Guest post: The author says “Cheese!”

November 26, 2017 • Posted in blindness, careers/jobs for people who are blind, guest blog, memoir writing by

I love being a special guest at book clubs. Bookworms tend to be the polite type — no one criticizes an author who is sitting right there!Sipping on wine,munching snacks, talking about writing, what’s not to like? I had such a good time at a neighborhood book club that I asked Mel Theobald, one of the attendees, if he’d be willing to write about it for our blog. Thank you for saying yes, Mel. I may just start using “The Nearly Famous Beth Finke” as my signature now!

More than a Book Club
by Mel Theobald

Publishing a book is no easy feat. Neither is walking into a roomful of strangers to talk about it. Yet, there she was, the nearly famous Beth Finke, author of Writing Out Loud, sitting in the unfamiliar turf of our party room with eleven eager souls, ready to respond to their most pressing questions.

Beth and the book club.

Although there was no shortage of snacks and wine, the author asked if there was cheese on the table. No cheese. Yikes. I rushed to fetch my favorite smoked gouda and returned midway through the introductions. It was already apparent when I took my seat that this was going to be a fun evening.

Al Hippensteel, my altruistic next door neighbor, happens to also be one of Beth’s students. Anyone who knows Al is aware that he possesses a droll sense of wit and irony. At his invitation Beth was our condo association book club’s first ever visiting author. With humility and humor, she impressed everyone with her ability to remember names and recognize their voices after a single round of verbal, mini-bios.

Photo of Beth and Al Hippensteel.

That’s Al Hippensteel looking on as Beth signs a book for one of the club members.

From the outset, those around the table peppered our guest with questions. They were most interested in her teaching techniques and the secrets of the publishing industry. Beth answered every question. She confessed to changing the names of a few characters. At one point she admitted getting miffed that her editor for asking her to withdraw a story. “But you pick your battles,” she told us. To be a writer requires patience, detours and sacrifices.

With barely a wobble, she wove the narration of her own writing into that of her students. Blindness is one of the themes that runs throughout her writing. In one chapter of Writing Out Loud she writes about being invited to drive a car on an open slab hundreds of yards wide. Paired with a professional race car driver, she chose to accelerate to a speed of 80 miles per hour. When asked what possessed her to do this, her face blushed red, “I got to sit in a Ford Mustang next to a friend of Paul Newman!”

Beth allowed that it was due to the success of one of her students that she was granted an audience with the future publisher of her latest book,and when asked about the pronunciation of her name, she answered, “Finke as in stinky.” Allright then.

As the evening drew to a close, Beth invited Al to read one of his class pieces. His beautifully written essay was impossible to finish without knee slapping laughter. In brief, it was about his courtship with the woman he would marry, who just happened to be right there with us: she’s a member of the book club. The piece was a light-hearted mix of metaphors of popular music, cars and youthful innocence. Everyone erupted in applause.

And just think. He might never have written it, had it not been for Beth’s class.

Cheryl On November 26, 2017 at 11:17 am

What a nice blog, Mel. You should join Al at “Grace Place”. We would love to hear some of your memories…..and Beth it’d be fun to hear some of the stories that the editor asked you to withdraw. Maybe in your next book. Eyebrows up!

Beth On November 26, 2017 at 10:59 pm

Hmmm. Guess you’ll just have to go to a book club somewhere where they’ve just read writing Out loud to find out. Sister’s Weekend, perhaps?

Mel Theobald On November 26, 2017 at 9:53 pm

Thanks for the suggestion Cheryl. I’ve considered it in the past, but I’m somewhat intimidated. Like you, I’d love to know what Beth’s editors withdrew. Not for the scuttlebutt, rather from an editorial standpoint.

Beth On November 26, 2017 at 11:09 pm

WellMel, you already know that the publisher wanted to exclude the story of my driving a ford Mustang 80 mph, right? It wasn’t until she asked her husband (who had read the rough draft) if he thought perhaps the entire book was just “chick lit.” she wanted his opinion as to whether he thought any men would read Writing Out Loud. His response convinced her to keep my 80ph story in!

Nancy Sayre On November 28, 2017 at 1:26 pm

Beth’s editor chiming in here . . . Yep, it was our husbands that convinced us to include the Mustang story. But I can also tell you that Beth has so many good stories, it was really tough to choose. Now you know why we ended up with 350+ pages!

Mel Theobald On November 28, 2017 at 9:20 pm

Nancy, 350+ pages is nothing. When caught up in the frenzy over the musical Les Miz, I decided to tackle Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables” and loved all 1,500 pages of it. When you get into a good book you simply don’t want it to end. I’m so glad you included the Mustang story. You’re husbands were absolutely right. Thank you for bringing Beth’s stories to our living rooms.

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