A warm welcome to today’s featured debut author, Kimberly Brock, whose novel, The River Witch, has garnered a whopping 21 five-star reviews since its publication in April. Way to go, Kimberly!
Name of book: The River Witch
Book genre: Women’s fiction/Southern lit
Date published: April 15, 2012
Publisher: Bell Bridge Books
What is your day job? I’m a full-time mom to three kids, and I teach occasional Pilates sessions.
What is your book about? The River Witch is a Southern tale set against the backdrop of the Sea Islands. When ballerina Roslyn Bryne loses her career and suffers a tragic miscarriage, her grief sends her into a desperate exile to the mystical Manny’s Island where she rents a lonely house that once belonged to a conjure woman. But instead of solitude, Roslyn is confronted with the audacious, motherless Damascus Trezevant. What follows is an unforgettable summer and a look at the profound choices we all make in the name of love.
Why did you want to write this book? 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.
What would you say is the most challenging part of writing a book? Getting lost along the way and tangled in your attempts so that the book is never finished.
Did you conduct any kind of research in order to write this book (visit certain locales, etc.)? I had at least limited experience in most aspects of the novel, but I did read a lot of books and do a lot of searching online to fill in any gaps where my own experience in dance or the Sea Island and southern Appalachia culture and environment fell short. I listened to tapes of alligators roaring and also watched documentaries on Sacred Harp music.
What motivates you to write? I don’t know what motivates me, except it bothers me that so many of my family stories have been lost. I think I want to leave something of myself for my children, but also I just value story and the power it has to make us think, bring us to forgiveness or understanding or wisdom, or just remind us to laugh at ourselves. Our stories define who we are, where we’ve been, and what we believe is possible. I guess it brings me hope.
Did you experience writer’s block? Writer’s block, in my opinion, is a sign that I need to either venture off course, try a new direction with the work, or I actually need to get away from it and let my brain breathe. Sometimes that means actually leaving the work and the room and having a life. I had to do that over and over again while writing The River Witch. I always have to remind myself of this. I want to force things to come together, and that never works well. Or I need to work on something else—write a piece with a different perspective. Almost always, I come back to the original work with new energy and, at the very least, a clearer vision of what I’m trying to create.
Tell me about the publishing process for this book. The novel came together in pieces over time and went through several drafts, an agent who dearly loved it but whom I eventually left, and the birth of my third child. By the time I finished the final draft of The River Witch, I just hoped I wouldn’t die before I sold it.
The manuscript was submitted to other publishers by my former literary agent and got good responses, but there was always some revision requested. I attempted some of these, but eventually I felt I was losing sight of my own vision for the book. At some point, I realized I was going to have to make a hard decision, and I left my agent and took the book to a small publisher that I respected. A few months later, I sold the book and began working with my current agent on my next project. Publishing with a small press has been a good decision for me because I feel they really respected the story and I was lucky to work with a fabulous editor, a former creative writing instructor at UC Berkeley. The process has been different in that it’s a much faster turnaround from completed manuscript to printed book. I’m doing most of my own promotion and marketing. But that’s not as different as you’d suspect from traditional publishing for a debut author and my publisher has been very supportive and enthusiastic.
What would you say is the biggest misconception about writing a book? That it’s written overnight and then that it magically shows up on a shelf in hardback and People magazine as soon as it’s sold to a publisher.
What was your favorite aspect of the writing process for this book? The last time I read the manuscript before I turned it in to my editor, I could see so many unintentional, but revealing threads in the story had come together. That was beautiful and magical to me. It taught me to love what I’m doing all over again.
What advice would you give to writers regarding promotion? Be genuine. Use social media to broaden your base, but don’t just shout about your book. Care about booksellers and publishing and other writers – published and unpublished. Be about your craft and respect the many people who are your readers and your peers, not just because you want to sell your book, but because you value story. Then find ways to tell that story – magazines, blogs, local papers, libraries, festivals and community events. Give back to the writing community every chance afforded to you. Appreciate people.
How has life changed for you since the publication of your book? I am a busy girl. I think my new talent is Making Time.
Do you find yourself obsessively checking sales stats? No, I almost never check them. I spend my time working on the next book, helping other writers, speaking and signing, and finding ways to bring The River Witch to more readers.
So you’re writing another book? I’m currently at work on a new book and have multiple ideas just waiting for their chance.
My favorite last question: Oprah once famously said that there is no such thing as luck, without preparation and a moment of opportunity. Would you agree or disagree with regard to your own success as a writer? I agree whole-heartedly. I work hard every day toward sharing a story I believe will affect readers. But more than that, I work hard at being a person of integrity, a support to others and a voice that my children can look to for acceptance and wisdom and humor. I just don’t take myself seriously enough to believe luck would have been enough to bring about the publication of a story I made up in my imagination when I should have been sleeping. I think it was a freaking miracle. That’s what I want to believe. It’s what I want my kids to shoot for in life. Miracles.