Kimberly Brock Books bio picture
  • The River Witch

    " Kimberly Brock has an amazing voice and a huge heart; The River Witch welcomes the reader to a haunted landscape, authentically Southern, where the tragedies of the past and the most fragile, gorgeous kind of love-soaked hope are equally alive. This is one debut that you absolutely should not
    miss."

    ~~ Joshilyn Jackson, New York Times bestselling author of Backseat Saints

  • Georgia Author of the Year 2013
    The River Witch is available wherever books are sold

Look Away, Away – Creating Unforgettable Settings

 

 

By Kimberly Brock

 

Kimberly Brock

Kimberly Brock

 

I think writers of any ilk can benefit from a healthy appreciation of setting, but regional – particularly southern writers – are haunted by our connection to, love of, loss of, and clawing crawling, desperate journey back to – the land.

 

Oh, I wish I was in Dixie…away, away. Every song is a lullaby of going home. We close our eyes and dream of the old house in the valley. We contemplate a city skyline, thinking only of the ancient ridges that surrounded freshly turned lowlands where we walked a row as a child. That old scene where Scarlet O’Hara’s father warns her that land is the only thing that matters? We took that old man seriously and so, when we write our stories, do our characters. Their whole world, how our characters view their circumstances, why they struggle, why they rejoice – it’s all reflected in the setting.

 

Pick up any piece of southern fiction and you will understand what Lee Smith meant when she said of regional literature, “There is an intimate identification with landscape. Setting is so important that it often defines the lives and possibilities of its characters…Place is the central defining factor of southern writing. There’s just simply more there, there.”

 

In writing THE RIVER WITCH, I knew Roslyn’s story would end up on the island – I knew she would go into a kind of exile. I imagined Roslyn’s need for a kind of isolation, and her need for great beauty, which led me to the Georgia Coast. 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. I needed a place that Roslyn believed was a complete departure. My character’s story is also the story of this environment and if you look at one, you will inevitably discover something about the other.

 

I’d written a good part of the first draft before Roslyn’s past and her childhood memories of Glenmary, Tennessee, began to surface. There, I found a people rooted for centuries in hard ground. Ancient mountains that would not be moved. Do you see these places? Then you see the people who inhabit them. I came to understand these were the characteristics at the core of Roslyn, this place defined all the ways she was at odds with herself, and as with everything else in the novel, these seemingly contradictory environments and cultures of Appalachia and Coastal Georgia 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.

 

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 – what each of us, ANY character ANY place, faces – a transformation that leads to resolution. She had to learn to shift and change to survive, just like the land beneath her feet. Her connection to place informs the reader of Roslyn’s internal journey through metaphor, but it also grounds the reader firmly in a compelling reality, one that every reader will envision for themselves. We are called to whatever away, away means home. To me, the true power of setting is that it gets to the heart of our human search for belonging.

 

 

Barbara Kingsolver said it best when she spoke of setting. “I have places from which I tell my stories. So do you, I expect. We sing the song of our home because we are animals…Among the greatest of all gifts is to know our place.”

 

Ready to sing your own song of home and address setting in your stories? Maybe it doesn’t come naturally? Here are four brass-tack techniques I use in my own writing:

 

1. Reveal setting through action – Let your description unfold as a character moves through the scene. Consider which details your character would notice immediately, and which might register more slowly. Let your character encounter those details interactively. Use action verbs to set the scene. But be selective and careful not to bury the scene in detail.

 

2. Reveal setting through a character’s level of experience – What your character knows will directly influence what she sees. Different characters will perceive the same surroundings in very different ways, based on their familiarity (or lack thereof) with the setting.

 

3. Reveal setting through the emotions of your character – What we perceive is profoundly influenced by what we feel. The same should be true for our characters. Filtering a setting through a character’s feelings can profoundly influence what the reader “sees.”

 

4. Reveal setting through the senses

 

  • Visual – we make decisions and take action based on what we see.
  • Emotions are affected by what we hear (music, the sound of a person’s voice, the whistle of a train, tone of voice).
  • Smell evokes memories (baking, perfume, new-car leather, the odor of wet dog).
  • Touch evokes a sensory response.
  • As in real life, “taste” images should be used sparingly and appropriately.

 

What techniques work for you when writing setting? Are there examples of setting that became its own character in novels you love? What are your thoughts on a sense of place in fiction and its bearing on the journey to a resolution for a character? Share them here!

