Ask me a questionPost a question to the QnA section by using the form below.
Q and A
Dear Stacey, this upcoming week I am reading a story aloud to my Toastmasters group. I had wanted to do either My Date With Satan or The Ocean (my two favorites) for this particular project. However, due to time constraints, I have opted to read the first half of Rats Eat Cats. I know you like to leave much of the interpretation to your readers, but any insight that might help me deliver your story as intended would be most welcome.
Wow Morgan, Toastmasters. That's awesome; I'm literally in awe. Wow. I bet you've seen some things, I bet you've heard some things. I'm glad you asked about how to deliver the story. Your own interpretation is fine, but that particular story is actually meant to be read in one of two voices: either a monotone robot voice, like a demented little boy would use to annoy his mother (sample dialogue: "I am a robot, I have no feelings and cannot process your request"), or in a super-high helium voice (sample dialogue: "wheeeee!; porno dialogue is also funny in this voice, or, perhaps, 'funny'"). The best way to do this is with a helium tank (that's how I have to do it) but some people can also do it naturally. Good luck!
What do you subscribe to? I'm not necessarily asking about literary magazines (that too) but in general? I ask because someone very cute and very snobby who I know recently implied that if you do not read the New Yorker weekly, you are somehow not with it at all. What do you read on a weekly basis?
Dear Marketing Department,
(Correction: I answered backwards yesterday: I assumed cute and snobby would NOT read the New Yorker because I am cute and snobby and do not read the New Yorker and apparently I am a raging narcissist, who also thought it was "cute and smug" rather than cute and snobby. Therefore, I apologized for supporting cute and snobby, but actually I do not support cute and snobby. Unless it's me. Though I don't really support myself either all of the time, like a lot of women, which sucks).
I don't read The New Yorker. I used to but I canceled my subscription after reading a long think-piece about the (then) new Gillette triple blade razor. But in support of The New Yorker, they do publish the occasional deeply truly amazing article/story/essay, like Donald Antrim's "I Bought A Bed," and Atul Gawande's "The Itch," which changed people's lives.
I also used to read Harpers Magazine until I got tired of all those unreadable forums, long articles about the end of the world/global warming, and the occasional long article that MADE NO SENSE AT ALL.
Then I read The New York Times for quite a while. I still do, but not as much, because I'm exasperated by how, like the New Yorker, they also publish the information in press releases as though they contain news (which once made me buy something that was a scam--long story), and I'm bummed by the softness of science in the Science section, and the tone can annoy me, and the book review doesn't review enough fiction, but I have to read something. I would like to read US Weekly because I am in danger of not knowing who Snookie is, and that would suck. But at this time, I do not read US Weekly.
I am cute and smug too I'm afraid. By the way, do you want a job as my actual marketing department?
Hi Stacey, My fiction class is reading My Date with Satan and it's my job to lead the class discussion on it. (loved it by the way) The most important item on the agenda is that I have to bring in a snack for the class during presentation. What do you think is the best snack to represent this story?
Oh Tonissa, I hope I'm not too late! I'm sorry. For some reason your question slipped through the cracks. The best snack to represent this story would be an assortment of Little Debbie snack cakes. An alternative, if you're into baking, is the Snack Cake Cake, where you put a bunch of snack cakes of your choosing into a cake pan (it works better if you freeze them a little first), then pour cake batter over them so they're buried, and bake them inside.
Okay - but which Updike? I have one here on my shelf that someone gave me but it's his early short stories and you know, sometimes people's early stuff just isn't as good. I'm excited about the Q and A expansion too. And how's the novel? When will we see it?
Start with The Witches of Eastwick. That's from his greatest period and it actually works as a whole, which isn't true of all the Rabbit books (the last two Rabbit books are great; the first two have some flaws. Updike wrote Rabbit, Run when he was 23, the fucker).
The novel's great! You will see after I sing 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall 99 thousand more times--say, about two years.
