Kelly Luce grew up in Brookfield, Illinois. After graduating from Northwestern University with a degree in cognitive science, she moved to Japan, where she lived and worked for three years. Her work has been recognized by fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, Ragdale Foundation, the Kerouac Project, and Jentel Arts, and has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Crazyhorse, Kenyon Review, American Short Fiction, The Southern Review, and other magazines. She lives in Santa Cruz, California, and Austin, Texas, where she is a fellow at the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas and fiction editor of Bat City Review. Three Scenarios in Which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail is her first book.
I was fortunate to sit down over coffee with Kelly recently to discuss her new release and her road to publication.
Scribe: It’s interesting that your degree is in cognitive science, not literature.
Kelly Luce: One of my least favorite subjects in school was literary criticism. I loved reading the books but I hated to analyze them. I would rather approach them with the pure eyes of the child. Literary criticism was my most difficult subject. I think science and fiction have a lot in common.
Scribe: One of my favorite stories in Hana Sasaki was Rooey. When I read that story I realized that you get it. You understand how grief can twist someone around to become something they’re not.
KL: The brother of my closest friend died when he was 20. We were in our twenties. It was the first time I had ever experienced a young death. The only person I knew before that who had died was my grandfather. He was a chain smoker with lung cancer. He had a slow death, but expected. My friend’s brother was full of verve, the circumstances were mysterious and it came all of a sudden. It hit us hard. Four years later I had another friend who was hiking in Romania and she was mauled and killed by a bear. She was in her thirties. I helped her husband through the grieving process. I think I had started the story a few years before but dealing with his grief helped me complete it. It’s interesting that you pointed it out as one of your favorites. It’s most reader’s favorite. It was almost impossible to get published, such a long story, over 6000 words. I was convinced it was a bad story because it was so hard to get published.
Scribe: The first story, Mrs. Yamada’s Toaster, was a good one to start with. It brought a spunkiness and playfulness that’s endearing to the reader.
KL: It’s a fun one to perform at readings, especially if there are children in the audience. They love it. It’s kind of a dark story in a lot of ways, like predicting how you’re going to die. But that’s something that everyone thinks they want to know.
Scribe: Magical realism seems to be the direction a lot of short story writers are taking these days. Does that seem true to you or is it just my perception?
KL: I think you’re right. I’m the fiction editor for Bat City Review, a local literary magazine I read through a lot of slush piles. I’ve read over 1500 submissions in the last few months. We’re filling an issue and we’re almost done. We’re desperate for a realistic story. We’re getting a lot of really weird stories, I mean really out there in terms of tone, voice and structure. It’s hard to find a conventional story.
Scribe: Most writers with your credentials want to publish the Great American Novel. What made you pursue publication of a short story collection since they’re so difficult to get published?
KL: I love the short story as a form. I don’t believe there’s a death knell for it. When I came back from Japan I didn’t know what to do. Do I continue my education in cognitive science or do I get an MFA in writing? I decided to apply for an MFA and went to the University of Miami. I soon found that it wasn’t for me. I wasn’t writing at all. I just wanted to write. I moved to California, worked part time and wrote as many stories as I could. Short stories were the barometer by which I could tell if I was going to be a writer. I had a novel idea when I was at University of Miami. I wrote about 100 pages. All that’s left of that is three words.
Scribe: How long did it take you to put this collection together?
KL: The oldest story in his book is Ash. it was written in about 2007, one of my first stories. Around 2010 or 2011 is when I put the collection together. I started sending it out under the title Mrs. Yamada’s Toaster. It was a finalist for several prizes but it was always a bridesmaid. I was thinking, ” Why? What is wrong with it?” How it got published is a strange story. Jill Meyers and Callie Collins worked with American Short Fiction. They had some stories of mine. They were editors there. This was before I ever thought of coming to Austin. I was living in California. As I was moving to Austin to attend the Michener center, they left American Short Fiction to start their own publishing company. I received an email asking if I had a collection ready for publication. I waited about 4 seconds and e-mailed back ” sure”. That’s how I ended up published by A Strange Object. They’re really insightful editors and easy to work with. I think they like projects that involve a little risk taking. Mine was the first book they published.
Scribe: How did your release go?
KL: It was a wonderful. There must have been over 100 people there; my classmates, friends that I had met, people from the literary community. I have only lived here a little over a year. It was amazing to have all that support.
Part 2 of the interview will appear next Friday accompanied by a Member Review of Three Scenarios in Which Hana Sasaki Grows A Tail.