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Q and A

Mar 20, 2012; Tom Hancock Asks:

How do you go about selecting the title for a story? At what point in your writing process does it come to you? Have you ever written a story based on an idea for a title? What are your thoughts of the function of a story's title? Thanks for all your answers to date. I agree, the pirates would win. And not just because they have metal. Add to the metal greater mobility and their inherent mania and the poor cave men don't stand a chance.

Stacey answers:

Titles show up for me at different points when I'm writing, but it's nice when they show up fairly early. I like titles that are descriptive (by that I mean obvious) and either add some dimension to the story or guide you toward the place where the meaning is located. At. What I mean to say is the place where the meaning is located at.

I've never started with a title but I'd like to. I have a list somewhere. Ah, found it. My favorite is "Dog at Large," the legal term for an off-leash dog. I picture a legal thriller where all the mayhem starts with one bad doggie.

Mar 13, 2012; Charlton B. Asks:

Hello Stacey, I was wondering what really inspires you when writing your stories. Furthermore, when did you decide that you wanted to become a writer? Were there any other careers or subjects in particular that interested you? I am a history major at the College of Charleston, and I wanted to know if being a history major yourself had anything to do with your career as a writer. Thank you for your time!

Stacey answers:

Hi Charlton B. What really inspires me these days is death, or at least mortality, though that's sort of a general inspiration that doesn't pertain to any particular story. Anger and pain are other big inspirations. This is why being a writer is so fun (at least for me).

The other subject I love is biology, particularly the parts involving evolution, diseases, parasites, repulsive insects, sloths (who are covered with moths who live only on sloths, I'll have you know) and kitty cats. I actually was an art history major, not a history major, which has a lot with being a writer since it's all about making things, meaning, context, and metaphor (or I tried to make it be about that). Thanks for asking!

Mar 01, 2012; Chelsie Asks:

Hi Stacey, I'm a graduate student at the University of Cincinnati's creative writing program, and I just recently came across your story "The Beauty Treatment" in Doubletakes. Having fallen in love with it, I went to our library and swiped out Twin Study and My Date with Satan. I'm about halfway through My Date right now, and I want to buy it, but I'm having a hard time finding any new copies. Is it out of print? I'm kind of obsessive about books I really like. I prefer them to be brand new so that I can break them in. Best, Chelsie P.S. I loved, LOVED, "Rats Eat Cats." As an aspiring cat lady, I can definitely find a little of myself in this character's fear of human interaction :). The epistolary form is wonderful here.

Stacey answers:

That's cool. Thanks for letting me know. I want to be a cat lady too but also a goat lady, a parrot lady, a rat lady, an otter lady, and a dog lady.

Yeah, I guess My Date with Satan is out of print. I have to write a big seller so they'll reissue my previous books too, all with matching covers. Wish me luck.

Feb 29, 2012; Just sayin' Asks:

These kids need to do their own homework, huh?

Stacey answers:

I don't blame them for trying.

Feb 28, 2012; Asks:

Stacey, For my Literature midterm, one of the stories we are writing about is "A Groupie, A Rockstar." I was just curious your viewpoint on a couple of the questions. I love to write but it is always interesting to me how people interpret what I'm trying to say. So I thought it would be cool to go straight to the source. A couple of the questions I have written answers to are: 1. What does the pool represent and how does it affect Richters message on empowerment? 2. Which gender is more powerless according to the story? I just thought it would make the paper more interesting if I could throw a quote in the paper from you directly. Thanks for your time.

Stacey answers:

Hi dbs, Those are great questions. Let's take them one by one. 1) The pool represents airports and air travel in general, and it affects Richter's message of empowerment by implying that flight and the upper perspective of those in airplanes are impending in the narrative, leading to soaring of the protagonist. 2) The more powerless gender, according to the story, is the gender lady. This is because the pearls around her neck threaten to choke her.

Feb 27, 2012; Tom Asks:

In the novel Venus On The Half Shell, sci-fi writer Kilgore Trout poses the question: Why are we born only to suffer and die (or at least something along those lines)? In your opinion as an observer of the human condition, do you believe we are born only to suffer and die? Or is existential pain just part of being human? And who would win a fight between cavemen and pirates?

Stacey answers:

Wasn't Kilgore Trout Kurt Vonnegut? Is that a novel-within-a-novel Tom? I think you've overtaken Liam as my main question-asker. Thank you for carrying the mantle.

