Matsuda Aoko|Kelly Link

(c) Hiromi Chikai

Matsuda Aoko|Kelly Link

Dec 2021

Dear Aoko,

In my former life (25 years ago or more, let’s say), I was a letter writer. My work desk, where I sit to write when I’m home, has two rows of pigeon holes all full of decades-old correspondence. But I’m out of practice now and, like you, I need to figure out how one writes a letter. For the sake of context, I have been thinking about this letter for over a month, and made very little progress while during the same period I began a new project, a middle-grade novel, and wrote 25,000 words in ten days. Why are easy things so hard? Or, perhaps, why is it so easy to make things up compared to putting into order things that are true?

I think I’m out of practice at many things that used to feel usual. For example, New York! It’s only a few hours’ drive from where I am, but I haven’t been there in over two years. We haven’t gone many places since the first months of 2020, although a few years ago my husband and I added up travel days and discovered I often spent a third to half of the year away from home. Because it seemed so clear in the spring of 2020 that I wouldn’t need to travel, I got a dog and six baby chicks. The dog is a labradoodle named Koko, and she looks a little like a very black, fuzzy werewolf. When she was a puppy she was ferocious and would nip my calves when I walked her, or bite the top of my head if I stooped down to put something on the floor. Once she bit me so hard I cried. She’s settled down now, and eventually she may even make a good bookstore dog. I would love to have a cat, but my husband is horribly allergic.

The chickens are all named for dragons. One, my daughter’s favorite, is currently dying in our garage because it distresses the other chickens too much when she roosts in the coop. Her name is Smaug, and all of her new buttery white feathers are coming in after her molt. When we bury her, it will be in all her finery.

Other changes! My mom built a small house on our property three years ago, and at the start of the pandemic finally moved in permanently. I hope that it’s been a comfort to you and your mother to be together. My mom and my daughter have almost a sibling relationship: small fights, lots of shared jokes, shared clothing, and a rivalry over height (my daughter is now at least an inch taller than my mom). And the bookstore, too, of course, where pre-pandemic I worked with my husband and my mother. Book Moon is open again to the public, and very lively. The community here is good about masking and keeping social distance, and it’s been a pleasure over the past year to sell many copies of Where the Wild Ladies Are. Your collection means a great deal to me—the intertwined structure of the stories, the sense of liberation and playfulness that emanates from your characters,  the intersection of the fantastic and the everyday, the address where I feel most at home as a reader. My other recent touchstone is Ayşe Papatya Bucak’s The Trojan War Museum, and I’m very grateful to the pair of you for keeping me company. I found reading difficult these past two years, which is to say I found less access to the things that usually allow escape or different patterns of thought. And yes, it still seems impossible that things like the Olympics could have been allowed to go on.

I remember talking with you in New York about work habits and methods—I hope that you do, at some point, get to test how it feels to work with writer friends. I’ve missed it a great deal during the pandemic, though November I spent in a house in Mexico with a come-and-go crew of writer friends and their families. Perhaps that explains why I got so much writing done in such a short period. We were all out of the habit of being with other people, even close friends, but pushed through that. It was a very beautiful house, but the most luxurious aspect was being with other writers. Talking about work, complaining about work, reading other people’s work has always helped me keep a solid grasp on what I am supposed to be doing, helped me stay surefooted. Sometimes I think of that sense of rightness in work as a kind of bell ringing (or a tuning fork). I listen for the bell as I write—when I’m on my own, eventually I can’t hear that bell.

If you don’t mind me asking, how does your writing life work? Has it changed much now that you have a two-year-old? This year I finally resigned myself to having a brain that operates best between the hours of three p.m. and 1 a.m. (Absolutely antithetical to family life.) Stories ferment in my brain for weeks or months, sometimes, before I can begin to write them, and it’s always the sense of how something might end that allows me to know how to begin. If I begin to think about how paragraphs are supposed to work, I realize I have no idea, and although I have a good sense of what plot might be, the idea of pattern-making is much more useful. On a very good day I can write 5,000 words, but most days I don’t write at all. I go through periods in which I feel so much loathing for my own sentences that I can’t persist.

Though this year, despite everything, I managed to keep on working. It may even have helped that I find writing uncomfortable and a grotesque habit even under the best of circumstances. I finished a novel I’ve worked on for six years; finished, too, a collection of short stories where my intention was to use as germination for each a fairytale, but only disassembled, oblique, disordered. The stories are all quite long as far as stories go, and the novel is a beast. I’m happy to have finished it, but I don’t know that I’m any more attached to it than I am to any single short story. The singularness of a novel, as opposed to the multiplicity of a collection, makes it feel small in some way, despite how very long it is.

