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Katherine Fawcett

Everyone Needs a Personal Hamburg

By | Uncategorised

It’s 1962, 4:30 on a Tuesday morning and an unknown band is wrapping up their set in a gritty tavern on the outskirts of the red-light district in Hamburg, Germany.

Its 2016, 10:30 on a Tuesday evening and a little-known writer is unloading the dishwasher in a quiet Canadian town.

The tavern reeks of urine, stale beer, cigarettes and sweat. The floor is sticky, the air is hazy, and there’s something splattered on the ceiling that might be whiskey and might be blood.

The writer figures shell fold laundry before getting to her half-finished manuscript. Her kids are finally sleeping.

The band’s been playing since 7:00 the previous night—it’s their 98th consecutive gig. Each day they sleep in a storage room behind a nearby cinema.

The writer fires up her laptop and checks Facebook. Responds to an email. Surfs.

This is the band’s first time out of Liverpool, and they’re immersed in a world of creativity, drugs and sex. They can’t believe they’re actually getting paid to be there. They are in heaven.

The writer is writing a novel. Shes had some short stories published. She makes herself a cup of tea.

The band plays at that dive every night, polishing their sound and developing their material. Their music is loud, relentless, improvised, riddled with mistakes, looped and repeated. The musicians’voices are hoarse, their fingers calloused, and the ringing in their ears never stops.

The writer is unsure of her main characters motivation.

John, Paul, George (and later Ringo) play for the thrill of it. The joy of it. They improve nightly. People start listening. Noticing. There is a sense that this wildly innovative music is something extraordinary. Something important.

The writer figures something will inspire her eventually. She goes to bed.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

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Bursting…

By | The Little Washer of Sorrows

I’m proud to announce that The Little Washer of Sorrows has made the long-list for the 2016 Sunburst Awards for the best in Canadian Fiction of the Fantastic.

http://www.sunburstaward.org/node/104

I’m crossing my fingers, but I’m also simply enjoying the feeling of being on this list: It’s nice to be in the running with such esteemed company as Margaret Atwood (The Heart Goes Last,) Andrew Pyper (The Damned,) Giller-winner André Alexis (Fifteen Dogs) and my personal fave: Heather O’Neill (Daydreams of Angels.) There’s a drumroll in my head that won’t stop until early July, when the shortlist is announced. I’m delighted TLWOS is being enjoyed by so many people (especially people who are judges for contests.)  If you haven’t read the book, order one from my publisher Thistledown Press, go to Dan at Armchair books (or your nearest indie bookstore), or on-line. Thanks for reading!

kfawcettsig

 

First Line: Make it a Doozy

By | Rant

First Line: Make it a Doozy

Even since that one guy got tired of hunting and gathering, sat down on a rock near the fire, waved for others to gather around, cleared his throat and said the words “Once upon a time…” we’ve been suckers for a good story. And it’s always that very first line that draws us in, makes us check out of our own lives and enter a new world. The opening. The kicker. The hook. The first sentence of a story or novel has got to be the ultimate pick-up line.

If you’re like me, you’re happy as a pig in poo browsing bookstore shelves reading first sentences. Some word-strings are so powerful it’s impossible not to continue reading. Some tease with poetic beauty. And some are so brilliantly crafted they almost tell a story in themselves.

You’re probably familiar with these most memorable first sentences in literature:

  • Call me Ishmael. —Herman Melville, Moby-Dick
  • Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy,
  • Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. —Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov
  • It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… —A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens
  • It was a dark and stormy night… —Paul Clifford, by Edward Bulwer-Lytton. (The sentence was used again by Madeleine L’Engle at the start of A Wrinkle in Time.)

Here’s are a few of my personal favourite first lines of novels.

