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An Interview With Kimberly Brock, Author of The River Witch

 

What party wouldn’t be complete without one of the most talked about debut authors to splash onto the scene in recent weeks!  Please join us for an intriguing conversation with Kimberly Brock, as she sheds light on all the mystique that is The River Witch……

 

Kimberly Brock is a former actor, special needs educator, and native to the north Georgia foothills. Her debut novel, The River Witch, a southern mystical work set against the backdrop of the Appalachian foothills and the Sea Islands, spins a poignant tale of characters who reckon with histories replete with regret and secrets, struggling to find home in an unpredictable world. Her work has appeared in the anthologies “Summer in Mossy Creek” and “Sweeter Than Tea.” She spends much of her non-writing time enjoying her husband and three children, and encouraging storytelling in all its many forms. Kimberly lives north of Atlanta, where she’s made her home for the last eight years. To learn more, visit her at kimberlybrockbooks.com, follow her on Twitter @kimberlydbrock, and like her on her FB author page!

 

 

-What exactly is a River Witch? 

 

Throughout history there have been tales of women who turned into mermaids or serpents or sirens. But I was far into the writing of The River Witch before I realized I’d incorporated such long-standing mythology into my contemporary work. In particular, after the book was finished, I discovered shocking similarities between The River Witch and the enduring myth of Melusine, a cursed maiden living on a lost island who took the shape of a serpent when bathing. This dual feminine nature – the idea of a beautiful woman with a terrible secret, an unfortunate lover, a woman with a wailing song, one who bridges the gap between known and unknown realms, who has lost her children and wanders in exile because her darker nature has been revealed – applies not only to the main character, Roslyn, but to all the women in the novel in various ways. Inadvertently, I crafted the same old myth, incorporating my own culture and environment of the Appalachian foothills and the Georgia coast. I love that! I think it stands as proof that our stories are timeless.

 

But I leave it up to the reader to decide who they think the River Witch might be in this story, and what they think that means.

 

-Did you always plan to write women’s fiction?

This is such a hot button right now, with people being offended left and right. Writers are in two camps on this one. Either you’re up on a soap box about equality and women getting a fair shake, which is very relevant. These writers are embracing the genre of women’s fiction as a statement and a fact. Because, wouldn’t it be nice if we lived in a world where all people said, “Oh, women’s fiction! That’s wonderful! That’s important and necessary, wise and intellectual, and tells the beautiful stories of our mothers and daughters!” Boy, do I agree.

 

In the other camp you have writers who get prickly and defensive because they’re writing books that are tagged as women’s fiction, like that’s limiting, or worse, degrading. Like being a female writing about feminine issues is going to cost you your literary prowess. I’m with you fellers and fully annoyed by this mindset.

 

The sad fact is, both of these stances face writers who tackle work that is based in women’s themes and they’re irrevocably stuck in the middle of the debate. Maybe one day the writers and stories will be valued simply because they were written, and not because of the way they were marketed.

 

To answer your question, no, I never set out to write any one genre, I just wanted to tell a story that gave voice to the experiences of these characters, which in my opinion, is what all writers set out to do regardless of their sex. I am a woman and I write fiction. Plenty of men write fiction from a woman’s point of view. Does it make it less than? Would my work be more influential if it were written from the perspective of a male character? I don’t think so. This book definitely and intentionally addresses women’s lives – their journeys and traditions and myths – but the novel also looks at family and broader ideas such as culture and divinity and losing the land. All human experiences. I don’t think that’s limiting at all. I think it’s powerful. If that’s women’s fiction, sign me up.

 

-Was there any particular inspiration for this story, or did it just “come” to you?

 

I read this article about a couple of women who decided to open a pumpkin farm. They were holding a weekend celebration for the harvest. The pictures were gorgeous, with this long table laden with food. And everywhere, there was this beautiful, round, sumptuous fruit; these gourds and pumpkins, round and full and smooth. All these warm colors. I couldn’t stop looking at the pictures. I pulled the article out of the magazine and kept it, going back to it often. I couldn’t stop thinking how much I wanted to be there with those women. I could hear the music from the fiddle and the open-throat sound of the singers in the photographs. I could taste the fried chicken and grilled corn on the table. And it was all wrapped up in the shapes of their harvest, such a compelling illustration of the feminine divine, of sensuality and fertility and sustenance. I knew that I was going to tell a story about it somehow. In my mind, it was set in a very isolated place, a mountain or an island. I knew there was a river. I started looking into all of that and researching, learning what it takes to grow those monster pumpkins, and sketching scenes with a woman longing for her childhood home and sacred traditions wrapped up in music and stories and a bountiful table. This was Roslyn. But I couldn’t bring the ideas together cohesively.

