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Q and A

Oct 30, 2014; Rational Man Asks:

I'd like to run something by your Q&A format. I've started dating a woman and we have sparks. I enjoy the flirting and am experiencing 'high' feelings that pull me outside of my mundane self. I would like to pursue this attraction to see where it goes. However... I consider myself a rational-minded individual. She, alas, is deeply involved in subjects such as astrology and mysticism. She speaks of the 'divine feminine' and 'divine masculine,' says she is an 'old soul,' and has already done my zodiac chart (turns out we are compatible). I tried to talk to her about 'confirmation bias' and my appreciation for science and empiricism, but I might as well have been speaking Swahili. She is devoted to her chi energies and Power of Positive Thinking. I admit there is some intrigue there, in that she approaches life itself with an enthusiastically meaningful perspective that is alien to my negative, matter-of-fact mindset. Is there any hope for us? I am open to her more spiritual approach to life, but admittedly I think Astrology is nonsense. I worry my hormones and the thrill of attraction has overtaken my mind. Would love to know your thoughts.

Stacey answers:

Yeah. This is not going to work out, but I think you’re going to have to see it through. It doesn’t sound like you’re ready to walk away, and maybe there’s a little hope. She sounds like a nice, positive person, and I’m impressed that you’re treating her cockamamie beliefs with interest and respect; that’s very humane of you. I couldn’t do it, but I’m a self-righteous know-it-all who would never be attracted to a woo woo guy. But woo chicks tend to outnumber the guys, and I trust that she’s hot. So here’s a plan: why don’t you see if you can respect other’s differences, treat the whole thing lightly, and talk about other things as much as possible?

And when you’re not talking about other things, maybe you can try to view her convictions as metaphors. If you frame it this way, you might see that she’s using screwball terms to try to express something universal. Regarding her opinions as metaphorical declaws them; it opens up the possibility that there may be a sweet, fanciful side to her patter that might appeal even to a rational man. Though of course astrology is bullshit, it must be flattering to hear that your charts align; who wouldn’t want their romance to be written in the stars? Or be the universal masculine to a doll’s universal feminine? You don’t have to be New Age to think like this. You just have to be a romantic.

If you want to be a good guy, the most important part of this is to tell her what you’re thinking. Don’t try to get her to agree with you, oh no—that will go on forever. Just tell her you have respect for her way of seeing the world, but you think of this stuff as metaphorical, not factual. Agree to disagree and leave it to the side. Keep changing the subject. Tease her a little. You can be Scully and she can be Mulder. And get her into the bed. If your stars align, then the earth should move, right? You’ve gotta test that. Empirically.

Oct 27, 2014; Chrystalynn Asks:

Stacey, thank you for having this forum. I was wondering if you have comments on the controversy about Goodreads with the author who stalked a person who gave a very mean review. Also did you know the man Edward Champion who went overboard criticizing New York authors and lost his shit on Twitter? What do you think of Twitter and social media and people who lose their shit on their smartphones or tablets? I think they are probably driving and having road rage and taking it out on their mobile devices. OK thank you.

Stacey answers:

Such an interesting question, Chrystalynn! I hadn’t been following those stories but found them fascinating. Both are about vitriolic book bloggers, and both are spiked with the unmistakable (and nauseating) tang of high school social life—the feeling of something very small being made very large in other people’s brains. The Goodreads controversy concerns YA author Kathleen Hale, who published an article in The Guardian about “her efforts to monitor, stalk, and ultimately unmask a pseudonymous book blogger who trashed her debut novel on a review site.” I have to admit I found the idea of this darkly funny at first. I’m sure every author who’s gotten a shitty review on the internet—and that’s every author—could relate to my shiver of appreciation. But when I read the story, I saw she hadn’t entered into this project in the irreverent, performance-art way I half-imagined. Instead, she’d earnestly harassed some poor woman who’d posted a disparaging review of her book. This article gives a fairly balanced account of what happened.

Being stalked is not good. To be the object of someone’s intense, off-kilter energy can be quite scary, especially for women. I tried to imagine posting a negative review and then finding the author on my doorstep—what a nightmare. I was a little stunned, then, that Hale had her article published by The Guardian, both because it contained things that seemed untrue and because it described borderline criminal behavior—though weirdly, those two things kind of cancel each other out. (She claims she went to the reviewers house, stood on her doorstep, then had a sudden change of heart/deep insight and left without ringing the bell; this is exactly the kind of nonevent characters in books are prone to do/not do, especially characters in YA books. In real life, you ring the bell. Or you stay home.)

