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Q and A

May 28, 2007; Just me, Wag. Asks:

Hi Stacey. Today on CNN.com I saw a story about a book store owner in Kansas City, Missouri who was trying to thin out his back stock by donating much of his surplus to libraries and thrift stores. Much to his surprise he was almost universally turned away. So he had a book-burning to protest what he sees as society's diminishing support for the printed word. He said that not reading a book is the same as burning it. How do you feel about this?

Stacey answers:

I feel really good about it. I'm hoping that most of them are the promotional copies of Twin Study that come up for sale on Amazon for $7.95 that I keep buying in fits of terrible rage.

May 22, 2007; Paul Hood Asks:

Your Question Dear Stacey, I wrote a story like this once, all in advice Q&A's. But that's not my question. My question is: what's the future of the book?

Stacey answers:

Paul! Hi! Do you mean, like, what is the future of the book in American culture? Will literature remain a vital art and all that? Here's my answer to that: I think the book will remain but become increasingly marginal to mainstream American culture. People love reading, and new times need new stories, but books have to compete with other, meretricious, light-emitting sources of entertainment that respond to our glances and clicks like a perfect mother while the book just lies there like a lump of coal.

Or did you mean to ask what is the future of my latest book, Twin Study? Twin Study will be overlooked for many years, but will eventually have a constellation named after it.

Or did you perhaps mean to ask what is the future of the novel, a kind of book? I think the novel is in trouble in America. My theory, since you asked, is that Americans experienced a sort of group trauma on September 11th that left us with a low-grade anxiety exacerbated by the absurdity of the war in Iraq. As a response, people have become obsessed by information, because if you have enough information (says the lizard-mind) how can you be surprised by something shocking like a terrorist attack? Therefore we as a society have become obsessed with news and information; the Times even seems to have stopped reviewing fiction, for the most part, and in an unscientific survey I keep overhearing people talking about how they only read non-fiction. The collective logic goes like this: non-fiction is serious, it has value, it's not ambiguous, it makes sense, information makes sense, unlike a terrorist attack or the war on Iraq, neither of which make sense. So, people have turned to information to shore up their sense that the world is a place that can be comprehended and controlled, and therefore are not reading as many novels (the internet facilitates this search for information).

Sure, we all want to escape too, but even our national escapist fantasies have the tinge of information on them, as the "news" reports about Paris Hilton's jail time shows. Granted, we all love it when a slutty robot heiress goes to jail, but that event was scrutinized with such passion that it occurs to me that this is another way not to think about the senselessness of the violence of the last six years. Fiction seems to be just what people don't want now. It's not true, it's made up, so how can it make us safe? And if it's any good, it probably has too much emotional resonance and intelligence to really function as an escape from the idiocy and threat of reality. There's even a possibility, while reading fiction, of encountering a dramatic example of the empty absurdity we're all so sick of, and overwhelmed with, in real life--and then what? There's not even a myth of mastery there, like there is when reading information, because while we humans may mistakenly believe that enough information will make us safe, no one believes that enough imagination will. The only thing that's really working for all the people all the time are the Harry Potter books, which are wonderfully escapist but since they're meant for children, people are willing accept them as something outside of the flow of information. Kids need imagination, the reasoning goes, grown-ups need facts. (Of course, as it turns out, parents love the Harry Potter books just as much as their kids). Maybe if we had leaders that weren't so dedicated to absurdity, misinformation, power-grabbing, and tribalism, we could all relax enough to be able to tolerate ambiguity, and then people would start reading more fiction again. Am I saying that the novel is in trouble and that is is Bush/Cheney's fault? Yes I am. Rant concluded.

May 21, 2007; Waggamemnon Asks:

Dear Stacey, after ten years of living in Los Angeles and working in the film industry, I am contemplating moving back to Tucson, Arizona. However, I'm not really sure what line of work I could/should persue once I return. Do you have any suggestions for someone like myself with my level of schooling (very little) and my (very little) "real world" (ie non-Hollywood) experience?

Stacey answers:

Dear Waggamenmon,

Tucson has many wonderful opportunities in the fields of food service and landscape maintenance. If you want to improve yourself, it's also a great place to further your schooling. According to the commercials for Apollo College, you can get a degree in the intriguing, fast-paced field of "Doctor's Office." Positions are available immediately. We would love to have you back!

