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31 October 2002




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James Patrick Kelly: Writing on the Edge November 2002

James Patrick Kelly attended Clarion in 1974 and 1976 and has been a full-time writer since 1977. He's won Hugo Awards for novelettes “Think Like a Dinosaur” (1995) and “1016 to 1” (1999), and won a Locus Award for short story "Itsy Bitsy Spider" (1997). Other notable stories include "Rat", "Mr. Boy", "Lovestory", and 2001's "Undone"; these and others are collected in Think Like a Dinosaur and Other Stories (1997) and Strange But Not a Stranger (2002). Kelly has also published four novels, most recently Wildlife (1994). He lives in Nottingham, New Hampshire, with his wife and children, and is a member of the New Hampshire Council on the Arts.
Photo by Beth Gwinn

Official Website

Excerpts from the interview:

“I believe it is more difficult to write an edgy novel than to write edgy short stories. It’s certainly more of a problem in terms of thinking about a world for a long, long time and developing characters - which is what it takes to write a novel. I enjoy creating a world, but I don’t enjoy living in it for two years. Working with the short form, I don’t want to say your characters are disposable, but they’re not as sturdy. To create, over the course of many, many pages, a character you really feel strongly about and then have him or her die, sometimes unexpectedly as people do in real life, is difficult for any writer.

“Many writers look at the short story as a stepping stone to gain enough audience acceptance and editorial approbation to go ahead and launch into some larger work. Is the larger work more valuable to the field than the short work? My answer would be, ‘No.’ They contribute different things. The short story, almost by definition, is more nimble. It’s easier for the short story writer to stay au courant, up with what’s going on across the board, from 9/11 to discoveries in science to new art forms to what the Internet is morphing into. I can incorporate that much quicker than a novelist can. If a scientist discovers there’s more dark matter in the universe than we thought, and in fact we’re not headed for a big freeze but rather we’re headed for a big crunch, all of a sudden the entire philosophical underpinning of Western civilization could change. I can write five short stories examining that in the time a novelist will need to retrofit his book or finish it and start a new book which will examine the implications. The downside is, these stories come and go. A book is a more permanent thing, so unless your stories get collected in a book, they go away.”


“Science fiction should embrace some of the other art forms. There could be interesting and fruitful collaborations. I have actually had some science fiction theater produced, and that was way cool! Michael Ching (artistic director of the Memphis Opera) adapted one of my stories — ‘Faith’ — into an opera. It played at Chicon and off-Broadway. He wrote four or five songs that stood aside, but the rest of it was sung dialog and narration verbatim from the story. One of the most thrilling moments of my career was at the first rehearsal. He’d just finished writing the music. He played a piano and sang it for me. When I realized how he had transformed this little science fiction novella/romantic comedy, it was magical. We’ve got science fiction artists, and they’re wonderful, but I’d like to see more interpretative art freed from the constraints of magazine covers. I’d like to see science fiction dance! I think science fiction is the most important literature of our times, and I’d like to see the themes incorporated into mainstream artworks. It isn’t that it can’t be done; it’s that we don’t think to ask for it. Mainstream people have to come to us.”


“I have become fascinated by the Internet. Because of the bust, a lot of people think the Internet is passé, but that bust was a blip on the long-term development, a short sharp shock that made people think again about their assumptions about how the Internet would be funded and what it would mean in the next ten, 15, 20 years. It is changing everything in every way. The Internet is vast and (in my opinion, in a good way) out of control. Of course, if I’m still around in 2022, I might say, ‘I can’t believe I was so naive.’ I think regions of it will be tamed (AOL is a perfect example of a tamed part of the Internet), but vast regions will be untamable and dangerous. Dangerous to people who aren’t open-minded, dangerous to young children, dangerous to people who are certain they know how the world works. And the Internet is only the bleeding edge of technologies that will be more addictive but also more liberating.”

The full interview, with biographical profile, is published in the November 2002 issue of Locus Magazine.


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