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Dear Stacey, I had a dream where you, me, Lynda Barry and Kelly Link went on a week-long bender which ended with us showing up at Joyce Carol Oates's compound and catching her herd of white persian cats and dying them with Manic Panic. At some point along the way we met Iggy Pop and Lou Reed, and you convinced me to buy a $60 bottle of wine (which I could NOT afford) in order to bed Iggy Pop more out of a sense of duty to rock n' roll than desire...because they're pretty old and crinkly now. But it turned out that Lou and Iggy were actually too old to get it up, and so the dream ended with a slightly shameful, unsatisfied feeling..... Also: why the hell does our culture reward super-depressing, boring art lacking a shred of a sense of humor or the joyous things in life? Do people actually enjoy that stuff? Are they getting something I don't? or do they just have no aesthetic sensibilities of their own and are throwing awards and reviews blindly at stuff that looks vaguely "arty" to them? Why does every oscar-winning film have to start out with children dying in car accidents?
Wow, Junior, what a great dream! I wish I could do those things in real life. I'd relish the cat-dying in particular. Iggy can get it up. I heard him tell Terry Gross on Fresh Air that he kept his physique fit by having a lot of sex.
Don't despair, JB, there's a lot of funny and well-rewarded art. How about George Saunders? Or David Sedaris, who's practically a rock star? But you're right, some people feel more like things are high quality when they're ponderous, especially when it comes to awards. Award-givers want to be sure that they're giving their prize to a book with true and lasting literary merit rather than something ephemeral. Somehow, somewhere in one of the backwaters of human nature, serious matters like tragedies and long winters and war and dead children have become associated with quality and merit for no particular reason. I think of this whenever I'm visiting someone's old, private library. I spent some time at Aaron Copland's house when a friend had a residency there and I was fascinated by his collection of contemporary novels--contemporary for Copland in the fifties. According to the jackets, all of the novels on his shelves were great American works on important themes and issues that would be read by future generations. The funny thing was that I hadn't heard of most of them. Or I had heard of them but didn't know anyone who still read those authors--he had a lot of Pearl S. Buck as I recall. It just shows that serious subject matter and "important" themes are not the only things people crave and remember in literature, and ponderous books have just as much chance as anything else to become, with the passage of time, ephemeral relics of fashion. But if you're on a prize committee, it probably feels a whole lot more normal to give a prize to Pearl S. Buck than to give it to Damon Runyon, to use some 1950's examples.
Hey Stacey, You said your mom hasn't read your book. How'd you arrange that? Do your parents usually read your stuff or do you have some sort of understanding with them? It seems many things in your stories (and my stories and in literature in general) aren't exactly mom-and-dad friendly.
I didn't arrange it, it just happened. The secret was not to say anything. If I'd asked her not to read it she would have been suspicious and devoured it. I know she did read some of it; she read "Velvet," the story I wrote for her and my sister based on the life of Peanut, the insane dog they had when I was growing up. My mother doesn't really read anything. She doesn't read the buttons on the microwave oven that say "timer" and "clear." I think she might have really bad reading glasses or a really mild case of something like dyslexia but she doesn't seem unhappy about it so I don't bug her.
Stacey...do you blog? I would love to read a blog written by you.
Hi Tagine. I don't have a blog, though I guess this Q and A has the potential to be blog-like if you or others ask me a lot of questions so that I can reply all the time about all the ways in which my shit is bananas. Frankly, I don't feel the urge to blog because I don't yet have an evil plan. If I ever devise a really good evil plan, I'd love to write a blog about it--since I could be sure it would have at least a whisper of a beginning, middle and end--but good evil plans are hard to come by. Otherwise I'm afraid it would be full of tedious details and lines like, "I feel incredibly gassy today."
Now that summer is with us, can you hand out any tips on bathing suit fashion? Is this going to be the summer of the tankini or the summer of the one piece? Also, which celebrities would you most like to see in tankinis?
I've been seeing a lot of skimpy bikinis in the magazines, but in swim wear, as in all fashion, I advise wearing whatever looks good on your frame. If that's a bikini, great. But if it's a diving bell, then that's fine too.
I would like to see Adam Levine of Maroon Five in a tankini. I'm totally fucking in love with that douche bag. Have you seen that airport video where he has his legs apart the whole time like Rick Springfield? And has no facial expression? It slays me.
How come a nifty writer such as yourself has so few reviews on Amazon? I looked up Twin Study and there were only four reviews and they all seemed fake. Also, I think you should write a novel about Pirates.
I like pirates in the sartorial sense, the eye patches and breaches and all, but brutality on the high seas isn't my bag. It's more likely I'd write a novel about someone writing a novel about pirates than writing about pirates themselves, and once a person get started on one of those self-referential spirals you know you're in for a long ordeal. Nevertheless, I will take your suggestion to heart, Papusa.
Here's a thought: why don't you write an Amazon review yourself? Or how about any of you nice questioners out there taking a stab! Go! For! It! I don't think they're all fake but one does appear to be written by my mother (it's not; I know this because my mother has not read my book; do you know how happy this makes me? Seriously.). But it is written by my friend Carolyn. She's read the book. But she hadn't at the time she wrote the Amazon review.
Have you read Wendy Brenner's stories? You two seem to approach stories with the same tactics. And you're both funny.
Previous question Dan, I've never even heard of Wendy Brenner. But I just checked Amazon and they have great titles. I'll look her up, thanks.
