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Q and A

Sep 20, 2007; Beehive Hairdo Asks:

How do I write a sex scene? Do I even have to? I'm considering just having the characters pull down the blinds and leave the whole thing enshrouded in fog.

Stacey answers:

Beehive. Thereís nothing like trying to write a sex scene to make a person feel like a sheltered Catholic schoolgirl and a raging pervert at the same time. You might wonder: is it too sexy, not sexy enough, laughable, stilted, offensive to the Lord? And writing sex scenes brings up all kinds of additional worries, like, will my parents read this? My ex? My stalker? Bear in mind that every writer who isnít a sex professional, an exhibitionist, or Eurotrash feels this way. I urge you to put your embarrassment aside and give it a try anyway, Beehive, because to have full and complicated lives, your characters are occasionally going to want to get it on. Sex is one of the big engines of human existence. People have it. They think about it. Sometimes they reveal themselves in startling ways during sexódonít you sort of want to see Bartleby the Scrivener have sex? I mean, not really, and Iím sure he doesnít want to, but wouldnít that be swell? By the same token, your readers want to get to know your characters thoroughly. If a sex scene is important to your story, then yes, you must include it. Enshrouding in fog is for wimps.

Now for your tips. For literary fiction, the trick is, donít try to make it sexy. (If you want to write erotic fiction, youíll have to send another question). Just try to make itÖaccurate. You want to aim to write a scene in which your characters have the kind of sex they would have in the situation theyíre in-- playful, disappointing, interrupted, absurd, intense, tender, whatever. Be true to your characters and try to forget about any pornography youíve ever looked at or read. So donít write it as though youíre writing a thriller, i.e. your sentences should not describe one action after another. Rather, dilute the actions with details, abstractions, thoughts, and dialogue. Using details, particularly sensory details, usually works better than describing the whereabouts of specific body parts. Use adjectives with great cautionóthe fewer the better. Contemplate zero adjectives.

Itís instructive to look at smutty passages by writers you like, though bear in mind that sex scenes donít age well. The permissiveness of the times is always changing. If you think youíre being audacious, just try to keep a lid on the fanfare, since you might simply be dating yourself as someone who lives in an era when ______ (fill in a sexual act) was considered daring. Good luck.

Sep 11, 2007; Velvet Asks:

Stace-mace, I am now an elementary school teacher! Someone must have messed up, because they're letting me shape young people's minds. Any ideas on good classroom activities for Kindergarteners?

Stacey answers:

I'm a big advocate of crafting for young people and the young-at-heart. Here's the recipe for Paper Plate Purses (or ordnance pouches for the boys) as taught to me by my former babysitter Jo Anne: take two paper plates and staple them together so they form a clamshell. Cut one of the plates in half to allow access to the inside of the clamshell. Punch holes in the top and attach a yarn strap (omit this stage if you prefer a clutch). Color the outside with crayons. This purse is especially practical for people who don't carry money or keys.

Aug 31, 2007; jo anne Asks:

hi stacey ~ i used to babysit you and your sister jessica ~ ages ago. good luck with your new book, i look forward to reading it. i read your first collection of short stories, i liked some of them more than others, but that is often how it is for me with short stories ~ ps) i can still remember both of your birthdays, almost 35 years later - lol !!

Stacey answers:

Hi Jo Anne. I remember the first time you came over to our house and showed me and my sister how to make purses out of paper plates. I thought you were the coolest babysitter ever.

Aug 24, 2007; wag Asks:

Hello Stacey! Would you be interested in writing a script for a short (three minute, 20 second) film?

Stacey answers:

Yes I would. Do you have any gnomes? I would love to see a three-minute stop-action movie featuring posable gnomes. You could name one Gnome Chomsky and the other Gnome de Plume and they could argue about the nature of language. Doesn't that sound great? Maybe you could have another character running around there too, like a pretentious graduate student who just flunked his oral exams and he's going a little crazy.

Wait a minute. That seemed like a good idea the other morning at four am when I had a really bad headache and took two Excedrin then lay in bed with a big ol' caffeine buzz on. Now it seems like dumbcrap. But I still like the gnomes.

Aug 23, 2007; Chris Asks:

Hi, Stacey, So many questions! I'm a theater critic in Phoenix, and a rather gushy fan of yours since discovering an advance copy of "Satan" what seems like so many years ago. (Until one of the fine folks at Changing Hands Bookstore mentioned it about a month back, I hadn't known you're based down in Tucson. Which jazzes me to no end.) Anyway, I jumped up and down like a teenage girl (really) when I saw a copy of "Twin Stories" -- and I now have another fellow theater crit chum here in the East Valley reading it ... and digging it immensely. (Don't worry, she promises to buy her own copy soon.) So here are the questions: 1.) When are you heading up this way next -- and say, hypothetically, if your pal Robrt P. happens to have my copy of "Twin Studies" around the house, would you mind signing it? 2.) How did journalism affect your fiction writing? There's that great Hemingway line, "Write the truest sentence that you know," and it's always seemed like what's kept me from jumping into fiction is the journo pace; ironically, it's too fast and just-the-facts to ponder and craft larger "truth." Seems to me journalism would have a detrimental effect on fiction ... aside from getting to flex the ol' writing muscle for a steady paycheck. And 3.) What are your feelings about critics, having gone from being one to being on the receiving end of them? Okay, that's it. Thanks much for all the wonderful stories, and here's to getting through another desert summer.

