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Feb 01, 2017; Cody Greene Asks:

Hi, Stacey. I'm a great admirer of your work. I return to the stories in Twin Study whenever things stall out for me in writing. I even teach "Christ, Their Lord" to my composition students. I'm curious to hear some of your thoughts on adaptation and genre hybridity, but curious also if I might ask your permission to adapt "Christ, Their Lord" for the stage. I'm an MFA student at Western Michigan University, studying fiction, and am currently taking a class in adaptation. I'm certainly no playwright, which is to say the work will likely never go beyond a table reading in class, but I want to take permissions seriously, especially for a story that already means so much to me. Thanks awfully!

Stacey answers:

Hi Cody. Thanks for asking! I sent you an email with more info from my aol address. Keep an eye out for it--your spam filter wants to eat it up.

Jan 12, 2017; Ashton Holloman Asks:

Can I read the short story this short film was adapted from?? http://www.thefirstmenfilm.com/

Stacey answers:

Yes. You can read it here in the Michigan Review. You can also find it in my story collection My Date with Satan.

Jan 06, 2017; Michael Henry Asks:

Hi Stacey, how are you? I promised I would never leave new questions unless I had received a response to a previous set of questions. I figured if you had too many long passages, it would clog up your site, taking up too much space. But I have a dilemma/question/concern/personal story worth sharing. You have answered plenty of questions about relationships and sex in the past but I thought this one might interest you. Before I get to the personal stuff, I'd like to ask about the election. Instead of asking about the results, I thought I would ask about your own broad commentary/reaction/feelings about America today. I am curious about your reaction to the state of the nation. What do you think is wrong with America? Do you believe there is anything worth salvaging? What should we do? Give up? How did this happen? How are you coping? Do artists have a responsibility to address the political climate of the times? How can we change the direction of the nation? In terms of policy, I was much more enthusiastic about Bernie Sanders. The main topic. My first two posts on your site were about relationships. Although I know it looks like I am always asking the same questions about writing. Two weeks ago I hired an escort. The escort came over, we talked, I paid. We went to my bedroom. She undressed. I was aroused, excited. I paid more for intercourse. She petted me, I took off my cloths, we started to have sex but I couldn't do it. She did everything she could. She tried to help me maintain an erection. We went through two condoms. Once we started to have sex, I lost it. I freaked, panicked. I shut down and quickly lost the erection. So many of the things you've warned me about finally landed a blow, connected. I could not get out of my head. I had a chance to have sex but could not. And I paid for it. I was beyond embarrassed. The immorality of my actions coursed through my thoughts. This was not right. I should not have sex with this woman. I should stop. At the same time, I was physically attracted to her. I had to reconcile these opposing views. The escort said my face was pale and I did not look good. My hands were shaking. I felt upset, on the verge of crying. It was close to a panic attack. I tried to stay calm. After about fifteen minutes, we agreed to switch it up and she started to give me a hand job. I still had trouble getting hard. She was ready to give up. It took a while for me to regain an erection since I was upset. But I managed to calm myself down by creating a story in my head. I had to populate the story with characters to calm down and climax. When I started to think about the backstory we are involved in, I felt more relaxed. I imagined that I was with my girlfriend and she was in the next room. We had been together for years and she could not get pregnant so I was with this escort but she was not an escort. She was a surrogate. I don't know why this worked. I am looking for your advice/thoughts/concerns. What could happen if I ever have the chance to have sex? I'm concerned there is something else and this event is part of a larger problem. Maybe this isn't a big deal. I have no sexual experience besides masturbation. This still doesnít explain why I would not be aroused or able to climax. I am not sure what to make of this because the other times I've seen an escort, it was just a hand job and I also found that creating a story helped me get through it. Trump is President. Everything fades away. A mishap like this diminishes while our economy, social safety net, health insurance, civil liberties are on the verge of being shredded. Does this mean anything? How can I improve? Do you think this connects with some of the earlier questions Iíve posted before? I would have hoped I would have been able to have sex. I want to learn something, gain some perspective. One of the changes I made is to read less creative writing books. I am limiting myself to one creative writing book every month. Last month it was A Writer's Voice by A. Alverez. I'm even going to put away the books with exercises and focus instead on drafting pages of plays and dipping into other genres. I recently subscribed to online tutorials on the Writer's Digest website for one month. I've been listening to the webinars and so much of the content is crap (some not ALL). It made me think about the creative books I read. I'm starting to believe they will not make you a great writer. You could listen to every tutorial and read every creative writing book and still not write a play. This can be very liberating. You cannot force it.

