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Q and A

Mar 21, 2013; Tom Asks:

I agree, Carson McCullers would probably not be such a great mom in the traditional sense, but her kid would be sitting pretty to write an interesting memoir. So, and here comes the obvious follow-up question, if Denis Johnson and Carson McCullers had a kid, who would it be?

Stacey answers:

Well, that's an unlikely pairing. But I can't resist a challenge. Maybe Joy Williams?

Mar 16, 2013; Jello Bunny Asks:

Have you ever loved or admired en episodic narrative television program?

Stacey answers:

I have loved Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Wonder Falls (which is only available on video I believe); I liked Sex and the City but felt guilty about it. I also really liked The Wire but became what may have been clinically depressed from watching season four so still haven't watched season five.

If I could ever steal someone's HBO Go, I'm sure I'd find a lot more shows to love and admire. I might even marry one.

Mar 14, 2013; Lorax Asks:

What kind of pie is best to eat on Pi day?

Stacey answers:

Lemon cream.

Mar 14, 2013; Tom Asks:

Do you really dream that Denis Johnson is your father? I dream that Carson McCullers is my mother.

Stacey answers:

He had a father-figure role in a dream but was not my literal father. I think it's the same though I love that Carson McCullers was your mother-mother. Such a great dream mother! Not a good life-mother though, I'd have to say.

Mar 10, 2013; Sort of dying Asks:

Thanks, Stacey. Sorry for the typos - I was on my phone and all riled up.

Stacey answers:

You're welcome. I'm glad I could be there in your time of crisis.

P.S. If you feel like it, email me &let me know when your story comes out so I can read it.

Mar 09, 2013; Sort of dying Asks:

Hi Stacey. I got a story accepted at kind of a big magazine - my first real one - they sent me the galleys to approve and I think they over-edited. Some of my sentences may have been a little weird but I chose them on purpose. I'm ending up putting stuff back and I guess I'm going to say that I felt like too much of the tone was lost. There are some structural changes I'm not going to argue with though. Is this how this is done? Am I being an asshole? I think I may be working with a more junior editor and I think he overdid his job. A few of the changes feel arbitrary and dumb. It's taking me hours to sift through 3 pages, mostly because I can't decide if I'm being dumb and stubborn or if I'm just standing up for the story's original intent. Have you ever had this happen? It's hard. What do you do? Also, my response is due Monday at noon so if you get a chance to answer before then - I think I'd be relieved. And I'd appreciate it. Thanks.

Stacey answers:

Dying, hello. I edited your question for a little for typos, by the way. I just want to start with that. Now: congratulations! That's so great that your story is going to be in a big magazine! It sounds like your editor is sticking to the rules of his favorite style guide; grammar is nice but you don't want rules to take precedent over art. If you feel like your story is becoming bland through editing, then that's too much editing. Honestly, a three-page story probably shouldn't have a lot of big changes. I would wonder about the structural changes myself--I mean, in three pages, how much change can there be before it's a different story? They don't want a different story--they want this one. So stand up for your work, yes, yes. No, you are not being an asshole. In fact, it's your job to do this. You are the intimate holder of your artistic vision, and you have to communicate that vision.

And you know what? It's not a big deal. If the editors disagree, they'll just tell you and argue for the change--that's what they do all day long. It's their job. It's extremely common. It happens all the time. And actually, it can be good--sometimes even great--to argue changes with a perceptive editor. She might change your mind and help you see something more clearly. Or the two of you might find a third way that's even better. This is why talking on the phone can be helpful, even if you would rather vomit hairballs than talk on the phone to an editor. It won't take long, and they'll be nice. That's part of your job too.

So here's what you do: on the red line, just write "stet" beside the things you want to keep. You can add, "for rhythm" if you want, or "for style," but you don't have to. If you have doubts about the structural changes, or any other changes, you can write, "okay/maybe, but I have doubts about this. Can we discuss?" Dying, believe me, this is not assholey. This is normal and expected. You want your story to be as good as possible and the editor wants the same thing. It's normal give-and-take. So say what you're thinking! Put that jello-brain of yours in the fridge and let those bunny shapes firm up.

Mar 07, 2013; Tom Asks:

Hi. Thanks for the reply concerning David Foster Wallace. I am currently reading Infinite Jest and though I am enjoying it I really don't know what to make of some of it. I've read his first novel, The Broom Of The System and a few of his short stories. Here's the thing, in my opinion Mr. Wallace was a good writer but not the best story teller. Does that make sense to you? What I enjoy are his observations and insights. Any progress on your Pulitzer winning Pirate novel?

