/irrational fear toward natural disasters, and am terrified of the sun (but look photographic proof that I’m challenging myself these days!).

 

I’m shy but also very loud and giddy once I’m acquainted with new friends and I’d LOVE it if you said hi, either on Twitter, Instagram, or Tumblr.

 

 

 

Rachel

I’m a PNW native and absolutely looooooooove it here. LOVE. I graduated from Seattle University with a bachelor of science in diagnostic ultrasound because seeing inside the body is SUPER cool, but I never could outrun my love for writing. I wrote my first novel in the evenings and weekends while working full-time and juggling being on-call.

After a shoulder injury prohibited me from continuing my career as a sonographer, I became employee number six at a financial technology startup. I managed our customer support, brand personality, content creation, and social media, and eventually moved on to PR and marketing as well. I will always love that #startuplife.

That’s where I met my husband, my biggest support and absolute love of my life. One evening he suggested I quit my job to pursue this writing thing full time, and after a bit of coaxing on his part, I took the plunge and haven’t looked back. That was two years ago, and in that time I wrote my second book, got into Pitch Wars, queried agents, signed with the amazing Melissa Sarver White of Folio Lit, and got halfway through drafting my third novel.

Heather was the very first person to love my book the way I did. She understood what I was trying to do and just got it, and that changed everything for me. Not only did she help make my book SO MUCH STRONGER as my mentor in Pitch Wars, she also became one of my dearest friends and trusted CPs. Still to this day I thank my lucky stars she chose me. Not just because of the writing aspect, but because of how my better my life is with her in it.

I have a schnoodle named Doppler and I absolutely ADORE her. I love hiking, reading, drinking lots of tea and coffee, playing the flute, and playing chess. I looooove eating. Twilight foreverrr. I’m an optimist through and through. I have a twin sister who was my very first soul mate (I’m very lucky to have two!). My husband still gives me butterflies. I’m an INFJ and proud hufflepuff. I’m not a morning person. I love fashion and am a big fan of the King of Pop. I’m a big hugger, and if we ever meet in person, you should be prepared for that. I’m blessed beyond measure and love this beautiful life.

I’m rather friendly and love meeting new people, so come say hi on Twitter and Instagram!

 

 


April, May, June.

I’m writing from Orange County, where–for the first time in years–the region is experiencing daily June Gloom in the mornings. I’m in California, firstly, to move up my beloved dog to Washington. My dear Bellatrix will hit the road with me up the coast all the way to my northern home. She’ll walk in a rainforest for the first time. She’ll discover moss and run through Jurassic Park-like ferns and damp, foreign terrain. She’ll live with me: a dream of mine for years, a dream I didn’t think was a possibility as recent as two months ago. This is happening.

The other reason for this trip is to bid farewell to all of my long-term doctors and do final hurrah check ups. I turn twenty-six in August and will be transitioning to Washington’s public health care. That is happening. It’s beyond my control and all I can do is fight for proper treatment and medications, not panic, and hope. I’m lucky. Washington is the best state for public health care. I’ll be okay.

In May, I finished up the last of my line edits on NOTHING LEFT TO BURN. It’s now in copy edits and has a gorgeous (so, so gorgeous) cover that will be ~revealed~ June 26th and, equally exciting, it’ll be up for pre-order the week prior. This is all happening. This dream. This hope I’ve been working for my entire (young adult and) adult life. I started writing the first version of this novel when I was thirteen and have been re-writing, revising, learning to write, again and again, querying, writing, fighting for this book ever since.

I don’t know when I’ll truly believe that NOTHING LEFT TO BURN is being published. Maybe when I hold an ARC in my hands this summer. Maybe when I hold a finished copy in January. Maybe when I see it on bookshelves on March 13th.

March 13th. March used to be my least favorite month but, oh, that’s now changed.

March is usually my least favorite month but, oh, that’s now changed.

March 13th.

At the start of May, I flew to the Bay Area to help my older sister with my two-year-old niece and their moving to Reno. It was a sudden and quick trip: five days with a roadtrip to Reno squeezed in. But it forced me out of my go, go, go, work, work rythm, and oh I will never turn down an opportunity to see my niece. And, after the trip, still early May, I became severely sick. In May, I wrote seventy pages set in Alaska and struggled relentlessly with a synopsis. At the end of May, I withdrew from the MFA program I’d planned to start this summer. It was when I started applying for a private personal loan to cover rent for the next year that it hit me: no, this can wait, this is a financially terrible idea, no, it can wait, it’s not now or never.

