Thao Votang: Any conflicts of interest that you’d like to confess?
Kelly Luce: I’m vegetarian, but every couple months, a sushi lunch falls down my throat.
TV: You studied cognitive science and music in school. In hindsight, it sounds like perfect sense, but how do those studies fold into your writing?
KL: That’s a tough question. It’s hard to know just how deeply aspects of one’s life affects one’s writing. In general, I think that the more you learn about science, the stranger and more complex and beautiful the world becomes—which is perfect for fiction. As for music, it plays a big role in the novel I just finished. One of the main characters is a violin virtuoso. It was fun to write about music theory, certain pieces of classical music I love, and an artist at his peak.
TV: What took you to Japan? And what brought you to Austin?
KL: I went to Japan directly after college. I wanted to pay off student loans and have an adventure—get out of my American bubble. I was a teacher with the JET Program for a while, and worked with public school students in Kawasaki and Tokyo. Later, I moved to a more rural part of the country, on the island of Shikoku, where I directed an English immersion program for younger kids. I definitely got the adventure I was looking for: I spent a week in jail, joined a professional dance troupe, met the guy I’d eventually marry…even doing laundry was an epic undertaking. I came to Austin in 2012, when I was accepted at the Michener Center for Writers.
TV: “The Blue Demon of Ikumi” was my favorite story from your collection, Three Scenarios in Which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail. Can you tell us a little about how the story developed?
KL: There’s a surf town on Shikoku that friends and I used to visit, and there was this weird old stone monument stuck in the sand that haunted me. Once I saw that stone, I started imagining what the locals might have to say about it. I was thinking about how legends begin, how stories get passed on, and how belief—or lack thereof—can influence a person’s reality. Also, there’s always weird shit washing up after typhoons in Japan, and I wanted to play with that idea—what might come from the sea?
TV: You’ve previously mentioned The Giver by Lois Lowry as a book that made you want to write as a young person. I just have to say, that was one of the first books I read as a child that made me think, “WTF!” Would you tell us a few other books that gave you that OMGWTF feeling?
KL: Awesome! Yes, I love that book. Other books that do that for me are Stuart Dybek’s Coast of Chicago, East of Eden, stories by Joy Williams, and Gone with the Wind.
TV: I was reading one of your more recently published stories, “Ideal Head of a Woman on Midnight Breakfast”, while I was working up the courage for this interview. It made me quite happy that it took place in a museum. What is the background of this story?
KL: I did a campus visit at Texas Christian University last year, and when I was in Fort Worth I visited the Kimbell Art Museum. One piece really drew me: a bust titled Ideal Head of a Woman. What a name! What a burden—to be ideal. Growing up near Chicago, I went to the Art Institute a lot. I always had the sense of the art being alive, my favorites pieces friends that I got to say hello to once a year. So when I strapped in to write this story, I took it a step further in terms of what “art being alive” meant to the narrator.
TV: If there is one thing you can only experience in Austin that you could take with you anywhere, what would it be?
KL: The Vegan Nom taco truck. The insane Ultimate frisbee community. And Malvern Books. And BookPeople. And Barton Springs. Oh man, you said one thing, didn’t you?
Kelly Luce’s story collection, Three Scenarios in Which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail, won the 2013 Foreword Review’s Editors Choice Prize in Fiction. Her work has been honored by fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, Jentel Arts, Ragdale Foundation, Kerouac House, and Michener Center for Writers, and has appeared in The Chicago Tribune, Salon, O Magazine, Crazyhorse, American Short Fiction, Electric Literature, and other magazines. She’s the editorial assistant for the O. Henry Prize anthology and editor-in-chief of Bat City Review. She hails from Illinois and lives in Austin, Texas.