  • They shoot the white girl first. —Paradise, by Toni Morrison.
  • It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York. —The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath.
  • “When your mama was the geek, my dreamlets,” Papa would say, “she made the nipping off of noggins such a crystal mystery that the hens themselves yearned toward her, waltzing around her, hypnotized with longing.” —Geek Love, by Katherine Dunn.
  • “Officious little prick.” —The Shining, by Stephen King.
  • The year I turned ninety, I wanted to give myself the gift of a wild night with an adolescent virgin. —Memories of my Melancholy Whores, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
  • She copes. —Paula Spencer, by Roddy Doyle.
  • Tyler gets me a job as a waiter, after that Tyler’s pushing a gun in my mouth and saying, the first step to eternal life is you have to die. — Fight Club, by Chuck Palahniuk
  • The magician’s underwear has just been found in a cardboard suitcase floating in a stagnant pond on the outskirts of Miami. —Another Roadside Attraction, by Tom Robbins.
  • “Either forswear fucking others or the affair is over.” Sabbath’s Theater, by Philip Roth.

Many children and young adult books have rich and intriguing first lines. You might remember these:

  • The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind and another his mother called him “WILD THING!” and Max said “I’LL EAT YOU UP!” so he was sent to bed without eating anything. —Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak.
  • Sophie had waited all of her life to be kidnapped. —The School of Good and Evil, by Soman Chainani
  • If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book. —A Series of Unfortunate Events, by Lemony Snicket.
  • There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it. —The Voyage of the Dawn Trader, by C. S. Lewis.
  • There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife. —The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman.
  • The Herdmans were absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world. —The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson.
  • “Where’s Papa going with that axe?” said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast. —Charlotte’s Web, by E. B. White.

I’m really interested in the first sentences of short stories. Concise by definition, short stories rely on the opening to set the tone and launch the tale even more so than for a novel. Here are a few first lines of short stories that have stuck with me:

  • Miss Mandible wants to make love to me but she hesitates because I am officially a child. — Me and Miss Mandible, by Donald Barthelme.
  • My first and favorite task of the day is slaving over the Iliana Evermore Fairy Castle. —Downtrodden Mary’s Failed Campaign of Terror, by George Saunders
  • “My lover is experiencing reverse evolution.” —The Rememberer, by Aimee Bender.
  • A woman has written yet another story that is not interesting, though it has a hurricane in it, and a hurricane usually promises to be interesting. —The Center of the Story, by Lydia Davis.
  • “I wouldn’t fuck Prince if he was the last man on earth,” Sonya told her friends, drunk and searing with challenge, that New Year’s Eve before the end. —1999, by Pasha Malla.
  • The other day, Bobby Henzel and Nanami Kazikuyo drew up a list of things that Heaven doesn’t have. —Atheists Were Right About Almost Everything, by Neil Smith.
  • Fucking fuck, there’s no place worse than the port side of the Luxurious CBS yacht. —Survior, by Douglas Coupland.
  • First of all, I should point out that the topic of why you should not talk during a fire drill is such a large and complex topic that I cannot do full justice to it in only one thousand words. —One Thousand Word on Why You Should Not Talk During a Fire Drill, by Mark Halliday
  • I once loved a woman who grew teeth all over her body. —Dentaphilia, by Julia Slavin.

And it you’ve read The Little Washer of Sorrows, you might recall this sentence:

  • The day Margot discovered her true nature began like any other—she woke up, gave Pete a blow job, and went downstairs to fry up a pan of bacon. —Captcha, by Katherine Fawcett.

Yup, it’s a doozy.

