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Jul 16, 2017; hot wet trash Asks:

Hi Stacey,

I'm going to abuse the Q&A format by not asking any direct questions and just kind of saying a lot of things I really want to say about "My Date with Satan" in a stream of consciousness manner. I guess I don't have justifiable reason to say them to the author as opposed to some English professor in an actual essay, but fuck it, I'm going to anyway. Of course I would absolutely love to hear any thoughts you have.

I guess I just want to start by saying your story "My Date with Satan" is really precious to me. It's so knowing and well crafted, with all the warm little details like "pert Liza Minelli eyes" and "vaguely dramatic boy." A few posts below below you said you were going for fairy dust, and I think you really managed to. I'll say this at least, it's on a short list of fiction that silences the obnoxious critical voice in my head.

The first time I read it- for a short fiction class by the way- I was just kind of charmed and blown away, and in particular PipiLngstck joined a running mental list of characters, pretty much always female, fitting a certain archetype. This archetype styles herself idiosyncratically.She is nurturing at the level of personality but never at the level of character. She doesn't take anything too seriously and yet manages to be principled, even industrious at times. She's self-possessed, but paradoxically she' missing something basic about being a person, some emotional core perhaps. There's some aching and some awkwardness in reconciling her apparent "completeness" as a person with this missing thing, especially in the context of relationships with men. It goes without saying that she's very smart.

Others characters fitting this archetype include Clementine from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless, Summer from 500 Days of Summer, Sasha from A Visit from the Goon Squad and, strangely enough, my TA for intro to ethics last quarter. So basically characters that are often uncharitably labeled manic pixie dreamgirls. (The only true manic pixie dreamgirl imho is Natalie Portman's character in garden state.) PipiLngstck, Clementine and Summer all face the same sort of external conflict of having to brush off men that fixate on them for superficial reasons, i.e. for the aforementioned illusion of completeness. Clementine says it beautifully: “Joel, I'm not a concept. I want you to just keep that in your head. Too many guys think I'm a concept or I complete them or I'm going to make them alive, but I'm just a fucked-up girl who is looking for my own peace of mind. Don't assign me yours.” (I guess this is actually a bit at odds with PipiLngstck, because even though they have the same attitude and behavior towards men, they identify opposite problems: Clementine doesn’t want to be made a concept while PipiLngstck doesn’t want to be forced to be a “real girl.” Somehow it feels like they’re dealing with the same problem though).

What’s funny for me is I can’t figure out if I’m more like these women or the men pursuing them. I mean I’m male, but I’m also gay. I guess the sensible answer is that I’m neither. The best answer is probably that I’m like Charlie Kaufman (writer of Eternal Sunshine)- fascinated by such women in that obnoxiously reverent way, but maybe more sensitive and comprehending than other men (if I may flatter myself). Honestly it’s a stupid question to begin with. This is a good place to interject and say sorry if I’ve said anything presumptuous or sexist, or even anything that rubbed you the wrong way.

What I really want to talk about is that bit I mentioned about missing an emotional core. I just read “My Date with Satan” for the fourth or fifth time, and while it was just kind of funny and thrilling the first time I read it, now I’m seeing the thematic consistency throughout the story. At the center of it is PipiLngstck’s grasping for some emotional purity. The paragraph beginning with “I just wanted to look wholesome” really gave me pause. I certainly dress as out there as PipiLngstck but I think something similar informs my style choices: I wear argyle sweaters, corduroy, felt ties, thick woolen socks (which they only seem to make for women…) and I honest-to-god have a pair of buster brown shoes. It’s definitely about a sense of coziness and love for me, and about being the kind of soft boy that’s capable of being affectionate in a way that I so rarely am. I don’t know. I’m not going to even bother to try and turn that into a coherent or relevant statement. Anyway I guess the last thing I want to say is I’ve recently become convinced that I have low grade autism and that part where Ivy eviscerates Kitty (“We think she's looking for their feelings. People with her disorder have trouble with emotions.”). That honestly made me tear up this last time I read it.

Anyway, if you got this far, thanks for indulging me.

Stacey answers:

That makes sense to me. I think I would really love your outfits.

Apr 14, 2017; Michael Henry Asks:

Hi Stacey, two parts here: a response/continuation of our last correspondence and a question about how to write endings.

You are right about me being verbose. I could easily cut my post from October in half, leaving the points and questions intact. There is a great deal I was leaving out in the post about the escort. I didn’t write about the music she asked me to play, my bedroom, the three condoms we went through. I did leave out something that's pertinent. I said that I had a very minor panic attack. Yes. But that wasn't the first time I had a physical reaction like that. I have experienced a number of occasions when I've felt out of breath, very upset, on the verge of sobbing, a slight tightening. Overall moody, foggy. I don't want to be overdramatic. These are just feelings that snuck up on me. It isn't because of health problems.

