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Q and A

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.

Feb 06, 2008; Chronic Asks:

How snobby do you think it's necessary to be when you're first trying to get your work published? Are smaller journals a good place to start? I don't mean places like Joe Schmo's Blog, but little journals out of little schools -- or will bigger publishers just think that's lame some day? Do you have any kind of guidelines for how to figure out if a journal is good and/or well respected? I heard someone say on The Actors' Studio that a begining actor should be in any movie that will take her for the first three films or so. Is there a parallel rule for writers or no?

Stacey answers:

Small is fine, and there's no reason to be snobby about it at all. The truth is that it's so hard to get published in any journal at all that no one will ever hold it against you if you are published in a relatively obscure one. (And you can always leave a publication off your bio later if you want to, for some reason). The best journals are the ones that publish writing you like. You can also see which journals show up most often in year-end anthologies like the O. Henry and Pushcart and use that as a starting point for your reading. But you should read them. You should read them to see if your work is a good fit, you should read them to see what your peers are doing, and you should read them to be fair--because you can't expect people to read your work if you don't read theirs.

Feb 05, 2008; Liam (As Seen On Myspace) Asks:

Two questions - One serious one, and one for fun:

In your honest opinion, is fiction important? Like, in the grand sense? Is it actually important to humanity? Has your opinion on this ever changed or wavered? Does the answer matter to you?

And now for the serious one:
JK!!! Here's the fun one:
Who would you rather do your bidding?: The flying monkeys from "The Wizard of Oz", or a fervently-obedient zombie army? Answer any way you please (Please say zombie army! Please say zombie army! Please say zombie army!)

Holler back, S-Ricky! Hope your year is starting off awesomely!

Your Loyal Zombie Lieutenant,
Liam G.

Stacey answers:

Yes, fiction is important in the grand sense. It's important to humanity. Without it, we're stuck with ourselves and our own little, impoverished interiors and our weird evasive ways of seeing other people--or at least some other people--as less real and important than we are. Without fiction our dreams and the metaphors around us float by without remark, and if they're not remarked upon then we're stuck in a flat and boring world without dimension and humor. And without contemporary fiction we wouldn't have new characters and new myths to match the events of our times, and we wouldn't be doing the present justice if we decided that only books from earlier eras were worthy, because our own time is as important and as worthy of a great American novel as any other time.

Yes, the answer matters to me! I want to write books that bring people out of their lives and deeper into them at the same time, because that's what books have done for me. I've wavered, though, because I used to love movies and thought they could be the true art of our time, and I made a movie once, but after reviewing movies for three years I got tired of them. Now I hardly ever watch them. Images are great, they can also transport you into someone else's consciousness in a humane, funny, or interesting way, but I think in the end most movies can't contain enough nuance and ambiguity to be interesting and still be entertaining. I know--you will argue--there are lots! What about The Third Man, Blade Runner, Rules of the Game, Blow Up, The Shining, Eraserhead? To which I would say--yeah, those are great. But somehow I got bored with movies, and I'm never bored with books.

The second question is easy. Of course I would choose flying monkeys because a) they fly! and b) Zombies smell bad. It sometimes takes me days to get the smell of zombie out of my clothes.

Feb 01, 2008; Philibert Asks:

Have you had any grand revelations about life lately, Stacey?

Stacey answers:

Yeah, you know how like, when you were in high school, you'd look at old people and think: don't they know? Don't they know that they have long, curly hairs coming out of their noses? Don't they know that they have lint in their ears? Don't they know that their eyeliner is on the wrong part of their eyelid and their lipstick is on their teeth and crumbs are on their bodice? Ick. And then you would think: at least I will never be that grody. I know I will not be. Thank you, God of grooming, thank you in advance.

What I now realize is that those people had not given up or never cared: they just couldn't see anymore. Because when you reach your early forties you suddenly can't see tiny, disgusting things as well. It wasn't that they couldn't "see," it was that they couldn't see. Weird hairs and crumbs will envelop us all in the end. That's about as big as my revelations get, Phili.

Jan 23, 2008; Troop Misleader Asks:

Were you ever a girl scout? How about a brownie or a daisy? What are your thoughts on scouting?

Stacey answers:

I was a Bluebird, which is the antecedent to a Campfire Girl. Then I attended a "flying up" ceremony that marked my ascension to the Campfire Girls; I found this nighttime ritual so terrifying, so witchy and strange, that I had to drop out of scouting completely.

This has nothing to do with my experience as a Bluebird, but I am against scouting. I know this sounds eccentric, but I really am. There was a reason why the Soviets loved the Young Pioneers: if you want to indoctrinate a country into an absurd and illogical system of totalitarian thought, and train its citizenry to love a wicked, wicked leader, it's imperative to start early. One of the reasons Stalin killed so many people (well, no one really knows why) was to weed out the influence of those who'd been raised before Soviet times and replace them with people who had grown up in the Pioneers and the Komsomol, which were essentially scouting organizations that indoctrinated young people with a bizarre utopian philosophy that had no basis in the real world. How do you indoctrinate people if the ideas are so crazy? Start them young! I know the scouts here are not run by the government, and I know they do good things. Yet I think it's a mistake to put children into military-style uniforms and teach them a system of thought. Any system of thought.

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