Tuesday, September 8, 2020

TBR: Road Out of Winter by Alison Stine

TBR [to be read] is a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books who will tell us about their new work as well as offer tips on writing, stories about the publishing biz, and from time to time, a recipe! 

Give us your elevator pitch: what’s your book about in 2-3 sentences?

Road Out of Winter is a novel about a young woman who’s grown up working on her family’s marijuana farm. In an extreme winter, she leaves home, only to become the target of the leader of a violent cult because she has the most valuable skill in the climate chaos: she can make things grow.

Which character did you most enjoy creating? Why? And, which character gave you the most trouble, and why?

There is a young single mom in the story, like me, but unlike me she’s very outspoken. I loved writing her anger. I have a tendency to keep things in, but she lets you know, and I love that. It was therapeutic, writing her. A friend of mine who is also a survivor pointed out that she behaves as survivors sometimes do—no survival is the same, as no person is the same—lashing out, keeping people away to protect herself. She is what I want to say but wasn’t strong enough to at the time.

Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.

We actually got an acceptance right away, which shocked me. We had a big list of publishers to try, but in the back of my mind I kept thinking about MIRA Books, and that first phone call with Margot Mallinson. I knew she was the editor for my book. She saw it and she saw me.

I was very nervous about gate-keeping. That’s something that has happened a lot to me, and to many other writers who are poor or disabled, women writers, writers of color. I’ve had editors tell me I didn’t understand the words I used, editors that inflicted negative stereotypes into my writing about poverty, that changed my storytelling and therefore my story. But Margot told me straight-off as an editor the most important thing for her was to preserve my voice. She trusted me to write the book with my language, my intensity, my emotion. MIRA allowed me to tell the story the way it needed to be told, and I don’t think some editors or publishers would, especially with me being who I am.

I live below the poverty line in a rural place, I’m physically disabled—I’m never going to be accepted by a certain establishment, no matter how or what I write or am truly capable of. So I’m going to keep going, and do it how I can. Doors open in many different ways. Some of them are held open, some of them open with keys, some of them are pried open with knives. Just get in and hold the door for others.

My favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?

The story didn’t go where I thought it would. I really planned Road Out of Winter to be cross-country book. But the characters just got stuck. What I intended to be a small scene, an encounter with a dangerous group, ended up being a huge deal. And I was so surprised, I actually left the manuscript and walked away for almost a year. Then I came back, re-read it, realized: oh, they never get out of Appalachia. And finished it. It finished itself.

Sometimes it takes that time to complete a piece. Sometimes you have to walk away for a time. I don’t usually write about where I am—emotionally, anyway—but where I have been. Books need that reflection. Books, for me, are about looking back.

How did you find the title of your book?

I owe my title to the writer Jennifer Key. She came up with it in a brainstorming session. My title was originally The Grower, which I liked because the novel starts with the main character’s stepdaddy—so the reader might think the title is about him. He’s the grower. But it turns out, no—it’s this young woman. She has the power. She has the skill in this new winter world that people fight over, kill for.

My publisher wanted a title that was more dynamic, implying the journey that this book takes, and the danger. I fell in love with Road Out of Winter because there IS no road out of winter, no way out, nowhere to go to escape climate chaos—just like there is no road out of poverty. All my characters live in intergenerational poverty. And there is no one cure. No one way out.  You keep moving to survive.

Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book? (Any recipes I might share?)

Deer meat and fried potatoes, which I ate soooo much of when I was spending a lot of time out on a farm! The characters get sick of it, as I did. That said, potatoes fried in butter with onion is probably my favorite dish of all time. My fiancĂ© is Chicano, and we joke that we’re going to open a restaurant that blends Mexican and Appalachian cooking. I like simple, “trash” foods, things you can find in the woods like ramps, ground cherries. Ground cherry pie is the best thing I have ever baked. Chicken of the woods mushrooms also make an appearance in Road Out of Winter. They’re my favorite. You can spot them because of their bright orange shade. Fry them in butter.

READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR: https://www.alisonstine.com


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.