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Hey, Stacey! I hope you've been doing well. I cracked open "Twin Study/Story" last night and I'm already depressed about how good it is (sample thought of mine, "I'll never write that well. Mnuh." I had the same kind of thoughts reading Dybeck recently. So discouraging, even though I know it shouldn't be).
Anyway, I've got two questions for you. The first one is relevant, and second is almost completely irrelevant. Here we go!:
#1: Is there, or has there been, any author you find particularly painful or depressing to read because of how good they are? Like, it makes you ask yourself, "What am I doing trying to share a medium with this person?" And yes, I know, I know, I know that that thought is unfair and simplistic, and that great, daunting authors are also what inspire other writers, but I'm talking about the petty/human stuff right now. So, just to clarify: -If you have ever felt similarly, then answer me this: What writer(s) do you find so amazing, it makes you feel worse as a writer?
#2: What do you think about this Paris Hilton thing. It's probably beneath you to answer this question honestly, but I feel kind of elated about her being taken back to jail, sobbing, which then makes me feel guilty and ashamed of my overt Schadenfreude. Do you feel similary? Am I a bad, petty person?
Thanks for any insights.
Liam my lad. I'm surprised, considering that you're my #1 virtual fan, that you just now cracked open Twin Study, but I understand that you're a busy young man and must spend your valuable time in important pursuits like making whoopee etc. As for your first question: There are a lot of authors that are just so good that I can't even get depressed about how good they are. They seem like they're from a different planet than I am--like Kafka, I.B. Singer, Flannery O'Connor, Borges. But there's something about Denis Johnson's writing that can make me feel like I've been punched in the stomach. I love it so much, it's so truthful and dark, it follows strange emotional currents into unexpected places, but I think the thing that gets me is that it's just so intensely lyrical. That's a talent, pure and simple; it can't be practiced or learned, you have it or you don't. Sometimes I have it but usually I don't, and even when I have it, it's a random event beyond my jurisdiction, which is dispiriting.
Second question: Like everyone else on earth, I think Paris Hilton should go to jail because she was driving drunk and I think drunk drivers are terrifying and kill people and so should go to jail. But I find it hard to expend too much emotional energy on her since there's nothing interesting about her personality. The celebrity who fascinates me is Tom Cruise. He's charismatic, powerful, isolated, and utterly deluded, in the manner of someone who sits beside you on the bus and makes you want to change seats. It's the delusion I like best. He thinks there are creatures from another planet clinging to each of our bodies and that only he has dislodged them. It's just so great.
Did you write stories similar to your published ones when you were at Brown? (Did you like Brown?) Is any of your first book from your thesis? Thanks for reading my questions!
Well Dan, I'll tell you, all the stories I wrote at Brown were crappy. I didn't start writing fiction until about a year before I went off to get an MFA so I needed a lot of practice. The last time I tried to read that early work I became mortified and had have a stiff drink and a valium and some heroin and a pack of cigarettes and chant my mantra. None of the stories I wrote for my MFA thesis were ever published anywhere, thank God.
But if you're a young writer, don't let my experience discourage you. I wasn't really good at anything when I was in my twenties and a lot of people are. Look at John Updike, publishing Rabbit, Run at 24, or Jonathan Safran Foer, who published Everything is illuminated when he was 24--or was it 23? And then there's Zadie Smith, who published White Teeth at 25. Let's not forget Mary Shelley, who wrote Frankenstein at 19, and Mozart who a shitload of music before he died at 35, etc., though in my opinion there are more prodigies in music than in writing. Next chapter: late bloomers.
Stacey, can you explain what the deal is with the uncollected stories youhave links to on the other pages? Are those stories going to be in a book? If they aren't, why not?
Some of those stories are in various anthologies but I decided not to put them into my own collection because they didn't go with the other stories. Some are very, very short, and while I like very short stories it's hard to fit them into a collection unless you're a Donald Barthleme kind of writer. Also, a few of the uncollected stories didn't come out as well as I'd hoped. I might have put in one of them (The Minimalist) but I sort of forgot about it. Which isn't a good sign.
Hi Stacey. Today on CNN.com I saw a story about a book store owner in Kansas City, Missouri who was trying to thin out his back stock by donating much of his surplus to libraries and thrift stores. Much to his surprise he was almost universally turned away. So he had a book-burning to protest what he sees as society's diminishing support for the printed word. He said that not reading a book is the same as burning it. How do you feel about this?
I feel really good about it. I'm hoping that most of them are the promotional copies of Twin Study that come up for sale on Amazon for $7.95 that I keep buying in fits of terrible rage.
Your Question Dear Stacey, I wrote a story like this once, all in advice Q&A's. But that's not my question. My question is: what's the future of the book?
