An Interview with Lannie Stabile
Interview by Charlotte Hamrick
I first met Lannie Stabile about four years ago when we both volunteered for the same litmag. I knew her as a poet who wrote transcendent, heart-stopping poetry. I was (am) a huge fan. Her book Strange Furniture is a favorite of mine. When she branched out into flash fiction I thought, “Of course!” Her creativity with words and phrases, the stories she tells in her poetry, makes her a natural for fiction. I talked with Lannie about her upcoming debut fiction collection, Something Dead in Everything, published by ELJ Editions.
How long have you been writing Flash Fiction? What was your first published piece?
I didn’t even know flash fiction existed until a few years ago. And, honestly, it’s a perfect form for me. I don’t often have the patience to write longer things. I can’t tell you how many abandoned novels I have. Outlining, I’ve learned, helps me get a little further in longer projects, but it rarely gets me to the end.
My first published flash fiction piece was “Like Butter,” in Riggwelter Press. It’s about a girl who daydreams of her step-father’s death. You can find it in the Something Dead in Everything collection.
The title of your new book is intriguing. How did you come up with the title Something Dead in Everything? Is there a significance to it?
As you know, I am primarily a poet, but I’ve recently been dabbling in flash and short fiction. I wrote maybe one or two prose pieces before last year. But in February 2021, magically, I wrote 6 stories. Boom, boom, boom. They were all about death in some way. I’m sure the catalyst for this was that my mother was in the ICU from the end of January to mid-February. She never left the hospital. So, what I’m trying to say is I was thinking a lot about grief, a lot about family, and a lot about love. That’s what this collection is about.
Why and how did you decide to put together a collection of your Flash Fiction stories?
Back when Damon McKinney was the Managing Editor of Emerge Journal/ELJ Editions, he reached out to me on Twitter and asked me to submit something for their open reading period. I told him I didn’t have a full-length but maybe I could scrounge up a chapbook. He said to send whatever I had. I had previously published “Trashed” with them, so he already had a taste of my fiction style. Anyway, ELJ liked the pieces and asked me to work at building it into a full-length, which is exactly what I did.
So, some of the stories in this book were written expressly for the book? How long did that take and how did you find the inspiration for all the stories within that time frame? I ask because I am in awe of writers who can turn out new work at a high rate.
Haha. This makes me think of Todd Dillard and Madeleine Corley’s recent podcast interview on Too Lit to Quit, in which Todd called me an “engine.”
I don’t believe I ever set out to write specific pieces for the collection. It was more a story would come to me, I’d write it down, then think, “Hey. This would be a great fit for the book.”
Something Dead in Everything was officially picked up in May 2021, so it’s taken a year to fill out the collection to where I want it to be. In fact, the last story was added at the beginning of May 2022. For Lent, I challenged myself to write 100 words a day, and I ended up with this beautiful funeral piece. I sent it to my editor, Ariana, begging her not to kill me for requesting an addition so late in the process. But she absolutely adored it.
Which story in the book did you have the hardest time writing?
Before my wife Kate got pregnant with our daughter Dawson, I started “Mark Forgot the Baby Formula.” I don’t want to give anything away, but it’s not the happiest of pieces–are any of these, though? Once we found out we were gonna have a baby, I didn’t pick that story up for several months. It was too hard to imagine myself in Mark’s shoes. Until, finally, I forced myself to tie up loose ends.
Which story was the most fun to write?
Okay, this is going to sound awful, but hear me out. “Muriel Vs. the Hunger” is about a mother experiencing postpartum depression, so it probably shouldn’t have been fun to write. But, come on, it’s in the POV of a hamster. An angry, fed up hamster at that. I had a blast imagining how a hamster might react to being over-tired, overburdened, and under-supported.
How did you come up with the idea of a hamster as the protagonist?
Oh gosh. I don’t even remember. Sometimes I write things and have no recollection of inspiration or manifestation. I’ll suddenly have this fully-formed piece and go, “Now, where the hell did that come from?” It’s a little spooky, but it’s a lot awesome.
