What’s Bred in the Stone: An Interview with Gabriele Goldstone


By Anita Daher

Not too long ago I was invited with several others to present at a book club gathering in Steinbach, Manitoba. On hearing Winnipeg author Gabriele Goldstone read a compelling excerpt from her novel, Red Stone (Rebelight Publishing, 2015)—the first in her planned series of four—I was stuck by two things. First, why hadn’t I read this novel yet? And second, why did I know so few details about this period in history? After hearing a little of Katya’s story, that didn’t seem right or enough.

Red Stone was inspired by the childhood of Goldstone’s mother, beginning in Stalin’s Russia in 1930–31. Her main character, Katya, is the daughter of a “kulak,” a landowning farmer. Because the father rebels against Stalin’s ideas, he is labelled dangerous and subsequently imprisoned, while Katya, her mother, and four siblings are sent to a detention camp in Siberia.

Goldstone doesn’t pull any punches in depicting the horrors they endure. Her graceful prose contrasts heartbreak with beauty, such as when she describes soft crying, “filling the barrack like smoke.”

I read Red Stone for this column, and was so taken by Katya’s story I immediately downloaded and read the next in the series, Broken Stone. I now must exercise patience (something I’m not particularly known for) in waiting for the next two. Luckily, the author is just an email away, and agreed to answer a few burning questions.

These novels are inspired by your mother’s childhood and experiences. How did you decide where to draw from your mother’s history and where to divert?

That was a bit of a challenge. I like what fiction can do, the power of story, and I didn’t want to be tied down to the facts. I didn’t want various relatives coming back to me and saying I’d got something wrong. So I blended a couple of characters together. And yes, I had some backlash from family members. But the bare bones in this story—about collectivization, about exile, about death—are true. I took the anecdotes my mom shared and tried to find the history around them. So the basic narrative is true to fact, but I had to use my imagination to fill in what some of the characters would have been like.

This was a terrible time in history for your family, and others. Of the truths you included, inspired by your family or taken from history, which was the most difficult to write?

The most difficult would be the death of my grandmother. My mom barely mentioned her. She didn’t even want to look at the one photo we had of her. I sometimes wondered if I was doing the right thing in making my mom remember. But I wanted to see Matilde as a real person. I wanted a grandmother.

Even during darkest times, we have the ability to find joy, and there are moments like this in Red Stone. Which was your favourite to write?

I loved the Christmas story. I loved the idea that my mom was a rebel. That she dared to go against the rules and celebrate Christmas. And I loved my grandfather (whom I never got to meet) for building his children a sled for that illegal Christmas.

There was a poignant moment where Katya feels she is losing herself as the train rolls farther and farther away from everything and everyone she has known. How difficult was it to connect with this character, her feelings of loss and desolation?

It was hard. An earlier draft was in third person and when the editor suggested I rewrite it in first person, I struggled at first. It felt too close, too intimate, walking in my mother’s shoes.

In another life, you were a mail carrier. The old cartoons taught us dogs vex mail carriers, however Katya’s bond with her canine friend, Zenta, was beautiful. Are you a dog person?

Ah, yes, that life. My mom was so upset about me being a letter carrier. She said she didn’t survive Siberia so that her daughter could freeze in Winnipeg. I insisted it wasn’t bad. I had daily meals, warm clothes, and they even paid me.

Yes, I was scared of big, scary dogs. But getting my own big canine soon solved that problem. We’re on our third one now. It’s just sad that they live such short lives.

Were there any surprises for you either in the research or the writing of Katya’s story?

It was all a surprise. I knew little about collectivization until I started the research. I was surprised that the little place called Federofka still exists. I was able to pick up a red stone from the site of my grandfather’s windmill. That was amazing for me! I was surprised to find my grandfather’s signature on former KGB files. I was even surprised that my mom and her family were kulaks. That had all been suppressed when she immigrated to Canada in the 1950s.

Would a twelve-year-old Gabriele be more likely to hang out in a windmill (assuming there was one available), or a shopping mall with friends?

Ha! The windmill wins for sure.

An earlier version of Red Stone was published with a U.S. publisher. Have you any advice for writers considering submitting to a publisher outside of Canada?

Don’t be too eager to sign with a publisher you’ve never heard of. And communication is key. I was too eager to get the earlier version (called The Kulak’s Daughter) published before my mom died and ended up with a lot of frustration. But I did finally get my rights back and Rebelight gave my story a second chance. I’m very grateful.

The mythology of birds threaded throughout Red Stone was fascinating. Does this continue through the series?

The birds showed up quite by chance. When I toured Ukraine, there was a birder in our group who ignited my interest. The photograph of the stork on the cover of Red Stone was taken during that trip. On that same trip, cuckoos called out while we hunted for forgotten graves in the forests. And yes, there are more birds. And no, I’m not a birder.

What is next for you?

Amber Stone should be out later this year. Set just before the Second World War, it continues Katya’s story during a time when Germans were embracing the fool’s gold sheen of Nazism.


  1. Posted August 2, 2017 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

    Great interview: two of my favourite authors talking to each other!

    Gabrielle’s books speak of a time that few know about and she does it compellingly.

  2. Posted July 21, 2017 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    Ah, compelling this interview, dear Gabriele. And now you are researching Gimli, mythical Gimli in NewIceland. Would love to have you as a neighbour. Bon chance.

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Youthful Appetite

Anita Daher

Anita Daher has lived in Summerside, PEI, Yellowknife, NT, Churchill, MB, Baker Lake, NU and Sault Ste. Marie, ON, making her an expert on the geographic location of YA writers. She is a prolific and successful YA author herself and the associate teen book editor at Great Plains Publications in Winnipeg.