“I wonder if the electricity at Luna Park had seeped into his skin, and that was why he meanness grew, like a charge, burning brighter throughout the spring. Fine weather seemed to affect him adversely. But in all honesty he drank whenever there was rain or snow or wind of falling leaves. He drank and burned, and we paid the price.”
- Alice Hoffman “The Truth about my Mother” The Red Garden
I knew Alice Hoffman was speaking at Porter Square Books on 01/26, so I decided to include her new book, The Red Garden in my Four Hundred Followers Fiesta . (I’m at 399!) because I knew I could get a signed copy.
Before I began to write middle grade and YA fantasy, before I let myself be a writer, Alice Hoffman was one of my favorite authors. I've liked the element of magic that runs through her books. Though I’ve always been a pretty practical person, suspicious of Santa Claus’s existence at an early age, my reading, and now writing, worlds are filled with wonders.
Flakes began to fall shortly before the event, but I decided to trudge through the snow because I promised a signed copy. I’m glad I did. Ms. Hoffman was personable and the excerpt she read was amazing. Truly. I may have to push a book or two aside to begin this one.
Then she began to say things that resonated with me. I thought, I have to share this with other bloggers so I rummaged through my handbag, which may have had an undetectable extension charm on it because I couldn’t find my notebook. I grabbed my checkbook and began jotting notes. I hope they make sense.
Words of wisdom from Alice Hoffman:
Writers write either to relive their lives or to escape from their lives. “I was an escapist reader and now I’m an escapist writer.”
People’s history is about conquering nature and our relationship with animals. She talked about people having a connection to animals.
“I feel magic is part of literature and is the thread through all of literature.”
She doesn’t have magic in her everyday life. It’s what she’s looking for. Part of getting it is being a reader.
She's from Long Island too. Even though she lived in a drab suburb that looked like Levittown, she had magic in her life from reading.
Alice Hoffman is a PANSTER. She said she starts with an idea and begins to write. If she knew exactly where the story was going, there would be no questions to ask as she wrote. (She either said it would take the fun out of writing or that she wouldn’t want to write it. I forget which. Maybe both.)
My Questions to Alice Hoffman + Her Answers:
Me: “As an established writer, do you feel the pressure of the changes in publishing? Do you feel the need to social network or blog?”
Ms. Hoffman said people have lost relationships. When she returned from travelling, she used to have messages on her machine. Now her answering machine is empty and she has e-mails.
She doesn’t blog or participate in social networking. Ms. Hoffman said she doesn't understand blogging because, "it takes time away from writing to write." (Good point.) She’s glad she’s not a writer trying to start in this business. Things were different thirty years ago. When she began, only the biggest authors even toured. Nobody knows where publishing is heading. Even as an established author, Ms. Hoffman still feels the new pressures. “I hate it.”
Me: “I’ve noticed that a number of your books have relationships between sisters. Why is there this theme? Do you have sisters?”
Ms. Hoffman doesn’t have any sisters or a daughter. She said it’s escapist writing to write what she wishes she had.
A woman in the audience offered to be her sister.
Another said we’re all sisters.
I said, “You write these relationships very authentically.”
Alice Hoffman said instead of sisters, her new book deals a lot with fathers and sons. It reminded her of her father reading to her as a child. Parents reading aloud to their children are what tie them together.
This review from Publishers Weekly on Amazon describes the book much like she did:
Hoffman brings us 200 years in the history of Blackwell, a small town in rural Massachusetts, in her insightful latest. The story opens with the arrival of the first settlers, among them a pragmatic English woman, Hallie, and her profligate, braggart husband, William. Hallie makes an immediate and intense connection to the wilderness, and the tragic severing of that connection results in the creation of the red garden, a small, sorrowful plot of land that takes on an air of the sacred. The novel moves forward in linked stories, each building on (but not following from) the previous and focusing on a wide range of characters, including placid bears, a band of nomadic horse traders, a woman who finds a new beginning in Blackwell, and the ghost of a young girl drowned in the river who stays in the town's consciousness long after her name has been forgotten. The result is a certain ethereal detachment as Hoffman's deft magical realism ties one woman's story to the next even when they themselves are not aware of the connection. The prose is beautiful, the characters drawn sparsely but with great compassion.
When Alice Hoffman signed my books, I had one with my name in it. I told her the other should just have her name because I’m giving it away on my blog. Ms. Hoffman graciously agreed to take a picture with me. I hope the winner of the book on February 4th appreciates it. My copy is a treasure.