‘Little Washer Of Sorrows’ Morphs The Mundane Into The Fantastic
March 31, 2015 The Little Washer of Sorrows is not what it seems. At first glance, the debut collection of short stories by Canadian author Katherine Fawcett offers funny, sympathetic sketches of characters who might live next door to you: The homemaker who underutilizes her college degree; the aspiring heavy metal musician with delusions of stardom; the aging couple who can barely muster the passion to even bicker anymore.
And it works well on this level alone; Fawcett has a flair for quiet drama and unfussy detail, and her dialogue positively fizzes. Little Washer startles, however, thanks to its commitment to the fantastic. Amid the mundaneness of these 19 contemporary tales, whimsy and weirdness abound. Artificial intelligence lurks in the suburbs. Accountants nurse monsters. Movie stars appear as mirages. If Fawcett’s characters actually did live next door to you, your life would be in for some serious upheavals.
Fawcett lets her speculative side run wild. Like fellow fabulist Kelly Link — not to mention forebears such as Donald Barthleme — she finds fertile ground in the fuzzy territory between realism and surrealism. In “BLK MGC,” a ripped-from-the-headlines pyramid scheme takes a left turn somewhere near The Twilight Zone; in “The Anniversary Present,” an aging Mother Earth is addicted to beauty products while her husband, Father Time, has adulterous feelings for Sister Moon.
Domesticity plays as big a part in Fawcett’s story as science fiction, fantasy, and mythology do. The tenderly combative interplay between the married couple in “Lenny and the Polyamphibians” — which only intensifies when a mermaid enters into the equation — is poignantly layered, even as it sparks with snark. The couple in Little Washer‘s title story, on the other hand, are haunted by the most prosaic of monsters: Bankruptcy. As their estate manager begins to exhibit supernatural qualities, though, the balance of reality gets turned on its side.
Little Washer is playful when it comes to age-old tropes, from android imposters to Saint Peter at the Pearly Gates. But they’re still age-old tropes, and the book’s one major flaw is an overreliance on clichés, as freshly as they’re approached. Luckily Fawcett transcends that with her bright, nimble voice, not to mention her pop culture savvy and eye small, telling details: A hapless high school teacher presides over a class of students whose names all begin T; in purgatory, people love singing Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” at karaoke. It all works at a deeper level than these breezy stories might imply, as does Fawcett’s use of technology as a complication for her characters. Alienated spouses use texting to maintain their disconnect; a computer buffering and freezing emphasizes the communication breakdown between teacher and pupils.
Occasionally a story flirts with fabulism without diving headlong into it — and in the case of “Suburban Wolf,” it makes for the best bit in the book. Wagg is a part of a gang of semi-feral kids who roam neighborhoods, pack-like and barely civilized. Nothing about their situation is explained, nor does it need to be. It’s only important to know that it’s Wagg’s 15th birthday, and he just received his first kiss, and that ecstatic coming of age isn’t going to last long.
Just as Fawcett injects the weird into the mundane, she hides hard, barbed little truths in her otherwise lightweight yarns. “Captcha” might appear to be nothing but a clever spin on The Stepford Wives, but it winds up deftly exploring the nature of monogamy. “Swimming to Jonny Depp” seems like a sweet, silly vignette, but there’s a nugget of sadness to the protagonist’s middle-age daydreaming. Ultimately, The Little Washer of Sorrows is about epiphanies: their scarcity, their power, and their uncanny ability to make our everyday lives look downright unreal by comparison.
Jason Heller is a senior writer at The A.V. Club and author of the novel Taft 2012.
The Bull Calf Review
By Mark André Fortin
Fawcett’s adept ability to plunge into the absurd and comic is controlled by the deeper meanings that surface through the way in which the characters choose to move forward. Overall, this collection is a dynamic, funny, and weirdly discomforting work that leads one to look more closely at the world around us and inside of us.
Armchair Books Review
Kisses Are More Important Than Rats
This fall I heard a new writer present at the Whistler Writers Festival and I was so enchanted by her story I requested the book (The Little Washer of Sorrows) for review. I expected I’d be in for an entertaining read, but I couldn’t have guessed what a veritable fun house this short story collection would prove to be. You dive in and at first things seem normal. Characters are realistically portrayed, their situations fathomable, then metaphorical distorting mirrors kick in. Sometimes you laugh out loud, sometimes you recoil as the lines between fantasy and reality are cleverly blurred.
By Shelley A. Leedahl | November 2015
Katherine Fawcett nails the dialogue in Little Washer of Sorrows
How does Katherine Fawcett come up with these fantastic, original stories?
