The anthology is out! Not just the ebook, but the one where you physically turn pages and smell that booky smell and set it on a shelf and say, “Hey! See that book there? I KNOW someone who contributed to that!” So, yea! It’s out there, folks. Like a plate of fried chicken, waiting to be devoured. I stopped by my favorite tea room downtown the other morning to drop off a complimentary copy to the owner and someone asked how long I thought about the characters before I wrote the story.
How long? Hmmm…
“Do they pop onto the page or what?”
Miles did. Lexie, I’ve thought about for years. Aunt Blanche & Mimi I’ve known all my life.
So, it depends.
I think if writers were honest, we’d say some of those characters walk with us every day. We’re schizophrenic that way. When we slice tomatoes, we wonder how our main character would do it. If we smell our nasty trash can, we wonder if our villain cleans his/hers on a regular basis or if he/she just lets it stink up the garage.
All those movies and books that thrill you and you think, ‘Ah, that’s how it should happen!’ We want to give you that. It’s our goal and it takes work. (Some of us want to disturb you, but that’s another form of entertainment) All the time normal people think we’re off in a dreamy floating state — hint — we are. We’re writing 24/7.
Summer on the island could be divided in two halves: BEFORE DEBBY – calm, breezy, beautiful, plenty of nice kids for my nice kids to play with. AFTER DEBBY: hot, sticky, muddy, not enough kids for my kids to play with.
Then, there was DURING DEBBY. It was predicted to rain a little and go toward Texas, right? RIGHT. We played cards with this great family while the rain poured down and the power flickered on and off, just riding it out. We made pina colodas and nachos and had a blast. All good. THEN, I left the island on Sunday to pick up Mom at the Sarasota airport. Small craft advisory X1. Choppy water, decided I couldn’t get Mom and the kids back over in that water, decided to stay in Sarasota over night. Wise decision because DEBBY sat down and chose to VISIT. You have to hand it to Mom. She is the only person I know to have ever spent two days in France and have a migraine the entire time she was there. She has the worst travel luck. So, this time, she flew into a tropical storm that is being called, in retrospect, a disorganizedstorm, reminiscent of the 1985 Hurricane Elena because it sat around for so long before moving. While hovering, it messed up the power on the island. Three days in a one-room hotel with three kids and mom complaining about our musty-smelling boat ponchos. Thanks for the memories, DEBBY. On day three, there was a rumor that power had been restored to the island, so we braved the white caps in our flats boat, got soaked and trudged five days worth of groceries across to find there was still no power due to two snapped power poles. Sounded serious. Helicopters would be needed to fix this one. Our fridge had been without power for THREE days. Our house smelled like the fish we had in the freezer. Mom was exhausted. Kids super cranky, un-enthused about leaving the island again and all the take-out food was not agreeing with our tummies. In addition, the water on the island was not working, either. We shuffled bags, grabbed the two lap-tops still in the house, emptied fridge and freezer and set out to cross the white caps again.
Me to Hubs in text: “There is NO power on the island until Sunday. I NEED a Residence Inn near the beach please. Trashing smelly stuff from fridge. Managing people. Have diarrhea. Top torn off boat. Made it across okay but half island under water. Have to go back to mainland with six bags of trash. Boat tossed & turned everywhere.” On the way back, due to the waves being so high, the motor got flooded and cut out on me three times in Charlotte Harbor, but we made it back to the marina – white knuckles and all. Come to find out the ferry had quit running because the waves were so rough. Oh, well. Some things have to be done, whether there is a small craft advisory or not.
Text to hubs: “Motor cut out 3X. But we are here. Still have diarrhea. I am woman hear me roar.”
He got me a condo. On the beach.
