Kelly Link writes perfectly matter-of-fact, category-defying stories about zombies that hang out in convenience stores and tower-dwelling wizards who may or may not exist. Her style is clear and direct, and her plots turn subtly but sharply: there you are, lulled into thinking that you’re reading just another story about unrequited teen love, and suddenly you’ve got a werewolf on your hands. Her new collection, Pretty Monsters (Viking, $19.99), is labeled as Young Adult fiction, but it includes stories previously published for adults.
You’re a short story writer. Do people always want to know when you’re going to write a novel, or why you haven’t written one yet?
Yes. Part of me thinks it’s a reasonable question, and I also think, Well, if you like the short stories, shouldn’t you ask for more short stories? I don’t think there’s any guarantee that I would write novels that work in the same way the stories work. I don’t think I have the skill set yet. I would love to write a novel, but mostly because it seems like a shame not to try to do something that a lot of people want you to do. I feel sort of like a coward every time I start a short story. But I think I will always love short stories. I’m more excited by short story collections in general–a lot of the editing or anthology work I do is based around the short story. I love novels. Some of my best friends are novels! But I really love short stories best.
Is the publishing industry biased against stories?
Yes. You know, we worked with an agent recently–my husband and I run a small press [Small Beer Press], and we’re publishing a collection by a children’s writer, Joan Aiken, and we were talking to her agent, Charles Schlessinger. He said that when she wrote Wolves of Willoughby Chase, the American publisher said to her, This is good, but maybe you should stick to writing short stories. If you gave us a collection we would be interested, but we can’t take the novel. This was the early ’60s. At some point there was a shift. At some point people liked stories better. Now there is an idea that people like novels better. On the other hand, people in Japan are writing stories on cellphones now. But there aren’t as many markets for stories as there used to be in the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. There used to be more magazines with much wider circulation for stories. Now that people spend a lot of time online, maybe that will change again.
You released your first major collection, Stranger Things Happen, as a book for sale and also as a free digital download under a Creative Commons license.
As a reader, I really prefer a book, an object. But I also really like the idea of being able to give stuff away for free. Up to a certain extent, the more you make something available, the more people pass it around. There are many, many, many more downloads of the collection, but sales for the physical book have never gone down. During the first year it was available online, the sales went up. It works the same way a library does.