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Q and A

Sep 22, 2009; KKB Asks:

Stacey Richter! I keep thinking about something you said here. (Yes, in addition to what you've said about water.) I love the strange advice of seeking out your own special subject matter. You said yours is that suburbia is a fairyland. That's so cool! And looking back on your stories, I have to admit: yes, it's true. But did you find this thematic clarity in advance? Or did you just write about a bunch of stuff you liked, and then later realized that these ideas had something unusual in common? I love this idea of seeking it out. But it sounds hard to make it be true. I mean, themes are so mysterious, you know?

Stacey answers:

KKB! I just wrote about a bunch of stuff that I liked and realized how it came together later. I do think you have to seek it out, and I agree that themes are mysterious, slippery, and weird, but that's the wonder of having a personality. You are really you, you are not empty, and even if you are empty, then that's what you are and it has its own internal logic and diction and structure and loves and hates, and getting this to emerge in your writing is (probably) the reason you're writing in the first place. Or part of the reason. Yes, it's hard, but all of writing is hard. Though this Q and A isn't really that hard, so maybe I'm not totally on the right track with that. Well, if you find an easy way, please let me know how you do it.

Sep 22, 2009; Chrissy Asks:

What exactly would you say the overall argument is in your story "The Beauty Treatment?" What can society learn from it?

Stacey answers:

Hi Chrissy. I don't know what the overall argument is in "The Beauty Treatment." Was there an argument? I say that because to me, an argument is one side of a debate or a strident point-of-view. Most literary fiction is not really concerned with taking sides or stating things so starkly. If I wanted to make an argument or teach society something, I'd write an essay that said exactly what I meant to say. Maybe something like, "Guns are bad," or "TV causes teenage violence." Then I would say what I thought should be done to fix the problem: "Guns should be seized by the government," or "TV shows should only be about pretty rainbows and nice unicorns." But a short story is more about what it feels like to be alive and what it is in life that creates meaning.

As a writer, I am not trying to argue or teach. I'm trying to reveal and share. And make you happy. In sort of a sad way. But still happy.

Sep 22, 2009; KKB Asks:

Really? You think the health-thing about chugging water all the time isn't true? At least it's a cure for hangovers, in advance no less! PS. Have you read Emily Carter's Glory Goes and Gets Some? I think you would love it. She only has one book, but boy it's great.

Stacey answers:

Yes, I really think the health-thing about chugging water all the time is total bullshit. We are sophisticated creatures with a primary function of maintaining internal homeostasis. I don't believe we've spent millions of years evolving from the briny deep just to have a whacked-out thirst system that leaves us dehydrated all the time. I mean, wouldn't that be the first thing our bodies would work out? And the whole logic of always pushing additional fluids through one's system (in order to remain sufficiently hydrated) seems flawed, if not sort of crazy. Why not push additional food through the system all the time in order to remain sufficiently nourished? Or apply lotion incessantly in order to remain sufficiently moisturized? You see where I'm going with this. I suspect this is an artifact of the whole body/mind dualism theme of our judeo-christian outlook. Our bodies can't know what we need, we are a nation of fat pigs who would eat all the time if we did not use our minds to control our bodies, in fact we don't even know if we're thirsty or not and need written instructions (8 glasses a day) in order to figure out how much to drink. I don't buy it. I don't even really even truly think that water is much of a hangover cure. For me, the salient point seems to be how much booze I drink, not how much water. It might be fun/miserable to test this sometime.

I haven't read Emily Carter. I'll get it!

Sep 11, 2009; Wag Asks:

Dear Stacey, I think I might have forgotten 9/11. What should I do?

Stacey answers:

It's okay. Don't panic. There are plenty of other disturbing tragedies in the world for you to go over and over in your head, some of them much more recent than 9/11. I suggest you remember one of them instead.

Sep 06, 2009; bruce halper Asks:

picked up a signed copy of your book, My Date W/ Satan...enjoying very much so far. I'm on the beach at Newport. Best, Bruce

Aug 31, 2009; Mr. Blue Asks:

Hi, Stacey. I want a dog. I have one at the shelter picked out, a super sweet rat terrier. But now my landlord says no, and I feel sad and lonely. My question is: Why should I have to get permission and/or pay a deposit to own a dog when a landlord couldn't stop my girlfriend and me from having kids, which are potentially more damaging to property than a small, sweet dog? My second question is: If we get the dog anyway and dress it up in human clothes and go through a fake pregnancy, will people believe us when we tell them the dog is our baby?