I have conflicting feelings about the massage parlor service and I visited the website. I’ve thought I should try online dating instead. I would rather go on one date then get forty handjobs. I'd be able to have a conversation. A big piece of me has no desire to ever visit a massage parlor or see another escort. I would much rather be in a relationship. But look at me. I can't carry on a conversation. I cannot explain or understand this because it is incredibly irrational and childish.

Here’s an example. I work out at a gym that's close to where I live. As is typical of most gyms, there are a number of individuals that frequent the place. One is a women close my age. One day she came up to me and told me I looked good and she had noticed I had lost weight. I have lost weight over the past two years although not as much recently. This is mostly due to not taking prednisone.Honestly when she started to talk, I didn't know what to say or do. She was genuinely nice. So I said thank you, mumbling, and we parted ways. Everytime I see her, and I see her a lot, I just nod. I think about how much I'd love to just say something. And I'm certain she has a boyfriend so it wouldn't even be flirting but I can't do it.

I don't suffer from anxiety or shyness. If you asked me to give a speech in front of thousands, I'd have no hesitation about doing it. And I even enjoy public speaking, especially if I had time to prepare. Rejection just isn’t a fear or cause of anxiety. I hope to send short stories to journals, online venues, contests. And if the pieces were rejected a hundred times, I wouldn't flinch. But I cannot stand the thought of asking a girl out and being rejected. Just the thought though of starting a conversation is bad enough, let alone the dating aspect. How to explain this? I welcome rejection when it comes writing but not relationships. It's as if I've built up this inability to communicate, flirt, chat.

I also invent stories when I watch porn. I fill in the backstory and the situation of what’s going on in the scene. I really respond to porn when there is a narrative and the girls talk. Straight porn is a real turnoff for me. It’s disgusting, degrading, dehumanizing. I will only watch straight porn if it's the girl dancing or stripping by herself, usually before the intercourse at the beginning. The porn that works for me are girls by themselves or lesbians. I actually love the interaction at the beginning of the scene more than the two girls having sex. I would rather watch gay porn between two men than straight porn, especially if the two guys like each other.

My writing question. How can we write great endings? How do you know where and when to end a piece? You could say the purpose of writing a novel or short story is to write a great ending, to create this world so you can deliver a payload. A lot of writing books say if you are having a hard time composing the end, the problem might be in the opening. How you start shapes and influences how you end. But there could be problems in the middle because you’re building momentum, conflict, stakes. You may have failed to establish a crisis. I don’t feel this way, although I won’t go into detail because I would much rather hear about what you have to say about this topic.

How can we improve our endings? Do you know the ending before you write a story? I don’t believe you’ve addressed these questions before. Do you have any suggestions? Exercises? Best practices? Endings can be difficult, tricky creatures. This is a topic that is woefully neglected. Especially compared to the number of creative writing books out there about beginnings. I do believe endings should aim for the heart.

Stacey answers:

Here’s the best new piece of advice I can give for endings: only write one. It’s tempting to keep ending and ending and ending, and it’s a common problem in first books. I’m talking about codas and where-are-they-nows and summing ups and what-it-all-means, delivered over and over in a summing-up tone. (Lab Girl is a recent book that just keeps ending; to a lesser extent, so is Lincoln in the Bardo, though I loved that so much that I didn’t mind). Multiple endings take away the power of one. One is better.

Girls: being with people is difficult for you, so don’t be so hard on yourself. It’s scary for all men to talk to women they don’t know; for men, the fear of humiliation is stronger than the fear of death, or so I’ve read. But please don’t worry about panic or anxiety. This is a normal part of life that no one wants to talk about but is always going on, like being gassy. In any given place, at least one person is having a panic attack, or is on the verge of one, or is medicated out of one for the moment, I guarantee it. When it happens to you it sucks, but it sucks more if you have the illusion that it’s somehow abnormal or avoidable or unusual.