Howdy Stacey! I too have just broken the seal on my copy of "Twin Study" the same day that I got my new reading glasses. It was just strange sitting out on my back terrace with my glasses at the end of my nose reading your book and being transported by your wonderful work. One thing that really has tickled me about your book (so far) is that you threw in Hair Sperm! I thought that place would be long forgotten, but now it shall live forever! I'm also using for the first time the autographed bookmark that Nancy Cartwright gave me when she visited the set of "24." She gives out bookmarks that have the whole Simpson clan sitting in the living room reading books under the words "Read, man." Okay, I guess I should ask a question now... okay... any "firsts" for you lately?
Yes, Hair Sperm! I have a snapshot of the sign in my china cupboard. Hair Sperm was a Tucson hair salon called "Hair & Perm" but the sign said "Hair &perm." It makes a brief appearance in the title story of Twin Study. Apparently, now, when you get your hair cut in the building that used to be Hair Sperm (it's become Brio), they say, "Oh yeah, this place used to be Hair Sperm before Artie bought it and changed the sign." Gone but not forgotten.
I did have first just today, when I picked up Mutey for the first time and carried him. Mutey is a feral cat that lives on my porch and is slowly becoming more tame. There are all sorts of beautiful firsts with Mutey: the first meow (I thought he was mute, hence the name), the first time he didn't cringe in abject terror when he saw me, the first time he rubbed up against my legs, the first time he ate from my hand, the first time he let me pet him. He better watch out because the next one is going to be the first time I shove him in a box and take him to the vet.
Hey, Stacey! I hope you've been doing well. I cracked open "Twin Study/Story" last night and I'm already depressed about how good it is (sample thought of mine, "I'll never write that well. Mnuh." I had the same kind of thoughts reading Dybeck recently. So discouraging, even though I know it shouldn't be).
Anyway, I've got two questions for you. The first one is relevant, and second is almost completely irrelevant. Here we go!:
#1: Is there, or has there been, any author you find particularly painful or depressing to read because of how good they are? Like, it makes you ask yourself, "What am I doing trying to share a medium with this person?" And yes, I know, I know, I know that that thought is unfair and simplistic, and that great, daunting authors are also what inspire other writers, but I'm talking about the petty/human stuff right now. So, just to clarify: -If you have ever felt similarly, then answer me this: What writer(s) do you find so amazing, it makes you feel worse as a writer?
#2: What do you think about this Paris Hilton thing. It's probably beneath you to answer this question honestly, but I feel kind of elated about her being taken back to jail, sobbing, which then makes me feel guilty and ashamed of my overt Schadenfreude. Do you feel similary? Am I a bad, petty person?
Thanks for any insights.
Liam my lad. I'm surprised, considering that you're my #1 virtual fan, that you just now cracked open Twin Study, but I understand that you're a busy young man and must spend your valuable time in important pursuits like making whoopee etc. As for your first question: There are a lot of authors that are just so good that I can't even get depressed about how good they are. They seem like they're from a different planet than I am--like Kafka, I.B. Singer, Flannery O'Connor, Borges. But there's something about Denis Johnson's writing that can make me feel like I've been punched in the stomach. I love it so much, it's so truthful and dark, it follows strange emotional currents into unexpected places, but I think the thing that gets me is that it's just so intensely lyrical. That's a talent, pure and simple; it can't be practiced or learned, you have it or you don't. Sometimes I have it but usually I don't, and even when I have it, it's a random event beyond my jurisdiction, which is dispiriting.
Second question: Like everyone else on earth, I think Paris Hilton should go to jail because she was driving drunk and I think drunk drivers are terrifying and kill people and so should go to jail. But I find it hard to expend too much emotional energy on her since there's nothing interesting about her personality. The celebrity who fascinates me is Tom Cruise. He's charismatic, powerful, isolated, and utterly deluded, in the manner of someone who sits beside you on the bus and makes you want to change seats. It's the delusion I like best. He thinks there are creatures from another planet clinging to each of our bodies and that only he has dislodged them. It's just so great.
Did you write stories similar to your published ones when you were at Brown? (Did you like Brown?) Is any of your first book from your thesis? Thanks for reading my questions!
Well Dan, I'll tell you, all the stories I wrote at Brown were crappy. I didn't start writing fiction until about a year before I went off to get an MFA so I needed a lot of practice. The last time I tried to read that early work I became mortified and had have a stiff drink and a valium and some heroin and a pack of cigarettes and chant my mantra. None of the stories I wrote for my MFA thesis were ever published anywhere, thank God.
But if you're a young writer, don't let my experience discourage you. I wasn't really good at anything when I was in my twenties and a lot of people are. Look at John Updike, publishing Rabbit, Run at 24, or Jonathan Safran Foer, who published Everything is illuminated when he was 24--or was it 23? And then there's Zadie Smith, who published White Teeth at 25. Let's not forget Mary Shelley, who wrote Frankenstein at 19, and Mozart who a shitload of music before he died at 35, etc., though in my opinion there are more prodigies in music than in writing. Next chapter: late bloomers.
Stacey, can you explain what the deal is with the uncollected stories youhave links to on the other pages? Are those stories going to be in a book? If they aren't, why not?
Some of those stories are in various anthologies but I decided not to put them into my own collection because they didn't go with the other stories. Some are very, very short, and while I like very short stories it's hard to fit them into a collection unless you're a Donald Barthleme kind of writer. Also, a few of the uncollected stories didn't come out as well as I'd hoped. I might have put in one of them (The Minimalist) but I sort of forgot about it. Which isn't a good sign.