Maybe I'm insane and I'm not sure why I keep thinking of ways for you to make money, but have you considered publishing a book form of this Q and A section? It's clear that there's some kind of art project going on here, and that having this kind of conversation with your readers is, you know, very internet aged and sort of a brand new thing in terms of the history of writing and all that. I'm thinking you could organize the different letters into different categories (on art, on writing, on decorating, letters from Liam, etc.) and sell it around the holidays. You'd need some kind of super funky cover. You could also write little chapter introductions to each section, so that it was offering something other than what's just offered on the website. I'm thinking it would totally sell. Have I proposed this to you before? I've definitely thought about it more than once. And just so that there's actually a question here: What books do you go back to when you need to fire your brain back up? Do you experience this thing that I do, about occasionally needing to feed your brain a good book in order to write anything at all?
Hello dearest unofficial marketing department. Thank you for thinking of me! I appreciate your support; those are good ideas. I actually really love this Q&A too. It's pure fun and it gives me a chance to say all sorts of things I believe in strongly but never get a chance to say in real life, or can never get anyone to listen to if I do say them. Yeah, I want to do something more with it eventually! My thought is that I'll wait until my novel is done, or until I'm closer to it, and then try to make this forum bigger in some way so that the two things can co-publicize each other. But I like being prodded; I will give it some thought. I wouldn't mind making this format more bloggy so that people can respond to my responses. I'd like to know if my advice helps, or fucks things up, which is my evil plan.
I fire my brain up with books all the time, yes. Great prose writer are the best for me for that, especially people who do things well that I can't do well, like, um, describing things and using verbs. Right now my favorites are John Updike, Flannery O'Connor, Joy Williams. I never thought I would be a giant Updike fan--he's too Waspy, too self-reflexive--but slowly it's become apparent that he's pretty much the guy for me. I don't even think his books are that good a lot of the time, it's just that I cannot deny that he's the greatest, the Muhammed Ali of prose. Reading Updike always helps get me going. But it's humbling.
Are you aware of the singing duo Garfunkel and Oates? Do you think that, after you have checked them out on YouTube, you will like any of their songs better than "Weed Card," which would seem to apply to you, as of April? And, finally, do you appreciate how scrupulously I have adhered to the question format?
Hi pal. I was not aware of the singing duo Garfunkel and Oates and had to check them out on YouTube. Thanks for the intro--they're great! I like how they have an A+ drama student/band geek vibe that is annoying at first but then quickly becomes endearing with a kind of push-pull, performance-art complexity. I like almost all their songs better than "Weed Card," which comes a little close to making fun of sick and obese people for my taste (in my world it's okay to make fun of everyone, but the closer you get to real suffering, the funnier it better be). I like "Gay Boyfriend" better; "One Night Stand" is good too. And finally, I have great admiration for how scrupulously you've adhered to the question format. It's hard, I know. I always want to put questions in my answers, but what's the point of that?
OMG, izzit Oscars time again? Have you seen any movie at all in the last year (or five) that you felt was anything more than a waste of your time, an insult to your intelligence or glossy pandering to your lowest emotional common denominator?
Good question, Khufu. The only movies I saw last year were The American, Get Him to the Greek, and the terrible, infuriating Inception--purportedly about dreams but how could this be when it had no bathrooms, parents, tests, cars, or sex in it? I actually used to love movies but then I stopped loving them. I'm not sure if this is about movies or me because I also used to love music and going out to dinner--both things I'd rather avoid now. Also travel and people.
I'm sure there are still lots of good movies out there. It's kind of an amazing form of art/entertainment--so engrossing, so weird in a way. We think that we understand movies instinctively but really we don't--I don't mean the plots, I mean the cuts and lighting and time-warps and juxtaposition and all that. One of the last movies I took my grandmother to was The Usual Suspects. I think she was 97 and after ten minutes I realized that she couldn't really follow it because the cuts were so fast and disjointed and stylized. My grandmother loved movies, but she was born in 1906 and was never going to be able to put together a stream of disjointed images the way a person steeped in the rules of modern imagery could. Younger people just get it--we've spent our lives learning how to.
