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Julia Dixon Evans’ Debut Book Lights Up Shelves

Julia Dixon Evans' Debut Books Lights Up Shelves


Julia Dixon Evans, author, "How to Set Yourself on Fire"


Photo credit: Dzanc Books

The cover of "How to Set Yourself on Fire" by Julia Dixon Evans.

Wildfire season feels stifling for San Diego writer Julia Dixon Evans. But it’s also when she feels most aware of her surroundings. She said that mix of misery and charm made it the perfect backdrop for her debut novel, “How to Set Yourself on Fire.”

“Every wildfire season, when a thick blanket of ash hovers between the fire and the ocean, I wonder if I’m far enough from it, if this concrete grid of hundred-year-old suburb will repel fire the same way it repels me,” Evans’ wrote from the perspective of her main character Sheila. “Maybe fire will feel right at home here, the same way I do. Every wildfire, I feel safe and I don’t feel safe. I care and I don’t and this is my California.”

Sheila, a thirty-something, semi-employed temp worker, spends much of the book on a hunt for her family’s past. Her grandmother has recently died, leaving behind a trove of love letters from someone who is not Sheila’s grandfather. But Shelia only has one half of the conversation.

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Evans, the program director for the San Diego non-profit storytelling group So Say We All, was partially inspired by a series of letters she still has from a long-distance boyfriend during her teens.

“I would read these super eloquent letters, and think, ‘I probably rambled on.’ But maybe I matched him,” Evans said. “I don’t have what I wrote back. For all I know, there’s nothing out there.”

Evans joins KPBS Midday Edition on Tuesday to discuss her new novel and her family’s own history with wildfires.


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