Writing ‘worked out well’
A recent Pen/Faulkner Award nomination for her “Sister Noon” (2001) is the latest recognition for Karen Joy Fowler.
She also won the World Fantasy Award for “Black Glass” in 1999, the Commonwealth Award for Best First Novel for “Sarah Canary” in 1992 and the John W. Campbell Award for best new science fiction writer in 1987. She took second place in the Samuel Goldwyn Award for Screenwriting in 1989.
But Fowler came to writing late.
“It was just one of those 30-year crises, deciding to write. It embarrasses me to look back and think how unnerved I was to turn 30,” said Fowler 20 years later.
“In retrospect, it all worked out quite well,” she said Monday. “It was a good decision, although it was very hard.”
It was challenging because Fowler didn’t have a writing background or any business connections. The stay-at-home mom received a degree in political science from the University of California at Berkeley and a master’s degree in the same subject from UC Davis.
“I took a couple of workshops through Davis Arts Center and UC-Davis,” she said, “and it was great fun. The classes confirmed I wanted to do this. But my talent didn’t seem to sparkle; people didn’t respond to my work to make me feel it was easy.”
She pursued the literary career, however, because she was convinced writing was what she should do. She sold her first short stories five years later.
Fowler didn’t set time lines to be successful by a specific date.
“I couldn’t let myself think that way,” she said. “When I made the decision on my birthday to write, it was making some sort of peace that no matter how hard I worked, I might not be so successful. I needed to know I’d be all right at that. So focused on surviving my failure, I didn’t hope I might actually get some notice for my stories.”
Two decades later, Fowler is still receiving attention for her science fiction short stories and novels with historical settings. She teaches two creative writing classes at UC Davis and speaks at conferences and teaches workshops throughout the country.
“I think I turned out to be surprisingly tough in terms of keeping going, getting the benefit of early failures, criticism, not letting it paralyze me,” Fowler said. “I just kept writing, kept trying.”
At her third Wordslingers Saturday, she will be moderator for a panel of mystery writers.
“It’s very nourishing to writers to be among readers,” Fowler said. “We’re so isolated; so many people don’t read. It’s lovely to see the other writers and see that there are people reading with great enthusiasm and intelligence.”
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