Sunday, June 10, 2018

Recap - Dorothea Benton Frank at the Library

Dorothea Benton Frank just appeared at the library on her book tour for By Invitation Only. She said it was the dumbest title ever because she had to continually tell people the events were open to the public because everyone thought they were "By Invitation Only".

This book came about because both of Frank's children got married within the last three years. It's a very emotional time, although parents are busy and terrified. She loves her son-in-law. And, her new daughter-in-law is from the Midwest, Oklahoma. Her family are role models for nice. She said she thought her son would never get married. He's super-shy. He has a Midwestern soul, and he's much happier there than in New Jersey or the Lowcountry. She said he's a big guy. He graduated law school, and she said now you have to lose weight. He said okay and went to a center in South Carolina that's the equivalent of Duke's diet program. She said, see. He takes direction good. He lost 60 pounds, and now he's a good-looking lawyer. So, she told him he needed to go on She said she'd give him a week to sign himself up, and then she'd do it, and you don't want your mother filling out your form for He signed up. The first two were not right. The third was a nuclear physicist who went to MIT and wanted someone to "talk nerdy to me". They have so much in common, and on their first date they talked for ten hours and were still going strong. Dorothea loves her. But, what if she had hated her?

And, after the two weddings in three years, she has a grandson. At some stage, you think everything is sort of over, and then a grandchild comes along.

Frank thought all of this was worthy of a book, but it would be a dull book with nice in-laws. So, she took it to the extreme. It's a story of the haves and the have-nots. The haves are from Chicago. The have-nots are a family from South Carolina who raise peaches. Now, Frank knows you can't really grow peaches in the area of South Carolina where she set the book, but it's fiction. Partway through the book, the tables are turned. Suddenly, the haves don't have anything, and the have nots do. But, maybe the have nots had always been happy because what they had was good enough.

She said By Invitation Only is hanging on The New York Times Bestseller List. It debuted at number
3, and then went to 4, and is now at 8. There's a logjam of summer books on the list with titles by Baldacci, Danielle Steel, two by James Patterson.

Dorothea Benton Frank said she'd tell us about her next book, but it might not turn out this way at all. She's working on it. She read an article on Sullivan's Island about someone who was keeping bees there. Then, she read another. Then a couple years ago there was an incident in which a million honeybees were killed by someone using pesticide. When she looked into honey, she decided she needed to dig deeper.

So, here's the plot, as of right now. A frumpy middle-aged woman stayed on Sullivan's Island to take care of her mama. She's a beekeeper. After the mother dies, her sister, a Blanche DuBois type of character, returns home. Both women have a crush on the neighbor, a man whose married to a real witch. His two sons love the frumpy sister, and come over because their mother abuses them. The Blanche character learns she's ill and dying, so she starts to go around the island to tell everyone what she really thinks of them. Then she starts sleeping around, which she had never done. Someone lets the other sister's queen bee out, and the neighbor witch dies. Frank hasn't decided yet about that death. That's as much as she has, and it may change before next year. It's due to her editor in mid-March.

She said she and her daughter, Victoria, have written a children's book, Teddy's Spaghetti, and it's scheduled for publication in May 2020.

After telling us about her future books, Frank took questions from the audience. Asked about her
writing day, she said she usually works for about four hours or so. She reads The New York Times, works on the crossword puzzle, fixes breakfast, and then heads to the guest room. The guest room is her office because no one wants to visit them in New Jersey. She ends the day by writing a note with three things she wants to happen the next day so she has a starting point. She said she doesn't give herself a deadline. That comes from her editor, who calls her on President's Day to ask how far she is. Her book is due mid-March. She's had the same editor for fifteen years.

She didn't always want to be a writer. Dorothea went to Catholic schools, and she didn't know any writers. They only read dead white men who were approved by the Vatican. They didn't even read Emily Dickinson because she wrote about her skin. And, she thought writers starved and didn't make any money.

But, Frank wanted to buy her mother's house on Sullivan's Island. And, her husband said no way was he going to buy it and spend his life sitting on her mother's porch. She should go get a job if she wanted to buy the house. She had read a novel, and thought, well I'll write a book. I can do that in six weeks. That's how brazen she was. Two years later, she had written it. She always missed the opportunity when her mother's house went on the market, but she's better off. She bought a house on Sullivan's Island, and created their own happier memories there.

She was asked who her favorite authors are. She said there are so many. She reads a lot. She named Ann Pratchett, Anna Quindlen, Anne Tyler. She used to love Anne Rivers Siddons' books. Josephine Humphries, although she hasn't written lately. Amy Bloom. Meg Wolitzer. Mary Kay Andrews. She said she knows many of them because they end up doing writers' conferences together.

When asked about her favorite of her books, she said probably Sullivan's Island, her first, and Plantation. She said in those years she was writing without a contract so she could take her time. Now, with one book a year, she's always on deadline.

How did she find a publisher? She met a woman who had been downsized when two publishers merged. That woman told Frank what she needed to do to sell her book, and Frank did it. Frank said, but you're not an agent, and the woman said I'm going to be. Since Frank had been an author for five seconds, and the woman an agent for six, she listened to her. That woman and another sent Frank's manuscript to ten editors. Five liked it. Three bid on it, and Dorothea Benton Frank took the top bid. And, she still has the letters from the five who were not interested.

Dorothea Benton Frank's website is

By Invitation Only by Dorothea Benton Frank. William Morrow, 2018. ISBN 9780062873514 (hardcover), 390p.


Watch for the blog on Friday. I have 2 signed copies for the next giveaway.


Netteanne said...

Lesa, did you have a good turnout for the author event. You said earlier that you were worried because of the title that folks would think it was By Invitation Only.

Kay said...

Always have loved your recaps of author events, Lesa. This one sounds fun. I laughed about the title and the possible misinterpretation. I've got this one on my list to read at some point. I kind of have to be in the mood to read this author's type of book, but I get in the mood occasionally.

Kaye Barley said...

Great recap! It sounds like a fun event. I agree with Ms. Frank about which of her books are her faves - those are my faves too.

Anonymous said...

Very enjoyable visit. It would be fun to go back and read some of her older books. And I loved her personal stories—could’ve listened all afternoon!

Charlotte said...

Lesa, how many came to hear the author?
She sounds like a enjoyable speaker.

Lesa said...

Well, I was disappointed in the turnout. We had 35. I know Barnes & Noble hoped for 60 or 70. I do think the title of the book might have influenced some people. And, one man, not knowing he was talking to the author, even told her he wasn't sure he was able to come since it was "By Invitation Only". That may be why she addressed it in her program. Dorothea Benton Frank was an entertaining, warm speaker. The audience loved her. I was disappointed that we didn't have more people to hear this New York Times bestselling author.

Gram said...

I must put this one on my list too.

Grandma Cootie said...

Thanks for the recap. It's fun to get a little bit of the inside story about favorite authors. I discovered Dorothea Benton Frank a few books after she was first published and I was instantly captivated. The setting was so different from the Midwest or anywhere I had been before. Sullivan's Island and Plantation are still my favorites, too. I finished "By Invitation Only" a few days ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. I was a little disappointed with her previous couple of books, but this one feels like she is back. It's a warm story and goes back and forth between the haves and have-nots smoothly.