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The Swan Suit offers fairy tales for modern times

Katherine Fawcett celebrates launch of second book
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Katherine Fawcett's new book, The Swan Suit, is set to be released on Saturday, March 14. Photo by Anastasia Chomlack

The Swan Suit, Katherine Fawcett's second book, is just as likely to leave you feeling unsettled—maybe even a little grossed out—as it is to make you laugh out loud.

Made up of 14 short stories rooted in fairy tale, it might delve into the fantastical, but Sea to Sky readers will recognize their own world amongst the magical landscape.

Pique caught up with Fawcett over email to ask her a few questions about the book, which will be officially released on Saturday, March 14. She was scheduled for a reading at the Pemberton Public Library, but it has since been cancelled due to the community centre closing. She is set to read in Squamish at the Brackendale Art Gallery on April 5 at 5:30 p.m., and in Whistler at the Whistler Public Library on April 7 at 7 p.m.

Where did the idea for reimagined fairy tales come from?

Katherine Fawcett: I don't think I really planned to create a collection of reimagined fairy tales. I just started writing, and the path of shadows turned out to be the most fascinating one. I've always been interested in traditional forms of storytelling. Myths, legends, fables, fairy tales. My first collection happened to pick up characters from mythology—Greek, Irish, Scandinavian. This time, I've employed tropes from the fairy tale world—wolves, witches, royalty, sorcery etc.—and meshed them with themes that are both contemporary and ancient: revenge, transformation, deceit, love, desire and death. 

Was it freeing or challenging to work in a genre that allows for anything to happen? Did you set any parameters for yourself?

KF: I didn't think of genre as I wrote. But in general I find fiction very freeing (once I get going). And short fiction is definitely a fun place to experiment. However, I'm not sure I agree that, "anything can happen." Even within a fantastical, fairy tale world, even with magic realism, there are rules. For example, the witch doesn't teleport. And even tiny goddesses get old and die.

My only parameters are: is this something that can transport the reader? Every story should be a boat that can carry the reader through white waters and across calm lakes. It's the author's job to give that reader a paddle, make them work a little, and a pair of binoculars to see things they hadn't noticed before. But if you have a hole in your boat, well, shit's gonna sink.

What I was struck by most was the interesting balance in tone of humour and the bizarre. Can you tell me a bit about developing that?

KF: I love that you found a balance between the funny and freakish. That's life though, isn't it? We laugh to break tension. And things are scarier when they interrupt a moment of levity. Joy and fear may seem like polar opposites, but they do both indicate a ramped up level of sensitivity. Juxtaposing them can really enhance a story or scene.

I'm curious how hard it is to explain this book to people. So far, I would call it humour writing with a fairy tale spin. (I genuinely laughed out loud at the idea of the devil getting roped into an essential oils pyramid scheme.) 

KF: Yeah, the elevator pitch for The Swan Suit requires a pretty tall building. I see this book as being essentially about transformation. It's an exploration of the bizarre and universal phenomenon of living in a body that is a bewildering miracle. The body enables us then betrays us. Propels us to heights of glory, then sends us tumbling down the back stairs. It disguises us, then reveals us. I suppose that in a way, we are all characters in our own fairy tales, shapeshifting our way through life sometimes as the frog and sometimes as the princess.  

You chose to include a few local details in the book—like Mosquito Lake. What kind of inspiration did Pemberton have?

KF: This book draws mainly on three different locations, all in B.C.: Pemberton, where I lived for 14 years, Whistler, where I've worked for over a decade, and Squamish, my current home. They are three very different communities, wonderful in their own unique ways. Astute readers will find references to these places sprinkled throughout the book.

Do you have a favourite story in the book?

KF: Well, the toughest story to write was probably "Nasal Cannula" because it features a woman and her father, who is facing health issues. That one hit close to home, as my dad is quite sick. But it's a hopeful piece, with a bit of magic sprinkled in. Dad read it and helped me with some of the details, which was great. 

The most fun story to write was probably "The Pull of Old Rat Creek." It's told in an updated epistolary style, using documents, texts, emails, press releases and Facebook entries to tell a story.

I like "Mycology" because of the male POV [point of view], and the male reaction to something that happens to his body that he can't understand.

I think "Happy?" is probably one of my favourites because it's so gross. Don't read that one to your kids.