September 13, 2004

Wonder Woman interviews the fabulous Ms. Kelly Link

Your trusty Bond Girl Superfriend here with a (sort of) surprise (I stopped getting married long enough to finish it) interview with my Superfriend and one of the most generous writers I know, Kelly Link.

Kelly Link writes the most excellent short fiction. No, really. And I'm not just saying that -- other people think so too. To totally steal from the bio linked above, here's Kelly, in case you don't know who she is:

Kelly Link's collection, Stranger Things Happen, was a Firecracker nominee, a Village Voice Favorite Book and a Salon Book of the Year -- Salon called the collection "...an alchemical mixture of Borges, Raymond Chandler, and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." Stories from the collection have won the Nebula, the James Tiptree Jr., and the World Fantasy Awards.

Kelly has taught or visited at a number of schools and workshops including Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY, Brookdale Community College, Brookdale, NJ, Lenoir-Rhyne College, Hickory, NC, the Imagination Workshop at Cleveland State University, New England Institute of Art & Communications, Brookline, MA, Clarion East at Michigan State University, and Clarion West in Seattle, WA. She is an editor for the Online Writing Workshop and has been a reader and judge for various literary awards. With Gavin J. Grant and Ellen Datlow she edits The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror (St. Martin's Press). She is also the editor of the anthology, Trampoline.

Kelly lives in Northampton, MA, and is currently working on a new collection of stories. She received her BA from Columbia University and her MFA from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Kelly and her husband, Gavin J. Grant, publish a twice-yearly zine, Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet -- as well as books -- as Small Beer Press.

So, let's get to the interview wherein the release date and other information about her BRAND NEW collection of stories emerges, despite my inability to ask interesting questions (except about zombies). Oh, and you should buy and read or listen to everything mentioned, but I really, really was too lazy to link to everything.

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Gwenda: So, let's start with a question you've gotten a thousand times and are bored sick of but no doubt can answer easily Ė what made you decide to start Small Beer Press and what was the process of getting out the first two books like?

Kelly: Weíd been putting out a zine, Lady Churchillís Rosebud Wristlet, twice a year for two or three years, and so we had a rough idea of how much it cost to put out a zine or a chapbook or a book, and how many you had to sell to break even. We were interested in making something that looked like a book. The goal was always to break even.

I owe a large debt to other artists who have self-published. I was a faithful reader (and later a bewildered reader) of Dave Simís Cerebus. There are musicians like Sonic Youth and Gillian Welch and John Wesley Harding who have started their own labels, or put out their own music -- Ani DiFranco and Aimee Mann and Natalie Merchant. I like the DIY, zine-y approach. Oh yeah, and Iím a control freak.

We realized that if we could publish my collection, then we could publish other people as well. I was a huge fan of Ray Vukcevichís short stories, and after we ran into him at a convention in Texas, we asked if he had enough stories for a collection. Publishing my own book was messy. It was an act of indefensible hubris. I didnít know how to edit myself into book form. Youíre not supposed to publish yourself. Working on Rayís collection was a kind of reward for deciding to start a press to publish my own collection. Ray was a delight to work with. I got to read his stories over and over again.

I loved designing the books, and I loved being able to ask Shelley Jackson to provide cover art for my book. All of the minutiae of book design and copyediting and proofreading turned out to be enormously satisying work. Much better than simply writing the stories. I grumbled about it at the time, but even writing the jacket copy for Stranger Things Happen was relatively enjoyable.

The unexpected thing about book publishing was that we were able, with a great deal of help, to figure out how to do it, how to make things that looked like the sort of book which I would want to pick up and read. Publishing books turned out to be a lot easier than I expected it would be. Meanwhile, lots of unexpected things were going on outside of starting Small Beer Press. In 2001, George W. Bush somehow ended up being president after all. Gavin and I got married. We got married eleven days after September 11th. In March of 2001, Jenna Felice, an editor at Tor Books, died suddenly. She was a close friend, a neighbor in Brooklyn, and part of a community of writers and editors and small press publishers. It was a relief to have a project to work on, after her death, but it was also difficult, because she had been so much a part of our everyday life, and in helping us figure out all of the things we needed to figure out, in order to start a press and publish books.

