It’s been a year since a women I admired, loved and had the great joy to call friend, lost her battle to brain cancer. I still think of her every day and the profound influence her tenacious spirit had on my life and writing. I miss her. I wish you could have known her.

But the woman who maybe knew her best, my friend Sharon Wray, wrote this beautiful tribute and even if I tried, I couldn’t do better.

Be inspired. I know I am. Always.

Kiss and Thrill

March 4, 2014, I lost my best friend to brain cancer. She was barely 50 yeas old.

Since it’s been almost a whole year, and I still think about her every day, my Kiss and Thrill sisters have graciously allowed me to post the eulogy I wrote for her funeral.

I hope it gives you the courage you need to prevail in your own battles.
KEMJ picture_cropped (JPEG)Nine years ago, I stood in Starbucks with a latte in one hand and my laptop case in the other, eyeing two empty seats near the window.

And I hesitated.

The last two free chairs were flanked by sketchy-looking men. The one on the left, in black jeans, dirty boots and leather jacket, was working on his laptop with files and a motorcycle helmet spread out on the empty table next to him.

So, to sit there, I’d have to ask him to move his…

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I was delighted to share my thoughts on writing setting with the terrific folks at WRITERS IN THE STORM blog. Hope you enjoy!

It’s been weeks since you’ve heard a peep out of me. The holidays brought lot of drama to my house, from concussions to allergic reactions to the death of a beloved family pet that really almost did us all in.

But the New Year is bringing exciting and challenging new journeys for me. I’m hard at work on my next novel and…With the launch for THE RIVER WITCH coming up soon, I’ve been lucky to find so much support within the writing community, had many generous offers of advice for promotions, reviews, all the ways a girl has to reach out through social media and to traditional media (something I’m still working up my nerve to tackle) and basically keeping me from losing my mind as I’ve been busy building a new website.

So this post is first, to say thanks. Because as isolating as the writing life can be, I’m finding that some of the friendships I’ve found in the last year are among the most cherished of my life. And I figure this way, when I crack up on you guys in a few months, you’ll forgive me and take pity and send me good things to eat.

And then, I wanted to announce that there’s a new website! You can find me, all things to do with my writing and my blog, at kimberlybrockbooks.com!

I hope you’ll all visit the new website where this blog’s posts have all been transferred and reconnect with me there! Be patient, as the graphics will be changing while I work on getting things just right. It’s all still a little clunky, but I just couldn’t wait to share with you. And if you have the time, I’ve posted a couple of chapters from THE RIVER WITCH underneath BOOKS. Take a peek!

 

 

Careful what you wish for. That’s what Alma Katsu’s book THE TAKER whispers long after the cover has been closed. You’ll hear it, a small voice on a breeze. A cool warning to check your motives and expect them to find you out. Think twice about obsessions that lead you down winding paths. Inspect the lessons in your life and see if they hold true. And most of all, take courage. True love can overcome our greatest fears. Perhaps even conquer death. If you’re willing to pay the price…

Alma’s dark and lascivious story may not be for everyone — and folks, it will turn some hairs white and make some skin crawl, and probably offend the gentler souls among us. But the writing will transport you. It will make you look over your shoulder. And like all genius storytellers, Alma’s gift to the reader is a story that seeps into the bone and becomes your own. Like it or not.

I’m honored to have you here today, Alma. Welcome!

“Alma Katsu takes the reader by surprise in the first chapter of her mesmerizing debut and never stops delivering. What a wonderful book! A dark, gothic, epic worth savoring. A sweeping story that transcends time as it moves effortless from the tempestuous past to the frightening present. Enchanting and enthralling! No question—I was taken!”
—M.J. Rose, international bestselling author

“Alchemy and love prove a volatile mix in Katsu’s vividly imagined first novel, which toggles between the present and the past… Katsu shows considerable skill in rendering a world where Adair’s unspeakable evilness and Lanny’s wild passion make the supernatural seem possible. The result is a novel full of surprises and a powerful evocation of the dark side of romantic love.”
—Publishers Weekly

“Alma Katsu’s THE TAKER is a frighteningly compelling story about those most human monsters—desire and obsession. It will curl your hair and keep you up late at night.”
—Keith Donohue, NYT bestselling author of The Stolen Child

What is your favorite quality in a person?

