Up Close and Personal with Novelist Alice Hoffman
Photo by Deborah Feingold
Growing up in a less-than-desirable Long Island, New York, neighborhood, American novelist Alice Hoffman found her solace at the library.
“Reading changed the world for me,” she says. “Books allowed me to see other places my friends did not see.” She often describes books as lifesaving rafts, but admits she did not aspire to be a writer until her adult years.
While addressing the 2018 gathering of Pulpwood Queen Book Club members in Nacogdoches earlier this year, Hoffman gave the book club phenomenon a “shout out” for helping the publishing world realize the power of women readers and authors.
“Groups like this really help tell the media what we want to see and read, so I am proud of you for doing this,” she said.
Personal Plot Twists
Hoffman’s fascination with magic began at an early age.
“I discovered a box of Ray Bradbury books at the time of my parents’ divorce, and in some ways, Ray Bradbury was the father I didn’t have,” she shares. “His books led me to think about magic as a part of the everyday world.”
Meeting him in person has been one of the highlights of her life, she says.
Considering herself a terrible student, Hoffman only pursued college because it “seemed easier than working.” At the urging of her “genius” brother, she landed a Fellowship at Stanford University’s Creative Writing Center and met a writing professor who encouraged her to “write what she could imagine” instead of the traditional wisdom to “write what you know.”
Hoffman is best known for her 1995 cult-classic novel, Practical Magic, a book that helped her learn that she was an escapist reader and writer drawn to the themes of love, loss, and survival.
“Fortunately for me, Sandra Bullock loved the book and made it happen with Hollywood making it into a movie featuring Nicole Kidman, Stockard Channing, and Dianne Wiest,” Hoffman says.
She learned something else about herself when she stepped onto the set and into the kitchen she had described in her book.
“I really felt like I was walking into my own book which is a very unusual sensation,” she explains. “It dawned on me that I am much like the set designer when I am writing a book because I am creating a world for my characters.”
Hoffman considers The Rules of Magic to be somewhat of a backstory to Practical Magic, believing people don’t really understand you completely until they know you in your youth. “I knew the outside story with this book, but I didn’t really know the inside story – the emotional story -- until I finished the book,” she says. Writing the book against the backdrop of her divorce, Hoffman gained insight from her characters’ key life lesson: “No matter what happens to you, you should always love more.” She is flattered to know Warner Bros. is considering adapting her book for a TV show.
Another personal plot twist came in the form of a breast cancer diagnosis, which ultimately fueled Hoffman’s passion to make survival a prominent theme in her writing. Knowing one in seven women is impacted by breast cancer, she is encouraged to announce she is a 20-year survivor.
Beyond the Buzz
After the likes of 30 novels and other published works, Hoffman’s accolades abound from numerous coveted awards to the public praises of Oprah and Reese Witherspoon. Ironically, repeatedly hitting the New York Times Best Sellers list does not bring Hoffman any additional self-confidence. “I still get anxious when I start the next one, and I still look at my books and wonder who wrote them,” she admits.