So, now that brings us to the wave that almost killed me. I am privileged to be the mother of a 14 year old boy which means he only does things if there is an element of slacking, humor or danger involved. So, a few days later when the gulf died down to a hyper-up Atlantic state/ Pacific coast-on-acid style waves, my son decided it was time for us to body surf. I, wanting ANY quality time with him, foolishly accepted, obviously having forgotten our latest saltwater cowgirl experience with previously stated small craft advisory and whitecaps. I go into the gulf. And he follows. We’re knocked down within five seconds, proving that this is going to be fantastic. We give each other a grin, one of those – oh, yeah – one of us is losing a bathing suit and it isn’t going to be me – grins. We try to walk out past the breakers, but every time we take a step another waves knocks our feet out from under us.
The thing about a storm like Debby is, it doesn’t just mess with the water, it moves the sand, too. So, when you step, sometimes the ocean floor is solid, but every few feet or so, you step into a deep hole, maybe three feet deeper than where you just stood. If you are hit by a wave, it can push you in and out of one of those, toss you and you don’t know up from down. I grew up on the Atlantic at New Smyrna Beach riding waves with my dad. This gulf stuff is nothing, unless there’s a storm. We finally get out past the breakers and wait for the pull of the waves to tell us whether they’re good enough to ride or not. And they are. Very good. They take you all the way in, past the deep holes, over the rough shells. The waves push you all the way to the little tide pool and scrape you knees on the scallop shells. We catch a few. The ones we don’t catch, push us to the bottom, flip us over and push sand into the crevices of our behinds, then pop us out and roar, “NEXT.”
The particular waves that takes me under gets me as I am trying to stand, from a previous wave where my feet had come out of the water over my head and I had said to my son, “Okay, one more and that’s it. I’m tired.” DEMON WAVE hits me in the side of the head, flips me over, skids my head along the bottom one-two-three like Fred Flinstone dragging Wilma. My feet scramble to find the bottom. One thing I taught my kids is that when a wave knocks you down, stand up as fast as you can because there’s always another one coming.
My concern is that if DEMON WAVE did this to 150 lb, 5’8″ me, what has it done to my 90 lb, 5’4″ son? My arms are flying around, but all I feel is water, except my head which is still skidding along the bottom every now and then, burning like crazy. I kick my leg and break the surface. Flipping my self over, I stand up, looking for my son. He’s standing right next to me. His hair isn’t wet. Not recently anyway. “What happened to you?” he asks, as I gasp for breath, thankful he is standing. “You were down for like, EVER. I think two waves hit you or something. You didn’t stand up like you were supposed to.” In my recounting of the story, I tell him I think I lost some hair to DEMON WAVE. I actually do have a spot on my head that stayed swollen for two or three days which concerned my mom. (Thanks, Mom.)
We get out of the water, much to my son’s chagrin, but I was dizzy, rubbing the lump on my head. That wave made me feel completely paranoid, especially when my younger kids started saying, “Why does HE get to go out and WE don’t?” Yeah, there’s no way I could keep up with all three of them when I was getting spun around like that.
I haven’t been taken down like that in twenty years. Quite a wave. I stuck by the pool, where there was clear water and a large, grumpy woman from Illinois who fussed if my kids splashed her Cooking Light magazine. There was once a beer commercial (Anheuser Busch) called “Know when to say when”. I believe after that wave hit me, I had reached that point with Debby. Because once the waves died down, Debby brought in seaweed with nasty jelly fish just to prove one more time she was still in charge.
The water wasn’t the same for about two weeks and I am an island girl, believe me, I love the gulf. But Debby, she ruled those weeks and it has been nothing but a hot mess since. Nothing but rain mixed with the smell of dead coquinas and no fish and mud and down pours every day and I surrender, Girl.
For today’s interview I am excited to introduce my good friend, Kimberly Brock, and her debut novel, THE RIVER WITCH, a Pulpwood Queens Official Selection book and the SheReads selection for the month of June. Joshilyn Jackson calls Kimberly’s book, “One debut you should not miss.”
So, Kimberly. How do you feel about THE RIVER WITCH’s amazing success?
I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about success. I don’t look at numbers. Really, I’m pleased with the good reviews, but I haven’t spent time reading them myself so much as I’ve been told about them. I’m focused on writing the next book, on responding to readers on blogs and at readings, scheduling appearances and festivals. Success for me will be that I get to keep writing and sharing stories.
