Telluride Horror Show marks its 10th anniversary this weekend (what’s the gift for that — pewter gargoyle? Skull-encrusted Tiffany lamp?) with screenings at the Nugget Theatre, Palm Theatre and Sheridan Opera House. But there’s another reason to celebrate: The festival has invited Kelly Link to town as its guest author. A 2016 Pulitzer Prize finalist for fiction, winner of multiple Nebula Awards, the O. Henry Prize and a 2018 MacArthur Genius Grant, Link will read from her work and tell ghost stories around a campfire in Elks Park tonight (Friday) from 6:30-7:20 p.m., then chat and sign books at the Last Dollar’s rooftop bar on Saturday from 3-4:30 p.m.
Praised by writers, including Neil Gaiman, Karen Russell, Anthony Doerr and Michael Chabon, Link primarily writes short fiction (though she describes herself as “neck-deep” in her first novel). Her stories journey into the strange, probe squishy borderlands, traffic in zombies, ghosts, fairies and vampires, and they’re also funny. Some of her most winning details feel plucked from everyday life. For example, in “Magic for Beginners,” a teenage character wears a T-shirt that says, “I’m so goth I shit tiny vampires;” or in “StoneAnimals,” a pregnant mother obsessively paints and repaints the rooms of her new house in colors like “Peat Bog,” “Tantrum,” “Fat Lip” and “Finger Nail.” Her tiny absurdities feel both believable and like observations from another, weirder plane.
Link, who lives in Northampton, Massachusetts, with her husband and daughter, where they’re in the process of opening a bookstore, also mines the intricacies of new relationships, marriage and parenthood in her writing. At least two characters wonder what secrets their new girlfriends’ families are hiding, another worries about her daughter’s sleepwalking habits. A father paraphrases the fog of early parenthood as the realization that, “Babies weren’t babies — they were land mines; bear traps; wasp nests.”
Reflecting on her unique style of weaving everyday experiences into her strange tales, Link said, “I am super drawn to the fantastic, and working in a certain kind of uncanny or genre tradition. And the things that I like the most about real life ... that are to me just as interesting as the genre stuff, are the parts of real life that don’t make sense, that are confusing, or when people are saying one thing and doing another.”
This penchant for calling the world out shows up in Link’s many teenage girl protagonists, and in 2008, she published a YA collection titled “Pretty Monsters.” The connection there could be reduced to a straightforward equation (teenage years equal horror show), but Link pushes it further.
“I think that childhood, in general, and adolescence in particular is a really liminal space,” she said. “And liminal spaces are places where things tend to feel uncanny or dangerous. They feel like spaces where really significant things may happen. In the same way that people used to associate poltergeist activities with adolescent girls, it is a period of such enormous, rapid and confusing change that in some ways it feels like a great space to set stories where the stakes are high.”
She concedes that “adulthood is also pretty terrifying,” and added, “the stakes are much higher in horror films. You’re much more likely to die than you are to get out.” While Link admits that she didn’t watch a lot of horror films as a kid, her younger sister (who’s attending the Horror Show as well) loved them so much that “even when she was 13 my mom would take her to go see slasher movies because it was the one thing they could do where my sister had a great time.”
Now a horror movie convert, Link was thrilled by this year’s “Ready or Not” and its constant surprisesand names “It Follows” as a film she loves with her whole heart. She also admires “everything Guillermo del Toro has ever made, all the older zombie movies, especially ‘Evil Dead 2,’ and things like ‘Carnival of Souls.’”
Link has been to Telluride once before, more than 20 years ago, when she came to Bluegrass to see Lyle Lovett and Nanci Griffith, but she’s excited to see the town in Horror Show mode. At tonight’s Creepy Campfire Tales, she’s appearing with Jeremy Robert Johnson, the Horror show’s author in residence who’s returning for his third festival. Johnson noted that “the organizers' decision to highlight literature and art alongside film is part of what makes Telluride Horror Show a can't miss event,” and Link is up to the challenge. She promises “to tell one or two really excellent true scary stories,” culled from five-plus years of collecting them from fans, and hopes that other campfire-goers will share some of their own with her afterward. Her ultimate goal “is to entertain and to make people have slightly uncomfortable dreams.”
Both author events are free and open to the public. For more information about the Telluride Horror Show, visit telluridehorrorshow.com.
Editor's note: Pick up Sunday's Daily Planet to read one of Link's excerpts.