Stacey answers:

Iím proud of you for hiring an escort! I donít think you need to worry about how it turned out. Your experienceóthe fear, panic, and losing your erectionóis not uncommon. Itís not even uncommon for people to feel anxious when getting a massage. Especially for you, MH, Iíd be surprised if it didnít go that way. For an avowed loner to suddenly have an undressed stranger in their arms sounds incredibly disorienting, as well as confusing and scary and overwhelming. They donít call it intimacy for nothing. Even with all of our access to porn, with all the objectified bodies in the media and the fact that the idea of anonymous sex can seem hot, when itís actually happening you are still enacting something personal and private with a total stranger. In a relationship, youíd have preliminaries before you had sex, physical and emotional ones, for days or weeks or months. And it wouldnít be just for you, you know? It would also be for the other person.

Since you havenít had sex and I have, Iíll just fill you in on a few things you might not know. Sex can be wonderful and fun and loving, but it rarely comes without anxiety, especially when youíre doing it with someone new. Pretty much everyone has worried thoughts about their bodyóhow it looks, smells, fat level, what its doing, etc. Lots of people tell themselves stories in their head to get into itóeither because the reality is too threatening, too personal, too predictable, or too disjointed from the idea of sex theyíve nurtured in their head. After all, most people have probably ďpracticedĒ having sex more often than theyíve actually done it. In this way, sex actually is a lot like writing fiction. You have to get past the in-your-head journal stage and onto the two-real-character stage to make it work. In this comparison, masturbation is like writing in your journalóyou get total control, but youíre locked into one point of view, and youíre alone. Sex is more like going with the flow when youíre writing fiction: thereís more uncertainty, but you get to have another body and consciousness there.

Here's an idea for you. If you want to keep experimenting with sex professionals, maybe you'd have a better time if you went to a massage parlor, rather than hiring an escort. I'm not sure exactly how this works, but there's a website called "Rub Maps" that can give you the lowdown. (You have to pay for full access, but it might be worth it.) It tells you what massage parlors to go to and how to ask for what you want. I'm guessing that you can get a hand job at the end if you want, and if you decide you don't want it, you still get to have a massage. This might give you a chance to get used to physical contact with a girl in a more relaxed way.

By the way, I love your fantasy of the surrogate and the girlfriend in the next room. I love the way it gives you permission to have sex with a stranger while still tethering you to a love relationship. Thatís what the unconscious can do for you, you know? It can show you all of that. It can make up stories that make you feel differently than you felt before. So write that story.

Nov 28, 2016; The Dark Michael Henry Asks:

Hi Stacey! Sorry I Insist On Asking You A Fuckload Of Questions And Can't Figure Out That I Can Just Use Google lMao

Stacey answers:

Okay, yeah, Michael Henry is verbose, but that's really my fault. I'm the queen of this site and could easily edit his questions so they're shorter (and sometimes do). And dude, he asked me for advice about seeing an escort! The rest of you can offer criticism after you've asked me something equally juicy.

Nov 28, 2016; hehe a taco Asks:

are you straight?

Stacey answers:

Yes. I wish I had a more interesting answer.

Oct 24, 2016; SwimFan2016 Asks:

Hi Stacey, I just read "My Date with Satan." My mind was blown! My question is about MFA programs. Do you think you had to go to a place like Brown (i.e., innovative, experimental) to become the kind of writer that you are (i.e., bold, original, unconventional, idiosyncratic, etc.)? Do you think if you had gone to a more conventional program, they would have squelched your voice or forced you (or at least encouraged you) to conform to a more realistic style? How if at all did your MFA program change the voice that you had before going there? If instead of getting an MFA you could have just taken a grant that allowed you to write for a year or two without having to work, do you think your voice would have developed differently?

Stacey answers:

Answer coming...