But I will share this special experience: a reader contacted me after finishing the book to tell me that she’d suffered the loss of a stillborn child years ago. She’d never been allowed to grieve or to honor that child with a memorial or even a name. As an adult with other grown children, she was very moved by THE RIVER WITCH. She finally allowed herself to grieve, to memorialize and name her baby. To me, that is the story’s success – that it touched someone where they live. I don’t know if that’s got much to do with me, but I do know that it means the work has inherent worth. I’ll never forget that.
When did you first get the writing bug?
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.
Can you tell us how you went about research for The River Witch? Which part came first and how did you go about gathering what you needed from there?
Horribly. That’s how I went about research. Honestly, it’s not a very good process. I do it all the hard way, pulling articles out of magazines or printing them or bookmarking them on my laptop. Eventually, I had this pile of unrelated facts, stories and reports that grabbed my attention. Some of it came as I was writing – like the alligators. I read a lot about them and listened to recordings of their roaring. Other times, I went in search of a thing, like the Sacred Harp music. I watched documentaries and reads books and listened to recordings that I downloaded onto my iPod. Eventually, it’s a matter of having the knowledge in my head, the essence of a thing, so that when I write a scene, those facts and details appear there naturally. At least that’s what I hope happens – that the things I’ve learned and obsessed over will translate in the writing as setting and character and metaphor, give the story momentum and depth, but not sit there on display or seem like a regurgitated report on a subject.
How is your next project going?
Slowly. It is a story that began to take shape for me years ago when I stumbled across an obscure piece of history in my home state of Georgia. A lot of research has gone into this project, including some travel. I’m still fascinated with this idea and in the frustrating stages of waiting for it to take shape on the page. But I’m in love with it and eager to see what it becomes in the next few months.
As a writer, what is your greatest challenge?
I’m a writer, but I’m also a mother and wife and daughter. Time is always the challenge for any writer, finding a balance between living a full life and writing. I am impatient to go from the germ of an idea to a finished project and I want everything else in my life to fall in line so I can devote myself to that goal. But life doesn’t operate that way, and neither does the creative process. And by the way, unless you leave the writing long enough to live a full life, you find there’s nothing to write about. You have nothing to say. So, for me it’s always a challenge to leave the writing and know that when I come back to the desk, I’ll be better for it and so will my work.
What is your greatest victory?
My family – my marriage to my best friend and the home we’ve made with our three children. With the publication of my first novel, I saw my kids witness the fulfillment of a dream after years of dedicated work. That single moment, seeing their faces, was my greatest victory. Knowing that long after I’m gone, long after anything I have written is forgotten, they’ll have that memory to pass down to their children for courage.
You can visit Kimberly Brock at kimberlybrockbooks.com. Her list of books signings and appearances are listed there.
You can find THE RIVER WITCH on Amazon.com and these other retailers:
Hey, all! Greetings from the land of Spanish Moss and fiddler crabs. I have been on the island a week now, pounding out my revisions, going from the beach to the bay, handing out snacks, balancing the mother thing with the writer thing and becoming what my friends refer to as ISLAND MISTY. This is my favorite version of myself, my alter ego, my alias, in a place where there is no school, somewhere over the rainbow (cue the music and dancing Muppets) As I was saying, there is no school, other than the naturally occurring daily – sometimes three and four times!! – science lessons. Yesterday science was a skeleton of a lizard and trying to figure out what kind of bird greets us every morning, and the ever changing loosening and tightening of the boat ropes due to tide water. I did, after all, earn a science degree, so this stuff never fails to fascinate me. GEEK MOM.
Of course, there are some drawbacks.
I have mentioned before that this is no picnic. We do have water and electricity, but there are no stores on the island, so when I need groceries, it’s the golf cart (no cars on the island) to the boat, boat to the marina, get in the car and so on.
But- there is no practice or lesson of any kind for us to rush to. The only thing we try to beat is heavy rain and lightening.
We swim, we run, we bike, we tube, we hike. We meet dogs on the beach and miss ours that passed away.