I don’t think I have a favorite quality. I don’t mean for this to sound flip, but I try now to appreciate people for who they are. I’ve had to work at this. For many years, I was shaped by my career, where I had to manage teams working under very high pressure, and tended to view the people in terms of what I needed from them (which was the ability to work under high pressure!) Now I realize that just about everyone has something interesting and unique to share with the world if we slow down & pay attention. I don’t mean to sounds Pollyannish. I realize there are some people who don’t deserve your attention, but you have to at least give them a chance. I also try to learn something from everyone I meet.

What is your least?

Close-mindedness. The world is a big place, full of things you haven’t even begun to imagine. I don’t understand people who think they have the answer to everything.

As a child, did you dream of becoming a writer?

Oh yes, from elementary school. I had no idea how to do this, though, no role model. The only job I saw (at the time) that paid you to write was as a newspaper reporter, so that was how I started. It was helpful in that I got to be around writers. But making the jump to fiction seemed like an impossibility.

Who/what influenced you to pursue your dreams?

I grew up in a very practical family, so I wasn’t encouraged to be a writer. I’m from the generation that was told not to take risks and to get a safe job. I’m not saying I got me bad advice: my father lived through the Depression, my mother was a child in Japan during WWII. They knew firsthand that life could be tough and uncertain. I ended up following their advice and as a result, had a long government career. Luckily, it turned out well.

But at a certain point in my life, I wanted to try again to write fiction. I didn’t think I’d get published; I just wanted to see if I could master a craft that was so complex and unquantifiable.

What is your greatest love?

Wow, that’s a tough one. I’d have to say my husband. We’ve been together over twenty years and I’ve learned a lot about life from this relationship. But if you asked what my purest love was, I’d say my dogs. Especially the one I raised from a pup. That’s probably the closest thing I’ve felt to unconditional love, because it’s impossible for them to hurt me.

What is your greatest fear?

I try really hard not to be afraid of things. What’s the worst that could happen? You experience pain, maybe you die. You’re going to die anyway. I’ve had to face some terrible fears in my life and luckily, I was young & strong enough to deal with them. I know I probably won’t be so lucky when I’m older.

What is your favorite place?

Lying on the couch in my office where I write, preferably with my dogs. It’s so comfortable.

If you could give a bit of sage advice to novice writers, what would it be?

It’s about the journey, not the destination. Trite but true. You’ll have the most fun figuring out how to write your story, so try to concentrate on that and not let yourself get anxious over finding an agent and selling your book.

It’s rare that you’ll come across an individual like Kathryn Magendie — in fact, I don’t believe you’re likely to find another. She is unique in many ways, a quirky little soul who is kind and full of laughter, bubbling with energy and a quick wit. She looks at the world (and believe me, she is looking) with a twinkle in her elfish eye. Don’t let her fool you. Her stories are described as unflinching, bittersweet, haunting and poignant. And I would say the same of this wise mountain woman, herself.

 

I’m delighted to share this interview with you because I love Kathryn’s spirit and I love the way that spirit inhabits her books.

Welcome, Kathryn!

 

What is your favorite quality in a person?

 

Honesty. And that word means more than first apparent, because, to me, honesty means being authentic and respectful, among other things. It doesn’t mean someone uses the word “honesty” to spout off hurtful words to others under the guise of “I’m just being honest with you because I’m just the one to do it; you know, dear, if you can’t take a little criticism why don’t you grow a backbone, bless your heart . . .”

 

Really, if one were to pick apart some “honesty” or “let me tell you what I think because apparently you aren’t aware of what everyone thinks about you” they’d find some hidden motivations—envy/jealousy, lack of respect, fear, etc.

 

You’ll know Respectful Honesty when it inspires you to be a better person, when you feel positive and alive instead of negative and discouraged.

 

 

What is your least?

 

Lack of respect/dishonesty. Dig into the words and find the truth/honesty of them and discard the rest as rubbish (I just love saying/writing “rubbish” – it’s such a British term and makes me grin.)

