As a reader, I am drawn to stories with characters so rich that reading about them is like reading a letter from a good friend. I hang on to every word, every image, and I fall easily into their emotions — good and bad.
Ms. Hoffman weaves a beautiful tale of CeeCee, a young girl who grapples with her mother’s mental illness, agonizes over her father’s abandonment, and then discovers unconditional love, friendship, and healing — in the arms of Oletta, in the mysterious charm of Miz Goodpepper, and in the saving graces of her Great Aunt Tootie.
Saving CeeCee Honeycutt reminds us, no matter what our trials, we are carried along by a spiritual force which manifests itself in those around us.
I invited Beth Hoffman here, to answer a few questions about her novel and her writing. She graciously agreed. And, she offered to give away an autographed copy of her novel and a set of audio CD’s. So, after you read Beth’s interview, please leave a comment. If you’re shy, just leave your name.
At the end of Mother’s Day – in honor of the women in Beth Hoffman’s novel who become CeeCee’s surrogate mothers – I will choose two names. Each winner will receive either the book or the set of CD’s, the best part being that Beth Hoffman, herself, will send them — a New York Times bestseller novel, straight from the hands of the novelist to yours. That’s good karma, people.
BH: Thank you for your kindness and support, Christi. I’m delighted that you invited me to be featured on your blog.
CC: Which inspired you first to write this story, plot or character? And, if it was character, was it CeeCee or Aunt Tootie who whispered the tale into your ear?
BH: I’ve always been drawn to character-driven fiction, and from the get-go I knew I wanted to write a story about strong women of all ages, cultures, and backgrounds. Aunt Tootie’s kindness and wisdom are qualities that I greatly admired in my great aunt Mildred, and I knew Aunt Tootie would be a key figure in my novel. But it was CeeCee who arrived in my imagination first. I had begun a rough outline for the book I thought I would write, and then late one night CeeCee appeared. She was so fully alive and her voice was so clear that it rocked me back in the chair, and, her story was far better than the one I was outlining! So, I deleted my notes and listened to what CeeCee had to say. It was one of the most fascinating events of my writing life. I’ve heard that it’s called writers alchemy—a magical moment when a character comes to life and the story unfolds in surprising ways.
CC: You live in Kentucky, but you wrote a story mainly set in Georgia. How often did you travel to the setting of your novel, and how did you use those trips to help create such a strong sense of place?
BH: I’ve always adored the South, and my first visit to Savannah left me completely enthralled. Savannah embodies so much of what I’ve admired throughout my life: outstanding historical architecture, a rich multicultural history steeped deep within the very fabric of the city, and the lovely hospitality for which Savannahians are so well known. I’m a bit of sponge in the sense that if I like something, I soak it up until it becomes a part of me. And that’s what happened with Savannah. I’ve walked every street in the historic downtown area, talked with residents and shop owners, and I live fully in that wonderful city whenever I visit—which is quite frequently. I usually rent an apartment in the downtown area so I can immerse myself in daily living as if I were a long-time resident. The sense of place in CeeCee’s story was actually quite easy for me to create because Savannah has become a part of me.
CC: Under “For Writers” on your blog, you say, “Captivating storytelling is a gift – good writing is an art.” Clearly, you are a talented storyteller. How did you nurture that gift into the art of great writing?
BH: What a lovely thing to say, thank you. My father was a wonderful storyteller, and I think much of his gift of spinning a good yarn was passed down to me. But there’s an enormous difference between telling a captivating story and writing one. As with any art, practice is crucial. The more we practice, the more we hone our craft. And the more we hone our craft, the more we stay awake and aware to the world of words. The other thing that’s crucial is cultivating the imagination. From a very early age I had a whole cast of imaginary friends that I kept in a shoebox beneath my bed. We went on all sorts of adventures together, and to me, they were real. When I eventually outgrew playing with them, I began to write stories about their lives, which segued into short story writing when I was a teenager, and finally, to writing my first full-length novel. Even now, as an adult, I still have the vivid imagination of my childhood, and I rely upon it with my writing.
CC: What are you reading these days?
BH: I just began Page from a Tennessee Journal by Francine Thomas Howard, and thus far I’m thoroughly enjoying it.
CC: Do you have any final thoughts for writers on the rise?
BH: I would say practice and editing are two of the most important things an aspiring writer should keep in mind. And when a writer honestly feels her/his work is complete, then there’s the Holy Grail of all—reading the manuscript out loud. It’s amazing how, when reading a work aloud, every single bump will reveal itself. Though it was time consuming, I read every single word of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt to my cats, and that prompted me to do one final edit that really paid off.
Beth Hoffman’s debut novel has appeared on several bestseller lists, including the New York Times, and was selected by the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance as one of the 2010 Winter/Spring OKRA Picks for great Southern fiction. Read more about Beth Hoffman here and find her on Twitter under @wordrunner.
Don’t forget to leave a comment, so you can be included in the drawing for a copy of her book or a set of audio CD’s!