I picture the Pemberton author and her friends on a dock, it’s a summer evening, they’ve had a few drinks. Then the “What if?” conversation starts.
The first story in the collection, “Captcha,” made me laugh the most — more of a shake my head, “Oh my!” kind of laugh. Fawcett’s style is exactly what I like to read.
How to Switch Gears and Increase Tension
One of the easiest mistakes to make as a writer is to write the same thing over and over again. What happens is that we hit on a great idea to start a story (something spooky or funny or weird or sad), and then, when the story hits a lull, we double down on that idea to keep the story going (more spookiness, humor, weirdness, or sorrow). It’s the literary equivalent of saying, “More cowbell.” A better strategy is… Read More
By Katharine Fawcett | Read to Write Stories | June 2015
The Wellness Almanac: Scared and lonely? Take one short story and call me in the morning.
We’re sitting at the Blackbird Bakery and Katherine Fawcett keeps looking over my shoulder, distracted. Not an uncommon thing in a busy café in a small town, but the thing is, she’s looking at the wall, at the shelf, where a small pile of books is displayed. They’re her books. Seven copies of her debut collection of short stories.
She’s been published before — journalism, stories in literary journals, an illustrated children’s book, a book about black bears, poetry (she was the town poet for a while, with a weekly poetry column in the shortlived Pembertonian) — but The Little Washer of Sorrows is different. It’s literary short fiction. The purest of the pure. It’s the hardest thing in the world (after poetry) to get published. And she’s done it. And they’re good. Read More
By Lisa Richardson | Whistler Question | June 2015
Finding Humor in The Little Washer of Sorrows
Katherine Fawcett’s sense of humor came to life as she read her first fictional book at the Fernie Heritage Library on Sunday, March 12.
Travelling from Pemberton, B.C. to Calgary, Alta., Faucett made a pit stop in Fernie to promote her collection of short stories titled The Little Washer of Sorrows alongside local author and mentor Angie Abdou.
“This is such a great space, it’s a magical space,” Fawcett said as she took a glimpse of the large windows lighting up the inside of Fernie Heritage Library’s open space.
After attending a workshop at the Whistler Writers Festival, taught by Abdou, Fawcett reached out to her, asking her if she would sponsor her short adult fiction novel.
“I read it and I loved it, it’s brilliant,” said Abdou of Fawcett’s book. “We have quite a good writing series here in Fernie so I talked her into coming.”
Reading her own endorsement from the back of Fawcett’s book, Abdou continued, “Katherine Fawcett is blessed with a fierce imagination. Her style is as original and wildly diverse as her characters.”
As Fawcett read an excerpt from The Little Washer of Sorrows, her bright imagination came to light.
Dragged into Fawcett’s fantasy world, you began to envision the three mythological sisters portrayed in her Sirens Sisters tale. A modern twist on a Greek mythical tale, Fawcett’s humorous piece didn’t hold anything back.
The author joked that the four qualities that helped her publish the book were being cheap, being lazy, being optimistic and being a worrywart.
Fawcett said she began writing her book after entering several short story writing contests. She quickly realized she could get free memberships to literary magazines upon winning the contests – hence being cheap.
As for being optimistic, Fawcett said, “After two and a half years of really, really encouraging rejection letters, finally I was picked up.”
Fawcett also noted that the vicious circle editing process, in which eight female writers got together once a month to critique each other’s work, contributed to the creation of her novel.
“The book wouldn’t exist without my writing group,” Fawcett admitted. “All the stories in this collection have gone through the writers group.”
Fawcett’s reading was followed by a musical performance put on by the Kootenay Stringbenders.
The Little Washers of Sorrows can be purchased at Polar Peek Books.
By Katelyn Dingman | The Free Press | April 13, 2015
Blurring Lines in Short Fiction
Former reporter and current music teacher Katherine (Stoddart) Fawcett is celebrating the recently release of her short story collection The Little Washer of Sorrows.
The 19 stories are shaped around what happens, “when the expected and unusual are replaced with elements of the rare and strange … a world where science fiction and fantasy fuse with reality.”
Fawcett’s 19 stories run a large gamut of fabulist fiction, from the unbelievable to the highly plausible, with the reoccurring theme of characters coping with relationships existing within the stories.
“I’ve always loved to write and play with words and the short story collection came about by playing with words and ideas. I love the juxtaposition of everyday life with average people and everyday struggles in surreal situations,” said Fawcett, who once reported for the now-defunct Canmore Leader.
