Thursday, January 27, 2011

Alice Hoffman is Awesome

Yes, that is ME next to ALICE HOFFMAN

“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.


  1. Wow, that sounds like an awesome experience! I've only read a few of Hoffman's books, but her writing always drew me in. Thanks for sharing her words of wisdom.

  2. I feel so awesome to be one of your first commentors! That never happens!!!

    I have never met nor have I ever read an Alice Hoffman book but after this refreshing interview and informative post I think I might have to.

    This was so conversational. It was like we were having a conversation in a garden and just enjoying a cup of tea and a nice conversation!! This was really special Theresa!!!

    I'm definitely an escapist as well.

  3. Well that would be a special prize to the lucky winner. What an interesting post Theresa. I was particularly struck by Alice's statement regarding publishing today: Even as an established author, Ms. Hoffman still feels the new pressures. “I hate it.”That really sums it up.

  4. Wow, Theresa. This post is ALL KINDS of AWESOME!! :-)

  5. When I worked in a bookshop, I recommended Alice Hoffman's books all the time, especially for summer reads at the beach or winter reads by the fire.

  6. What a joy, to meet one of your author heroes! I LOVED reading this post, Theresa. And I smiled several times (jotting notes on your checkbook -- so something I can see myself doing!, and the exchanged offers of sisterhood). I won a signed copy of Mockingjay once on your blog. My fingers are crossed I'm so lucky a second time!

    You're awesome to share your spoils! Thanks!!

  7. Wow, I'm so jealous. Alice Hoffman is awesome. I love that she's a pantser. Makes me feel better about my pantser ways. LOL. *fist pump*

  8. Sounds like a great night. What wonderful insights. Thanks for sharing!

  9. So cool! I love that she's a pantser, and her shared wisdom is awesome! Thanks so much for sharing it :)

  10. Hi Theresa! Like Jen, I have not read a Hoffman book yet but now that you've highly recommended it, I will now look for them! :)

    It's so nice to see an author that you like...I'm so pleased for you, Theresa. :)

  11. So interesting - glad to hear she's a panster! It must've been great to meet her, and thanks for sharing your evening...notes on a checkbook (I like that!)

  12. Nice post and now I know I'm a panster. Sounds like you had a wonderful time :)
    Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

  13. She sounds wonderful, Theresa. That's interesting, the writing and reading to escape, that's me!!
    Great post!

  14. I can feel the thrill through the computer! Alice Hoffman is one of my favorite writers. Thanks for sharing this treat.

  15. @ Tere, I've enjoyed the books I've read too. They're a wonderful mix of magical realism, plot, and beautiful writing.

    @ Jen, if you read one of her many books, tell me what you think.

    Thanks for the compliment on my post.

    I guess I like to relive past experiences, because I always seem to be working something out in each piece I write.

    @ Ann, it would've been interesting for her to elaborate on the pressures, but it was illuminating to know even she felt them.

    @ Shannon, thanks! Awesome compliment from someone who's a writer and an English teacher.

    @ Anglica, how cool you recommended her books. I agree.

    @ Nicole, I just bought the notebook in November because I may have been the only writer without one, and I've already lost it!

    Good luck with the contest entry!

    @ Lindsay, I don't think there's any one way to write a book, but making an outline would suck the life out of my WIP for me. I love fellow-pansters! (Fist pump!)

  16. @ Angie, I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

    @ Meredith, I liked her wisdom too. I wished more people asked questions so I could've learned more. I had asked two questions already, so I didn't want to ask anymore.

    @ Len, you must read one. If you do, tell me what you think.

    I love meeting authors I admire. And basketball players. But especially authors.

    @ Niamh, now my checkbook is a mess. I may have to insert a new register.

    @ Jules, I think most of us are pansters.

    @ Brigid, I'm glad you write to escape instead of relive. So many of your stories are about women who are about to go off the deep end!

    @ Layla, thank you for the comment. I should stop blogging and start reading her book.

  17. I love that she's a Pantser. :)

    You always do such a good job with these posts, Theresa. Thank you for sharing your experience with her and for getting a signed book for your followers. *hugs*

    Have a lovely weekend, Theresa.

  18. What an honor to have met Alice Hoffman. I love her writing. I have read so many of her books.
    Have a wonderful weekend.
    Stay warm.

  19. Great post. Glad you got to meet her. That would have rocked.

  20. Oh wow!!! Ms Hoffman!! I want to be her sister too!!! :-)I think she's brilliant to resist the social networking thing and the fact that she's a panster!!! Her words here are beautiful and wise and true. Thank you Theresa Milstein for sharing her here!!! Whoever wins her signed book is one lucky lucky lucky person!!! Take care

  21. It must have been some experience to get to meet her!

  22. that is so cool that you got to meet and chat with one of your favorite authors! I would love to be able to do that. :o) And how interesting to hear what she thinks of the evolution of things as an est'd author.

    Thanks for sharing, Theresa! :o)

  23. @ Lola, if an author like her can write as many books as her and be successful as a panster, there's hope for the rest of us pansters!

