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Q and A

Feb 15, 2010; One Who Wonders Asks:

Fine, maybe I'm not the greatest writer on earth, maybe I'm a little raw, but I'm not totally pathetic. My teachers say I'm good and my writing group is always impressed by my imagination and depth and verve and stuff. But everything I write is always soundly rejected without even a tiny, scrawled note of encouragement. It wouldn't be so bad, but I know other student writers who seem less accomplished than I am and they sometimes get encouraging notes. Do I just suck?

Stacey answers:

Hi One.

It doesn't sound like you just flat-out suck. You've been encouraged and that's encouraging. But it's possible that the editors you're sending your work to are not really reading it very carefully. Maybe they're not reading it at all. I will now tell you how to get an editor to read your story, so listen up. There are two things you must do. First, write a friendly, engaging, and brief cover letter. Include your accomplishments, if you have some yet, and be yourself, unless you are an asshole, and then try to imitate someone you know who's charismatic and charming. But be brief. Brief. And nice. And friendly and personable. "Dear Nice Editor, I love your magazine. I especially loved the story by Stacey Richter that you published. I'm just starting out as a writer but I'm getting an MFA at U of Uranus. Honestly, I thought this latest story of mine kicked ass, and I wanted you to read it. Here it is. Love, OWW."

The second thing you must do is send your piece in proper manuscript format. This may seem stupid but it's extreeemely important. What this means, among other things, is that you will start your story halfway down the first page. You will double-space. You will include page numbers and a title. A title. A title. Double space. Google "proper manuscript format" for more tips. Otherwise, you will look like an amateur and will be treated as one. A lot of people are offended by this, but it's just a rule, like proper grammar, that helps distinguished the experienced and educated from the beginners/outsiders/whatevers. So give it a try and tell me how it goes.

Feb 08, 2010; Stalkingston Asks:

Wait - do you know Daniyal Mueenuddin? Does he care if you give out his address?

Stacey answers:

No, I don't know him. I got his email address by googling "Daniyal Mueenuddin email," which brought me to his website, where his email address is listed. So I'm not really being wicked, I'm sad to say.

Jan 26, 2010; Kerem Asks:

Hey Stacey I currently live in Istanbul, Turkey and am studying writing, but am thinking of getting master in creative writing somewhere in America. Do you think it will be useful, even if it's in a language I won't be writing in? Thanks, see ya

Stacey answers:

Hi Kerem,

Thanks for asking! I have two answers. One is yes, if you're especially interested in American culture, the English language, and think you can find a teacher you might really connect with somewhere, or just want to get out of Instanbul for a while.

My second answer is I have no idea, since I hardly ever leave my house. Why not ask the author of the wonderful book In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, Daniyal Mueenuddin? I bet he would know. Here's his email:

Jan 13, 2010; Trixie Yogurtson. Asks:

Who is your favorite music artist these days? Genre? Album? Band?

Stacey answers:

I like super-pop music, especially anything with a lot of clapping and/or cowbells that you could cheerlead to, such as "Sour Cherry" by the Kills, or even "Play that Funky Music" by Wild Cherry. I always love the vocal music of the past; Julie London is still a big favorite. Lately I've been listening to a Miles Davis Pandora station, which is practically Muzak. It plays softly in the background and gives my home a shopping mall atmosphere. I really like "I Decided" by Solange Knowles. She is pretty.

Jan 10, 2010; friend Asks:

How long is 6 months? Is there a way to make time go by faster?

Stacey answers:

Six months is a medium-long time, my friend, and the length of time it is varies by how old you are. If you're three years old, six months is a very, very, very long time. If you're 103 years old, it's also a very long time, but in a totally different way. If you're, say, 24 years old, it's an amount of time that will seem long while it's happening, maybe even long enough to change your life (school, religion, romance, friends), but when it's over, it will seem like a short time. It's a short amount of time for any big project, such as writing a novel or growing out your bangs.

Yes, there are some ways to make time go by faster. One way is to have a really good time or to be really happy. If there's an activity you enjoy, like knitting legwarmers, it might help time progress. Sometimes sleeping a lot helps on the day-by-day level. Moving or traveling tends to make time speed up a little, even if you're a miserable traveler. Being in a coma probably erases time, but I don't think anyone is certain about that. There are a lot of interesting passages on this subject in Joseph Heller's great novel, Catch 22. Reading great books also helps time speed by.

