" 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
~~ 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
Yesterday, this post ran on my publisher’s blog and I was very apprehensive. I really had a difficult time writing a piece this week and I still feel it is entirely inadequate. But after having several requests that I run it on my own blog, I’m posting it here. I encourage you to leave a comment and I hope it brings a little comfort by its honesty, although I wish I were a wiser woman. Love to you all.
I don’t feel like writing this blog. I want to cuddle up with my kids. I want to hibernate for winter. I want to make cookies and memories and watch sweet movies and tell stories under the covers. I want to stay home. I want to listen to my husband snore beside me in the wee hours. I want to be safe. I want to know they are safe. I don’t want to take any chances. That’s what this week did to me. Probably to almost everyone. It’s a shame because I’d already started tinkering with the beginnings of a post with a kind of reflective tone about the season. It was pretty smart, actually, a few days ago. Now, it’s a bunch of bologna. It’s shallow and naïve. And I just can’t seem to get back to that line of thinking. I can’t cough up any nostalgia or humor or even a Bah Humbug. I’m almost forty-one years old and I just lost a little more of my innocence. I mean, we are lucky to live where we live in America, aren’t we? That we have any innocence left to lose is an absolute miracle, right? But terrifying, too.
But none of that changes the fact that I have to post something because I agreed to the job weeks ago. I said I would do it and I sit here pondering my inability to wax poetic or even work up something of a little Christmas sermon. Usually, I’m good for at least a paragraph or two on such things. Not this time. But I’ll tell you, my brain has fixated on this one question since Friday afternoon when I was sitting at my laptop, trying to write this blog and was interrupted by the reminder of madness and sorrow in the world. And I don’t have a good answer. I just keep wondering about it and maybe I feel like I’d rather not wonder about it all alone, so I’m going to stick this question in your brain, too.
I wonder, if I’d seen that star, would I have had the courage to follow it? That Christmas star. Say there were angels, or maybe say we just had a flask we’d been passing around, me and you other stinky shepherds, and we THOUGHT we heard somebody or something. Maybe we just wanted an excuse to get off the hill. Whatever. The point is, would I have done it? Or would I have only told all you other dare-devil shepherds to settle down and gone back to counting sheep?
Would I have stayed put, hanging out on hilltops, farting and telling bad jokes, out of fear? Would I have convinced you all to ignore the whole heavenly host thing because really, what would a bunch of shepherds know about what’s over the river and through the woods? There is evil out there and I don’t just mean wolves. And everybody knows that visions and messages and signs and journeys are a very dangerous business. In a world like this, who would ever risk it? Because seriously, this weekend, that’s how I’m feeling. Like hiding out.
The thing is, I know there are miracles. One of them is that I haven’t lost all my metaphorical sheep by now. I have taken some chances, gone down roads unknown and seen there’s more to the world than sheep. Good things. Wonderful things. I’ve seen what can happen when I come down off the hill, for good or bad, and I know that after some journeys, the truth is that for good or bad, you’ll never be the same. After this week, I’ll never be the same. No one will. But does that mean I never leave the hill again?
Maybe the only way those shepherds ever had the courage to face that star – everything it meant or could mean and everything that it demanded of them – was simply because they did it all together. They trembled together and stood there knowing life is a marvelous, fragile thing, but perhaps there’s more to know than we can comprehend. I need that to be true this Christmas. Because what we find when we follow a star is light. And in light, we are made wise. The brightest gifts of the human race are illuminated: love, faith, forgiveness. Hope.
So what I want to know is this: Do we lose the star if we dare stop looking for it? Or can we still see it, even now, a constant? A miracle? I’m looking for it. And I’m searching for the courage to follow it. I hope you are, too. There’s room on the hillside. You can stand by me.
The holidays are upon us!! After months of promoting and traveling for The River Witch, I’m trying to settle down for a long winter’s nap. But honestly, I don’t nap well. I’m a busy bee. And I’m in the middle of serious work on a second novel that I have refused to talk about except to a select few lucky (poor fool) souls.
Alas, a couple of friends – Katherine Scott Crawford, whose historical novel Keowee Valley is just fabulous! And Jolina Petersheim, whose debut novel The Outcast, a retelling of The Scarlet Letter, will release in June 2013 – asked me to participate in this chain blog post going around and only because I love them and owe them endless favors, did I agree to talk a smidge (and I mean a really serious little smidge) about my current project. I hate to talk about anything I’m writing until I’ve finished and have a clear picture of the book. Somehow, it just confuses me or ends up sounding all sorts of spacey and delusional. So, I’m warning you. Expect my answers to these questions to make your head hurt and cause you to question your sanity. But if we must…then, without further ado…I open a vein for you.
What is your working title of your book?
