Thursday, June 19, 2014

Recap - Beth Hoffman at EVPL

Sunday, as part of our Summer Reading Program, we hosted Beth Hoffman, New York Times bestselling author of Looking for Me and Saving CeeCee Honeycutt at our Central Library. American Airlines might not have made it easy to get her in and out, but we greeted her in style. My mother and my sister, Christie, and I, were waiting when she came through the gate, holding copies of her books, as if we were author escorts she didn't know. Of course, she knows me, and recognized my mother, but it was part of the welcome. The other part couldn't have been scripted better. As we left the terminal, six planes from Sunday's air show swooped around, welcoming Beth, before they landed. Or, at least we were all convinced they were welcoming her.

A large audience of receptive fans showed up to listen to Beth talk about her books. She said she had been a farm child. She had a much older brother who didn't want to play with her. But, she did have a chicken. And, she'd even put a scarf on that chicken, her only friend. However, when that chicken took a shine to her only brother, she was friendless. So, she did what so many other lonely children do; she created imaginary friends. She drew them, making shoe box homes for them, and wrote stories about them. And, she loved animals. She drew, read, and loved animals.

Beth's mother wanted her to be a nurse or secretary, something practical. But, at fourteen, Hoffman sold a painting. She took that as a message, and decided she was going to go to art school. Her parents were horrified. She did study art, but that segued into interior design.

Hoffman was willful, and didn't want to work for anyone. She wanted to open her own interior design business with another woman. But, the bank wanted a business plan. That was the sign there that she should have gone into writing. She wrote ten pages full of bologna, and the bank bought it. It was only later that reality hit, and she realized she'd have to pay the loan back. She felt that responsibility, and worked forty-five to sixty hours a week. And, then it became seventy-two hours a week. She had a hard time saying no.

By the time Hoffman started to feel tired, she had thirteen employees. She went home sick one day, and couldn't get up the stairs. She thought she might have been poisoned. But, here's how she was thinking. She didn't want to call 911. She had two older rescue cats, William and Pringle. If she called 911, she worried the cats might get out. Instead, she was on the floor, and called her secretary. She was in bad shape. And, neither she nor her secretary thought to get her downstairs, and have the ambulance pick her up there. Instead, her secretary took her to the hospital. She almost lost her life to the same disease that killed Jim Henson. She had sepsis, and it went into renal and congestive heart failure. (Her cats made it. Her secretary's daughter took care of them.)

Beth was so bad she was quarantined at the hospital, and her hair started to fall out. When she was released, she had to stay in her apartment. She felt blessed to be alive, but she was angry. She had to go to work.

While she was laid up in her apartment, her shoe box people spoke to her. What she really wanted to do was write. So, she poured her creative energies into story ads. Those ads were such a big hit that a One Chicago ad company even called wanting to know who wrote them. But, the ads were only appearing in newspapers or Cincinnati Magazine.

One day, it was snowing, and Beth was in the showroom. She was told there was a call for her on line 1. It was a man calling because his wife was too shy to call and say how much she loved those story ads. She cut them out and put them on the refrigerator. He asked if she ever thought of writing a novel. He said you write story ads we care about; you should be writing.

Beth never thought she'd walk away from something she built. The business loan had just been
paid off. She went to her partner and said she wanted out. "Buy me out." Three months later, she started writing Saving CeeCee Honeycutt. She wrote it for four years.

Beth said, "I'm just a farm girl." She never expected that CeeCee wold become a New York Times bestseller. She's been all over the place talking about the book. She's not necessarily comfortable with that. Then, she went home, and everyone wanted to know, "What are you writing next?" But she was paralyzed. People would say, you better write a sequel. She didn't want to repeat the book. Rather than write the same book again, she would quit writing. Nothing is more magical than a child telling a story. Hoffman didn't want to be pigeonholed.

Beth needed time to decompress. Her father had died. And, one day, she opened an envelope full of family photographs. There were her great-grandparents. There were the workhorses, Tony and Dolly. There were pictures of her aunts and uncles. Her chicken. There was a picture of her younger brother.

Beth's brother was much younger than she was. She loved him so much she took him on dates. It made her very popular. She took him to the woods. The woods became his play station. She wanted him to see the magic of all this. He didn't love it like she did. Then, she went off to study art. She was in her early twenties when he was thirteen. She came home, and saw that it wasn't good. He has an edge. His eyes didn't look good. He said he was fine. She tried talking to him. Hoffman wanted to make it very clear that she didn't blame her parents for what happened. But, something was wrong. The next year when she came home, it was really wrong.

One weekend, she came home and her handbag with her keys and money were in her bedroom. When the police came to the door, they said her little brother and a friend snuck into her bedroom while she was sleeping and took her money and keys, and stole her car. They ended up in a police chase for almost an hour. The car was totaled. There was all kinds of property damage. While they were being told about it, their mother had a heart attack. So, their mother is in the hospital, and her brother is in jail. She's wondering, how did I fail him? Wasn't I a good enough big sister?

When she laid down the photo of her brother, she saw a red-tailed hawk in the tulip tree outside her office. Little brother, red-tailed hawk, life on the farm. It all came together. Beth says Saving CeeCee Honeycutt is the novel of her heart. Looking for Me is the novel of her soul. It also became a New York Times bestseller. Hoffman could write about Josh in the book. It was a spiritual journey for her. She could give her little brother a different life. He's brain-damaged and violent. He lives like a hermit, a street person. It all started with alcohol, then marijuana, then other drugs. Beth could change reality for the art of the story. She could highlight what she loves, and change his reality.

Beth ended the program by reading her favorite passage, and then took questions. It was a wonderful program. We were very fortunate that Beth was able to speak as part of this year's Summer Reading Program.

And, I was very fortunate that Mom and Christie were able to come for the program. They drove eight hours from northern Ohio to meet and listen to an author who we all admire, and who I'm lucky enough to call a friend.

Me, Beth, Mom, Christie

Beth Hoffman's website is

Looking for Me by Beth Hoffman. Viking Penguin. 2014 (paperback), 368p. (now available in paperback)


Beth Hoffman said...

From the moment I saw you, your mom, and your sister waiting with smiles on your faces and my books in your hands, I knew it would be a fun day. And I loved the big surprise of the planes doing loops overhead, thanks a million for arranging that, Lesa ... LOL!

Your library is so gorgeous and the audience was fantastic. It was a grand day for so many reasons, and I thank you for everything, my friend!

TFJ said...

Thank you both, Lesa and Beth. I just finished Saving CeeCee Honeycutt and now so look forward to Looking for Me.


Donna Seaton said...

It was a real privilege and wonderful experience to listen to Beth Hoffman. I loved both of her books, but now after hearing her I have an even greater appreciation of the books and her. Thank you Beth and Lesa!

Lesa said...

Ah, Beth. I'm so glad you appreciate the lemonade, and don't dwell on the lemons. I know the rough time you had getting here and back. But, the time with you was wonderful! Thank you for giving up a couple days. Hugs, my friend.

Lesa said...

Tricia, It's a totally different book, but it's equally wonderful.

Lesa said...

Definitely my pleasure, Donna! I'm glad you had the chance to meet and hear her!