 

About Kimberly

 

13502935Kimberly Brock is the author of “The River Witch” and recipient of the Georgia Author of the Year Award 2013. Her short works can be found in the anthologies Summer in Mossy Creek, and Sweeter Than Tea. Formerly a special needs educator and actor, Kimberly is a regular contributor to several blogs dedicated to the craft of writing. She serves as the Blog Network Coordinator for She Reads, a national online book club, actively spearheading several women’s literacy efforts through the She Reads Gives Back campaign. She is a certified Pilates instructor and owner of Kimberly Brock Pilates. She lives in the foothills of north Atlanta with her husband and three children, and is currently at work on her next novel.

November 8, 2013 - 3:19 pm

Cynthia Robertson - Not being from the South, but only a passing admirer, it has always struck me as a deeply primal place. Maybe it’s those roaring gators :) which are, after all, small dinosaurs. The swamps and Spanish Moss draped ancient oaks, the mountains you so beautifully describe. It all has a very OLD feel, as if it has been there, unchanged, for millennia.
Thanks for the suggested ways to think about setting. Love those!

December 2, 2013 - 10:25 pm

Jessica McCann (@JMcCannWriter) - Great post, Kim, and a great observations. I especially liked this line: “the true power of setting is that it gets to the heart of our human search for belonging.” I completely agree. And I find the books that grip me the strongest are those with a strong sense of place.

My Friend, Moonshine

Hey ya’ll. I’m reposting a guest blog that ran last Friday on IT’S ONLY A NOVEL. I hope it will inspire you as you start this week!

My Friend, Moonshine

A few weeks ago I ended up on the phone with another writer. Those who know me are aghast at this very moment! I am known far and wide as She Who Does Not Critique. Fine. But this wasn’t that. This was something else. I don’t even know how to explain to you the depth of my admiration for her talent or the thrill it still gives me to call her a friend after years of appreciating her work and now suddenly realizing the gift of her beautiful soul. But I will tell you this – meeting other writers is one of the greatest joys of this work I am doing. Discovering people who can meet me at my core – others who reveal myself to me and hold me accountable – is something so unexpected and sweet that I don’t think I’ll ever get over it. Don’t believe me? Don’t want to share your creative process? Oh, fellow introverts and purists, it will save you, I promise.

This is what I mean: Writers are essentially very excellent stills. We live in the big pot of our heads. We are accumulators, walking around, taking every detail in and tucking it back between our ears, inside our wrinkly brains to macerate. We are specialists at mulling. I can happily spend weeks inside my house without seeing another living soul, just mulling, mulling, mulling it all over. And I don’t get bored or bothered with this process. This is a mystery and annoyance to anyone who is not a writer. Oh, how we love our mash. And we are famous for this – clamping down.

I can clamp down like nobody’s business. I love a tight lid like you wouldn’t believe. I am the human equivalent of a pressure cooker. Once I’ve mulled over whatever little, twangy bits of the outside world I am able to tolerate, I will then happily drag up some faint and spicy memory of childhood and mull that over as long as I can to add flavor to the mash – and as an added bonus, I still don’t have to leave my house. I kick off my boots, lean back, sing some Johnny Cash train song, and even as the revenuers are closing in and the whole thing begins to stink, I believe that at some point I’ll take a sip of that bitter mix and it will taste exactly like brilliance. Like purity. Divinity. Inspiration. One swig will reveal some insight, some precious turn of phrase so perfect and wholly satisfying that I’ll be able to proclaim It is Finished! And go back out my door. I have such irrepressible faith that what will eventually pour out of my pot head is going to effect change, I believe it will be transforming, and the world will be a better place, a place I can stand to rejoin.

Except, sometimes the recipe is wrong. And the pressure builds.

So there I was on the phone, hip-deep in my mash – my many, many words and sentences and chapters and charts and arcs and the poetry of it all – struggling to make sense and find form and balance and joy. Because here’s the awful truth – sometimes the writing’s just swill.  There’s a fine line between fermented and rotten, and sometimes you’re too drunk on your own product to know it. More than likely you’ve also gone a little bit blind.   

And my brilliant friend takes a sniff of me through that phone line and says simply, “You know. Maybe that’s not your only POV.”

She flipped my lid. She let in the air. She oxidized everything.

And do you know what? The work is sweeter for it. And so am I. So is the world outside my door.

