READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: Back when she was penning film reviews for this weekly rag, Stacey Richter had a secret identity: she was quietly writing strange tales about Scandinavian death-metal bands, artistic greyhounds and rat boys. She started getting some attention when she won a few contests, and before long the literary world was buzzing. Last year, the Village Voice called her a "writer on the verge." This year, she broke through with her first book, My Date With Satan, a collection of 13 short stories that had the critics raving. Time magazine said "Richter covers female rivalry and the gender wars in a manner that indicates she may be in possession of one of the more outlandishly imaginative minds in contemporary fiction." The New York Times Book Review says her stories "all are linked by a delicate understanding of the fundamental humanity that underlies our put-on personas, however frail, freakish or off-putting they may seem." Like a 21st-century Kurt Vonnegut, Richter understands that sometimes you have to cross over into some pretty crazy territory to learn some basic truths about the human heart.