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Q and A

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.

Jan 20, 2008; Liam (As Seen On Myspace) Asks:

This should be fun: What belief do you hold that would alienate you from society the most?
Or, more to the point, is there anything controversial that you believe that would piss people off if you admitted to it? And what is this thing you believe?
OR, even more to the point, please hurt your career right now just to amuse me by calling me on my gambit.
For your consideration, here are some examples of Unpopular Beliefs/Positions: Literature is only for smart people; Men are inherently smarter than women; All puppies should be drowned; Barack Obama is just "too black"; New Orleans had it coming; The human race began when something happened with an evil alien named Xenu, and we're like all filled with alien-ghosts or something; Catherine Zeta Jones is, in fact, not attractive; Jelly is for queers; The only good otolaryngological surgeon is a DEAD otolaryngological surgeon; Hitler's mustache was actually quite fetching; Female circumcision: something to think about; etc.

Well, have some fun with this query, Stacey. I await your response with bated breath.

Your loyal acolyte,
Liam

Stacey answers:

I find that question oddly flattering, Liam. Thank you for being interested in my insanity and insanity in general. I think that my crazy beliefs are being spawned and reabsorbed on a minute by minute basis. Here are some current ones:

1. That whole health thing about drinking lots of water all the time is bullshit.

2. Any amount of sugar is bad for you. It's so good, I know! And yet it is poison.

3. Each and every customer service representative is a robot.

4. Tom Cruise is hot.

Jan 14, 2008; Wag Asks:

Olives are cured in brine, much in the same way as pickles. I cured some olives from the trees by my condo in Tucson and they came out really tasty. Sorry to hear about your bezoar. Not to make light of your medical condition, but have you named it? I think Balthazar would be a good name for it. And to me LARPing sounds like some sort of euphemism-- like FARKing or something.

Stacey answers:

I love all those worlds like farking and frickin'. They can be used in polite company when you want to be just a little bad. I, too, have an olive tree outside my door but all the recipes I've heard about for curing olives involve an old Italian man, rocks, herbs, and bags and bags of salt. I have access to all the ingredients except for the old Italian man.

Jan 07, 2008; Caddywhumpus Asks:

How do you feel about pickles? And LARPing?

Stacey answers:

I like pickles, Caddywhumpus, though I do feel a little ambivalent about any food that I cannot--or at least have not--made in my own kitchen. Are they, what, cooked? Canned? Brined? Marinated? Are olives cooked? Is an olive a pickle? And, like most food, I am forbidden to eat pickles at the moment because I have a bezoar (which I would like to nominate as one of the all-time great Google image searches).

LARPing is just like jousting at the Renaissance fair, right? Or a Civil War reenactment thing with funny little guys in clothes they made themselves? I love it. Of course it's more nerdy than masking tape on Coke bottle glasses, but what could be sweeter than people dressing up and hurling themselves into imaginary worlds? That's my favorite thing to do. I just do it at home by myself.

Jan 06, 2008; Dan Asks:

Does your agent research journals and submit stories for you, or are you on your own when it comes to lit journal publication? Thanks!

Stacey answers:

My agent submits things to journals for me, at least the ones that pay money. I also submit things on my own, usually when an editor asks me for something.

You're welcome!

Jan 01, 2008; grape popsicle Asks:

I'm not sure about the title of your last book. Do you really like the title Twin Study?

Stacey answers:

Maybe it's a little bland but I couldn't think of anything better. However, I did receive an intriguing note from my mother recently, which made me fall in love with the title What Is It: Photobucket Photobucket

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