The River Witch author talks about her second novel inspired by the Lost Colony of Roanoke, The Lost Book of Eleanor Dare.
Deep South readers may remember Georgia author Kimberly Brock‘s first novel, The River Witch. Published in 2012, it told the story of grieving professional ballet dancer Roslyn Byrne, who spends the summer on one of Georgia’s Sea Isles to try and recover. She rents a house from young girl Damascus’s family, and it’s Damascus who brings some magic—and these unforgettable giant pumpkins—into her life.
The 10-year wait for Brock’s second novel has been well worth it. In the meantime, she formed the Tinderbox Writer’s Workshop, guest lectured across the South and won the Georgia Author of the Year Award. In the interview below, you’ll also learn that she spent about six years writing and working out the story for The Lost Book of Eleanor Dare.
What happened to the Lost Colony of Roanoke remains a mystery, but the women who descended from Eleanor Dare have long known the truth lies in what she left behind: a message carved onto a large stone and the contents of her treasured Commonplace Book. It’s the Dare women’s story that Brock tells through an abandoned coastal Georgia plantation named Evertell and mother-daughter characters Alice and Penn.
We talked to Brock about writing through a pandemic, her research on the Lost Colony and the Dare stone and her haunting fictional setting.
Erin Z. Bass: You wrote in an essay on your website that “stories will always save us.” What was your experience like writing through a pandemic?
Kimberly Brock: Writing through the pandemic was often the only time I felt sane. I think that having a project to work on that gave me a purpose, a goal a deadline, was very healthy for me. It was also a way to process emotion and confusion and anxiety through story and characters who were facing uncertain times, grief, loss and the challenges of a changing, evolving culture. I tried to learn from them in terms of what they got right and wrong, through the filter of history, and to take heart that they put one foot in front of the other, they carried on in the face of things that were often seemingly unbearable, they found hope and love and wonder in their times. I found that inspiring.
EZB: How long has the story of Eleanor Dare been percolating in your head, and how long did it take to get it on the page?
KB: I learned the history of the Lost Colony like most kids in grade school, but I was in my twenties when I first stumbled across an article about the obscure connection to my home state of Georgia and the mystery of the Dare Stones. I began to think about Eleanor Dare at that time and how she would have wanted to be remembered. Decades passed as I raised my children and pondered that young woman at the edge of the map before I began to imagine her descendants, women who might have cherished the story of their forebears and passed this narrative down for generations. Off and on, with several false starts, I wrote about the Dare women for nearly six years before this novel took shape.
EZB: How much did you know about the Lost Colony of Roanoke before this book? What type of research did you do?
KB: I knew the scant details I’d gathered from a fourth-grade textbook and then everything I could read about the Dare Stones, before making a trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina and to Gainesville, Georgia, where I saw the stones for myself. I read theories and combed through accounts of digs and found more questions than answers. Ultimately, I took the idea of Eleanor and her father in London, what their home might have been like there, some of what I could learn and imagine about the life of the colony before it disappeared from history, and then I began to search in the seams and cracks of history for the ways women existed from those first ventures in North America, onward through American history. What I ended up with was a story that I hope celebrates the curiosity that helped them walk away from that first stone and a tribute to all the lost girls who have managed to pass their stories along in beautiful and meaningful ways.
EZB: Tell us about your coastal Georgia setting and the magical Evertell. Is it based on a real place?
KB: Evertell is a metaphor for the South, a fictional place that represents our origin story in this country and the home we are all trying to build here. It is a place that is both beautiful and haunted, heavy with the stories of the lives that have come before, held up by the bones beneath it, waiting with a great table where hearts gather and try to find the way to forgive and face one another when it sometimes seems impossible.
EZB: What do you believe about the Dare stone?
KB: I believe the Dare Stone is a part of Eleanor’s tale, a tribute to that young woman faced with the edge of the map in the face of the unbearable loss of everything she’d known and loved. I believe that whether it is an authentic relic of 1591 or not, it helped me to find Eleanor Dare and I hope it will inspire many stories about her.
EZB: You’ve been touring all year long for this book. What has the reader response been like and where will you be appearing next?
KB: Sharing this book with readers has been incredible. I feel very much like a steward of this story, of Eleanor’s Tale, of all the Dare women, fictional though they may be. When I see this book in the hands of readers, it feels like we are sharing a dream. So many women at events or book clubs, in-person and virtual, have told stories of their own, sometimes difficult ones, almost always family stories. They’re making their own books, sharing their recipes, crafts, photography, art. They’re making their own marks in ways that take my breath away, and I think of the Dare Stone and it makes me so pleased to have embraced the wonder of that mystery. Sometimes that’s the best part. I can’t imagine any better way to honor the women in our histories whose footsteps we all follow, than to tell our stories. It is a powerful chorus.
The Lost Book of Eleanor Dare is one of our 2022 Summer Reads. View the full list here.