But in the end, friend, time passes quickly enough. I don't know what happens in six months, but there's a lot to see on the way. You might be as surprised or excited or pleased by the glitter in the interim as you are by the fireworks at the end.

Dec 25, 2009; Madam Meh Asks:

How come Christmas sometimes makes a person sad?

Stacey answers:

It makes many people sad. I'm sure you're familiar with the Christmastime suicide spike. There are a couple of reasons for this:

Family gatherings are often hellish, and if they're not hellish, they can be weird or fraught or spiked with unpleasantness or covered with a haze of disappointment. Even if the gathering is okay, it probably doesn't live up to the cinnamon glow of holiday car commercials. Advertising exists to make us feel hollow and bad about our lives. That way, we'll shop more in an attempt to FILL THE HOLE. But advertising works so well that it's hard to perceive what's happening. Overall, it just seems like other people are having a better time than we are, and that's a sucky feeling.

Also, at this time of year, the short days and long nights fuck with some people's heads in a biological way, making them feel sad.

Dec 23, 2009; Ruben Grey Asks:

On the topic of cavemen (cavefolks?) and their intellectual lives, have you read "on the origins of consciousness in the breakdown of the bicameral mind," or pondered the theses contained in that book? What is your favorite breed of dog?

Stacey answers:

I haven't read it, though I am a bit familiar with the idea because I've been reading a lot of books about consciousness lately. And, even though I was woken up last night by a strange and loud auditory hallucination, I find Julian Jaynes's thesis unconvincing. He says that until 3000 years ago, humans had a sort of split right brain/left brain consciousness which caused them to experience ideas and inspirations as actual voices from outside themselves, much as schizophrenics hear Elvis or Satan or strange tones in the middle of the night today. Consciousness as we experience it now is a cultural construction. I should read the book before I argue against it, so this isn't an argument, but I just think that we are basically like our ancestors in most of the general ways, just as we are all basically like one another in most ways, even if we were raised in the rain forest instead of a city. I think Jaynes doesn't quite get the idea of a metaphor. But maybe I should read the book.

My favorite breed of dog is the sheltie. Is Santa bringing me one?

Dec 04, 2009; ryan Asks:

Hi Stacey, I recently started writing again after a long absence from it and am having trouble getting started back with it. I have certain themes and issues that I want to explore but am having difficulty in finding a starting point.

What exercises have been helpful for you in overcoming difficulty in writing? The most common answer that I've seen for this has been "Just start writing" but it does seem that if I were able to "just start" then I wouldn't have had to "just ask", when I've tried that method it comes out in a stream-of-consciousness style that doesn't really help in forming a structured narrative, kind of how this sentence became one huge run-on sentence rather than being a concise statement of why the most common suggestion hasn't proved helpful to me. Thank you for any ideas that you have! I hope that you're having a nice day!

Stacey answers:

Hi Ryan. Okay, well, two things. Thereís only one exercise I like, and thatís describing people and places and recounting bits of interesting conversation that float past, because so much of writing is about noticing things. One way to do this is when the places/people are in front of you; another is to do it a little later. You may think this is pointless and boring. The trick is to make it not boring by injecting your own view of the world into what you see, so that someone is not 5 foot 8 inches tall with brown eyes and a side part, but rather looks like your Uncle Henry, with the same self-preening air and overpuffed physique of a middle-aged gym rat. It doesnít have to be quite that complicated, the aim is to get it to feel natural and therefore enjoyable. This exercise can help your writing in two ways. First, it helps you create characters, or pieces of characters, and it sounds like you need some characters. Second, it helps get you out of your head and into the world, since so many people who like to write are in fact very observant, but with the introvertís knack of observing their internal states at the expense of everything else. Sometimes these people end up writing stories where solitary characters wander around ruminating to themselves, and while maybe this isnít the worst thing in the world, itís nice to have a few more choices.

This brings me to the other thing that will help you write a structured narrative: before you even sit down at your keyboard, see if you can think of two characters (or more) who will interact with each other, but who donít want the same thing. Thatís really it. I always find it more productive to start with characters who are in some sort of a situation with each other than to start with themes and issues. Themes and issues might be too abstract to get you going! And anyway, they have a way of soaking into a narrative on their own, without much effort, once you start. Iím not sure how this happens. It has something to do with the subconscious.

Nov 26, 2009; Wag Asks:

Hi Stacey! Happy Thanksgiving? Love, Wag.

Stacey answers:

Thanks! Happy Thanksgiving? to you too.

Nov 08, 2009; hey Asks:

do they have condoms for women

Stacey answers:


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