Practice: I don’t know if socializing will ever be easy for you, but I think you’d do better in general—and that your writing would probably be better—if you practiced socializing in a low-stress setting. I bet it would be great for you to interact with non-threatening (i.e. old) women, before you try internet dating and the like. I know you don’t want to but it’s easier than asking someone out, right? Why not join a parks and rec class or a library class in knitting or mah jong or bridge or scrapbooking or crochet—whatever, of these old lady choices, is the least painful to you? You will probably be the only guy. All you have to do is go and keep going. Try to talk to the ladies. Think of it as low-cost conversation practice. If they ask why you’re there, say you want to learn to knit and you want to practice socializing. They’ll get it and they’ll be proud of you. (I bet you think I’m wrong—try it and see.) Do a little homework. Google “good conversation starters.” And listen. Listen. Practice listening. Go back and forth, talking and listening. I worry, sometimes, that you might be more about output than input. But it’s harder to be anxious when you’re focused on what another person is saying. And, as Dale Carnegie pointed out, people love to be listened to.

Apr 12, 2017; Ashley Asks:

Hi Stacey, I am attending the University of Idaho and am currently taking a course on short fiction. As an assignment, we have been separated into different groups/panels, and I've been assigned to the fabulism panel. I am in charge of talking about your story The Cavemen in the Hedges and I am curious about your thoughts on fabulism (if you have any)... Pardon the broad question, but I am a little out of my element. I am in the process of obtaining my MFA in studio art, but I am taking this class as an elective with the intent that it will help me with my thesis as I delve more into narrative-ish territory... While researching your work, I haven't been able to find much supporting text. I did find something about id/superego/ego... I am curious - did you intend for these themes to come through in this story? I really enjoyed reading this story. I was just reading one of your interviews and you had mentioned that you loved to be surprised and that you love funniness and sorry to be quoting but, "I’m also interested in consciousness and how people explain themselves to themselves—often falsely—which is something that naturally evolves for me out of the first person. A lot of people are good self-deceptors, and I’m fascinated by that." - I really admire these qualities. It's within the range of what I am aiming for in my own body of work. I don't know if your much into visual arts, but here's a link to my website and what I am in the process of working on, I really enjoy finding inspiration in creative practices outside of the visual field and I look forward to reading more of your writing. Thanks for your time!

Stacey answers:

Nice work! I like your multiple-hand crochet, and those great paintings! So my thoughts on fabulism involved first looking up “fabulism.” This is what I found: “A form of magic realism in which fantastical elements are placed into an everyday setting.” Wow. That is one dank tautology. Okay, so García Márquez was first author to be described as a “magical realist.” He hit upon his amazingly wonderful style when he began to combine his journalistic chops (he was a newspaperman) with the twists of folk tales (the legacy of his grandmother)—relaying all of this in one, matter-of-fact tone. This was in 1967, by the way, and though it was long before books like Like Water for Elephants and The Night Circus, it was well after the 1922 publication of “A Hunger Artist” by Kafka (a newspaper-like account of a starving artist in a cage); and “The Swimmer,” John Cheever’s 1964 crumbling-realism story of man swimming through his neighborhood; and "Funes the Memorious" by Borges, a factual-seeming account of a man who remembers everything. So it wasn’t new. It was just—I don’t know…surprising? Foreign? En Español? I agree that García Márquez is a great writer and a force to be reckoned with, and his work was probably even formidable enough to deserve it’s own adjective. I just don’t think that’s the same as creating a new genre.

However, I do think that “a form of magic realism in which fantastical elements are placed into an everyday setting” sounds nice. I like stuff like that. I like surprising, apt metaphors that carry some of the force of dreams. I like unpredictability. I like elements of abstraction and exaggeration and interesting perspectives—in visual art, that would be pretty much everything from the 20th century on, right? But as a category, it makes me nervous. Somehow I feel like they’re going to shove a lot of women into it and print a lot of books with all-lowercase letters on the spine and yellow splashes of color! on the cover. That maybe someone out there is trying to take another perfectly worthy subject matter or form or story and turn it into an intellectually drained category of little-lady-fiction, regardless of quality, which is what happened with chick lit. With the birth of the category of chick lit, it was as though love were suddenly a baby bunny of a subject instead of the primary concern of Shakespeare, Edith Wharton, Henry James, and life, and calling something chick lit became a way to discount books by women and to exclude men from their readership. I worry that fabulism is poised to take over another category of human experience—fancifulness, delight, whimsy—and turn it into another ghetto for work by women. Ugh. I’m so sick of men being the only ones who get to say what human life is. Wait, what was the question?

Apr 08, 2017; Kyrsten Marie Athan Asks:

Hello! I was wondering how you came to create the voice utilized in "My date with Satan." Do you base characters off of personal experience or do you create imaginary characters in vivid detail and then place yourself in their perspective? Or neither/both? I would love to hear your thoughts!! Your short story was profound and exciting to read. Best wishes, Kyrsten.