The very first few words in the very first story in my very first published collection of fiction, and there’s both fellatio and cholesterol. Although I’ve had some backlash, I stand by the sentence. I knew it would be provocative. Racy. A ball-grabber, if you will. But it’s the kind of thing that Margot would really say; what she would really do. It’s essential to her character, and it pushes the reader into the story whether they like it or not. Margot won’t be censored—she’s the kind of character I had to give those first words to. If you have a problem with that sentence, I encourage you to take it up with Margo. I blame her completely, at least for the first line.

kfawcettsig

Why Short Stories Matter

By | Rant

“A collection of short stories?” said the very famous writer I met at the Whistler Writer’s Festival last weekend when I told him about my book The Little Washer of Sorrows. “Good luck! The market for short stories is brutal. Only thing worse is a collection of poetry.” (I’d just purchased Prologue for the Age of Consequence, a book of poetry by Garth Martens about the oil sands in Northern Alberta and the workers there.)
“Unless you’re Alice Munro, that is.”
Now I have nothing against Alice Munro, but blue is not the only color and she is not the only successful Canadian short story author. However, his comments made me think. I happen to love the short fiction form. Not exclusively, mind you. I tend to have three books on the go at all times:  a novel (currently: If I Fall, If I Die, by Michael Christie,) a collection of short stories (Juliet Was a Surprise by Bill Gaston) and something non-fiction (bouncing back and forth between What Would Keith Richards Do by Jessica Pallington West and Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks). And then, of course, there are magazines. Oh, the magazines! Canada’s superb literary magazines—The Malahat Review, Prairie Fire, The Fiddlehead, Prism, subTerrain, etc— ooze with brilliance. Not to mention my two American faves: The New Yorker and Harpers, which both feature short fiction (and wicked cartoons) in each issue.
Why short stories? Are they not not simply snacks before the main course? An entry point, before the author finally graduates to novels–real books? Are writers of short fiction basically wannabe novelists with ADD?
Short story experts like Zsuzsi Gartner, George Saunders, Shaena Lambert, Etgar Keret, Jim Shepard, Pasha Malla and Matthew Trafford are gems in the genre. And some of the biggies: Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaimon and Stephen King are novelists who moonlight as short story masters. I enjoyed Atwood’s laser-point emotional accuracy in the stories of Stone Mattress even more than her recent long-form trilogy. Whether itsy-bitsy tales like the ones in John Gould’s Kilter and Nick Parker’s The Exploding Boy and Other Tiny Tales or the longer stories of Lori Moore’s Birds of America and Jim Shepard’s Like You’d Understand, Anyway, short stories can be both fun and serious, pointed and ridiculous. They are the roller coaster rides—not the road trips; the fire-works—not the slow burn.
Perhaps because short stories require less of a commitment from the reader (one sitting! you start it at lunch, you’ll be done by afternoon naptime!) writers can afford to be more experimental, more quirky. In an interview with 49th Shelf, an on-line platform for Canadian books, Megan Coles, author of the collection Eating Habits of the Chronically  Lonesome said “The short story takes off its pants and boards a plane. Just to see what will happen.” Kevin Hardcastle, author of the soon-to-be-release Debris reinforced Cole’s sentiments. “I think the distillation of elements in a short story, the intensity of the form, is what makes it definitive…the economy and precision of language that is required and the great degree of difficulty, consistently turns out the best prose and the finest sentences.”
The short story is an intense, passionate love affair. Every word counts, every sentence must be perfect and purposeful. It is a narrative that won’t last—the author damn well better make each fleeting moment count. The short story chops the small talk, the rambling introductions, the long-drawn out goodbyes. It’s all meat. All heart. A great short story will take your breath away like a punch in the stomach.
So which is more valid (and more marketable)—the novel or the short story? One is a sprint, the other a marathon. One is a marriage, the other a stranger’s kiss at a costume ball, the other. I’m all for the good solid commitment, but now and then isn’t it fun to dash naked around the block?
I hope there is room for a diverse library in our country. I hope the very famous writer was wrong, and there IS a market for short stories. I hope readers who tend towards the same type of book time after time step out of the box and try a short story collection, the green eggs and ham of the literary world.

