Your trusty BondGirl 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.
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 an