Stacey answers:

Why did I not answer this? I'm so sorry that I let this languish for months. For some reason I missed it and just saw it now, as I was paging back through some previous answers and thinking I have to reformat this fucking blog-like-blob thing. As for your question, I think you're probably right but still haven't read enough DFW to comment intelligently. I should at least read Infinite Jest (I have it on my Kindle now, at least). A lot of writers are good writers but kind of eh as story tellers. Sometimes, as a reader, it's hard not to wish the eh writers had a little more forward momentum; at other times, the writing itself is exciting enough to keep you going. I think the thing that draws so many people to David Foster Wallace's work is the feeling that his writing speaks the language of their own inner thoughts--full of digressions, grandiosity, humiliations, and absurdities. But perhaps I speak from my ass, as they say. When and if I read more, I'll try to revisit your question.

Feb 21, 2013; Stumpo Glumpo McBumpo Burpy Durp Asks:

Stacey, this is a true story. I only mention that because it is true. The true story is that I had a dream about you. A fun dream. You found out that I was writing to you in your cool Q and A forum. You knew how I was, for reals. You knew my identity. And instead of thinking I was a creepy bastard, you thought I was hot for wanting to write to you. So you showed up at my place, and you had full temptress regalia. You had red lipstick, and thick eyeliner. You had your hair done up, and you wore a heart-burstingly red kimono that was loosely fit. I wasn't sure whether you wanted to seduce me or castrate me, but it did not matter because either way you had your target set on me, and that was flattering. I was in your radar, and that meant something. To be in your radar was an honor. But you did not arrive alone. You brought a friend. You and your best female friend were going to tag team my ass. My question is: Who was your friend? I already know who you are, but who is your seductress wingman? (Or wingwoman...) Do you have a female friend who shares your mindset, your lusts and afflictions and ironies and saucy sauciness? Who is your BFF? What is the best female counterpart you have ever had, and please do tell me, have you ever been in a threesome? Or is it only in my erotic and possibly emasculating dreams?

Stacey answers:

I'm so retarded, Stumpo. I'm sorry I didn't answer for so long. I forgot. Thank you for including me in your erotic dream, though I'm unsure if the dream actually progressed to the erotic stage. Did my friend and I really get to tag team your ass or were we just fixin' to? And how does that go, exactly? I know, you ask the questions here, but I need details. Not just to be salacious, though there's that, but because dreams have a way of cramming meaning in around the edges. What strikes me in yours is the redness, which is erotic and also associated with wounding. Also important is the triangle (girl-girl-boy), since this is a dream about creativity. Creativity, there is an abundance of it, but the abundance is threatening as well as thrilling. You might have several different kinds of creative work pulling you in different directions. Wait, did you ask me to interpret your dream? Yes? Okay, good.

Jung would say that when a man dreams about a woman, he's dreaming about his own subconscious creative force. I don't always agree but in this case I do--since I'm a writer and you're probably one too, and I'm probably older and more published than you are, and anyway I have a website and I am the queen of it. This pattern, of having a dream about a creative mother/father of the opposite sex, is very common among artists. It's a Luke-I-Am-Your-Father dream, and what it tells you is how you regard your own work on a subconscious level. Stumpo, your work threatens you. It may even seem to endanger your physical integrity, the way love can make you feel as though you might dissolve in it. Certainly you have a feeling that it may take something away from you. That's awesome! Thank you for making me your artistic mother. In my own version of the dream, my father was Denis Johnson. Hi, Dad!

Feb 20, 2013; Lauren Asks:

Hi Stacey, have you ever been asked something personal that made you feel uncomfortable? I realize posting this on your Q & A page, as a precursor to requesting advice regarding my own experience, might come across as a bit cheeky- if not oblivious or stupid. But I assure you I'm just curious if you've ever received an email/text/message/direct line of questioning that made you feel the air go out of your lungs or some other sensation of strangeness/impropriety. And also I was wondering how you handled it.

As an aside, I have this idea of you in my mind, as a smart talking Chandler-esque femme fatale- the looks of Bacall and the mouth of Bogey- delivering quip, no bullshit repartee. Which means occasionally I try to channel you. Thank you! Anyway- the other day I got a message from a friend-of-a-friend asking me about my ex-boyfriend and if her friend should date the guy. But she also asked if rumors she'd heard about our relationship, i.e. that he was abusive, were true. It was probably the most tactless message I've ever received and the fact that it was sent over facebook makes some part of me want to shrivel up.

It brought up plenty of unpleasant emotion, in large part because my ex was a nightmare. He was an alcoholic. We met when he was "working the steps" and he spoke to me of a conviction to change. I found out 6 months in that he had begun drinking again, in secret, and throughout the duration of our two year relationship we cycled through a pattern of drinking, lying, fighting, repentance, sobriety; rinse, repeat. He was a Jekyll and Hyde, really gentle and fun sober. Belligerent and mean drunk. In the worst argument we had- he slapped me, pushed me to the floor where my knees dug into broken glass, and began to choke me. It was the only instance of actual physical aggression, although he was frequently intimidating. To this day, two years later, I have no idea how I got there. To that particular moment.