    You have a lovely weekend too.

    @ Choices, you should enter to win her new book if you like Alice Hoffman's books.

    @ Regina, it did rock. She's touring now, so make sure she won't be talking near you.

    @ Old Kitty, you should enter to win the book. How come I never see you enter contests?

    @ The Golden Eagle, it was a great experience!

    @ LTM, I've been lucky to meet several wonderful authors over the last few years, or at least hear them speak. Between conferences and author events in town, I've met a few favorites. Now to meet JK Rowling...

  24. Michelle W. said: Oh I would LOVE to both meet Ms. Hoffman sometime, as well as win your book signed by her! So far, my favorite book (and movie) is Practical Magic. Her style opened up so much in my soul, made me feel, again! :)

  25. Interesting what she said about people's history being about conquering nature and animals. Why do we do that?

  26. OMG!!! OMG!!! OMG!!!

    That's what I would have done if I saw Alice Hoffman, so it's a good thing you met her instead.

    She has had SUCH an influence on my writing.

  27. @ Anonymous, your info doesn't link for me to click onto your blog or respond via e-mail. I hope you come back to read this. Please go to my "Four Hundred Followers Fiesta" post (scroll down 2 posts) and you can enter to win. Make sure you leave an e-mail address.

    @ Missed Periods, I don't know why we do it, but we do.

    @ LR, they were. I'm going to have to go to more of these author events to hear from people who have been writing a long time.

    @ Sophia, she's touring. Click her name on the top and see if she'll be speaking near you. Then you can say, "OMG!!! OMG!!! OMG!!!" in person!

  28. Sound amazing! It's always great to hear advice from established authors. I love her comment about writing either being about reliving your life or escape. I'm totally in the reliving camp, but escape would be nice sometimes, too.

    Thanks for the post. I think the winner will enjoy the book a lot!

  29. @ Lisa, I agree. While I wind up reliving, I'd like an escape too. For me, maybe that's the fantasy part.

    I hope to begin my copy of the book this weekend.

  30. It sounds like you an awesome time, Theresa! I treasure every signed book I have. I have purchased some of our bloggy friend's books and wish I had their signatures in them....I'm glad you had such a special time.

  31. @Sharon, I treasure my signed books too. Though I've been known to give one or two away during a blog contest. This time, I'm giving away my only Carleen Brice autographed book.

  32. I only read one Hoffman book way back in the 90's. I should start reading her again. I love elements of magic in novels.

  33. Wow, what a truly amazing experience! And what awesome advice. I completely agree with her on the writing to either relive or escape... I'm definitely on the escapist path too.

  34. Exciting stuff! Great photo :)

    I love when I hear successful published authors are pantsters!! Gives me hope :)

  35. @ Medeia, I've read a few of Alice Hoffman's book but not nearly enough since she's so prolific. Now that I've met her I vow to read more!

    @ Writing Nut, until Ms. Hoffman mentioned reliving or escapism, I never consciously thought of the escapist element. Makes sense.

    @ Jemi, thank you. Successful pansters give me hope too. There are many methods to writing a novel.

  36. I'm a HUGE Alice Hoffman fan! I've read so many of her books, and I love them all. I can't believe you were there with her and got a picture. That's awesome. I find it totally interesting that she's a pantser! Fun, fun information.

  37. Hi Theresa .. what a delightful review and Alice sounds one lovely lady .. good for you for trudging down and saying 'Hi'. Her stories sound really interesting and you've certainly enticed me to want to read her books .. congratulations on the 401 followers .. brilliant news ..

    Have a good week .. Hilary

  38. @ Julie, I like that she's a panster too. If you haven't done so, please enter my 400 Followers Fiesta to win a copy of her book. The link is in this post and the top-right of my blog.

    @ Hilary, if you read one of her books, let me know your thoughts.

    You have a good week too.

  39. I can't believe she's a panster! I'm glad you got to meet her (again, right?). I, too, read for escape. It's also what I write. Hmmmm.

    For someone who doesn't have sisters, she really captures the whole thing amazingly well.

  40. I adore Alice Hoffman's books. Theresa, you're a lucky lady to attend this and to get a pic with her. Well done. All the best for your Feb 4 draw you sweet girl.


  41. I just had to go tearing through Amazon because I knew we had a couple Alice Hoffman books around here but I couldn't remember which ones. (Aquamarine for sure...others I think have just been borrowed from the library).

    Sounds like a great signing!

  42. @ The Words Crafter, I never met her before. And she's an escapist panster. So, you're an escapist too.

    I guess imagining sister relationships can be as authentic as real ones.

    @ L'Aussie, thank you! I hope you've entered to win.

    @ Vicki, she writes so many books, I've probably read more than I remember!

  43. Wow! Thanks for sharing your time with Alice Hoffman. I loved hearing her thoughts on writing and social media!!

  44. @ Paul, I thought her thoughts on writing and social media were interesting too.