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Hi Stacey. Sorry to be a bummer and all, but is the world going to hell in a hand basket? Or am I just more aware of these hard times now that I'm a middle-aged father? I mean, is any of the crap that's happening now (Libya, Wisconsin, Japan) any worse than the stuff that was troubling to our parents (Russia, Mississippi, Cuba)?
It's you. Yes, the world is going to hell in a hand basket, but it's always doing that. Young people have a knack for blowing off the danger of the world--they're terrified, sure, but it's more of a personal terror based on uncertainty about their own lives. (Will I have enough money to live? Will I be drafted? What will I be when I grow up? What does life mean? Will I ever get laid again? Will I ever have my own family? Am I safe in my apartment?). Once you get mostly past that stuff, you start to feel the danger of the world and a sense of yourself as part of it. Like, I have to go to school every night in my dreams. It used to be that I had to go to an unfindable Spanish/Math test lesson class, but in recent years I have to go to an unfindable History class test lecture thing. History--get it? I don't really. But I kind of do.
If it's any comfort, I think Russia, Mississippi, Cuba were all way worse than Libya, Wisconsin, Japan. Chernobyl was worse than Japan as a nuclear accident (at least they shut down the reactors in Japan, which is more than they did in Chernobyl), but it was cloaked in Soviet silence so no one knew what was going on until later. As far as I know, there were no pictures. One thing that makes the hellish stuff so vivid now is that we get to see it. Here's a thought--maybe I'm totally psycho--but there's something exciting about being able to see it. There's something amazing about having such access to history, to images and information. Maybe it's an exciting time to be alive. And it's way better than the fourteenth century! At least we don't have to worry about the Black Death.
Could the story be in Mr. Moody's collection, Demonology? I haven't read Demonology but I like the cover pic of those sour candies called Smarties. I read The Diviners about a month ago but didn't enjoy it as well as I did Purple America. I can't wait to read you novel. What is it about? By the way, the first story in My Date With Satan and The Ocean are my favorites. Good Work!
Thanks! I'm not sure if it's in Demonology--I could get up and go look but I'm feeling too lazy. My novel is about capitalism, which just led me to type into my right corner oracle-god "Is capitalism capitalized?" with unenlightening results. Though for a while, I've been telling my father that it's about pirates, which is maybe kind of the same thing.
I have just began re-reading My Date With Satan. Great stuff! I was wondering if you ever plan to write a novel.. I'm sure you have been asked that before and I hope you are not tired of answering it. Also, I read a short story several years ago and I can't remember the authors name. It was about a guy that wanted to be a writer but couldn't think of anything to write about so he started writing fictitious letters to a romance advice column in a local paper. Was that one of yours? as I remember, it was really funny. Thanks Tom Hancock Athens, Georgia
Hi Tom Hancock. Yes, I'm planning to write a novel. I'm writing one right now, in fact. I have to go finish it now. Or soon. Or something.
I'm not sure I know that story...there's one sort of like that by Rick Moody. I forget the name right now. I'll see if I can come up with it for you.
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.
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 email@example.com.
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
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!
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.