ROAD OUT OF WINTER | Author Q&A

I had the pleasure in participating in a Q&A with Alison Stine, the author of ROAD OUT OF WINTER.

I loved hearing her answers to the questions some other bloggers and I asked, but before I share those, here’s a quick summary of the book:

Surrounded by poverty and paranoia her entire life, Wil has been left behind in her small Appalachian town by her mother and her best friend. Not only is she tending her stepfather’s illegal marijuana farm alone, but she’s left to watch the world fall further into chaos in the face of a climate crisis brought on by another year of unending winter. So opens Alison Stine’s moving and lyrical cli-fi novel, ROAD OUT OF WINTER (MIRA Trade; September 1, 2020; $17.99).

With her now priceless grow lights stashed in her truck and a pouch of precious seeds, Wil upends her life to pursue her mother in California, collecting an eclectic crew of fellow refugees along the way. She’s determined to start over and use her skills to grow badly needed food in impossible farming conditions, but the icy roads and desperate strangers are treacherous to Wil and her gang. Her green thumb becomes the target of a violent cult and their volatile leader, and Wil must use all her cunning and resources to protect her newfound family and the hope they have found within each other.

 

And here’s the Q&A:

1. If Wil had a favorite song, what would it be?

I feel like she would have grown up listening to country, and to the music her mama liked, as I did, like Linda Ronstadt, Crystal Gale. I think she would really like Kacey Musgraves, and would have snuck a copy her albums to her friend who was raised very strict. But I think Wil’s favorite song would be Burning House by Cam. It was on the radio when I was writing. I used to sing it to my son. The lyrics speak a lot to Wil’s situation: “stay here with you/til this dream is gone.” It would have been on the radio when she was driving home from seeing the person who could never love her the way she wanted, driving through the place that could never love her back.

2. Which character in ROAD OUT OF WINTER do you most relate to?

Wil. We were a few months into the pandemic when I realized I actually am Wil. Writing her made me realize I’m stronger than I know. I can get my family cross-country safely. I can make it work. All of her plant knowledge is my own, which I gained from living in rural Appalachia for so long, and from my friends and neighbors. I cry more than she does, though.

3. What was your favorite scene to write? No spoilers!

Everything involving the skaters, though it scared me too. My son is a skater and my partner is (and I used to be, before getting hurt!). Friends of ours have a homemade skate ramp out in the country. Several of my friends basically have their own compounds which, I’m not gonna lie, is a dream. Anytime I can convey the wildness, strangeness, and the abandon of rural Appalachian Ohio is a good writing day. It can be scary but it can also be really fun, living in the middle of nowhere. You can do what you want, to both good and bad results.

4. Who was your favorite character to write and why?

Jamey. In my real life, in part because of my disability, I’m quiet, especially in new situations. I hold back. Jamey says the things I wish I could. She’s also, as my smart friend and early reader Ellee pointed out, a survivor: she can be sarcastic and harsh sometimes because of what she had to endure. Her defense mechanism is pretending not to care. But she does care, deeply.

5. Why was it important to you to have a queer character in your story?

I didn’t consciously set out to make Wil queer and I don’t know that she would call herself that exactly, if she has that language or community yet. She loves who she loves, but her experience of romantic love in a small town has been things just not working out. Nobody really seeing her. That was also my experience for a long time. I’ve only felt comfortable calling myself bisexual in the past few years, despite having had long-term relationships with both men and women. That was how I grew up, in a small conservative town. Wil wants love, and the woman she loves wants something else, a bigger life, that Wil always hoped she could make somehow right here where she grew up. My experience is that sometimes you have to make that life elsewhere. Sometimes rural spaces are not the friendliest, home is not the easiest. But I am very proud and glad to have a bi woman in a rural space in my book. I guess I wrote the book I needed when I was young and couldn’t find. It’s still hard to find bi characters, especially in adult literary and commercial fiction. It’s even harder to find them celebrated. We seemed to be skipped over quite a lot. Often I feel invisible, like my life and experiences and struggles don’t matter. Being bi is just who she is, it’s not a plot device. Just a fact, as it is in life.

6. Are you a pantser or a plotter?

I like to surprise myself so I am mostly just plunging into writing. The best stories come from dreams, in my opinion. Then once you have the dream, you need to wait a little while until characters and the main events take shape. I usually know the three main acts before I start to write a book, but that’s it. I start to know the end by about the middle. With ROAD OUT OF WINTER, I knew nothing, because the book originally did not go where I wanted it to and so I stopped writing. I thought they were going to go clear across the country and so I stopped. When I came back to the manuscript a few months later, I realized, no, they were never supposed to get out of Appalachia. And I finished the book.

7. Where is your favorite place to write?

I can work anywhere, and have had to, being a single mother for most of my child’s life. But a lot of ROAD OUT OF WINTER, and my next book, were written and revised at The Westend Ciderhouse, a cidery and bar in my town. I would go in the afternoon—they opened early on Fridays—and had my favorite table. Nobody bothered me. Several of the bartenders were my friends but they knew I was working. It was very quiet, and kinda dark and cool, and I would just write—and drink one cider, until it was time for my son to come home from school. I write better in bars than in coffeeshops. I guess I’m just that type.

