Welcome to Barren Island Books, the author interview series that’s in no way related to a popular music-based radio programme. You know the rules by now: my guests are exiled to a remote island with only five books for company, selected from the categories I give them. It’s up to them to make sure they choose wisely, because they’re going to be stuck with those books for a long, long time …
My interviewee this week is Alison Stine, author of young adult fantasy novel Supervision – out today from Harper Voyager! When she's not being banished to a desert island, Alison can be found at www.alisonstine.com.
Alison, thanks for joining us. First of all, could you please tell us a little bit about yourself – just so we know who it is we’re sending into exile. Illogical fears, unusual birthmarks, whether you’d rather wrestle a bear or punch a shark, that kind of thing.
I live in Appalachia. I love mountains, small towns, rust and mud and abandoned things. I have three previously published books of poems, and I work as a freelance writer, reporting on stories for magazines, but Supervision is my first published novel. I did my PhD in part on graffiti (I love street art of all kinds). Also my piano is haunted.
There’s a story there that you’ll have to tell me sometime! And what about your own work? What are the inspirations behind it? What would make someone else choose it to accompany them into exile?
I’m inspired by everything, and I pull a lot of weird things into my stories. Supervision has graffiti, ballet, a character called The Firecracker, bloody lockers in a school hallway, cats without tails, a ghost train. Along with loving weirdness, I love people and I think my characters would make good friends for you! I work very hard to make them good company for myself—my parents would say the reason I became a writer is because we lived in remote, rural Indiana, and I would sit in the fields by myself as a child and make up friends and stories about them to keep myself from being lonely; they would make good company for you too.
Now let’s move on to the books you’re going to take to the island with you. First up, it’s your favourite childhood book – perhaps the one that got you interested in reading in the first place, or the one you read over and over when you were young. Which will you choose, and why?
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery is one of the first books I remember reading again and again. I love Anne. I feel like she is real still, and I think this book, as well as Montgomery’s Emily of New Moon, were the first books I read with a writer as a main character. Not only are they incredible stories, they helped me realize that I could do this thing for real, I could write: that writing was a calling and a way of life.
I can totally understand that, though I was a New Moon rather than a Green Gables girl myself – I loved Emily! Next, the book that made the greatest impact on your life. This could be one that inspired you to become a writer, or one that made you look at the world in a whole new way – maybe even one that resulted in real-life romance or adventure.
Above the River by James Wright. I read Wright’s collected poems when I was a first year student in college. His language made a deep impact on me, but his subject matter, often writing about outcasts, made a deeper one. I had always wanted to be a writer, but I had never really read anything set in a town like the (small, impoverished, rural and post-industrial) one in which I grew up. But Wright had poems about towns like mine. He had a poem, in fact, “Stages on a Journey Westward,” which mentions my specific hometown by name. I was so surprised I fell out of my bunk bed. I realized my life and the lives of the people I love were worthy of being told.
Which is an important realization to have. For your third book – and you’re probably going to need this one, all alone on a remote island – I’d like you to choose your greatest comfort read. You know, the one you turn to when you’re sad or ill or just need a little pick-me-up.
The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I love the descriptions of food in the Little House books (I even own the Little House on the Prairie cookbook), but in this book, things get dire. Food runs out, fuel runs out as blizzard after blizzard hits. It’s a story of survival that drives you forward, and makes whatever you’re dealing with seem bearable in comparison.
Fourthly, it’s your unexpected treasure: a book you didn’t expect to like but did, maybe one outside your usual genre or that you picked up with low expectations but were pleasantly surprised …
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte. I love Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights but this Bronte took me by surprise. A creepy and compelling book that feels surprisingly contemporary, it’s almost pathological with characters that seem real—and really make you shudder.
And finally, I’d like you to choose your instant classic – the book you think most deserves to be read and reread by future generations. It’s up to you whether this book is already considered a classic or is something more obscure.
The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman. This book is daring. I’m amazed it was ever published (by Small Beer Press, co-founded by one of my favorite short story writers, Kelly Link). I got sucked into the world of the book completely—so much so that, when it ended, I threw it across the room. I was mad it was over and shocked; I was absorbed, devouring pages and didn’t realize I was almost at the end! I felt like I was yanked from the world of this book too soon. I wanted it to last. I wanted to know everything.
It sounds wonderful! Anyway, we’ll get those five books packaged up ready for your journey. Since we’re not completely heartless here at Barren Island Books, we’ll also let you take one song/piece of music, one film and one other item of your choice into exile with you …
I’m writing this from an artists’ colony in very remote, snowy Vermont with no wi-fi in my room, and no TV! So I wish I had brought with me: the album Hounds of Love by Kate Bush, my Buffy the Vampire Slayer DVDs, and a poster by my favorite graffiti artist Final Girl to liven up the walls.
That’s definitely more than one song and one film, but I can’t really deny anyone Buffy! Now, before we whisk you away, you have one last decision to make: where you want your remote island to be located. You can choose anywhere you like for your exile, in this world or another.
Having just been exiled to rural Vermont in winter… I am going to choose the Big Island of Hawaii. Balmy and 80 degrees with a chance of brief, light afternoon showers every day please. I swear I could write there. At least, I’d be willing to give it a try?
Ah, it’s a hard life being a writer on a beautiful, sunny island :-) So that’s it, then – you’re ready to go. Thank you for joining us, and enjoy your trip!