A few weeks ago I ended up on the phone with another writer. Those who know me are aghast at this very moment! I am known far and wide as She Who Does Not Critique. Fine. But this wasn’t that. This was something else. I don’t even know how to explain to you the depth of my admiration for her talent or the thrill it still gives me to call her a friend after years of appreciating her work and now suddenly realizing the gift of her beautiful soul. But I will tell you this – meeting other writers is one of the greatest joys of this work I am doing. Discovering people who can meet me at my core – others who reveal myself to me and hold me accountable – is something so unexpected and sweet that I don’t think I’ll ever get over it. Don’t believe me? Don’t want to share your creative process? Oh, fellow introverts and purists, it will save you, I promise.

This is what I mean: Writers are essentially very excellent stills. We live in the big pot of our heads. We are accumulators, walking around, taking every detail in and tucking it back between our ears, inside our wrinkly brains to macerate. We are specialists at mulling. I can happily spend weeks inside my house without seeing another living soul, just mulling, mulling, mulling it all over. And I don’t get bored or bothered with this process. This is a mystery and annoyance to anyone who is not a writer. Oh, how we love our mash. And we are famous for this – clamping down.

I can clamp down like nobody’s business. I love a tight lid like you wouldn’t believe. I am the human equivalent of a pressure cooker. Once I’ve mulled over whatever little, twangy bits of the outside world I am able to tolerate, I will then happily drag up some faint and spicy memory of childhood and mull that over as long as I can to add flavor to the mash – and as an added bonus, I still don’t have to leave my house. I kick off my boots, lean back, sing some Johnny Cash train song, and even as the revenuers are closing in and the whole thing begins to stink, I believe that at some point I’ll take a sip of that bitter mix and it will taste exactly like brilliance. Like purity. Divinity. Inspiration. One swig will reveal some insight, some precious turn of phrase so perfect and wholly satisfying that I’ll be able to proclaim It is Finished! And go back out my door. I have such irrepressible faith that what will eventually pour out of my pot head is going to effect change, I believe it will be transformative, and the world will be a better place, a place I can stand to rejoin.

Except, sometimes the recipe is wrong. And the pressure builds.

So there I was on the phone, hip-deep in my mash – my many, many words and sentences and chapters and charts and arcs and the poetry of it all – struggling to make sense and find form and balance and joy. Because here’s the awful truth – sometimes the writing’s just swill.  There’s a fine line between fermented and rotten, and sometimes you’re too drunk on your own product to know it. More than likely you’ve also gone a little bit blind.

And my brilliant friend takes a sniff of me through that phone line and says simply, “You know. Maybe that’s not your only POV.”

She flipped my lid. She let in the air. She oxidized everything.

And do you know what? The work is sweeter for it. And so am I. So is the world outside my door.

- See more at: http://www.itsonlyanovel.com/2013/09/27/my-friend-moonshine/#sthash.6bOhmwqV.dpuf

A few weeks ago I ended up on the phone with another writer. Those who know me are aghast at this very moment! I am known far and wide as She Who Does Not Critique. Fine. But this wasn’t that. This was something else. I don’t even know how to explain to you the depth of my admiration for her talent or the thrill it still gives me to call her a friend after years of appreciating her work and now suddenly realizing the gift of her beautiful soul. But I will tell you this – meeting other writers is one of the greatest joys of this work I am doing. Discovering people who can meet me at my core – others who reveal myself to me and hold me accountable – is something so unexpected and sweet that I don’t think I’ll ever get over it. Don’t believe me? Don’t want to share your creative process? Oh, fellow introverts and purists, it will save you, I promise.

This is what I mean: Writers are essentially very excellent stills. We live in the big pot of our heads. We are accumulators, walking around, taking every detail in and tucking it back between our ears, inside our wrinkly brains to macerate. We are specialists at mulling. I can happily spend weeks inside my house without seeing another living soul, just mulling, mulling, mulling it all over. And I don’t get bored or bothered with this process. This is a mystery and annoyance to anyone who is not a writer. Oh, how we love our mash. And we are famous for this – clamping down.

I can clamp down like nobody’s business. I love a tight lid like you wouldn’t believe. I am the human equivalent of a pressure cooker. Once I’ve mulled over whatever little, twangy bits of the outside world I am able to tolerate, I will then happily drag up some faint and spicy memory of childhood and mull that over as long as I can to add flavor to the mash – and as an added bonus, I still don’t have to leave my house. I kick off my boots, lean back, sing some Johnny Cash train song, and even as the revenuers are closing in and the whole thing begins to stink, I believe that at some point I’ll take a sip of that bitter mix and it will taste exactly like brilliance. Like purity. Divinity. Inspiration. One swig will reveal some insight, some precious turn of phrase so perfect and wholly satisfying that I’ll be able to proclaim It is Finished! And go back out my door. I have such irrepressible faith that what will eventually pour out of my pot head is going to effect change, I believe it will be transformative, and the world will be a better place, a place I can stand to rejoin.

