Published on August 31st, 2018 | by Meg Lemke0
THAT WHICH GIRLS CONJURE WILL HELP THEM SURVIVE: An Interview with Kristen Stone
Kristen Stone‘s exquisite, pocket-sized work of micro-fiction stories, each delving into the inner souls of women and girls and people involved in all sides of adoptions, within generations of one family. From a repressed suburban housewife stuck in a loveless marriage (and space-race era dinner parties) to a contemporary foster parent raising a child surviving trauma, every character in That Which Girls Conjure Will Help Them Survive is uniquely sympathetic (even at their worst). I ended up reading it at a poolside this summer (it’s a good book to sneak in anywhere) and sobbing while all the sun shone down around me. Not quite sure what I had expected from the haunting cover; but the precision and force of Stone’s prose is absolutely engrossing—don’t miss this one, it dives deep. An author and poet of small-press note (and also a frequent MUTHA contrib), Stone was kind enough to talk more with me about their work, and from where inside them this book spirited itself up. – Meg Lemke
MUTHA: Adoption is complicated. This book is a kind of circle of family, lost and found. How was this story born? And how does your own journey as a parent influence the narrative?
KRISTEN STONE: I started writing this, in a wildly different form, in 2013, after my paternal grandmother died. She—and her late fifties adoptions, and her troubled marriage—is the basis for Virginia, although I ended up building up a lot more story around her. I started developing the character of Joan when my partner (now wife) and I were preparing to become foster parents; she was sort of a projection of my best, most composed self. When our son came to live with us I stopped writing—I felt totally gutted, scraped out, and drained—writing these fictional children was too much. But after we started to cohere as a family, I slowly came back to it. And with more mental bandwidth, and some brilliant help from editor Sarah McCarry, and a few friends, I was able to go back and make more sense of the characters’ pasts and motivations, in a way that was really fun. Writing fiction is fun!
MUTHA: You use short phrases to introduce each prose poem of a chapter, with dates. But then, in the final section, there are no dates. Is this the future, and it’s not yet “a memory?”
KRISTEN STONE: Oh, I love this question. I didn’t think about it quite like that. I think I would call it a dreamy present, and not dreamy like lovely, necessarily; more just dreamy like: strange. I can’t speak to the process of having a baby, but I know from experience that having a child move into your home is completely surreal, and to wrestle with your own shit while parenting—oof. So that’s where Joan and Hannah are, I think.
MUTHA: There’s incredible empathy and also deep sadness to the way these characters are described. Do you identify with all of them, in some way? How?
KRISTEN STONE: Some more than others, surely. All the girls—women. I think I wrote them as a way of working out different ways of being a girl in a family, could I make sense of choices I’ve never made, actions that seem unthinkable to me, personally. (Heterosexual womanhood. Running away from home.) Hannah, for instance, started out as an experiment in writing a child I would have a hard time parenting, all the trauma behaviors outlined in our foster parenting classes. Could I write this version of myself, loving this fictional child? Turns out, I could. And it’s interesting— Virginia, who I developed a ton of empathy for as I was writing—is based on my dead Mimi, who was in a lot of ways a difficult person to love, and when my mother read the book she told me she was surprised by how much empathy she had for Virginia’s character. I think people make a kind of deep sense—I see this in my work as a counselor for domestic violence survivors, and I hope it comes through in the text, too.
MUTHA: What research did you do on adoption practices “then/now”?
KRISTEN STONE: Years and years ago, I read The Girls Who Went Away, and early on when I had friends with access to the UF library, I read some academic titles about maternity homes. Most of the research for the book, though, came from this great reporting in my local newspaper, and the maternity home in the book is patterned after this one.
MUTHA: What drew you to working in the Guillotine series? Tell me about what keeps you active in the micro press world?
KRISTEN STONE: Sarah McCarry, who is an angel on earth, did. A couple years ago she read my Birds of Lace chapbook The Story of Ruth and Eliza and sent me some of her titles, including BFF by Sarah Gerard, a lightning storm of a little book. So I submitted an early early draft of this book, which she read, generously worked with me so hard on, really filling in the gaps in the story, asking a lot of brilliant questions.
I love the micro press world—I have made a lot of friends through Birds of Lace, through my former zine/chapbook project Unthinkable Creatures—there are so many people who take joy in handmade books, in creating and sharing precious things, and it’s such a gift to be among them.
KRISTEN STONE is a writer, educator, and social worker living in Gainesville, Florida. They are the author of Domestication
Handbook (Rogue Factorial, 2012) and self/help/work/book//The Story of Ruth and Eliza (Birds of Lace, 2014). Their poetry and essays appear at Mutha Magazine, Entropy, and elsewhere.