Stacey answers:

Dear Mr. Blue,

No, people will not believe your dog is a baby if you dress it up in human clothes. People dress animals in human clothes all the time, and no one thinks the animals are human babies. I agree with your assessment: a child can be as potentially destructive as a dog, but really, who has more destructive potential than a mature adult person? Some tools in your toolbox (that a dog lacks) are chainsaws, matches, spray paint, and hydrochloric acid. If you really want to drive home the point to your landlord, why not trash the place?

The reason you need to get permission/bribe the landlord to have a dog but not a human baby is more complicated. This is due to the supremacy of human culture. Really, when you think about it, it doesn't really make sense that only one species on the whole planet has evolved a true culture. Chimpanzees and whales might show signs such as tool making and language, but whether this is culture or not is still open for debate. The only good explanation for this is that we as humans have an instinct to kill any species that gets too advanced so that we can be the only ones with all the good stuff like words and screwdrivers.

So, what do you think happens when people in large numbers keep dogs in apartments? Such dogs have no access to yards or nature, and in the absence of these influences they begin to rapidly evolve. Before long they are using simple words; after that, they're carrying around rudimentary tools made from things found on the floor like hangers and soda cans. Who knows what comes after soda cans? Maybe chainsaws, matches, spray paint, and hydrochloric acid. This is not a good situation. It can rapidly escalate into a dog vs. human scenario. At this point, the choice is to either kill all dogs in an unpleasant dog massacre (even as overlords they are soft and furry) or to just avoid the whole problem of apartment dwelling from the beginning.

Aug 12, 2009; Mr. Wonderful Asks:

What's the deal with back cover blurbs? Sometimes I read them and then read the book, and it's almost too obvious that the blurb-writer never even finished the book. Is it a major "diss" to decline to blurb someone? Do you ever write blurbs and if so, under what circumstances? What is the key to writing the perfect blurb? And why do blurbs always say something about the writer and/or book being "compassionate"?

Stacey answers:

Blurbing is fun. I think that any good blurb should have one or two swear words in it. I will blurb a book when several things come together in a rare convergence--someone asks me to do it and I have time and/or remember. But that usually doesn't all happen.

The diss factor of not blurbing someone is hard to measure--all that stuff usually happens through publishers and agents and an author doesn't necessarily even know who their book has been sent to.

The mention of "compassion" is usually found in jacket copy (rather than in blurbs by fellow authors) and is publishing code for "feminine but not chick-lit." A compassionate author is usually an authoress who writes about women, girls, and family life; and even though most male authors also write about this stuff, they are hardly ever called compassionate, nor is their prose called jewel-like, probably since they are being called brilliant and ambitious instead.

Aug 05, 2009; Liam G. Asks:

So, Stacey. How are you?

Stacey answers:

I'm a little better Liam, thanks for asking. I've had a hard year with a lot of back pain but I think the worst is over now. My great aunt died yesterday and I'm sad about that. She was very cool and smart.

Oddly, I had a dream about you last night. You were walking down an alley wearing a blue t-shirt. I gave you a hug but I didn't see your face. It was very maternal. I felt very encouraging. You go, Liam!

Jul 31, 2009; Emma Asks:

Dear Stacey, It's been over a year since I finished my Master's and roughly the same amount of time since I typed a single page of fiction. If I had to guess at why Iíd probably say it had something to do with laziness, fear, ridiculously long hours of work for very little pay, followed by compulsive spending, self-sabotage, prolonged (and no longer deserving) self-congratulation, chronic distraction or, possibly the most severe - a vapid, disconnected, yet somehow elitist sense that nothing is interesting... Iím sorry to burden you with this, but frankly, I find your Q&A the best advice column in the history of advice columns (even including those masked as Q&A forums).

What makes this all suddenly relevant (hence the cry for help to you) is that two weeks ago I moved to Los Angeles, in a spontaneous act of optimism toward my career. Actually, let me back this up. Four months ago I quit smoking. Two weeks ago I moved to L.A. and presently I live in a hotel room where I am serenaded by the shrieks of bikini-clad teenagers throwing back diet pills with jager bombs. I came here to write, Stacey. So, I guess my question to you is how do you conquer the endless obstacles trying to keep you from doing what you most intend to do? Thank you, in advance, for any insight you might share.

