Nothing Left to Burn releases tomorrow and I’m the calmest I’ve ever been — that’s what it feels like, at least.
This book has been a part of my life since I was thirteen. I’m now twenty-six. This book has been a weight, a passion, a desperation for over half of my life. Nothing Left to Burn is my first book but that’s also not at all true. Nothing Left to Burn is technically my fourth. But Audrey, this is her third story, and Audrey’s story has always been one entangled with my own. We grew together. And it’s hard to recall a time where I wasn’t revising or rewriting or drafting. I sent my first query letter when I was fifteen and did rounds every year. There was always agent interest. Full and partial requests. An agent who told me she was going to “take me there” and implied an offer of rep only to disappear. Close calls. A reason to grip and move forward. Not that it was necessary — this story haunted me, Audrey, a weight, a gnat in my head. An obsession. A love. And now I’m done. Set free. Her story is no longer mine but for readers to love, to hate, to consider, to do with however they please.
I thought the negative reviews would burn–that the very idea of negative reviews would cause panic. They don’t. I’m proud of this novel. My freshman novel that is infused with my teenage dramatics, my preference for some cheesiness, my rambling lines. I’m so absurdly proud and relieved.
My debut release tomorrow. Tuesday, March 13th. And on Wednesday, I’ll be at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena, CA. The first time I visited Vroman’s I’d just turned fifteen. September 2006. It was my first book event at a bookstore, my second book event ever. Stephenie Meyer. Outrageously special. Vroman’s has always been special to me and somehow, luck, magic, the right timing, Vroman’s is where I’m having my first signing (thank you, Farrah!). On Thursday, I visit the school I dropped out from at sixteen for an interview on their Titian TV channel. On Friday, I’ll be signing books in a boutique store during their fashion show–Willow Manor, a store I always loved to visit with my mom as a child, and then as a teen. They had coffee and apple cider on tap. Lovely trinkets and blinged out clothing. Willow Manor is nostalgia, childhood, my hometown at its core. And on Saturday, Saturday is the official launch party for Nothing Left to Burn in the most beautiful bookstore on Balboa Island (which isn’t actually an island), a location that plays such a great role in Audrey’s story.
This is real.
I thought I’d be a mess. Stressed. Shaking. Especially considering this week follows Daylight Saving and since I can remember I’ve been struck with week-long insomnia this week every year of my life. But I’m sleeping. When my editor told me my release date was March 13th, I was terrified. The one week of the year I’m conscious of. The worst week of the year. Mania and no sleep and shaking. Perhaps it’s because I’m finally, finally, on the right medications for bipolar. Perhaps it’s that and because, well, this week is being transformed: the week my lifelong, childhood dream came true.
Little first-grader Heather, rushing into the principle’s office to share the “book” I’d written over the weekend. A stapled bundle of hot pink construction paper with doodles and a few words. Frayed edges. Fifth grade, punching the tetherball at recess, imagining the first cover of my book. Why do I remember that moment so acutely? Eighth grade, out of school, sick, writing fanfiction, and then, without realizing it, starting my own story. Teen me, rejection after rejection, revision after revision. I did it. I did it. With the help of so many people–my acknowledgments are perhaps double the normal length–I did it.
This is a beautiful thing. And, after this week, I move on. I continue to work on my next projects. I harness my teenage grit. I remember I did it. I write, just like I’ve always planned to do since my first memory. I rush into the fold with the thickest skin.
I did it. How am I so calm?
The happiest book birthday to me, truly.
Last week I received word from my editor: on my end, NOTHING LEFT TO BURN is complete.
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?
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.
Hi. I moved. I mentioned I was moving, right? Only an hour south but that hour south has made all the difference. My backyard is a forest, and that forest has trails that lead to a beach or lead to more trees. It’s quiet. It’s so quiet, and it rains ever so slightly more. A hush exists. Strangers smile. My neighbor offered me an ice pack when I fell down my spiral stairs, when she heard my thuds and cry, and that was the strangest warmth. And, oh, driving home means taking the 101 north, and life is always something special when home entails the 101 north (hi, Humboldt). And from the 101, my exit is dark. I have to use my brights and squint and drive real slow as I weave through trees, it’s something like a maze that I learned within a day but it feels safe, protected, beautiful. And yes, I’m so dramatic, but when I enjoy the immediate commute to and from home, I know I’m lucky. This element reminds me of Colorado Springs, when I took the long way home through Garden of the Gods; when I lived in Chipita Park, curving up the mountain pass about Manitou every day. It was a balm. After the exhaustive six months in Renton, to have my home be a balm feels so strange and lovely.