Oct 06, 2016; Michael Henry Asks:

Hi Stacey! I am so glad to be back on this site with another set of questions. I divided the post into sections. The questions/sections sort of blend together. If I had to name this post,it might be ďGoing DeeperĒ or ďNext Steps.Ē As usual, this all revolves around writing. Which might be boring for you but you cannot believe how much your advice has helped me. Iíve dabbled in the Three Page exercise. I would say your responses are the number one reason Iím writing daily and beginning to compose pieces I might be able to work with. 1 The Writing Process Plays have helped me write everyday. You know beforehand how the text will look on the page. Youíre locked into a particular place with the characters. In a short story you can wander and take the reader wherever it pleases. A play is mostly dialogue and the dialogue has to carry the payload. Thereís no confusing scene and summary because a play is all scene, the here and now. When youíre composing, you have to commit to the characters and conflict. You have to focus on what they say and do, their journey, patterns of change, connection and disconnection, discovery and decision, the power struggle. I might be 30 pages into a short story and I havenít even introduced a character or situated the story in a specific time and place. Thatís not to suggest plays canít be just as motionless and filled with as much static. Steadily I am writing everyday, 45 or so minutes. The problem is most of it is brainstorming, exercises in The Dramatic Companion and The Architecture of Story, both by Will Dunne. Some of the brainstorming is necessary, helpful and constructive. I am afraid I am putting too much energy and time into the brainstorming though. I fill notebooks yet I canít finish one ten-minute play. I am wracked wondering how to organize what Iím doing. Should I write fiction instead? Should I work on a novel? When I look at the amount of brainstorming this sort of makes sense. Still this might not be a solution because Iím still dealing with the same set of problems. Or should I keep writing plays? You have told me that what you write has to be the thing that you have to write. Even if you publish a novel - be it YA, sci-fi, gothic, literary, historical, contemporary, avant-garde - the number of readers will probably not be significant. How do I fix my routine? How do I force myself to step away from the brainstorming and complete something? How can we be more organized? How do you structure your workday? How do maintain momentum while youíre working on a story? Do you have any techniques or strategies I could try? How do we make the transition from brainstorming to drafting, rewriting and polishing? I should have at least one completed ten-minute play but I donít. I think when youíre doing these exercises youíre being evasive. You can avoid the hard work, avoid mining the deep material thatís complex, confusing, outrageous, fucked up. Itís a lot easier to do an exercise that takes you through the motions. It allows you to think youíre doing a lot of work when really youíre just summarizing repeatedly. You lightly brush over the characters, settings, themes, images, and conflict. Itís like sight seeing from the car. What else do I have besides this. I have no relationships or close friends. I have to continue. 2 Improve Our Writing Great writing is an emotional experience as much for the writer as it is for the reader. If youíre ever going to write at least one great fucking page thatís more than just adequate or an exercise to slog through a class or workshop, you cannot repeatedly go through the motions. I think this idea is not addressed in a lot of creative writing books. If I ever write a book about writing, Iíd like to look at these topics. Art is a lie that takes you to a truth if youíre ready to go there. How can you teach something like this in a lesson or a workshop? You have to be able to shed the bullshit, niceties, anxieties. This leaves us vulnerable, open. When youíre writing it isnít just imagination youíre chasing. Itís you. I donít necessarily feel a lot when Iím writing. I havenít hit a nerve yet. If youíre writing plays and screenplays that may not come naturally. How do we get there? How do we push ourselves? How do we avoid going through the motions when we sit down? If I did all of exercises in all of the creative books ever published, I still might not be able to elevate my writing. There is no map, no set destination. We are left by ourselves. How do we light a fire? How do we deepen our scenes, characters, dialogue? Moreover how do we create characters that are not copies of ourselves? This is a problem I keep coming across. When Iím working on a scene with two characters, one character sucks up all the lines. They take up the space in the room. I end up mostly writing from that characterís point of view while the second character is just a witness to the monologuing. I spend time brainstorming the needs/wants of both characters but to little avail. And this is why it might take so long to write one or two pages of a play. Because one of the characters talks endlessly. On this site, youíve stated the thing is to write about your truelove subject matter. What if you write a novel or a play and there is no conflict or characterization. And I say this as a person that spent four or five months producing 300 pages of a handwritten play in which virtually nothing happened except the characters sitting on a couch talking about a variety of topics. Luckily I am starting to move past this. You could conceivably write about the subjects, people and places that interests you most and end up with no characters, conflict or a sense of setting If you write fiction, I think you can have limited success writing this sort of thing. Thereís space for the experimental, the avant-garde, an explosion. Itís why Samuel Richardson, Tristram Shandy, Moby-Dick, The Brothers Karamazov, Proust, Gide, Woolf, Joyce, The Man Without Qualities, Finnegans Wake, Nightwood, Gravityís Rainbow, the Malone trilogy, The Golden Notebook and Infinite Jest are still read outside of English departments. Thankfully the experimentalists will have a place at the table. If you write prose or poetry in this tradition, there are journals and online venues that will publish your work. Still there are only so many people clamoring to read Beckett. 3 Publishing and Performing So you donít know if your work will amount to jack shit. Iíve been working on ten-minute plays and I have no idea if these will ever be read or performed. The trajectory when publishing fiction is a little more straight-forward but not easier. You send short stories to journals/small lit magazines and work on a novel, find an agent, an editor, a publisher. When you feel confident about a piece and itís been thoroughly revised, what do you do next? How do we grab the attention of our readers? How can we write scripts that have a chance, a shot at catching someoneís attention? When youíre starting from scratch youíre sort of fucked. You donít know if someone will ever read your writing. With dramatic writing, itís dicey. Writing the play is 75% of the process. The other 25% is the hustle, the marketing and selling. Even if you write one of the great plays of the decade, there are no guarantees. Do you agonize over this? This must be very different for you because you're published a lot. Imagine spending a decade writing a novel and when youíre ready to have it published, you cannot find an agent, an editor, or publisher wanting to bite. Maybe that's what I should write a play about? Should writers spend a lot of time thinking about publishing/staging their work? Should we persevere even in the face of likely failure, disappointment, loss? Am I overanalyzing this? I hired/paid two playwrights to critique my ten-minute plays. Do you think this is a good idea? 4 The TV Show Would you ever consider creating/writing your own TV show? You have commented on TV shows before (Mad Men, The Wire). If Netflix or HBO or another venue made an offer, the chance to create and write a series, would you say yes? If you said yes, what would the show be about? This question might be weird but it makes you think about the big picture, the forest. Youíd be compensated for your work. Would your writing process change if you had to write scripts for a show? When you move from one genre to another, does your process change I ask because reading H.P. Lovecraft or Bleak House is very different experience than watching Stranger Things or Mr. Robot. TV shows are not novels.

