NEA Big Read
Pretty Monsters

Pretty Monsters

by Kelly Link

Whether or not this story has a happy ending depends, of course, on who is reading it. Whether you are a wolf or a girl.


Kelly Link (Sharona Jacobs Photography LLC)

Kelly Link (b. 1969)

"Link is so beloved by her fans that she makes that ubiquitous epithet, 'cult-favorite,' seem eerie in its potential for literal truth." — Jezebel

Kelly Link was born in Miami, Florida, where she lived in a "half-finished development" for seven years, a place where her father, a Presbyterian minister, chased peacocks off the roof of his car in the morning. There was a coral reef nearby covered in a thin layer of topsoil where a fire once broke out, she told Publishers Weekly. "Our lawn smoked for days. It was a pretty fantastical landscape." The rest of her childhood was spent moving around: from Chattanooga, Tennessee; to Glenside, Pennsylvania; to Greensboro, North Carolina. As a teenager, she went on a lot of car trips, owned a pet boa constrictor named Baby, and "spent a lot of time in malls trying to decide if I wanted to buy a candle shaped like a dragon or a candle shaped like a schnauzer" (Publishers Weekly).

She loved to be scared, and she loved to read. She had "lots of interesting babysitters" who told "really good ghost stories" (Strange Horizons), and parents who loved books. They "could be talked into reading just one more chapter of C. S. Lewis's Narnia books, one more chapter of The Hobbit. I followed them around the house, book in hand" (The New York Times). Later, when she could head to the library herself, she read books by Ursula K. Le Guin and other writers who wrote for both children and adults. "I became deeply attached to an edition of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz that belonged to the dentist's office. It wasn't in great shape, by which I mean someone had bled on it. Maybe multiple someones. She wasn't happy about it, but my mother finally bought it for me so we could bring it home" (The New York Times).

Shortly after graduating from Columbia University in New York, Link won a sweepstakes while living in Scotland and got free travel around the world; she made it to New Zealand, Malaysia, Thailand, Fiji, Indonesia, and the Cook Islands. "You had to answer three basic geographic questions, and then the tie-breaking question was, why do you want to go around the world? I wrote down, 'Because you can't go through it,' and that was how I won" (Publishers Weekly).

Link met her husband, Gavin Grant, working at a used bookstore in Boston; their wedding was 11 days after 9/11. "I might have been a clerk by profession, but in my heart I was a 40-hours-a-week browser" (The New York Times). In 2000, they founded Small Beer Press, a leading publisher of literary fantasy and science fiction, including Link's first two, critically acclaimed collections of stories: Stranger Than Fiction (2001) and Magic for Beginners (2005). Link shopped around her books to major publishing houses, but short story collections, they told her, were poor financial risks. So she decided to self-publish, in part to keep control of the process and the product, and it paid off. "Every part of the publishing experience was miles better than I could have anticipated, but we worked very hard, too, to make sure that we didn't muck it up" (Valley Advocate). One decision they made was to include illustrations by Shelley Jackson, the artist/writer known for the "Skin Project," a novella published exclusively in the form of tattoos on the skin of volunteers, one word at a time. (Check out Link's author photo.)

Link's many writing accolades include three Hugo Awards, a Nebula Award, a Locus Award, a World Fantasy Award, and an NEA fellowship in creative writing. Recently, she was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for her collection Get in Trouble, which she published with Random House in 2015. "I need a lot of distraction to work," Link told Electric Lit. "I have my headphones on, I'm checking email, I look at Twitter and Tumblr, and drink a lot of coffee," though her preference is to be sitting at a café or bar across from friends who are also writing. "When we get stuck, we pass our computers across the table to each other, and then talk about what might work better" (The Short Review).

Link draws inspiration from other mediums—she loved the television series The Vampire Diaries—but there have been times in her life when she couldn't write at all, like when her daughter was born prematurely in 2009 and weighed just a pound and a half. She and her husband spent over a year in the hospital with her. "There were a couple of weeks after her birth when we couldn't hold her," Link told Publishers Weekly. "And even once we could, it was pretty strictly scheduled—three hours a night, or so.... Since we couldn't hold her, we read to her. You could see her heart rate go down on the monitor as we read." Link currently lives with her husband and healthy daughter in Northampton, Massachusetts.

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