Saturday, January 9, 2010

Writing Meme

A fab friend and wonderful blogger, Mary Witzl of ResidentAlien, invited me to take part in a "writing meme." I'd never heard of it, but found it to be an interview with myself about writing. This was a lot of fun and I'd like to thank Mary for the opportunity. Probably every writer would enjoy taking a break from writing to answer these questions whether for publication or just for herself.

1) What's the last thing you wrote? What's the first thing you wrote that you still have?

I think I have some early drafts of some of the first novels I wrote. I know I have a lot of the agent rejection letters. Ha! The last thing I wrote is the thing I’m working on now: my next novel.

2) Write poetry?

Not poetry, but song lyrics. I’d done this a long time ago and just recently got back into it. I’m writing them in English and Japanese.

3) Angsty poetry?


4) Favorite genre of writing?

Novel. I used to write short stories back in the day, but I think it would be difficult to write one now after having the luxury of pages you get with a novel.

5) Most annoying character you've ever created?

Probably Mariko in my latest novel, “Love in Translation.” I don’t find her so annoying, but I know some readers do. Hopefully she is redeemed in their eyes by the end of the book.

6) Best plot you've ever created?

I do feel that plot is my strong point and I owe a lot of that to having studied with Martha Alderson who runs Blockbuster Plots.

7) Coolest plot twist you've ever created?

“Love in Translation” has a few plot twists that I enjoyed putting together.

8) How often do you get writer's block?

I do get it from time to time because I have a hard time writing new material. So when I get like this I usually work on revising another part of the novel. But sometimes I just have to force myself and write something new even though I deem it crappy.

9) Write fan fiction?

No, I’ve never tried, but it would be cool to try my hand at “Mad Men.”

10) Do you type or write by hand?

The most handwriting I can handle now is a signature. I’ve been typing since I was 14 and I adore it.

11) Do you save everything you write?

I try to because you never know when you might want to repurpose content.

12) Do you ever go back to an idea after you've abandoned it?

Yes. No idea is a wasted idea.

13) What's your favorite thing you've ever written?

The most recent thing I’ve written.

14) What's everyone else's favorite story you've written?

Hopefully my two novels!

15) Ever written romance or angsty teen drama?

I’ve written romantic scenes and my MFA thesis has a Japanese teen character. As a pop idol singer she goes through lots of angst.

16) What's your favorite setting for your characters?

Japan and San Francisco.

17) How many writing projects are you working on right now?

Two: a novel and a non-fiction project.

18) Have you ever won an award for your writing?

Yes. I won in the Literary/Mainstream Fiction category in Writer’s Digest’s Best Self-Published Book Awards in 2002 for my novel, “No Kidding.”

19) What are your five favorite words?

check is in the mail

20) What character have you created that is most like yourself?

Celeste Duncan in “Love in Translation.”

21) Where do you get your ideas for your characters?
From real life, made up life, and the situations and themes I want to write about.

22) Do you ever write based on your dreams?


23) Do you favor happy endings?

I favor endings that are appropriate for the story.

24) Are you concerned with spelling and grammar as you write?

I’m very concerned about spelling. I know basic grammar but the grammar police have often ticketed me for obscure infractions.

25) Does music help you write?

Sometimes. When I’m writing about Japan I like to listen to Japanese music.

26) Quote something you've written.

In Japanese, we call someone who acts like she doesn’t have a brain a bokenasu—a dumb eggplant. And I realize now, after everything that’s happened, that this is a perfect description of me: a stupid vegetable.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman

My guest today is Beth Hoffman, debut author of the delightful Southern, coming-of-age novel, Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, which will be released on January 12 by Pamela Dorman Books (Viking). Kim Edwards, bestselling author of The Memory Keeper's Daughter says: "CeeCee is a sweet, perceptive girl with a troubled family, and this story of the summer that transforms her life is rich with hard truths and charm. This book unfolds like a lush Southrn garden, blooming with vivid characters, beauty, and surprises."

Beth's journey to publication reads much like a Cinderella story. And I heartily concur with her advice to writers looking to get published.

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt is your first novel. Can you tell us about your road to publication? How did you get an agent? And how long did it take to find a publisher?

Within a few hours of sending my e-query to Catherine Drayton of Inkwell Management in New York, she requested the first three chapters. The following day she asked for the entire manuscript. Two days later my email dinged with a message from Catherine. I was certain the email was a rejection and I didn’t want to open it! But when I did, I was delighted to read Catherine's words—she loved my novel.