In May I made some good decisions.

In April and May, I walked into the forest regularly, and I’m learning to appreciate the sun, and I learned to let myself take days off, letting myself stop working after I’ve put my time in, seeing new and old friends. In April and May and now June, I’m focusing on the differentiation of what I want to do and what I need to do and what I think I need to do but don’t need to do: I too often get the three confused.

And now it’s June and June kicked off with my flight to California and I’m still here, sorting through a lifetime of books, spending time with my parents and my brother and my dog (oh my, that girl has no idea what’s in store for her), seeing doctors every day, and (attempting) to squeeze some work in. It’s my older sister’s anniversary and she and my brother-in-law are vacationing, so–surprise!!!–more time with my niece (which I did not know what was happening).

And so, with the roadtrip home next week, I won’t be back to my desk until the 16th–so deep into this month–and I’m trying not to let this freak me out; I’m focusing on why this is the case: my health and moving my baby home with me.

This summer: holding a galley of my book in my hands, pass pages, seeing more old friends (fingers crossed), finishing my proposals (again) and letting them go enough to send them onward to my agent, a booked two months of freelance projects (so, so happy about this), and PITCH WARS (and all the better: I’m co-mentoring with one of my dearest friends, Rachel Griffin)!

But, god damn, I miss my young sister fiercely. The last time I saw her there was snow on the ground in Utah. The next time I’ll see her there will be snow again on the ground in Utah. Why is Australia so far?

 


Spring.

Spring is my least favorite season unless it’s followed by a particularly lethally hot summer. The week after Daylight Savings, mid-March, insomnia hits without fail. I always forget this trend but, the past two years, Facebook has reminded me. Day four of no sleep and TimeHop pings me with a post from that same day in 2007: “Sleep deprivation will kill me.” This past March, with its lengthening days and breaks in the rain, had me aching for early February, for the season’s last snow, for the dim mornings and afternoons.

 

february snow

 

Spring has never been kind to me but, then again, this spring has been all right. I think the rain helps. The news says this has been the coldest, wettest winter on record in Seattle and the cloud cover has pushed deep into April. It’s a relief. It’s a dream. Why am I so lucky that with every place I live it’s hard to fathom that it’s my home because of its beauty? That I live here. Here. I’ve been lucky with everywhere, this silly blog is a testament to that. I’ve been so spoiled.

 

tree house

 

I live in a place where five minutes on foot leads me to a forest. And in that forest are tree houses, and huts made of twigs and branches and logs so that I can crawl over rivers, and platforms in the highest trees. It took me three months to find these forest gem. Three months to see past the mossy evergreens and rain and hail and all the lush green.

 

 

I live three hours from Forks, WA. Fourteen-year-old me would be so amused. And, now, naturally, whenever I have visitors a trip up the peninsula is essential. Less for Forks and more for the Hoh Rainforest, for La Push, and Ruby Beach. I’m admittedly going through something of a fangirl resurgence–triggered surely from a personal event that I can’t go into, triggered inevitably from my basically living on the border of the Olympic National Peninsula, triggered probably from meeting new friends who are loud and unashamed in their past fangirl ways. It’s refreshing. And it feels good to embrace nostalgia, to laugh at the passion of younger me but also seriously acknowledge the impact that events and friendships in conjecture to Twilight had on me. I’d be a fool not to be grateful.

 

The best of news: I’m moving my dog up from California to live with me in June. A three-day drive with my baby. Living with my beloved. I’ll believe it when she’s here, or maybe when we’re on the road, but oh my heart. It’s been a hard few months in terms of health and pain levels, so I’m holding onto this truth with the tightest grip: my dog with me always.

 

I keep thinking about what I want to do with this space. My blog. I’ve gone through and privatized a bunch of old posts–those that felt too revealing, those in which I showed my teenage naivety, or were simply too painful to read. There are still many vulnerable ramblings public, though I could argue that every last post is just that, including this: exposed, transparent. Where’s my privacy? I’ve been here, open and loud and clear, for so long that I don’t know how to set new boundaries. Since the beginning, I questioned my having a blog on a yearly basis, often shutting it down for months or years at a time, and lately, more and more, I lean toward replacing it with an “updates” page that will offer more book related updates. ~Professional~ Ha? Finally? Maybe. We’ll see.