(You busy for the next hour or so?)
(I’m on a train, are you at work? Maybe we can do our interview about Manhunt?)
Yeah! I’m sitting at my desk talking to my friends Beth and Georgina.
What’s your desk like? You ever sneak in writing at work? On your lunch break or whatever?
Tell Beth and Georgina the Internet says hi
My desk looks like this.
Usually I stand up, but I just ate some old baba ganoush, so I’m sitting.
Most of my writing is done sneaking around — at work, on the subway. I do a lot of it in google docs, so I can pick away on my phone, or at work, or when my friend is in the bathroom at a restaurant.
It makes sense too that you wrote Manhunt while sneaking around, it’s a novel about sneaking around not only in the game itself, but emotionally.
It is! The whole process was pretty sneaky. I didn’t feel like I was writing a book at all.
Manhunt was one of the best novels I’ve ever read, so whatever you did, it worked.
I wish I knew! I know it sounds disingenuous to be like “oh, this old thing?” but I was never totally sure this would work.
Of course shorter novels always have more power. No wasted words. There’s no wasted words in yours. What are some pieces of art you’ve returned to again and again, and maybe their influence has seeped into your life and work?
This is a really good question, and I’m going to compliment you in order to gain some time to formulate an appropriate response.
I really love art that creates its own atmosphere. I watched Twin Peaks in kindergarten, and I think it imprinted on me in a really serious way. Rewatching it when I was grown felt like finally going home.
Manhunt does have a tiny bit of a Twin Peaks atmosphere. Longing. Loneliness.
Hidden worlds, secrets, different layers of understanding...
I think there are some songwriters who are really masters of atmosphere as well. I’ve spent years in Tom Waits’ songs.
And David Berman! My god, I was crushed.
I still can’t believe David Berman is gone, just like that.
Me either. I feel almost guilty. He gave me so much, and I never gave him anything.
RIP to one of the greats.
Yeah the secrets in your book worked really well. Even just knowing where someone was hiding, or knowing about a relationship that was behind closed doors, or an identity that no one else knew. That was really powerful.
There’s something amazing that kept happening in Manhunt, where something that a lesser writer would write as mundane, somehow you always transcended up up up, like when we go bra shopping in the book, it’s written so magically it almost becomes sci-fi. I felt that way too about when we are in the convenience store ... it’s like how some writers write about Mars or something. Everything is so hyper vivid in this book.
Oh and I think you can return the favor to David Berman by writing stories. Just keep writing your stories.
I try to describe how things feel more than how they look. I think that’s more important.
It is more important to describe how things feel than how they actually are.
We’re pen pals, me and you, and I like writing letters back and forth to you because I think it’s important to connect with artists in real life, those who inspire you, and when I think about someone like David Berman dying like he did, it feels even more raw and important to get close with those that I draw inspiration from. I want to keep walking farther into the forest fire, because there’s still water in there somewhere.
I think I owe you a letter!
I like letters because they require a lot of effort and then you just give them away.
I was just talking to Chelsea Hodson about that. How some writers forget to break our hearts and when they forget to do that they fail.
Well—haha I photocopy my letters
I try to scan mine, but I don’t know if I always remember. I saved all yours though!
the collected letters of Jaime and Bud ... I can see it on the discarded library book like now in 2049
I send a lot of letters. Not everyone writes back, so I appreciate that you do!
I just read Sing to It by Amy Hempel are both that books and yours hit this incredibly portent note. I think you’re writing about devastation and beauty in a way that I just don’t see from people these days. The Sarah Book did it too, recently. I’m always looking for books to totally drag me through the fire.
What are you afraid to write about?
Have you ever read For All The Other Ghosts by Justin Sanders? That book made my blood run cold.
I’m speaking very broadly here, but in so many “great American novels” there’s a lot of feelings that can’t be expressed by the central characters. There was a time when the fact that those hung over them was enough, but I don’t think it is anymore.
I wouldn't say that I’m afraid, but I don’t write much about my estranged mother because that’s...a whole thing, and though it’s not a secret, I’m not sure who it would benefit.
Only you would know. There’s a slim chance you’d benefit, I guess. And we’d benefit too, reading it. But then there’s the whole thing, you know, some therapist would benefit too. Hahah but not haha.
I think that there’s an expectation that if you’re writing about a bad thing that you’re supposed to flay yourself for an audience and I don’t think it’s necessary.
I don’t either.
I didn’t have a good relationship with my mom, and so I stopped having a relationship with her like 15 years ago, and it’s been great!
I’m happy for you. It’s not necessary if you don’t want that relationship. It really isn’t.
That doesn’t fit the accepted narrative, nor do I want it to.
I like what you said about writing Manhunt while people went to the bathroom at a restaurant.