The other guy, Ed Champion, seems more like your average troll; I have no idea why anyone pays attention to him. Can’t we just ignore him? Aren’t we just encouraging him? I also have no idea why Kathleen Hale didn’t just ignore the nasty review. I’m sure it was mean, but being mean is a custom on the internet. It’s not exactly a shock. It happens often enough for someone to post this delightful list of unacceptable names for Goodreads shelves:

badly-behaving-authors

abusive-attention-whore-authors

butthurt-crazy-stalker-authors

author-insults-and-attacks-reviewers

victim-of-troll-attacks

And I thought the worst part about being a writer was that no one pays any attention to your books!

These are not the people who get into road rage incidents—that’s exactly what they are not. Road rage is acting out in the real world, with real dangers and eyes and consequences. These people are acting out on the internet, which is not to be confused with an actual space of social interaction. The internet is a costume ball, and it’s a grave misreckoning to believe that anyone in a gown and slippers is a princess. You have to be kind of unbalanced to take it to heart. I mean, lighten up. Come on. Abusive-attention-whore-author? That would be so awesome printed on a T-shirt!

Oct 23, 2014; Bill G Asks:

Stacey Richter, good evening. I just finished reading your story, "An Inn That Cannot Really Exist," linked from your 'Stories on the Web' section, and located on the Spork website. I cannot make heads or tails of this story. Is it an extended metaphor? Perhaps you would wish not to explain yourself, but if another reader here could clue me in, or provide a Cliff's Notes or Spark Notes explanation of the tale, I would find it helpful. Best wishes, Bill.

Stacey answers:

The story was inspired by this fascinating news story about wolves preying on children in India. I was struck by how the local villagers reacted with violence, not only against wolves but against humans they perceived as being aligned with the wolves. Thus, they amplified the tragedy: 33 children were eaten by wolves and 20 people were killed under the suspicion of being werewolves. Or perhaps the lynching worked and they controlled the tragedy, in reality or in some other realm. This was in 1996.

The article may not clear things up for you completely. The story is dreamlike and idiosyncratic and requires the reader to enter a very weird world at very short notice. So I’ll give you a few of my thoughts with the caveat that I may not be right—writing is sort of like dreaming while remaining awake, and the author doesn’t automatically see the best or truest meaning. What I notice when I read it now is a lot of swapping of the human and the animal and a lot of interleaving of the real and the fabled. The hybridization of those ideas seem to be at the heart of the story. Or, from another angle, I like the way it vibrates alongside this line from a poem by Richard Siken : “Can we love nature for what it/really is: predatory?”

Oct 22, 2014; Not Fuck Mulligan Asks:

I was reading your Q&A and wanted to see what is up with your fancy fans. Then I saw Fuck Mulligan and thought to myself, "Fuck Fuck Mulligan." Fuck that fucker. He's a fucking fuck of a fuckhead cowardly fuck-o. With that out of my system, I want to ask, Dearest Stacey, what are some hobbies and activities that you have enjoyed most over the past couple years? Say you have downtime, no internet access, no writing paper or books: Then what? Do you do macrame? Henna tattoos? Do you restore vintage car engines with degreasing solvents? Do you balance rocks atop rocks? Do you practice speaking Esperanto? Do you sit in a bathtub full of cottage cheese and peach slices? Do you pick nits out of the hair of Craigslist casual encounter-ers? Do you float in a sensory deprivation chamber and try to past-life regress or center your chi energies or just go nudie? Can you touch your elbows behind your back? Do you do the chicken walk? Do you count the rosary with your toes? Do you grow pretty flowers? Do you play the ukelele? Do you paint your face like Paul Stanley from KISS and then run down the city street quacking and then yelling "Potato pancakes!"?

How do you keep busy when you are so busy and free to have free time when you aren't busy enough to stay free on the freedom train of business and busy bee with busy beavers freely freezing on your Bea Arthur floppy dimple chimpanzee snort crackle tim-tam eggplant Noxzema salamander coconut banana klaag vibrating pansy hocus stimplevisionary conquest milk dud hobo joe scrump konker elephant headcheese mucus wagon bildungsroman siemprevirens matador tonsillectomy pork sausage pimple cream dalmation hiccup snap dragon Telluride mitochondria plebian crepuscular geometrid varmint coxswain zither lapidoptera fomenting draconian cornnuts of coccidioidomycosis?

