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Mar 31, 2008; Simone Asks:

Help me Stacey! I have to teach a poem or short-short about oppression for this fancy charter school job I'm trying to get. Something I can cover in an hour with a bunch of seventh graders. Any suggestions?

Stacey answers:

Okay, let me think about it. There's always "Harrison Bergeron" by Kurt Vonnegut. 7th graders would like that, though since the fall of communism it may have lost its edge. I'll see if I can think of some others.

More: "Gimple the Fool" by Isaac Bashevis Singer, one of my favorite stories, but it might be too long if you have to read it in class. I can think of a lot of things but I don't think you want 7th graders reading In the Penal Colony, etc. You might try calling around to used bookstores or even going to thrift stores where they sometimes have old literature anthologies for grade school kids. Mine was called Adventures in Appreciation, as I recall. That might be a good source if you want to flip through a lot of short, age-appropriate material.

Mar 25, 2008; Wag Asks:

Have you ever been driving on the freeway, and you come up behind one of those giant recreational vehicles and you see that folding aluminum chair bungeed to the ladder on the back of the RV? Why do you suppose that is? I mean, have they run out of space inside the giant RV? Is it packed so full of stuff that they don't have room for a lawn chair? Or, could it some kind of "indicator"-- something that tells other empty-nester nomads that they are swingers or something?

Stacey answers:

Yes they are swingers, and yes, I have swung with them.

Mar 16, 2008; Veronica Asks:

Do you think that it's crucial to have an MFA in order to get your writing published? I'm sure it can't hurt to have one, but I know several MFA grads who seem no closer to publication than non-MFA-ers. Your thoughts, please? (And, if you have time, what made you decide to get yours?)

Stacey answers:

As far as I know, an MFA won't help you get your writing published. It can help you get a job teaching writing and that's about it. It's not a very useful degree. The arts are not very practical or promising. Most people (including me) get an MFA as a sort of desperate time-wasting detour between their mid-twenties and late twenties--or even the terror of thirty. Some people also want a little time to practice and think about writing, and to hang out with other people who are doing the same thing to see if you're better than they are. Theoretically, you could even find a good teacher.

Mar 10, 2008; Wag Asks:

...and Ken. What about Ken?

Stacey answers:

Ken lacks opposable thumbs. Otherwise he would be lord of us all.

Mar 03, 2008; Sanrio Asks:

Stacey, I was just reading Kelly Link's short story, "Magic For Beginners," and saw that she had included the same bit of Hello Kitty trivia that you did in "My Date With Satan"-- that the little minx has no mouth. Even weirder--both are amazingly good stories and both are the title stories of their respective collections. What do you think-- cosmic coincidence, great minds think alike, or did she rip you off?

Stacey answers:

There's actually a fair amount of interest in Hello Kitty's mouthlessness (as a quick Google search reveals); this seems to be exactly the kind of disturbing detail that could capture the imagination of a number of writers. Many people (or at least that Freud person) believe that any metaphor involving a missing body part is particularly powerful. She has no mouth! Perhaps it was cut off! Of the pussy cat! Really, when you think about it, it's a kind of mirror of the castration complex, and who can resist that? I think we can expect to see even more literary references to H. Kitty's mouth-lack in the future.

An even more intriguing case is Barbie, who has no vagina.

Feb 22, 2008; Uncertain Asks:

Your Question Dear Stacey, I graduated from college two years ago. I work full time, and write when I'm able. I started sending stories out about two years ago, and I have been published in Fugue, Sou'wester, Descant, the Portland Review, Third Coast, and a handful of of other places. As much as it tickles me every time I get an acceptance, and I am pleased by the idea of people (who don't know me) reading my stories I feel like I have no concept of what my publications mean... Like, is that good? I'd really like to go back to school for a MFA. I've applied for the last two years and gotten rejected everywhere, but I plan to try again, and I will keep on writing, but...I just don't know...Am I one of thousands of would-be-writers?

Stacey answers:

Yeah, that's good! It's hard to get published in journals--it's very competitive. I couldn't get anything published until a few years after I finished my MFA and almost no one in my program at Brown had published anything either. Given that, it seems weird to me that you've been rejected from a bunch of MFA programs...are you sure you're applying to the right ones? Try the schools that have faculty members you admire, people who've written books you really love. And you might as well send those beloved writers a letter telling them you're applying and hope you get a chance to study with them--you know, why not? It seems like that might be a good way to find the best fit, aesthetically. (I can't promise you'll actually like those writers personally...but that's another story). It sounds like you are committed to writing, and have accomplished a lot, and will do fine. Simply by virtue of being published in several journals you've already lost your status as a would-be writer and have graduated to the next level: unknown writer. Congratulations!

Feb 19, 2008; Obamallama Asks:

Obama=infinitely superior human being to Hillary.