A Lucky Bastard and a Word Nerd

By | Rant

FullSizeRender(6)Tens of thousands of music lovers, dancers, hippies, hipsters, ravers and rockers have converged just outside my home town this weekend for Pemby-fest, a grand celebration on a breathtakingly beautiful meadow where the land is introduced to the sky by that great emcee: Mount Currie. They’ve come from all over Canada–indeed the world–for a crazy mix of musicians like The String Cheese Incident, The Decemberists, Broken Social Scene, The Black Keys, Dakota Pearl, Charles Bradley, Weezer, Shakey Graves, R. L. Grimes, Tiestro, Alice Cooper and many others.

But in the host town, whose population is slightly larger than my old high school, controversy has erupted over a Pemberton Chamber of Commerce campaign to promote local businesses. “Lucky Bastard” says the t-shirt that many employees at the grocery store, the hardware store and the gas station are wearing. Under a large cartoon-ish heart are the words: “Ya, I live here.” At the festival site, chamber volunteers are tattooing the image onto people’s arms (or cheeks, or chests) and taking the time to tell them about all that Pemberton has to offer. And there’s a big sign as you enter town that says “Welcome to Pemberton, you lucky bastards!”

The wording has some people’s panties in a knot

(Offensive? Oops. How about: some knickers in a tangle? Better? Maybe: some black latex crotchless gitch? No? Some ass-less chaps? Some bloomers? Some tighty whiteys? Ah, what fun we can have with words! And what ugliness we can inflict as well.)

Every day, individual inoffensive words are put together and used to invoke violence, promote hatred and spread lies. And this weekend, an offensive word is used to invoke smiles, promote tourism and spread joy. Whether you support it or not, you must admit that the irony is interesting.

Apparently, the Chamber’s campaign was inspired by a typical response when a visitor finds out someone is a local. “You live here? You’re a lucky bastard!” Surely, the creators knew it would be controversial. And they did it anyhow! (Similarly, the geniuses behind Fuck Cancer knew their idea would cause a stir. If they’d gone with Darn Cancer, I’m sure they would have been safe.)

It seems everyone in Pemberton has an opinion on whether Lucky Bastard is courageous and clever or crude and crass. It is fascinating that one word can stir up such an array of feelings and such heated discussion–ah, the power of language. It also raises questions in me: If I am offended by this word, am I a prude? If I’m not offended, am I a red-neck? (and then: is the term ‘red-neck’ itself offensive?) If I’m okay with “bastard,” yet complain about performer Kendrick Lamar’s language, am I a hypocrite? What would my grandmother think of the slogan? What about the local restaurant The Bitchin’ Food Co? Does it matter that this is a very short-term campaign, with a very specific target audience? Does this language portray the “real Pemberton?” or is it just tacky? With so many locals–old time farmers and newcomers alike–letting loose at the festival, what is the “real Pemberton” anyhow?

I know intuitively that in the context of this campaign, the phrase is meant to be cheeky. Edgy. Provocative. And although the word “bastard” does me slightly uncomfortable, it grabs my attention a lot quicker than “lucky duck.” (And it doesn’t provoke me nearly as much as “lucky fucker” would.) Sometimes you just have to wear the red lipstick. Put a little extra garlic in the guacamole. Add a dash of vodka to your prune juice. Like headliner G-Easy says in his song Make-Up Sex: “It’s so hard to be wholesome, yo.”

And if you asked one of those thousands of festival-goes who are loving life in the gorgeous field surrounded by music, mountains and friends if they feel like lucky bastards this weekend, I’m pretty sure you’ll get a resounding, “Hell, ya!”

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From Joyful Anticipation to Sweet Revenge

By | The Little Washer of Sorrows

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Joyful Anticipation is stopping by the Pemberton Library at 4:55 to see what The Little Washer of Sorrows looks like on the shelves of an actual public literature lending institution.

Relief is learning that the library closes at 6:00 on Tuesdays, not 5:00.

Slight Ego Crush is not finding my book on either the Staff Picks, New Releases, or Recommended Reading shelves.

Bummer is not even finding it in the “F” aisle.

Overreaction is heading to the Library Suggestions Box, and planning to stuff it full.

