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Q and A

Oct 25, 2007; Wistar Asks:

I still love you, Stacey Richter. I wish we could get together sometime and vacuum each others' leg wounds. We have to get some shark bites first. Do you miss me too? I can't wait to read your story in Tin House. Am I betraying the literary establishment if I don't actually buy the issue, but just read it in the book store while drinking a free cup of water? I know I'll feel guilty afterward, but you don't get a royalty from each lit journal sold, do you?

Stacey answers:

No, I don't get a royalty from each lit journal sold but it's a special issue of Tin House and it should be really, really good. I say "should be" because I haven't read it yet, but it sounds great: all women writers, all non-realismists. Hmm, I'm not satisfied with that word. How about: Imaginationists.

I'm intrigued to hear that there is such a thing as a wound vacuum. I've just been using the shop vac myself. I don't miss you!

Oct 24, 2007; Bartleby Asks:

I would prefer not to.

Stacey answers:

I second that.

Oct 23, 2007; Desperately Seeking Susan Asks:

Who is the Mr. Wonderful below? But that's not my real question. My real question is: do you sleep with married men?

Stacey answers:

I don't know who Mr. Wonderful is. There's an invisible email address option on these questions and Mr. Wonderful opted out. I could guess. But it's not me!

I don't sleep with married men. I'm way too insecure to sleep with someone who has another woman in his life. I can hardly sleep with men who have ex-girlfriends. Besides, I've had the same boyfriend for 8 years and I just sleep with him now. I suppose that if we got married and I slept with him, then I would be sleeping with a married man. But I don't think that's what you mean. You mean fornicating, right?

Oct 23, 2007; Mr. Wonderful Asks:

Don't you want to let everyone know you have a new story in the latest issue of Tin House?

Stacey answers:

Yes. I kind of forgot though because I haven't received my own copy yet. Everyday I check the mail forlornly. It's a story about a killer doll.

Oct 18, 2007; Tom Asks:

I've almost finished Twin Study. I uttered, "holy shit," after the last paragraph in the Long Hall. I thought about the mind set and beginnings of strippers for a long time after that for some reason. At least ten minutes. Do you start out with a theme in mind, or does it come to you after you start writing? I threw that in, so it goes with the QnA. I always try to follow the rules, but I really just wanted to say what a great set of short stories.

Stacey answers:

Thanks. I don't have a theme in mind when I write. I have my hands full just focusing on what happens and in what order. Sometimes I don't really even register the themes until I'm done. I actually think our brains makes connections and create meaning whether we're trying to or not. Sometimes it works better not to try too hard to make themes cohere. An analogy to this process would be dreaming.

Oct 13, 2007; Wistar Asks:

Stacey, your advice came too late. But that's okay because 30 minutes after my quandary something good came on TV and the Asian Express delivery man arrived with dinner. Now I have moved on to another urgent question. I have to pee. I've had to pee all day. Is there a cure for this annoying disease?

Stacey answers:

Interesting question. Let me think about it. Just hang in there...

Oct 12, 2007; Wistar Asks:

I am sitting on the __ part of the L couch, and the remote control is on the | part of the L couch beside my boyfriend. I really don't like what's on TV right now. What should I do? PS There's also some microwave popcorn over there.

Stacey answers:

First, don't get up. Second, take a deep breath. Now I'd like you to utilize complex vocal signals via a sophisticated coordination of the mouth and face muscles (also called language) to pronounce the words, "Give me that." Point the the remote. After your boyfriend has given you the remote, repeat the process, pointing at the bowl of popcorn this time. Then say, "Thank you."

Let me know how it goes.

Oct 08, 2007; Wag Asks:

What are you going to be for Halloween this year?

Stacey answers:

I think I'm going to be a skinny eighties new wave boy with blue hair. I have an eighties new wave boy mask w/hair that I got for free from the band Ming and Ping, and I think I still have some pegged pants down in the basement, and I've become skinny ever since I was diagnosed with a lazy stomach, so why not go with it? Ming and Ping, by the way, are identical twins synthesizer rave boys, or something. I don't know much about them but they sent Dan Coleman, my husband-boyfriend, the masks and a lot of other neat junk.

Sep 28, 2007; wedge Asks:

ah Stacey! I am beginning to feel dejected about ever being published. Is there any way you could lighten my mood with a song, dance, or knock knock joke?

Stacey answers:

I think I know a good joke about a woodchuck or a beaver or something but I can't remember it. I've been wracking my brain. I will continue to wrack it. In the meantime, here's another way to get depressed and not get published--by committee. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/01/books/01arts-PUBLISHERSSE_BRF.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

Sep 20, 2007; Beehive Hairdo Asks:

How do I write a sex scene? Do I even have to? I'm considering just having the characters pull down the blinds and leave the whole thing enshrouded in fog.

Stacey answers:

Beehive. There’s nothing like trying to write a sex scene to make a person feel like a sheltered Catholic schoolgirl and a raging pervert at the same time. You might wonder: is it too sexy, not sexy enough, laughable, stilted, offensive to the Lord? And writing sex scenes brings up all kinds of additional worries, like, will my parents read this? My ex? My stalker? Bear in mind that every writer who isn’t a sex professional, an exhibitionist, or Eurotrash feels this way. I urge you to put your embarrassment aside and give it a try anyway, Beehive, because to have full and complicated lives, your characters are occasionally going to want to get it on. Sex is one of the big engines of human existence. People have it. They think about it. Sometimes they reveal themselves in startling ways during sex—don’t you sort of want to see Bartleby the Scrivener have sex? I mean, not really, and I’m sure he doesn’t want to, but wouldn’t that be swell? By the same token, your readers want to get to know your characters thoroughly. If a sex scene is important to your story, then yes, you must include it. Enshrouding in fog is for wimps.

Now for your tips. For literary fiction, the trick is, don’t try to make it sexy. (If you want to write erotic fiction, you’ll have to send another question). Just try to make it…accurate. You want to aim to write a scene in which your characters have the kind of sex they would have in the situation they’re in-- playful, disappointing, interrupted, absurd, intense, tender, whatever. Be true to your characters and try to forget about any pornography you’ve ever looked at or read. So don’t write it as though you’re writing a thriller, i.e. your sentences should not describe one action after another. Rather, dilute the actions with details, abstractions, thoughts, and dialogue. Using details, particularly sensory details, usually works better than describing the whereabouts of specific body parts. Use adjectives with great caution—the fewer the better. Contemplate zero adjectives.

It’s instructive to look at smutty passages by writers you like, though bear in mind that sex scenes don’t age well. The permissiveness of the times is always changing. If you think you’re being audacious, just try to keep a lid on the fanfare, since you might simply be dating yourself as someone who lives in an era when ______ (fill in a sexual act) was considered daring. Good luck.

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