Yeah, maybe we were born for suffering and death, but obviously we weren't only born for that. We were also born to drink and reproduce, eat, sniff, walk around, as well as to sleep, dream, sweat, talk, kiss, and sing tunelessly to ourselves (and possibly others). I feel like Kilgore Trout's question presupposes a Christian God who plopped us down here--he's a big guy, real powerful--and then makes us suffer and die, which, granted, seems mean. But there are other viewpoints. If the Buddhists are right, then we were born for rapture, and all our mucking around with suffering and death is basically our own problem.

Saying we were born only to suffer and die seems kind of negative. Even I don't think that, though I suffer more than most people (physically--though not as much as some other folks, poor dears) because of the smashed disk in my back. From where I stand, existential pain sounds great. I don't mean to pull a I'm-in-physical-pain-so-I-win-over-your-emotional-pain: it doesn't. Emotional pain is the pits, but it's flexible. It responds to meds, dogs, love, springtime, chocolate, cigarettes. If you want to make it really fade out, all you have to do is make some part of your body hurt a lot. Voila, no more existential pain!

Pirates would win. They have metal.

Feb 16, 2012; Tom Asks:

Are you familiar with the work of Jodi Picoult? If so, what is your opinion of her writing? A friend highly recommends her, but I have a slight concern that eighteen novels in approximately twenty years cannot be indicative of quality. Who knows, maybe she is wildly prolific. Or, like the novelist in "The Diviners", her books are team written.

Stacey answers:

I haven't read anything by Jodi Picoult. It doesn't seem like my thing, but who knows? Though I am tempted to judge books, many books, before reading them, I've been humbled by that stupid habit so many times that I've had to give it up. Also, I'm deeply suspicious of the tendency, even among writers who are themselves women, to denigrate books by women that seem to focus on love and the domestic trials of women. Really, what the fuck? That's great subject matter. Great books have been written on that subject matter! Most books are about that stuff in the end (unless they're about pirates). And there's nothing wrong with describing a character's hair and clothes and favorite kind of ice cream. It says a lot, and Updike wouldn't hesitate to do it. That's all I got on this one.

Feb 14, 2012; Ryan L. Asks:

I recently read "The Rememberer", by Aimee Bender. I was just wondering how much of that story did you think was strictly metaphor and how much of it was strange surrealism fiction. It almost felt to me like Bender was encrypting a message while at the same time exercising her "science fiction-type" writing method. Your thoughts?

Stacey answers:

Hi Ryan, I just re-read the story (finally). Even before re-reading it, I would have given the same answer: it's all metaphor. Everything is--that's how our minds make connections between emotions and thoughts, memories and experience, love and loss, monkeys and men (which I would say is what the story is about).

Some metaphors are stronger than others (because they're new or startling or apt), while others get a little fuzzy at the edges or drift into one another. Maybe those kind strike you as a conscious attempt to be strange? My guess is that's what you mean by "strange surrealism," but I see it all as a part of art. Allowing things to be a little fuzzy or drifty is part of leaving room for meaning. If you clamp down too hard on a metaphor, it goes away, or else becomes simile and then dies.

Sometimes you have to keep reading an author to see what she's up to with her language and images--especially with a story like this, so short, with a honey-eating salamander.

Feb 09, 2012; Tom Asks:

Last Murakami question. I promise. Have you seen the film version of Norwegian Wood? If so, how is it?

Stacey answers:

No. I didn't even know there was one! I haven't read the book either, though I want to. I hope I live long enough to read all the books I want to read, or even half the books. More of them. And so we bring the discussion back to death.

Jan 31, 2012; Lauren Asks:

Hi Stacey. Wanted to write back and thank you for your answer. I don't know why it is exactly, being young and with a life ahead of me and all that jazz, or perhaps because of those things, but fear is definitely a more prominent emotion in my life than it used to be. And uncertainty. I think your comments helped release a little anxiety, in that there is some paradoxical comfort in knowing you can't control very much, and especially not another person. Unless you're crazy manipulative. Even then. You wrote that it's great to find books that feel like a part of your life. Which books would those be for you? I have always felt like certain poems resurface again and again. Lately, Borges' "Limits" and Larkin's "Aubade". If they seem dark, re:fear. I also like Piet Hein's Grooks which are lovely and silly and funny. I'll leave you with one (but it's incomplete because a grook is technically a poem with a drawing) A Toast The soul may be a mere pretense, the mind makes very little sense. So let us value the appeal of that which we can taste and feel.

Stacey answers:

Thank you for the Grook! But I really love Larkin's "Aubade": Death, death, death! So Lauren, your question about which books have been a part of my life left me stumped. The problem is that they all feel like part of my life, even the ones I don't like very much. But, overall, anything dark, humorous, and/or darkly humorous makes me feel like I'm not the last freak of my kind on the planet. Lately I've been loving Martin Amis for this, but the list is long and constantly changing.

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