Movies really do teach us how to see, how to make meaning out of pictures. They influence our dreams; not just the content, but the form. They totally influence fiction too--all writing really. All those short sections with white space in between, all the jumping from one scene to another--you won't find much of this in 19th century novels. All this amazes me but no longer compels me very much. Also my back really hurts and has for a long time: sitting is not good. I think this is the main reason I don't like movies, or dinners out, or even music in some strange way. Pain pretty much neutralizes pleasure; it does this on an unconscious level, like shocking a rat when it eats a grape. After a while, the rat's just not that into grapes.
But maybe I'll get a chance to retrain my unconscious. In Arizona, there's a new thing. It's called medical marijuana. Cards will be available in April. I don't know if weed is going to make my back feel better but it might help me like music, movies, and food again. At least M&M's.
Check back though because if I think of any movies I liked in the past five years I'm going to list them. Black Swan sounds hilarious! I hear it has a girl masturbating with her stuffed animals, which is kind of sweet too.
Richter--that's Jewish isn't it? Did you know that you have a G-dly soul and an animal soul? You do, believe it or not. (check out Tanya at your local Chabad--they'll tell you all about it...) Which of your souls writes you stories? It's quite animal yet G-dly in it's striving. Nothing like a good paradox.
Mom? Is that you?
Hey Stacey, I am in an intro to fiction class, and read two of your short stories in the book, Doubletakers. they were The Beauty Treatment and The Cavemen in the Hedges, though you probably already know that haha, and i really just thought that the cavemen story was so ...forgive my lack of a better term but weird? i loved it, first of all, but i surprisingly just dont get it in a way? like i have my thoughts on what it means, you know the "between the lines" meaning, but since you are the writer, i wanted to ask you : what did the story mean? why did you write it or like what is it really about? Oh i just remembered my main question! did Kim have an affair with the red bandana cavemen or was she just hanging out? i dont get what was she doing in that basement??? XD thank you!^^ Brittany PS, The Beauty Treatment? LOVED. i read it, and then i read it out loud to my sister in law. So good. Kind of saddening when Katie became Katie again and wasnt the Bitch anymore, because i loved how she was The Bitch hehe.
I like to think that the cavemen were worshiping Kim as a goddess. But I tried to leave it open to interpretation.
What drives someone to sit and write "literary fiction" for hours on end, monotonously proofreading and editing and rewriting and blah blah blah, just so he or she can reach an ever-dwindling literary-fiction readership? Or, more concisely, what motivates someone to go through the arduous task of writing something they believe others will find worthwhile?
Do you believe there is a singular, central motivation that almost all writers have? Is there a few? Is there a whole variety of motivations, with none really being predominant over the others?
Usually, I'd put a little joke here, for levity's sake, but I don't want to become too predictable.
Sincerely yours (whoever I may be),
I had a long answer going in my head that was all about biology and anthropology and brain science and consciousness and dreams and shit, but now I just think I want to say: because it's fun. Yay, yay, proofreading! Yay, editing! Yay, yay, yay, yay! That's why I do it now, though when I started I did it because I was very, very angry. Also I thought it would somehow get me laid (?). The weird thing is that people are driven to do all sorts of extremely difficult, mostly unappreciated things that fall into the general category of "art." Just be glad you're not a musician. What could be more arduous than practicing the violin for five hours a day, from childhood, no kidding--like age five--just so you can get a poorly-paid job in an orchestra playing concerts for very, very old people who have hearing difficulties? But art compels us. Maybe it's a quest for truth and beauty, maybe it's the monkey-impulse to put things together, or a Freudian impulse to surpass our parents/get laid/transcend death, or a Jungian impulse to glimpse the divine. It's probably some combination of those; I'm not sure. Fun seems like as good an answer as any, even though most of the time, it's not really that fun.