Gwenda: Well, the exciting news is that youíve written enough new stories for a collection and will be putting one out through Small Beer in 2005. Tell me about this new book. What will be in it? Does it have a name yet? Whatchya working on?

Kelly: The new collection will be out next summer. I have six new stories, and Iíd like to write at least one more longish story, and maybe a few shorter ones as well. Right now Iím still working on the sixth and newest story, which is called "Some Zombie Contingency Plans." Some of the new stories are darker in tone than the stories in STH, I think, although hopefully still funny. The seventh story will be a bit more cheerful, a bit zippier and playful-er. Not a ghost story or a zombie story. Of course I havenít written it yet. Too busy playing MozPong (like Pong except you have to catch chickens as they fall out of the sky, and the ball that youíre bouncing is a fleshy, wrinkled sack with eyes) and building bookshelves and painting cabinets and catching up with freelance work.

Iím also working on a couple of short stories for young adult anthologies, and eventually Iíd like to sell a YA collection. Iíd still like
to write a YA novel.

Iíve been trying like mad to come up with a title. I knew what Stranger Things Happen was going to be called very early on (while I was still in graduate school). I love Angela Carterís short stories and sheíd had a collection of old wiveís tales which was called Strange Things Sometimes Still Happen. So it was a sort of homage to Carter. And now M. John Harrison has a book (published by Night Shade) called Things That Never Happen, which I think is a wonderful collection. So I'm very happy to be sandwiched somewhere in between those two in whichever bookstore alphabetizes things by title. The working title for this new collection was Everything Must Go. I also liked We Fell in Hole and Couldnít Climb Out, but it sounded pretty hopeless and gloomy. I started making up lists of favorite titles: How Late It Was, How Late and I Capture the Castle and Enormous Changes at the Last Minute and Why I Hate Saturn and David Marusekís short story "We Were Out of Our Minds with Joy." (I also liked the word "delicious" a lot, but couldnít come up with a good title that used it.) I couldnít come up with anything as good as any of the titles above. I only got increasingly more covetous of other people's excellent ideas.

But I think I finally have a title: Magic for Beginners. And since I came up with it, Iíve been coming up with other good titles. But Iím not going to tell you what they are.

Gwenda: Why did you decide to publish the new collection (possibly called Magic for Beginners) through Small Beer?

Kelly: Why weíre publishing the new collection: I would love to work with an editor at a major publishing house, and I hope that someday Iíll have that chance. My agent sent this collection out, and largely the response was the same as the response to the first collection. We like these stories a great deal, but hasnít she written/isnít she going to write a novel?

Publishing the first collection was an entirely positive experience. Itís a hard thing to give up. My agent, when she called to tell me that two editors had made relatively decent offers, sounded bemused. These werenít bad offers, but they didnít suggest that either house felt that they would do exponentially better with the new collection than Small Beer had done with the first collection. As my agent pointed out, most writers donít have viable alternatives. In most cases, publishing yourself isnít the better option.

Most writers donít make a living by writing. I donít necessarily expect that I will, either. But Gavin and I can reasonably expect to make a certain amount by publishing the new book ourselves and doing the work ourselves on the design and production side, and on the promotion, etc. And in the end, I will own all the rights to my own work.

Of course, Stranger Things Happen had a lot of champions. Other writers, editors and critics, especially Laura Miller!, venues like Salon and the Village Voice, independent bookstores like St. Marks and Elliott Bay and Shakespeare and Co. and City Lights did so much work getting the book out. I have no idea if any of this will happen when the new collection comes out. It would be willfully stupid and egotistical to expect everything to happen the same way all over again. I have no idea what to expect, and thatís something that I enjoy a great deal.

Gwenda: So, you (and Gavin) travel all over the place and really promote your own work and the work of the writers Small Beer publishes. What would you say to writers about promoting their own work?

Kelly: I toured with Shelley Jackson when Stranger Things Happen had just been published. She had just published The Melancholy of Anatomy with Vintage. We drove cross-country to California and Washington State and back again in her family-heirloom bus. She had a figurine of Little My which went with us, and she had also composed three songs, two of which she alternately performed before she read. I wrote and gave away about two hundred copies of a mini-zine which contained a new story that Iíd been working on. I donít know if touring is essential, but itís pleasurable in a different way from writing. I love road trips. I love bookstores. Iím much happier in cars or in bookstores than I am at home when Iím trying as hard as I can to avoid writing. Maybe I love road trips because itís a much more successful way to avoid writing, and because they can accommodate as many bookstores as you possibly fit in? I now own an iPod, and therefore roadtrip book tours can only be more enjoyable & efficient.

