In this version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing author and they choose their own interview by choosing the which questions, and how many questions, they want to answer! Beth Hoffman, author of Saving Cee Cee Honeycutt played along and answered questions. Here is what Beth had to say about reading, writing and the rich inner lives of introverts.
Would you give us a bit of introduction and let my readers know who you are, how you got started writing, and what kind of books you like to write?
When I was a little girl I loved to create stories and characters. I also loved to make them houses out of shoeboxes that I’d decorate with pictures of furniture I cut from catalogs. By the time I was 5-years-old, I was drawing and painting, and eventually I chose to study art which segued into interior design. I became co-owner and president of an interior design studio, and though I loved my work, the dream of writing was with me every day. Then, when I nearly died from the same infection that took puppeteer Jim Henson’s life, I began to see things differently and my priorities shifted—dramatically. After several years of contemplating how I wanted to spend the rest of my life, I made the decision to leave my business and go after my dream of writing a novel. It was the gutsiest thing I’ve ever done.
Inspiration for my writing is derived from my fascination with the unpredictable terrain of individual and collective emotional landscapes—ordinary people who, upon closer inspection, have experienced extraordinary circumstances. Plus, my love of nature, animals, antiques and historical architecture will always play a role in my novels. I’m a nut for quirky people and objects that are old and unusual.
I am often struck by the different ways writers respond to the process of writing a book. Linus’s Blanket refers to my use of reading and other activities as a means of escape and comfort, can you share with us any routines, food or recipes, or favorite books or rituals that help you thorough the writing process?
I’m a card-carrying introvert, and one of the characteristics of introverts is that we have rich inner lives. One of my rituals is to live my story internally as I’m writing it externally. When I wrote CeeCee’s story, she became a part of me to the point that I began to see all of life, not just my writing life, through her young eyes. It was quite an experience. When I need an escape and a creative mind cleansing, nature comes into play—whether it’s working in the garden, watching the birds at the feeders, going for a long walk in the woods, or cuddling my kitties, I find that I need animals and nature to keep me grounded.
People live in stories, we are surrounded by them. What was it about this the story that made it the one you had to tell at this time? What impact did telling this story have on your life? Did you find that it had changed you?
After years of ridiculously long work hours and constant stress, I yearned to go back in time and see the world through a child’s eyes—to recapture those pure emotions and wonderment while examining the tender complexities of youth. Writing Saving CeeCee Honeycutt gave me the freedom to reach deep into myself and become a child again. The time I spent with CeeCee, Oletta, Aunt Tootie and all the women in the story, were among the happiest years of my life.
What are you reading now? What are some of your favorite books and authors? Has writing your own book changed the way that you read?
Right now I’m reading, I guess I should say studying, a book about bird feathers for research on my new novel. As for favorite authors and books, so it’s hard to pick just a few, but these are always at the top of the list: A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote, Roxanna Slade by Reynolds Price, The Color Purple by Alice Walker, and A Gracious Plenty by Sheri Reynolds.
Are you able to read when you’re writing and if so what books inspire you when you’re working on a novel?
Oh yes. I always read whether I’m working on a novel or not. I don’t read for inspiration per se. I read for escapism and pure enjoyment. But the two ingredients that rank highest on my list of reading preferences are a wonderful narrative voice and that the story be primarily character-driven.
Who was your favorite character to write, and why did you have an affinity for that character in particular?
Though I honestly loved all the characters in CeeCee’s story, it was Oletta who stole my heart. She’s one of those rare characters that a writer hopes for. Oletta arrived in my imagination fully realized, and she was so strong and wise that the things she said and did often surprised me.
Not only did Oletta become CeeCee’s friend and most trusted confidante, but she also taught her that friends could (and should) come from different cultures and in varying ages and colors. As the manuscript unfolded, I was delighted by how their unlikely friendship and genuine camaraderie was as easy as breathing and yet profound in its complexity. I love Oletta Jones; she’s real to me. I believe if every child had an Oletta in her/his life, the world would be an astoundingly better place.
Did you have to do much research when working on your books, and do you tend to write first or research first?
I tend to write like my pants are on fire, and when I come to a passage that needs more research than I’ve already done or I need to flesh out a detail, I’ll put in a few general keywords to keep the story flowing, but I won’t stop the writing process when the muse is with me. Once I reach a point where I need to take a breather or the muse up and leaves me for a day or two, I’ll then do the research and go back and complete the passage.
Oftentimes I’ll visit a particular city or geographical area numerous times during the writing of my manuscript. I always take a ton of photographs and notes while on location because I never know when I might need the tiniest detail.
Right now I’m fully immersed in my new novel that’s titled Looking For Me. Set against the polar opposite backdrops of hardscrabble farm life in Slade, Kentucky and a small antique shop in Charleston, South Carolina, it’s a story of a young woman’s journey of perseverance, discovery, and how she finds the courage to embrace the gifts hidden within the wreckage of her family history.