I do, however, remember that I wrote “Muriel Vs. the Hunger” for a Fractured Lit contest. It was the same week I wrote “R.I.P. Jeanette” and “The Morning Routine.” I’ve never been published by Fractured, but boy! do their contests inspire me. Maybe one day I’ll win.
Which of the characters do you relate to the most and why?
Hands down, it is Mickie in “The Send Off.” I say that because the story is semi-autobiographical. We never had a funeral for my mom because the thought of cramming 50 unvaccinated people into a room during the dead of winter, while COVID rampaged, was horrifying. We ended up opting for an outdoor summer memorial, which felt a lot safer, and I think mom would’ve liked that better anyway. But writing “The Send Off” allowed me to imagine the funeral we never had.
So many of your stories have a dark humor in them which I think is really hard to pull off successfully, but you do it brilliantly. Even in the midst of a story about a loved one’s death, you inject humor and make us giggle. I’m thinking specifically of the first story in the collection, “To Wash and Dry a Vessel.” I think beginning the book with that story was genius because it’s a real attention-grabber and a good example of your dark humor, yet grief isn’t overshadowed at all. How do you find the balance of humor and brevity?
Long, long, long before Emerge Journal picked up my story “Trashed,” which is about the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, I received a rejection that called the story “irreverent.” That really stung. I was 15 when the shuttle exploded. I remember exactly where I was, and I remember exactly what I was doing. The event rocked me. I went to Space Camp when I was a kid, for Christ’s sake. I couldn’t imagine holding this story with anything but reverence. It took me quite some time to realize that that “irreverence” they were picking up on was just my unique writing lens. I’m not being disrespectful; I’m processing trauma. Real or imagined, it doesn’t matter.
So, I don’t know how that dark humor developed or how it so often finds its way into my writing, but I know it’s what distinguishes my writing from others’.
Do you use Beta readers?
No. Not really. If I’m truly stumped about something, like the story isn’t feeling quite right, I might ask someone to read it. But that’s few and far between.
How many books have you written and do you have a favorite?
Let’s see. I have quite a few at this point. Which is wonderful, but now I gotta use my fingers to count them all. Ha! I have 1, 2, 3, 4 published, 1, 2, 3 forthcoming, and one anthology that I edited.
My favorite book is always the one I’m currently marketing. Which is maybe an unintentional Jedi mind trick, of sorts, because who wants to market a book they’re not completely gaga about?
Speaking of marketing, what has been the most effective and the most enjoyable marketing activity you’ve experienced?
Hands down, I’ve loved coming up with Zeus memes. Last year, when my marketing for Good Morning to Everyone Except Men Who Name Their Dogs Zeus was more robust, I started creating daily “Zeus Sucks” memes. It was basically me dragging Zeus over and over again. I loved it. I’ve also been told others really looked forward to the memes every day.
Has writing and publishing changed the way you see yourself?
Yes. Absolutely. When I first started submitting in late 2018, I suppose I was trying everything on for size and looking for validation and purpose. Which, I’m sure you know, is commonly fleeting for writers. We’ll experience one rejection and immediately forget the 10 other acceptances before that.
In the last few years, however, I’ve felt myself become more and more confident. More and more comfortable in the creative skin I’m in. I’ve gone from being completely wrecked by a rejection to shrugging my shoulders and jogging on.
I’m not impervious, though. It would be ridiculous to claim that. I’ve just figured out how to channel that sad writer energy. Anytime I’m feeling particularly challenged by my ego, I reach out to help someone else. Most of the projects I’m a part of (Bring a Friend! Open Mic, The New Sledder, I Am Not a Lit Mag Contest, etc…), I’ve created in a moment of doubt.
Finally, the most important question: What’s your favorite writing snack or drink?
Oh gosh. I hate to disappoint, but I’m not really a snacker. And my go-to drink is ice water. Exciting, I know.
Lannie, ice water is good! It keeps the brain cells hydrated!
The book launch for Something Dead in Everything is June 26 on Eventbrite. Get your tickets here.