This is Part 2 of my recent interview with Kelly Luce, author of the short story collection Three Scenarios In Which Hana Sasaki Grows A Tail (A Strange Object 2013)
Scribe: Do you have a specific writing process; a place or time, do you schedule it?
Kelly Luce: I have an office in our house. I get up and have my coffee then put my butt in the chair. I check my email, check Facebook, stare at the screen, whatever I can use to put it off. It’s a really big work-up to get started so I like to have a full day to devote to it, nothing on my mind that I have to do later. It depends on what I’m doing. I usually reread what I’m working on to get my mind in gear. Once I start I just want to be able to keep going. Sometimes I like to read poetry before I start writing. It gets me in a place that forces my mind to consider the rhythm and language, the small nuances.
Scribe: So do you write poetry?
KL: Yeah, I do. It’s really bad most of the time. I use it as a motivational tool. I warm up with it, then just write as long as I can stand it. I can’t finish a first draft without editing. At the Michener Center they require a secondary area of study, so I’m studying screenwriting. It’s totally boring but they really do just barf it out. You don’t have to worry about ‘Is this the right description for this character?’ You just focus on dialog, focus on action. There’s no pressure to write sentences. It’s just a blueprint. The director is the artist.
Scribe: What advice can you give novice or aspiring authors?
KL: It sounds a little cliché but just don’t get bummed out. It’s really hard when you’re starting out to get a sense of your own abilities, where you fit in, how you’re doing. I don’t know who said it but there’s a quote, “When you’re starting out there’s always a huge gap between your ability and your taste”. Sometimes you’re blind to your own stuff; you think it’s really good. It takes a lot of hard work and a lot of practice. You just have to keep persevering with it. On the other hand, don’t underestimate how much of it is luck. Also, if you think you’ve done your best work; don’t let someone else change it. You have to develop a gut instinct to be totally honest with yourself about your work.
Scribe: Do you use critique partners or a group?
KL: Well in graduate school we have to critique each other. When I wrote these stories I had a couple of people I shared them with. I’m very particular about who gets to read them. I’m dubious to the benefit of work-shopping. It makes a ‘middle of the road’ story better but it makes the really great stuff worse. The trouble with workshops is no one teaches you how to give feedback or to hear feedback. I took a workshop where the instructor came in and wrote “1 out of 13” on the board. He said that was the percentage of critiques that were valuable.
Scribe: Give us a tease of what you’re working on now.
KL: It’s a novel, set in Japan, about this woman who was severely bullied as a child. It was because she was half Japanese and half Anglo. In Japan that means you are nothing, without value. As a child she murdered her bully. There’s a weird social phenomenon called kireru, which means to snap, like breaking a rubber band. It’s the only culture in the world where good kids, quiet kids, good students will just one day go bat shit crazy and cut someone’s head off, stab someone. The question I had was, “What about the culture creates this behavior?”
This girl lives in Japan until she’s 20, the age of adulthood there. You can’t have dual citizenship in Japan. She has a Japanese father and an American mother so she has to choose. She chooses American and goes to America for college, starts a new life, gets married. She doesn’t tell anyone about her past. That’s all the back-story you get. The novel is set in present day.
Scribe: How do you feel about the state of publishing?
KL: It’s changing but “So what?” Maybe the old guard is a little scared but there are a lot of options out there. A big publishing house just gave a 2 million dollar advance the other day. The big houses aren’t going away. It’s getting easier for people who just want to get a book out there and I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. It’s good to see the small presses on the radar. They promote a community of writers and put out great work that major publishing houses wouldn’t touch. It adds to the diversity. I think it’s a really exciting time to be a writer.