Michael Kelly is the author of Scratching the Surface, a collection of stories, and co-author (with Carol Weekes) of Ouroboros, a novel. He  lives in Ontario, Canada and runs a small press Undertow Books.

Short Story Collections

Undertow and Other Laments
(Dark Regions Press, 2009)

reviewed by Mario Guslandi

Scratching the Surface
(Crowswing Books, 2007)

Interview with Michael Kelly

The Short Review: How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?

Michael Kelly: Some of the stories were published five or six years ago; some 2 or 3 years ago; and a few were written specifically for this collection. Actually, one of the tales goes back about 9 years. Of course, the length of time each story took to write varied. Some came out in a rush, while others took years to gestate and form. The creative process remains a mystery to me. I’m one of the rare writers who doesn’t really dwell a lot on process.

TSR: Did you have a collection in mind when you were writing them?

MK: In general, no. I was approached about a collection. The only trouble was that I’d had a collection published a couple years before. I’m not a terribly quick writer. I had 35,000 - 40,000 words of uncollected material. Some of it previously published. So I wrote the last third of the book with the collection specifically in mind.

TSR: How did you choose which stories to include and in what order?

MK I looked through all my works and it soon became apparent that, if chosen carefully, a collection loosely themed on sorrow, grief, loss, and melancholy — laments —was viable. The worry, of course, is that the overall mood and tone is too much, that there isn’t enough variety. Perhaps, indeed, that is the case. I did see a couple of “reviews” that took me to task for a perceived lack of entertainment. But the collection represents who I am. I’m incapable of writing strictly escapist entertainment. It isn’t really what I want to do, at any rate. But I am envious of those who can.
   I then attempted to structure the order of tales in such a way that it mimicked the building tension, the rising swells and descending dips of classical music. I’m uncertain if that effect was achieved. To be sure, it doesn’t follow the typical start strong, end strong scenario (a tried and true method that I employ when putting together anthologies) where the best tales are first and last. At least I don’t think so.

TSR: What does the word "story" mean to you?

MK: Story is the intersection of the heart and mind and soul, where beauty and tragedy and the mundane intertwine to edify and educate (and, yes, entertain) us, as we go about our generally despairing and fragile lives.

TSR: Do you have a reader in mind when you write stories?

MK: No, never. Each reader brings their own perceptions and prejudices to the work. It’d be madness or folly for me to write with a reader in mind. I do understand that some writers, especially those in the commercial arena, can and must have a reader in mind.

TSR: Is there anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your collection, anything at all?

MK: This speaks to the sadist in me, but I always want to know which story or stories the reader disliked. Not just disliked, but actively despised. There’s at least one in every collection. Even from your favourite author(s). It gives me a perverse pleasure in knowing these things.

TSR: How does it feel knowing that people are buying your book?

MK: People are buying the books? Woot! Show me the money! Seriously, it is very gratifying knowing people are reading the work. A piece of fiction, to me, doesn’t seem finished until it is read.

TSR: What are you working on now?

MK: Editing, mostly. I’ve just edited the inaugural issue of a new literary journal, Shadows & Tall Trees. And I’m putting finishing touches to an anthology, Chilling Tales, which will debut at the World Horror Convention, 2011. I’ve penned a couple of very short stories which will see publication soon.

TSR: What are the three most recent short story collections you've read?

MK: Lesser Demons by Norman Partridge; Quill and Candle by Scott Thomas; The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel. Aside from these single author collections I’ve read, partially read, or reread the following anthologies: Cutting Edge, The End of the Line, The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 21, Haunted Legends, and The Color of Evil. Not to mention various magazines and journals devoted to the short form.
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Find out what other authors, from Aimee Bender to Sana Krasikov, said about their collections, what the word "story" means to them, and how it feels to know that people are buying your books! More interviews >>>