Except, sometimes the recipe is wrong. And the pressure builds.

So there I was on the phone, hip-deep in my mash – my many, many words and sentences and chapters and charts and arcs and the poetry of it all – struggling to make sense and find form and balance and joy. Because here’s the awful truth – sometimes the writing’s just swill.  There’s a fine line between fermented and rotten, and sometimes you’re too drunk on your own product to know it. More than likely you’ve also gone a little bit blind.

And my brilliant friend takes a sniff of me through that phone line and says simply, “You know. Maybe that’s not your only POV.”

She flipped my lid. She let in the air. She oxidized everything.

And do you know what? The work is sweeter for it. And so am I. So is the world outside my door.

- See more at: http://www.itsonlyanovel.com/2013/09/27/my-friend-moonshine/#sthash.6bOhmwqV.dpuf

I’m a Cover Girl!

This month I’m the lucky girl on the cover of POINTS NORTH MAGAZINE! You can check out the online issue here:

 

September 9, 2013 - 9:43 pm

Jessica McCann (@JMcCannWriter) - Wow, Kim, this is so fun. You’re gorgeous! And it’s especially cool to see an author on the cover of a non-writing magazine.

September 12, 2013 - 7:54 pm

Leslie Marinelli - Gorgeous! I can’t wait to get a copy and have you sign it, my famous local author friend!

Listening For My Sister

  Listening for my Sister…
I shared a very personal essay today on Jennifer Haupt’s Psychology Today blog – I hope you’ll share it with those you love, who form the community of YOUR heart – the community you all have become in my life. And if you have a moment, drop by the blog and share a thought. I’d love to hear from you. xoxo

“It is as simple as this: I had a twin. And then, I didn’t.”

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/one-true-thing/201308/kimberly-brock-listening-my-sister

August 27, 2013 - 5:24 pm

Katherine Crawford - Real and moving. What a lovely piece, Kim!

August 27, 2013 - 5:38 pm

Rhiannon - I’ve always been fascinated with twins. Thank you for sharing your story, Kimberly.

When She Reads | Literacy & Hope

When She Reads | Literacy & Hope.

I’m reblogging this post from Literacy & Hope, an organization I am so proud to support through my work with SheReads.org. I know that both the post and the founder, Alyse Urice, will inspire you this weekend and remind you of the true value of literacy – HOPE.

 

When She Reads

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There is a marvelous online community of women–authors, bloggers, book group leaders–called She Reads.  They have made it possible for our Homecoming Queens to have books this year.  She Reads made it possible for these formerly homeless reading enthusiasts to each splurge 1/5 of a gift card at a local big box store.  Remarkably enough they each bought the same indulgence for themselves–new undies and new books.  Extra money was pitched in and they created a “goodie” basket that passes from woman to woman each month.  It is stocked with bath and grooming items they consider luxuries.  The generosity of the She Reads women is amazing and I am incredibly grateful to them.  But, I  do have one problem with the ladies of She Reads.  I’m fairly certain they should change their name to She Reads And Then Her World is Opened Up, Her Mind Expands And Her Whole Life Changes For The Better.  Okay, so it’s not catchy.  And it probably wouldn’t fit very well on a size S/M tee shirt.  Nonetheless, I will continue to champion my idea for a name change.  Here’s why:

The last time I met with the HQs it was happy and amazing and interesting as always.  The women have all promised to encourage one more women to join them this year and there was a new woman among us.  She was a little awkward and mistrustful and I could see her waiting for “the catch” associated with this book group.  The other group members smiled.  They were just like her a little over a year ago.  I listened as they answered questions and reassured her in more ways than I could that she was welcome and not judged.