Sep 21, 2016; RuppertGirl Asks:

This is horrific! I am sitting here in my big comfy chair in Tucson and I've been suddenly seized by the desire to read Rules For Being Human. Yet both my copies of My Date With Satan are back in NYC. Can you help?!?!

May 27, 2016; littleshirlybeans Asks:

What is the female equivalent of the beard--something that can completely change a woman's appearance yet easily be shaved away? I'm jealous that men have this option. Hearts, Beans

Stacey answers:

Going blonde.

Feb 11, 2016; Rescue Pet Rock Asks:

Hello Professor Stacey Richter. I notice in one of your answers, you say you "no longer believe in the coming end times." I am interested in what this means. Does it mean you used to believe in the coming end times? Or that you never really believed in them to begin with, but now you believe in them even less so? Or, alternatively, does it mean that you don't believe in the "coming" end times because they're already here? Do you believe the human world is going to be subject to global catastrophes, at least? Severe climate change? Mass problems in access to food and water sources, as well as Flint-like or Zika-virus-like adverse, high-population-affecting problems from toxic pollution and epidemics that are exacerbated by modern human activity on the global scale? Is it too upsetting to think about -- especially since there's so little that can be done about it? Do you actively choose to ignore it out of a survival need to prioritize your emotional and thought investments of time and energy? Do you see humanity as a force that ultimately has no internal self-regulating power? Is that defeatist or realist? Do you think it's a conspiracy? Do scientists over-state their forecasts out of desire to promote themselves and their research groups? (That's the line perpetuated by right-wing, think-tank, industry-sponsored, anti-science groups, but far be it from me to completely dismiss the possibility of cycnical motivation from any field of human endeavor.) Do you think "end times" is too psychically upsetting to acknowledge, too hurtful to young people who had no say in the processes that brought us to this alleged brink of cataclysm? Are you disturbed by the possibility that there's nothing "post" post-modernism -- that all the modes have been used up, churned and burned, thrashed and cashed? Why do you say you no longer believe in the coming end times, Stacey Richter? What DO you believe? I want to know what you believe. Stacey Richter's mind-life matters.

Stacey answers:

Thank you for the question, Rescue. I've been hoping that someone would ask me this.