Catherine phoned shortly thereafter, and we talked for nearly an hour. I liked her immediately and didn’t even need to take a day or two to think about it—I accepted her offer of representation on the spot. She explained that the publishers were at the Frankfurt Book Fair and that she’d wait to send my manuscript to a few selected editors when they returned to their offices. She sent out the submission the following Monday morning.

On Tuesday Catherine called and told me that several publishers were already interested. Within an hour she called back with a staggering offer from Pamela Dorman (of Viking). It was so exciting that it didn’t seem real.

You were the president and owner of an interior design firm in Ohio before writing your novel. How did you make the leap from CEO to novelist?

During the busiest year of my professional life I developed pneumonia and nearly died of septicemia. While convalescing at home, something inside me shifted, and that’s when the longing to write reemerged. I say reemerged because I had loved to write since I was a little girl and had hoped that one day I might write a novel. But I didn’t see how I could fulfill the demands of my career and write at the same time, so I returned to the design studio.

For several years I secretly waffled back and forth, wondering if I really had what it took to write successfully. Then, in 2004, it was like all the planets lined up and I knew that if I were to going to write a novel, it was now or never. I sold my portion of the design business, went home, and began to write. It’s one of the gutsiest things I’ve ever done.

What was the inspiration behind Saving CeeCee Honeycutt?

When I was nine years old, I had taken a train from Ohio to visit my Great Aunt Mildred who lived in Danville, Kentucky. She picked me up at the station and drove me through town, the whole time talking a mile a minute while I craned my neck to see all the lovely old homes and buildings we were passing. When we arrived at her home and I got out of the car, it was culture shock of the best kind. There I was, a shy little girl from a rural farm area, standing in the shadows of towering trees as I peered up at her massive old Greek revival home. I was awestruck.

Everything I experienced and witnessed during my first visit to the South made quite an impression on me. Add to that my fascination with mother/daughter relationships and eccentric personalities, and I had the solid bones of my novel. And lastly, my love of Southern architecture took me to Savannah, and that’s when I had all the ingredients I needed for CeeCee’s story.

What advice would you give to those looking to get their first novel published?

Edit! Edit until you’ll think you’ll die. We writers become almost blind to the flaws in our manuscripts, and it takes discipline to step out of our writer’s shoes and pick up the proverbial red pencil. But I believe that’s the best thing we can do before submitting a manuscript to a literary agent or publisher.

And, there’s one more thing that makes an enormous difference in the final polishing stage of a manuscript: read it out loud as if you’re standing in front of an audience. By hearing your story, you’ll pick up any bumps that need smoothing, and, you’ll know if the dialog rings true. In my opinion, nothing can help a writer edit a manuscript better than reading it aloud.

Who are some of the writers that have influenced you?

I don’t know if I’d say they influenced me per se, but I have always loved the writings of Reynolds Price and the late Laurie Lee.

What's next for you on the literary horizon?

Though I’m certain I’ll write another Southern novel, the details haven’t yet taken form. As soon as my author tour is behind me I’ll have more time to think and develop a storyline.

I'm a big cat lover. Tell us about your three cats.

Sadly, I recently lost my beloved DeeDee Snow to cancer. It was devastating. So my current furry child count is down to two. Both are males and rescues: I found Bob as a kitten six years ago. I followed his footprints through the snow and discovered him huddled beneath my porch. My husband and I rescued Oreo during an ice storm last winter. And our two boys couldn’t be more opposite.

Bob is a huge, solid black bobtail—weighing in at nearly 20 pounds. He’s a momma’s boy and can be standoffish with strangers. Little Oreo is a tuxedo kitty, and he’s the happiest cat I’ve ever known. For Oreo, every day is magical and he’s not ashamed to up and explode through the house with sheer delight. I think Oreo is so grateful to have a home and be loved that he just doesn’t know what to do next.

What and where is your favorite restaurant and what makes it your favorite?

Before being diagnosed with celiac disease, my absolute favorite restaurant was Barbetta on 46th Street in New York. I adore fine Italian cuisine, and Barbetta’s is out of this world. I’m hopeful that they’ll offer some rice pastas in the future so I can enjoy their fabulous entrees again.

Beth is about to embark on an author tour. Check out her website to see if she'll be making it to your area.

Thanks for stopping by, Beth, and best of luck with the book!