As far as promotion goes, Iím much more comfortable promoting the other books that we publish than I am promoting my own work. Thatís because as a reader, I love all of the books that weíve published. I donít love my own work in the same way. Talking about my own writing is embarrassing, unless I get to make up lies about it in some way.

Promotion: the best possible way to promote any kind of book is to get copies into the hands of as many people as will enjoy it. Having been a bookseller, I like the idea of giving reading copies to booksellers. We just published two books, one by Sean Stewart and one by first-time novelist Jennifer Stevenson. We gave away hundreds of copies of both books through BookSense, and also at the American Booksellers Convention in Chicago. Sean Stewart also worked with the comic-book artist Steve Lieber on a one-issue, free mini-comic for Stewart's novel Perfect Circle. If you think that other people are liable to enjoy something that youíve done, giving away free stuff is probably a good idea. Weíll put up as much of the collection online as seems feasible. I like the idea of Creative Commons, which Cory Doctorow has utilized and promoted.

Whether or not a book finds its audience seems to be partly hard work, and partly luck. Mostly word of mouth.

Gwenda: Okay, then letís stop embarrassing you with discussions of your brilliant stories (sorry!). Now that youíre co-editing the fantasy half of the Yearís Best Fantasy and Horror (with Gavin), you must read just about everything. What have you been reading lately that youíd recommend?

Kelly: What Iíve been reading. At heart, Iím still a bookseller, or maybe a book pimp? I want to put books in peopleís hands. (When I was a kid and my friends came over, I used to make them sit down in our treehouse -- we lived in Florida, so it was more of a triangular two-story structure arranged around three palm trees than an actual treehouse -- and read various books. I was into Anne McCaffrey at the time, and she was always a popular choice. Later on, I had more trouble with books like The Wasp Factory, and yet which is really more disturbing: Ian Banks or Anne McCaffrey? I vote for the weird dragon/rider gender & sexual dynamics in Anne McCafffreyís books.)

Books Iíve read recently:

Susanna Clarkeís Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, which reminds me a bit of T. H. Whiteís Once and Future King. I also highly recommend her short fiction.

The Truth About Celia by Kevin Brockmeier is absolutely one of my all-time favorite novels. It covers some of the same territory as William Browning Spencerís Zod Wallop (also a fantastic book) and The Lovely Bones.

Iíve just reread Joyce Ballou Gregorianís young adult trilogy, which begins with The Broken Citadel. I would love to reprint these books. Iím also rereading Joan Aikenís short stories, and again would love to put these back into print as a series of collections.

Jo Waltonís Tooth and Claw, which is this wonderful mixture of Trollope and epic fantasy dragons bringing lawsuits against each other. Itís hard to describe without making it sound impossibly silly, but it was a wonderful and strangely sensible book.

K. J. Bishopís The Etched City, which is an extremely baroque New-Weird-ish fantasy, and M. John Harrisonís Light, which I suppose is space opera for people who didn't realize that they wanted to read space opera, are both just being republished in the U.S. I loved both of these books.

In comics, I've been reading everything that Alan Moore has been publishing, as well as New Frontier, and Kevin Huizengaís work in the Drawn and Quarterly Showcase 1. I also loved Craig Thompsonís Blankets, Persepolis by Marianni Satriappi, and Lynda Barryís Hundred and One Demons.

Bangkok 8 by John Burdett. Big If by Mark Costello. Going Postal by Terry Pratchett. Mortal Love by Elizabeth Hand. We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver, which seems to me to be a kind of horror novel, an updating of The Bad Seed. I loved Poppy Briteís new novel Liquor. Ann Patchettís Truth and Beauty. (Bel Canto is one of my favorite novels of the last few years. Now I have to go read Lucy Grealyís book.) Thirsty by M. T. Anderson is a wonderful YA novel. His most recent book, The Game of Sunken Places, is more tongue-in-cheek and a great deal of fun.

If you like traditional fantasy and genre and donít mind reading series, Rosemary Kirstein, Kij Johnson, Laurie Marks, Gene Wolfe, Mitchell Smith, and Kage Baker have all published extremely good books recently.

