Tag Archives: Karen Joy Fowler

Wiscon 38, Day 3 – Saturday May 24th, 2014

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Saturday started with hotel restaurant breakfast with Catherine Schaff Stump and other Codexians who came and went. As usual with Codexians – good company, great conversation. Wiscon’s a terrific place to catch up with people who you don’t usually get to see, or who you’ve only met online. Except that very often, they’re rushing in one direction, and you’re rushing in another, because Wiscon has so much going on that there are three things you want to attend in every time-slot. So it was nice to get to actually sit and chat.

I caught half of the ‘Feminist Endings’ panel, which discussed the romance reader expectations of a Happily Ever After in which the protagonists pair off at the end. “Many speculative fiction novels include a romantic subplot with often a paired coupling at the end… How can feminist writers resist or re-imagine different kinds of endings if a large sector of the reading public has been encouraged to expect romance?” One panelist described her experience of being asked by editors to switch genres – from Romance to SFF and then back to Romance in a multi-book series. It didn’t work, which highlighted the different norms in the genres. The discussion was interesting, but expectedly inconclusive.

Reaching Readers: Best Practices for Writers‘ was really useful, especially in a market that is changing so quickly. More and more authors are self-published; many others are published by small or micro presses. The internet provides readers with the ability to interact with authors. “The old advice about writers remaining aloof is outdated… Aloofness is a privilege that writers can’t afford.”  On Sunday, I went to a related panel, ‘Selling Yourself: The Journey of Self-Marketing.‘ “Today, authors find they must become part of the marketing machinery if they want their work to succeed… Is social media all there is? How do you stay professional while engaging in ways that sell your work?” I have a separate blog post to capture these discussions.

Time, Contingency and Memory centered on the artwork of Laurie Toby Edison, whom most of us know best as a jewelry artist and photographer. But this was different; it was artworks made on the iPad with assemblages of meaningful photographs and objects. She’s starting a project to reflect her life through a series of such images. The discussion centered on memories, retrieving them, sharing them, validating them. Many of us – including the panelists – who are older have lost people with whom we shared memories; in some cases, they may have been the *only* people with whom we shared that memory. It was bittersweet.

The Outer Alliance reading was excellent. (In fact, all the readings I attended at Wiscon were excellent.) My only quarrel with readings is that sometimes people only read fragments, and I’m left hanging… Anyway, my friend Julie read a piece that she’d actually written during Wiscon. It was smart and funny and I wish she’d write more stuff so I could read it.

Then it was time for the Tiptree auction. This is one of the highlights of Wiscon for me, and it really should be called the Ellen Klages Saturday Night Live Tiptree Auction Show. Ellen Klages is always the auctioneer and she’s hilarious and outrageous. Except, this time, she’d injured her back and could not make it… could they even have an auction without her?

Ellen Klages video at the Tiptree Auction 2014

They did. Karen Joy Fowler and Pat Murphy and a team of volunteers dug out their suppressed comedic sides. People like Ellen Kushner, and David Levine, and Nisi Shawl. Who knew? It was very funny, perhaps slightly less crazy and unpredictable than Ellen Klages, but had us roaring nonetheless. They were ably assisted by a couple of young kids, who seemed to thoroughly enjoy the limelight and clearly are Wiscon NextGen. Ellen Klages sent a video with the theme, the Show Must Go On. It did, Ellen, and brilliantly. But we still want you back next year. With a healed back.

I won a galley of Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (which I wrote about in an earlier post).  Of course I have it on Kindle, but this was for her autograph. It was a bit more special than just a bookstore copy.

I made a round of the parties; the Haiku Earring party seemed the best attended but they were all quite quiet. What drew me in, unexpectedly, were the game tables – new this year. Vylar Kaftan, a friend from the Bay Area was at a table of a dozen people playing Telestrations, and when someone retired from the game I replaced them. It’s sort of like the old game of “Telephone” in which each person whispers something to their neighbor, who whispers what they think they heard to their neighbor and so on. Only, this is done with paper and pen (or rather a dry-erase booklet and a marker). Each person writes a word or phrase, and passes it to their neighbor. The next person draws it, and passes it on. The next person writes what they see in the picture, and passes it on to their neighbor, who draws that phrase. This continues until the booklets are back to their originators. Then you have a show-and-tell of the booklets, and it’s just ridiculously funny to see how each sequence went. The game’s best played with at least 6 players, but is better with maybe 10-12. And it’s probably best played with people you don’t know very well, because they become predictable and so the sequences wouldn’t diverge as much.

