The Sweetest Debut: Abby Fabiaschi on ‘This is Us’ and the Potential of Melania Fanfiction

Welcome to The Sweetest Debut, a regular installment in which we reach out to debut fiction, poetry and nonfiction authors working with presses of all sizes and find out about their pop culture diets, their writing habits, and their fan-fiction fantasies.

Abby Fabiaschi’s I Liked My Life skirts both sides of the grave to explore the effect of grief on a family whose mother has been lost to suicide — but whose ghost hovers around her loved ones. She spoke to us about watching This is Us on the treadmill and obsessing over Melania Trump.

What is your elevator pitch to folks in the industry describing your book?

I Liked My Life is the empowering story of a family forced to redefine itself after a devoted stay-at-home wife and mother commits suicide. Her husband and teenage daughter are left heartbroken and reeling. How could the exuberant, exacting woman they loved disappear so abruptly, seemingly without reason, from their lives? As they sift through details of her last days, trying to understand the woman they thought they knew, Brady and Eve come to terms with unsettling truths.abby-fabiaschi-credit-nina-subin

What do you tell your relatives it’s about?

It depends on the relative… I have warned the oldest generation that some of the characters use alarming language. To which the strictest elder said, “Oh no, Abby. Now why would you go and do a thing like that?”
To the rest of my crew I talk about I Liked My Life as an exploration of motherhood and mourning.

How long was this project marinating in a draft or in your head before it became a book deal?

A decade, but I was working a fulltime day job during most of it.

Name a canonical book you think is totally overrated.

The Catcher in the Rye. The writing was genius, no doubt, but even in high school I considered Holden Caulfield a whiner.

How about a book you’ve read more than two times?

Classic: To Kill a Mockingbird; Contemporary: Elizabeth Strout’s My Name is Lucy Barton; Educational: Stephen King’s On Writing.

What’s a book or other piece of art that influenced your writing for this particular project?

I was inspired by a sentiment from Adrienne Rich’s poetry: If we could learn to learn from pain even as it grasps us. Isn’t that a powerful thought? I am a believer that slivers of beauty exist in life’s most antagonizing moments, if only you know where to look. With I Liked My Life, I set out with three characters—Madeline, Eve, and Brady—as they learn exactly that, each in their own way.

What’s your favorite show to binge watch when you’re not writing?

I only watch TV when I work out. Right now I’m spellbound by This is Us. As a mother through adoption, the show has captured my heart and mind. I sob through each episode—it’s a good thing I’m on an elliptical in my basement and not at a gym.

What’s the last movie you saw in theaters?

Pete’s Dragon. I haven’t been to a grown up movie in years. It’s hard to justify paying a babysitter for something you could be doing at home while the kids sleep.

Do you listen to music while you’re writing? If so, what kind?

Nope. I like pure silence or tons of busy background noise (like at a café). When tunes are on I tend to focus on the song instead of my project.

Who is your fashion icon?

Ha! My new goal in life is to get one.

If you could buy a house anywhere in the world just to write in, where would it be?

Tuscany. My cousin got married there a few years ago and I fell in love.

What did you initially want to be when you grew up?

A poet. From second grade on you could count on there being a written poem folded up in my pocket in case anyone showed interest.

Did you have a new years resolution for 2017? If so, what?

I’m board chair for an amazing organization (www.herfuturecoalition.org) that has spent over a decade providing shelter, education, and employment to survivors of human trafficking. My goal this year is to double the number of education scholarships we can provide.

What freaks you out the most about four years of Trump as US President?

I worry our service people will be deployed over tensions that could and should be handled with diplomacy. I have this terrible fear that World War III will be Americans defending Trump’s ego.

Do you prefer a buzzing coffee shop or a silent library?

I can’t possibly choose; they are my two favorite places. It would be like picking between eggplant parm and homemade peanut butter ice cream.

Do you write at a desk, bed or couch?

Desk.

Is morning writing or late-night writing your go-to-time?

I write five hours a day, but late-night is my most productive creatively. (Perhaps because it’s done with a glass of wine.)

Do you tend towards writing it all out in one big messy draft and then editing, or perfecting as you go (or something in between)?

I start without a defined plot, so it’s messy until I find the story. Once I have that, I tend to edit a bit as I go, but there are always several front to back revisions at the end.

How do you pay the bills, if not solely by your pen and your wit?

I have another half who is smart as a whip and has a job with great benefits. He even helps with the house stuff. I call him Kevin from Heaven.

If you could write fanfiction about any pop culture character, real or imagined, who would it be?

Melania Trump. Oh my heart, there’s too much to work with there. Did you know she speaks five languages? She strikes me as equal parts complicated and simple. I think she married a man for money with the understanding that she’d have to put out when he was not traveling for work; it seemed like a reasonable trade. You don’t marry Donald Trump thinking he has potential to be POTUS.

I bet Melania spends a lot of time thinking, “this is not what I signed up for.”