Julie’s Cimmerian Tales Book Club: Kelly Link

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This month, I want to focus not on a specific book, but on an author: Kelly Link. I was introduced to Link’s writing in college. The first short story I read by her was “The Hortlak,” which includes a convenience store love triangle, zombies, shelter dogs, and printed pajamas. It’s in her second collection, Magic for Beginners. You can read it here. (Or, you can read her entire first collection, Stranger Things Happen, which is in the Creative Commons!)

Link’s stories include elements of the fantastical or weird. Some are set in contemporary suburbia with subtle twists, others in worlds that suggest high fantasy. I’m working my way through Pretty Monsters, a YA collection that won the Locus Award in 2009. Among the stories in the book are one about a boy who digs up the wrong dead girl, another about kids with magical tendencies who serve wizards in towers built on a marsh, and a third about twin sisters who decide that being Dead is the best way to go through life.

“Quirky” is too light a word to describe Link–some of her stories are downright eerie or morbid. There are unsettling elements, hordes of rabbits that gather in a family’s backyard, or hordes of green Susans who make Susan beer all day. For all their outlandishness, Link nevertheless maintains in her stories a strong sense of these not-worlds, maintaining their reality. Little details help, like the earwig that still sends Christmas cards to Fox in the titular story of Magic for Beginners. The illustrations that accompany the stories are an added bonus. (These are by Shelley Jackson and Shaun Tan, respectively.)

If you enjoy off-the-wall stories that are literary and fantastical at the same time, I recommend checking out Kelly Link’s work. Seeking inspiration? Visit her Story Monster page, which will randomly generate a prompt for you to develop a “monstrous, three-sentence story.” (I got: Once upon a time, “Billy” went to “Japan” and decided to toss around his “apple”!–I dare you to come up with a good story in the comments.) Want her to read your work and possibly publish it? Link and her husband, Gavin Grant, own Small Beer Press and run the small press zine, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet. And if you’re in the Baltimore area, you can see her this weekend at FaerieCon East–you might even run into me! There are a slew of other great authors who will be at the Con, as well.

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