 

As a child, did you dream of becoming a writer?

 

Naw, I don’t really recall it. However, my mom says I did and if a mom says something, then it has to be true, right?  I vaguely remember winning a first-place prize for a short story I wrote in eighth grade, but I do not remember what it was about. No one really said anything more about it, so I suppose I just shrugged it off. But I also remember somewhere around that time writing a horror story and the school called my parents, alarmed about its content—lawd! My parents called me into their room, all serious, and I was so baffled. I said, “It was just a story. I just made up some stuff.” I don’t write horror because apparently I can tap into some awful dark stuff *laugh*

 

When I was a child, it was all about books and libraries and the book-mobile. I was a reading fool. I lived for books—my sanctuary from a chaotic life was the library, and the books inside were my friends and comforters and the ones to take me away to places where I’d rather be with the characters than where I really was (and oft-times the characters were animals—I went through a mighty dog, horse, wolf stage!).

 

Who/what influenced you to pursue your dreams?

 

My mother often said, “You can do anything. You can be anything.” But I didn’t believe that because . . . well, because of other influences in my life. Three things started me on this journey to believing in myself and what I do, even if I was in my forties before it all clicked.

 

The first were English instructors Barbara Gray and Robin Becker, who both strongly, emphatically, advised me to write fiction. So I did begin to pursue it, and something awakened in me long sleeping.

 

Then, I connected with a group of women writers who supported and encouraged each other. With the groups’ further encouragement, I began to think I may have some kind a “gift.” I am still friends with these women years later and we still support each other.

 

But I have to give credit to my best friend Angie Ledbetter, before we became besties, for kicking my butt repeatedly until I wrote my first novel, what would become Tender Graces—until she did that, I never thought I could write a novel, and now here I am working on novel four. Though I say this about her often, I don’t think she recognizes just how danged glad I am I met her and she kicked my sorry butt.

 

And all during this time, my husband GMR (Good Man Roger) has supported me in so many ways, and without that, I may not have been able to pursue this writing life.

 

 

What is your greatest love?

 

You know, always I used to say “the words, the language, the writing, the books,” because it consumes my life and I know with a bit of sadness and a bit of “you are so self-indulgent, Kathryn!” that I have sacrificed family and friends to do this thing. But when it comes down to it, if some Great Powerful Poombahdoo came down and said, “Choose between your books/writing and your family/friends! Choose Low-ling Human!” Well, one look at my loved ones faces would have me choosing right quick, even if I’d become Not Who I Am without my words. But since there isn’t some Great Powerful Poombahdoo from the Planet AngryArseButt, I don’t have to choose. I can have my books/writing and my family/friends too! Ain’t life grand?

 

What is your greatest fear?

 

Losing what and who I love:

 

Something interfering with my ability to write and/or read; I just can’t fathom that kind of loss.

 

But losing a loved one is my greatest fear of all. I’ve lost dearest loved ones, much too soon and unexpectedly (including a brother and half-brother), and it is terrifying. “Lost” sounds so strange, as if they are somewhere and I’ll stumble upon them, “Oh, there you are. Where have you been?” Well, if wishes were horses, I’d ride off to find them and bring them back home.

 

What is your favorite place?
I have three, if you don’t mind, because it is hard to separate them. One is where I live my life and find my peace when I walk amongst these mountains and nature and serenity: here in my cove at Killian Knob in the Great Smoky Mountains in Haywood County. When my friends and family I miss so much visit here, there is a hole patched in the universe.

 

But, a big poignant gigantic piece of my heart and longing remains in Oregon where my son, daughter in law, and my granddaughter live.

 

Writing is a safe place. Writing is sanctuary just as the library used to be. Writing is the only place my brain is quiet—as strange as that sounds, it is true, for when I’m writing, other “people” take over and my brain with its random swirly chaotic thoughts goes to sleep, thank gawd!

 

 

 

If you could give a bit of sage advice to novice writers, what would it be?