Stacey answers:

Hello Kyrsten. I created the voice in "My Date with Satan" through a long process of trial and error and reading and writing. Basically, it involved figuring out what I most loved about reading fiction, then seeing if I could capture some of that fairy dust in my own work. As for personal experience, it’s always in there, in that there’s no escaping my own perspective, but most of the people I actually know probably aren’t interesting enough to be transformed into fictional characters, and if they were, I’d have no idea how to do that, since there’s no way to know what’s going on in someone else’s head. (Interviews? Vulcan mind meld?) So in the end I would be making it up anyway.

Apr 05, 2017; Landon Asks:

I saw that you recieved a bachelors in history and then a masters in creative writing, what was your motivation to transition from history to creative writing?

Stacey answers:

I got my bachelor's degree in art history, not history history. I probably would have majored in English but for various administrative reasons that was not an option for me. Does that sound mysterious? My school wouldn't let me major in English. I was pissed, so I transferred, but by then I had already started doing an art history major and loved it. At the beginning of every art history class, someone turns out the lights.

The way I see it, writing fiction doesn't really have much to do with academic fields, per se. I only got an MFA because I wanted to make things and it gave a chance to spend some time trying to write. It was also free.

Feb 28, 2017; Kenzie Asks:

Hi Stacy! For my English assignment we had to choose two texts. A short story and film to analyse. I chose "Twin Study" as my short story with the theme "self-perception", in relation to Amanda comparing herself to Samantha throughout the story and how she views herself. I wanted to know your thoughts on how this theme was expressed during the story. Thanks a lot, Kenzie.

Stacey answers:

Hi Kenzy. It's Stacey, with an e. I thought that theme was expressed very nicely in the story. You're welcome!

Feb 01, 2017; Cody Greene Asks:

Hi, Stacey. I'm a great admirer of your work. I return to the stories in Twin Study whenever things stall out for me in writing. I even teach "Christ, Their Lord" to my composition students. I'm curious to hear some of your thoughts on adaptation and genre hybridity, but curious also if I might ask your permission to adapt "Christ, Their Lord" for the stage. I'm an MFA student at Western Michigan University, studying fiction, and am currently taking a class in adaptation. I'm certainly no playwright, which is to say the work will likely never go beyond a table reading in class, but I want to take permissions seriously, especially for a story that already means so much to me. Thanks awfully!

Stacey answers:

Hi Cody. Thanks for asking! I sent you an email with more info from my aol address. Keep an eye out for it--your spam filter wants to eat it up.

Jan 12, 2017; Ashton Holloman Asks:

Can I read the short story this short film was adapted from??

Stacey answers:

Yes. You can read it here in the Michigan Review. You can also find it in my story collection My Date with Satan.

Jan 06, 2017; Michael Henry Asks:

Hi Stacey, how are you? I promised I would never leave new questions unless I had received a response to a previous set of questions. I figured if you had too many long passages, it would clog up your site, taking up too much space. But I have a dilemma/question/concern/personal story worth sharing. You have answered plenty of questions about relationships and sex in the past but I thought this one might interest you. Before I get to the personal stuff, I'd like to ask about the election. Instead of asking about the results, I thought I would ask about your own broad commentary/reaction/feelings about America today. I am curious about your reaction to the state of the nation. What do you think is wrong with America? Do you believe there is anything worth salvaging? What should we do? Give up? How did this happen? How are you coping? Do artists have a responsibility to address the political climate of the times? How can we change the direction of the nation? In terms of policy, I was much more enthusiastic about Bernie Sanders. The main topic. My first two posts on your site were about relationships. Although I know it looks like I am always asking the same questions about writing. Two weeks ago I hired an escort. The escort came over, we talked, I paid. We went to my bedroom. She undressed. I was aroused, excited. I paid more for intercourse. She petted me, I took off my cloths, we started to have sex but I couldn't do it. She did everything she could. She tried to help me maintain an erection. We went through two condoms. Once we started to have sex, I lost it. I freaked, panicked. I shut down and quickly lost the erection. So many of the things you've warned me about finally landed a blow, connected. I could not get out of my head. I had a chance to have sex but could not. And I paid for it. I was beyond embarrassed. The immorality of my actions coursed through my thoughts. This was not right. I should not have sex with this woman. I should stop. At the same time, I was physically attracted to her. I had to reconcile these opposing views. The escort said my face was pale and I did not look good. My hands were shaking. I felt upset, on the verge of crying. It was close to a panic attack. I tried to stay calm. After about fifteen minutes, we agreed to switch it up and she started to give me a hand job. I still had trouble getting hard. She was ready to give up. It took a while for me to regain an erection since I was upset. But I managed to calm myself down by creating a story in my head. I had to populate the story with characters to calm down and climax. When I started to think about the backstory we are involved in, I felt more relaxed. I imagined that I was with my girlfriend and she was in the next room. We had been together for years and she could not get pregnant so I was with this escort but she was not an escort. She was a surrogate. I don't know why this worked. I am looking for your advice/thoughts/concerns. What could happen if I ever have the chance to have sex? I'm concerned there is something else and this event is part of a larger problem. Maybe this isn't a big deal. I have no sexual experience besides masturbation. This still doesn’t explain why I would not be aroused or able to climax. I am not sure what to make of this because the other times I've seen an escort, it was just a hand job and I also found that creating a story helped me get through it. Trump is President. Everything fades away. A mishap like this diminishes while our economy, social safety net, health insurance, civil liberties are on the verge of being shredded. Does this mean anything? How can I improve? Do you think this connects with some of the earlier questions I’ve posted before? I would have hoped I would have been able to have sex. I want to learn something, gain some perspective. One of the changes I made is to read less creative writing books. I am limiting myself to one creative writing book every month. Last month it was A Writer's Voice by A. Alverez. I'm even going to put away the books with exercises and focus instead on drafting pages of plays and dipping into other genres. I recently subscribed to online tutorials on the Writer's Digest website for one month. I've been listening to the webinars and so much of the content is crap (some not ALL). It made me think about the creative books I read. I'm starting to believe they will not make you a great writer. You could listen to every tutorial and read every creative writing book and still not write a play. This can be very liberating. You cannot force it.

