"Knowing that people in history always seem more daring and brave is what drives me to write their stories -- or at least borrow their stories and make them my own."
Lone Star Literary Life: How has being a Texan influenced your writing?
Kimberly Fish: I moved to San Antonio, Texas, over twenty-five years ago and got swept up in the story of German settlers carving out a free life in the Hill Country (having just moved there from Germany, it was terribly fascinating stuff to find out the oppression that drove immigration and what they endured.) Since moving to Longview, Texas, I set about learning the story of the native Indians, the earliest settlers, the desperados, the freed slaves, the migrants, the church folks, the farmers, the railroad culture, and the dreamers who finally hit pay dirt with oil---knowing that people in history always seem more daring and brave is what drives me to write their stories -- or at least borrow their stories and make them my own.
You’ve written three novels, Emeralds Mark the Spot, Comfort Plans, and now Comfort Songs, all set in the very real Comfort, Texas. What can you tell readers about the town?
Comfort, Texas is a small town in the rugged Hill Country with a DNA that resists every sort of outsider influence. It was founded in the mid-19th century by a band of German immigrants who were fleeing government overreach, religious dogma, and the legacies that they were stuck in the ruts of their forefathers. They took a land grant offered to them by a German prince (and how a prince came to think he could give away land in a foreign country is its own story), discovered that Texas was a lot tougher than they’d been led to believe, and found that immigration dream was a big lie. This entourage named themselves Free Thinkers, planted roots near a river with sweet tasting water, and dug in. Only a few generations down the road, a lot of those ideas still hold.
What is it specifically that made you want to write stories in this setting?
I visited this town west of San Antonio several times and grew more intrigued by this strangely unprogressive attitude. With the sparkling towns of Fredericksburg and Kerrville a stone’s throw away, and Boerne to the east, it was like a bracing splash of icy water to walk through a town that willfully refused to be discovered. The idea of this beautiful landscape, this rugged individualism, and the collective chip on their shoulder seemed like a great canvas for creating characters that needed a place to discover their own grit.
Your latest novel, Comfort Songs, is in part about July Sands, a retired country music star. Have you ever had the dream of being a famous singer?
My dream job would be to have a robust and profitable lavender farm and store like Lavender Hill. Outside of a preteen blip, I’ve never had an interest in being a musician or performer. I’m not a good singer, and the pressure of being a “star” is nothing enviable. I have, however, been fascinated by the people drawn to that lifestyle and the incredibly public roller coaster they ride when fame smiles on them.
What musicians inspired you in the writing the characters of Grammy-Award-Winning July and Roger?
There are a few male and female singers that I’ve followed over the years, and it’s safe to say I took facets from each one to create the composites for the characters of July and Roger. But I did listen to countless hours of music from the duo The Civil Wars in trying to get the sound and stylings of Roger and July to ring true.
Many authors dread the inevitable question of what actors would be cast to play their characters in a film. You turn the tables and ask your readers to provide a dream cast. Why?
It’s fun for me to ask readers! The suggestions are all over the spectrum, and that makes me happy. I didn’t want to pin one musician or another to the page because I like readers to imagine the characters walking, talking, (singing), in a way that’s meaningful to them.
Music is a major element in Comfort Songs, but lavender almost takes on a role of its own. What was your inspiration to write about a lavender farm?
I was inspired to write this novel because of my weakness for lavender farms. I have long imagined growing lavender to be one of those highly romantic, dreamy sort of endeavors where everyone walks around in a state of fragrance stupor, sipping fine wine, and talking in philosophical circles. At least I did until I started researching the science, manual labor, and vagaries of weather that impact lavender production. Now, I know, it’s just hard work.
Still, I couldn’t let go of the notion that a farm dedicated to health-providing herbs had to be a special place, and the kind of person who’d be willing to stick with it was probably someone I’d really like to know. So, I mapped out how I’d run a lavender farm, if money and situation were generous, and then I manufactured a character I could respect, root for, and give a happy ending.
So that character you brought to readers is Autumn Joy Worthington – AJ. The three Comfort books are all stand-alone, but there are overlaps between the stories with the characters. Can you tell us what to expect going forward?
The characters in the novels are all part of an imaginary cast of friends. I think life is better with a friend group, and as I write the next two novels set in Comfort, there will be new faces entering High Street and mixing it up at Bubba’s Bust-A-Gut. They may not all be best friends, but I’m confident AJ and Luke, Kali and Jake, and Colette and Beau, will cross the pages of the new novels with as much swagger as they brought to their own unique stories.
*THE NEXT TWO NOVELS* I guess that answers my question about what’s next for you – more books set in Comfort. So instead, tell me a little about your approach to writing. I assume you must be quite disciplined since you’ve published four novels (and a novella) in the last two years. How do you write?
I usually write in seasons. Winter and spring seem to be productive times for me in story crafting. If I can schedule myself this way, I tend to land in the writing chair about 9am and can write until about 3pm. I do a little self-editing along the way, but I mostly save the editing process for after I’ve written the whole story and am satisfied with the characters and plot.
That leaves two seasons… what do you do when you’re not writing?
I’ve been a freelance writer for thirty years—writing in a variety of mediums for an assortment of clients. By the end of 2019, I will have retired from freelance writing to focus on my work as a novelist and to focus on the community projects for which I volunteer. Though I do not have a green thumb, I’ve been deeply involved in the creation of the Longview Arboretum and Nature Center as a five-year board member. Now that it’s operational as a garden destination, I’ll continue to volunteer there and serve on the board, but with the added pleasure of interacting with the guests who discover the unique beauty of the East Texas eco-system.
I’ve watched your posts on social media about the Longview Arboretum, and it looks like a beautiful escape – unless you are always in volunteer-mode. What do you do to re-charge your batteries?
Though I’m regarded as a social butterfly (and it’s true, I do enjoy meeting people) I’m really a homebody. My husband and I are empty-nesters and have fallen into ruts of watching a lot of British television series, eating meals that involve the least amount of cooking, and setting off on long walks when we really should be doing yardwork. I rather like this stage of life.
Kimberly Fish is a professional writer with almost thirty years of media experience. She's been telling stories far longer. She published her first novel, a WWII historical fiction novel, because of a true story in her adopted hometown that was too good to ignore. She quickly followed that success with a sequel. Since then, she's continued writing fiction and added a contemporary second-chance romance series set in Comfort, Texas, to her list of fun, fast-paced novels. Kimberly lives with her family in East Texas.