One story, BLK MGC looks at the cultural craze of network marketing. Fawcett takes the reality of that business world to dire extremes. “That world, which is a huge world that people get sucked into, I explored as to what happens if the consequences are quite deadly. It’s a contemporary issue, but ends up having some voodoo in it and death threats,” Fawcett said.
Another story entitled Your Best Interests looks at the contemporary issue of fundraising for a private school, which leads to an extreme outcome for its students.
“Some of these stories come first from the weird and then I’ll put in the issue, and other times it comes the opposite way, such as in Lenny and the Polyamphibians,” Fawcett said. “What if a middle-aged man in a bit of a stale marriage discovers a little mermaid on the beach and brings it home in his thermos? What does that do to a marriage?
“If a man is nursing a mermaid in secret back to life and health, what impact does it have on a relationship that was a bit stale anyway? There’s the fantastical idea and then bring it home.”
The collection started for Fawcett as she sent the individual stories into magazines such as Event and Prairie Fire. At times, the magazines would offer contests, which Fawcett would use as structure for motivation and as a deadline to finish.
“I collected some wins, shortlists and long-lists, that would encourage me and I kept writing and soon I thought it could be a collection and sent it around to publishers,” Fawcett said. “I had plenty of encouraging rejection letters and one of them said they liked it and wanted it and it was Thistledown Press, and they’ve been great to work with.”
She says putting the two worlds of the believable and the unbelievable together is actually the easy part; she just looks at the world around her for inspiration.
“The balance between the real and the surreal is kind of like life, I think it helps to be a bit of a worrier and always be thinking what could go wrong here?” Fawcett said. “Your imagination goes while still being optimistic enough that situations could turn in real surreal ways and generate an outcome that is completely unexpected but very interesting and I think difficulty is really interesting, it can be a voyage into the imagination.”
Not all of the stories are necessarily filled with fantasy and bizarre surrealism. Some, such as Suburban Wolf and All-Inclusive have probably occurred to someone you know, or the reader themselves.
“Some are more grounded in reality, but the reality is taken somewhere else,” Fawcett said. The author pointed out the literary work in fabulist fiction has gained more momentum and acceptance over the last decade due to the work of writers such as Karen Russell and George Saunders.
“People are into that and I think want to explore different worlds in their real life,” Fawcett said. “This kind of fiction, fabulist, if you will, or magical realism, has become much more popular.”
Cole Carruthers | Rocky Mountain Outlook | April 9, 2015
Calgary-raised writer, Katherine Fawcett, offers first book of ‘twisted’ tales from the west
While it is never wise to judge a book by its first line, writer Katherine Fawcett certainly sets an early tone with Captcha, the short story that opens her debut collection, The Little Washer of Sorrows.
In the opening sentence, a supportive wife named Margo narrates what is apparently her normal morning routine, which includes a brief reference to both frying bacon and a specific sex act that she names in a coarse but matter-of-fact manner.
Fawcett is quick to point out that it is the only reference to that particular sex act in the book.
“However,” says the Montreal-born and Calgary-raised writer with a laugh. “It will keep it off the shelves of certain schools.”
That’s probably true. But if there is anything linking her imaginative stories in The Little Washer of Sorrows (Thistledown Press, 215 Pages, $18.95) it’s the irreverent tone and often irresistibly “twisted” voice of the narrators. Captcha is a case in point. While we won’t offer spoilers, we can say that dutiful Margo is not who she, or the reader for that matter, thinks she is. The attractive wife has a master’s degree in mathematics but, when not serving her husband’s needs, spends her time hawking Kokanee at sporting events while clad in a bikini. While her husband is away at work, she discovers her true nature and the real reason she is so “perfect” for her spouse. She also discovers a love of Leonard Cohen.
“There wasn’t a coherent theme per se, I didn’t write to that end,” says Fawcett, who is now based in Pemberton, B.C. “But once I got them together I realized the theme was the twisted voice. They are not thematically linked. But they are all a weird perspective of life. There’s some unreliable narrator stuff in there. There’s flipping back and forth between reality and mythology. There’s magical realism.”
The Siren Sisters, for instance, reimagines the dangerous Greek mythological seductresses as three squabbling sisters with eating disorders and daddy issues. In the title story, a broke man visits a bankruptcy agency and is convinced the assistant manager is an Irish banshee who is foretelling his doom. In Lenny and the Polyamphibians, a married insurance broker finds a mermaid on a beach near Squamish and nurses her back to health. In Johnny Longsword’s Third Option, a cat-loving male stripper not-so-patiently awaits his final reward in the waiting room of Purgatory.
