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Q and A

Jul 22, 2007; Pickles Asks:

Do you know that Randy Newman song wherein the singer, becoming Bruce Springsteen for a moment, says "I'm tired . . . could you be The Boss for a while?"?

Stacey answers:

I don't know that song but I like the idea of Randy Newman becoming Bruce Springsteen and then not wanting to be Bruce anymore.

Jul 22, 2007; Liam from MySpace Asks:

"Ask and Ye Shall Receive: A Chance for You to Screw With Liam's Life (Quick preface: I wrote this quickly without much consideration for punctuation, spelling, etc.): So, I just had a breakdown-sort-of-thing this past Spring, dropping out of college and moving halfway across the country to move back in with my parents (which feels simply awesome considering I'm in my early-mid-twenties). I've now decided that even though I love English (especially writing), I don't want to go into any career involved with English (other than reading stuff, then writing stuff that people pay me lots of money just to read and tell me how great I am and how much they love me and how I deserve all the prestige I've attained and deserve every penny of the aforementioned enormous amount of money they'd cumulatively given me to be so amazing, etc.). Instead, I'm applying to hospitals in the hopes of starting a possible nursing (or, if you will, "mursing") career. Some of the best experiences in my life have been working with people with disabilities, and I think my energy and personality would be well-suited for working with people who are probably a little upset, uncomfortable and trying to heal. Plus, the "mursing" field is far more stable, lucrative, and consistently fulfilling /spiritually-rewarding than that of what I imagine the common struggling writer/adjunct/alcoholic's to be. The thing is, I feel like I'm getting away from my "true calling in life." Oh, and here's an extra twist: I also love film and think that I should maybe pursue writing/polishing screenplays as a foray into directing. Sometimes I even think film-making's my calling even more than writing, since it's a hybrid of so many arts that I enjoy. So maybe I should pursue my dreams head-on by trying to write short-stories and enter short films into festivals while working a stultifying job that pays the bills. But wait, here's another point: Once I become an RN, I'll be making good money and can shape my own schedule. The nurses I know get tons of time off. And don't even get me started on the travel opportunities! Not to mention, I've always felt that full-time writers end up writing too much about writing itself, and I don't want to one day turn into that middle-aged male failed-writer/professor trying to sell his novel about a male middle-aged professor/"creatively-blocked" writer who seeks solace from his students, whom he secretly loathes, and his family, whom he loves but they "just don't get him", by indulging in his infatuation with a 20-year-old student with some quirky name like "Penny" who's witty and bright but has such low self-esteem that she needs the guidance and, yes, romantic attention of this aging professor to show her how beautiful she is and for her to show this same professor that, sometimes, it's okay to start over. BLLLLLLLEEEEEEEEEHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! I'd rather die, Stacey. (Be my friend and promise me you'll take me out with a high-powered rifle if I ever become that guy). So mursing could be a helpful way to avoid potentially becoming stuck in an academic, literary bubble, while still providing steady income and experiences with people that would serve to widen my horizons as a writer and a person. Sounds GREAT! But here's the big catch. I get that sick feeling in my stomach that it might be one of those mid-life-crisis-fueling-mistake to, in any sense, defer my dream of writing what I want to write, and getting bogged down in a career that I chose because, at the time, it seemed like it would work out for me. It's the same feeling I get whenever one of my friends gets engaged to someone I know they aren't really head-over-heels in love with, but they do it because they have been with each other for so long and marriage just makes sense. It's a decision that seems to invite fate to teach you a big lesson in the meanest way possible. Is this silly, Stacey? Am I being stupid? I mean, I don't even believe in fate, and I know that sometimes love doesn't manifest itself in a head-over-heels fashion and that marriages built on that fanatical love don't always work out better than the merely sensible ones, and that the jobs we end up with are part planning and part improvisation and a million other things, but I just want to feel some sort of assurance that, if I go in to mursing, my career won't come to define me, that I can leave it all behind and chase my "true calling" whatever the Hell that is, whenever it should present itself (should it ever...), even though my life will have changed so much and I'll have so much more to risk than I can conceive of now. And since I can't find any real assurance of this, it makes me want to burn my clothes and live as a bohemian shaman in the middle of nowhere and never speak of what I could have been had I rolled the dice (of course, I have neither the balls nor genuine will to do this). So let me just get to the main questions: Is writing worth it? Is it just an exhibition of our cleverness to win a higher position in the herd, or can it be sublime? If it's the latter, do you think my "dreamy-dreams" might die if I go into mursing? Is it just as likely to die if I go into the English/academic/etc. field? Does the mursing gig sound good to you? Do girls like guys in scrubs, even if not as much as ones in lab coats and stethoscopes? Do I need to just "shit or get off the shitter" and hope that I'll be able work things out as I go along? Direct my life, Stacey. I'd hate to mess it up by myself.

Your Faithful Fan,
Liam "Who's Usually Not this Wound-Up" G.

Stacey answers:

Oh yeah, be a murse, that sounds great. There is such a lot of satisfaction to be had in helping people who need your help--you may want to look into it carefully and shadow someone on their shift a few times to be sure it's for you but it sounds like a great job. I'd love to do something like that. You'll have to have some discipline to write in the morning before work (which is how Nicholson Baker wrote The Mezzanine), or during your lunch hour (which is how Aurelie Sheehan wrote The Anxiety of Everyday Objects), or after work or whenever, but it always takes discipline to write. No one wants you to be an academic, Liam. You don't want to be one, I don't want you to be one, your friends probably don't either. Besides, you have to publish a book to get an academic job anyway and while you write it you can support yourself as a murse.

And: the only way you can abandon your writing dreams is to stop writing altogether; having a job will not physically stop you from writing. With time your ambitions may change and you may be more/less into creative endeavors but you can worry about that when it happens. There's no need to worry about it in advance. No need.

