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Q and A

May 13, 2007; minny Asks:

Dear Wise-Stacey-One- i find i like to read q and a,(but maybe because i'll LEARN something) and reading interviews and biographys and memoirs...and even my own gmail threads over and over! tell me, is there already a genre of publishing that i don't know about or should i start my own, and publish EMAIL? Just the kind of tawdry, personal, tearjerker stuff that seems interesting or sensitive. not business mail or conversations about the weather. wouldn't that kind of non-fiction interest someone? the way love stories do or diaries do for some? of course being a non celebrity or politician, is this just narcissism to think other people would get off reading other peoples private letters? I guess it would take an editor to see if it has any entertainable merits or would appeal to anyone. & even though i called it non-fiction, really it is of course sometimes unguarded truth that later could be construed as lies.

Stacey answers:

Gee Minny, if you like to read interviews, maybe you would like to read the new one with me from the Portland Review that I just posted in the "Interviews" section? People definitely publish their letters, and I love Found Magazine, which publishes notes and letters that people have found lying around on the ground. I like the idea of an informal way to publish emails, since they're so informal, like a website--especially if you had a juicy subject matter, like maj jong or drunken roommates.

May 11, 2007; Luke G. Asks:

I keep checking this everyday and no one's asking any Qs anymore, so I figured I'd ask another one myself: How do you know when to end a story? How do you know how to end a story? How do you know if the ending you've written is any good? What if you can think of two (or more) endings that seem equally effective--should you then write a Choose Your Own Adventure story? I guess that's actually a bunch of questions about the same thing. Hope you don't mind.

Stacey answers:

Ask me as many as you want, Luke. End when something central in your story has changed irrevocably (often a character). Once the thing has changed, you can either stop right there or milk the aftermath in various ways (a popular one is when one of the characters realizes that something has changed; another is for a character to deny that something has changed, the fool).

Exactly how you end is up to you, but you may want to look at some of your favorite stories to see how they end--with description? A line of dialog? A shocking action? Snow falling faintly, faintly falling? If you're unsure about your ending or have two to choose from, then go back to the first paragraph and see which ending has the most to do with the beginning; the idea is to create a unified whole. I don't especially like the Choose Your Own Adventure option since the whole project of writing is to choose your own adventure--make up your mind, Luke!

Finally, you may go to your grave without knowing if your ending is any good; it may help to know what you believe in, since most stories, finally, communicate a kind of belief system. I'm not sure exactly what I mean by that...

May 04, 2007; Rejection Collection Asks:

Hi Stacey, I'm really enjoying your answers to writing-life type questions, and wondered if you had one for this one: What if you're still being rejected? What if you went to the good school and your peers and some teachers and writers you respected (maybe even Stacey Richter herself) told you that your stuff is worthwhile, and to keep working on it, and you've done that and you've plugged away and filed the encouraging-rejection-notes and thrown out less than a hundred but more than 50 not-so-encouraging-rejection notes and still -- no one takes your work, it seems possible that no one will ever take your work, and you're frankly starting to get depressed about the whole thing? What if you're wondering if it's time to sell out and go into marketing and buy a golden retriever -- even though that kind of life sounds pretty dull and empty? Oh, and you're now officially ankle deep into your thirties? What then? A simpler way to say this might be, what if you don't want to throw in the towel yet but are getting seriously bummed out by the rejection notes? Or a less simple question might be, how do you deal? I could go on with different phrasing and angles but you get the idea.

Stacey answers:

Uh, well, this probably isn't what you want me to say RC, but I don't see what's so great about being a writer, exactly. I'm not sure there are that many other jobs in this world that are so hard, so competitive, and pay so badly. Even writers who publish a lot usually have other jobs, so why not try marketing or something? You don't have to stop writing because you're a marketer; in fact you never have to stop writing. You never have to stop sending stuff to magazines, and you never have to make excuses for devoting your time to it. It's your life, and if writing means a lot to you, then it means a lot to you no matter who publishes your work. What writing means to you and what the world does with it are not the same. But you should keep sending things out. 50 encouraging rejections is a lot of rejection but it's also a lot of encouragement. Ask your friends to give you feedback on your work. Ask your writing group.

P.S. Yes, it's great to make something you consider beautiful, it's great to have your say, it's wonderful to make something that becomes larger in a way you didn't intend--but it's also very good to be paid an amount that corresponds to your intelligence, to sock money away for your old age, to have health insurance. I got an MFA. No one talked about the economics of writing there. So, I just want to let you all know: the economics of writing are not good.

Everyone should have a golden retriever.

May 04, 2007; Luke G. Asks:

Hi, Stacey, I submitted a story to a small online journal and it was accepted. The problem is, days before my story is scheduled to appear, it seems that maybe the editor has abandoned post and jumped a plane to Mexico (or so a cryptic note on his blog would suggest). The worst part is, after I had given the story to said online journal, it was accepted by a print journal. I did the honorable thing and turned them down, as I had already promised the piece to the (now possibly deadbeat) small online journal. And now it's too late to go crawling back to the print journal! This was to be my first ever published story and I am terribly upset about it. Any advice/words of comfort? I really need them.

Stacey answers:

Luke, you must write the online journal and if possible CALL them and find out what's going on. Google the editor and get his phone number. The story belongs to you and you have every reason to be concerned about it! If you don't hear back after a couple of weeks, write them a note that says they're not allowed to publish it anymore. Then send it to the print journal again and explain that the first magazine folded, and confess that you like their magazine better anyway, and say how you hope they still can run it. Good luck!

