Q&A: Kelly Link

Article by annalia

By Annalia Linnan

Sometimes a book chooses you instead of the other way around. Last month, when I was going through our shelf of advanced copies for potential feature ideas, I found books I liked but nothing I loved. But then a colleague put GET IN TROUBLE in my hands and I said yes immediately. Never mind that I had never heard of Kelly Link and that her book was at least fifty pages longer than the others I had considered. This was the one.

As a former bookseller, Link would understand. Ten years ago, she said, “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.” I’m sure it hasn’t hurt Link that her first collection, STRANGER THINGS HAPPEN, includes a blurb from Neil Gaiman calling her “the best short story writer currently out there, in any genre or none” and a “national treasure” that should be “surrounded at all times by a cordon of armed marines.”

Since her debut in 2001, she has won three Nebula Awards, a Hugo Award, and the World Fantasy Award--the highest honors in her genre--and published two other books of short stories. Her latest collection, GET IN TROUBLE, shares a pub day with Gaiman’s new collection of short fiction, TRIGGER WARNING. How is it possible then that my first introduction to Miss Link was opening the book on a plane from Chicago to Houston? How is it possible she lives a relatively quiet life in Northampton, Massachusetts, where she runs a small press and co-edits an occasional zine?

Part of it might be that Link (on paper and seemingly in person) is devoid of pretense. Take, for instance, “The New Boyfriend,” a story from GET IN TROUBLE that revolves around a group of high school girls and a line of sophisticated dolls that act like real boyfriends. With a push of a button, each “Boyfriend” comes to life: he can talk, he can dance, he will do anything his keeper asks. While many writers (and readers) might roll their eyes at this concept, Link dedicates nearly fifty pages to protagonist Immy’s jealousy, woes, and misadventures. The energy and angst are there, but it’s clear that Link passes no judgment.

Even when Link addresses more taboo subjects, such as incest and sex tapes (which are both featured in GET IN TROUBLE), I never feel like she does so simply to get attention. Rather, she reminds us that everything has layers and no one is immune to shame.


Brazos Bookstore: In an interview you did with The Short Review, you said you often enjoy writing with other writers within "conversational distance." Do you still do that?

Kelly Link: Yes! I do! I’m actually sitting here with Cassandra Clare and Holly Black, on a couple of sofas. It’s 1:38 in the morning and we’re all getting a little more work done. (The Vampire Diaries is on in the background. There may have been some cake and some martinis earlier.)

BB: What are the benefits of writing in the presence of another writer and having someone look at your work as you're crafting it?

KL: I’m a social writer, as it turns out. I like the company of other writers. I like writing in the company of other writers. We all have our own work to do, but we’re all happy to look at each other’s work, and act as first readers. We ask each other questions. It’s an informal sort of workshop, and I’ve always loved workshop. Look, I recognize that some writers need privacy and their own space to get their best work done. But I need noise, distraction, conversation, etc. Years ago, I was in an MFA program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro with Keith Lee Morris. He wrote in bars. I was astonished by this! And now I work that way, too.

BB: It was refreshing to me to read a short story collection where even the shortest piece is over twenty pages. Have you always been drawn to longer stories? What are your thoughts on flash fiction?

KL: The classic short story is, what, somewhere between 4,000 and 6,000 words, right? I’d like to finish off more short stories at that length. It just seems so tidy, so economical. But in the last few years I seem to be cramming in too much to make a story to work at that length. I’ve chosen to take this as a sign that I should try writing a novel. And I don’t really have many thoughts on flash fiction. It can be great! It can be completely okay, but not great! It depends! I like the idea of imposing arbitrary restrictions on one’s work, in order to see what comes of doing so. But most of the limitations or rules that I’ve set for myself while writing have been other kinds of rules/limitations.

BB: Both "Secret Identity" and "Origin Story" deal with superheroes but in a very no-nonsense way. What was your intention there? Is there still a place for superheroes, in writing or otherwise?

KL: Are you asking for a final ruling on superheroes here? There are a lot of other things I’d like to get rid of first. Superheroes are like vampires, zombies, fairies, or middle-aged professors. They’re part of the cultural mythology that most readers share. That means superhero stories have a kind of useful shorthand attached to them, which you the writer can reinforce or play against. Years ago, Owen King and John McNally asked if I would write a superhero story for an anthology that they were putting together (WHO CAN SAVE US NOW?). I tried to get something done, but couldn’t figure out how to write the story I wanted to write. And then a year or two later, I found a way into writing a superhero story after all. Too late!

BB: If you had a “Boyfriend” toy like the Ainslie in "The New Boyfriend," which would you choose (the ghost, the vampire, or the werewolf) and why?

KL: As a kid I was always more into stuffed animals than dolls. I also coveted candles shaped like things: castles, unicorns, hedgehogs, etc. I spent a lot of time thinking about what candles I would buy, if I had a certain amount of money. I also collected things shaped like schnauzers: china, pewter, glass. Would I have wanted a ghost vampire or a vampire boyfriend or a werewolf boyfriend? I wasn’t really sure that I wanted a boyfriend at all. I admit: I’m most creeped out by the idea of a ghost boyfriend, which is why Immy wants one of those most of all.

BB: You've said in many interviews that you're still a bookseller at heart. What makes brick and mortar bookstores special?

KL: Well, there’s the fact that local bookstores contribute to the local economy. Brick and mortar bookstores also have their own distinct personalities. They’re idiosyncratic! They have opinions! They champion the books that they love! They can order any book that you want, but they also carry books that you might not come across on your own. I like browsing. I like finding books that I would never have found if someone hadn’t written a note about them, or faced that book out on a shelf. And I love booksellers. (Literally: I fell in love with a bookseller. He proposed to me in the store window.) I love finding out what books they’ve read and loved. I like asking them questions about their bookstore: what sells, who their customers are, what they wish was back in print again. Right from the start, brick and mortar bookstores were advocates of the books that my partner and I published at Small Beer Press. And I’m enormously grateful.

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Get in Trouble: Stories By Kelly Link Cover Image
ISBN: 9780804179683
Availability: Unlikely to Be Available
Published: Random House - February 3rd, 2015

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