Thrill is going on the library computer and discovering that the book is unavailable because it is already signed out.

Double thrill is seeing that there’s a hold on it.

Optimism is leaving a with an armful of amazing new books so high I can rest my chin on the top one.

Pride is seeing my lovely daughter across the street at the skateboard park, enjoying a beautiful spring afternoon with her friends, just a few days before her twelfth birthday.

Suspicion is watching her duck behind one of the ramps with some punk in a helmet and baggy shorts when she sees me, and hearing her friends squeal with laughter and do the “We have no idea” shrug when I ask them what’s going on.

Sweet Revenge is turning wifi off tonight so we can have peaceful Family Reading Time together.

Road Trippin’ with TLWOS

By | The Little Washer of Sorrows

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Phewf! I just returned home from a BC/Alberta book tour, promoting The Little Washer of Sorrows. Whistler, Pemberton, Nelson (x2), Fernie, Canmore, and Calgary—seven reading/signing events in seven days. Me, the dog, my fiddle, a box of books and bag of Brazilnuts. What a way to spend spring break.

Here are a few things I learned along the way:

1) You may think you can just wear the same outfit to every event because you’re in a new town every evening, so who’s gonna know? Then you remember social media and see yourself in the same green sweater over and over…

2) Traveling with a bouquet of black helium-filled balloons can get a bit squeaky.

3) There’s no easy way from the Vancouver airport (kids flew to grandparents) onto Highway One towards Hope. Even Siri gave up.

4) Independent bookstore owners are some of the kindest, most open-minded, optimistic, creative people on earth. Supportive of small publishers and local authors, they know what readers are looking for and they create beautiful spaces for mental exploration. Thanks to Dan (Armchair books), Samara (Otter Books), Patty (Polar Peek), Joy and Jocey (Cafe Books) and Patrick and Kendra (Pages on Kensington). You guys rawk.

5) Don’t try to eat guacamole and chips while driving through the mountain passes.

6) Listening to Stephen King’s “Doctor Sleep” audio book while driving may not be the best choice before checking into a hotel alone…

7) Bighorn sheep always seem to all face the same way when they’re eating. I don’t know why, but it’s very feng shui.

8) Seems every small town I pass through has a kick-ass juice bar.

9) If it all went tits-up, I could see myself moving to Creston to become a fruit-picker at an orchard.

10) It’s both delightful and stressful to sign books people purchase: there’s a pressure to be witty, original and personal on that signature page. Most of the time I can barely remember my own signature. I’m just so excited to be actually SIGNING A BOOK THAT SOMEONE’S GONNA READ!!!!!

11) You forget just how big the sky is until you drive through Longview, Alberta.

12) It’s hard not to be cynical hearing Alberta friends’ excitement over a pale and puny crocus poking through the brown grass when we’ve been cutting daffodils and tulips for over a month here in Pemberton. (Sorry, AB. But take heart: your gas will always be cheaper.)

12) Best part: hooking up with family, old friends from waaaaay back (hi Dani!) avid readers (hello Kathy’s book club!) bookish fiddlers (Virginia, Ani, Michael, Heather, Kerri etc from Fernie,) neighbours from decades ago (thanks Mr. and Mrs. Webster,) other authors (three cheers for Angie Abdou,) strangers who wander in (yay Urszula and Richard) and even a great Canadian indie sing-songwriter (I love Rae Spoon.) Thanks for all your support on this journey. I hope reading the stories in TLWOS makes your forget what else has to be done, even just for a little while.

kfawcettsig

 

Limbo

By | The Little Washer of Sorrows

Limbo is an interesting place to be.

You know it’s not going to last, yet there’s a beautiful motionless, timeless quality to being there. Like when the swing goes up, up, up so high, and your body is stretched out so far you can tip your head back and there’s nothing but blue sky and upside-down trees, and you hang there for a moment, suspended between flying and falling, until you sit up and the earth brings you whizzing breathlessly back.

