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.
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.
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.