Part two of the pre-release day of Nothing Left to Burn? Well, yes please! I was definitely enthralled with this debut as I said in my earlier review of it, and I was super stoked to get a chance to interview this super talented author. Let’s have a refresher of what the book is about and then let’s get to the author goodness!
About the Book
The autumn morning after sixteen-year-old Audrey Harper loses her virginity, she wakes to a loud, persistent knocking at her front door. Waiting for her are two firemen, there to let her know that the moment she’s been dreading has arrived: the enormous wildfire sweeping through Orange County, California, is now dangerously close to her idyllic gated community of Coto de Caza, and it’s time to evacuate.
Over the course of the next twenty-four hours, as Audrey wrestles with the possibility of losing her family home, she also recalls her early, easy summer days with Brooks, the charming, passionate, but troubled volunteer firefighter who enchants Audrey–and who is just as enthralled by her. But as secrets from Brooks’s dark past come to light, Audrey can’t help but wonder if there’s danger in the pull she feels–both toward this boy, and toward the fire burning in the distance.
Since this is Book Princess Reviews, can we start off with do you have a favorite Disney princess (Disney character)? And who do you think Audrey, the main heroine of your story, is most like?
My favorite Disney princess as a child was definitely Pocahontas. I’ve always been obsessed with forests and water and land in general, so I was mesmerized by her life and her story. I still adore Pocahontas because she’s pretty dang self-assured and brave, and she’s the one who does the saving. So, she’s still my favorite!
However, I also have to give a shout out to Aurora in Sleeping Beauty. I played Aurora in a musical in the fifth grade and became obsessed. The boy who played the prince in the play was my first “boyfriend” (and first cheek kiss) so I felt like I was living my own little fairytale. However, I’m no longer the biggest fan of Sleeping Beauty. Aurora does a lot of sleeping while waiting for a dude to wake her up (though, in her defense, it isn’t her choice). Meanwhile, I’m a raging insomniac and if some random guy were to try to wake me when I am sleeping—it wouldn’t go over well.
I revolted against Sleeping Beauty early on when I threw this outrageously nice silver necklace at my prince-boyfriend, a necklace he gave me three months into our little relationship (perhaps it was three weeks, who knows). He’d tried to kiss me and I wasn’t cool with it. I was only ten!
In terms of which princess Audrey is most like, I have to go with Belle… in part because of small personality overlaps, but mostly because of their shared approach to relationships—the compulsion to peel back the rough layers of someone they care for, to find the truth and good in that person. Their stories have similar blurred lines of romance and obsession. (Hint: I’m not an advocate of Belle ending up with the Beast!)
In your biography, it mentions that you fled a fire when you were a kid, just like in the book. Were there times where it got too hard to write about this in the book? Or did you find it was helpful to write down what you had gone through?
This question is interesting, as I’ve just recently heard from a handful of readers and booksellers that they had to put Nothing Left to Burn down because it hit too close to home and was straight up stressful to read. And hearing this—well, I get it. I get it all too well, especially now that I’m out of the process of writing it.
It wasn’t until my final proofread of Nothing Left to Burn that I realized how difficult it’d been to write. Sending my editor that last pass was one of the most freeing experiences in my life. I knew that I didn’t have to read it again, that I’d never edit another line, that I wouldn’t need to think about that fire or Brooks and Audrey again—at least not in the intimate way that’s required when writing. I was so utterly relieved. But I hadn’t realized just how emotionally exhausting writing this book was until I was finished, which I suppose is lucky.
But, yes, I do think it was also helpful and healing to a degree to write Nothing Left to Burn. It was a constant examination of my own experiences with wildfires and volatile relationships.
It also says that you practice ballet in the forest (um, how cool does that sound?) in your biography – just like Audrey used to do and her totally lovable sister, Maya, does. Was being a ballerina your dream or was there always a part of you that wanted to be a writer (or perhaps both)?
Yes and no. I always loved ballet and fantasized about being a ballerina but I was too sick as a kid to pursue it in any true fashion, let alone stay in a dance class long term. Even when I was young, I knew it wasn’t something within the realm of possibility, even if it was something of a daydream. But I always remained astounded by the power and beauty and athleticism of the art and when I discovered that my college had a once principle dancer teaching all levels of ballet, classes that were included in my tuition, I went for it.
Bless Debra Mercer’s heart. I’m terrible at patterns and utterly clumsy yet freakishly flexible so I’m something of a sweaty rag doll when I dance… but after several years of it, well, when I graduated with my BA, it was vindicating not only because of the degree but also because I was, for the first time in my life, strong and I could hold my own at the barre and sort of dance well and did I mention I was strong? It was a middle finger to my chronic illnesses and the doctors who told me I’d be couch bound for life. I guess that’s why I claim ballet in my bio and as a part of my identity. Ballet helped me mend my relationship with my body and prove to myself that I can do what I love, even if not at the full capacity of others. As to why I currently dance in the forest (and my living room)… alas, the free ballet courses ended when I graduated. But I’ll get back in a studio one day.
Writing is an entirely different story. I don’t remember ever not wanting to be a writer. My earliest clear memory is taking a book I “wrote” to the principle’s office in the first grade in hopes of her praise. It was a stapled bundle of frayed-edge construction paper consisting of doodles. I wore my best poofy dress and was so dang proud. The principle was too, I’m sure.
You also created a map for your book – which is kind of new for a contemporary book but also ridiculously cool. Why did you want to create one – and do you have a favorite book map?
I’m SO happy you’ve asked me about the map because I’m obsessed with it! I initially had the idea of having one designed for the book during a revision where I had to keep checking Google Maps for driving times. Audrey spends A LOT of time in the car driving around Orange County within sixteen hours, so it was essential that I ensured that her rides were realistic, especially because every location is real!
After routing Audrey’s entire day and seeing the complex yet full circle route of it, well, I decided the book deserved a map.
I could ramble on about this for paragraphs (I wrote a blog post to indulge that compulsion!) but, really, when it comes down to it, I wanted to offer the reader a visual representation of the places Audrey’s visit, as well as the proximity of the fire. And I wanted a map for me. Real talk: the map is my debut gift to myself. I have a poster-sized version framed on my living room wall!
Favorite book maps—oh goodness. So many maps! All blurring together! The first that come to mind before I lose myself to my bookshelf devouring all the maps… the Grisha Trilogy, Game of Thrones (the details!!!), the map for Labyrinth Lost (I snagged the same map designer!), A Court of Thorns and Roses… I could go on. I wish a contemporary map came to mind but alas. I know there are some out there—there have to be, surely—but none I can think of in the moment.
About the Author
A Southern California native, Heather Ezell was evacuated for a fire at the age of three and subsequently grew up with an obsessive fear of wildfires. She has been chasing reprieve from California’s heat ever since–from the Rocky Mountains to Interior Alaska. Heather graduated from Colorado College with a degree in English literature and creative writing, and she currently lives in the Pacific Northwest where she writes, practices amateur ballet in the forest, and obsesses over the weather.
Heather’s debut novel, NOTHING LEFT TO BURN, will be published by Razorbill Penguin on 3/13/18.
What do you think? Does this make you more excited to read her novel? IS ANYONE SUPER EXCITED THAT SHE FOUND IT HARD TO PICK A FAVORITE PRINCESS TOO? Will you be picking up Nothing Left to Burn after a pre-release day party on Book Princess Reviews? Let’s discuss in the comments below!