I wish I could say that after that I packed up all my things and never spoke to him again. But it wasn't till a few months later when I found evidence of infidelity that I finally found it in me to end things. We stopped talking. A month or so later he called, made intimations of suicide. I told him to never contact me again and we haven't had any interaction since. So when I get this clipped message, asking for "advice/confirmation" I can't help but feel blindsided. All day I've had this kind of psychic shock about me. I can't quite decide how to respond, or if I should at all.

I feel pulled in a few directions- I never want what happened to me to be visited upon anyone else. I think I'd feel terrible if anyone were to be harmed by him after asking me advice. But I also know that the actions of my ex are in no way my responsibility. And it has taken me a very long time to be able to say that: I am not responsible for him or for any of his choices. I can't intervene and warn and protect him or anyone else from his drunk behavior. It is not my job.

Of course, if this girl is really concerned about her friend getting involved with him- I'm not going to be the one to say "Go for it!".But I also don't think it's the place of an ex to really weigh in on these things. There were many instances when, in the course of dating someone, I'd have loved to have had the ex on the line to ask advice. But you can't really do that, or you shouldn't. Also, there are certainly days when I'd relish a chance to run his name through the mud, I even once looked up the Statute of Limitations. But lately, I can't really be bothered. I can see how dysfunctional it all was- his behaviors as well as mine. I was totally lost.

I also think it's significant to say that I'm still afraid of him, of the retribution he might seek if he were to find out that I was warning his potential lovers off. He is someone that hurt me deeply, and to discuss these matters with his potential future lovers (even by proxy) means I risk it as well- bringing people back into my life I've, at a great emotional cost, extracted. I'm also on some level surprised by the lack of sensitivity displayed by the friend-of-a-friend writing me. The history of that relationship comprises one of the most difficult narratives of my adult life. I fought against someone's slow-suicide by alcohol, became a complete co-dependent, got knocked around and cheated on, and finally- for fuck's sake- got free of it. But then to have it blithely brought up over facebook??

Stacey, do you think there's a right thing to do here?

Stacey answers:

Dear Pantaloony,

Of course! I've been asked many things that have made me uncomfortable or angry or sad, and been commented on in ways that have made me paranoid and enraged, and I rarely handle it with well-placed wisecracks (though thank you for using me in your empowering image). You may be relieved to know that no one does, at least not all the time, because when you're really uncomfortable, you're having mixed feelings and mixed feelings are paralyzing. Usually I feel a split between what I believe I should say and what I really feel, and this makes me act like a fourteen year-old on a job interview, docile and polite and vague, and that makes me ashamed. (Though someone taught me this surprisingly useful phrase, which I like a lot: "I'm not sure. Let me think about that.")

I sense that your mixed feelings are stopping you from figuring out how to respond, so here are some ideas. Not answering is a very good response. Answering but evading is also good. A little tartness plus evading might make you feel happy too. You can say, "Are we checking references for boyfriends now? I didn't get the memo." You can say, "OMG, he put me off men completely. Is your friend cute?" If you feel generous you could simply say, "He has anger issues." You can say, "I thought he was married." You can say, "He was an asshole," or, "I did break up with him." Or you can say, "I'm pretty sure your friend can figure it out herself," because she can. Or you can say, "My New Year's resolution was not to gossip, but if your friend really wants to know, she can call me herself."

She won't call, believe me. In the end, I don't think there's much chance of actually being helpful to the bachelorette. Probably, the friend-of-a-friend is going to date this guy no matter what you say. You are not the first strong, intelligent woman to have loved an asshole and you won't be the last. You can't know that a guy is a cheater and liar until he cheats and lies, and the people who flee early are not necessarily inherently kick-ass strong womenfolk as much as they are the relatives of scary people and have been through it all before. In other words, a girl's gotta learn about this kind of thing through experience. I don't think there's a right thing to do here, but I don't think there's a wrong one either. It may feel like you're in the spotlight, but in this particular drama you are actually a bit player.

Feb 07, 2013; Tom Asks:

Are you a fan of David Foster Wallace?

Stacey answers:

I'm neutral. I like some stuff I've read, some stuff seems to try my patience a bit. I think I need to read Infinite Jest in order properly answer your question, and I've been afraid to because it's big and you have to flip to the footnotes. BUT: Infinite Jest is now four bucks at the Kindle store AND I excel at accidentally reading very long books on Kindle! Also, you click the footnotes, the footnotes appear. Problem solved.

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