Stacey answers:

I’m proud of you for hiring an escort! I don’t think you need to worry about how it turned out. Your experience—the fear, panic, and losing your erection—is not uncommon. It’s not even uncommon for people to feel anxious when getting a massage. Especially for you, MH, I’d be surprised if it didn’t go that way. For an avowed loner to suddenly have an undressed stranger in their arms sounds incredibly disorienting, as well as confusing and scary and overwhelming. They don’t call it intimacy for nothing. Even with all of our access to porn, with all the objectified bodies in the media and the fact that the idea of anonymous sex can seem hot, when it’s actually happening you are still enacting something personal and private with a total stranger. In a relationship, you’d have preliminaries before you had sex, physical and emotional ones, for days or weeks or months. And it wouldn’t be just for you, you know? It would also be for the other person.

Since you haven’t had sex and I have, I’ll just fill you in on a few things you might not know. Sex can be wonderful and fun and loving, but it rarely comes without anxiety, especially when you’re doing it with someone new. Pretty much everyone has worried thoughts about their body—how it looks, smells, fat level, what its doing, etc. Lots of people tell themselves stories in their head to get into it—either because the reality is too threatening, too personal, too predictable, or too disjointed from the idea of sex they’ve nurtured in their head. After all, most people have probably “practiced” having sex more often than they’ve actually done it. In this way, sex actually is a lot like writing fiction. You have to get past the in-your-head journal stage and onto the two-real-character stage to make it work. In this comparison, masturbation is like writing in your journal—you get total control, but you’re locked into one point of view, and you’re alone. Sex is more like going with the flow when you’re writing fiction: there’s more uncertainty, but you get to have another body and consciousness there.

Here's an idea for you. If you want to keep experimenting with sex professionals, maybe you'd have a better time if you went to a massage parlor, rather than hiring an escort. I'm not sure exactly how this works, but there's a website called "Rub Maps" that can give you the lowdown. (You have to pay for full access, but it might be worth it.) It tells you what massage parlors to go to and how to ask for what you want. I'm guessing that you can get a hand job at the end if you want, and if you decide you don't want it, you still get to have a massage. This might give you a chance to get used to physical contact with a girl in a more relaxed way.

By the way, I love your fantasy of the surrogate and the girlfriend in the next room. I love the way it gives you permission to have sex with a stranger while still tethering you to a love relationship. That’s what the unconscious can do for you, you know? It can show you all of that. It can make up stories that make you feel differently than you felt before. So write that story.

Nov 28, 2016; The Dark Michael Henry Asks:

Hi Stacey! Sorry I Insist On Asking You A Fuckload Of Questions And Can't Figure Out That I Can Just Use Google lMao

Stacey answers:

Okay, yeah, Michael Henry is verbose, but that's really my fault. I'm the queen of this site and could easily edit his questions so they're shorter (and sometimes do). And dude, he asked me for advice about seeing an escort! The rest of you can offer criticism after you've asked me something equally juicy.

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