May 04, 2007; expatriation? Asks:

I just saw 300 and it hurt my soul.

Stacey answers:

You have a soul?

May 03, 2007; Murple Asks:

Stacey, I am jealous of other writers, particularly other writers that I am friends with who are, like, being published. Any tips on how to keep jealousy from negatively affecting you?

Stacey answers:

Wow, these questions are so good! Murple, everyone who isn't a zen master feels like that to some degree. So as it happens, yes, I have a whole list of tips to keep jealousy from negatively affecting you:

1. Jealousy is usually accompanied by a competitive feeling, and that can be energizing and positive. "If she can do it, so can I!" a person thinks. And then that person works even harder. This is how the males of the species handle jealousy/competitiveness, and one of the reasons why they still rule the world.

2. A person can remind herself that publishing, like life, is nothing like a game of musical chairs. If a friend does well it doesn't diminish the possibility that you will do well yourself; in fact, your friend is likely to help you out down the line; she might recommend your work to a magazine or nominate you for a prize. It could take a while until she's in a position to do this, but it happens all the time.

3. It might help to think of yourself and your friends as a school of writing, a group, an aesthetic movement, where the achievements of one reflect on the whole. This, too, really happens all the time in the real world. ("That talented bunch from the Iowa Writer's Workshop!") Honestly, the more famous your friends become (and they might even become famous), the more likely you are to benefit from association. Their success is good for you, Murple!

4. And finally, the truth is, someone is going to get published/have their book made into a movie/win the National Book award--wouldn't you rather that it was your friend than some schmo? If your friends do fabulous things, then you become a person with fabulous friends. Jealousy is normal, it's not going to go away, but if you can keep it from becoming a toxic force in your life, then you can have talented, beautiful, brilliant, rich, fortunate, successful friends. That sounds even better when we note that the alternative is hanging around with people who skew to the uninspired, the boring, the bitter, etc.

May 02, 2007; Tangled up in Humbert Asks:

Stacey, how do I disentangle my voice from yours/ Lynda Barry's/ Nabokov's/ Faulkner's/ Woolf's etc. etc.? Everything I write has this stiffness which is me trying to be like the authors I really love and admire. But I think I'm done imitating now. Any advice on how to get other authors' cadences out of your head?

Stacey answers:

This may seem ass-backwards, Tangled, but I think if you can find your own true-love subject matter then your voice will follow. There's a strange temptation in this world to write about things that are uninteresting or flat. For instance, those women-by-a-lake books that other writers do so well: why can't I write one? But the truth is that I have no feelings for large bodies of water, no knack for intergenerational sagas, no skill at describing nature. I used to try to write about all kinds of things that I found boring; I did it because these subjects seemed worthy somehow, or I enjoyed the way other writers did it. It was only when I finally admitted what ideas and images preoccupied me--plagues, Mormons, Barbies, drunks, misanthropes, tarts, mullet guys--that I felt at home with my own thoughts. And once you tap into the language of your own thoughts, you may find that they're so loud and so omnipresent that other people's voices automatically recede.

Let me know if that doesn't work and I'll think of something else.

Apr 30, 2007; Heffalump Asks:

I wrote a story, my mom read it, now she's mad. What do I do?

Stacey answers:

Okay Heffalump, here's what you do: Laugh, tell her it's fiction, FICTION, then remind her of some really rotten thing she did when you were a kid. Preferably something totally inexcusable, and if there's a sexual aspect it's even better because what people are really afraid of is being embarrassed. Promise her you'll never, ever write about it. She'll think she got off easy. And don't forget Mother's Day, May 13th.

Apr 29, 2007; Liam from MySpace Asks:

Hey, Stacey.
I just read your response to the "Arcade Fire vs. Modest Mouse" question, and although I was a little disappointed you didn't declare your affection for Modest Mouse who are way more awesome than AF (just one man's opinion), your reference to Julie London put a question in my mind: Is "makin' whoopee" still an acceptable euphemism for sex? I mean, I know this is obviously subjective, but how do you, Stacey "The Hedgehog's Advocate" Richter think a lady would react nowadays if the gentleman pursuing her suggested to her that they ought to engage in some raucous "whoopee-makin'"? Especially if said couple are in their twenties or thirties or so? I could see some women thinking that that phrasing is cute and playfully naughty in its own antiquated way. While I could see other women thinking that that is too old-timey and weird, and getting a little creeped out by it. Is it too subjective to even conjecture about? Please give me some advice before I potentially make a fool out of myself................. again.

Stacey answers:

Wow. Tough question, Liam. I advise that you use the phrase "making whoopee" sparingly, and only with ladies you know well. While whimsy and cuteness are charming, they're not actually sexy, and therefore they're unlikely to help you close the deal. The best scenario I can imagine is one in which you put the song on the stereo, look at the little lady, and wink. Creepy? Yes. But maybe creepy in a good way.

I strongly advise you to avoid the inverted version "whoopee making" altogether.

Apr 27, 2007; cancercausesreality Asks:

Wow! I just read your story "Christ, Their Lord" in the Tucson Weekly. You are really some good writer. You made me laugh and when you put in the part about why artists make art--"...To say all the things that have such power but sound so tame when we say them flat out: that we want love. that we're lonely...that we're afraid we're in the process of wasting our lives." Oh, man! Do I hear you! I gotta read all your stuff. Nobody is interested in mine. I just now found that out after all these years of faking myself out. Isn't that a strange way to get through life? I never met such a cool person as you in Tucson.

Stacey answers:

Thanks! That's nice to hear. To answer your question, yes, that is a strange way to get through life, but I'm sure you're not the first.

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