Kelly Luce’s debut, Three Scenarios in Which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail, is a haunting collection of fantastical short stories about fortune-telling toasters, ways in which a girl may grow a tail, and an instrument measuring one’s capacity to love.
When and how did you start writing fiction?
Growing up, I was the kid who wanted an electric typewriter for my birthday and who gifted homemade “books” (assembled from spelling book covers and an abundance of staples) to my favorite schoolteachers. But I didn’t think of writing fiction as something one could dedicate their life to until my mid-20s. In fact, it wasn’t until I dropped out of my first MFA program in 2004, and moved to a tiny cottage in northern California that I started to take writing seriously.
You lived in Japan for a few years. Did your experiences there inspire you to begin writing or alter your style of writing? How did your time in Japan and any cultural influences and experiences you may have had affect you as a writer?
It’s hard to understate the impact those years in Japan had on the way I think and the way I write. Living and working in a foreign country as a young adult taught me a lot about taking risks, about the blazing, humbling humanity of people across linguistic and cultural barriers, and most importantly, the rewards of persevering through situations you can’t control.
A lot of good can come from being forced to confront situations and people outside of your comfort zone. Living in a place where I was functionally illiterate and mute forced me to become a sharper observer of people, which helped my writing. As a teacher of English and informal student of Japanese, I spent time thinking and talking about words, idioms, how language functions, etc. The extent to which we take our native language for granted becomes painfully clear once you have to explain the language to someone who doesn’t speak it. Some concepts are common in Japanese that we don’t think about in the west. One is mono no aware, the aching impermanence of things. The cherry blossom is the classic example. It’s inspiring that something so small, so everyday, is celebrated so fiercely.
Finally, there was something compelling to me, as an American who’d grown up without a strong connection to any specific cultural heritage, about living in a place that was so homogenous and rooted in tradition. That’s not to say that Japanese culture is simple or that its people are all the same; it was the complexity of the people, along with regional differences and attitudes, which drew my imagination and held my interest.
Do you draw inspiration from what you read? Any favorites?
I love short stories and work that captures nostalgia without spilling over into sentimentality. Stuart Dybek is a master, as is Alice Munro. Weirdness and magic—and I define magic loosely—get my brain churning. I read a lot of work in translation and wish there was a bigger market for it. Anything Open Letter Books publishes is bound to be interesting. It seems like cultures outside America often have a more fluid idea of what magic is, maybe a different relationship to it. Indie presses are putting out some of the best books out there right now. Recently I loved Nina McConigley’s Cowboys and East Indians, a wonderful exploration of two wildly different cultures coming together (or pointedly not). Other recent favorites are by Etgar Keret, Mary Miller, Victor LaValle, and Laura van den Berg.
Could you describe how you came upon the idea for stories such as “Ms. Yamada's Toaster,” “Rooey,” or “Amorometer”?
I used to have this shoebox where I put homeless ideas. It was full of scraps with just a word or two on them. I pulled out three—“Jehova’s Witness,” “appliance with a superpower,” and “so much beer,” and forced them into the story that became “Ms. Yamada’s Toaster.”
I started “Rooey” as a response to the tragic death of a friend. I was trying to explore grief as honestly as possible and struggled to portray how transformative and downright physical the mourning process is—and how interminable. It took years to get the story right.
“Amorometer” was fun to write. The title is the name of a made-up instrument that supposedly measures one’s capacity to love. My undergraduate degree is in cognitive science, and I’m interested in the clever ways we’re able to quantify and measure processes like consciousness, creativity, and happiness. When I ran experiments, I’d imagine ways in which people could mess with them or ways to read things into results that aren’t there.
Not only is this your debut book but it is publisher A Strange Object's first book as well. How did you become involved with A Strange Object and how has this relationship affected your book?
I first encountered Jill Meyers and Callie Collins, the press’s directors, when they were editors at American Short Fiction. They published a piece of mine and were both excellent editors with a good sense of fun. When they started the press last year, they emailed me and asked if I had a book manuscript they could consider. I waited about three seconds before I sent them the book, which they accepted a few months later. They cut the manuscript down to ten stories from twelve, and recommended the title change—both smart insights. Coincidentally, I had just moved to Austin for the Michener fellowship, so I get to hang out with them sometimes (which is great because, among other things, they know all the good bars.)