Another group were playing Slash, but I didn’t join that one.

LINKS TO ALL THE POSTS

Here’s a set of links to all my Wiscon 38 posts.

  • Day One: GoH Readings at “A Room of One’s Own.”
  • Day Two: Economics in video-games, The Gathering, PoC Dinner, Poverty, Transphobic feminists?
  • Day Three: Non-romantic endings, Time and Memory, Outer Alliance reading, Tiptree Auction without Klages, Telestrations game
  • Day Four: The Capitol, SFWA, readings, GoH speeches and Tiptree winner, parties.
  • Day Five: The End. ‘Hard Chargers’ reading.
  • Note on Reaching your Readers/ Selling Yourself.

“We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves” – Karen Joy Fowler

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we are all completely beside ourselves - Karen Joy FowlerWhen I finished reading this book, I felt I had to share something, somewhere. I wasn’t ready to write a review yet. I was still too rapt. So I went to Facebook, and posted:

Just finished reading Karen Joy Fowlers “We are all completely beside ourselves.” Coming up for air now. It’s a masterpiece. The voice is comic, sprightly, delightful. The story is dark and layered… so much so that midway, I thought it might be too much for me to deal with. I’m glad I continued.

I lucked out on the way I came to this book.

WHY KINDLE IS BETTER

At  Wiscon, where Karen read from it, I’d hoped to get her to sign it for me. I didn’t know anything about it then, but Karen was one of my Clarion instructors and I love her writing. But the book wasn’t actually coming out until two days after Wiscon. Nor could I attend any of her Bay Area signings, where I’d undoubtedly have bought it.

I’d wait, I thought. This is San Francisco, she lives not too far from this city, and would undoubtedly be here for a reading some time. But before that happened, my author friend Kater Cheek wrote a review that made me feel I couldn’t put it off any longer.

I sometimes feel guilty,” Kater wrote, “about all my average “liked it” star ratings in a world of grade inflation, and have thought about re-scaling all my books so that they all have 4 or 5 stars. But then a book comes along like this, where it really was amazing, and I’m glad that I so rarely give out 5 stars, because then people can understand that 5 stars means that this book is really something special, and not merely good.

The rest of her review was general – as this piece will be, and for the same reason. There’s a surprise that hits you well into the book that makes everything you’ve read thus far fall into place. If you know what that surprise is (and I think many people do by now), it’s still a superb book, but it loses – that.

So anyway, after reading Kater’s review, the Kindle edition of the book was only a couple of clicks away.

And that’s where I got lucky. The paper version of  the book actually has the surprise on its dustjacket. (I still haven’t bought the paper version, though I intend to do so the next time Karen can sign it.) In fact, it’s even in the description on Amazon, which thankfully I did not read. So when I started in, the revelation burst upon me as the author intended, with just the right mixture of shock and comprehension and satisfaction of curiosity and revising of mental images.

And that’s why this isn’t really a review of the book, but more of a reaction to it.

WHAT I LOVED

I would have read the book for the voice alone. The protagonist, Rosemary, is a college student when we first encounter her. She’s just been arrested for getting involved in a cafeteria incident where the girl at the next table is breaking up with her boyfriend by breaking things. Her descriptions are smart and witty, the turns of phrase utterly wonderful.

But it gets even better. It’s not just the voice, it’s about reality. And perhaps the motto of this book should be ‘Nothing is as it seems.’ There’s a deeper meaning to everything, and even that keeps changing. The plot twists like a snake in a maze.

And it gets worse, especially if you take families, love, and animals seriously (and all these matter to me). Difficult political themes emerge, confronting us with the whole issue of the homo sapiens and its relation to other animals – including power, love and cruelty and confronting Rosemary with a confusing set of choices. The story inexorably darkens. As I wrote in my immediate reaction, at one point it was getting so depressing – despite the witty tone – I thought I might stop reading. But I didn’t.

And it gets better again, pulling all the disparate strands into a bitter-sweet ending that was a lot more satisfying than the fashionable grimdark things where life slides into an inevitable decline and a book’s beginning is the best part of it.

The technical virtuosity is breathtaking, leaving me-the-writer undecided whether I should tip my hat and bow profoundly, or dig a deep hole and pull the turf over me in despair. Also – she makes it looks easy.

It’s brilliant.