Paul! Hi! Do you mean, like, what is the future of the book in American culture? Will literature remain a vital art and all that? Here's my answer to that: I think the book will remain but become increasingly marginal to mainstream American culture. People love reading, and new times need new stories, but books have to compete with other, meretricious, light-emitting sources of entertainment that respond to our glances and clicks like a perfect mother while the book just lies there like a lump of coal.
Or did you mean to ask what is the future of my latest book, Twin Study? Twin Study will be overlooked for many years, but will eventually have a constellation named after it.
Or did you perhaps mean to ask what is the future of the novel, a kind of book? I think the novel is in trouble in America. My theory, since you asked, is that Americans experienced a sort of group trauma on September 11th that left us with a low-grade anxiety exacerbated by the absurdity of the war in Iraq. As a response, people have become obsessed by information, because if you have enough information (says the lizard-mind) how can you be surprised by something shocking like a terrorist attack? Therefore we as a society have become obsessed with news and information; the Times even seems to have stopped reviewing fiction, for the most part, and in an unscientific survey I keep overhearing people talking about how they only read non-fiction. The collective logic goes like this: non-fiction is serious, it has value, it's not ambiguous, it makes sense, information makes sense, unlike a terrorist attack or the war on Iraq, neither of which make sense. So, people have turned to information to shore up their sense that the world is a place that can be comprehended and controlled, and therefore are not reading as many novels (the internet facilitates this search for information).
Sure, we all want to escape too, but even our national escapist fantasies have the tinge of information on them, as the "news" reports about Paris Hilton's jail time shows. Granted, we all love it when a slutty robot heiress goes to jail, but that event was scrutinized with such passion that it occurs to me that this is another way not to think about the senselessness of the violence of the last six years. Fiction seems to be just what people don't want now. It's not true, it's made up, so how can it make us safe? And if it's any good, it probably has too much emotional resonance and intelligence to really function as an escape from the idiocy and threat of reality. There's even a possibility, while reading fiction, of encountering a dramatic example of the empty absurdity we're all so sick of, and overwhelmed with, in real life--and then what? There's not even a myth of mastery there, like there is when reading information, because while we humans may mistakenly believe that enough information will make us safe, no one believes that enough imagination will. The only thing that's really working for all the people all the time are the Harry Potter books, which are wonderfully escapist but since they're meant for children, people are willing accept them as something outside of the flow of information. Kids need imagination, the reasoning goes, grown-ups need facts. (Of course, as it turns out, parents love the Harry Potter books just as much as their kids). Maybe if we had leaders that weren't so dedicated to absurdity, misinformation, power-grabbing, and tribalism, we could all relax enough to be able to tolerate ambiguity, and then people would start reading more fiction again. Am I saying that the novel is in trouble and that is is Bush/Cheney's fault? Yes I am. Rant concluded.
Dear Stacey, after ten years of living in Los Angeles and working in the film industry, I am contemplating moving back to Tucson, Arizona. However, I'm not really sure what line of work I could/should persue once I return. Do you have any suggestions for someone like myself with my level of schooling (very little) and my (very little) "real world" (ie non-Hollywood) experience?
Tucson has many wonderful opportunities in the fields of food service and landscape maintenance. If you want to improve yourself, it's also a great place to further your schooling. According to the commercials for Apollo College, you can get a degree in the intriguing, fast-paced field of "Doctor's Office." Positions are available immediately. We would love to have you back!
Have you read the collection of stories by Patricia Highsmith called "Ordinary Tales of Beastly Murder", or something very close to that? A whole book of animal-point-of-view stories by an accomplished, if deeply creepy writer. Good stuff.
Pickles! No, but I keep meaning to read Patricia Highsmith so I'll check it out. I think she was deeply strange herself, which makes me even more interested.
Hi Stacy, remember me? I am Susan Sterne's mother. We live in Seattle now and would love to have you visit. Congratulations on the new book, I hope to get it soon. Maybe you can come here to promote it. I will take you to bookstores.
Hello Sylvia, of course I remember you! I'd love to come see you the next time I'm in Seattle. Thanks for dropping me a note.
What do you think of publishing under more than one name? Are there any stories out there that were written by you but attributed to Francesa Markelpump?
I always use my own name. I don't know anyone who doesn't, or even know of anyone who doesn't, except for Lemony Snicket. I can see the appeal of using a pseudonym if someone writes for both children or adults, or writes in two wildly different genres, like murder mysteries and language poetry. It could avoid confusion at the library catalog, not to mention shock and disappointment. Otherwise, I'm not sure I see the point, though it may be that I'm just bitter. If I could escape the name Stacey, I would escape the name Stacey. But I'm a Stacey.
Kafka's "The Burrow," about an OCD rodent would be an excellent addition.