I received my copies of The Little Washer of Sorrows from the publisher a few days ago.

My daughter filmed me at the post office, ripping open the box like a sugar-buzzed five-year-old on her birthday. I picked one up and inspected it, front and back. (Phewf, no typos on the cover!) I flipped it open. Fanned the pages close to my face, to smell them. Fanned the pages close to the post office worker’s face, so she could smell them too. Then my friend G came in, so I gave her a copy. I signed it (fun!!!!) and told her I hoped she enjoyed reading it.

That was four days ago.

And I haven’t heard back from her.

That’s the limbo I’m talking about. Between the time a dear reader opens the first page and the closes the cover for the final time, the author hangs in timeless, motionless limbo.

Or maybe it just feels that way because I’m such a newbie.

Writing is a slowly consumed art. It’s not like a painting, that you bite eagerly, taste immediately, chew and perhaps swish around in your mouth a little, and gulp down. Or a piece of music that you savour for a few wonderfully measured minutes. Even slow theatre or a long movie can be enjoyed between happy hour and dinner.

But a book—even a short one like mine—takes a long time to digest. Hours. Days. Weeks. It is usually consumed a few pages here, a few chapters or stories there. Personally, I’m a very slow reader; I enjoy the language of stories too much to rush. I like to hear each word in my head (sorry, Evelyn Wood). And, I’ve purchased great books that sit on my shelf for years before I crack their spines.

The Little Washer of Sorrows is just starting to make its way “out there.” Official release date is this March 31. Pre-orders are arriving in people’s mailboxes now. One Whistler bookstore has already started selling them, and the publisher has been vigorously sending books around for review purposes.

But as of today, I haven’t spoken to anyone who has actually READ the whole thing (except of course for my incredible proofers, editors, previewers etc.) It’s an interesting feeling, having a book that’s real (paper! ink!) and fresh (the Pemberton Library just catalogued their copy today!) yet, virtually unconsumed.

It’s “out there,” but only just. Reviews have yet to be written. The launches, readings, special events and book tour are around the corner. In this limbo, I see blue sky and upside down trees. Not a bad view from here.

A Tale of Stew, Stories and Shoes

By | About Katherine Fawcett, The Little Washer of Sorrows

Once upon a time there was a girl who wanted to become a writer. She wanted to write not simply to see her book on library shelves and to look herself up on the computer at Chapters, but because she wanted to reach people. She wanted to make them laugh, cry, and imagine. She wanted to challenge them, inspire them to stay up late reading just one more page, one more story. Maybe they’d stay up so late that they’d sleep in the next day, miss work. Then they’d get fired from a job they didn’t like, have a massive yard sale, travel to Mongolia and fall in love with a yak-herder. And live happily ever after.

Or maybe they’d recommend the book to a friend, the friend would pick up her own copy, plus a few more as gifts, and before you know it the girl has a bestseller on her hands. Suddenly she can buy herself all the shoes she’s ever wanted, but promises her family that the wealth and fame won’t change her on the inside.

The girl had no idea if any of this would happen. But she wanted to tell stories, and she was willing to take a chance.

So she chucked a bunch of words and ideas into a cooking pot and let it simmer. For many, many years, she’d wake up early in the morning and stay up late at night thinking of more words and ideas to chuck in. Every now and then, she’d pop open the lid, and a story would creep out. Sometimes it was good, sometimes it was ridiculous. Sometimes it was both. But if it stuck with her, she’d run spell-check on it, add some spices, drain off some fat, marinate it a little longer, and have it critiqued by her smart friends at Writer’s Group.

Eventually, some of these stories made it off the stove and into a book. The Little Washer of Sorrows is a collection of short fiction that is a slow-cooked labour of love.

And guess what: if you order a copy now, you’ll be reading it before the end of this month. You’ll be that much closer to Mongolia. And I’ll be that much closer to a new pair of shoes.

kfawcettsig