I absolutely did that on a very early date with my now-boyfriend.
I always hear people say they write their flash fiction that way because “life” but I have had the same experience writing my novels. I write them in the work truck driving between jobs, five minutes at a time.
You talking about writing your novels and stuff on your phone opened up a whole world to me!
Being able to just pick at things without having “writing time” looming over me was huge.
Art is artificial, no matter how real we try and make it, and it has to happen, for me, and it seems for you, jumping out of the seams, like a quick thunderstorm, lighting and thunder and then your friend comes back from the bathroom and the sun comes out and you put the phone down.
Are you a person who can read a book in a loud place?
I can read anywhere. Once, my grandfather took my brother and me to a Phillies game and I just read a whole book. What a little asshole I was!
Ah so like, you’re thinking about your project all the time, working it out, and then when it’s worked out you just have a concentrated blitz to capture it wherever you are?
And then I have to finesse it.
I need to give my ideas space, and staring at them in a word document doesn’t change that.
No see you reading at a baseball game makes sense. That tells me you are closer to a flow state than most people.
You’re just a couple blinks away from what people meditate for twenty minutes to get to.
I can’t meditate, though. I get bored, and then I start imagining recipes I could make.
I’m pretty adaptable, but I’m not, like, chill.
yeah ... adaptable ... but full of anxiety. Important part is adaptable. I think that’s why you can just jump into writing on your phone
Also, I don’t and can’t meditate either. People say I’m “chill” but maybe they just mean I’m dumb as shit haha
I have people at my job fooled!
They think I’m calm!
But you’re always making these wild connections in conversation that are so great, and you’re really funny.
When I first met you in Philly at Tire Fire I was impressed. I thought, this woman is a really intelligent and hilarious person.
Thank you! I think it’s really important not to take anything too seriously.
oh yeah, a person would explode into pink mist, scatter in the wind
So anyways, I mention this because I think that carries over into the writing and a lot of writers I read seem like they are writing at half capacity. Like they are afraid of their own brains and mistakes and ordinary triumphs.
When you were a kid growing up, manhunt was a regular thing?
I used to play that all the time.
I lived on a block with a bunch of kids, so we played a lot.
It was a way to torture each other without anyone getting in trouble.
Were you good at manhunt?
I was never a fast runner or sporty, but I was kind of obnoxious, so I learned a lot about not getting hit in gym class dodgeball. That helped. But it’s one of those games where the rules change enough while you’re playing that no one can be truly good or bad at it. Were you any good?
Yeah! The rules change. And sometimes being bored would impact things. Like, I have this great hiding spot and I won’t be found but do I want to stay here for three hours and just think about things, or do I want to go walk through the shadows to a new spot that would be more thrilling.
Like ... what does winning mean to me today?
I love the sad quote in the beginning about how the game was practice for real danger.
The part of the game where it was more about sneaking off with a buddy touched a nerve too.
When you’re a kid, stealing time that that can be such a betrayal.
And that feeling of maybe not being people’s best friend, so they choose someone else and you’re left alone. That hurts. That feels like childhood. That feels like adulthood.
Rejection hurts. It doesn’t matter if it was intentional.
And because things have changed so much. Most kids don’t play manhunt or tag or whatever anymore. They’re not playing football, stickball, etc in the street. They’re not jumping rope.
Yeah, their time seems much more accounted for these days.
They’re texting each other from their separate houses.
So in that regard Manhunt is a novel that is documenting a long lost time.
I wouldn’t know how to write about being a kid with a phone. But I hope the feelings are more timeless.
Someone keeps tweeting about people who live in NYC need to think about writing about their neighborhoods as if the neighborhoods will be gone in 50 years, underwater.
Did you feel that way writing about your youth?
Not when I was doing it, but after the fact, a little.
Also I’m not extremely old, but I didn’t have a cell phone or internet until 2003.
I didn’t have a cellphone till 2002, yeah.
I’m not one of those people who is anti-technology in literature or anything.
Hey listen, you wrote a novel that really resonated with me. Thank you putting it down on “paper”
I want everybody to read your book.
Thank you! I’m really glad you liked it! I know that sounds like, fucking 1984 Sally Field, but I’m completely overwhelmed by how many people have enjoyed reading this book.
Jaime Fountaine was raised by “wolves.” She’s the author of Manhunt (Mason Jar Press, 2019). Twitter/Instagram: @jaimefountaine
Bud Smith is the author of Teenager (Tyrant Books, 2019), Double Bird (Maudlin House, 2018), WORK (Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2017), Dust Bunny City (Disorder Press, 2017), Calm Face (House of Vlad, 2016), among others. He works heavy construction building and destroying chemical plants, refineries, and generating stations. He’s on Twitter @bud_smith