Nothing Left to Burn released one year ago and to celebrate I stood in a parking lot to pose with my still sort of a baby debut. I’m still so baffled that I managed to get Audrey’s story out there in the world and that readers have found it, are still finding it today. A lifelong dream came true a year ago and I made it happen. I was lucky but I also worked for it. Happy one year, Audrey.
The last time I posted here I was 26
It was late spring and Nothing Left to Burn had just released
I lived in Olympia, WA on the border of a rainforest
Since then, I’ve experienced absurd joy, kindness
I’ve experienced rejections and bummer news
I’ve heard from the loveliest readers, received emails I couldn’t have dreamed up
I’ve heard from my publisher, good things, bad things, all of it
I’ve felt disappointment, shame, awe, conflict, gratitude
When I last posted here, I was still tapering off clonazepam,
one of the most agonizing experiences of my life
I never had a dependency or abuse issue but was prescribed it for too long
(9 years) (Our bodies are strange and delicate)
I worked as a book coach, an editor, a tutor, a copywriter, an admission essay advisor
(I still work all of those jobs and more)
I’d never visited New York City before, never met my editor
Never met the online, far away friends I did
I had health insurance
I missed teaching fiercely
(and I still do but I’m in the process of satisfying that desire)
I hadn’t yet started and made great headway on the current book of my dreams
(It’s dark and spooky and about sisters in an old house in a forest and more)
I hadn’t started developing what I call the Alaska thriller project
I hadn’t also had the recognition that no, I can’t give up on that summer-rejected bone book
I still lived in Washington. I really do miss it.
Since I last wrote here, I’ve also (re-)come to terms with my being a “slow writer” (but I really don’t like this phrase because it sounds like a negative, especially in the YA community, where it often feels like you’re a dud if you’re not at least doing a book every other year), which is funny because when I received my agent offers in 2014 my first question for each offering agent was whether they’d be okay with my being a “slow writer”–publishing every few years max. I had that awareness, knew my process, was happy with it, but then I got swept up with the standard publishing timeline expectations and it was a mess. After I sold NLTB in 2016, I psyched myself out. Desperate to churn out sellable material–based on industry advice, trying to develop proposals to sell rather than actually draft those books, even though I knew in my heart that I need to write a book to know it, to then revise (maybe rewrite) a book to truly understand it inside and out. I can write thousands of words in a stretch of a few hours, and sometimes I do, but I often need to write a hundred thousand words before I know it as I need to. And that’s okay. It’s how I write and that’s beautiful.
This does not make me a bad writer. There is nothing wrong with my process. I am not a bad writer.
And it’d be easy to regret the past several years spent outlining and developing and synopsis writing and hitting my head at my desk because, oh my god the time, the work I’ve put in. Since 2016, it’s been at a minimum a part-time job, often full-time hours, and some would say I have nothing to show with it. Some have even implied as much to me and that’s really sucked. That REALLY sucks. To those people I say: no. I have so much show for my past three years — perhaps most significantly is the acceptance of who I am and how I write and finding joy in that process again. And then there’s healing from the trauma of bipolar disorder, working toward stable medication management, and learning to be creative on these stabilizing medications, learning to be creative while not manic. And there were the six moves, the unemployment, the exhaustion of being so poor, the new jobs, the debut of Nothing Left to Burn. The hundreds and thousands of words I’ve put down. I’m doing so good. I’m so proud of myself.
And this, too: since I last wrote here, I’ve recognized that I don’t only want to write. That I love teaching too much to not pursue it. And the only way that I to do that is to finish the master’s degree I started in 2015. So, strangely, unexpectedly, perhaps one of the greatest twists of my life, I left my beloved Washington and moved back to Fairbanks, Alaska at the start of January. It’s been odd and hard, but also surprisingly not that hard. At the end of the day, I’m happy to be here. It needed to happen. It’s most difficult when I think too much about my time in Olympia and the magic and simplicity of it all. It’s impossible when I think about Bellatrix. It’s mostly only scary because I’m on week four with no health insurance because transitioning to Alaska’s Medicaid has so far resulted in silence (my several month supply of my medications is my savior). It’s also hard because being a graduate student is just a lot. Plus spring is en route and I’m in Alaska. We’ve gained four hours in the month of February and I can feel it. A discombulation. By the end of March, the sun will set near nine and I’d be lying if I didn’t say that this doesn’t give me a little anxious spike. But I also know I’m okay. I’ll be fine. I’m prepared and stable and I’m ready for it: the sun and the second half of the semester. And whatever happens, I’ll be okay. I know what I need. I’ll miss the dark terribly but that’s life. We miss things constantly.