May 19, 2007; Pickles Asks:

Have you read the collection of stories by Patricia Highsmith called "Ordinary Tales of Beastly Murder", or something very close to that? A whole book of animal-point-of-view stories by an accomplished, if deeply creepy writer. Good stuff.

Stacey answers:

Pickles! No, but I keep meaning to read Patricia Highsmith so I'll check it out. I think she was deeply strange herself, which makes me even more interested.

May 19, 2007; Sylvia Sterne Asks:

Hi Stacy, remember me? I am Susan Sterne's mother. We live in Seattle now and would love to have you visit. Congratulations on the new book, I hope to get it soon. Maybe you can come here to promote it. I will take you to bookstores.

Stacey answers:

Hello Sylvia, of course I remember you! I'd love to come see you the next time I'm in Seattle. Thanks for dropping me a note.

May 17, 2007; Nancy Pantsy Asks:

What do you think of publishing under more than one name? Are there any stories out there that were written by you but attributed to Francesa Markelpump?

Stacey answers:

I always use my own name. I don't know anyone who doesn't, or even know of anyone who doesn't, except for Lemony Snicket. I can see the appeal of using a pseudonym if someone writes for both children or adults, or writes in two wildly different genres, like murder mysteries and language poetry. It could avoid confusion at the library catalog, not to mention shock and disappointment. Otherwise, I'm not sure I see the point, though it may be that I'm just bitter. If I could escape the name Stacey, I would escape the name Stacey. But I'm a Stacey.

May 16, 2007; # Asks:

Kafka's "The Burrow," about an OCD rodent would be an excellent addition.

Stacey answers:

Good choice.

May 15, 2007; Pretty Ballerina Asks:

You have written two wonderful stories (that i know of) about dogs. Do you plan to write more of those? Do you have favorite stories by other writers that have animals as protagonists, and if so, will you edit an anthology of stories about animals? I will buy it.

Stacey answers:

Hi Pretty. I love writing about dogs, and the animal-story anthology is in fact a fantasy project of mine. I haven't found enough stories for a book, but here's my mental list: "The Cat's Meow," by Wright Morris (a mid-century macho era writer often overlooked these days), excerpts from The Thin Place, by Kathryn Davis, which has some amazing chapters told from the point of view of a dog, and "Hawk," the heartbreaking essay by Joy Williams about the time her dog bit her, which I always thought was a short story. If anyone has other suggestions, I'd love to hear them.

May 15, 2007; Rabbi Shvitz Asks:

I read in one of your interviews that you recently surveyed the great mid-century American Jewish big shot macho guy writers (e.g. Bellow, Roth). What did you think?

Stacey answers:

Shvitzy, thanks for asking, and I wish I had more to report. I got distracted by Scandinavian writers and haven't finished my Mid-century Macho project yet. I just read some Bellow, a little Roth, and one Updike Rabbit book. All I can say so far is that I think those guys wrote about characters who are their alter-egos, and I'm amazed, awed, and a little sickened by that. There are even several passages in Herzog where Bellow slips from the third person to the first. So weird.

I'll try to revisit this answer later when I've read some more books.

May 15, 2007; MaGillacuddy Asks:

Hi Stacey, I just finished reading your story Duet -- I liked it a lot, you dealt with some themes there (talent and jealousy and art) that don't get treated in a ton of literature. I was also curious about this one: It seems to have a fairly different tone than a lot of the Stacey stories I'm used to reading. Were you aiming for something different here, or did you just sit down in a slightly different mood or do some things just pop out different than others? It seems like a variation somehow and I'm curious to hear if the writing it down part felt different.

Stacey answers:

I think the main difference you're responding to, MaGillacuddy, is that the story is written in the third person while almost everything else I publish is in the first. Yes, I was aiming to do something different; I wanted to write in a more standard, novelistic, third-person voice because I can now, after practicing for years, since I naturally suck at it.

I also decided that a story about Julliard-trained string players would work better in the third person, since that kind of narrative seems more conservative to me. I don't think I could have pulled it off in the first person anyway, since I have no idea what goes on in the heads of people with boundless self-discipline.

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