The books which Iím most looking forward to reading: The Iron Council by China Mieville, Firethorn by Sara Micklem, The Year of Our War by Steph Swainston, Blink by Malcom Gladwell, Natural History by Justina Robson, Links by Nuruddin Farah, Nowhere Man by Alexsandar Hemon, Beautiful Somewhere Else by Stephen Policoff, Name All the Animals by Alison Smith, One Day the Ice Will Reveal All Its Dead by Clare Dudman, Thinner Than Thou by Kit Reed, McSweeney's iss. 13, and a whole stack of Sylvia Townsend Warner and Barbara Comyns novels.

Then there are the books which I like to give to friends: Diana Wynne Jonesís Archerís Goon, and Dogsbody; A Very Long Engagement by Sebastien Japrisot; Dodie Smithís I Capture the Castle; Karen Joy Fowlerís Black Glass; Wild Life by Molly Gloss; Disobedience by Jane Hamilton; Pobby and Dingan by Ben Rice; Peter Dickinsonís The Poison Oracle; Strange Toys by Patricia Geary; Sylvester (and also Venetia) by Georgette Heyer; Flowers From the Storm by Laura Kinsale; The Man Who Ate Everything by Jeffrey Steingarten; Flight of the Dodo by David Quammen; Strange Monsters of the Recent Past by Howard Waldrop; Iron and Silk by Mark Salzman; Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud; Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem; short story collections by Grace Paley and Eudora Welty and Fritz Leiber and M. R. James and E. F. Benson; Cruddy by Lynda Barry; Goodbye Without Leaving (or Family Happiness) by Laurie Colwin.

Gwenda: What about magazines? Or stories youíre really liking lately?

Kelly: For the last few years, The New Yorker has been my favorite magazine, hands down. All that nonfiction by people like Katherine Boo and Malcolm Gladwell.

There was a story by Ben Rice two or three years ago that just knocked me over. In genre, Ellen Datlow at SciFi.com consistently publishes short stories that I want to read. Recent favorite stories have been by John Kessel, Andy Duncan, Christopher Rowe (yes, that Christopher Rowe), Kij Johnson, and Jeffrey Ford. I've been an occasional slush reader for Ellen and SciFi.com for the last four years, and in all that time, she has only bought two stories (both of them in the last 8 months) that Iíve passed back to her. I have to admit that I deeply enjoy reading slush.

In the last few years, F&SF Ė The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction -- has published great stories by M. Rickert, Kit Reed, and William Browning Spencer, whose story "An Essayist in the Wilderness" remains one of my all-time favorite stories. The zine I enjoy most is probably the food zine Peko Peko, which doesn't come out often enough, and always goes out of print too quickly. The Believer is mostly fabulous. I love One Story.

I like all the new genre zines Say . . .{Bond Girl note: blush}, Trunk Stories, Problem Child, Flytrap, Electric Velocipede, and Full Unit Hookup. It seems like a good thing that so many writers are working as editors, and learning something about production, etc. Of course it would be nice if all of us were also making a living.

Gwenda: So, whatís your zombie contingency plan?

Kelly: In all situations, I like to ask myself: What would Jackie Chan do? Not because I have any sort of Jackie Chan skills, but because it's soothing to contemplate an imaginary Jackie Chan in imaginary action, kicking imaginary ass, zombie or otherwise. More usefully, what Jackie Chan does is improvise, using objects at hand. So we have a pantry with a lot of different kinds of jam, and some Lyle's Golden Syrup, as well as a lot of heavy, tall bookshelves, and several interesting fireworks, such as The Titanic, and The Naughty Elephant. There's also a lawnmower in the garage, and I've seen Peter Jackson's Dead Alive at least five or six times.

So although I'm not wedded to any kind of plan, I'm prepared to improvise ferociously. I could have a lot of fun with one of those large inflatable balls that Jackie Chan rolls over the cliff in, in Operation Condor. There's also the old barricading-yourself-into-a-shopping-mall-or-a-public-library-or-a- cruise-ship.

Gwenda: Good answer. How do we defeat George Bush?

Kelly: These two questions seem related, and yet I have no George Bush contingency plan.

Posted by BondGirl at September 13, 2004 07:20 PM
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