Each week Lone Star Literary profiles a newsmaker in Texas books and letters, including authors, booksellers, publishers.
Michelle Newby Lancaster is a reviewer for Kirkus Reviews and Foreword Reviews, writer, blogger at TexasBookLover.com, and a moderator for the Texas Book Festival. Her reviews appear in Pleiades Magazine, Rain Taxi, Concho River Review, Mosaic Literary Magazine, Atticus Review, The Rumpus, PANK Magazine, and The Collagist.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Carrie Fountain’s poems have appeared in Tin House, Poetry, and The New Yorker, among other outlets. Her debut collection, Burn Lake, was a National Poetry Series winner and was published in 2010 by Penguin. Her second collection, Instant Winner, was published by Penguin in 2014. Fountain is the host of NPR’s “This Is Just To Say,” a radio show and podcast in which she talks to contemporary poets about the poems they make and the poems they love.
Born and raised in Mesilla, New Mexico, Fountain received her MFA as a fellow at the James A. Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas. Currently writer-in-residence at St. Edward’s University and visiting professor at the Michener Center, she lives in Austin with her husband, playwright Kirk Lynn, and their children.
Fountain’s debut novel, I’m Not Missing, was published July 2018 by Flatiron Books (Macmillan).
7.29.2018 Poet — and now novelist — Carrie Fountain on missing New Mexico but loving her Texas writing life
I’m Not Missing: A Novel
Hardcover, 978-1-2501-3251-2, (also available as an e-book, an audio-book, and on Audible), 336 pgs., $18.99
July 10, 2018
SYNPOSIS: It’s senior year, and Miranda Black’s best friend, Syd, has run away ― suddenly and inexplicably, leaving behind nothing but a pink leopard-print cell phone with a text message from the mysterious HIM. Everyone wants to know why Syd left, but the truth is, Miranda has no idea. When Miranda’s mother abandoned her as a child, Miranda had found shelter in her friendship with Syd, who wore her own motherlessness like a badge of honor. Now Miranda’s been left behind again, left to untangle the questions of why Syd left, where she is ― and if she’s even a friend worth saving — all while stumbling into first love with the most unlikely boy in school. How do you take on the future when it feels like so much of your past wasn’t even real?
LONE STAR LITERARY LIFE: Carrie, how did growing up in the Land of Enchantment shape you? How does New Mexico impact your writing?
CARRIE FOUNTAIN: I realized how much my New Mexican roots and childhood shaped me only after I moved away. My family has been in southern New Mexico forever, and I feel that connection most strongly when I’m there. It’s my home, no matter where I live. Someone recently asked me why I set my YA novel in New Mexico rather than Austin, where I’ve lived for seventeen years. It was a totally valid question: I know Austin very well, and it’s been a long time since I’ve lived full-time in New Mexico. But it completely confounded me. I’d never even considered setting my novel elsewhere. It was a given to me.
New Mexico is in my bones and blood. Austin—the entire rest of the world, in fact—is still working its way through my muscles.
How were you introduced to poetry? When did you decide you wanted to be a poet?
I started writing seriously in college, both fiction and poetry. When I was twenty, I happened into a workshop with the poet Tony Hoagland, and that really changed my course. There wasn’t anything that made more sense to me than reading and writing poetry, and that’s continued to be the case. I found my home in poetry very early and by way of amazing teachers like Tony and Naomi Nye and Marie Howe, and not a day goes by that I don’t marvel at my luck of finding those poets and continuing to make my home in the world of poetry alongside poets I admire and love.
Tell us a little about your debut novel, I’m Not Missing. What moved you to write a novel, and did you know from the beginning that it would be YA?
I have wanted to write for teenagers for as long as I’ve been writing, so yes, I went into I’m Not Missing writing a YA novel. In fact, I’ve not had any interest in writing a novel for any other audience. Not yet at least. Of course, there are plenty of adults who read YA. I’m one of them. Often the subjects of YA novels are big, dramatic, turning-point kind of subjects, and those appeal to me as a writer. I love turning points! I’m a revelation addict! And there’s tons of that in YA.
What inspired you to explore issues of abandonment and friendship?
I started writing this novel with an interest in exploring the end of a long friendship, the way things change at crossroads, and the people we choose to take or leave as we move forward in life. I myself have maintained a few very long friendships—I’ve known my best friend since we were ten—and I’ve lost a few, too. It’s endlessly fascinating to me what our friendships say about us, how they feed or deplete us, how we change to accommodate them or choose to let them go.
You earned an MFA as a fellow at the Michener Center and put down roots in Austin. Is there something about the literary community in Austin that led you make a new home there?
Yes, I came to Austin to study at the Michener Center and planned to move back to New Mexico as soon as I was done. And here I am, seventeen years later, teaching at the Michener occasionally, and married to a former classmate who teaches there as well. I stayed in Austin because I’d met the love of my life, Kirk Lynn, who has a theater company here, the Rude Mechs. His roots in Austin are very deep, and as my roots became entangled with his, mine have become deep as well. I love the friends I have made in Austin, both in the literary community and beyond, and though I do still dream of living at least part-time in New Mexico, it’d be very hard to leave our community here.
The reviews of I’m Not Missing have specifically highlighted realism and dialogue. What is your advice to other readers about how to achieve a high degree of realism and genuine dialogue?