Stacey answers:

I had no idea there were so many theater critics in Phoenix. You guys should start a basketball team. That would be really funny for the rest of us. I would be happy to sign your book if you leave it with Robrt, our vowel-challenged friend-in-common.

I had already been writing fiction for a long time when I started writing movie reviews, so it didn't really cramp my style. One movie review a week didn't suck all the life out of me (just half the life). I agree that having a job writing for a newspaper turns writing fiction into a bus man's holiday. What kind of sicko wants to write all day and then come home and...write? I used to work on fiction and articles on different days, which helped.

As for 3.) critics. I like critics. The world needs good critics to go out there and find good art, then come back and tell us all about it. Thereís far too much cultural detritus out there for people to sift through, and without critics weíd be stuck with corporations telling us what we should read, watch, and listen to. When Iím on the receiving end of reviews, I like (or at least respect) any well-written, thought-out review, good or bad, though obviously Iíd prefer a good one. What really chaps my ass are sulky, solipsistic reviews that indirectly communicate the bitterness of the reviewer. What these kinds of reviews often say is not that they donít like my book, but that they donít like my kind of book, or the cover, or maybe the bio. Is the reviewer a failed writer? A lover of historical fiction? Maybe they are. Will they forgive me for publishing a book that is not historical fiction and review it on its own terms? No, they will not.

Aug 21, 2007; Meredith Asks:

This is embarrassing, but let's just have it out: I plagiarized a part of a sentence from your story, Goodnight, in my own story. It was an accident, really. I keep a notebook in which I write down words or passages that I like in what I'm reading. I also write down my own ideas in the same notebook. It's usually very easy to tell these two types of entries apart in that I will never think like F Scott Fitzgeral as much as I admire his writing. But then this passage in my notebook (without quotation marks, which I will use in the future): "sliding glass door--the world is, she knows, irrevocably ugly" and I took it for mine since I have felt that same thing countless times looking out at my sister's backyard in Oklahoma. So I used the line in a story and realized later it belonged to you. (When I became suspicious, I started looking at the entires around it: "she had longed to be a part of something vast, golden and vaguely male" and "late afternoons were the worst--the setting sun made me feel like I was going to die.") I have tried cutting it out, but it is central to the character. I have tried making the sliding glass door a mini-blinded window or replacing the word irrevocably with hopelessly, but it doesn't feel right. In truth, the story, if published at all, will only appear in some rinky-dink on-line magazine, so it may not matter. What do you think?

Stacey answers:

Yeah, sure Meredith, take it, run with it, remix it. I'm fine with that. Thanks for asking. I don't even really remember that story, quite honestly, since it's one of my very oldest ones. (I would ask you what it's about, but that might make you feel weird). I'd be curious to see what you do with it, so drop me a line if you publish it. You can use those other sentences too...if you name a character after me.

I would steal a thing or two myself if I was organized enough to keep a notebook handy. I think a little stealing is the standard custom these days in the arts and humanities. It's like taking sugar packets from restaurants.

Aug 08, 2007; wag Asks:

Honestly now Stacey, what's cuter; a baby skunk or a baby hedgehog?

Stacey answers:

The baby skunk.

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Aug 05, 2007; Zelda Fitz Asks:

Were you at the McDowell Colony? I think you thank them in one of your books. Do they really bring you your lunch in a basket and leave it on the steps of your cottage like Spalding Gray says in Monster in a Box?

Stacey answers:

Yeah, I went there a couple of times though I haven't been for a while. They do bring your lunch in a basket and leave it quietly, reverently on your doorstep. It sort of freaked me out to be treated so nicely when I'm used to people staring blankly if I say I'm a writer. Also, there was a sign near my cabin that said something like, "Welcome to MacDowell, where enduring works of art are forged." I would walk by it and think, holy shit. I better get on that.

Aug 01, 2007; Snarklegrump Asks:

Hi Stacey, What literary magazines do you read? Which ones do you like but can never find the time to read? What do you think makes a good 'zine?

Stacey answers:

Snarklegrump! I often read Zoetrope All-story, Tin House, Fairy Tale Review, Hayden's Ferry Review (which by some miracle I get for free), and Spork, RIP. I also like to buy McSweeney's when I find it. Since I can't read everything and don't want to anyway, I try to read the Pushcart Anthology every year so I can at least read a bunch of good stuff.

I think a good, strong, defined aesthetic makes for a good 'zine. That's what I like about Fairy Tale Review.

Jul 28, 2007; floozed Asks:

Hello S.R. my girlfriend left town for a week and I've barely left the bedroom I just watch TV and masturbate...does this mean I'm agoraphobic and which prescriptions should I go for? I would much rather be normal, thanks, much obliged.

Stacey answers:

Uh, I'm stumped...I thought that was normal.

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