We talk about the new dog we’ll have and how we’ll enjoy it. We make new friends, eat another snack.
When we’re tired, we sleep.
So far, the only bummers we’ve had are bummer batteries. One dead golf cart battery and two dead boat batteries, but we got it all fixed and we’re rolling now. Except that my aloe plant is dying.
This is summer. This is my island family.
When I was asked to write a dedication for the anthology, SWEETER THAN TEA, I knew immediately who, why and what. But there’s another thing they asked for: Recipes. And that took on a whole new meaning. Because I wondered, did they want a dedication for Granny’s pound cake?
Surely not, but I could easily give them one! This is the woman whose stories are so good, I used to play possum and sneak around just to hear her talk. I followed her everywhere. The house was just a 1950’s ranch with the garage converted into a family room, but it was magical to me. Granny had a clothesline out back and muscadine vine growing in her yard – I would eat until I was sick. She had a plum tree and often asked me climb to the top and toss her the fruit she couldn’t reach. And then, there was the oak tree where I read Helen Keller five times. There was plenty to do at my Granny’s, aside from eat her buttery biscuits (according to my Pa-Pa, they only turned out good if she was nervous!)
My mother was pretty serious about us going to bed IN our beds, but when we were visiting, sometimes I would take advantage and “fall asleep” on the sofa while Granny and Pa-Pa were talking to aunts and uncles who had stopped by. Oh, the things I’d learn!
Also, the house didn’t have central air for a long time. The air conditioner sat in a window just over the dining room table, which kept the main part of Granny’s house cool. When she went to the trouble of putting a table cloth down, my red-headed cousins and I would get a plate of fried chicken and potato salad, and some lemonade and sneak under the ivory table cloth to enjoy the air conditioning and the story-telling. I learned about long dead aunts and uncles dueling in the front yard, (Granny had to call THE LAW) moonshiners, dead babies and war heroes. We had it all and no one thought any of it was fit for my ears! They didn’t know what a good secret keeper I was. They just didn’t know.
After and hour or so of talking some one would say, “Where’d them kids go?”
“I reckon they’re outside,” Pa-Pa, would say. “Prob’ly climbing the oak tree again.”
“They better not hurt themselves before dessert.”
Then, they’d start up again. By late afternoon I realized our family was one BIG soap opera.
My Granny would tell me a lot of these stories, in her own way, as I aged, but they were never as good as the first time, with her hushed whispers and laughter and me in my hiding place. She sold that house and moved five miles away, she has a lovely view of cows in a nice pasture, but no plum trees, no muscadines, and no oak tree.
I was most sad about the oak tree. I spent hours there, re-reading Helen Keller, Caddie Woodlawn and all the Little House on the Prairie books. My mother, my aunt and Granny would call me for dinner through the open windows. Id’ know what we were eating before they even said. You could smell roast, collards, wild rice and fried apple pies.
“Up in that tree again – with her head in a book,” Granny would say. “I hope she don’t fall.”
When my Granny moved, I had married and moved to a house on two acres and was just discovering the wonders of the property. One day in late August I was walking with my sons and was slapped with a scent I hadn’t come across in years, something I’d only been able to buy in the grocery store for awhile.
I walked around the corner of the woods and found it – a muscadine vine, easily 16 feet high and forty feet across, arching over the path, and bursting with firm dark purple grapes. I knew in another week, I would introduce my boys to the muscadine-eating process of popping the grape between your teeth, sucking out the pulp, and spitting seeds on the ground – just like my Granny taught me.
It is great fun, although out of all my kids, my daughter is the great muscadine-lover. We use a 12 foot ladder, but still can’t reach them all. The deer can’t get enough of them, so we have to be quick!
Granny is 87 now and still drives, still makes her own pickles and with four gallon-sized bags of my muscadines – the best muscadine jelly you ever tasted. She still loves to pass on stories, but she says there are some things she’ll never tell. “You just don’t need to know everything,” Granny says.
And then she starts talking. I know how this goes. If I stay quiet long enough,she might forget I’m here.