Marry a playwright? Have a sometimes troublesomely vivid imagination? I don’t know! I would say that one of the things I’m most proud of about writing I’m Not Missing is that I gave myself over to the characters. They led me through the story and changed and grew as I plodded along trying to keep up with them. I’m glad I did that, because I think they led me in the right direction. I hope I can get around to doing that with the book I’m writing now. The characters in this one keep resisting the story I mapped out, and I think eventually if I want to get anywhere I’m just going to have to submit to them. They don’t like the plot I so meticulously laid out for them! They’re not as impressed with it as I am. So, if it’s going to work, I think I’ll have to turn over the reins to them and let them drive me where they need to go.
Your first poetry collection was chosen for the National Poetry Series in 2009, and now I’m Not Missing was selected as an Austin American-Statesman pick of the month. What are the impacts of critical and popular success on your domestic life and teaching at St. Edward’s University and the Michener Center?
I don’t know that critical success has changed my personal life, but I do feel it’s been a rare blessing to be in a partnership with another writer. I think people have this idea that two writers can’t be married because their egos will clash and they’ll be secretly resentful of the other’s successes. That hasn’t been the case for Kirk and me. A success for him feels just as sweet to me, and vice versa. And a blow to him feels double hard to me, and vice versa. I’ve stayed up all night seething and obsessing over a bad review of his work while he saws logs beside me.
We have made a good ecosystem, the two of us. And so, when I told him I was feeling burned out from teaching and wanted to try my hand at writing a YA novel and being a writer outside of academia, he supported me. Based on no evidence, he said yes, that’s a good idea to leave teaching and focus on writing. And when he needs to travel extensively for his work in the theater, I say yes, too, as much as I can. Is it hard for him to see me go to my writing desk as he leaves for his office at UT? Sure. Is it hard for me to solo-parent while he’s in New York City or at Yale, being showered with accolades and eating adult meals entirely devoid of chicken nuggets? For sure. But still, it works for us, because we believe in the other, and we try as hard as we can to continue to say yes to each other.
So, I think the rare, wonderful thing is to have a partner who believes in you before you’ve had any critical success. And that’s been key to our mutual successes and our growth as individuals as well. Our partnership can shoulder much more weight than we ever imagined, and we carry each other when we need to.
What can you tell us about your next project?
I’m working now on my third collection of poems, tentatively titled Even After. There was a time when I was deep in the novel writing when I thought I might not write another collection of poems. It made me sad, to have felt that I’d lost a little access to that part of myself. But that time passed, thankfully, and I’ve returned to poetry with a fresh sense of urgency and wonder, both in my reading and writing. I’m feeling a great need for poetry right now, and I’m feeling more at home in that world than ever.
I’m also writing a second YA novel set in Santa Fe and involving the Most Famous Writer Alive, who upends the life of my main character, Jade, when he starts to frequent the bookstore where she works. It’s a romp. As I said above, I’ve got the story mapped out, but my characters are leading me places I hadn’t expected to go, so I’m teaching myself how to loosen up and follow. Following, in general, has never been my strong suit.
As well, I’m working on a picture book biography for children. That’s a top secret project though. Only me and my husband and my agent know about it. I’m hoping beyond hope to be done with a draft by the end of this summer, so I can show it to people and see if it has legs. It’s a beautiful story that could be beautifully illustrated if it ever becomes a book. (Knocks wood, throws salt, crosses fingers.)
What’s on your nightstand to read?
I happen to by lying in bed right now, so here goes! I’m reading A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit. I picked it up in this quirky bookstore in Silver City, New Mexico, where we’re hiding from the Austin heat for a while. I’m reading books by and about the subject of the top secret kids’ book I’m working on. I’m reading Max Ritvo’s Four Reincarnations, which is an exceptional and exceptionally heartbreaking collection of poems by a young poet who was dying of cancer as he wrote it. And because I’m going to have the poet Bob Hicok on “This Is Just to Say,” my podcast on KUT, I nabbed an ARC of his forthcoming collection, Hold. On the bottom of the pile is a guide to hiking the Gila and a book my best friend shamed me into buying called Treat Your Own Back. I believe she might have become a little tired of hearing me complain at length about a chronic shoulder and back problem I know is caused by the way I sit when I’m writing. I have yet to crack that book. I hope she’s reading this and rolling her eyes right now.
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Praise for Carrie Fountain’s I’M NOT MISSING
“Carrie Fountain’s YA novel is part-plot-twisty thriller, part-sweet romance, and perfect for summer reading.” ―Bustle, Best YA Book of July
“I’m Not Missing is an utterly captivating, suspenseful, character-rich gift of a book. The interweaving of place, people, drama is so compelling. I laughed, I cried, I was seventeen again. This book has won my heart.” —Naomi Shihab Nye, award-winning author of Habibi
“Expertly charts both the splintering of a friendship and the blossoming of a first love. Fountain has created something big and essential with Missing. Miranda’s circumstances might be unique, her struggle with the challenges of growing up is universal ―which makes Missing a must-read for teenagers and the adults who hope to understand them.” ―Austin American-Statesman, Book Pick of the Month
“Readers will see themselves or people they know on every page. A must-read for any teen who’s felt the pain of lost friendship and the challenge of finding herself.” ―BookPage
“As Mir starts to piece together clues about Syd in this debut novel, the light thriller turns to romance à la John Green, with impeccable realism and spot-on dialogue. While Mir and Nick’s relationship builds, the author never lets the mystery falter as she keeps readers guessing about Syd’s secrets and whereabouts. A beautiful new voice to watch.” ―Kirkus
“This thoughtful coming-of-age tale tenderly explores the great pain and power of forging one’s own identity as well as the inescapable influence of loved ones, even those who choose to be lost.” ― Horn Book
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