So I’m back in Alaska. And even if this isn’t exactly where I’d most like to be right now (because I miss WA so much, miss that time of my life, miss insurance, miss my friends, miss the rain, miss my dog, missing my savings, miss being an author with a book coming out soon) or what I expected of 2019 and 2020, this is where I ultimately DO want to be, where I need to be to get the shit I want done done. Does that make sense? To not want to be here but also so want to be? Because I don’t only want to write. I also want to teach. And in the next fourteen months, if all goes well, I will be completing three semesters of work, taking a 30+ book comprehensive exam, writing a thesis (a novel; will it the bone one or the sister one?) and defending that thesis, and I’ll come out with the degree that will dub me a master (ha) and will make me, at the very least, qualified to teach college-level writing. I’ll be doing what I need to do and writing, as I have been, and I’ll be cradling the one copy of Nothing Left to Burn I brought with me because, I did that, and I still am in awe that it’s a thing that exists. I am stupidly happy. Basically, it’s been ten months since I last wrote here and I’m all the better for it. ALSO. As of this spring, I’ve been blogging here off and on for ten years. What!
More soon, maybe.
It’s been over a month since Nothing Left to Burn hit stores and I’m still unable to articulate my joy, shock, relief, and the general high surrounding it all.
Can I just say it was lovely and I’m honored by the support?
Can I just post a stream of pretty photos from that whirlwind launch week?
Can I just admit that I didn’t know I talked THAT much with my hands until I saw post-even videos and photographs?
Can I just say thank you thank you thank you?
So here are some moments from the week, in no particular order — the morning of release day at the beloved Browsers Bookshop here in Olympia (where I stopped en route to the airport to have my first in-store stock signing), my event at Vroman’s with Farrah Penn, the fashion show at Willow Manor, my LA/OC Barnes & Noble visits, and my incredible launch party that was hosted by the fabulous Lido Village Books in Newport Beach, CA. Thank you to every family member, friend, bookseller who has made this experience such a journey. I was warned of post-launch depression but, really, I’m still riding this wave and incredibly thankful and hoping I get to do it all over again (hoping as in working!).
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.
It was inevitable that I’d procure a map for Nothing Left to Burn.
I have always been obsessed with maps, flipping back to a fantasy novel’s map at every mention of a location, running my finger along mountains and valleys and seas. Scrutinizing the possibilities. Adoring the art and peculiarities of a map that (often) matched the story’s tone. The setting’s tone. If I’m reading a contemporary novel and a location is mentioned, even something as meager as a highway number, I turn to the internet to see it for myself. I can spend hours adore tracking locations and routes on google maps. For fun, I’ve routed every place I’ve called home, an epic memory road trip: Orange County to the Bay Area to Colorado Springs to Cascade back to Orange County up to Humboldt County and then another jump back to Colorado and then north, so north, to Interior Alaska back south to Southern California only to leap up to Pacific Northwest. (This epic, whiplash road trip would clock in somewhere around 200 hours, FYI.)
All of this is to say that I REALLY like maps in books and I really, really love to feel a strong sense of place when reading.
Even in the early versions of Nothing Left to Burn, the one I drafted at thirteen, Orange County was present: the Montage in Laguna Beach, the Spectrum in Irvine, Tesoro High School and Las Flores Middle School, Coto De Caza, Dove Canyon, beyond. In 2005, I wrote extensively of Southern California’s September heat, the Santa Ana winds, the June Gloom. This wasn’t a conscious decision–or, if it was, I don’t remember it–but it’s all there in that earnest first go of a novel.
