Mary Pauline Lowry, a third-year fiction writing student in Boise State University’s Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Creative Writing program, recently sold her novel, “The Roxy Letters” to Simon & Schuster. Publication is set for the summer of 2020.
Lowry learned the news a couple weeks ago via a phone call from her agent.
“We were on speaker phone and her assistant was in the room, so I figured it was good news,” said Lowry.
Simon & Schuster was not the only publisher to make an offer on her book. It was her top choice.
“The Roxy Letters,” written in epistolary, or letter, form, is a comedic novel about a 20-something woman. She works in the deli of the original Whole Foods in Austin, Texas, Lowry’s hometown. Lowry set the novel in 2012, at a time when Whole Foods hadn’t yet grown into the mammoth retailer it is today.
Lowry said Roxy “is grappling with her hometown becoming more corporatized” – a theme that’s bound to resonate with many Boise readers. “When a store selling very expensive yoga pants moves into a space that had been a small, local business, she takes matters into her own hands.”
Roxy addresses her letters to her live-in ex-boyfriend who is not paying his share of the rent.
As part of the MFA program, Lowry taught writing classes at Boise State. “The Roxy Letters” grew from an assignment she gave her students – to write a letter in the voice of a quirky, angry person. She wrote her own letter along with her students and Roxy’s voice emerged. Lowry said her inspirations include other comedic works written in letter form, including “Where’d You Go Bernadette” by Maria Semple and “Bridget Jones’ Diary” by Helen Fielding.
“All of us in the MFA program couldn’t be more excited for Mary,” said Brady Udall, an associate professor of fiction in the MFA program and Lowry’s MFA thesis advisor. “Her book, which we’ve been workshopping for the past few months, and which she only started writing last year, has been bought by one of the biggest and most important publishers in the country. Holy cow.”
Lowry applied to Boise State’s writing program on the advice of her mentor, the late novelist Denis Johnson, who was a distinguished writer in residence on campus in 2015. Lowry had worked as a wildland firefighter and knew Boise from passing through on her way to fires in the Frank Church–River of No Return Wilderness area.
“So Boise was on my radar,” she said, “but I knew it was a long shot to get into such a small, competitive writing program.” Currently, only 10 fiction writers and six poets are enrolled. “It was dream to come here.”
Lowry is associate editor of The Idaho Review. “The Roxy Letters” is her second novel. Her first novel, “Wildfire,” is about a woman fighting fires on a hotshot crew, informed by her own experiences in the field. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The New York Times, The Millions, Los Angeles Review of Books, and other publications. She is a regular contributor to O, the Oprah Magazine. She has mostly written first-person essays, including a piece about moving to Boise and how her interest in brewing kombucha helped her make friends. The January issue of O will feature Lowry’s profile of Mari Copeny, a.k.a. “Little Miss Flint,” an 11-year-old clean water activist in Flint, Michigan.
“While first-person essays are fun, a profile like this is a good reminder that it’s possible to make a positive impact and change your community. Even if you’re 11,” said Lowry.
She also finds inspiration in the campus community, including her past students, who are “filled with such enthusiasm and fresh energy,” and her peers. Fellow MFA student Ariel Delgado Dixon recently published a piece in the prestigious Kenyon Review, Lowry noted.
“They all make me want to work harder,” she said.