The author of “Saving Cee Cee Honeycutt” returns with a new book inspired by growing up on her grandparents farm.
We’ll be chatting with Beth Hoffman and giving away a copy of “Looking for Me” via Twitter this Friday, July 26, from 1-2 CST (2-3 EST). Join us in our chat room on Twubs using the hashtag #southernlit.
After publishing her bestselling novel “Saving Cee Cee Honeycutt” in 2010, author Beth Hoffman wasn’t sure what she would write next. Some old photographs and the family memories they held would lead her to write her second novel, “Looking for Me,” one of our summer reading picks for 2013. Hoffman says this book encompasses her deepest passions, one of which is her home of Kentucky, the other a farm she lived on as a child.
Her main character, Teddi Overman, may live in Charleston, but it’s the farm in Kentucky where she grew up that keeps calling her home. Teddi’s brother Josh went missing one Thanksgiving and has never been heard from again, but Teddi has never stopped searching for him. When she’s not in her antiques shop restoring or painting a piece of old furniture, she’s thinking about him and the lessons from nature that he taught her. As time passes, Teddi must decide whether to keep or let go of the family farm, along with the search for her brother.
Hoffman gives us the natural beauty and wildness of Kentucky contrasted with the sleek, city ways of Charleston and its old money and even older antiques. In the vein of Mark Kay Andrews, readers get schooled in the art of restoration and bringing old pieces of furniture back to life, while also contemplating the complicated dynamics of family.
Where did the story of “Looking for Me” come from?
One day I was upstairs in my little writing library, and while cleaning a file cabinet 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 slowly 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 considered each other. And then — wham — I knew I had the soul of my story.
Why did you choose the settings of South Carolina and Kentucky?
Above all, the atmosphere of the story I want to create will determine the settings. 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 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.
Are Teddi and her antiques shop based on anything in real life?
For many years I co-owned an interior design studio, and that experience gave me all the details I needed. But Teddi’s shop is wholly unique in that it not only showcased antiques, but also housed a restoration workroom. It’s rare to find an antiques shop that offers restoration services on the premises. Most shop owners send their restorations to off-site workrooms, and for minor repairs they’ll often hire a “traveling repairman” to come and do the work. Additionally, I enjoyed having Teddi be a faux finishing expert. While many people claim to be experts in decorative furniture painting and faux-finishing, in reality it’s a fine art that few have mastered.
What does this book have in common with “Saving Cee Cee Honeycutt,” and how is it different?
While both stories are set in the South, highlight family dynamics and feature people of strength and determination, I don’t think the two books have much else in common. CeeCee’s story is told through the perspective of a young girl, and Teddi’s story is an adult narrative. In some ways the two novels are opposites: CeeCee’s story is humorous with serious moments while Teddi’s story is more serious with humorous moments.
How have readers reacted to “Looking for Me” during your recent book tour?
My tour began when “Looking for Me” released, so very few people I met had read the story. But what I found to be a common thread among the hundreds of people I spoke with was how deeply we hold our pain, our regrets and, in some instances, our shame. While on tour, I made the decision to reveal a bit of family history — the heartbreaks we caused and endured both individually and collectively. It was the first time I’d spoken publically about my family, and as I looked at the audience and saw people weeping and nodding their heads, I was deeply moved. It was a powerful reminder that none of us gets out of this thing called life unscathed.
What does it mean to you to write Southern fiction?
It’s important to me that I explore and write about the things I love. I’ve always been drawn to the South for her rich history and the fortitude of her people. Nowhere in America has there been more glory, ruin, pride, shame, grace and ancestral fascination. In other words, the South offers a smorgasbord of writing material. Whether I’m in Savannah, Charleston, Point Clear or here at home in Kentucky, the South is where I belong and where my creativity thrives.
What books are in your beach bag/to be read pile this summer?
My list of books is out of control, but a few that I’m looking forward to reading are: “I’ll Be Seeing You,” by Suzanne Hayes and Loretta Nyhan, “Trains and Lovers” by Alexander McCall Smith, “The Blue Estuaries: Poems 1923-1968” by the late Louise Bogan and “Palisades Park” by Alan Brennert.
“Looking For Me” is one of our Summer Reading List picks. See the full list here, and stay tuned for details on how to win a copy of the book on Friday!