Raleigh novelist Kim Church started writing notes for what would become her first novel in 1998. The book took her a decade to write and six more years to get published.
“This is not a profession for really impatient people,” Church said last week.
At 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Church, 57, kicks off her book tour at Raleigh’s Quail Ridge Books where she will read from that novel, “Byrd,” and sign copies. She also will speak at the upcoming North Carolina Literary Festival at N.C. State University and at other book events.
“Byrd” tells the story of a young woman named Addie, first as a child in rural North Carolina, then as a college student and bookstore employee in Greensboro, and finally as the owner of a book shop in Raleigh. Throughout it all, Addie longs for a child she gave up for adoption, writing letters to him throughout her life. Church deftly tells the story from multiple perspectives: Addie’s, her mother’s, the child’s father and his new wife.
The book is getting positive reviews, including in the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune, where reviewer Kim Kankiewicz wrote: “On every page, ‘Byrd’ is about people missing each other. Characters abandon and disappoint one another as they attempt to avoid abandonment and disappointment. They want what others seem to have: people to love who love them back. Church conveys loss and longing with deft economy, in prose that is spare but lovely.”
Before fiction, the law
Church didn’t start out to be a writer, although a love of words came early. Growing up in Lexington, N.C., she learned to read from her mother before the first grade. She attended what was then called Watauga College at Appalachian State University and finished her English degree at UNC-Greensboro.
A neighbor who worked as a lawyer asked what she was going to do with her degree and suggested law school. “The thought had never crossed my mind,” Church said. “But you know when something is the right thing, it just clicks.”
After graduating from UNC law school, Church became a civil trial lawyer in 1982. During the next dozen or so years, she became a partner at what was then Tharrington Smith & Hargrove law firm, working with Raleigh criminal defense lawyer Wade Smith and former presidential candidate John Edwards.
After dabbling in writing fiction on the side, Church realized she couldn’t pursue being a writer while working full-time as a lawyer. So in the mid-1990s, she gave up being a partner and instead switched to working part-time as a lawyer for various law firms.
This enabled Church to focus on her writing in the mornings and then do her legal work in the afternoons. It also allowed her to take advantage of writing fellowships at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, north of Lynchburg, Va., and the Vermont Studio Center in northern Vermont. Those fellowships gave Church time to do the heavy writing and rewriting that the novel required, as well as writing short stories that have appeared in various literary publications.
A novel idea
The novel’s inspiration came from a dinner conversation Church had years ago. One of the dinner guests was a man who casually mentioned that he had fathered a child who had been given up for adoption. Church recalled: “My thought was, ‘What about the mother?’ I felt sure this experience was not casual dinner conversation for her.”
When members of her writing group kept giving her the same feedback to more deeply explore her characters and suggested a novel as a way to do that, Church said, she realized she had a story worthy of a novel.
After a decade of writing and revising the novel – all solo endeavors – Church said she is most enjoying the interaction with readers.
“What has really surprised me,” Church said, “is how great it has been to connect with people through the book. This book is creating community for me that feels really good.”
Weigl: 919-829-4848; Twitter: @andreaweigl