Kelly Link broke onto the bigger literary scene with her short story collection Stranger Things Happen, followed by Magic for Beginners. Because of the creativity, humor, and intelligence evident in each of her complex stories, she moved quickly from being known by a small group of readers to winning Nebula awards and a Hugo and a World Fantasy Award.

Short Story Collections

Pretty Monsters
(Canongate, 2009)

reviewed by Kristin Thiel

Magic for Beginners
(Small Beer Press, 2006)

Reviewed by Michael Keefe

Stranger Things Happen
(Small Beer Press, 2001)

Interview with Kelly Link

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

Kelly Link: Altogether, I wrote these stories over the course of fifteen years. The earliest one is The Specialist's Hat, and the title story is a story that I finished just as the collection was being put together. Monster, The Wrong Grave, and The Faery Handbag were some of the most fun I've ever had -- I wrote each of those in about three days, whereas The Surfer took about a year.

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

KL: A few years ago I realized that I had almost enough stories that would work as a cross-over collection for young adults. Some of them were published in the U.S. in my first two collections, Stranger Things Happen, and Magic for Beginners. It started to seem like a really good idea to collect them all in one place, especially as my editor promised to help entice Shaun Tan to provide original illustrations.

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

KL: The Wrong Grave is one of my favorite stories, possibly because it's so much fun to read out loud. The narrator's very grabby, very intense. It seemed like a good way to lead off. Pretty Monsters seemed like it ought to come last, because it's a pretty dense story, and I wanted that ending to linger. After that, it was mostly trying to make sure that various stories didn't bump up against each other too hard. For example, I don't think The Faery Handbag would have the same impact if it were right up against The Wrong Grave.

Length factors in too. You want to provide some breathing room. I would have liked to include a few other stories from Magic for Beginners and Stranger Things Happen, but at a certain point the collection felt complete. Or else it felt like an elevator with no more room on it. All of the stories are meant to be ones that would appeal to younger readers as well as adult readers.

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

KL: It means I expect (I hope) to come away feeling that short, sharp shock, (which Wikipedia tells me is also the name of "a treatment for young criminals" under the Thatcher administration. Yikes. I'm the editor of a small press, and I also teach creative writing. What I'm hoping for when I read a story for workshop, or out of the slushpile, is something that takes risks, that feels like it mattered to its writer. A writer I know says you ought to "follow your inner rage, follow your inner perv" when you sit down to write. I translate that as: write the story that only you would be able to write. Follow it all the way down the hole.

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

KL: There's often a reader sitting across the table from me when I write. My favorite way to work is in a coffeeshop or bar (or beside a pool, for that matter) with one or more writers within conversational reach. When I'm at home and when she's at home, Holly Black and I team up, because it's a relief to have company while you're at work, miserably, at something. When when you're happily at work, it's nice to be able to gloat a little. And when we get stuck, we pass our computers across the table to each other, and then talk about what might work better. I've belonged to various professional writing groups, and by this point when I'm thinking about how a story might be read, I can rethink it from a number of different perspectives.

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

KL: I spent years working in bookstores, and so when I meet readers, mostly what I want to know is, what do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors? Because then I get the pleasure of recommending books to them. There's nothing better than recommending books. The stakes are much lower than setting up dates for your friends, and it's so satisfying when you put the right book in someone's hands.

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

KL: Worrying. I'm still a bookstore clerk at heart. I want to make sure everybody ends up with the right book, not necessarily with my book.

TSR: What are you working on now?

KL: There's a picture book I'd like to try to write. And two stories: one about demon possession, and the other about self storage. Two of the most recent stories I've finished were about superheroes, and I'd like to write one more superhero story, as well as one more zombie story. Then I'd have two short story trilogies (or perhaps, since they're short stories, it would be more accurate to call them tripods or triplets or triptychs. Something not quite so grandiose.)
TSR: What are the three most recent short story collections you've read?

KL: The Boat by Nam Le, The Collected Ghost Stories of E. F. Benson, and The Far Forests by Joan Aiken. Right now I'm in the middle of the second volume of Ruth Rendell's collected stories.
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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 >>>

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