Stacey answers:

All politicians seem like pod people to me so I can't really say if I agree or not.

Feb 17, 2008; Caddywhumpus Asks:

a) LARPing=much geekier then ren fairs. It's more like D and D with costumes, or just plain pretend. In some of the games people hit each other with foam-padded piping made to look like swords (and called "boffers"). b) there are two kinds of pickles, vinegar and fermented. Vinegar pickles come from the grocery store and are incredibly evil because, hey, vinegar kills (bacteria)! Fermented pickles are one of the most ancient preserved foods, dating from 4000 BCE in Mesopotamia. Brined pickles are easily made at home with nothing but salt water and vegetables. The salt creates an anaerobic atmosphere where good bacteria can grow. The bacteria produce acid which keeps the veg. Fermented pickles are very very good for digestion because they replentish your intestinal bacteria. And yes, olives are pickled, but you can also make them in plain water, or you can dip them in lye first and then brine. Sorry to hear about the bezoar.

Stacey answers:

Thanks for the information. I would like to eat a Mesopotamian pickle. I need all the good bacteria I can get.

LARPing still sounds kind of cute to me...but I still play with my Barbies. Usually when there's a little girl around to play with me. But not all the time.

Feb 15, 2008; Velvet Asks:

I gotta ask. Hillary or Obama?

Stacey answers:

Oh man, you had to ask! Okay, fine. I think they're both okay and I don't love either one, so I voted for Hillary because she's a woman and I want to live in a world where a woman can be president of the United States and this is seen as normal. However, I don't live in that world and lately I've become afraid that Hillary will get the nomination because then I will have to watch many, many people freak out with the fear and hatred that comes with losing their assigned lifelong cubbyhole of safety and privilege. Or, for others, freaking out because they face the prospect of losing their lifelong rationalization of how it's just fine to have a more crappy cubbyhole. I know! Women have lots of power/respect/candy now! But they actually don't, really, when you get right down to it, and seeing people calling Hillary a shrill old bitch just fills me with misanthropy and dread. So now I'm secretly rooting for Obama, because I think he can win. He's got the magic ticket. And that would be called a penis.

Feb 10, 2008; Tim Asks:

I recently read "The Cavemen in the Hedges" for my Advanced Fiction Class (I am an MA student at Boise State who dreams of getting into the MFA program), which is taught by Tony Doerr. I was wondering, as well as most of the class, what motivated you to write in the genre of "magical realism," (I hate giving it a label)? I personally have weird ideas that fall into that catagory but have never written any down (I consider myself a local colorist and have settled into writing about North Carolina -- my home of origin); however, reading "Cavemen," was sort of inspiring. What are your thoughts on this. By asking this, I feel like William Shatner in that Twilight Zone episode where he is in the diner on his honeymoon and he stays to keep asking the napkin holder his fortune ... of course, I am not asking a yes or no question ...

Stacey answers:

Tim, I donít think of the writing I do as being in the genre of magic realism because Iíve never been able to quite grasp that term. But I love the work of many writers who draw on the language and imagery of fairy tales and dreamsóI.B. Singer, Kafka, Garcia Marquez, George Sanders, Murakami, even Joyce Carol Oatesóand these writers have inspired me to consider all of my imagination, even the weird parts that donít make perfect sense, when Iím writing fiction. The kinds of stories that mean the most to me are the ones that take into account the exaggerations of the subconscious mind, the vividness of dreams, and the power of metaphor. To me even impossible metaphors can feel more true than anything else. I mean, you yourself can walk around feeling small, dirty and disgusting, and your character can walk around feeling small, dirty, and disgusting, but until Kafka transformed a traveling salesman into a monstrous vermin, I donít know if anyone ever felt so truly, deeply, small, dirty, and disgusting.

So I always try to write about the things I am keenly interested in on a subconscious level. And though itís not always easy or pleasant to admit these obsessions, I try to go with them because not only are these the things that make my mind my own, Iíve also come to believe that they are metaphors for more complex, human concerns, even if the obsession is as frivolous as shopping. A brief sample of the snatches of narrative and images that make up the bulk of my thoughts are: Barbie, catapults, glass spheres, schools of fish, prehistoric man, serial killers, burglars, rock stars, tall grass, dogs, giant sloths, illicit drugs, push buttons, shopping, hitchhiking, empty cities, empty malls, bower birds, foundlings, forests, nests (plus the old standbys of sex and food). I know that sounds like a joke list, but itís not. When I write, I try to let all of those things enter in because otherwise, whatís the point? If itís not about who I am and what being alive means to me, I might as well help children or sell widgets or pull weeds or something. So, when I wrote ďThe Cavemen in the Hedges,Ē I didnít set out to write in the genre of magic realism or surrealism or satire. I just really wanted to write about prehistoric hominids because I thought about them a lot and I wondered what that meant.

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