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.
Fawcett’s stories are funny and fantastical, wildly creative and sweetly, but brutally insightful about what makes humans tick. She’s getting a kick out of taking literary road trips to book signings and developing a mild addiction to checking amazon.com, amazon.ca and goodreads.ca every day. (Shameless plug: you can post a review there. Go on. Help a sister out.)
And why shouldn’t she revel?
The 20 stories were mostly written during a three-year period of her life that was full of challenge and upheaval — the daily retreat to writing fiction was a welcome escape. “Sometimes, when things are smooth sailing and when everything is neat and tidy and your plan is clear, if stuff is too easy in your life, it’s easy to get complacent,” she said. “You have to find a way around the trauma or the personal issues that might cause pain. Sometimes going way the fuck out there can be really fun.”
This doesn’t surprise Fawcett. “Reading literary fiction gives us the ability to feel things that come into our lives, even if they’re imaginary. That’s empathy. You can empathize with an alien. A good writer can have you empathizing with a worm, and if we can empathize with a worm, we should be able to be good to our neighbours or understand that, despite all our fears, underneath it all, we are all the same.”
Fawcett writes most days. A music teaching gig that starts at 11 a.m. gives her a window between school drop-off for the kids and her classes, that she uses to write. And she wrote most days during that period of upheaval, and found a space for fun in day-to-day life that was pretty chockfull of fear, pain, loneliness and insecurity. “But if we take those things,” Fawcett said, “and understand they are universal, and use them in a way that twists them into another world, it’s fun. More important to me than my fear is to put out honest art. The risk exists, but the pay off is that I’m going to make people stay up late reading, with a smile on their faces. Plus, it’s a good way to get rid of the ideas that could spiral into something darker. I don’t think you should deny the dark.”
Take a worry, add some unbelievable elements and turn it into something imaginary and hilarious. That sounds like good medicine, especially when it yields a little trove of mind-candy that reminds us, one story at a time that we are all in this thing together.