I’ve tried out several that I don’t like. For now, the book is untitled. I usually discover the title during the revision process. Where did the idea come from for the book?
Years ago, I came across a bit of obscure history involving the fate of a missing woman. I don’t want to reveal too much about it, but the discoveries were eventually declared a hoax. I was obsessed with the idea that if any part of the story that evolved was true and had been abandoned as a fraud, a woman’s voice was silenced not once, but twice. History betrayed her. If anyone had a right to haunt, it was her. I wanted to tell her story – not only hers, but also the story of a man who helped to record her life and death and was then lost to history right alongside her. I thought what it would be like to be her descendant and discover such a rich and bitter legacy. I felt compelled to honor that kind of courage and love, and also to explore what it means to be lost, what of our identity comes through inheritance and what comes of choice. And most importantly, what element of the human experience is eternal – in the case of a soul or a story. It has taken a long time to find the right way to tell this tale. A few years ago I heard a song at a concert that really brought home the themes for me and I’ve been writing and revising ever since. What genre does your book fall under?
It is a magical realist tale. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
I never see actors when I’m writing, but I see pieces of different faces or personalities. This novel has a large cast but for the two main characters, I might cast Sam Worthington because I believe he could be a stone mason and he has a soulful quality to him. And Emma Stone because she’s approachable and smart and could knock my teeth down my throat, if need be.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
I’m just going to laugh a little about this question and move along. Trust me. It’s a bad idea. And besides, you have to leave a little mystery, ya’ll. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
This novel is being represented by Jenny Bent of The Bent Agency. I am STILL reeling over this!! (Should we ever meet, you can kiss my ring.) How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I’m still writing it after two years. I hope to have this draft completed and revised by spring of 2013, then turned into my agent where the REAL work begins. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I think this book will stand alone and I really dislike comparing any project to another. But there might be similarities to a work like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. One of the main characters is a literal “eternal soul” who is caught in a kind of reincarnation cycle that establishes him in the lives of each generation of a particular family. He can perceive memories of loss that haunt people, and he has a gift for inspiring hope.
It might also be compared to The Time Traveler’s Wife because of the complications that crop up in this kind of love story. Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I think I already answered this, but mostly I’d say it was inspired by the idea of being lost, how we define loss. The question I wanted to address was really whether experiencing loss or being lost is a condition with a concrete or scientific explanation, a mystical or existential reason, or is it purely all about perception? What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
The novel is set against the backdrop of north Georgia at the end of WWII, but the story extends to the colonization of America and into current day, following the female heirs of a family matriarch and a soul who is bound to them. It focuses on the last living heir in 1944 and her relationship with the mystical man tangled in her family legend, but it explores war, addiction, anti-Semitism, alchemy, the women’s movement, faith, dreams and the endless boundaries of love.
Blah, blah, blah. You’ll just have to wait and see, folks. I’m telling you when I start talking about my work it’s like, all ballerinas and alligators and hoo doo and spiritual music and pretty soon your eyes just glaze over. This one is a long way from finished, but I’ll hope you’ll hang in there with me. You’ll have to read it to believe it! xo
Please meet these fabulous writers and writer-friends of mine, find out what they’re up to:
Michael Morrisauthor of A PLACE CALLED WIREGRASS, SLOW WAY HOME and MAN IN THE BLUE MOON.
Erika Marksauthor of LITTLE GALE GUMBO and THE MERMAID COLLECTOR.
Beth Dukeauthor of DELANEY’S PEOPLE and DON’T SHOOT YOUR MULE.
Message for tagged authors:
Rules of the Next Big Thing
***Use this format for your post
***Answer the ten questions about your current WIP (work in progress)
***Tag five other writers/bloggers and add their links so we can hop over and meet them. Be sure to line up your five people in advance. (I’ve seen these posts run with only three or four tagged writers, so no pressure.)
Ten Interview Questions for the Next Big Thing:
What is your working title of your book?
Where did the idea come from for the book?
What genre does your book fall under?
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Include the link of who tagged you and this explanation for the people you have tagged.
Every year at Thanksgiving, people start making travel plans – or start formulating elaborate plans to avoid travel. Personally, since we moved back to Georgia a few years ago, travel has been pretty easy. An hour here, an hour there. We’re all fairly regional in this nuclear family. We scurry around the perimeter of Atlanta and gobble up our holiday dinners and haul our loot back home without ever really seeing anything new.The road to Grandma’s is so familiar the horse and sleigh can get there in the dark, blind-folded, uphill, in the snow. Well, rain. It’s Georgia. And honestly, I sleep through the travel portion every time. Five minutes in the car and I’m snoring, drool is running down my chin, and by the time we arrive I need about six Motrin so I can deal with the pain in my neck. (No, I am not being ugly about my family in this sweet holiday post.)