Hey Stacey, hey Stacey, hey Stacey, hey Stacey Richeter, Hey Stacey Richter, hey Stacey Richter, Hey Stacey Richter. You are Stacey Richter. I am micko bick flichtner. Ha ha you are Richter Snickter. I am pook muggin tick-tock mcBock-Bock! You are Stacey Richter spoogin! I am your noogin! I am your noogin! But not really.

Hi Stacey Richter. Tell me something else. Do you have a new book or story? I want to read your stories. I like your minimalism and I like your maximalism. I like your primitivism. I like your yarns and your stream-of-conscience. I like your Reliable Narrator who always remembers to walk the dog. Very reliable. I like your postmodernism, but what I really really like is your antepostmodernism and your postantetraditionalism mixed together in a "word stew." You do not write a word salad. You make a word cake. Yum.

Stacey Richter I am signing off. Thank you for the friendship and the answers and the BOOOOP!!!

Stacey answers:

Hello, Not Fuck Mulligan. Thank you right back at you for your own BOOOOP!!!! You got a lot and it's lovely and it can't be separated out by pouring it back and forth in an eggshell. Yes, I have hobbies! Holy fuck do I have hobbies. I make clothing out of pieces of fabric that I cut out with scissors. I made this skirt and cape from vintage sewing patterns.  photo littlecape_zps3c9b51d6.jpg

I make things--cosas in Spanish--out of paper with my paper-cutting machine. Usually I make cut-outs of a bicycle delivery girl. She has to deliver many different things: rats, fire, the top half of a horse.  photo littleratgirl_zps4e777cf8.jpg

I do garden. I made this puppy planter out of a pull toy using a drill, dirt, and an unrooted succulent leaf. Now it won't come out! (When you try this at home, be aware that drilling the daylights out of a hunk of wood creates a lot of heat, as in fire-level).  photo littlepuppy_zps94913590.jpg

All of these hobbies are extremely annoying to this annoyed creature, who believes that all of my time should be spent on feline hobbies such as sparkle rat, spa treatment, dispensing kitty crack, or looking at her food bowl with her. Is it still there? Is it still there? Is it?  photo smallannoyed_zpsd85e213b.jpg

Yeah.

Oct 19, 2014; Robert trimble Asks:

Did you ever live in Maryland or work in Sports

Stacey answers:

No. That must be another Stacey Richter.

Oct 07, 2014; Goat Like Head Asks:

Is being ok ok? I say I'm ok but I'm more used to being much more... or less... like, I'm fantastic, unbelievably terrific... or I'm pretty fucking far from ok... ok? So Stacey, is it ok to be ok? Sorry about the three dots... old Herb Caen reader.

Stacey answers:

It's okay with me. Sorry to get all philosophical on your ass, but maybe the question your question implies is if it's okay not to be okay... Usually it isn't, I find. When people say, "Are you okay?" they kinda want you to say yes, at least if we're talking about the realm of emotions. (I've found people to be incredible eager to help when there's a physical emergency, when the okay in question refers to the alive, not-bleeding-profusely or injured-internally-sort of okay.) Sometimes, obviously, asking after someone's okayness is simply a way of saying hello, as in, How ya doing? However, I'm sure I'm not the first person to point out the rudeness of asking a question for which there's only one acceptable answer. If you really want to know if someone is "okay" (i.e. not cracking up), it's probably better to ask in a way that leaves the possibilities open, such as, "How're you holding up?" This, however, implies some responsibility on the part of the asker: if the answer is "not good," the asker can't really say, "bummer dude," unless she's trying to bolster her reputation as a sociopath; the question implies that the asker is prepared to be helpful in a concrete way. Often, this is not the case. That's why "Are you okay?" is a rude, stupid question, on par with the wait-person's line, "Is everything tasting delicious?" Which always makes me want to say, "Fuck you, you fucking fuck," though usually I simply tell them that everything is okay.

Oct 07, 2014; Slowpoke Rodriguez Asks:

If I am the slowest mouse, who is the fastest?

Stacey answers:

Speedy Gonzales, the racially stereotyped rodent!

Aug 13, 2014; Beth Asks:

Thanks so much for your response to my question about naming characters. All of your suggestions are helpful. I was taking into consideration nationality and culture, but hadn't considered the era at all. For some reason, I frequently lean toward S names and L names for female characters. That is usually just a spontaneous process. I'd like to explore a more thoughtful process, and still not have the end result feel forced or inauthentic. Thanks again!

