Hoffman's Book Launches New Imprint for Penguin
BY KAY GRISMER
Special to The Pilot
"Gobsmacked. I was gobsmacked!" Beth Hoffman exclaimed after Pamela Dorman, editor of "The Secret Life of Bees" and "The Memory Keeper's Daughter," told her she had selected Hoffman's novel, "Saving CeeCee Honeycutt," to launch Pamela Dorman Books, her new imprint for Penguin Publishers.
"Beth's extraordinary debut is the book I dreamed of finding," Dorman said. "I have read a lot of wannabe Southern coming-of-age fiction. This is the real thing."
"When the weight of what those words meant had finally sunk in, I was terrified!" Hoffman admits. "I'd wake up in the middle of the night, feeling like I'd been plunked into a pressure cooker. I knew the bar had been dramatically raised, and it took me several months, and a lot of inner dialogue to calm down."
Almost immediately after Hoffman's novel was published in January, it hit The New York Times and the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance bestseller lists. The Book of the Month Club described it as a "debut of uncommon grace that beautifully illuminates the power of female friendships, it will have you laughing out loud ... and leave a satisfying lump in your throat."
"I never imagined that CeeCee's story would be so fully embraced," Hoffman says. "It's beyond everything I could have imagined."
"Everyone who has read the book just loves CeeCee!" says Beth Carpenter, The Country Bookshop's liaison with the 70 book groups registered with the shop. "Beth's novel is absolutely perfect for book clubs as well as for young adult readers. We're thrilled she will be here at The Country Bookshop tomorrow (Thursday, April 1) at 4 p.m. We just hope we have room for everyone who wants to meet her!"
"Saving CeeCee Honeycutt" is the story of 12-year-old CeeCee and her elderly Great-Aunt Tootie, who sweeps the girl off from Ohio after her mentally disturbed mother's tragic death to live with her in 1960s Savannah. There CeeCee meets other colorful women who are true free spirits.
"I wanted CeeCee to understand the difference between eccentric personalities and those people like her mother who are sadly 'dancing on the edge of madness,'" Hoffman says.
The assortment of strong, wise and eccentric "Steel Magnolias" in her book were inspired by women from her own life. But she also admits that two men - one a stranger and one her own husband - played vital roles in realizing her long-held dream of becoming of novelist.
After growing up on her grandparents' farm in northern Ohio, Hoffman pursued a career in art that eventually segued into interior design. She eventually became president and co-owner of a successful interior design studio in Cincinnati. During the busiest year of her professional life, she nearly died from the same infection that took puppeteer Jim Henson's life. As she struggled to regain her health, her dream of writing a novel resurfaced, but she says, "There simply weren't enough hours in the day to fulfill the demands of my career and write a novel. So I let the dream go."
For the next few years she satisfied her desire to write by creating "story ads" for her design studio.
"I'd select a piece of furniture and then write a story about who owned it, who wished they owned it, or who was trying to win custody of it in a divorce. The ads became a hit," she says.
In January 2004, a man called to tell her how much he and his wife enjoyed reading them over their morning coffee.
"If you can write these great stories every day in a few sentences and make us want to know what happens to these people, have you thought of writing a book?" he asked.
"And that did it," she says. "It was this seminal moment. I knew if I were ever going to write a novel, it was now or never. I chose now."
Hoffman's husband fully supported her. "Queenie," he said, "you need to do this."
"When I finally made the decision to leave design and honor my dream of writing," Hoffman recalls, "it was the most empowering feeling I'd ever experienced. Before I even wrote the first word, I knew in my heart I was going to write a Southern novel."
She sold her portion of the business, kicked off her high-heels, and wrote for the next four years.
She says her family was "completely blown away" when she sold her book.
"Perhaps the most shock came from my husband, who was momentarily speechless over how this all happened."
He hadn't read a word of her manuscript until it was "already a done deal."
"It was actually a point of contention! He never asked, and it hurt my feelings," Hoffman says. "Finally I asked him about it and he said, 'I just don't want to get involved because what if I don't like it, or what if I think you need to edit something?' and I'm thinking, you're an engineer-what do you mean, edit?"
Once she got the galleys back, he finally asked to read the novel.
"I was downstairs doing laundry," she says. "I came up, and he was bawling. I said, 'What's the matter with you?' He said, 'I love this.'"
Hoffman had hoped a third man in her life - her father - could have read her book, too.
"I'm feeling very blessed, yet it's bittersweet," she says. "My dad passed away in October, and though he knew much of what had transpired, he never had the chance to hold my book in his hands."
Hoffman's fans hope she will write a sequel filled with more adventures for CeeCee to experience.
"Yet," she says, "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."
Beth Hoffman, her husband and several "fuzzy, four-legged children" live in the 1902 Queen Anne house she renovated in the historic district in Newport, Ky.
For information call The Country Bookshop at (910) 692-3211.
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