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Bestselling female author becomes Knoxville local


Kelly Luce is a bestselling author from Illinois who recently moved to Knoxville, TN. At one time, she lived in Japan for three years. She has published several pieces of short fiction and essays, all influenced by her interest in Japanese culture and concepts. 

Her most recent novel, “Pull Me Under,” depicts a Japanese American woman’s new life in Colorado despite her dark history. “Pull Me Under” is a Book of the Month Club selection and one of Elle’s Best Books of 2016.

Luce discovered her love for writing early on. She found that writing gave her a voice in a way that no other art form could.

“Like many writers, my passion for writing came out of an obsession with reading as a child. By fifth grade, I was typing up my own books (and illustrating them too, of course). As I grew up and matured, I began to see that writing allowed me to express myself in a way that speaking or other forms of expression could not,” Luce said.

Like most writers, Luce did not find immediate success right away. 

“I was impatient. I wanted to send stories out and be told I was a genius right away when instead, it took years of revising, practicing, thinking and talking about craft with peers and teachers in order to reach a publishable level,” Luce said.

“Since I was a good student and school had been easy for me, it was hard to accept that I was going to have to work really hard in order to become a good fiction writer. In the end, though, that’s what I love about the written word; there’s no faking it, nowhere to hide on the page.”

Throughout Luce’s long writing career, her writing process has evolved. When working on her first novel, Luce felt pulled in several different directions when getting feedback and revising. Her process changed when she learned to be more confident and decisive about making revision choices.

“I made the mistake of trying to please everyone. The novel only came together when I stopped listening to all those voices and started listening to my gut, so now I listen to my gut from the beginning and only ask for feedback when I feel I’ve truly done all I can.”

She even mentioned adjusting her definition of success at different stages of her career.

“Success used to look like publishing a story in a literary magazine or getting a scholarship to a conference. Then it looked like getting an agent, then publishing a collection. Then a novel. You see where this is going,” Luce said. 

“To me, right now, the definition of literary success feels twofold. One part is giving back through teaching, mentoring and editing work. The other part is making sure I make time for writing, given all my other obligations. I’ve become less invested in outward success markers and more interested in making sure writing is still fun, still exciting, still gives me that feeling like I know a secret no one else does.”

When asked about her experience as a female writer, Luce mentioned some key differences men and women face regarding getting published.

“They are represented differently. Women read and buy more books than men in the United States, and women publish about half the books in the country each year. Yet, there’s a disparity in coverage of these books; more books by male authors are reviewed in major publications, and more reviewers are male.”

Luce also feels that female literature is marketed differently from male literature.

“Think about the fact that chain bookstores have a ‘Women’s Fiction’ section, but no ‘Men’s Fiction’ section. Why? We see that, in our society, books are assumed to be for men … unless otherwise noted. Men’s perspective and centrality are assumed. And the books in the women’s section tend to be considered fluffy or shallow, ‘chick lit,’ etc.,” Luce said.

“But of course, there are just as many light and fluffy books aimed at men. We also need to blow up the literary canon so that young people’s first introduction to literature isn’t the work of a bunch of long-dead white men.”

Luce admits that though women are not necessarily underrepresented when it comes to getting published, certain genres are more male-dominated than others.

“The numbers don’t lie; male authors dominate, both in terms of publishing, sales and coverage, in several genres such as crime, mystery/suspense, spy stories, history and sci-fi/fantasy. Obviously, there are exceptions, and more women are writing in these genres than ever before,” Luce said.

Luce is excited to see the progress that the next generation of female writers will make. She encourages aspiring writers to build a trusting writing community now to practice sharing work and receiving feedback.

“Find readers who are excited by your ideas and your goals and have both positive and constructive feedback for you. Be a trustworthy, engaged reader for their work as well. Start to cultivate an idea of what you do well as a writer and what you need to improve. And finally, don’t take the feedback you get from a writing workshop to heart. There’s a lot of noise in that type of feedback.”

In the future, Luce hopes to see more reviews of books written by women reviewed major publications, along with more respect for female critics and reviewers overall.