 

Every time I write the answer to this question, it is several paragraphs long! *laughing* So let me try to be brief this time: Beware of published authors giving out advice—okay, not really, but kind of sort of really. We are giving advice from the perspective of having already been published, so we can be a little jaded along with feeling as if we can be big sisters/brothers to writers who haven’t yet published.

 

So take our advice and tear into it to see what fits you. As well, when we say something like, “Look, things aren’t going to be as much fun as you think if you don’t slip on a thick skin, if you don’t set the bar too high, if you don’t find a way to handle the stresses you don’t know about now but oh you will, hahahahhahaha!,” you just go on and have FUN and do your thang, because we all did/do that, we all had/still have, our FUN and did/do our thang, and whatever happens once that contract is signed, well, it’s icing on an already iced cake if you are doing what you love. Enjoy all the moments of wherever you are. Aw, lawd, this is becoming too long again! Dang my hide!

 

Thank you, Kimberly – I enjoyed this so very much. I love interviews because they most always show me some insight about myself I hadn’t realized until I answered a question.

 

Kathryn Magendie, a West Virginia native and adoptive daughter of South Louisiana, lives in a little log house with two dogs, a husband, and a ghost dog, tucked in a cove in Maggie Valley, western North Carolina Smoky Mountains. She spends her days writing prose and poetry, photographing nature, and as co-publishing editor of The Rose & Thorn. Her short stories, essays, poetry, and photography can be found in online and print magazines.Visit her website at http://www.kathrynmagendie.com/
Blog: http://www.tendergraces.blogspot.com/
or Twitter at @katmagendie

 

 

 

Her Books From BelleBooks/Bell Bridge Books:

The Firefly Dance
Sweetie
Secret Graces
Tender Graces

 

From the first moments I became acquainted with historical fiction author Jessica McCann, I have been impressed with her incredible authenticity. She is a true voice in a world where people throw around gratitude and compliments so liberally that they tend to lose their value. I admire her as a woman of integrity and a consummate professional, but read her fiction and you’ll understand why I’m honored to post this interview. You will be transformed in your thinking. She raises your expectations of yourself and of others. And somehow, just when you should be most disappointed in humanity, you will find instead, that you feel hopeful.

All Different Kinds of Free, released in April 2011 by Bell Bridge Books, was inspired by a true story. It is about Margaret Morgan, who was kidnapped in 1837, along with her free children, and sold into slavery. Although she fought hard to regain her freedom, Margaret endured tremendous loss and hardship. Her ordeal led to one of the most important yet least-known Supreme Court cases of the era, Prigg v. Pennsylvania.

Text books will have you believe the story of Prigg v. Pennsylvania is important because it ended in controversy and fanned the early embers of the Civil War. This book will have you believe the story is important because it began with Margaret.

All Different Kinds of Free won the 2009 Freedom in Fiction Prize. As a novel-in-progress, the work also was a semi-finalist in the 2004 Dana Awards and the 2005 William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing competition.

Thank you so much for taking the time to share with us and for your beautiful work, Jessica. Welcome!

 

What is your favorite quality in a person? Integrity. My definition of that means striving to always do the right thing, not necessarily the easy thing.

 

 

What is your least? Self-pity. I have very little patience for someone who wallows in their misfortune. Time is much better spent being grateful for the good in life, because there is always good to be found, no matter how bad things get. When I slip and start feeling sorry for myself, I remind myself there is always someone out there suffering more than me.

 

 

As a child, did you dream of becoming a writer? I didn’t dream of it, necessarily. I just always was a writer, really without even knowing it. I was the kid whose heart raced with delight when the teacher would announce a research report or essay homework, while my classmates moaned and broke out in a collective cold sweat. Now we’re all grown up, and I do freelance writing for all the people who still moan and agonize over writing projects!

 

 

Who/what influenced you to pursue your dreams? Without a doubt, my husband has been the biggest influence on my success as a writer. We’ve been together for my entire adult life, and in all that time he’s been my biggest fan, my loudest cheerleader. He puts up with me blurting outcome predictions of our favorite TV shows, and he listens to my musings about people and motives when we watch the nightly news. His patent response is often, “You should be writing this stuff down!” Thanks to his encouragement, I am!

