Michaela Carter's forthcoming debut novel, Further Out Than You Thought (HarperCollins), began as a memoir. Carter's agent at the time read the completed manuscript, and though he liked it, suggested that writing a novel would be the best way for Carter to distill the story.
"It worked," said Carter, who is the head buyer and co-owner of Peregrine Book Company in Prescott, Ariz. "The facts, in a way, obscured the story. I found the truth by fictionalizing it."
Further Out Than You Thought, which Carter described as a "character-driven, grayish comedy," focuses on a trio of listless, bohemian characters, two men and one women, living in Los Angeles in the early 1990s. Gwendolyn is a 25-year-old poet who strips to pay her way through graduate school, while her boyfriend Leo is a stoner and musician. The couple's neighbor and best friend is a nightclub singer called Count Valiant. The novel's action takes place over three days during the 1992 Rodney King riots; the sudden outbreak of violence forces them all to face a "reluctant adulthood."
"A lot happens in those few days," remarked Carter. "They're searching for meaning and making discoveries in the midst of the riots."
Carter lived in Los Angeles from the mid-'80s until 1994, and studied acting at the University of California at Los Angeles. "I moved there for the acting, I thought I wanted to do that," Carter explained. "But it was really writing that I wanted."
After leaving Los Angeles, Carter received an MFA in Creative Writing from Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa, N.C., for a book of poetry (her poetry has been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes, and she won the Poetry Society of America Los Angeles New Poets Contest). In 2001, she moved to Prescott, Ariz., and began teaching poetry and creative writing at Yavapai College. It took her roughly three years to write Further Out Than You Thought; she completed the bulk of the project before opening Peregrine Book Company with her partner and co-owner, Ty Fitzmorris, in 2012.
Carter has, in fact, been writing for most of her life. "Even before I could write, my mom would write down things that I said," she recounted. "And as a child I used to make up little books and illustrate them. And I really fell in love with poetry in college. I felt like I had to write it, like I had this kind of fire inside me. It didn't matter to me that you couldn't make any money writing poetry. Later on I felt that there was a larger story I needed to tell, and that became this book. "
|photo: Tom Broderson
Further Out Than You Thought comes out on August 5, and Carter is hosting a launch party at Peregrine Book Company on the following Saturday. She's scheduled to read at Changing Hands Bookstore's new location in Phoenix, Ariz., and at Book Soup in Los Angeles. At the moment, she has no other plans for appearances, but is looking into taking the book to San Francisco. Mused Carter: "An edgy, urban story seems like a good fit."
Carter has already begun working on other projects, including a new novel set in France in the 1930s. She currently juggles writing with her role at Peregrine Book Company. Being head buyer, she said, has exposed her to so many great writers, many of whom she might not otherwise have encountered. And encountering a particularly strong voice in her reading, such as Anthony Doerr or Brian Doyle, occasionally has unexpected effects on her own writing.
"I'll read Brian Doyle, and all of a sudden my sentences will become half a page long," she said, laughing. "I love getting to read, and having to read, so many galleys. There's so much great writing going on right now. It could be daunting, but I find it really exciting." --Alex Mutter