Carrie Carter's Travelogue of Whimsy & Whiskers

Ashi and "Audrey" (Carrie Carter) head to Japan. In Business Class, no less!
Ashi and "Audrey" (Carrie Carter) head to Japan. In Business Class, no less! Photo illustration by Stacy Vickers
The Japanese have a word to express one’s purpose in life or reason for living—ikigai. Houstonian Carrie Carter loves the concept, but lacked a distinctive for summation for herself. Even when she would create her own list of “likes” and force all her friends to go over them with her ad nauseum in an attempt to help her pick out a path to pursue. Year after year.

“In America, we tend to focus on your career and money, but in Japan, your ikigai is more meaningful that that. It could be walking your kid to the bus stop every day,” Carter explains.

“I had worked a lot of, let’s say, jobs that were not the best fit for me. And a year would go by and I’d just repeat the [list process]. My sister finally told me to take some things from the list and combine it with writing, which I love. And that’s how this all got started!”

Since the third grade, Carrie Carter has been writing short stories, often featuring a smart, sharp, girl detective not too far removed from her own fantasy Nancy Drew-like self. As an adult, she discovered a deep love for Japan, and has visited the country 14 times to date.

She also loves cats, and one in particular—Frenemy, who she happens to currently live with along with husband Jim Dekan (it was his then-airline employment that helped cut travel costs and smooth arrangements for all those Japanese journeys).

Carter brings all of her interests together—and finally finds her ikigai—in her debut novelette, Whiskers Abroad: Ashi and Audrey’s Adventures in Japan (170 pp., $19.99, Bayou City Press). The book is a combination guidebook to Japan, work of travel and food journalism, fictional narrative, and—of course—love letter to cats.
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Carrie Carter
Photo by Jack Opatrny
“Japan is just a really interesting country. It’s different and safe. I could walk down the streets in Tokyo at 2 a.m. as a woman and nobody would bother me. And you can get a great meal anywhere,” she says.

“And it’s efficient to get around. You have big cities and the country and a lot of variety. The first time I went to Tokyo, I actually thought I was going to hate it. And I didn’t! There was so much to explore.”

Carter’s graphic designer sister Stacy Vickers illustrates the book using Carter’s real life travel photos, digitally dropping in pics of her Vickers' own cat, Ashi. Chapters are written alternately by Ashi and Audrey, often giving the same adventures both a human and feline perspective.

Ashi and Audrey’s adventures take them to a Japanese park, religious temple, bullet train, school cafeteria, beach, biking trail, fish market, shopping centers, a sake house, fishing boats, and (naturally) a cat café. There’s even a transplanted El Torito Mexican restaurant. Plus, a museum dedicated to…charcoal??

“It was really interesting!” Carter says. “I didn’t think it was made out of trees!”

But it’s the theme of food that keeps coming back again and again in the adventures, and Carter says that’s no accident or coincidence.

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Ashi and Carter
Personal photo
“The first time I went there, I was like ‘Whoa, a lot of this is too fishy,’ especially the broth. And that threw me. Then I got used to it,” she says. “And while I had like California Rolls here, the first time I genuinely tried sushi was in Japan. When the chef found out, he came out and stared at me and kept saying ‘Do you like it? Do you like it?’”

Whiskers Abroad is, of course, a work of fiction. But Carter says that hasn’t stopped some people from nitpicking the narrative about the probably of certain things really happening. And it makes her laugh.

“There’s an element of magical realism to it. But the two things that tend to bug people is one, that the cat can type. I mean, he’s got to be able to type to tell the story! And two, that Ashi flies in Business Class!”

Calling herself “an outliner,” Carter says she pretty much had the whole story plotted before she actually began to write. And when she got occasionally lax about deadlines and timetables, her sister was there to push her along.

Local music lovers may also know Carrie Carter as Carrie Ringwald, a co-founder of one of Houston’s first ‘80s cover bands, Molly & The Ringwalds (not to be confused with the similarly-named the Molly Ringwalds). They've won multiple Houston Press Music Awards in the past, including Best Cover Band several years running.

Founded in 2000, the band still plays occasional public shows, but mostly corporate gigs and private parties. Like the Ramones, all members take the surname “Ringwald” on stage.

“We did take off during the pandemic, but we’re getting up to speed again,” Carter says. “We’ve got a new singer we call Baby (aka Amythest) Ringwald. She’s young enough to be our daughter!”
The original Molly & the Ringwalds, ca. 2002: Gene, Carrie, Dekan, Sam & Jennifer.
Photo by Jack Opatrny
The current lineup also includes Carrie Ringwald on keyboards/vocals and husband Dekan Ringwald on guitar, along with original member Sam Ringwald (guitar/bass) and drummer Phil Ringwald. They’ll play a free show on December 25 at the Continental Club.

Carter says that Ashi and Audrey’s travel adventures will continue in a sequel book, though she’s not sure of the pair will jet off back to Japan again or to South Korea, another place she’s visited a couple of times in real life.

“The thing about South Korea is that they want those tourist dollars, and they’re working for it. They’ve got the best tourist website up and tourism infrastructure, including free tours and volunteers on the street,” Carter says. “They really want people to go there!”

For more on Whiskers Abroad and Carrie Carter, visit
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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero