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Author Interview: Beth Hoffman

January 12, 2010

Many of you probably already know Beth Hoffman.  She is wordrunner on Twitter and has quickly become a part of the Twitter book community.  (If you’re not following her already, you really should.)  Beth is also the author of a wonderful book,  Saving CeeCee Honeycutt that is being published today, January 12.  I was lucky enough to have the chance to ask Beth a few questions via email.  Here’s what she had to say:

Please tell us a little about yourself.

In my former life, I was as the co-owner and president of an interior design studio. Though I’ve been writing for over twenty years, it wasn’t until I nearly died of septicemia that I began to reevaluate my life, my dreams, and my goals. It took many years following my illness for me to take the big leap and leave design, and I knew once did, there would be no going back. Choosing to write full-time was the gutsiest decision I’ve ever made, and as it turns out, it was among the wisest.

You mentioned your Aunt Mildred in your book trailer. Could you tell us more about her and how she influenced you?

When I was nine years old, I took a train from Ohio to visit my Great Aunt Mildred Caldwell who lived in Danville, Kentucky. From the moment of my arrival it was culture shock of the best kind. There I was, a shy little farm girl suddenly in the midst of a world I could have never imagined. I was in awe of the massive old homes, the towering trees, and the lush flower gardens, and, I was enthralled by the Southern dialect.

My great aunt Mildred was an accomplished, highly educated woman, and she was a real Southern lady. I’ve never met anyone more gracious, and I suspect I never will. Everyone was welcome in her home, and she greeted people with a smile that was as warm as it was genuine.

I was impressed by how she used and enjoyed the things she had; even her finest heirloom china was used for each evening meal. Nothing in her home was off limits or saved for that one special occasion. Just like her china, her antiques and silver service were used every day. To my great aunt’s way of thinking, every day was a celebration, and it was called LIFE. That was part of her charm. And, oh, was she ever witty. She laughed easily and often.

Having spent most of my life in the South, I feel like you got the “flavor” of the South down perfectly.  How long have you lived in the South?

Physically I’ve lived in the South for 14 years, but in my heart I’ve been a Southerner since my feet touched the ground in Danville, Kentucky. It was that very day that I had the sensation that I had arrived home. I was so comfortable in the South. It’s not that I don’t love my native state of Ohio—I do—there’s nothing like its change of seasons, the heavy winter snowfall, and the beauty of Amish farm country. But it’s the grand old architecture, the history, and the people of the South that have kept me enthralled since I was a girl.

Savannah is one of my favorite places to visit and you did a fantastic job of capturing its personality.  How much time did you spend in Savannah?

I’ve made several extended trips to Savannah over the years, and during each visit I spent a great deal of time walking the sidewalks from Gaston all the way to Bay, and then from Montgomery to East Broad. One of the most wonderful and unique things about Savannah is how James Oglethorpe had the vision to plot it out. The numerous town squares make the entire downtown area a paradise for exploring on foot.

Over the years I’ve sat in every square, and I spent time in Colonial Park Cemetery, and I people-watched for hours. Every place CeeCee went in my novel, I went in real life, including Tybee Island. I really enjoyed meandering down Bull Street, talking with shop owners, restaurateurs, and people walking their dogs. No matter where I was, I observed the residents closely, soaking up even the subtlest nuance of their manners and dialect. One of the finest things a local ever said to me was that as far as she was concerned, I was an “Honorary Savannahian”.

I loved the characters in Saving CeeCee Honeycutt and would love to read more about them.  Do you have any plans to write more about CeeCee and the women of Savannah?

Over the past few weeks this question has been asked quite often. I think most writers fall in love with their characters—especially those who write character-driven fiction such as myself. There’s a part of me that aches to write a sequel; I can easily envision more adventures for CeeCee to experience. Yet I can’t help but think of the scene where CeeCee asks her aunt why she doesn’t get together with her girlfriends from the Ladies of Savannah Garden Club more than just once a month. Aunt Tootie smiles and says, “Do something too often and it stops being special.”

So, even though I can’t rule out a sequel, I most likely will write something entirely different. No doubt it will be set in the South, of that I’m certain. I think once my book tour is behind me, I’ll have a better idea of what the future holds.

I read that you have a background in art and decorating.  Are you still involved in art in anyway?

With regards to interior design, I’m done. Well, with the exception of my own home. I still get weak-kneed when I walk into an antique shop or flip through a wonderful fabric sample book, but my design days have come to a close. Former clients still email and call, hoping I’ll change my mind, but writing is my truest fire, and I suspect it will be until the day I die. As for painting, I sometimes get the urge to work on a large canvas; I miss the blending and glazing of colors and the smell of turpentine. So who knows, one of these days I might surprise myself and go up to my third-floor studio and paint something.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

Though it’s heartbreaking, I get a great deal of satisfaction from rescuing abandoned or abused animals and finding them loving homes. I wish I could adopt each and every one of them, and if I lived on a farm, I would. I’m a voracious reader, especially in the winter. In the warmer months I spend a great deal of time gardening. And I always make time to laugh with girlfriends.

Would you mind sharing some favorite authors and/or books with us?

Oh, gosh. There are so many that I’ll have to give you a few off the top of my head. I’m crazy about Truman Capote, and Roxanna Slade by Reynolds swept me away, and, when I read Cider with Rosie by the late Laurie Lee, my heart just about split from the beauty of his prose. Some other favorites are The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy and The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards. I also enjoy writings by Carol Shields, Arturo Perez-Reverte, Bailey White, Fannie Flagg and Sandra Kring.