“All my characters are based on very real people but the circumstances in which they find themselves are kind of wild, warped and unreal,” Fawcett says. “But they are dealing with them in real ways.”
Some are more real than others, particularly in their sense of place. Representing Literature in Music For You is a funny if squirm-inducing study of a delusional English teacher who tries to engage his stubbornly unengaged students during an “off-campus” lesson over doughnuts about literature and modern-music lyrics. It was based on an actual exchange Fawcett witnessed in a Pemberton coffee shop. Candy on the Jesus Bar is a loosely autobiographical tale, recalling a very odd job Fawcett had as a teen at the Calgary Stampede. But whatever the setup, Fawcett’s tales are often darkly comical, even if a certain sense of dread courses underneath.
“Life is darkly humorous,” she says. “Sadness and comedy go hand in hand. There’s some satire in there that is intentional. But I think the dark humour is very natural and just springs from life.”
And the dread? It’s one of the things that spurs her imagination.
“I think that’s the worry wart in me,” says Fawcett. “People who worry have really good imaginations. Maybe it’s a motherhood thing, I don’t know. If you imagine the worst thing that can happen then it won’t happen because you’ve already gone through it in your head. And even if it does happen, you are then prepared for it.”
A mother-of-two, Fawcett spent most of her childhood in Calgary. Since then she has lived in Japan, Yellowknife and Canmore, where she briefly wrote for the now-defunct Canmore Leader. She currently teaches music in Whistler and plays violin in the Sea to Sky Orchestra. Inspired by the short stories of American author George Saunders and Israelis writer Etgar Keret, Fawcett began getting published in literary journals such as Calgary’s FreeFall Magazine and Vancouver’s subTerrain. For now, she hopes to continue exploring short stories as an art form in and of itself, rather than as a training ground for a novel.
“I see short stories as little gems,” she says. “They are intended to be consumed in one sitting, which is really nice. To be able to go from the beginning, follow an arc, fall in love with the characters — or maybe not — and come out of it in the end impacted, I love that. To be able to have an experience in a small amount of time, I love.”
Eric Volmers | Calgary Herald | April 4, 2015
Pemberton author Katherine Fawcett releases new book
Book tour for The Little Washer of Sorrows kicks off in Whistler on April 8
“It’s out there and it’s in the public,” Fawcett said. “It’s nerve-wracking.”
The Pemberton local’s first collection of short stories, The Little Washer of Sorrows, was released today and she’s preparing for her kick off party at Whistler’s Spruce Grove Field House on April 8 at 7 p.m. “I’m really proud of it; however, I’m also curious to see how people will react,” Fawcett said.
After the launch in Whistler, Fawcett will read excerpts of her book at the Pemberton & District Public Library on April 9 at 7 p.m.
The event coincides with the Read Local BC campaign, an initiative designed to promote local writers, bookstores and publishers, Pemberton Library Director Emma Gillis said.
“It’s really important for us to support local artists and authors,” Gillis said. “There’s a wealth of talent in the valley.”
This is Fawcett’s second book, but her first in fiction. A Whistler Bear Story, which Fawcett co-authored with photographer Sylvia Dolson, followed the adventures of the town’s resident bears and was based on research and expertise by Dolson and the Get Bear Smart Society.
The Little Washer of Sorrows developed from Fawcett’s attempts to win writing contests from library magazines like subTerrain and FreeFall about six years ago.
Although Fawcett admits her original aspirations were to garner free magazine subscriptions, when she started winning, she became inspired to focus on creative writing.
“When I had what I thought would be enough polished stories, I thought ‘Maybe I’ll send some into the publishing world and see if anyone bites,’” Fawcett said.
After “lots of encouraging rejection letters,” Fawcett finally hooked the Saskatchewan-based Thistledown Press.
The mission of the independent Thistledown Press, which has published more than 300 Canadian writers, is to promote well-written, culturally significant literature, said Ashley Gerling, who coordinates marketing and promotions for the company.
Fawcett describes her stories as twisted, but relatable.
“Even though some have obscure characters and plots, it’s quite accessible,” she said.
One story, “The Anniversary Present,” recalls the fight that ensues after Father Time forgets his anniversary with Mother Earth.
“We feel for the guy because it’s his anniversary,” Fawcett said.
Fawcett said she always knew she wanted to work with words, but her earliest dreams involved writing crossword puzzles for restaurant placemats. After a stint teaching English in Japan, Fawcett started working as a freelance journalist.