 

 

What is your greatest love? My family and all that encompasses — hosting family gatherings, going on camping trips, driving the kids to the mall, walking the dogs, sitting together on the couch watching TV, knowing we’re there for each other through thick and thin.

 

 

What is your greatest fear? That the people I love and admire and appreciate might not know it. About five years ago, we had a tragedy in our community, in which a man we knew through our children’s school murdered his young sons and took his own life. To this day, I can’t reconcile how the man I knew could have committed such a horrible act. Did he know how much I valued his friendship, how much I admired him? We can’t always prevent terrible things like this from happening in the world. But can reach out to those around us, every day, and let them know how important they are and how thankful we are to have them in our lives.

 

What is your favorite place? As a child, it was the Phoenix Zoo. I spent many, many hours there, walking the trails, observing the animals, connecting with something “wild” even though I lived in the city. That helped foster my love of nature and wildlife. As an adult, whenever I feel the need to connect with something bigger than myself, when I need inspiration, I still gravitate to the outdoors.

 

 

If you could give a bit of sage advice to novice writers, what would it be? Write for yourself first. If you don’t love what you’re doing and what you’re creating, no one else will either. Write for your reader next. If your writing is something you want to share with others, then you must read it through their eyes and have the fortitude to revise and rewrite when necessary.

On a clear October night in 1847, a young woman stood alone on a Nantucket rooftop while her family and friends remained unaware in the house below. She peered into the night sky through a telescope and discovered a discrepancy that would change science forever and win her awards, catapulting her to fame. Maria Mitchell saw a new comet. She set eyes on something that had never been seen before, because Maria was the girl who was looking.

I love her story for so many reasons. If you read about Maria Mitchell you’ll learn that she grew up a Quaker, well-educated for a female of her time, a teacher and a librarian with a sharp and eager mind. After her discovery of the comet, she led an influential life. She was the first American female professional astronomer, first professor of Astronomy at Vassar College, an activist for women’s rights, and a renowned educator. She traveled to the south and spoke against slavery, then traveled to Europe where she hoped to view the sky through the Vatican’s observatory, but because she was a woman, was only allowed to tour it during the day.

On this, she commented, “I did not know that my heretic feet must not enter the sanctuary, that my woman’s robe must not brush the seats of learning.”

Later, she encouraged her students at Vassar, saying, “First, no woman should say, ‘I am but a woman.’ But a woman! What more can you ask to be? Born a woman, born with the average brain of humanity, born with more than the average heart, if you are mortal what higher destiny could you have? No matter where you are nor what you are, you are a power. Your influence is incalculable.”

Maria Mitchell died July 28, 1887, but she was right, because here I am all these years later, remembering her. I close my eyes and see that deliberate, optimistic girl gazing into the firmament, uncompromising, and she asks me to inspect myself.

How often do I go about my writing with the attitude that I am but a woman?

Do I select the truths and stories I think are more valuable or powerful through a filter that keeps me inside the house, where family and friends are most pleased with me? And what would happen if I dared to be the girl who is looking, unafraid, unapologetic, up on that wide open rooftop, alone? Would I discover the ugly truths that hold us apart, or learn the virtues that might bring us together?

I wonder, if we dared to fearlessly write the comets that are our stories, would they change our lives forever?

Maria believed. Incalculable. As the stars. Imagine.

I’m Not Meryl Streep

June 22, 2011

Married fifteen years today, and here’s the thing I believe has made my long-suffering husband’s marriage to a writer a happy one.

Do you know the scene in the film OUT OF AFRICA, where Robert Redford dares Meryl Streep to concoct a story from random bits of information, then he sits and gazes at her in wonder as she weaves a tale of intrigue with the grace and confidence of Scheherazade? Well. My sweet husband looks at me like that. Believe me, that’s love. Because I’m not Meryl.