Aug 04, 2014; This Curious Human Wears Rose Colored Glasses Asks:

Do you think it's better to be IN love, or HAVE love in your life?

Stacey answers:

I think it's better to have love in your life, but I'd rather be in love.

I'm talking about romantic love of course, the either /or love, since you can remain devoted to your dog and/or your mother and still fall for someone else. Your dog can even stay in the room while you have sex (depending on the dog). I like to believe there are people out there who manage to skirt the either/or nature of romantic love—bohemian libertines who do whatever moves them without leaving destruction and ruin in their wake—but I've never actually met anyone like this. I’ve only met people with rubble crashing behind them. This does not look so good to me and makes me value love in one’s life even more (which is what being in love turns into with time anyway). However, I am a white middle-class suburban lady, so what the fuck do I know?

Let’s take a minute to review being in love. Yes, it’s incredibly exhilarating, enlivening, and fun, but it gains a lot of its luster in retrospect. While it’s happening, it’s incredibly disruptive, self-disintegrating, and so terrifying that people go to great lengths to avoid it. Maybe you've noticed the symptoms among your friends—picking the wrong person, running away, sticking with a dud, weird obsessing, and refusing to see what’s in front of their faces—even as they insist that love is what they want. Real love is hard to find, hard to get, and hard to keep. I am trying to write the sentence, “It’s probably worth keeping, usually, even though you have to give up the possibility of falling in love EVER AGAIN,” but I’m having trouble. Meow. I guess most of us face either/or love with some grief and ambivalence. This must be why at least a third of all works of fiction touch on it; cf. John Updike.

Jul 30, 2014; Beth Asks:

I'm tangled up in how to name a couple of my characters. How do you pick names for all of yours? And last names... oy!

Stacey answers:

Oy, yes. I pick names by impulse or instinct, but I do use a few guidelines and tools. I try to write down names I like when I come across them—usually they have some sort of interesting sound thing going on, like "Carla Laser." If these turn out to be the names of real people, I change or recombine them—it's fiction, after all. I also want my characters to have names that are plausible for their age and era, so I almost always consult the Social Security Administration’s official website, which lists popular baby names by decade going back to the 1880’s. Names are subject to fashion like everything else: in the 1950’s, mothers named their baby girls Barbara and Mary, while in the 1990’s they went for Jessica or Taylor. Choosing one that fits the ages of your characters is a nice touch. It also make me happy, since anachronistic and vaguely portentous names drive me crazy, as do names that occur in fiction waay more than in life. Please do not name your character Claire.

For last names, try looking at lists of names wherever they may lurk--indexes, yearbooks, the membership roles of professional or charitable organizations. Make a list of the ones that feel right; change a letter if you want, wait a day, then pick. Here, too, you could try to focus on the era or background of your character, but be careful not to get too close. You don't want to accidentally pick the name of someone well-known in a field that overlaps with your character; if you call a biologist Lamarck there will be some snickers, unless he goes on and on about his name, which I will talk about below.

Names have an implied backstory regarding what kind of mother or family your character came from, and you can muse about this while you decide which one to use. In my opinion though, it’s best to leave this backstory out of what you’re writing. (“Kelly’s mother gave her the name because she was conceived on the 9th hole of a golf course, and her affection for greenery and outdoor coupling never wavered…”) Or if you do use it, be sure to make it advance some other aspect of the story, rather than making it an indwelling on name and identity. Dwelling on how a character got her name is common, but I’m always suspicious that it’s a veiled reference to the author’s process, and I find this distracting or boring or both. (An example in the same vein is what I call the dialogue of doubt. This is when a character says, “I don’t know what to say,” or “this is just boring,” or “where is this going?” —not because it’s germane but because the insecurities of the author are leaking through to the page.)

A few more general guidelines: Remember that the main purpose of the name is the same as it is in real life—identifying someone quickly and efficiently. But on the page we don’t have the benefit of visual and aural cues, so it’s even more important to pick names that are distinct from one another. Try to vary the first letter and length of the names you choose (my brain seems to only register the first letter and the number of letters in a name—Colin and Carey pose a problem); using names from different languages can also help keep them distinct, since readers are less likely to confuse Flossie and Chai Yenn than Flossie and Francis. And ponder long and hard before you pick wild or wildly symbolic names (like Oedipa Maas from Thomas Pynchon’s Crying of Lot 49). Yes such names are memorable, but they can be distracting, and they impart a sort of unreal, fairytale-comic-book tone. If this is what you want, great. Just be sure it’s what you want.

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