But, oh my, February was weird. Is February ever not weird? A rapid attempt of settling, of organizing, of finding a new work rhythm–all cut off by a quick trip to Utah. And then, the last full week, last week, an utter slam: strep throat, hip woes, falling down my stairs, my Mini (finally) breaking down, and a stomach bug. Last week nearly did me in. But I saw my family this month, I fell more in love with where I live, I saw a concept for Nothing Left to Burn’s book cover (!!!!), and–on many days when it felt improbable–I got myself up from the floor. I want to better focus on the good. I have a home, a workspace, a forest, health and support. And while, yes, simultaneously I feel like I’m in the thick of something–life heavy in ways that are both private and hard to articulate–it’s okay. The future of my life in Olympia isn’t stable when I so desperately want it to be. I’m living month to month, living on hope and dumb luck. And that’s fine. It’s only temporary. And I’m here now.
I am lucky. So I’ll hope and push for that luck to continue.
What I’m working on in March: the next round of NLTB edits, a meaty freelance project (I hope!), two proposals and WIP drafting, lovely Indiana visitors, the onslaught of longer days that March always thrusts onto me (I take it personally), and the continued intention of taking care of myself before anything else.
I hope you find your way outside this month. I’ll be right here.
bio from 2011-2015
I am Heather. I was born and raised in Southern California, but can’t admit this without insisting I spent a chunk of my teens in Colorado Springs
I like to pretend I’m weird but I’m really just as normal as you. I also claim to be a lion, courageous and fierce, roaring like a mad fool with my tangled hair, when I’m all too often a pansy, shaking and whimpering in airports because I don’t want to go home, I want to go THERE, but where is there? Why there is anywhere but here! I like to travel and move and then travel some more. When I’m not traveling, you’ll most likely find me under my desk, biting my knuckles red. Not for earthquake protection, no, but rather to hide from the sun that too often fades my words. There is no greater tragedy than a faded word. The photo above is from Spring 2010. I’ve aged a bit, but clearly not much as I’m still sometimes IDed at the airport for being an unaccompanied minor. Yes, yes, Frontier Lady. Yes, I’m definitely fourteen. So kind of you to notice!
I love to scream in pursuit of the ideal word-filled day. Even if it’s just a sentence, just a thought, just a line scrawled onto my astronomy lecture table, I must write and write and write and write every day of my life and do you get the point yet, Dear Universe? I need more writing time. As a couch-restricted anemic teenager, I composed two novel-things and revised them both until they became bloody and sticky from my excessive tending. Those were the golden writing days. But in my current daily life I aim to balance the hyper writer child that lurks in my gut with the obsessive academic that dances in the place where my spleen would be if I still had a spleen.
When the rage inside my head becomes too loud, I sometimes come here. I whine. I post silly photos. I pretend to know what I’m talking about. I sometimes shut the site down for periods at a time because I feel too exposed and scared and you know how it goes. I also sometimes shout. You’ll know when I’m shouting because I’ll use caps lock and abuse profanities. I probably should be more private and professional. But I am what I am and I actually make an effort not to censor myself. I also, clearly, enjoy being dramatic in the Redwood Forest.
When blogging, I have a fetish for looooong sentences that would destroy my English professors’ red pens because they never ever end and I love them so because they make me want to go on a raging roller coaster that lacks proper brakes and I advise you to just go with it, to simply follow these sentences, these crazy improper, what is she even saying, where is she even going, COME BACK, COME BACK, sentences because if I can’t do this in English class then I sure as hell am going to do it on my personal blog that holds my name. So if I want to write a paragraph of a sentence, then damn it, I will. As a side note, I like to think my fiction makes a bit more sense than my blogging.