I do not believe society is on the brink of losing its mastery of technology and plunging into tribal fractions as in The Road by Cormac McCarthy, or Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, or Far North by Marcel Theroux; I do not believe weíre headed for a global catastrophe dystopia. I used to believe something like that, or at least be afraid of it, but that changed when I realized that people have always believed that the apocalypse was imminent, wholeheartedly, in pretty much every society at every point in human history (with the possible exception of the Greeks). Humans have always been convinced that we are living in the last days; soon, very soon, we will pay for our pleasures and sins in a huge ball of fire that roasts high and low alike. Yet despite what people have believed, and despite the horrors created by man and nature, civilization as a whole has not yet ruptured. (Actually it has, once, in 1346-53, when the Black Death killed 30Ė60% of the population of Europe, hitting China and India in the decades before that. But not recently.)

When I actually stopped and thought about it, I realized that the evidence for the coming apocalypse was equivocal, emotional, and influenced by fads as much as by science. During the cold war, our doom was going to arrive as mutual assured nuclear destruction; now itís going to come as global warming and emerging viruses. But itís not as though someone is weighing these risks objectively. During the cold war, influenza was (and still is) the virus with the deadliest potentialóand it may have been higher then because vaccines werenít as advanced. But no one worried about it. The risk of a nuclear catastrophe might be as high now as it was in the 80ís, or even higher. But no one worries about it.

The fact that our fears follow fashion does not exactly boost my credulity. Itís not that I donít believe the science of global warming, etc.óI do. I just donít assume that the worst-case outcome will automatically result. It is scary, and fear drives us to think of the most extreme result; our culture does too. The idea of Armageddon is deeply engrained in the Christian worldview. That gives us our conclusion: the world is evil and it is about to end. Once thatís assumed, all we have to do is figure out how itís going to end. That changes with the times.

Thatís just shitty logic. Someone could just as easily claim that weíre living in a golden age of progress, information, convenience, and resourcefulness. The evidence for this is actually better. The recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa was appalling, but it was not a global catastrophe. Now, two years later, a vaccine has been developed thatís 100% effective, as well as this improved protective suit.

So anyway, Pet Rock, if everyone always believes the world is about to end, and if the world continues to not end, there must be something else going on. I think something else is going on inside peopleís heads. None of us know the future. No one knows whatís going to happen before it happens. But I do know that you and everyone you know and love will perish, not in a moment of high drama and dangeróin an apocalypse, with everyone elseóbut in silence, slipping below the surface. I know that after you die, everything will go on without you pretty much exactly as it did before. Youíre dead, and people keep getting up and eating breakfast. Itís a terrible thing. Itís so terrible that we crave a kind of sweeping mythology to protect ourselves from the deepest confrontation with it. Wouldnít it be sort of great, in a gruesome way, for our ends to be extraordinary? For me and everyone I know and love to perish together in the final moments of mankind? A big boom is the only kind of event that even begins to approach the dark, unbearably sad feeling that comes with the knowledge that you are going to die, everyone is going die, and the world is going to keep on going without you.

So yes, what Iím saying is that I think itís a metaphor. I think itís a displacement. The end of the world may seem scary and horrifying, but the alternative is worse: the world doesnít end. It simply ends for you.

Pet Rock, you asked me what I believe. I would call belief in the coming end times a protective mythology. I believe that a feeling of impending world doom is a metaphor, a displacement of the fear of our own mortality. I believe that optimism is as realistic as pessimism, but that pessimism contains a heightened illusion of control (i.e., you canít cut off my arm, Iíve already cut it off myself). I believe that people use fear as a means of power and control, for example assholes such as Warren Jeffs, and I question that way of seeing things. I believe that bad shit happens all the time, and that having a picture of an on/off switch in oneís head is, strangely, more comforting than trying to follow the fluctuating degrees of brutality and coercion and injustice and stupidity and chance as they happen. Iím not optimistic, but I believe itís reasonable to be optimistic. I believe that the automatic assumption of doom is as foolish as a cheery, blanket denial that anything is wrong.

What I believe overall, my biggest belief that guides many of my other beliefs, is that itís my duty to try to see the world as clearly as I possibly can, and that in this I must use my intelligence and intuition and books and reference works and what people say. I believe itís my obligation to try as hard as I cannot to fool myself. This is very difficult. People fool themselves by nature; itís a useful adaptation. I would say Iíve pretty much failed. But I try.

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