A Chat (And Giveaway!) with Kimberly Brock, Debut Author of THE RIVER WITCH
My guest today is Kimberly Brock, who is a sweet southern author with a sassy yet sizzling novel to discuss. Last week I posted my review of her debut book, THE RIVER WITCH. She received some great news recently when she found out that her book is to be the June selection for the national book club organization, She Reads. It was also recently featured in Deep South Magazine and previewed in Dalton magazine.
I met Kimberly Brock through another fantastic Bell Bridge author, Jessica McCann, and I am sooo excited to have her here today to chat about her intriguing and heart-tugging story.
HS: Hi Kimberly! Thank you so much for being here today! This is such a wonderful story that pulls at the heart strings, especially those of us that are mothers. What was it about this story that made you feel it needed to be told?
KB: I wrote this novel over a period of five years, so my reasons for writing it changed along the way. At first, it was a story about marginalized women and children, but it also became a look at how family and heritage influence our choices for good and bad. How they define us. And what we stand to lose of ourselves if we don’t cherish and find peace with all that means about ourselves.
HS: Was this the first novel you had written or do you have a few hiding in some desk drawer?
KB: I have two other novels hidden in drawers and something like a novella based on a character from The River Witch, a POV that I took out of the final draft of the novel.
HS: The Southern elements you incorporated into the story gave it such a unique feeling. Being a Southern girl yourself, which ones did you have to research and which ones were you able to pull from your own experiences?
KB: This question made me laugh. I don’t think I really thought a lot about it, aside from knowing I was intentionally writing about people and places that I knew well and they happen to be very Southern. Having lived in other parts of the country and traveled widely, I knew I could write about other places in other vernaculars, but for this story, the South was more than setting. It had to infiltrate every word. And if you ever hear me speak, you’ll see it wasn’t a challenge for me.
HS: You did a very good job with that infiltration! As I read, my mind started to drawl and get a little twangy. Which part of the book was your favorite to write? Why?
KB: I’ve never considered which part might be my favorite so I had to think about this. When I look back, I remember writing the last scenes with Damascus. They were pure and simple and came seamlessly. Those scenes, the prologue in Roslyn’s voice and her memories of Granny Byrne were the easiest to write. But I also loved the challenge of writing Urey’s scenes. My editor really pushed me to dig deep for some of the moments when Urey’s motivations are revealed. It was hard to go to some of those dark places, but those scenes rank as favorites because they are what makes the book so strong and what made me a stronger writer, in turn.
HS: Have you had any friends/family claim they are one of the characters in your book? If so, which one?
KB: Oh, sure! But mostly they say they see OTHER family members in the characters. They all have their own take about who I might have based certain storylines on, or got the characteristics for different people in the book. But it’s been funny that they’re almost always wrong in their assumptions. I love that. It’s further proof that we bring our own experiences and perspectives to a story.
HS: When did you officially start calling yourself a writer? Was there an “aha” moment or has it always been part of your identity?
KB: I’ve been a storyteller all my life. Ask my family, who endured many hours of reenacted Disney films or impromptu plays. Ask my childhood friends and teachers, who swallowed tall tales and ghost stories whole on the playground and paid the price later, afraid to sleep in their beds. They believed I had descended from an angry Cherokee Indian Chief. They believed I was going blind like Helen Keller. I was in trouble all the time for inventing and embellishing. And then, around the age of five somebody gave me a crayon and that was that. That’s when I became a writer.
HS: Ha! Maybe I need to lay off my kids then for their “embellishments”? I might be harboring future writers myself!
I read that it took you three years to write this novel and another two for submissions and revising before it sold. What did you learn from this process that really worked for you? What do you wish you would have done differently?
KB: Starting with what I would have done differently, I can’t say I’d change anything. If I did, it would mean the book wouldn’t be the same. The process of writing and publishing, the good and the bad, that all made this novel richer, I think. That said, there were plenty of lessons learned but the most important of these is the thing I will change – or hope to change – when writing my next book.