“I started freelance writing for anyone who would buy my stuff,” she said.
She worked for industry publications, such as Tracks and Treads, a trade magazine dedicated to Caterpillar machinery.
“You tend to want to make stuff up,” she said of the boring content.
Ready to escape her humdrum freelance assignments, Fawcett focused on her creative writing, which she said was initially “self-indulgent.”
“It was never something I could imagine making a buck off of,” she said.
Fawcett has kept her day job, working as a music teacher at the Whistler Waldorf School. After dropping off her two children for their classes in the morning, Fawcett, whose classes don’t start until late morning, devotes her free time to writing. Her book tour, which continues at the Squamish Public Library on April 23, coincides with the school’s spring break.
Fawcett credits “blatant eavesdropping, snooping, speculating and a bit of gossip” with inspiring her writing and hopes that her dark, comedic tales will stick with readers.
“Does it stay with you? I think that’s the mark of a good short story,” she said.
Copies of The Little Washer of Sorrows can be purchased at Armchair Books in Whistler.
Unlocking Truth – BC Bookworld
“Katherine Fawcett started her career as a spports reporter before venturing into freelance journalism and commercial writing. After becoming a mother and turning forty, Fawcett has turned her hand to fiction with her first collection of dark and comical stories, The Little Washer of Sorrows, in which bizarre or rare occurrences upset the status quo. Margo, the protagonist of the opening story “Captcha,” is a perfect wife- both a mathematical genius and Kokanee beer model. After dutifully sending her husband Pete off to work, she finds Pete’s filing cabinet unlocked. She cannot resist her curiosity and makes a life-changing discovery. The threat of something sinister lingers beneath the surface in many of Fawcett’s stories.
Fawcett was longlisted for the 2011 CBC Short Story Prize and the 2014 Carter V. Cooper/Exile Short Fiction Competition.
Born in Montreal, raised in Calgary, Fawcett lives in Pemberton and teaches music in Whistler. She plays violin with the Sea to Sky Orchestra and also the fiddle.”
What other writers are saying.
“Elegant, insightful, these stories are truly fabulous.”
Andrew Kaufman – Author of Born Weird, Les Weird, The Tiny Wife, All My Friends Are Superheroes and more.
“Katherine Fawcett inhabits a bizarre back-alley of carnies and pyramid schemes, daily affirmations, making-do and derring-do: a Diane Arbus world of freaks and fables that is at once hilarious, surprising, and profound, turning our view of the place we live in upside down. In these 19 stories, we meet, among others, a made-to-order woman, an octogenarian gigolo, a mermaid and a realtor who morph into each other, and a gaggle of ageless Siren sisters on a remote Greek island, living off salvaged shipwrecks and mariner one-night stands until they are seduced by reality tv. Oddball, yet strangely familiar, the creatures spawned in Fawcett’s imagination will move into yours. You’ll never be the same again.”
Merilyn Simonds – Author of The Convict Lover, The Lion in the Room Next Door and more.
“An aging male stripper arguing with St Peter at the Pearly Gates, a cuckold hunting unicorn, an android who learns to love Leonard Cohen — Katherine Fawcett is blessed with a fierce imagination. Her style is as original and as wildly diverse as her characters, with stories that range from gritty realism to magical fantasy to wise fable. Fawcett’s voice is bold and confident but also surprisingly playful with unexpected comedy sprinkled throughout the collection. Each story is a gift.”
Angie Abdou – Author of Between, The Bone Cage and more.
“Katherine Fawcett works magic here, whips imagination, wit and anarchy into gold. Each story finds a place where our culture is already strange and jumps off from there.”
Fred Stenson – Author of Who by Fire, The Great Karoo and more.
“The Little Washer of Sorrows is smart, ferociously funny and astonishingly inventive. The best debut story collection I’ve read in recent memory. Katherine Fawcett is a major new voice in Canadian fiction.”
Susan Juby -Author of The Truth Commission, The Woefield Poulty Collective, Alice I Think, and more.
“Fawcett’s stories balance on a sharp edge of wit and insight that breaks open the inner lives of her quirky characters.”
Stephen Vogler -Author of Only in Whistler and Top of the Pass
“Katherine Fawcett’s unique, fast-paced, witty, hits-you-in-the-gut funny short stories appeal to some of our deepest fantasies and darkest questions, such as what happens to us after we die? and what if I could create my ideal mate? Like a magician, Fawcett uses language to create illusion and to reveal truth in a most engaging way.”
Sue Oakey-Baker – Author of Finding Jim