BUT I have stumbled upon something genius that could change ALL OF THAT! I am telling you that if you LOVE the south, this will stir your wassail and tickle your fruitcake. I’m kind of obsessed with it at the moment.
Now, if that doesn’t change your travel plans then I don’t know what will! Leave a comment below and one lucky son-of-a-gun will get a FREE download!
So get lost this Thanksgiving, Turkeys! Take a little side trip. Stay awake and discover the jewels along your trip to Grandma’s this year! You may be surprised at what this little ap will reveal right down the road from you!
There’s a lot of history in The River Witch. Maybe more than you know…
Last night I had the great joy of Skyping with a book club in Spokane, WA whose members are reading The River Witch. They were delightful and inspiring, with lots of questions about Sacred Harp music. Today, thanks to a fabulous and brilliant bunch of book bloggers I’ve had the good fortune to meet online, I came across one of the best interviews I’ve seen so far on the subject of this powerful, ancient music. I had to share it here. Hope you enjoy.
Michael Morris’ latest novel is a compelling piece of southern literature — inspiring, authentic and original, atmospheric. I am delighted to feature him here today and introduce readers to his work.
The year I began writing seriously, Michael and I were strangers living in the same town and his first novel had just been published. I clipped an article out of the local paper about a debut author and his book, A Place Called Wiregrass. For years, I kept that article in my bedside drawer as proof it could be done! Recently, at the Decatur Book Festival just outside of Atlanta, GA, I had the great, good luck to meet Michael Morris and thank him for that inspiration. Five books later, he has written his strongest novel yet. That he then agreed to a few interview questions so I could share my love of his work here, was just icing on the cake…
“Michael Morris has been one of my favorite Southern writers. His new novel is reason for great celebration. Man in the Blue Moon is a beautifully wrought portrayal of small town southern life where poverty, tragedy and human love engage in a ritualistic dance. His portrait of Dead Lakes, Florida, is one of the best portraits of a small Southern town I’ve ever encountered. His main character, Ella Wallace, is fascinating and Mr. Morris is one of those rare writers whose females are as fully formed individuals as his males. Buy it. Read it.”
“A magical and mesmerizing page-turner rooted in hardscrabble Florida during WWI, based in part on a true family story…Morris’s narrative is subtle and supple, with overtones of the wry Southernisms of Flannery O’Connor, the rural Florida backdrop of Their Eyes Were Watching God, and a good helping of powerful and mysterious faith. Book clubs should devour this rich, carefully observed mix of characters, time, and place; Morris deserves to break out of the regional-writer box.”
“The magic of turn-of-the-century Old Florida, in all its pain and natural beauty, has found its voice with native son, Michael Morris. Told in a multitude of voices, all desperate, all determined, Man in the Blue Moon spins a delicate, unforgettable family drama of abandonment and grit and redemption from unlikely sources. Morris is a fifth-generation Floridian, and describes with a pitch-perfect ear a vanishing rural culture of timber-cuts and bank foreclosures, where hard-held faith was not a luxury but a necessity for survival. Florida is lucky to have him.”
—Janis Owens, author of My Brother Michael and American Ghost
Readers, you’re in for a treat…
1. You were a child in Florida, near where you chose to set Man in the Blue Moon. Did you want to set the novel there out of an affinity for that place?
I am a fifth generation Floridian and all of my stories tend to make their way back to the state. But this is the first novel that is completely set in the Panhandle area, which is the part of Florida I know best. When I started writing my first novel, A Place Called Wiregrass, it was at St. George Island, which is just over the bridge from Apalachicola. I always return to the area to write. The place and the people of the Panhandle inspire me.
My grandfather was what people called a ‘big talker.” He was the best story-teller I have known. In fact, he was such a good storyteller that you might have to get him to tell a story more than once so that you could weed out fact from fiction.
One story from my grandfather’s childhood always fascinated me. In 1920 when my grandfather was ten, he and his older brother were sent to pick up a delivery that was arriving from Bainbridge, Georgia by steamboat down the Apalachicola River to their home in Florida. Back at the family store with the crate now unloaded from the wagon, my great-grandfather used a crowbar to pop the lid open. A man, soiled with filth and caked with mud, climbed out of the box.
The man who had been nailed shut inside the box was shipped during the night to his cousin, my great-grandfather, for safe keeping. The man was on the run for supposedly killing his wife. Even though the court had exonerated him, the wife’s family sought vengeance. They had made it known that they would hunt him down and kill him.
When I began writing, I knew that one day I had to do something with this story.
I started out by interviewing my grandfather, not only about all the details surrounding the man who was shipped in a crate, but day to day life in a crossroads community in the Panhandle of Florida. I asked him what their town celebrations were like and about their trips to Panama City or Apalachicola. He talked about the ways they would raft timber to market. All of these elements made the time and place come to life for me. Man in the Blue Moon is truly a novel based on oral history.