Trusting the process is what I hope to do differently, but struggle with every day. I keep trying to read something or watch some presentation that will give me the secret, but no one writer’s process is the same just like no two books are the same. There’s no use rushing it. I’m a global thinker and I have this broad idea, a kind of amorphous vision of a work and I want to get to the finished piece in this neat, controlled way that never happens. I have to force myself to relax in the bog of my imagination until something floats to the top that I can latch on to. And all that time, I’m convincing myself I’m not crazy. I have to know that I’m going to come full circle, and that I am an idiot kind of writer who is going to do it all the hard way. And then I have to hope I’m eventually going to be smart enough to write the book of my dreams, because when I’m writing I always know I’m not smart enough. I have to let the book teach me something first.
Writing the book will create in you the wisdom to write the book. That’s the lesson I’m learning.
HS: I love that, Kimberly! I think that is a lesson we all can benefit from.
This story didn’t have so much a happy ending as it had a peaceful one. Without giving anything away, when did you know this ending was “the one”?
KB: The first draft of the ending is the one in the novel. I wrote it and never really changed a word. I worried over it, but I never did feel there was any other way to go that would be true to the characters and the story.
HS: That is a wonderful, albeit rare, that your ending remained intact throughout your process.
How did you find your agent and what makes her awesome?
KB: When I began work on THE RIVER WITCH, I was with my first agent, a wonderful and well-respected woman who truly believed in my work. We were together several years and through several incarnations of the book, submitting and revising. But as life changed for both of us and as the revision process clouded my idea of the story, I began to get frustrated and uncertain. I felt strongly that although I respected her, I needed a change, a fresh perspective. I took a chance, left my agent and sold the book to Bell Bridge Books, a small press that loved the story.
I started to query new agents as soon as I ended the agreement with my first agent, and within a day of selling to Bell Bridge Books, I exchanged email with Jenny Bent. She loved the premise for my current WIP. She encouraged me in the decisions I was making, even though we had no agreement at the time and she stood to gain nothing. And when we finally spoke, she showed great faith in me to finish this new book. I never had a moment’s doubt she was a Godsend and we’ve been working together ever since. She’s a straight shooter and her work ethic is impeccable. Plus, she has a wicked sense of humor. I adore her.
HS: And finally, the question I have been burning to ask is what the hell is a Saltwater Geechee?
KB: The Gullah people are African Americans who live in the Lowcountry region of the United States, but whose roots lie in the terrible slave trade of the pre-Civil War South, brought here from what is modern day Sierra Leone. These communities used to include the region from Cape Fear, North Carolina, down to parts of Florida. But now the Gullah are confined to South Carolina and Georgia, both the coastal plain and the Sea Islands.
In Georgia these communities refer to themselves as Saltwater or Freshwater Geechee, according to where they’re located. The term Geechee is thought to possibly be related to the Ogeechee River, near Savannah.
They maintain the Gullah language, or “Sea Island Creole,” derived from several African dialects and influenced by the Spanish and Native American languages they encountered here. These people have been able to preserve a remarkable amount of their heritage — storytelling, cuisine, music, folk beliefs, crafts, farming and fishing traditions, all exhibit strong influences from West and Central African cultures. I find them fascinating and inspiring.
HS: Now we know. I love learning something new when I read a book so thank you! And thank you for taking the time to share some behind-the-scenes information with us from THE RIVER WITCH.
You can learn more about Kimberly’s story by watching her interview (which was picked up by Huffington Post a couple of weeks ago) on her site at kimberlybrockbooks.com.
*Please leave a comment for Kimberly if you have more questions for her or would like to just get your geechee on. All commenters will be entered into a drawing to win a copy of THE RIVER WITCH. Comments will be taken until midnight CST Thursday, May 31st.
Winner will be announced next Friday on my blog! Good luck and thanks for supporting another wonderful debut author!