The first time I met Karen Joy Fowler, it was over curry. I was dropping off a Seattle Foundation check I had brought back with my from the Seattle office when Denise, the house chef, motioned for me to come into the Farmhouse.
“There’s plenty of curry–you should join us for dinner.”
I have often joked that I have a pallatte that is slightly advanced from that of a toddler’s. But I’ll try anything that Denise cooks, because it’s always delicious.
As I sat down at the Farmhouse table, everyone introduced themselves. I had an aha moment when a short, unassuming woman introduced herself as Karen. “Oh, RIGHT,” I thought to myself. “Karen Joy Fowler is here, THAT Karen Joy Fowler–Jane Austen Book Club bestselling author Karen Joy Fowler.” My spine straightened as if I was back in AP English class.
She was telling a story about her daughter. Apparently, at the age of seven or eight, she had walked around the neighborhood, pushing a tumbleweed with a stick. She knocked on every door in the neighborhood, explaining that, while she didn’t have a REAL pet, she was perfectly contented with her pet tumbleweed.
I sat transfixed, carefully navigating through my plate of curry and caraway seeds. The dinner came to a close and I said my goodbyes.
Weeks later, I was approached by Vito, our Residency Director:
“Can you play a psychobitch?”
“For Karen and Ruth’s reading–there’s a part in Karen’s book that’s a psychobitch–It’s a big scene, and I need someone with a lot of power.”
“Yes, of course, I’d love to!” My eyes lit up. It was a scene from her new, yet-to-be published novel, and I was going to get a sneak peak!
My good friend Eric was playing my boyfriend. We rehearsed in the longhouse on a sunny April afternoon. I was nervous. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like for an author to see actors bring characters to life. Characters that had only lived inside the head of the author and editors and were about to live in the heads of thousands of readers. It was a responsibility I didn’t take lightly.
We ran through the scene a couple of times, and all she said was “That was great, thank you both.”
Good, I hadn’t screwed it up.
The reading was held at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts that evening. The audience loved the psychobitch, as well as the rest of the reading from Karen’s book and Ruth Ozeki’s new novel, A Tale for the Time Being. I received many compliments afterwards. The best one by far was when Karen smiled and said “You were exactly as I pictured her.”
I may or may not have turned bright pink.
Weeks later, VORTEXT, our weekend salon for women writers, was in full swing. I was lucky enough to hear the keynote speeches on the last day, given by Gail Tsukiyama and Karen. Gail gave a great speech about finding your authentic voice as a writer.
After Gail had finished, Karen took the stage.
“See, wasn’t that a lovely keynote? I almost feel as though we should end there.”
Laughter erupted throughout the room.
“I feel as though my whole life has been one bad hair day.”
More laughter. Throughout the rest of her speech, if you just heard the audio of the audience’s responses, you would swear that it was a rowdy bunch at a stand up comedy club and that the comic was killing it.
Karen’s keynote centered on how to tell lies effectively as a fiction writer. My favorite example was a memory of her son stealing his sister’s toys, wedging them in the space between his bed and the wall and, when caught, saying that a big, bad bunny had perpetrated the crime.
Two days after VORTEXT ended, we took our show on the road. We replicated the evening we had done with Karen and Ruth at WICA at Seattle Public Library. Excited to reprise my role as the psychobitch, I eagerly clung to the black binder in which my script was held.
The readings went well, and there was a Q & A session with the audience.
When asked what her writing process was, Karen
“I sit down to write, but first I have to check my email. After I’ve written responses to all the emails, I go and visit various political websites. And by then, surely, someone has answered the emails that I had written, so I go back to the email…But I’ve learned not to rush the process. And I’ve written six novels, so some days I do work very hard.”
A young man asked Ruth about the nature of time.
In her answer, she talked about how the only reality is the present moment. In a given day, there are more than six billion moments. She snapped her fingers to demonstrated that held within each snap, there are more than six thousand moments.
“And every moment is an opportunity to make a change.”
“So don’t use it checking email,” Karen interjected.
After the reading had ended, I bought a copy of Karen’s book, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. I waited patiently in line for her to sign it. I had taken my phone out, in case a moment was right to ask for a picture with her. But by the time it was my turn, I put my phone back into my purse. I wanted to stay present in and cherish the thousands of moments it would take for her to write the inscription. She finished, smiled, and returned the book to me.
Wide-eyed as a child on Christmas morning, I went to a corner to open my present and see what she’d written.
The inscription read “To Katie, who will always be my Harlow. xokj”
I was completely beside myself.