Best-selling author of ‘Jane Austen Book Club’ to appear in Chimacum
Karen Joy Fowler
By Diane Urbani de la Paz
Peninsula Daily News
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Karen Joy Fowler, best-selling novelist, will come to the North Olympic Peninsula this week to talk about why she ignores that old saw.
It’s “tedious advice,” said the author, whose seven books go from The Jane Austen Book Club in 2004 to this spring’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves.
Fowler will discuss her writing life — replete with plot twists — and how she came to Completely Beside Ourselves, a book critics are calling shockingly honest and, in the words of famed science fiction author Ursula K. Le Guin, strong and sweet.
Fowler has been touring the country to talk about it, and her next stop is the Chimacum High School Auditorium, 91 West Valley Road, for the 12th annual Huntingford Humanities Lecture at 6:30 p.m. Thursday.
Admission is free to the event hosted by the Jefferson County Library; Fowler’s books will be available for purchase and the writer will stay to greet readers and sign copies.
“Karen Joy Fowler has written the book she’s always had in her to write,” notes Le Guin. Completely Besides Ourselves is the story of “an only in America family — and yet an everywhere family, whose children, parents, siblings, love one another very much, and damage one another badly. Does the love survive the damage?”
And Le Guin is only one among the many hailing Fowler’s latest.
In a telephone interview Monday, Fowler talked about the road she’s traveled since her first novel, Sarah Canary, appeared in 1991.
She was a stay-at-home mother with two children and, she said, “in that extremely privileged position of having a husband who worked, who brought home a paycheck, and gave us all health care.” Thanks to this, she didn’t have to hold down a “day job,” and could focus on writing.
“When I did work up the nerve to think, ‘I’m going to try to write a book,’ I was so completely ignorant about what that decision entailed,” Fowler recalled.
Had she known the odds against her publishing that book, she might not have kept trying.
It took three years to sell her first novel. Fowler recalls reaching “complete despair.” But she did publish Sarah Canary to raves — and then followed it with The Sweetheart Season in 1996, Sister Noon in 2001 and The Jane Austen Book Club, all of which drew more acclaim.
Reading a good review of one’s book is “indescribably wonderful,” Fowler acknowledges. Yet she knows that We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves hasn’t pleased everybody.
“I’m pretty certain if I looked at Amazon.com, there would be some very disapproving readers,” she said.
Searching out reviews isn’t something Fowler does. Instead, she pours herself into research. She writes to explore, to delve into the big questions as they play out among people.
“I write about subjects I don’t know a lot about, that I don’t have opinions about,” she said. Writing a story or a novel is an “excuse to learn, and keep learning.”
In Completely Beside Ourselves, narrator Rosemary Cooke has a “sister,” Fern, who is a baby chimpanzee. Rosemary’s psychologist father wants to raise Fern much like a human child, as a kind of protracted experiment.
Fowler’s own father was a scientist: an animal behaviorist at Indiana University. She has long been fascinated by humans’ relationship with other animals.
In preparation for the novel, she found several accounts of real-life cross-fostering of chimps, and read copiously about ape behavior in the wild, in laboratories and in wildlife preserves. She also took what she calls a “chimposeum” at the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute in Ellensburg.
Since the novel’s release, there have been a few times when readers have come to Fowler to tell her something that means a great deal. The book changed them. It changed the way they saw themselves, other creatures and the world.
When asked what is next for her as a writer, Fowler gave a tantalizing response. Her next novel just might be about a theatrical production of a Shakespeare work. In New Orleans. Before the Civil War.
“I’m in the part of the process where I’m just reading,” she added.
Fowler is also flying up from her home in Santa Cruz, Calif., to the Northwest.
“I just want to invite people to my talk,” she said. “I have some adventures to share.”
Fowler’s visit for the Huntingford Humanities Lecture is due to the legacy of Sara L. Huntingford, who helped establish the Jefferson County Library district 35 years ago.
“As a teacher and mother, Sally understood the importance of opening the door of learning to people who live in isolated, rural areas. She realized that quality library service was the key to that door,” notes Meredith Wagner, associate director of the Jefferson County Library, located at 620 Cedar Ave. in Port Hadlock.
For more information, phone the library at 360-385-6544 or see www.JClibrary.info.
Features Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5062, or at email@example.com.
Last modified: September 30. 2013 6:27PM