Film...film. Do you have a camera, at least? And an editing program on your computer? Play around with those. There are lots of creative jobs in Hollywood but most people don't end up being directors, and if you want to go to film school and try you need to be sure you love, love, love it, and know that you might end up doing post-production sound recording, or something like that, for the rest of your life.

Finally, you can change your mind. Life isn't that short. You can be a murse for a while and then do something else later if you want.

Jul 19, 2007; Wag Asks:

Aren't you glad you made this section so people could ask you questions about your books?

Stacey answers:

Yes. But what I really like are questions that give me the opportunity to screw up someone's life. Please send more should-I-break-up-with-him/her questions.

Jul 18, 2007; Velvet Asks:

Please list all your aesthetic sensibilities.

Stacey answers:

I like brevity, clarity, humor (which I find most interesting in grim circumstances), wit, surprise, originality, and cuteness (often too hastily condemned, in my opinion). I like some strangeness mixed in with my reality. I also like a good metaphor.

Jul 18, 2007; Velvet Asks:

What are your top three favorite contemporary novels? How bout of all time?

Stacey answers:

How can I worm my way out of this one? I'm tempted to cheat and just define contemporary novels as being novels by authors who are still alive. Then I could say The Tin Drum, 100 Years of Solitude, and Updike's Rabbit quartet. But those are too old to really qualify as contemporary. How about: The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, The English Patient, All the Pretty Horses? In a less traditional mood: Mary Robison's Why Did I Ever, Calvino's Baron in the Trees, and any one of those crazy, great David Markson books without a plot like This Is Not a Novel. Plus Veronica by Mary Gaitskill.

For of all time: The Wapshot Chronicle by John Cheever, anything by Raymond Chandler, and Moby Dick, though I like Bartelby the Scrivener better, but it's not really a novel. I wish I could add Jane Bowles to the list but she died too young to write a single great novel. To the Lighthouse should be rotated in at some point. List subject to revision.

I have a problem committing to specific books, especially if they have to be novels. A more interesting list might be a list of the contemporary writers whose books I would immediately run out and buy and read with relish the minute they publish something new. That would be: Denis Johnson, Mary Gaitskill, Lydia Davis, David Markson, Mary Robison, Julia Slavin, Kelly Link, Jeffrey Eugenides, Cormac McCarthy, Annie Proulx, and Julie Hecht.

Jul 18, 2007; Velvet Asks:

What is your biggest literary pet peeve?

Stacey answers:

Dude, I have a terrible aversion to stories with lone characters who walk around ruminating in the echo chamber of their own thoughts. In fact, I have a problem with long descriptive passages in general, but it's worse for me if the description comes when a character is alone in a car, musing. But like everything else, when this is done well it's great. I love the passages in John Updike's Rabbit books where Harry Angstrom is driving around Brewer, Pennsylvania, checking out the landscape and remembering how it used to be. Since those books are about memory and the passage of time it feels perfectly right, and not like an author taking an interlude to do some spiffy writing or cram in some exposition.

Another thing I hate is what I call wine country realism--you know, loving descriptions of lisianthus bouquets, linen pants, glinting wine bottles, brass door hinges, herb gardens, Haydn's "Lark" quartet, freckled children, dew-spattered lisle socks. I probably would never have encountered so many of these scenes if I hadn't embarked on a self-directed reading program where I decided to read every contemporary fiction book someone recommended to me, including casual acquaintances and my parent's friends. Lots of book club books, no distinctions among recommenders. I discovered some really wonderful authors, actually. And some stinkers.

Jul 17, 2007; Dan Asks:

What was the year of your first published story? Thanks!

Stacey answers:

Ah ha! It was 1996, I looked it up. It was the story My Date with Satan in the Greensboro Review. And I'm sure you'll be deeply fascinated to know that this was not my first published piece of creative writing, as the kids call it. I also published a poem in 1993 in the Sonora Review.

Jul 11, 2007; Yes, but it's a Wag heat... Asks:

Hey Stacey, I had an idea to possibly move some copies of your book. Do you remember that guy in Bisbee who made a book and opened the One Book Book Store down there? You could do that! Just get one of those cheap store fronts of 6th Avenue and go to it. You could have a giant replica of the book in the window and sit in the store in air conditioned comfort and sign people's copies of the books and answer questions and all that. Or would that just seem sad and desperate?

Stacey answers:

That seems sad and desperate but I like sad and desperate.

Jul 10, 2007; MaGillacuddy Asks:

Speaking of work, do you have any thoughts on the teaching/writing balance? I know Steven King said that he never wrote less than when he was teaching. Have you taught? Would you teach? Are we adjuncts suckers?

Stacey answers:

I've taught enough to know that I don't much like teaching. This is because I put a lot of energy into it and then I'm unhappy because my students don't do what I tell them to do, though I do like being called Professor Richter. Yes, you adjuncts are suckers. If you were day manager at McDonald's you'd make more $ and get free food--plus life-fodder for your art. So you should quit and go do that.

Jul 09, 2007; Palmsweat Asks:

Stacey, Do you have a day job? What is it? What was your day job right after you graduated from college? What day job do you recommend for a lost little writer, feverishly clutching her diploma, in a world filled with job opportunities in SALES but none in writing down dreamy-dreams?

Stacey answers:

I don't have a day job but my family has a business that I'm involved in that basically subsidizes my writing career. Right after I graduated from college I had a series of mind numbing clerical jobs too boring to list. How's about you try to get a job as a newspaper reporter? You don't always need a journalism degree for that and I know of a couple of people who did that right out of college. You might even get to write obituaries for people who aren't dead yet. That's sort of like writing dreamy-dreams.

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