8. What’s the worst writing advice you ever received?

That you need the approval of a teacher or professor or workshop or a degree to write. Writing is being a collector and interpreter of experiences. You don’t have to study writing formally or major in it, and looking back, I kinda wish I had explored more of my other interests in music and theatre and art. All that would have helped my writing too. Don’t let go of the other stuff that makes you happy. Everything you do helps fill your well as a writer—other art, sports, travel, friendships. Books are your best teachers. The best thing you can do to be a better writer is to read, to experience, to write, and to live.

9. What is the best book you’ve read this year?

The best book I read this year so far was Meg Elison’s The Book of the Unnamed Midwife. I read and loved all the books in the trilogy. They were some of the first books I could get through in the early days of the pandemic, when my mind and heart were all over the place. They helped center me, in part because they made me feel seen. The trilogy focuses on women, queer folks, bi folks, and how we might survive in a world that doesn’t really see or even want us—and that matters to me.

10. What are you working on next?

My second novel TRASHLANDS is coming out from MIRA in the fall of 2021. It’s about a single mom at a strip club at the end of the world. She has to choose between being an artist, being a parent, or being in love, which isn’t much of a choice at all but the kind that women throughout time have been forced to make. And I’m starting to write my next novel, about a reporter who is hard of hearing (like me!) and is called back home to investigate something really bad.

 

 

ALISON STINE lives in the rural Appalachian foothills. A recipient of an Individual Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), she was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. She has written for The Atlantic, The Nation, The Guardian, and many others. She is a contributing editor with the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.

You can find her on…
Twitter: @AlisonStine
Instagram: @AliStineWrites
And Goodreads

Thanks for reading, I hope you have a lovely day!

The Mutant Mushroom Takeover | Book Review

The Mutant Mushroom Takeover by by Summer Rachel Short is such a FUN Middle Grade book.

Here’s a synopsis:

“Ever since Magnolia Stone’s scientist dad left Shady Pines to find a new job, Maggie’s been stuck in her gramma’s mobile home with her grumpy older brother, Ezra. Now she’s on a mission to put her family back together by winning the Vitaccino Junior Naturalist Merit Award.

When Maggie and her best friend, Nate, a wannabe YouTube star and alien conspiracy theorist, scout out a rare bioluminescent fungus, Maggie is certain she’s a shoo-in to win. But after animals around town start sprouting unusual growths and Ezra develops a bluish glow and hacking cough, Maggie wonders what they’ve really stumbled onto.

As things in Shady Pines become stranger and more dangerous, and conversations with her dad get complicated, Maggie must use her scientific smarts and Nate’s impressive knowledge of all things supernatural to put things back in order and prevent these peculiar glowing mushrooms from taking over their home.”

I love that the MC is a tenacious girl with a passion for nature and science! It’s a great read to encourage kids in STEM. It’s also slightly creepy, but not too much, so it would be perfect for kids who want to read an atmospheric fall book with some spooky vibes without it being over-the-top terrifying for them. This fascinating story kept me turning the pages late into the night, and I enjoyed every minute. It’s definitely a 5 star read. I’ve already pre-ordered a finished copy, and I can’t wait for my ten-year-old to read it, too!

Summer is also a friend of mine and she’s such a sweetheart, I’m so excited for her debut novel!!!

Thanks Summer, and Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing, for the free ARC to review.

You Have a Match | Book Review

Oh my goodness, y’all…this book felt like reading all my favorite tropes in one book!!!

You Have a Match by Emma Lord is a tale of sisters, found family, and my favorite love trope (hint, it’s not enemies-to-lovers, but you’ll just have to read it to find out).

Here’s a quick blurb about it:

“When Abby signs up for a DNA service, it’s mainly to give her friend and secret love interest, Leo, a nudge. After all, she knows who she is already: Avid photographer. Injury-prone tree climber. Best friend to Leo and Connie…although ever since the B.E.I. (Big Embarrassing Incident) with Leo, things have been awkward on that front.

But she didn’t know she’s a younger sister.

When the DNA service reveals Abby has a secret sister, shimmery-haired Instagram star Savannah Tully, it’s hard to believe they’re from the same planet, never mind the same parents — especially considering Savannah, queen of green smoothies, is only a year and a half older than Abby herself.

The logical course of action? Meet up at summer camp (obviously) and figure out why Abby’s parents gave Savvy up for adoption. But there are complications: Savvy is a rigid rule-follower and total narc. Leo is the camp’s co-chef, putting Abby’s growing feelings for him on blast. And her parents have a secret that threatens to unravel everything.

But part of life is showing up, leaning in, and learning to fit all your awkward pieces together. Because sometimes, the hardest things can also be the best ones.”

