Thursday, May 23, 2013

Author Interview: Beth Hoffman

 photo BHoffmanPhoto_zps0868181e.jpg Yesterday I reviewed Ms. Hoffman's latest novel, Looking for Me and today she willingly answers our questions.

GJR: What was the inspiration for the novel?


BH: After touring with Saving CeeCee Honeycutt I had no idea what I would write next, and to be honest, I was too tired to give it much thought. One day I was upstairs in my little writing library cleaning a file cabinet when I came across a large envelope filled with old photographs. Some dated as far back as 1883, and several of the photos were of my grandparents’ farm where I lived as a child. The more I sifted through the photos the more I yearned for the simple days of my youth. I missed the smell of freshly tilled earth and the taste of sweet corn grown on the land that had been in my family for generations. 

Just as I picked up a photograph of my younger brother when he was a little boy, something flashed in my periphery. I glanced up to see a red-tailed hawk land in the tree outside my window. He settled on a branch, then turned his head and looked in the window. There I sat, surrounded by old photographs of my family and the farm I had loved so much while the hawk and I quietly considered each other. And then—wham—I knew I had the soul of my story.

GJR: How much research went into the wildlife portions of the novel?

BH: Since early childhood I’ve loved (and studied) wildlife and nature, so those scenes were easy to create. On my grandparents’ farm the crop fields backed up to hundreds of acres of dense woodlands that I often explored with endless curiosity. Fox, white-tailed deer, raccoons, beavers, rabbits, woodchucks and countless birds (from raptors to tiny chickadees) were frequent visitors to our farm. Wildlife was a big part of our everyday lives.

GJR: You used to be an interior designer, so I’m guessing that the furniture restoration parts of the novel are something you know about. What was the best piece you ever placed in a house or restored.

BH: Well, the best (as in most valuable and historically significant) was an eighteenth-century French armoire that I found for a client at an estate sale. It was made of walnut and so beautifully crafted that I literally gasped when I saw it. But my favorite personal piece is a 1908 antique Herschell-Spillman carousel horse that I have in my dining room.

GJR: Was there a secondary character you thoroughly loved writing? If so, why?

BH: I love all of the secondary characters, and for different reasons—but if I had to pick just one, it would be Albert. In subtle yet profound ways he was instrumental in not only helping Teddi become a master at her craft, but also in helping her find some semblance of ballast after her brother’s disappearance. While writing the manuscript, Albert frequently surprised me. I’d hear him speak in my mind and be moved not only by what he had to say but how he said it.

GJR: Why did you choose Charleston as the place that Teddi makes her life?

BH:  Above all, the atmosphere of the story I want to create will determine the setting. I need to feel connected to a location’s history and culture. One of my favorite things to do while crafting a novel is to explore opposites. The juxtaposition of Charleston’s refinement to Slade, Kentucky’s rugged wilderness intrigued me. Red River Gorge is wonderfully wild and mysterious while Charleston is known for its gorgeous architecture and gentility. The downtown area of Charleston was the perfect place for Teddi to reach for her dream while Kentucky was ideal to hold her roots.

GJR: My husband loves hawks, if you could be a bird of prey, which one would you be? Why?

BH:  I love hawks, too. But if I had to be a raptor, I think I’d like to be an American Kestrel. They’re fast and stunningly beautiful birds.

GJR:  Are you working on another novel (please say yes)? If so, can you give us a hint what it’s about?

BH: Though I do have some characters chattering my head, I don’t imagine I’ll come up with any solid ideas until after I finish my book tour. There’s no doubt I will write novel number three. I just can’t say when I’ll begin or how long it will take. 

GJR:  Is there a certain place you write? Please describe it to us.

BH: I write in several locations. A good number of scenes in Looking for Me were crafted on my visits to Charleston where I rented a small house in the heart of the historic district, and I’ve also stayed at a charming old inn called Wentworth Mansion. Many of the Red River Gorge scenes were written on location, too. While there, I always stayed in a rustic place called Hemlock Lodge.

GJR:  I’ve heard in order to be a writer, you have to be a reader; so what are some of your all-time favorite, go-to books?

BH: Truman Capote, Reynolds Price, and Carol Shields are the authors I most often turn to for pure reading joy.

GJR: You’re having an author get-together, dinner party. Who’s on the guest list, which recipe would you grab, and why? 

BH:  This is a tough question for me to answer, and here’s why: I’m a card-carrying introvert, and when I hear the word “party” I’m stricken with wide-eyed fear. LOL! So, if I were to host an author dinner party I’d keep the guest list small and would invite Pat Conroy, Alice Walker, Bailey White, and Ron McLarty.

I adore Italian cuisine, and though I have celiac disease and can’t eat wheat pasta, I’ve found many excellent substitutions. As for which recipe I’d grab, I’d make my all-time favorite—lasagna, served with a salad of spinach, pine nuts and figs, and to round out the menu there would be warm homemade Italian bread. The wine selection would be a smooth but robust Chianti and I’d make tiramisu for dessert.

Thanks to Ms. Hoffman for taking time out of her schedule to answer our questions. Watch for Looking for Me on shelves May 28th, 2013.

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