Alison Stine, a freelance journalist and fiction writer, started her career as a poet, but knew she always wanted to be a novelist. Those aspirations came true earlier this year with the release of her first novel “Road Out of Winter.” 

Inspired by what seemed to be a never-ending winter in southeast Ohio, Stine’s novel details the journey of main character Wylodine as she faces dystopian collapse in the middle of an unprecedented winter while trying to travel out of Appalachian Ohio, accompanied by her chosen family of strangers she met in the hills. 

Extreme weather, violent cults and the Appalachian mountains, “Stine’s vision is of a changing world where an unexpected hero searches for where hope might take root,” according to the novel’s description.

In an endless winter, she carries seeds of hope. 

Road Out of Winter,” Alison Stine

Stine also has published three books of poetry and written for a variety of publications, including 100 Days in Appalachia. She is currently working on her second fiction novel, which she describes as a story based on realistic experiences in a world where plastic is currency. 

“I do always try to have something going,” Stine says in the following interview. “I think that really helps you as a creative person or as an artist to constantly have a new project in the works.”

As part of an Instagram Live discussion, Stine spoke with 100 Days in Appalachia’s Assistant Editor for Social Media Diana Riojas to discuss “Road Out of Winter,” her inspirations as a writer and how her lived experience inspires her work. 

Responses have been edited for clarity. View the full conversation on our Instagram page.

DR: You talk about how southeastern Ohio was your home and, for the most part, that’s where your main character grew up. So, what circumstances does the character in that region experience that are similar to yours? 

AS: I feel like the ideas that are really important are the ideas that you dream, and I had this dream a few years ago, this image of a greenhouse…in winter. It was surrounded by snow, was glowing yellow from within and there were…two young adults and a baby [inside], and I knew the baby wasn’t their baby. 

That’s really all I had. So, I woke up with that image and I kept it for a while. And then there was a winter in Ohio, which if you are from the region, maybe specifically from Ohio or have lived there, you know our weather can be pretty unpredictable. They say if you don’t like it to wait 5 minutes and it will change. But, this winter was really long and spring just kept on not coming. 

It was stretching into May and it was still very cold. And I just had this idea: what if spring never comes back? What would happen if spring never arrived? So, I had this dream, I had this idea, and that was enough for me; I just started to write. 

As far as my own circumstances: I have been a single mom for most of my son’s life. I do have lived experiences of poverty, and I think that is in everything that I write. Even if I’m not specifically writing anything about poverty, I think having that inside of me, that never leaves you. I will always calculate how much the groceries are at the grocery store when they’re in my cart. And I’m usually right to the dollar because I have that experience of needing that muscle. 

So, I think that’s in this book – as it’s in a lot of my work – lived experiences of poverty, what that is like to make do, to not have enough, to scramble using everything you can to make it, which is what the characters really do.

DR: And you talk about how creativity goes in all of your writing and your lived experiences, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction. So, how has that changed or been shown in your poetry, your novel and your reporting?

AS: I think that they’re all really tentacles of the same beast. I think it is common for a reporter to also be a poet or for a novelist to also be a journalist or a musician. I think that if you have the impulse to tell a story and to use music or beautiful language or creativity to try to get it across, I think that shows up in everything that you do. 

I know I’m really drawn to writing about people, and trying to tell not just the idea behind the story if I’m working on an article, but who’s the person, who’s going to be affected? And I think that’s really important because the stories that you write as a journalist, they don’t go away, they stay there, especially if you’ve written about someone’s life or their livelihood. I think it’s really important to care about the community that you’re writing about and care about the issue, whatever it is – whether it’s in a book or an article, I think you have to have that heart there. 

DR: You mention how you kinda jumped around in writing poetry and then novels and now with your reporting, how did your early career as a poet transform or give you a path to becoming a novelist? What are some things you gained as a poet that kind of transferred over? 

AS: I describe myself as a recovering poet. I can really only write one kind of thing at a time. Right now, [I’m] balancing my freelance career with my fiction, which doesn’t pay the bills. I write fiction in the morning and then I do the journalism and my freelance work in the afternoon, so having that divider helps me. 

I haven’t written a poem for a while, but I’m not opposed to it. I think it might come back someday. Language is really important to me. Not just what’s happening, but how it’s happening. Description is very important to me; landscape is really important to me. I think of myself as – I mean, I don’t know what kind of poet I am – but, I think as a fiction writer, I’m really a fiction writer of place. My home and places that have been my home are really important to me, and I think that stories come out of that place. 