A good friend has a somewhat masochistic method for finishing writing projects: she more or less randomly selects a pop song and makes herself listen to it over and over again until she has hit her deadline at which point she can never listen to it again. I put on playlists (Rostam, the New Pornographers, Mitski, Torres, Haley Bonar, Winterpills, the Kills, and, yes, Taylor Swift, too) because it helps to have other people’s voices and words in my head so I don’t think too much about writing as I try to write. It helps, too, when I come back to projects, like a kind of mnemonic device to help locate the mood and tone I was working toward. But the novel playlist! I grew tired of songs, replaced them, grew tired of the replacement songs, and put the old ones back on again. Over and over! I can only imagine that some of these beloved songs have grown as tired of me as I grew of them.

When I first met my husband, we were coworkers in a bookstore in Boston. We went from Boston to New York, and from New York to Northampton, where we’ve lived now for two decades. Neither of us have ever lived this long in one place, and I don’t know that we will ever leave, though it’s strange to be far from the ocean (I grew up in Miami; Gavin, in a seaside town in Scotland). Northampton is one in a loose necklace of small towns in rural Massachusetts. There are five colleges within a small radius, which means we have coffee shops and bookstores (like Book Moon), but drive five minutes and you find yourself in wooded hills or farmland. Students in our town can choose to go to an agricultural high school with its own herd of cows, and there is a very popular cheese-making course at one of the colleges. Every summer, we see at least one bear in our yard. This year when a bear stayed for a few hours, our chickens were outraged. More strange: a few months ago I was gardening and saw a woman with long hair walk around the side of our house. When I went to see what she wanted, in our backyard there was a deer and a fawn instead of a woman. They stayed there for a few weeks, and we occasionally startled them (or they startled us) when we went looking for our chickens. The novel for kids that I’ve begun is set in one of the hilltowns in this area, and there are as many animals as I can cram into it.

When I wrote “Stone Animals,” I had never owned a house or been pregnant. And yes, when we did finally buy a house, we took a great deal of pleasure in thinking about what colors we wanted our walls to be. In the American South, there is a tradition of painting the ceilings of porches “haint blue” to persuade ghosts that a porch isn’t a room, and that the ceiling is the sky. But I didn’t know that until after we’d already decided we wanted the ceiling of our porch to be a light grey-blue. Where I grew up, in Miami, houses are beautiful peacock-y colors, or warm pastels in pink, yellow, and mint. When the exterior of this house needed a new coat of paint a few years ago, my husband agreed that we could go for a Miami-like palette. But there are many places here where neighborhood associations must sign off on the colors you use, and we’ve lived in apartment building where all the colors were different shades of mushroom greys or browns or whites (strange, since actual mushrooms can be so many striking colors). When I was pregnant, I was quickly put on bedrest, and then gave birth when our daughter was only 24 weeks. I felt very incompetent as a pregnant person, even though my only job was to lie down as much as possible, and remain pregnant. I think that I watched a lot of gory crime shows, and slept.

Over the past two years I had a real craving for stimulus—I ordered things in bright colors, and many different perfume samples, too, so that I could be surprised by novelty and the unexpected. There was much talk in the U.S. about how to make bread from scratch, how one might improve an instant ramen lunch. Small changes of routine felt like spells for summoning back everything we were missing. A group of my friends whom my husband and I normally saw at conferences instead met up once a week on Zoom. Dogs and cats wandered in and out of the sight of the camera. Children came in to say hello. We’ve always had houseguests passing through, and friends over for meals. Now we have chickens and a dog, and in many ways they function as helpful clocks. They need to be fed at certain times, or walked. The chickens come up to the front door and knock with their beaks if they feel neglected or want to be held. It’s a little disconcerting to be so necessary to so many living individuals, but I love watching the chickens or sitting on the couch with my dog (who, now that she is a sedate middle-aged lady of one and a half years, wants more than anything for us all to come sit on the old, extremely uncomfortable, couch with her.)

And yes, in between starting this letter at last and finishing it, poor Smaug the chicken died. Not the most cheerful note to end on, but tomorrow night I’m going to go work some more on my middle-grade novel in a house with two friends who have novels of their own that need to be finished. Things aren’t back to normal by any stretch, but I am getting used to all sorts of things (masks, self-administering covid tests) that have grown to feel normal.

Much love from the end of the year,


Copyright © 2022 by Kelly Link Originally written for The Japan Foundation by arrangement with Massie & McQuilkin Literary Agents through Tuttle-Mori Agency, Inc., Tokyo



人生の前半(25年かそれ以上前としておきましょうか)、私は手紙をよく書きました。自宅で執筆する時に使う仕事机には二段構えの整理棚がついているのですが、その棚は全部何十年も前に遡る手紙であふれています。でも、今ではもう腕が落ちてしまって、あなたと同じように、手紙の書き方がわからなくなっています。どんなことを書こうかと、この手紙のことを1ヶ月以上も考えていたのですが、なかなか書き進めることができませんでした。同じ頃、8歳から12歳くらいの子供向けの小説を書くという新たな仕事に取り掛かったのですが、そちらは10日間で25,000ワードを書きました。なぜ簡単なことがこんなに難しいのでしょう? なぜ話を作り上げる方が、本当のことを並べていくよりも、こんなに楽なのでしょうね?