Emma’s debut novel, Tweet Cute, was one of my favorite reads last year, so I was excited about the opportunity to read a free eARC of this one. (Thanks St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley.)

I expected to find a cute YA romance, and there was plenty of that to give me all the sappy feels, but more than anything, the story focuses on the two sisters who didn’t know about each other. Their journey of finding a sister-relationship with a stranger, and discovering the story of why neither of them knew they had a sister is a roller coaster of emotions, and I loved being along for the ride!!! The main character, Abby, was quirky, brash, awkward, and anxious – and so very relatable. The summer camp setting is totally fun. And the story made my heart break for Abby and her sister. It made me root for love for Abby, cheer her on as she struggled to pursue her passions, and ultimately grin ear-to-ear at the heartwarming conclusion.

It has beautiful diverse representation, from her Filipino best friend, Leo, to her sister who has a girlfriend. And, of course, adoption is a huge part of the story and it’s something that I rarely read about.

I think it’s my favorite contemporary I’ve read this year. A total 5 star read. And I’d recommend it for fans of Tweet Cute, Geekerella, P.S. I Like You, and Parent Trap!

Book Review | Warriors of Wing and Flame

This beautiful book by Sara B. Larson is the sequel to Sisters of Shadow and Light, which was one of my FAVORITE reads last year!

Here’s a synopsis for book 1 (sharing for book 2 would be a spoiler if you haven’t read 1 yet):

The night my sister was born, the stars died and were reborn in her eyes….

Zuhra and Inara have grown up in the Citadel of the Paladins, an abandoned fortress where legendary, magical warriors once lived before disappearing from the world–including their Paladin father the night Inara was born.

On that same night, a massive, magical hedge grew and imprisoned them within the citadel. Inara inherited their father’s Paladin power; her eyes glow blue and she is able to make plants grow at unbelievable rates, but she has been trapped in her own mind because of a “roar” that drowns everything else out–leaving Zuhra virtually alone with their emotionally broken human mother.

For fifteen years they have lived, trapped in the citadel, with little contact from the outside world…until the day a stranger passes through the hedge, and everything changes.

The relationship between the sisters, and the unexpected twists and turns of this book stuck with my long after I read it, and I couldn’t wait to read book 2!!! I’m so thrilled that NetGalley and Tor Teen gave me the opportunity to read a free advanced e-copy of Warriors of Wing and Flame.

This book was AMAZING! It started out slow, as pretty much all sequels do, because the author has to try to work in reminders for the reader of all the important things they may have forgotten from the previous book. (Side note, I wish sequels would just start putting a “previously on” section at the front, quickly reminding you of everything you need to know, so you can jump right into the story after you read it…or you could skip it, if you’re binging a series and don’t need to be reminded.)

When we first see the sisters in this book, both of them are grieving and traumatized and I love the way Sara lets us see that, and be with them as they  deal with it, rather than quickly brushing it away.  Once the action really began, I couldn’t put the book down. I loved where the story took us, from developments in relationships, to personal character arcs for the sisters. Inara’s story in book 2 was especially poignant to me. This book had its share of both joy and heartbreak…but there was a thread of hope, no matter how dark the sisters’ situations became.

Sara concluded the series beautifully, and I felt very satisfied. It definitely earns a spot on my favorites shelf. 5 stars.

I would recommend this duology to fans of Strange the DreamerThe Girl of Fire and Thorns,  and Sisters of Sword and Song.  And I’ll definitely be going back and picking up Sara’s previous books, now!

Feel free to message me if you’ve read it. I’d love to chat. Have a great day, lovelies!

Book Review | Burn Our Bodies Down

I loved the gripping, unique voice in Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power (who also wrote Wilder Girls). The story was eccentric and eerie, and one of those odd tales where I wasn’t really quite sure what sort of book it was until near the end, and that made the experience of reading it immersive and delightful.

Here’s a quick synopsis:

“Ever since Margot was born, it’s been just her and her mother. No answers to Margot’s questions about what came before. No history to hold on to. No relative to speak of. Just the two of them, stuck in their run-down apartment, struggling to get along.

But that’s not enough for Margot. She wants family. She wants a past. And she just found the key she needs to get it: A photograph, pointing her to a town called Phalene. Pointing her home. Only, when Margot gets there, it’s not what she bargained for.

Margot’s mother left for a reason. But was it to hide her past? Or was it to protect Margot from what’s still there?

The only thing Margot knows for sure is there’s poison in their family tree, and their roots are dug so deeply into Phalene that now that she’s there, she might never escape.”

You can find links to a Pinterest mood board, and a playlist on Rory Power’s site.

 

I thoroughly enjoyed the complicated family relationships, blooming friendships, zero romance (other than a mentioned attraction), lesbian representation, and an ever-present sense of mystery and otherworldliness. There’s also grief, and loss, and heartache. It was a solid 4 star read for me, and I’ll be on the lookout for more books from Rory Power in the future.

A big thanks to NetGalley and Random House Children’s for a free eARC of the book.