If you can acquire the chicken salad recipe at Mittie’s Tea Room, you’ll have a friend for life in author Kimberly Brock. Though she considers herself a regular at this charming restaurant just off the main street in Alpharetta, Georgia, Kim has yet to convince the owners to part with the secret ingredients. For now, she orders a takeout box with the chicken salad croissant, as we talk about her first novel, The River Witch.
Released in April 2012, The River Witch is the story of 24-year-old Roslyn Byrne, who is recovering from a car accident that ended her career as a ballet dancer and stole the child growing inside her body. She leaves Atlanta for seclusion on Manny’s Island, a fictional isle off the coast of Georgia. There, the woman who has lost a child meets a child who has lost her mother; ten-year-old Damascus introduces Roslyn to alligators, pumpkins and hoodoo, and neither of their broken lives are ever the same.
The story unfolds from the alternating viewpoints of Roslyn and Damascus. Kim gave birth to the character of Damascus when she started having problems writing Roslyn’s story.
“I was writing about Roslyn and it was sad,” Kim said. “She’d lost the baby and she was this barren, lost soul. I wrote for six months and decided I didn’t like it. I didn’t like Roslyn until the last page of the book. She was the hardest to write from beginning to end, and I was afraid my readers wouldn’t like her either, that they wouldn’t stick with it.”
Kim, who was the mother of two at the time, put the manuscript away for a while when she discovered she was pregnant with her third child. The imagery of pumpkins that had inspired her to write The River Witch, revisited her one morning when she watched a CBS Sunday Morning news story about a regatta where townspeople were racing in hollowed out gourds.
“I found the joy and community that was totally different from what I’d been writing,” Kim said. She decided to put a river in the book, and from the Little Damascus River came the little girl who shared the river’s name. Kim, who does not write her books in chronological order, waded back into the story by writing one of the final scenes starring Damascus and her pumpkins.
“I write in some kind of pattern I guess,” Kim explained. “I don’t see the story chronologically until I’m done. I see it in patterns and pieces. It’s probably the worst advice I can give anybody on how to write a book.”
Kim said she has been a storyteller since at least the first grade when she kept her friends awake at slumber parties by telling them ghost stories. That evolved into her writing plays for her brother and sister to perform, and the “god-awful adolescent poetry” that is forever documented in her high school yearbook. Her first published short stories appeared in the Sweeter than Tea and Summer in Mossy Creek anthologies from Bellebooks, the same publisher of The River Witch.
Currently at work on her second novel, Kim said Southerners love to tell stories because they want others to believe they have many hidden layers. “We like to think there’s a little more to us than meets the eye,” Kim said. “Because we’re all just shopping at the Piggly Wiggly. We want you to think there’s more to us than that.”
Kim’s hoodoo must be working. This convincing storyteller had me leaving Mittie’s with my own to-go chicken salad on that day, and wondering if I could conjure the ingredients in my own kitchen.