Stacey answers:

Itís all about fear, Emma. For grown ups, making art is fraught with fear, as is love. Thereís a lot at stake, like your sense of yourself as smart or worthwhile or interesting or useful. Writing is also really hard, and who wouldnít rather go spree-shopping now and then? Itís better than the possibility of discovering that you suck, or are a fraud, or boring, or empty, or (as I suspect is the case with you) that you are very talented but are screwing up and/or wasting your talent. Thatís not pretty. Who wants to look at that? I know Iíd rather do Jager shots by the pool.

Fear is strong. It does not like to be messed with. It doesnít want to be conquered. Iíve found that it doesnít even help that much to remind yourself that writing is your dream or life goal or calling. I mean, itís good to know, but in the end, I think you have to sort of leave the fear where it is and flow around it. The methods for doing this fall into two categories. The first involves the inner self. You voyage into your inner self and trick the fear. Trick the fucker! One way is to recall a time in your life when making things was uncomplicated because you were just playing around. Back then, you wanted to make up stories because it was so fun. Remember? Sort of? Back when you didnít worry about anyone judging you? See if you can go with that.

The other way is probably easier, and also probably works better, and I learned it from watching the show Obsessed on TV. Youíve got to see this show. Itís about people with OCDósuch as the lady who brushes her teeth for an hour a day who has to walk around with corn in her teeth, and the handwashing girl who is made to touch the seat of a porta-pottyóbecause apparently, the most effective therapy for OCD is to just make people do the thing theyíre afraid of, over and over, until they can do it without freaking out. Theyíre still afraid, kind of, but they just do it anyway until they get bored and stop treating the fear with reverence. According to this method, you have to write everyday, or most days. Thatís all. No thinking. You pick a time and do it. Since youíre busy, you should try to pick a relatively small amount of time, like one hour. One hour is a lot if you donít do anything else. Even 45 minutes is good (but itís hard to focus in less time than that). Sometimes less time is better, actuallyóthe thought is less daunting, and youíre motivated to concentrate. Leave the internet alone. And though itís terrible to contemplate the early hours (I canít do it), many people find their self-critical mind is not yet up and running first thing in the morning, and you can use up all your good brain power before your day job sucks it out of you.

Also, you donít have to always write fiction (or whatever it is you write when youíre being a writer). Sometimes itís easier to write notes, observations, sketches, outgoing answering machine messages, descriptions, memories, or plans for things you want to write later. It might get you going. Plus, it counts as writing.

Finally, smoking; ah, smoking. Did you know that nicotine isnít actually bad for you? Cigarettes are deadly but nicotine is benign. What if you allowed yourself one piece of nicotine gum every time you sat down at your desk? Then you can combine the most addictive substance in the world with writing! If that doesnít work, weíre going to have to stick you with a cattle prod.

Jul 11, 2009; Liam, adjusting to his newfound committed relationship with Facebook Asks:

Hey, Stacey. Your new short story in Versus Anthology (Volume 1) inspired me to pose this question. I'm 26 now, and when I was a kid, I remember the live-action children shows that I watched ("Clarissa Explains It All," "Salute Your Shorts," and my favorite, "Pete and Pete") always featured cool, smart, spunky, young heroines who were basically tomboys or something close to it. And the girls on the shows who were ultra-girly and fasionably-dressed were almost always portrayed as being vain, vapid, and were often the enemy of the hero(es)/heroine(s). But over the last twelve years or so, it seems the SOP has become to base kids shows around overly-sexualized "prosti-tots" and their fabulous, materialistic lifestyle (the cartoon "Bratz" being perhaps the most egregious offender).
To put it succinctly, I personally find this development to be very disturbing and culturally poisonous.

Have you noticed this trend? What are your thoughts on the subject?

Your vanquished Scramble! foe,

Stacey answers:

Hi Liam. I haven't noticed this trend since I don't watch children's shows very often, though I once tried to watch Hannah Montana. Boy, did that ever suck. But she's a plucky heroine, right? And I don't think Bratz exists anymore. Didn't they lose a lawsuit and have to be pulled off the market or something? So I don't know, really. I've only heard about the prosti-tots secondhand. I'm not sure I believe it--that it's new in some way. I mean, you should have seen the clothes girls little girls wore in the seventies. Tube tops and hot pants, cha cha cha.

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