About 20 minutes into the meeting a whirlwind popped through the door followed by her daughter.  I had not seen this woman in more than a month and was agog (how often do you get to use that word?) at her transformation.  This is a woman who had been on the run from abuse; a woman whose child clung to her everywhere she went and was devastated during the hours mom spent  at work.  I have frequently been of the opinion that she is a mom who makes sure her child eats and only has dinner herself if there are leftovers.  The woman who glided through the door was visibly and audibly different.  She gave me a strong squeeze and plopped down beside me laughing.  I could see that she had put on 5-6 pounds, her skin glowed and her hair was shiny.  She encouraged her little girl to go play with another child and to my surprise her daughter skipped off to play.  For the next few minutes she told us about full-time work, a chance to become a manager, a regular customer at the restaurant who has offered her an opportunity to read and edit his writing.  Me–me!–getting a chance to edit something!  The other women asked questions and we finally settled in to discussing Orphan Train (because even though we read it two books ago they are still talking about it) and  Susanna Kearsley’s new offering The Firebird.  I will admit I don’t remember much of the specifics they shared.  What held me in place, moved me, and sent chills skittering up my spine was the buoyancy of the conversation.  Women who used to have no opinions were voicing them.  Women who struggled to express themselves were discussing the stories in the books, contrasting and comparing them with their own lives.  They talked about how this or that made them think about themselves differently.  And the new incarnation of the woman sitting next to me still spoke with a Texas drawl but expressed herself with a developing, thoughtful new vocabulary.

As I walked out with my hostess, she nudged me with her elbow.  You were pretty surprised by her weren’t you?  I admitted I was amazed.  To tell the truth, she’s been getting better and better since the day we all got our tiaras at the Queen of Your Own Life ceremony.  It was like someone flipped on the switch labeled self-confidence.  I thought about this group of determined women.  She battles homelessness.  She overcomes helplessness.  She reads.

I am fortunate enough to chat online with authors frequently and sometimes feel like the torch bearer for Samuel Johnson’s philosophy that authors begin stories and readers finish them.  I have escaped turmoil and hardship between the pages of novels.  I have never been on a go-somewhere vacation but I have walked the Camino, time-traveled and spent nights in the palaces of places that my GPS will never find because they exist only between pages 23 and 243.  I have seen a reflection of a better me mirrored in what a heroine accomplished between chapters 5 and 7.

When she reads, she sees other paths she did not know existed.

When she reads, she escapes, dreams, dares.

She reads and other realities become possibilities.

Joyce Meskis just wanted to open a book store.  Denver’s Tattered Cover is 4 locations strong and Joyce has an embarrassing number of literary awards.  Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe, opened in an ugly part of town and transformed it.  Owner Emoke B’Racz blames it all on what she reads:  How my life has been brought to undiscovered lands and how much richer it gets–all from words printed on a page.  How a book can have 560 pages but in only 3 pages change the reader’s life.  Kathy Patrick dreamed up a book club for real women, The Pulpwood Queens and it is now more than 500 chapters strong.  She reads, writes, and can transform your limp locks into a sleek new ‘do at Beauty and the Book.   Some of the Homecoming Queens want to own businesses, one has taken the first steps to become an entrepreneur.  Each of them have found something new to hang on to, to dream about or believe in somewhere between the Dedication and Acknowledgements.

I am willing to alter my original plan.  Instead of She Reads And Then Her World is Opened Up, Her Mind Expands And Her Whole Life Changes For The Better what about this:  She Reads And Is Transformed.  It’s true.  And it would fit on the tee shirt.

dangerous well-read woman

August 17, 2013 - 1:43 pm

Melissa Crytzer Fry - What a wonderfully moving post. You are doing such great things at She Reads! Keep up the great work!

August 17, 2013 - 9:55 pm

Darcy Crowder - Beautiful, Kim. Absolutely beautiful and inspiring! And I would sooo buy that tee shirt. :)

P r a i s e
  • " The River Witch welcomes the reader to a haunted landscape, authentically Southern, where the tragedies of the past and the most fragile, gorgeous kind of love-soaked hope are equally alive. This is one debut that you absolutely should not
    miss."

    ~~ Joshilyn Jackson, New York Times bestselling author of Backseat Saints

    "Kimberly Brock’s The River Witch achieves what splendid writing ought to achieve – story and character that linger in the reader’s consciousness. Tender and intriguing, often dazzling in its prose, this is a mature work of fiction worthy of the celebration of praise."

    ~~ Terry Kay, Honored Georgia author of To Dance With the White Dog

A d d   t o   g o o d r e a d s
  • goodreads add book

    The River Witch


M o r e   p r a i s e
  • "There is magic and wonder in The River Witch, but the real enchantment here is the strength of the characters Roslyn and Damascus. Their voices are the current that carries the reader along in this compelling tale of healing and discovery."

    ~~ Sharyn McCrumb, New York Times bestselling author of The Ballad of Tom Dooley.

    "With lyrical prose, Kimberly Brock explores the hidden places of the heart. The River Witch is a magical and bewitching story that, like a river, winds its way through the soul. In the voices of her wounded characters, Brock takes us through both the breaking and the healing of a life."

    ~~ Patti Callahan Henry, New York Times bestselling author of Driftwood Summer