We’re thrilled to welcome this new voice to the YA world! Award-winning poet Carrie Fountain talked to us about her debut YA novel, I’m Not Missing. Check out the Q&A below and join us for the launch party Thursday, July 12 at 7 PM!
BP: What inspired you to write this story?
CF: I’m fascinated by friendships, especially those long lasting ones that begin when we’re young. When I was in graduate school at the Michener Center, I started working on a novel about two girls—younger than Miranda and Syd—living in Los Alamos, New Mexico after the terrible Cerro Grande fires of 2000. They sort of wandered around the wreckage and talked and then one of them slowly started showing signs of mental illness and the other one didn’t know what to do about it. I didn’t finish that book. I guess maybe because I didn’t know how. Fast forward thirteen years. I started I’m Not Missing with the same fascination of friendship, but with two older characters about the finish high school in my hometown of Las Cruces, New Mexico. I didn’t know what was going to happen with the two of them, so I just started writing and let them do the work. For a long time—10 full drafts!—nothing really happened. Then I started over, and the story finally started coming out. It surprised me. The draft that became the book was draft 23. Rather than be embarrassed by that, I’m grateful I had the time and space to work so hard at it. I started with the tools of a poet, and over the course of all those drafts, I taught myself how to use the tools of a novelist. They are very different tools.
Also, I totally and honestly fell in love with all the characters along the way, which was a total bonus. I still think about them and wonder how they’re doing.
BP: Miranda and Syd are both such relatable characters. Did they come from people in your own life or your own teen years?
CF: Not really. My husband sees a lot of me and my best friend, whom I met when I was ten, in Miranda and Syd. But my best friend would never do anything like Syd does, and, in fact, is more the inspiration for the character of Letty—she’s a social worker who gives great advice! But she is very funny and has never had trouble speaking her mind. Once, when I was dating a guy she didn’t like (newsflash: he was totally unlikable!) and he called when I was out, she’d put the phone down on the table and left him there for the time it took for me to get back from Starbucks. It was like ten minutes. She just set the phone down and continued reading her magazine rather than talk to him. I only wish I’d taken her passive-aggressive hint about him a little sooner.
BP: Are you a Miranda or a Sydney?
CF: Hmm. I’m certainly all up in my head all the time, and definitely a little obsessive, so in that way I’m totally a Miranda. Also, I’m half-Latina. I don’t have a Syd bone in my body, I know that. Honestly, I’m probably most like Nick Allison. I love New Mexico forever, often have trouble making decisions, and am rule follower to a troublesome degree. Nick changes a lot over the course of the book. But I still worry about him to this day.
BP: Who are some of your favorite YA authors?
CF: I’m on the outskirts of the generation who was Judy Blume’s target audience, so for me, all YA roads lead back to her. When I found it, I honestly felt she’d written Tiger Eyes just for me. I’d never read anything—novel, story, anything—set in New Mexico. And she did it so well. It’s very easy to get New Mexico wrong. Sandra Cisneros book The House on Mango Street was also an early favorite of mine, as was her books of poetry. The Last of the Menu Girls by Denise Chávez made a strong impression on me as a young writer.
Some of the books I’ve loved recently: Margo Rabb’s Cures for Heartbreak and Kissing in America were books I read again and again and from which I feel I learned so much. I love Rainbow Rowell, especially Eleanor and Park. Most recently, I loved Britta Lundin’s debut Ship It—a novel set in the world of fandoms and Comic-Cons. It’s such a crafty book with great, strong characters. I have no experience with that world, and yet, by the end, I was totally in it. I stayed up very late at night finishing Mary O’Connell’s Dear Reader. And there are some books that weren’t marketed as such, but felt to me like impeccable YA. The Boys of My Youth by Jo Ann Beard. Also, Lorrie Moore’s Who Will Run the Frog Hospital. Both of those books knocked my socks off and felt very YA to me.
BP: The father-daughter relationship in I’m Not Missing is so personal and beautifully written. Why did you choose to focus on that family relationship instead of a mother-daughter one?
CF: Honestly, it was very late in the drafting of the book when I realized I’d vanished all the moms. I think it was out of a fear of getting that relationship wrong. But then, of course, that didn’t make the father-daughter relationship any easier to write. And theirs is a difficult one, especially because Miranda’s mom is at once so gone and so everywhere for both of them.
BP: You were born and raised in New Mexico, where this book takes place. How did your upbringing influence the story– not only in setting, but as far as character and voice?
CF: I love New Mexico and still consider it my homeland. So I was happy to be able to sit down at my desk in Austin and return to that place for hours on end everyday. I have a strong connection to New Mexico, to the desert and sky, the dry air and the far off horizons. My family has been in southern New Mexico forever, long before it was part of America. I feel that when I’m there. It’s a haunted place for me, in a good way.
BP: What reader do you hope finds this book? And what do you hope readers take away from the story?
CF: I hope readers connect with Miranda, and feel how she changes by increments over the course of the book, and how she comes to terms with things that don’t change and have no chance of changing.
I was also really drawn in this book to write male characters who were inherently feminist from the start. Both Peter and Nick are thus. I’m tired of stories (and/or real-life experiences) where women have to teach men what feminism is. I want readers to read characters like Nick and understand boys should be active feminists and should be preoccupied with consent.
BP: What’s a sentence you’ve loved and remembered from a book (or poem)?
CF: Oh my gosh, there are so many! In the book I’m working on right now, which takes place in a dusty Santa Fe bookstore, the two ultra-shy not-well-adjusted teenagers are communicating their feels entirely through the poems of Emily Dickinson, so I’ve got a lot of Dickinson in my brain right now. But I’ll just write the first thing that came to my mind.
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” – that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.
(Ode on a Greacian Urn, Keats)
I’ve been thinking about these lines for so long and I’m still not sure I understand what Mr. Keats was after. And maybe that’s the point.
BP: What are you currently reading?
CF: I’m reading tons of poetry right now. Diane Seuss’s Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl has knocked me out. She’s one of my favorite poets, totally inventive in so many ways. (She’ll be in Austin this fall for a reading at St. Edward’s!) I’m in the middle of my second read of Ada Limón’s forthcoming collections The Carrying. It’s one of the best collections I’ve read in a long time. She’s a favorite poet of mine and this collection might be my favorite of hers.
I’m also reading a brilliant collection of essays set in southern New Mexico called Acid West. Very weird and inventive, with a strong, compelling voice at the helm. I read a review of it online and had never heard of the writer, Joshua Wheeler, who grew up in a small town very close to where I grew up. I couldn’t believe it! I immediately went online and found him and sent him many messages and have successfully forced a burgeoning friendship upon him. That’s kind of my jam, being a fangirl.
I’m also reading a YA debut, The Bird and the Blade, by Megan Bannen. I’m loving it—totally outside of my usual genre of choice and so gripping and beautifully written. I’m also prepping to teach a seminar for the Michener Center in the fall. A few of the books I’m excited to consider for that class: A Lucky Man by Jamel Brinkley, Why Poetry by Matthew Zapruder and the collection Holy Moly Carry Me by Erika Meitner. There are so many great books coming out!
Come meet Carrie Fountain at BookPeople on Thursday, July 12 at 7 PM. Can’t make the event? You can still preorder a signed copy online!