Fiction Editor Ann Fisher interviews author Kimm Brockett Stammen. Read Brockett Stammen’s story “Hannie’s House” here.
“A lot of times I don’t know what a story is really about, or it’s about six different things and it won’t choose.”
Kimm Brockett Stammen
Our readers found the voices in “Hannie’s House” particularly compelling, and the relationship between the two main characters both terribly real, and also, amusing at times. How did you discover these characters and their distinct voices?
25 years ago, when I was a noisy musician, I bought a Craftsman fixer in West Seattle with my partner. It seemed like a good omen that the next door neighbors were an older couple who had renovated their second floor into a studio where they could play jazz.
After some years one of them died, and the other started to have trouble. Hugh was an awesome old guy who missed his wife terribly, and lived only to play trumpet. He seemed to be estranged from his family, his house started to fall apart, he slipped and broke his leg. I visited him in a rehab place and met his daughter, who was trying to get him into a care facility. But he refused to leave his house. I sympathized with him, and I sympathized with her, but neither of them sympathized with the other. Fascinating. So yes, unlike much of my fiction, this one originated in actual events, right next door.
As I re-read “Hannie’s House,” I’m struck by the way music threads itself through the story. Tell us a little bit about that aspect of this piece.
My husband and I were working musicians for many years. He stopped when he got a “real” job. I only stopped a few years ago, when I started my MFA. And I plan on playing again…soon. Anyway, my stories tend to be liberally sprinkled with music and musicians and broken accordions and such.
A favorite line is “We’re in this together, the house and I” in a scene where the character reveals her deep connection to her sense of place over time. The house becomes an important character in this story. Tell us a bit about how this developed.
Yes exactly, the house is a character. Did I mention that I live in a really old house myself? And that I’m a sucker for antiques and junk stores? The ways that inanimate objects (particularly those made of wood) store memories has fascinated me for a long time. I’ve been working on a novella for years that traces the history of the U.S. through an old bureau. The dents, the dings, the stains, paints and scuffs and warpings, these all leave their marks on an object, just as time wrinkles a human face.
In our conversations, you hinted that this story has had a bit of a jumbled journey to publication. Can you tell us a bit about the submission life of this story, so our readers can hear, once again, that it’s not always a straight line from draft, to revision, to publishing?
If by a “jumbled journey” you mean changing POV characters, three different titles, innumerable revisions and edits and 39 rejections, then yeah!
I dunno exactly what to make of this story’s journey compared to the more straightforward paths of others. I was a student (at the fabulous Spalding University Creative and Professional Writing MFA program) when I started sending it out, and I wasn’t familiar with the needs and tendencies of all the different lit mags. Also, a previous version of this story was based on the lyrics to the 1940’s song A Little Bird Told Me, and I learned the hard way how problematic copyright issues can be. Song lyrics: just don’t go there. I guess this story, like them all, has been part of my education as a writer.
Unlike quite a few other stories in my files, however, I never thought of giving up on Hannie’s House. I knew what it was trying to say, and that’s key. (A lot of times I don’t know what a story is really about, or else it’s about six different things and it won’t choose, or else I keep trying to make the story about something different than what it really wants to be about.) But I doubted that it would get published. I’m new-ish at this myself. My experience says keep going, get all the feedback you can, read all the lit mags you can, make a spreadsheet, rejoice in rejections, and embrace the jumble.
What are you currently working on?
My attention span tends to be short. If something isn’t working I start something else. Or go back to something that’s half-finished. Or re-edit something. Or read something begun in 2012 that I don’t remember writing. Or do laundry or brush the dog or paint something. I therefore have a whole lotta unfinished stuff: three memoirs, two biographies, my novella, a second story collection (the first is looking for a publisher, hint hint) many flash pieces, and short stories about a log house, a blind piano tuner, a guy destroying his dining room, God taking Tuesdays off, two musicians who hate each other driving through northern Canada, and a chair. And tons of other stuff I forget.
Do you have a “reach” journal you’d love to be published in? Why that one?
Things that make me want to be published in a particular journal:
-Beautiful production values (artwork, design, typography, editing)
-Responding in a reasonable and respectful amount of time.
-Encouraging rejections (When an editor takes the time to write “we were intrigued by this but…” or, “we liked this except we don’t understand the motivations of this character…,” on a rejection, that lit mag goes into the “Read Every Issue” and “Submit Again” pile.
A reach journal at present is The Colorado Review. Also One Story, AGNI, Bellevue Lit Review, Chatauqua, and Five Points. For all the reasons above. I submitted to Mud Season Review because I enjoyed the quality of the writing and thought this story in particular would be a good fit. I also liked the artwork and layout—and I received a helpful rejection to my first submission, in a reasonable amount of time. Yay and thank you!