I’m a writer. I spend all my time in front of a glaring computer, not bathed in candlelight. Some days I forget to run a brush through my hair; typically, I have a foggy expression or a scowl on my face, lost in my struggle to pin down a metaphor. My plots come in starts and stops and my dialogue runs in circles. My characters are stubborn, dull, contradictory and evasive. All of this makes me a crazy person, not a gracious or confident one. When he asks me what I’m writing, more often than not I rattle on about incoherent threads of  some dead end idea, or I snap at him that I can’t talk about it. I’m frustrated. I’m afraid. I don’t know if I can take the dare to find the story inside myself.

But he knows. And he looks at me like Robert looked at Meryl.

And then I remember, the story is us.

Lucky girl.

She Began to Sing to Me

June 17, 2011

The wisdom of a mother’s song remains a mystery, until her daughter makes it her own.

In writing The River Witch, I wanted to explore the timelessness of that core feminine wisdom, passed down through the experiences, memories and traditions of several very different communities of women. What made them the same? What made them different?

Music is very prevalent in my own memories and specifically the hymns I recall from my childhood. One of the most poignant and quietly influential musical traditions in America is the Sacred Harp. Singing and dinner on the grounds still take place in many communities all across the United States, and in other places in the world.

The main character, Roslyn Byrne began to reveal herself to me by reflecting on the music of her childhood as part of a congregation that sang from the Sacred Harp songbook. In the prologue, she is haunted by the loss of her southern Appalachian heritage as part of her identity. As the novel progresses the music becomes a guiding voice, the wisdom of her grandmother.

“These were the first things I heard, the sounds of women and water on a cool, November morning just south of the Cumberland River. My grandmother and two ladies from the Glenmary Baptist church sat in the living room and sang number 159 from the Sacred Harp as my mama labored. Later, the midwife who was also a Keller cousin, told the story of how there’d been a storm that flooded the hollow and the rising water threatened to come in the door all night. Stranded in that little house for three days, they swaddled me in a flour sack quilt, decided what to name me, and predicted all the days of my life. Granny Byrne always said they’d never ate as well, fellowshipped as sweetly, or sang with hearts that full of the Spirit.

I was a grown woman, lost and stranded by my choices, before I realized I’d forgotten that story. And then I heard my Granny Byrne. Day and night, she began to sing to me again, an old song, a lesson of water and time. 

Listen.”

Does music play a part in your own sense of place and identity?

This photo of a solemn little woman was sent to me by a cousin. “This is Granny Hyde,” she said. I sit and look at this face and it just bothers me to death because I keep expecting her to say something to me. And I regret that I can only imagine her secret. Because knowing the Hyde’s, I bet it’s a doozy. The kind of thing I’d write about. Probably why she keeps her mouth shut.

In my family, if you sit around long enough, the women will start to talk. Stay at the table after the eating is done and the men will wander off to stand in the back yard. There’s a familiar repertoire that we stick to, beginning with what our kids are up to, running on to the health of our parents, then ourselves, a few jokes at the expense of our husbands and brothers, but nothing we haven’t heard before. If you’re visiting, we’ll make sure to laugh a little louder.

Clean up the dishes and by then we’re telling our childbirth horror stories like we’re comparing war wounds. Wander out into the flower beds and you’ll get news of the community. Gossip makes a garden grow, didn’t you know?

By then, the sweat will start to tickle the back of your neck and if you’re lucky, you’ll settle on a porch some place with a rocking chair or a glider and a glass of something cold and sweet.

And this is where you get your money’s worth. Where you want to be more than any other place on earth, if you’re like me. You won’t believe what will happen.

No apologies. No censoring. You’ll hear girlhood dreams. Settle back for yarns of young love, heartbreak, sorrow – and maybe where she buried him if she’s got something good in her tea. You’ll get ghost stories, the good kind about babies that still cry or soldiers that are still trying to find home or old dogs that come running across fields years after they’ve gone to the happy hunting grounds. You’ll hear about midnight moonshine runs and gypsies and Cherokee Indian gold buried on a creek bank and never found again.

And trust me, you will believe every word of it. Later, you’ll go and look at yourself in the mirror and it will be the stories that stare back at you, because without even knowing it, somehow they’ve always been your own.

I wonder, did you ever listen? What stories do you hear? What stories will you tell?

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