 

Then one day, about a year later, I saw another report. This time they were showing people floating down a river inside giant pumpkins that had been rigged up as boats. I got excited. I saw the element of water, the continuity of cycles and the ecology of a Sea Island with its rivers and marshes and the hold-outs from a disappearing culture. What would it be like to crawl inside one of those giant pumpkins on the river? Would I feel free or like I was losing everything? And then I thought, if I felt the way I felt when I looked at the women in the magazine with all their pumpkins, what would I see if I was a little girl without a mother – or a mother without a child?

 

And then, Damascus started talking to me.

 

Damascus came to me, fully inspired from years of working with troubled children as an educator. She’s wise beyond her years and that’s based entirely on the sad reality of my experiences. You can’t imagine the limitless strength of a child’s spirit. You really can’t.

 

-The setting for The River Witch plays such an important role in your story.  What led you to the Sea Islands off Georgia’s coast? And did you come up with the story idea or the location first?

 

The ideas came in pieces and eventually I married them all to form a cohesive story. I knew Roslyn’s story would end up on the island – I knew she would go into a kind of exile and I remember how remote those islands feel from summers spent there in my childhood and more recently. I’ve always loved the Georgia coast and its history. I imagined Roslyn’s need for that kind of isolation, and her need for great beauty. And I wanted it to be a place that would keep her off balance so she’d have to struggle to understand it and meet its demands. Her memories of the Appalachian Mountains and her grandmother are her touchstone, but she feels she can’t return to that place and the loss of her grandmother is very fresh. I needed a place that Roslyn believed was a complete departure. What she discovers on the island is that the people and even the land itself are dealing with the same issues.

 

I’d always been fascinated by the idea that the Sea Islands shift and change, the idea of the alligators roaring season, the romance of the great live oaks, and then there was the element of superstition that lent itself to Roslyn’s haunting. The island was like going back to the mire from which we all emerge. I chose the island setting so she could fight her way back from her loss, physically and psychologically. That’s what Roslyn’s character ultimately faced – having to come out of a tragedy, transformed.

 

Manny’s Island is actually loosely based on an island where a friend has a beach house. There are no cars on the island and you get there by boat and yes, there is a shell ring. That was where the story of Damascus and the Trezevant family were always set in my mind. I’d written a good part of the first draft before Roslyn’s memories in Glenmary, Tennessee, began to surface. Then I understood, as with everything else in the novel, that the two seemingly contradictory environments and cultures would serve as mirrors for one another – just as the characters tend to hold up mirrors to one another. Some of this was written intentionally, but a great deal of it evolved with the story.

 

-What are you planning for your next novel?

 

Another southern mystical piece involving an authentic but forgotten and discredited piece of American history about a woman whose voice has been lost for centuries and the man whose love made her story immortal.

 

 

After you read The River Witch, be sure to share a review on Amazon and Goodreads!  And be sure to visit her website to view a stunning book trailer curtesy of BellBridgeBooks!

 

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Remember, leave a comment for a chance to win one these 7 great give-aways today.

Winners will be posted tomorrow.  Be sure to comment each day for multiple chances to win our grandprize bling this weekend!  Stay tuned for a sneak peek later this week……

 

The River Witch, Kimberly Brock, signed copy

Sweet Tea & Jesus Shoes, More Sweet Tea, and On Grandma’s Porch, the three preceeding anthologies to  Sweeter Than Tea, to be released later this month, from BelleBooks.

The Sleeping Night, Barbara Samuel’s new 1940’s Texas novel  (advance pdf only), from BellBridgeBooks.

Goodbye To All That, Judith Arnold’s fun new novel  (choice of print or pdf), from BellBridgeBooks.

or……this fun and fabulous wrap-around watch!!

 

Congratulations to Tuesday’s (May 1) winners!!

 

Laura Drake — Waking Up In Dixie, Haywood Smith (signed hardcover)

Joyce Dixon — Wedding Belles, Haywood Smith (signed hardcover)

A J Larrieu —- Sweet Tea & Jesus Shoes, BelleBooks

Dear Helen Hartman —- More Sweet Tea, BelleBooks

Patty Crowder  —- On Grandma’s Porch, BelleBooks.

Trish Jensen —- The Sleeping Night, Barbara Samuel, (advance pdf only).

Annie Oortman —- Goodbye To All That, Judith Arnold, (choice of print or pdf).

Melba Moon — Plucky red clutch!

Lindi P - May 2, 2012 - 7:09 am

Kimberly, I loved reading how your story came together, starting with a photo, then awhile later another photo. It’s amazing how the ‘feel’ of the story is so important, almost like a character in itself. I haven’t read RW yet, but I can’t wait to do so.

