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In the spring of 2008, I received a lovely email from one of THE PRACTICING WRITER’s subscribers:

“Erika, thanks so much for posting the link to the Devil’s Tower residency. I’d been dying to get back to Wyoming, where I once worked for a summer, and I just got word that I got a residency. I would never have applied if it weren’t for you! Nice job digging up the good stuff for the rest of us!”

Kelly Luce

Kelly Luce

The author of that email was Kelly Luce, whose writing path I’ve subsequently followed with great interest. When I learned that Kelly’s debut collection of short stories, THREE SCENARIOS IN WHICH HANA SASAKI GROWS A TAIL (hereafter “HANA SASAKI”), was about to be published, I asked if I might have the opportunity of sharing news of the release with all of you and interviewing Kelly for THE PRACTICING WRITER.

“HANA SASAKI”  will be published by A Strange Object in October 2013. Kelly’s work has been recognized by fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, Ragdale Foundation, Jentel Arts, and the Sewanee and Tin House Writers’ Conferences, and has most recently appeared in THE SOUTHERN REVIEW, CHICAGO TRIBUNE, CRAZYHORSE, and THE KENYON REVIEW. During spring 2010, Kelly was the Writer in Residence at the Kerouac House in Orlando; she also attended the Sozopol Fiction Seminar in Bulgaria as a fellow. Raised in Chicago and a Californian at heart, Kelly is currently a fellow at the Michener Center for Writers in Austin, Texas, and fiction editor for BAT CITY REVIEW.

Please welcome Kelly Luce!

Erika Dreifus (ED): Kelly, your book isn’t just a debut for you; it’s also the first book to be published by A Strange Object, a Texas-based independent press. Please tell us how your book came to be published by A Strange Object.

Kelly Luce (KL): My first contact with Jill Meyers and Callie Collins, who co-direct A Strange Object, was in 2010, when they were editing AMERICAN SHORT FICTION. ASF published a short-short of mine, “Heliotrope.” I enjoyed the collaboration a ton; their emails were funny and the edits they suggested were spot-on. Fast forward to last year, when I got an email from them, saying they were starting a press and did I have a manuscript they could look at? The way they talked about the press and their vision for it struck me as different and ambitious and appealing, and I already knew them to be outstanding editors with a great sensibility, so I sent the book off. Coincidentally, I had just moved to Austin for grad school and got to meet Jill and Callie at a reading, which made me even more excited about the press. When they emailed to accept the book, I couldn’t stop thinking, “These are the perfect people, and the perfect press, for this book.” And I still feel that way.

ED: Your collection comprises ten stories, and, as mentioned above, most of them are set in Japan. Please tell us how you decided which stories to include in this book.

KL: The book manuscript I submitted to A Strange Object contained 12 stories. Going over the book with [the editors] was an interesting experience because I had spent so much time with the stories and with the book manuscript that I could no longer tell which stories were representative and which were possibly redundant or not as strong. I put in pretty much everything I’d ever written that was set in, or with a connection to (in the case of “Rooey”) Japan.

I’d been calling the book “Ms. Yamada’s Toaster,” after one of the stories. When Jill and Callie suggested “Three Scenarios” as the title story, I began to think about the book in terms of that piece. We ended up cutting two stories, one because it didn’t have the depth of the others and felt immature, and one because what it did as a story was done better by a different story in the collection (“Pioneers”).

But it’s strange what submitting to magazines does to your sense of how “good” a story is. I fell into this trap of thinking that stories that took a long time to place were not as strong as stories that were placed quickly. This is getting off-topic, but the story I thought was maybe the worst, “Rooey,” was rejected over 50 times before Minna Proctor at THE LITERARY REVIEW took it. Then TLR nominated it for a Pushcart, and their Editor’s Prize. Then Michael Noll wrote a writing exercise based on it, and this girl reading for THE RUMPUS calls it a “stunner that will stay with [her] a long time.” I have rejections for the story that range from “This just feels too solid, too much like what a story should be” to “If what happens in this story is what I think happens in this story, it’s too weird for even us.”

ED: And how did you determine the order in which the stories would appear in the book?

KL: I left this completely to the editors. I have begged them to write an essay about the art of ordering. (Editor’s Note: I’ll beg, too!) I feel like ordering is best done by someone other than the author, someone who can look at a manuscript and see it as a whole, as a piece of work that’s doing something. I felt like the collection was cohesive enough, but before Jill and Callie applied themselves to it, it wasn’t truly a book.

ED: Every story in this collection was previously published in a literary journal. Did you revise any of them them for book publication?

KL: I did. Most of them were small revisions, but one story, “Pioneers” (originally published as “A Sort of Deadline”) got a completely different ending. Jill and Callie are incredible editors. They pushed me and because of them, the book is five steps better. Maybe six.

ED: Got it! Now, in your book’s acknowledgments section, you mention an impressively long list of prestigious writers’ residencies and conferences that helped support the writing of this book. Any tips for others on winning those plums?

KL: Other than to obsessively follow your Practicing Writer newsletter, through which I found two residencies I eventually attended, my advice would be to make your proposal as unique and as detailed as possible. And to apply to as many residencies as you can afford.

ED: What has surprised you most so far as you’ve prepared to launch THREE SCENARIOS IN WHICH HANA SASAKI GROWS A TAIL?

KL: The best surprise has been how genuinely excited and supportive people have been about the press, and, by extension, about HANA SASAKI. There’s depressing news about the crumbling of old-school publishing everywhere you look, but from the dust is rising this massive appetite for the new, the weird, the beautiful, the local, the personal, the small. We don’t like hothouse tomatoes; we want heirlooms.

ED: Thanks so much, Kelly!

You can learn more about Kelly and HANA SASAKI at http://kellyluce.com. I’m grateful to Kelly and to the publishers from A STRANGE OBJECT for a complimentary advance reading copy of the book.

A version of this interview appeared in the October 2013 issue of The Practicing Writer.