But it wasn’t until I trashed that original version and wrote an entirely new story for Audrey–one that thrusts her into a day’s journey around Orange County–that the setting in NLTB came to the surface loud and clear (I hope!), wildfires and all. From her home that sits of wildland and Coto de Caza, to the Starbucks on Antonio Parkway just outside the gates, back into Coto De Caza to her best friend’s house, again to her own… up to the hospital in Orange, down to Newport, over to Foothill, and more. The 241 to the 133 to the I-5, she rambles. And her summer: the 405 to the 55 to Balboa Island, the dip into the canyon roads in Trabuco Canyon, offroading to the Holy Jim trailhead, etc.
In writing a new story for her, I passed on my obsession with place, with naming locations, to Audrey.
(As you can see, I’m clearly an amazing map drawer and this is… very directionally accurate (lol).)
It was during my first go at revising this new single-day version that I started sketching haphazard maps and google mapping Audrey’s day relentlessly. I did this in part for fun, to appease my obsession, as well as track her movement. But I also mapped out her day to ensure the time she spends at each location and on the road is realistic (this was a HEADACHE and I FAILED and my editor, copy editors, and proofreaders are SAINTS). So, perhaps it was during this revision that I became fixated on having an official map for Nothing Left to Burn. Maps in contemporary novels are not a thing, so I knew that any map I had designed wouldn’t be in the book but I still had to have one created. It wasn’t an option. I’ve always been rather self-indulgent. And so I went about having a map designed, all the well knowing that perhaps I’d be the only one who would care about said map. That this map would be my last gift to Audrey.
Catherine Scully is the brilliant designer I brought to the task. And, oh, is she a patient designer. We started with one approach (an accurate topographic-y style) and then another approach and then another. I likely the most frustrating client ever. I’m nitpicky but also easy to confuse and, even more, I’m confusing when articulating my visions. I also went into the collaboration with a REALLY unrealistic concept. I wanted the impossible: a map that was accurate, highways and scale and all. And I wanted this detailed map complete to encompass nearly ALL of Orange County: from the most southern end to the north side. AND I wanted this monster map to have detailed locations for readers to recognize (houses, the pirate ship that I swear exists in Coto, the fire station, and the Balboa Ferris wheel)…
Obviously, I was quite silly.
But as I let go of my obsession with accuracy, as Catherine and I moved forward with our collaboration and I continued to gasp at her talent, this distance-compacted interpretive version of Orange County felt more and more right and true to the story. As we moved closer to the final product, I was reminded of my initial desire to have a map created: for it to be Audrey’s interpretation of the setting in retrospect of her long day and whimsical summer, that–if she were as incredibly talented as Cat–she could have drawn it. I wanted a dreamy map with the ever so slight-blink-and-you-miss-it darkness.
And though it took some time and A LOT of back and forth (because of me), Catherine managed to capture exactly that: the map of my dreams, or, rather, Audrey’s dreams.
From the locations marked, to the detailed mountains, to the surreal colors that so wonderfully match the cover, the focus on Coto, and of course the fire. This map is perfect in that what is significant to Audrey is represented. It so accurately shows how she cloudly recalls her summer with Brooks, and, by the end of the novel, how she compartmentalizes her day’s journey.
And so, at long last, I present to you Nothing Left to Burn’s map!
(Click here for a closer look!)
I’m obsessed. IN LOVE. My poster-sized version can’t come soon enough. I hope you love it too, especially if you’ve already read Nothing Left to Burn and if you’ll be reading Nothing Left to Burn soon.
And if you do love this map, or like it enough to want your own version in print and you’ve pre-ordered NLTB, head over to my pre-order thank you page to have a GORGEOUS print of this map sent your way (among other gifts!).
*whispers*: the Orange County Institue of Ballet doesn’t exist. It’s the one and only made up location–it had to happen.
And for those asking, why Heather, why the HELL is a STARBUCKS showcased on this map? BECAUSE YOU’LL FIND OUT. Because it’s an inside joke. Because, okay, five (!) (very short! really compelling! fantastic!) chapters are set in that Starbucks. In earlier versions of the book, those chapters were… not good and 100% introspection. It became a joke among friends. Get Audrey out of the Starbucks. And, of course, I did, I do, but I also brought in some others, and some drama, to the Starbucks. (I’m not some mega Starbucks fan, there are simply no other coffee shops or cafes for Audrey to go in a reasonable proximity!)