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Q and A

Feb 25, 2011; Your marketing deparment Asks:

Do you really want help with marketing? I admit I don't actually have experience with authors, I just have some ideas. I'm happy to help, if you want.

Stacey answers:

I'd be delighted to hear your ideas, but sad if you were disappointed if I ignored them or blew them off or procrastinated or otherwise showed my bad character. Mostly I'm just flattered and glad to be prodded--though I definitely could use some help figuring out website things, if you have any knowledge about that. If you still feel like it, why don't you email me and we can discuss it? It's stacey@staceyricter.com.

Feb 24, 2011; Kyndra Myers Asks:

Dear Stacey, I am a student at Mesa Community College in Arizona. I am taking a course where we study short stories and this week you are one of the chosen authors. We read your story "My Date with Satan" and as a group we study and discuss your work. On my part, I am to look for information regarding the author and it would be so amazing if you told us a little bit about yourself. How you got into writing, your awards, why you like a certain styles of writing and just small knowledge of your background. I would really appreciate your help but understand completely if you are busy! Thank you so much for taking the time to read this! Sincerly, Kyndra Myers

Stacey answers:

Hi Kyndra. I think any account of how a person gets into writing has a practical part and an inner part, so to tell the story more fully I'll give you a little of each. The first time I tried writing was when I was a senior in college. I was a student at Berkeley and applied to a fiction writing class (taught by the late, great Leonard Michaels) and a poetry class (taught by Ishmael Reed). I only got into the poetry class so that's what I did. At the time, I felt really angry, and kind of alone, and sort of self-destructive, and I had a great drive to say something about that--I didn't know what I wanted to say exactly, but it had to be about that stuff. (I still feel like that, though now I know a little about what I'm trying to express). My guess is that this feeling, of being driven to say something that can't be expressed in a simple way, is something that motivates a lot of artists.

I think my impulse was, and is, to make art. I ended up writing because it was the only thing I could do with any facility, but I wish I'd been able to paint--that sounds so great! So wordless and calming. So anyway, in college at that time I had this weird thing where I wouldn't talk in class, I would just sit there and sulk, and do my work and get good grades, but I think I sort of scared my teachers. I didn't want to say anything because it all seemed obvious and like it had already been said. Also, though I loved my professors in certain ways, I hated how they (they were all woman for some reason) had a very controlled, precise, well-spoken way of acting. I thought to be a grown-up I would have to act like that, and I didn't want to. For me, life was messier, and I wanted to see a wisp of that, at least, in the life that lay ahead of me.

The great thing for me about Ishmael Reed (there are many great things about him, of course), was that he was so grouchy. Sometimes he arrived late for class or blew it off entirely, as well as being impatient, too smart for us as undergrads, and kind of mean--though at times he was happy and generous too. In other words, he was a real person, and suddenly I was talking in class all the time, I was engaged, I felt less alone, and Reed encouraged me (subtly, but he did encouraged me). So after college, I began writing regularly--fiction, mostly, or whatever. I took some writing classes to get some feedback and to feel like I wasn't writing in a total vacuum. A few years later I got a master's degree in writing. That was good for me because I wasn't a good enough writer to be published, and I still wasn't sure what I was doing or what I had to say, but I continued to have a strong sense that I did have something to say and I needed some time to figure it out. In grad school I was neither discouraged or encouraged--or maybe I got a little of both--which sort of worked for me. (I remember one teacher who threw my story on her desk and rolled her eyes in disgust--discouraging--and another who, after some reception wine, said to me: "You're wonderful! I mean, not you, your writing.")

After graduate school, I moved back to Arizona, which is where I had grown up. It took me a few more years to get my fiction published, but in the meantime I had a job working at a newspaper, The Tucson Weekly, which was great because it totally calmed down my parents, who were hysterically anxious about my decision to be a writer (and who can blame them). The first thing I had published was a poem in the Sonora Review. The second thing was the story "My Date with Satan," in the Greensboro Review. Because I felt like the emotional parts of my life were so much bigger than the outward events, I was drawn to writers whose work reflected that. It's a strange list--Kathy Acker, Flannery O'Connor, George Saunders, Joyce Carol Oates, Carl Jung, Denis Johnson. I tried to put those elements of largeness and realness together in my own work, and I think I probably always will, to some extent.

There's more, I guess, but this seems kind of long and maybe it's enough for now. Some kind soul or souls have made a Wikipedia entry for me with some biographical information too. I'm thrilled that your class is reading my story!

Feb 18, 2011; Morgan Asks:

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.

Stacey answers:

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!

Feb 17, 2011; Your marketing department (again) Asks:

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?

Stacey answers:

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?

Feb 17, 2011; tonissa Asks:

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?

Stacey answers:

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.

Feb 09, 2011; Your unofficial marketing department Asks:

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?

Stacey answers:

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.

Feb 07, 2011; Your unofficial marketing department Asks:

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?

Stacey answers:

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.

Jan 31, 2011; your pal, Khufu Asks:

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?

Stacey answers:

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?

Jan 25, 2011; Khufu Asks:

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?

Stacey answers:

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.

Jan 11, 2011; Gali Asks:

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.

Stacey answers:

Mom? Is that you?

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