In Kelly Link’s stories, events generally start off in relatively normal territory—say, a latchkey kid whose dad has run off. But then the floor begins to tilt and suddenly you find yourself sliding into a fairy tale—the neighbor house that the girl is obliged to tend is home to elves. The slippery fairy folk are nice—some of the time.
The 45-year-old Northampton author’s new collection of short stories, “Get in Trouble” (Random House), which she’s scheduled to discuss at Brookline Booksmith in Brookline on Feb. 16, arrives with high praise. “It has taken Link 10 years to produce her new story collection, ‘Get in Trouble,’ and it is just as brilliant as her last,” The New York Times says. "Kelly Link is probably the best short story writer currently out there,” Neil Gaiman has said of her work. "Kelly Link is the exact best and strangest and funniest short story writer on earth that you have never heard of,” Jonathan Lethem has added.
Link attracts these raves because she tells of fairies, superheroes, shadow twins, demon lovers and alternate universes—but she writes as if she’s Alice Munro or Raymond Carver. It’s wondrous genre fiction written with incredible lived-in detail about worlds one small step from the longings and hurts of ordinary life. She was kind enough to speak about some of these things in the interview below.
Kelly Link: “I can’t exactly say why when I write short stories I end up with elements of fantasy in it. But the rules for how people behave don’t actually change when you introduce a vampire or unicorn into the story. People still have to behave like people. It’s a lot of fun, for whatever reason, to imagine people trying to deal in sensible ways with impossible things, ghosts, vampires, unicorns, whatever. Things get a little slapstick almost. It’s like watching somebody juggle really difficult things.”
“In some ways, [the rise of geek culture] is great for a lot of stuff that I love. There are a lot more of the kind of the movies that I like, a lot more television shows that I think that there will be a good chance that I’ll be interested in. Then there are a lot of people who are either writing inside of genre or else they’re writing more in the mainstream who are using the kind of fantastic elements that I like in stories. So that’s pretty great. I’m sure there are a lot of really unattractive aspects of geek culture as well. All the Gamergate stuff is pretty gross. The Wikipedia stuff. It’s good and it’s bad. There’s a lot of stuff to celebrate. It’s not as if geek culture is necessarily better than any other kind of culture, it’s just that there’s a lot of overlap with geek culture and the stuff that I love—stuff that surprises me or stuff that uses the conventions and material of genres like science-fiction or fantasy or horror in new and interesting ways.”
“I think what I like is the kind of story or narrative that pays really close attention to the world. And it doesn’t have to be the real world. I could be some kind of invented fantasy landscape as long as the writer is really teasing out what the implications of living in that world is.”
“I think that I’m drawn to and I think a lot of other people are drawn to stories about people, gossip. If somebody says to me, ‘I have a friend who did something really awful,’ I immediately want to know what they did. On the other hand, if somebody says to me, ‘Do you want to hear a ghost story,' my response is, ‘Yes, of course I want to hear a ghost story.’ Those are two of the most delightful invitations that I can think of. … I think that when I write what I’m trying to do is include a little bit of both of those. But when I sit down what I think is, ‘I want to write a ghost story.’ Then I think about the kind of people who are going to be haunted by that ghost. And that’s where the gossip part comes in. What about these people would be interesting to a reader? How do I make them feel like real, living people?”
“I’m a fan of love stories. I think that when people talk about their lives, one of the things that’s important is the people that they’ve loved. We’re defined in some ways by the kinds of relationships we have with other people. So falling in love is a good part of that. Although, of course, maybe falling in love is a particular social convention of our contemporary life. It may be that falling in love right now is very much influenced by media, by the kinds of representations of love that we see.”
“The possibility that things may go badly, you need that for a story to really suck somebody in. Because you want to see what the outcome is. But, honestly, most of the love stories I know in real life have their ups and downs, or maybe turn out to be tragedies in the long run. Eventually, even if you have a long and happy life with somebody that you love, one of you is going to die.”
“My husband [writer Gavin Grant] and I are currently rewatching ‘Buffy [the Vampire Slayer].’ I think we’re up to season five now. In part, we started rewatching it because the other great television love of my life is ‘The Vampire Diaries’; that was on hiatus. So we thought, well, we’ll give ‘Buffy’ a rewatch, too. I have gotten a lot of my friends hooked on ‘The Vampire Diaries’ because it’s like ‘Buffy.’ A friend of mine said, ‘I didn’t realize this about myself, but I guess I just really love shows about vampires.’ Which is, I guess, something I also realized about myself. I’m kind of bored sometimes by television when it’s just a bunch of people hanging out. But if you can imagine one or more of them as vampires, my interest is immediately roused. For one, there’s always the possibility that somebody’s going to do something really horrible. Two, somebody has a really big secret. And three, they’re like ghosts. You can do a bunch of nifty, very agile storytelling around a vampire. There’s just a lot of possibilities. They’ve been alive for a long time so you get to explore the back history. They also work really well as metaphors for a lot of different kinds of things.”
“In real life, would vampires be fun? No, absolutely no. But in a story or on television, would vampires be fun? Absolutely yes.”
“I do like the idea that there is the possibility that strange things may happen to you, the idea that things may happen to you in your life that you can’t predict or prepare for. I mean, that’s terrible on one side, but on the other side, it’s kind of great.”
“I think if you allow for the possibility of strange things, you don’t get to choose if they’re going to be great or if they’re going to be terrible. That’s very much the experience of our daughter being born so early. [She was born at 24 weeks, requiring months of medical care during her first two years of life. Now, she’s healthy and about to turn 6.] It was terrible. But would we change it, I don’t know. … Yes, I do wish she stayed inside a lot longer, but on the other hand, she’s the person that she is. Would she be a different person?”
“You can’t just hope for strange good things to happen. I mean, you can hope for it, but it seems a little demanding.”