Behind the Scenes: I’m Not Missing, by Carrie Fountain

My favorite book of 2018 (so far) is Carrie Fountain’s I’m Not Missing.  You can read my full review here, but I’ll give you a quick synopsis to catch you up:

"Miranda and Syd have been best friends for as long as they can remember. Both abandoned by their mothers, they swore an oath that they would be each other’s person forever. So when Syd runs away midway through senior year, Miranda is left anchorless. As she tries to discover where Syd went and why—all while navigating college decisions and her first love with Nick, the boy she’s had a crush on for ages—she realizes it’s time to step out of her best friend’s shadow and figure out who she is on her own."

Sounds fun, right? Well, last week, Fountain launched the novel at Book People, here in Austin, and I couldn’t wait to hear her talk about her writing process. Fountain started as a poet, and I was particularly curious about how she thought the two disciplines—poetry and prose—worked together. (Her answer surprised me.) 

Fountain is a great speaker, and throughout the evening she said a lot of really interesting things about the writing process. Here are my three favorite insights from the Q&A session:

Q: Did you plan the story before writing, or did you make it up as you went along?

This is a hot debate in the writing world, as I’m sure you know. Is it better to write from an outline or fly by the seat of your pants? 

Fountain did the latter. She said she started with a clear idea of her characters and wrote from there, without a real plan for the plot. Ten drafts later, when she started soliciting feedback, the biggest note was, “You’ve got great characters here, but nothing happens.” So at that point, she started planning, and once she figured out what was going to happen, she started over from scratch. The book that’s in your hands now is draft #23, and though most of the characters have been consistent from the start, not much else has.

Would she do it differently next time? Fountain said she worked from an outline for the first draft of her next novel, but it wasn’t the magic cure she thought it would be. While the plot was certainly more fully formed, the characters and the details felt flat and empty.

[Learn more about finding the balance between planning and flexibility in your writing.]

Q: Why did you choose to write for young adults?

“I love the idea of writing for young women. It’s an important thing to do. Young women readers read a lot, they’re really savvy, and they can see right through you.”

Fountain said it perfectly. Later in the evening, an attendee pushed harder on her decision to make the shift, as a serious poet, into writing for young audiences. So she elaborated, explaining that while there’s a tendency to see young adult fiction as “less than” other types of writing, she doesn’t agree. She said she sees the shift like a painter who decides to try her hand at sculpting—the art forms are different, but equally valid. And she went on to talk about how adolescence is just so rife with drama and change and deep topics to unpack, and she explores many of the same kind of “coming-of-age” themes in her poetry as she does in I’m Not Missing.

Q: How are the fiction and poetry processes similar or different?

I’ve always thought that, while the two mediums are certainly very different, fiction and poetry complement each other well, so I was surprised to hear Fountain say she didn’t think the two had anything significant in common. “The tools of a poet and the tools of a novelist are not the same tools, except for the care you take to write a sentence.”

However, I was taken with the way she explained their biggest difference: “Poetry is taking something big and making it essential; writing a book is taking something essential and making it big.”

What do you think? Have you switched from poetry to prose or from one genre to another? How did it go?

Once more, you can read my full review of Carrie Fountain’s I’m Not Missing on BookPage, and then head to your nearest independent bookstore to pick up your copy!