Joyce Dixon - May 2, 2012 - 7:31 am

Great background to an excellent novel. I also love the Pinterest board for the River Witch. I refer to it before and after reading. I swear I don’t want the story to end.

Darcy - May 2, 2012 - 1:15 pm

Lindi, let me tell you, you are in for a treat! Kim has a fabulous voice!

Joyce, I didn’t realize Kim has a story board on Pinterest! Though I probably should have, LOL. I’m hopping over there right now to check it out. :)

Kimberly Brock - May 2, 2012 - 1:52 pm

Thanks to all of you for dropping in today! I’m so excited to get to share with you about the process of writing this novel. Darcy, thanks for the invite!

Lindi,
You’re so sweet! Thanks for commenting and for your kind words. I hope you’ll love the story as much I loved writing it!

Joyce,
Your enthusiasm for The River Witch is so encouraging to me! I’m glad you found the Pinterest board. I love being able to share images that inspire or speak to the heart of this story.

I’ll be sharing a post soon about the image of Angelie Melzer, a prima ballerina who is my dear friend. You’ll see that gorgeous photo on the story board…I think it’s so compelling!

I’d love to hear your thoughts!! And if there’s anything else you’d like to talk about, I’d love to chat!

Jean - May 2, 2012 - 2:18 pm

Hi Kim,
Thanks for sharing the evolution of your thought process for The River Witch. I’m soooo looking forward to reading it. Good luck and come back and visit.

Jean

AJ Larrieu - May 2, 2012 - 4:10 pm

Kimberly, I love that you came up with your story and then discovered the complementary myths. I think it speaks to what we all try to do as writers, reach down into that common well of human experience and come up with something that rings true across time and culture. I’m a big fan of Southern magical realism, and I will definitely be picking up a copy of your book!

Rhen Wilson - May 2, 2012 - 5:17 pm

Excellent interview. Tons of great insight. Thanks, Kimberly!

Carol Burnside/Annie Rayburn - May 2, 2012 - 5:27 pm

What an interesting background for The River Witch. Thanks for sharing that with us. I’ve not gotten into Pinterest yet, mostly because I hear it’s totally addictive and I don’t need another distraction, but it’s calling me like a siren…

Love the prizes and bling! Great giveaways.

Marilyn Baron - May 2, 2012 - 5:33 pm

I enjoyed reading about your debut novel. You were also a guest blogger on our Petit Fours and Hot Tamales blog. I love mythology and mystical writing, so I’m sure I’d enjoy The River Witch.

Darcy - May 2, 2012 - 5:48 pm

Thanks for stopping by ladies!

Jean – You will LOVE The River Witch.

AJ! I first discovered mystical realism when a friend turned me on to Sarah Addison Allen. I’m totally fascinated by this type of writing, and envy the authors who can do it so well.

Rhen! Welcome to It’s Only a Novel. :)

Carol, I know what you mean about Pinterest. Brenna has an account and I LOVE to look at all the prettiness, but it is definitely another temptation. Which is why I haven’t started any of my own boards! We MUST stay focused on the writing! :)

Hi Marilyn. Yep, I hosted Kimberly over on PFHT once I heard about her fabulous debut. Will you make it to her book party this weekend?

Dianna Shuford - May 2, 2012 - 8:46 pm

Thanks for sharing, Kimberly. Your story sounds fascinating.

Kimberly Brock - May 2, 2012 - 9:21 pm

I’m so glad you all enjoyed learning about how the book came together. I really hope you’ll read and share this story — it’s a story for women, about women, mothers and daughters and friends.

I tend to be shy and really appreciate women who draw people out; those types that come together, folding themselves around others in support and friendship. I’ve always felt that kind of gracious acceptance with those of you that I know who’ve commented here today, and I’m delighted to meet some new faces! Thank you so much for dropping by! And please do send me an email sometime. I love to chat about writing!

I hope this gentle, little story will sing to you all. xo

Sara Grambusch - May 2, 2012 - 9:30 pm

Great interview, I really want to read this book! And this is my first time finding this blog! Looks awesome :)

AJ Larrieu - May 3, 2012 - 12:00 am

Darcy, I *adore* Sarah Addison Allen. She blows me away. My agent recently introduced me to Aimee Bender, and I was blown away in a whole different way… I just love how many ways there are to be amazed by a book. :)

Brenna - May 4, 2012 - 12:10 am

What fun to get a behind the scenes look at such an intriguing and captivating story. I absolutely can’t wait to attend the launch party for The River Witch on Friday night! To all the new and familiar voices who commented, we’re so excited you joined us!

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