Karen Joy Fowler is the author of five novels, including The Jane Austen Book Club. Her novel Sister Noon was a finalist for the 2001 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, and her short story collection Black Glass won the World Fantasy Award. She lives in Santa Cruz California.

Short Story Collections

What I Didn't See
(Small Beer Press, 2010)

reviewed by Annie Clarkson

Black Glass

Interview with Karen Joy Fowler

The Short Review: How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?

Karen Joy Fowler: At a guess, (I can't manage the actual math) maybe 15 years separate the earliest story in the collection from the latest. But a couple of them are recent rewrites, done for this book, of stories I published in slightly or dramatically different forms some time ago. So the chronology gets confusing.

TSR: Did you have a collection in mind when you were writing them?

KJF: Absolutely not. I think I would have tried to include a few lighter, happier pieces if I'd been thinking in aggregate. I was surprised by how dark the tone was when you put them altogether. I'm actually a reasonably cheerful person, day to day. Though the state of the world is always cause for alarm and depression.

TSR: How did you choose which stories to include and in what order?

KJF: I relied heavily on my publishers -- Gavin Grant and Kelly Link -- to make these decisions. Although there is much agreement that I have written stronger stories and weaker stories, I find little agreement as to which are which. And I myself can't tell at all. So I asked Kelly and Gavin to choose only stronger stories, within their own constraints, which were that they wanted to stick to work that hadn't been collected before.

TSR: What does the word "story" mean to you?

KJF: My immediate free-association image is of someone talking to me. They are telling me something that happened to them or to someone they know or to someone someone they know knows. There are probably drinks involved.

TSR: Do you have a reader in mind when you write stories?

KJF: Sometimes. Sometimes I'm directing a story at a particular person. This is helpful in knowing what to include and what to leave out. But sometimes I'm just trying to please myself. What I am always doing is trying to decide and control what the reader knows and doesn't know at any given point in the story. So to that extent, I always have a reader, if not a specific reader, in mind.

TSR: Is there anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your collection, anything at all?

KJF: I'm curious as to what people think they know about me after reading my work. But I don't actually want to know. So I would never ask. I'm not asking!

TSR: How does it feel knowing that people are buying your books?

KJF: Surprising.

TSR: What are you working on now?

KJF: I'm working on a novel. I hope I'm reaching the end game with it, but I've hoped that before.

TSR: What are the three most recent short story collections you've read?

KJF: Claire Light's Slightly Behind and to the Left, L. Timmel Duchamp's Never at Home, Holly Black's The Poison Eaters.
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