LAKEWOOD RANCH -- It's not every day that the average citizen gets the chance to be part of a new book by a popular New York Times best-selling author. But that is indeed what happened by surprise at the 27th Annual Manatee County Public Library Foundation Author luncheon, held Friday at the Polo Grill and Bar in Lakewood Ranch. For the third year in a row, the fundraiser drew more than 400 people from all walks of life who support the Manatee County Public Libraries.
Donating her time, talent and wit to serve as guest speaker, New York Times best-selling author Dorothea "Dottie" Benton Frank wowed the crowd with down-to-earth stories of book-signing tours gone wrong and tales of how she developed characters for her 14 published books, including her first novel, "Sullivan's Island," which debuted at No. 9, went back to press 25 times and sold 1 million print copies in the United States and 10 foreign countries.
In keeping with her off-the-cuff style, Frank, a New Jersey resident who divides her time between the Garden State and the Lowcountry of South Carolina, the setting of all her books, including her first best-seller, Frank surprised guests with an auction for an opportunity to appear as a character in an upcoming novel, as yet untitled. The $1,000 bid turned into two bids from Bradenton lawyer Mark Barnebey and newly-transplanted Sarasota resident Mayra Niubo Schmidt. Both Schmidt and Barneby, who was the former chairman of the library foundation, will get two for the price of one, because Frank agreed to include their spouses in the story as well.
Barnebey's wife is former Bradenton City Councilwoman Marianne Barnebey.
"My wife and I grew up in Manatee County, and we used the library as children, so we know how important it is," said Barnebey, who characterized the auction as a very unique opportunity but an important one because of the money it will raise for the library system.
Barnebey, whose wife was out of town and couldn't attend the luncheon, said he will talk to her about giving permission to use their real names.
"Dottie tends to kill off characters in her book, so we'll see."
Meantime, Schmidt, who agreed to include her husband in the book, holds a special place for Frank, because she's also from New Jersey, has read all of Frank's books and knows the characters well, including one who Schmidt says was her neighbor.
Before Frank introduced the surprise auction, she threw out some other surprises regarding her rising literary career, including the fact that she has a new book coming out in June, a new movie in the works starring Whoopi Goldberg, based on one of Benton's books, "The Christmas Pearl," and a possible TV series, spun off from her novel "Porch Lights."
Frank, who was a wife and mother before her sudden rise to fame with "Sullivan's Island," says she was inspired to write the book after her mother, a resident of the beautiful South Carolina Lowcounntry, died suddenly and left her home to Frank's family. Now, Frank, whose publisher is HarperCollins, has a new book, her 15th, about to debut in June, called "Hurricane Sisters," set on Sullivan's Island also, but with a serious subject that Frank deliberately eases into -- domestic violence.
"When I was researching South Carolina, I was shocked to learn the state leads the nation in domestic violence against women. I took this as the theme for the book, to start a conversation, because I want this on the tip of everyone's tongue," Frank said before her presentation.
"I fell in love with her books, and I've read every single one," said Kathy Schilio of Sarasota, who likes Frank's strong and witty characters.
Cookie Jordan, a Kindle reader from Parrish, agrees.
"She builds characters well, and they're recurring so you get drawn into them. She makes reading fun."
Kathryn Moschella, Lakewood Ranch reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7010. Follow her on Twitter @MoschellaHerald.