Lit Chat: Meet Stephanie Chrismon
I met speculative novelist/prose writer and fellow INTJ Stephanie Chrismon last year when I was the local poetry mentor for the Loft Mentor Series and she was a prose participant. I was inspired by her sense of humor, her fearlessness in her personal essays, and her passion while presenting her work at the Loft.
Sun Yung Shin: Stephanie, it was so great to get to know you as a writer through the Loft Mentor Series this past year! Could you talk a little bit about how that experience impacted you as an artist?
Stephanie Chrismon: First of all, thank you for this opportunity to highlight some of my writing and to be in conversation with you! The Loft Mentor Series is a highly sought-after experience for many writers in Minnesota and I bawled when Sherrie Fernandez-Williams (former program director) called me to say I was accepted to the program. I cannot stress enough how I was floored.
It was a really great opportunity to be in community with some of the best and most talented writers in the state. I was also fortunate to go through the experience right when I was getting my book published, because the Mentor Series made me very aware of potential next steps. I still consider myself an emerging writer, particularly around creative nonfiction (CNF), which was my area of focus in the program. I realized quite quickly that I had a lot more to learn and I had a community in which to gain that knowledge.
I also really nailed down the themes in my CNF work; the things that I come back to over and over again have to do with dis/connection and living in the midst of trauma. I also realized that I don’t want to always write about trauma, and working through those emotions has been interesting.
The ultimate thing I took away from the Mentor Series is the support of other folks—from my fellow mentees to the mentors really supporting us in our journeys. Also, Allison Adelle Hedge Coke (the national CNF mentor) said that I had “swagger” in my writing, so that was pretty cool.
SYS: Congratulations on your new book! Tell us about it, what the seeds were of it, and what surprised you about the writing, or the launch process. Do you have advice for debut novelists now?
SC: Here’s the synopsis I’m the most happy with:
Abigail Drexler is set to inherit the Drexton Kingdom. But when she is expelled for treason and watches helplessly as her best friend is murdered, she finds herself abandoned to The Outlands. She's held captive by an Outlander clan leader until she is kidnapped by a fiery redhead, forcing Abigail into a life of intrigue and conspiracy in the Bright City. The Bright City's veneer is one of lush wealth and excess that thrives on information as currency, but the treacherous new world pushes Abigail to the edge of her insanity as she uncovers the ugly side of this dangerous city. In this new world of information as power, will Abigail find the clues to her exile and the keys to her freedom?
I was in a class about apocalypses during my MFA program when Abigail started to come to life. Originally, she was in love with a genetically-engineered vampire. Although I still kind of like the idea of a genetically-engineered vampire in general, my academic and directed studies advisor, Sheila O’Connor pushed me to rethink the premise, which I think ended up being a great choice!
I wasn’t surprised by what I was writing; one of the central themes of the book is equity and inequity. Can humanity ever truly achieve equity? Will there always be inequity? Are we, as a species, destined to perpetuate inequity? What struck me most about the process of writing the book was the labor-intensive nature of writing and the desire to keep going. I didn’t have to write a full book to finish my program, but I did. I wanted to finish this first book (it’s part of a duology) completely.
I think what I know now about publishing a new book is that your hustle game has to be strong, and that having a system of support is absolutely necessary. My partner is my unofficial PR person/agent/manager. She books my readings and keeps my social media up to date and always dynamic. It’s been a very exciting summer. The great thing about being an author based in the Twin Cities is that we are a very literary and artistic community, so folks will come out on a Thursday at 6pm to a reading.
People also cautioned me that I would want to rewrite and re-edit my book once I saw it on paper. Although I swore I wouldn’t have that issue, I totally do! I’ve learned that you have to accept the final product enough to support it and want to push it. You will probably also get tired of talking about your work after awhile, especially if you’re working on another book (which I am). So you have to continually find new things about the book that you can fall in love with.
SYS: What have you been working on since you finished your novel that launched this year?
SC: I’m working on the first book in a seven-book series called The Thin Bloodline Series. I needed to take a break from Abigail and start something different. I’m also assembling the book of essays that I started during the Mentor Series called The Year I Survived. I’m also trying to get up the courage to send stuff out. I was probably one of the only ones in my Mentor Series cohort that hadn’t ever sent anything out (except my book).
I will say that I have a pretty spotty writer’s life. I don’t write every day. I am just not always inspired to get into the worlds I’ve created. So sometimes that can be a challenge for wanting to produce.
SYS: What else inspires you in this multiverse that either feeds into your writing or is just awesome?
SC: I am pretty interested in politics and pop culture. I’m a history buff and pretty much devour media. Those are the things that inform my work and my writing. Also, I work full-time at the University of Minnesota doing social justice education, so those ideas and topics have a prominent place in my work.
SYS: Is there something you’d love to see in the Twin Cities literary community that hasn’t happened or manifested yet? Is there something you need or would want people to know about you as a writer, or what you consider your writing community/genres, that are misunderstood or not understood?
SC: I would really love to see more African American writing spaces and experiences. My time in the Givens Foundation Emerging Writers' Mentor Program was a real blessing. I met some lifelong friends in that fellowship. I have so much gratitude for all the connections I’ve been able to make in other writing communities—like the Mentor Series—but the Givens fellowship really changed the way that I viewed myself as a writer and made me confident enough to embrace my identity as a Black writer.
I think one of the misunderstandings that I’m working through with my book is the label of “young adult” (YA). I don’t write YA. I am in awe of folks that can take themselves back to that point and write from an adolescent's perspective. However, Bright City falls within the “new adult” genre. Although Abigail is technically a teenager, she isn’t what we consider a typical teenager. There are coming of age themes in the book, but I never intended it to be for kids.
SYS: How are you finding support during these difficult times? What does it mean to you to be an artist right now?
SC: I’m finding support right now by being in community with my woes (shout-out to Drake!).
Writing in today’s political environment is challenging, and I say that in the most polite way. The reality is that this environment has always been there; it’s just that more people feel more empowered by Trump to get from behind their computers and get in the streets and make their vile opinions known to the world. But this isn’t new, at least not for the marginalized communities I’m a part of and connected to: people of color, indigenous folks, women and femmes, people with disabilities and queer folks.
It’s important that my work reflects how I’m feeling about the vile aspects of humanity. I have a voice and I need to make sure my writing is making an impact. From writing my CNF to creating speculative worlds and fictional characters, I have an opposing narrative that I need to get out there.
SYS: Thank you so much for your time and talent!
Sun Yung Shin is the author or editor of six books including two books in 2016: Unbearable Splendor (poetry/prose) and A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota (anthology of essays). With the filmmaker and writer Xiaolu Wang she recently co-founded the Women of Color Artist Collective. She lives in Minneapolis and can be found on Facebook, twitter, sunyungshin.com, and agoodtimeforthetruth.com.