Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Interview with TOMO Contributor Kelly Luce

Kelly Luce (author of the Tomo story “Yamada-san’s Toaster”) participated in the JET Program in Kawasaki and spent two years in Tokushima City. Her collection of Japan-set stories received the San Francisco Foundation’s 2008 Jackson Award and was a finalist for the 2010 Bakeless Prize. Her work has recently appeared in The Southern Review, American Short Fiction, and The Kenyon Review. Visit her website:

Tell us a bit about your connection to Japan.
Kelly Luce on Naoshima Island
I first moved to Japan in 2002, to Kawasaki, as part of the JET Program. After six months there, I spent six days in jail under a false accusation of shoplifting. I then moved to Tokushima, where I lived for the next two years. While there, I ran an English language immersion program for very young children, joined a professional Awa Odori ren, sang hundreds of hours of karaoke, and met my current boyfriend/partner. Tokushima was also where I began to write seriously. Needless to say, my time in Japan was life-changing. 

What was the story seed for "Yamada-san's Toaster"?
This story grew from a couple seeds. The first was a student of mine in Tokushima, upon whom Yamada-san is loosely based. She was a Jehova's Witness and came to me to practice the English version of her spiel, should she encounter a foreigner as she went door-to-door. The second was a writing prompt I came across years later in California that asked writers to compose a story about an appliance with a superpower. I loved the possibilities! Time-traveling vacuums, flying fridges, can openers with X-ray vision..! One day when I was thinking about psychic toasters, I remembered my old student from Tokushima, and I began writing.

Kelly Luce pounding mochi
Do you own a magic toaster? Do you visit fortune tellers?
My current toaster is quite boring, with no super powers (that I know of.) I did once receive a box in the mail from a woman in Washington state who had read this story when it was first published. The package contained her old silver-sided toaster, manufactured in 1954, along with a three-page history of the toaster's travels within her family. The toaster had a red-checked fabric cord and was full of crumbs. Only one of the slots still worked. It's one of the coolest presents I've ever gotten. I keep it in my writing lair.

“Yamada-san’s Toaster” previously appeared as “Ms. Yamada’s Toaster.” Can you tell us a bit about your short story collection?
This story first appeared in Tampa Review as "Ms. Yamada's Toaster," and won that magazine's 2008 Fiction Prize. It was later reprinted in the short story app for iPhone Storyville, and was even translated into Bulgarian.
The book itself (titled Ms. Yamada's Toaster) is a collection of stories set in Japan that aims to merge the fantastical with the literary in the same way that Japan's modernity is indelibly linked to its traditional past. In one story, an unmarried woman, struggling to find her place in society, wakes up on her thirtieth birthday to find she has grown a tail; in another, a man reflects on the connection between a karaoke machine and the disappearance of his first love. The collection's been a finalist in a number of book prize competitions, so I'm hoping it will find a publisher soon! 

Do you have any message for teens in Tohoku?
You've lived through a terrible, once-in-a-lifetime tragedy. You now know things about suffering and loss that most people don't--even much older people. Do your best to use this knowledge to improve the world. Be proud of who you are and what you have survived.

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