What advice would you give aspiring authors?

I think it’s vital that an author write in the voice that belongs to his/her characters and story. The only way creative alchemy can occur is when we, as writers, step away and make room for our characters to live and breathe. The more freedom I give my characters, the more they surprise and delight me.

And there’s one thing I’ve discovered that makes an enormous difference in the final polishing stage of a manuscript. If a writer reads her story out loud as if she’s standing in front of an audience, she’ll hear the voice of her manuscript and will pick up any bumps that need smoothing. Plus, she’ll know if the dialog rings true. In my opinion, nothing can help a writer edit a manuscript better than reading it aloud.

I wish Beth the best of luck with her new book, Saving CeeCee Honeycutt and would like to thank her for taking time out of her busy schedule to answer these questions for me.

24 Comments leave one →
  1. January 12, 2010 8:26 am

    Fabulous interview Kathy! I just finished the book and absolutely loved it. I am going to meet Beth Hoffman tomorrow at a local book discussion and signing and I cannot wait! I’m meeting up with fellow blogger Stacy from Stacy’s Books which will be an added bonus!

  2. January 12, 2010 8:34 am

    Terrific interview. I love getting to know Beth better! I was very interested in the sequel question and answer!

  3. January 12, 2010 8:54 am

    You asked some great questions! I loved how she felt like a Southerner the first time she set foot in Kentucky! Wow!

  4. January 12, 2010 9:02 am

    Great interview! I long to visit the South some day. There’s just something charming about Southern fiction that makes me wish I lived in a small Southern town.

    –Anna

  5. January 12, 2010 9:36 am

    Wonderful interview! I love how her aunt made each and every day special and a celebration. What a great philosophy!

  6. January 12, 2010 9:47 am

    Such a great interview Kathy. I hope Beth’s book is a huge success – loved it.

  7. January 12, 2010 10:05 am

    Thanks for sharing this interview with Beth Hoffman, Kathy. I enjoyed it. I’ve got my thoughts on CeeCee up on my blog today. I loved the book. So charming. I wish Beth all the best and know that everyone will be glad they read this book.

  8. January 12, 2010 10:13 am

    A sequel! I want to read more about CeeCee. I do hope Beth writes one; I shall be reviewing this book on Thursday.

    I want to see this made into a film too.

    I am the first person in England to read this and I shall rave about it for the next twelve months.

    Beth sounds like a wonderful person and one I would love to meet one day. Her love of abandoned animals is just amazing.

  9. January 12, 2010 10:16 am

    What a wonderful interview! She sounds so very nice, and she is cute as a button. This book is very high on my list right now.

  10. January 12, 2010 10:49 am

    Great interview Kathy! I adore Beth and her book! I think CeeCee is the must read for 2010. The animal rescue doesn’t surprise me. Beth is such a compassionate person! She is a true Southern Belle!

  11. January 12, 2010 11:16 am

    Wonderful interview! I’ll be reading Beth’s book soon and can’t wait!

  12. January 12, 2010 11:36 am

    Wonderful interview! It was fun getting to know a little bit more about her, and I always like hearing what books authors enjoy reading and getting insight on the writing process.

  13. January 12, 2010 11:37 am

    Wonderful interview. I enjoyed hearing about her art and design background. It shows creativity can show up in many forms in one individual.

  14. stacybuckeye permalink
    January 12, 2010 11:42 am

    Great interview! Beth is a busy lady. I’ll be posting my interview with her on Friday and I’ll see her at a book signing tomorrow night 🙂

  15. January 12, 2010 6:05 pm

    Very interesting interview. I put this book on my must read list. Sounds so good.

  16. January 13, 2010 3:36 am

    I’m enjoying this interview and definitely hope to win the book!

  17. January 13, 2010 5:10 pm

    Oh yeah – Ohio is grand. I lived there for 5 years!

  18. January 13, 2010 7:21 pm

    a sequel!?!?! i’m so excited. i really enjoyed ceecee and look forward to any updates. i loved the history and the information about the historic homes in savannah. great interview, kathy! 🙂

  19. January 13, 2010 7:50 pm

    She’s supposed to be signing books near me soon. I’ll have to go check her out!

  20. January 13, 2010 8:18 pm

    Great Q & A. I’ll be sure to read more about her book!

  21. January 13, 2010 8:47 pm

    Terrific interview! I’m really looking forward to reading CEE CEE – I’ve heard such good things about this novel. And that’s an interesting piece of advice – the part about how an author benefits from reading her manuscript out loud – it makes sense, but it wouldn’t have occurred to me!

  22. January 14, 2010 9:02 am

    Super interview! And I just have to love a fellow Ohioan.

    I just got a copy of the book a few days ago and I can’t wait to get reading.

  23. January 16, 2010 5:20 pm

    Thanks for posting this great interview, Kathy. I just finished her book and it was wonderful! Beth Hoffman will be joining me on my blog on Feb. 3rd for a live chat and giveaway.

  24. January 21, 2010 7:00 am

    Beth Hoffman loves two of my favorite books, The Memory Keepers Daughter and Pat Conroy’s, The Prince of Tides. I can’t wait to read her book. Thanks for posting the interview. 🙂

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