Blog Exclusive: A Conversation with Kelly Luce

Photo courtesy Kelly Luce

Back in October 2013, I found a link in my Twitter feed to a story on Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading blog. It was by a writer whose name was new to me, which is a thrill in and of itself. This new writer’s book was being released by a new press, which is even more thrilling. That sense of discovery added to my enjoyment of the story. Reading “Amorometer”  was like being welcomed into a weird and cozy new world – one in which love and science not only coexist but feed off each other, where possibility lurks around every corner and in your own mailbox.

“Amorometer” has since been released as part of the collection Three Scenarios in which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail. It is the first book by Kelly Luce, as well as the first book released by Austin-based press A Strange Object. Kelly was kind enough to speak with me via email about Three Scenarios, working with A\SO, and the literary parties we carry in our pockets.

– Gillian Ramos, Blog Editor


LUMINA: Your bio says that you have a degree in cognitive science. Has that background influenced or informed your writing, or do you consider the science and the writing to be two separate things?

Kelly Luce: There’s definitely a connection. My interest in writing and cognitive science spring from the same place: an interminable curiosity about the way brains work and why humans do what they do. The most obvious example of this in Hana Sasaki is the story “Amorometer,” in which a retired psychologist thinks he’s invented a machine that can measure a person’s ability to love.

LUMINA: The opening and closing stories in the collection – “Ms. Yamada’s Toaster” and “Amorometer” – both involve a piece of equipment that can tell people something about themselves, something that addresses a really deep human concern. In one story, people have the opportunity to find out how they’ll die. In the other, people’s capacity for love is measured and studied. I’m curious about how it came to be that these are the opening and closing stories – was this something you worked out with your editor(s)?

KL: I hadn’t noticed this until now! The ordering of the stories was something Jill Meyers and Callie Collins of A Strange Object worked fiercely on. We all agreed that “Ms. Yamada’s Toaster” was a good lead-off story—the premise is far-out and fun, the story hits on a number of the collection’s general themes, and it sets the reader up for what’s to come, tone-wise. But as for the rest of the book, I let them make the call. I think “Amorometer” works well as the final story—the tone of the ending sums up (to me) something important about the book, and it invites the reader to linger, to go back and revisit stories.

LUMINA: Would you ever use the toaster or the amorometer?

KL: Hell yes. I’m one who’s never met a personality test she didn’t take, so if I encountered one of these devices, my curiosity would definitely win out.

LUMINA: In an interview you did with Read to Write Stories, you addressed the more experimental nature of online publications, even when they’re affiliated with print publications that are still seen as more traditional. Another question that came up in that interview was about your relationship with American Short Fiction and now A Strange Object; it seems like there’s a similar appetite for strangeness between these online outlets and many small presses. Could you talk a little about the process of working with A\SO to make Three Scenarios a reality?

KL: It does seem like there’s an appetite for strangeness—quality strangeness, not just strangeness for its own sake—in the literary world right now. It’s hard to say whether this appetite is driving the creation of these online magazines or small presses, or whether the proliferation of less traditional publishing venues allows the appetite to grow. Either way, it’s been exciting to be a part of this—what? Movement? Transition?

A\SO has been wonderful to work with: from day one, my opinions mattered. The editorial process was collaborative and intense. Jill and Callie had such a clear vision for the book; they identified the flab and the false notes in the original manuscript and shared ideas for how to tighten things up without pressuring me to make changes I wasn’t comfortable with. They have a knack for giving the right amount of suggestion, for pointing out lines or “moves” that are working well as a way to solve problems. I learned a lot about myself as a writer by working with them.

In terms of other pre-publication stuff, I was part of the conversation regarding cover art, the title (which had originally been “Ms. Yamada’s Toaster”) and details of the book launch. The cover was especially exciting—I had sent A\SO images of a few book covers I admired, and gave only the stipulation that I didn’t want the cover to look gendered, girly—no floating dresses in a field, no cupped hands. Next thing I know, they’ve hired the brilliant Yuko Shimizu, who just so totally gets it. She showed us a few ideas, and we all agreed pretty quickly on the cover image you see now.

LUMINA: In a group interview you did with Salon back in December, you likened the “short story is dead” headlines to the recycled sex tips cover stories that show up every month in women’s interest glossies. It’s a funny comparison, but it definitely rings true because there’s no shortage of opinions on the topic. And yet, there’s this vibrant online literary culture.  You can carry an entire magazine in your pocket because it’s on your phone. You can read a short story or a poem or an essay on your commute or lunch break. I think you’re right when you said in the interview that the short story never really went away and it’s not really going to, so I’d like to wrap things up with your thoughts on how technology is helping literary culture grow.

KL: It is such an exciting—and fun—time to be a writer, to be a part of literary culture in general. Technology lets people do the things they like to do more easily, or more portably, or more (I hate this word, but whatever) dynamically. When I started submitting to magazines in 2004, there were hardly any online submissions systems, and there was a general sense that online magazines weren’t as prestigious as print ones. The whole process was so isolating: write alone, go to the post office alone, months later, pull a rejection slip from your SASE alone. If you published something, people had to hunt down a copy of the journal in order to read it. Unless you lived in a city that hosted lots of readings, or subscribed to a ton of magazines, you weren’t encountering other new writers. Now, ten years later, so much is available online, and smart phones and e-readers give people access to a huge variety of excellent writing. Facebook and Twitter let writers connect with each other and with fans; when you discover something great, it’s easy to share. All in all, technology has made literary culture a lot less lonely. Sometimes it feels like a big old party.