以前は普通だと思えていた多くのことが、うまくできなくなっているように感じます。例えば、ニューヨーク! 私が住んでいる場所からは数時間運転すれば到着しますが、もう2年以上訪れていません。数年前、夫と一緒にふたりが旅行にでかけた日数を数えてみた時、自分が1年の3分の1から半分くらいの時間を家ではない場所で過ごしていることがわかりました。でも、2020年の最初の数ヶ月以降は、あまり多くの場所を訪れていません。20年の春には、旅行することがないことがはっきりしていたので、1匹の犬と6匹のヒヨコを飼うことにしました。犬はラブラドゥードルで、名前はココといい、真っ黒な毛むくじゃらの狼人間に少し似ています。子犬のころの彼女はどう猛で、散歩をさせていると私のふくらはぎに噛み付いたり、私が何かを床に置こうと身をかがめると、頭のてっぺんを噛んできたりしました。ある時なんかは、思わず泣いてしまうくらい強く噛まれたんですよ。今は彼女も落ち着きましたし、いずれは本屋にいるおりこうな犬にすらなるかもしれません。猫も飼いたいのですが、夫がひどいアレルギーなんです。


その他の変化といえば! 3年前、私の家の敷地に母が小さな家を建てたのですが、パンデミックがはじまった頃にようやく引っ越して来て、ずっと住むことになりました。あなたもお母様と同居されているそうですが、おふたりとも快適に暮らせていることを願います。母と私の娘は、まるで姉妹のような関係なんです。小さなけんかを繰り返したり、ふたりで笑い合える冗談がたくさんあったり、洋服を貸し借りしたり、身長について競い合ったりしています(今では娘の背は、母よりも1インチ高くなりました)。それから当然、パンデミック以前は夫と母と一緒に働いていた書店Book Moonにも影響がありました。今では一般営業を再開して、とても賑わっています。この辺りの人たちは、マスクもつけるし、ソーシャル・ディスタンスも守っていて、この1年で『おばちゃんたちのいるところ』の英訳を何冊も売ることができて本当に嬉しかったです。この短編集は私にとってとても重要な作品です――物語の絡み合いや、登場人物たちから放たれる解放感や遊び心、幻想と現実の交錯、読者として私が最高に落ち着ける場所を与えてくれます。最近読んだその他の本で試金石となったのは、アイセ・パパチャ・ブジャクの『The Trojan War Museum(トロイア戦争博物館・未邦訳)』で、あなたとアイセが私のそばにいてくれて本当に感謝しています。この2年間は、読書をするのが難しく、普段は逃げ道を与えてくれたり、違う考え方を持たせてくれたりする物に接する機会があまりありませんでした。そしてそう、いまだに、オリンピックのようなことが中止にならなかったというのは、とても信じがたく思えます。

※本作品の全文は、『すばる 2022年3月号』でご覧いただけます。

Copyright © 2022 by Kelly Link Originally written for The Japan Foundation by arrangement with Massie & McQuilkin Literary Agents through Tuttle-Mori Agency, Inc., Tokyo


KellyLink(c) 2014 Sharona Jacobs Photography


Kelly Link is the author of the collections Stranger Things Happen, Magic for Beginners, Pretty Monsters, and Get in Trouble. Her short stories have been published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, The Best American Short Stories, and Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards. She is a 2018 MacArthur Fellow and has received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. She and Gavin J. Grant have co-edited a number of anthologies, including multiple volumes of The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror and, for young adults, Steampunk! and Monstrous Affections. She is the co-founder of Small Beer Press and co-edits the occasional zine Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet.

Link was born in Miami, Florida. She currently lives with her husband and daughter in Northampton, Massachusetts.


OzawaMiwako(c) Samson Yee


Miwako Ozawa holds an M.A. in Humanities and Sociology at the University of Tokyo and finished the Ph.D. program at the same university. She also holds an M.A. at the University College London. After working as an editor, she became an interpreter and translator. She has translated Linh Dinh’s Postcards from the End of America, Lynn Enright’s Vagina: A Re-education, Walter Tevis’ The Queen’s Gambit, and Jenny Zhang’s Sour Heart: Stories. She has co-translated Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties. Her translation of Machado’s In the Dream House, Deborah Levy’s Hot Milk, and Delmore Shwartz’s In Dreams Begin Responsibilities will be published in 2022.