I also did a great deal of research reading about the time period: World War I, the woman’s suffrage movement and the 1918 flu epidemic. I sought about books about Apalachicola’s history and the South’s role in the war and the suffrage movement. Documentaries about these topics were helpful, particularly a PBS documentary on the flu that included survivor stories.
I’ll tell you how great libraries are. I was all set to travel to the University of Florida to spend time reading the 1918 Apalachicola, Florida newspapers. The Birmingham Library was able to arrange a loan with the university and the newspapers were sent on microfiche to Birmingham. I spent a couple of weeks combing through every issue. That was a big turning point for me in feeling that I was completely in the environment I was writing about. Through the newspaper searches, I was able to discover a claim that the area was considered by a few to be the original Garden of Eden and that the state was encouraging folks around Apalachicola to grow rice. Both of these elements became important parts of the story.
For me, the fun thing about writing is you get to take a little bit of people you know and maybe take physical descriptions of people you observer someplace like a restaurant and then mix them together. Looking at the character of Ella’s son, Keaton, I did imagine what my grandfather might have been like at that age and used that for inspiration.
5. Especially around the turn of the century, during the Victorian era, healing springs were a popular idea. Was the healing water in your novel based on a factual place?
In my hometown there was a spring with a resort that had burned decades before I was born. The remains include a pool where goldfish were once kept. As a child, I was fascinated by the place and would try to picture what it must have been like in its heyday. The image became the place that Brother Mabry wants to develop on Ella’s farm.
6. In this novel, you create nobility in characters with shady pasts and detestable characters out of upstanding types. Did you intentionally twist these archetypes to really make them stand out?
With a story like this one where there are enemies to drive the plot forward; I was hoping not to create caricatures or cardboard characters. I have a list of questions I always answer about the characters I’m writing about – from their favorite color to their darkest secret. Of course, not all of the details make it into the novel but it helps me to show the vulnerability and sometimes shadiness of characters that might otherwise come off as unrealistic. After all, we all have some good and bad in us.
7. Do you have a favorite character in this book?
There were characters that were more fun to write but I can’t pinpoint one that was my favorite. The more eccentric the character, the more fun they were to write. Brother Mabry and Ruby were two characters that seemed to leap from the keyboard.
8. In every one of your stories, you manage to provide insight into the heart of family. Why is family an especially important theme for you?
I appreciate you noticing that element of the novels. I tend to present families that are not traditional. In Man in the Blue Moon, Narsissa, the Creek Indian who lives on Ella’s property is just as much a part of Ella’s family as her sons. And of course, Lanier eventually becomes a part of the family too. I like to explore the definition of family. To me, family is more than blood kin, it’s also the faithful people in our lives who will step in and help us when we need someone.
We certainly do share a love of the same writers. And I’m honored to know them as my friends too. When I first started writing, Lee Smith and Pat Conroy were big influences on me. I grew up in a rural town and I was the first in my immediate family to graduate college. For me, writing seemed far-fetched. It seemed like something people in Paris or New York would do.
Then one day I heard Lee Smith reading a short story on the radio. She was reading stories about people I knew. That night after work, I went out and bought the collection of short stories, Me and My Baby View the Eclipse. I’ve read everything else that she’s written. Years later, scenes from her novels will come to mind like memories of events that I have lived through.
Pat Conroy is another writer who has influenced me. The Prince of Tides is the only novel whose opening line I can recite. I was mesmerized by the beauty of his words and the raw depiction of his characters’ pain. And story – you can’t ask for a more mesmerizing story. That book spoke to me in a deep personal way. Twenty years later, I continue to read that novel. As far as I’m concerned, anything he writes is pure beauty.
10. Out of all the novels you’ve written, do you have a favorite?
Well, I guess that is like picking a favorite child. The first novel is the one that is special to me on some deeper level. I think it has to do with the fact that I couldn’t believe that I actually finished it!
I’m hitting the road in September, visiting the independent bookstores across the South. I’ll go back to Raleigh where I lived when I first started writing. We’ll visit the Atlanta area, Jackson, Fairhope, Greenville/Spartanburg, Pawley’s Island, Blytheville, Arkansas and my hometown of Perry, Florida of course. If anybody is interested I have a complete listing of my tour at wwww.michaelmorrisbooks.com
When I set out to write a novel, I just try to write one that I’d like to read. When someone tells me that she read the novel and she still thinks about the characters and the story, then I feel like I have done my job.
13. What’s next for you? Are you working on anything new?
I’m working on a play that I’m excited about – I’ve never done that before. And I’m also working on a novel that is centered around Christmas. And of course, an island in Florida will be a part in the story too.
" 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
~~ 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
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"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