So, I think as a poet, you’re kind of looking for ideas everywhere and sometimes they might be smaller than some of the grand plotted stories we think of in some novels. I’m also kind of drawn to smaller stories, but I think that there’s a lot of beauty in that, especially when writing about women and people that haven’t gotten their lives blown up and magnified so much. I think the smaller attention to detail as a poet is important.

DR: You talk about how a region defines your writing into some capacity and I heard that you recently moved, so has that transformed your writing in some capacity? Or have you stuck to your southeastern Ohio roots in that aspect?

AS: Yeah, it will be interesting to see how it plays out. We just moved a little over a month ago, which was it’s own adventure, moving during a pandemic. I actually wrote an essay for The Rumpus about this. It was strange how [moving] kind of recalled the story in my book. I wrote it, and then we ended up taking this cross country trip in a time of great global stress and dystopia in a level. I feel like we tend to write about where we’ve been, not where we are. I don’t think of writing as therapy; it’s not therapy for me anyway, but you do work through your emotions sometimes when you’re writing. 

This character, Wil, the main character in my book is not me. Her experiences are not my own but her emotions definitely are. I think the complex feelings that she had about her home, which was my home, southeastern Ohio, is true as well. It’s the most wonderful place in the world. My son was born there. That is our community. It saved my life; same time, drove me mad. It was very frustrating. 

So, I think you can have those contrasting feelings inside of you. And I think those are feelings that I’ll struggle with my entire life, wherever we go. We do hope to go back home someday. Wherever I go, I will have those feelings inside of me. That is my son’s birthplace. He will always be called there, and we will always go back there. But, I think that part of writing is working through those feelings in time. Will I feel differently about that in 10 years? Probably. What is it going to look like after the pandemic? That’s another thing that we’ll have to see.

DR: You kind of lead off to my next point. We’re in the pandemic and there are so many similar themes in your novel and what’s happening around us? I’m curious to know if this moment in our time has made you reflect about your own writing? What are the similarities? What have you found that you initially didn’t realize that your novel had in the story, but then you read back to it and you realize, oh, yeah, that’s kind of happening now? 

AS: Yeah, I think it’s an interesting time for all writers, maybe especially creative writers because you are seeing some of your things come true. I mean, when I wrote “Road Out of Winter,” I was fresh off a really difficult divorce and I’ve been single-parenting my son for a really long time. And that is this kind of dystopia. That was certainly not the life I set out for myself. So, writing this fictional book about this global disaster was an escape for me. It was a chance to disappear into another world where I didn’t have to worry about my own problems. But it’s hard to see that world kind of come true on many levels. It’s not the same. My book is not about a pandemic, but it is about extreme things which is definitely what 2020 is; it’s an extreme year. 

I did a reading a few weeks ago, and there’s a part in the book where the narrator gets a letter from the school district. They say that they have decided to postpone opening school for a few months because of the extreme weather. When I read it, I felt sick to my stomach because I thought, ‘oh no, this is the same letter that I got.’ This is the email that we all got about our children. It’s hard to see that kind of stuff coming true. 

DR: I definitely want to hear about your future novel and keep an eye out, but what are your future plans as a novelist? Should we expect for you to kind of go into poetry or more into your reporting as well in the near future or in a couple years from now?

AS: Well I’ve had a sort of career where — I think this is common for women, especially people who are mothers or single parents — I’ve kind of gone back and forth and in and out of things. Right now, we’re making it work. We’re making it work with doing my freelancing and doing journalism and trying to use the time I have to make novels as well. 

I do have a novel set to come out next fall. It’s also from Mira, the same publisher, an imprint of HarperCollins that [published] “Road Out of Winter.” It’s not a sequel, it’s another standalone book. It’s about a world where plastic is currency, which when I wrote it, seemed very far off but maybe now it’s not so far away. It’s about this young woman who’s a single mother, who makes her living kind of scavenging plastic. But she also makes art which is not really valued in that world, in that kind of life. So, she has to choose between her art and love and survival. 

I do always try to have something going. I think that really helps you as a creative person or as an artist to constantly have a new project in the works. Something else to disappear into, especially now, and so we’ll see where that goes. But like I said, that’s a more realistic story.

Kristen Uppercue and Delaney Geiger contributed to this interview.

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