Julie has an obsession with fire that began after her parents died when she was twelve years old. Her pyromania leads her to take an unlikely job as a forest firefighter on an elite, Type 1 “Hotshot” crew of forest firefighters who travel the American West battling wildfires. The only woman on the twenty person crew, Julie struggles both to prove her worth and find a place of belonging in the dangerous, insular, and very masculine world of fire (while also fighting against an eating disorder she’s had since her teens). As her season “on the line” progresses so do her relationships with the strange and varied cast of characters that make up her hotshots team–and she learns what it means to put your life on the line for someone else. Wildfire is a tough, gritty, and fascinating story from an exciting new voice in American fiction.
Eating Disorders and Grief in my novel “Wildfire”
Julie, the narrator of my novel “Wildfire,” became on orphan at the age of 12. After flirting with pyromania, she turned to bulimia as a way to assuage her grief at the loss of her parents. It’s incredibly common for young women to develop eating disorders as a way to maintain an illusion of control, especially when their lives feel out of control in other ways. Julie feels very ashamed of her binging and purging and she works hard to keep it a secret.
After flunking out of college, Julie is hired onto an elite 20-person “hotshot” crew of wildland firefighters. Ironically, hotshot crewmembers throw up often as well, but for very different reasons. Hotshots throw up from drinking too much, participating in impromptu eating contests, working out too hard, putting in their first dip of Copenhagen, etc etc. And unlike Julie, the hotshots are kind of proud when they throw up–they even brag about it. It’s part of their machismo culture.
I thought it would be interesting to put Julie—who struggles privately with the shame of her eating disorder—in the middle of this group of rowdy guys who are constantly barfing as well, but out in front of people and with no shame attached. I wanted to see what crazy and fun and ultimately healing events would unfold. Also, I wanted Julie in a situation where she needed plenty of food (i.e. fuel) in order to do the demanding work of fighting wildfires. That is another thing that helps Julie to overcome her struggles with bulimia. In some ways, eating disorders can both come from and perpetuate loneliness. Joining up with a crew of wildland firefighters ultimately helps Julie to break out of her isolation and let go of the eating disorder that has been destroying her life.
Mary Pauline Lowry worked for two years as a forest firefighter on the elite Pike Interagency Hotshot Crew based on the Pike National Forest in Colorado. “Hotshots are the best-trained and best-equipped wildland firefighters, sometimes referred to as the Navy SEALs of their profession” (Rolling Stone Magazine).
Lowry has an M.A. in English (concentration Creative Writing) from the University of Texas at Austin. Lowry has since worked in the movement to end violence against women.
Lowry is a native of Austin, TX. She writes for xoJane and the Huffington Post. Her novel WILDFIRE, based on her experiences as a wildland firefighter, will be published by Skyhorse on October 7.