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Bethanne
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Alice Hoffman, June 22-26

[ Edited ]

A warm welcome to Center Stage for Alice Hoffman, whose new novel The Story Sisters is sure to encourage questions and comments. Of course, all of us can talk about our many other favorite Hoffman books, too. 

 

Alice Hoffman was born in New York City onMarch 16, 1952 and grew up on Long Island. After graduating from high school in 1969, she attended Adelphi University, from which she received a BA, and then received a Mirrellees Fellowship to the Stanford University Creative Writing Center, which she attended in 1973 and 74, receiving an MA in creative writing.  She currently lives in Boston and New York.  



 

Hoffman’s first novel,Property Of, was written at the age of twenty-one, while she was studying at Stanford, and published shortly thereafter by Farrar Straus and Giroux. She credits her mentor, professor and writer Albert J. Guerard, and his wife, the writer Maclin Bocock Guerard, for helping her to publish her first short story in the magazine Fiction. Editor Ted Solotaroff then contacted her to ask if she had a novel, at which point she quickly began to write what was to become Property Of, a section of which was published in Mr. Solotaroff’s magazine, American Review.  



 

Since that remarkable beginning, Alice Hoffman has become one of our most distinguished novelists. She has published a total of eighteen novels, two books of short fiction, and eight books for children and young adults. Her novel, Here on Earth, an Oprah Book Club choice, was a modern reworking of some of the themes of EmilyBronte’s masterpiece Wuthering Heights. Practical Magic was made into a Warner film starring Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman. Her novel, At Risk, which concerns a family dealing with AIDS, can be found on the reading lists of many universities, colleges and secondary schools. Hoffman’s advance from Local Girls, a collection of inter-related fictions about love and loss on Long Island, was donated to help create the Hoffman Breast Center atMt. Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, MA. Blackbird House is a book of stories centering around an old farm on Cape Cod.

 

Hoffman's recent books include Aquamarine and Indigo, novels for pre-teens, and The New York Times bestsellers The River King, Blue Diary, The Probable Future,and The Ice Queen. Green Angel, a post-apocalyptic fairy tale about loss and love, was published by Scholastic and The Foretelling, a book about an Amazon girl in the Bronze Age, was published by Little Brown. In2007 Little Brown published the teen novel Incantation, a story about hidden Jews during the Spanish Inquisition, which Publishers Weekly has chosen as one of the best books of the year. The Third Angel — winner of the 2008 New England Booksellers' Award for fiction and New York Times bestseller— was recently published in paperback by Three Rivers Press.

 

Her most recent novel is The Story Sisters (2009) published by Shaye Areheart Books.
Hoffman’s work has been published in more than twenty translations and more than one hundred foreign editions. Her novels have received mention as notable books of the year by The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, The Los Angeles Times, Library Journal, and People Magazine. She has also worked as a screenwriterand is the author of the original screenplay “Independence Day,” a film starring Kathleen Quinlan and Diane Wiest. Her short fiction and non-fictionhave appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe Magazine,Kenyon Review, Redbook, Architectural Digest, GourmetSelf, and other magazines. Her teen novel Aquamarine was recently made into a film starring Emma Roberts.

Message Edited by Bethanne on 07-01-2009 11:21 AM
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Alice_Hoffman
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Re: Alice Hoffman, June 22-26

Thanks for coming on to discuss The Story Sisters, my new novel that takes place in New York, New Hampshire and Paris. It was the most difficult book for me to write and also the most satisfying, using the fairy tale motifs that I found so brutal and beautiful as a child reader. It's also about the ways in which siblings can be so vastly different from one another, even when growing up in the same house, in the very same room. I'm happy to try to answer any questions about this novel or any of my other books. Cheers. Alice
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Bethanne
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Re: Alice Hoffman, June 22-26


Alice_Hoffman wrote:
Thanks for coming on to discuss The Story Sisters, my new novel that takes place in New York, New Hampshire and Paris. It was the most difficult book for me to write and also the most satisfying, using the fairy tale motifs that I found so brutal and beautiful as a child reader. It's also about the ways in which siblings can be so vastly different from one another, even when growing up in the same house, in the very same room. I'm happy to try to answer any questions about this novel or any of my other books. Cheers. Alice
Good morning, Alice -- thanks so much for being here this week!
I finished THE STORY SISTERS last week. It was a difficult book to read, not because of your writing or style, but because of what your characters endure, so I can understand your saying that it was the most difficult book for your to write.
Which came first -- the plot of the Story family, or the fairy tales that begin each section?
Bethanne 

 

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Paul_Hochman
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Re: Alice Hoffman, June 22-26

 

Here's our recent interview with Alice Hoffman. Have a listen!

 

 



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Alice_Hoffman
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Re: Alice Hoffman, June 22-26

The plot and the fairy tales came to me at about the same time. I didn't know they were in the same book for a while, then I realized the fairy tales were being written by one of the characters, Elv Story, in The Black Book of Fairy Tales, and that if you read them alone they would tell the psychological story of the lives of the Story Sisters.
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Bethanne
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Re: Alice Hoffman, June 22-26


Alice_Hoffman wrote:
The plot and the fairy tales came to me at about the same time. I didn't know they were in the same book for a while, then I realized the fairy tales were being written by one of the characters, Elv Story, in The Black Book of Fairy Tales, and that if you read them alone they would tell the psychological story of the lives of the Story Sisters.
Thanks, Alice, so much. Those tales DO tell the psychological story of the sisters. When did Elv's "Arnish" come to you?
Also -- I hope some other Club regulars have finished your book, too, but this is not a spoiler! -- I am thinking a lot about what it means to have been properly parented. Sometimes, it almost seems as if a person can have a perfectly responsible parent, yet still not get what he or she needs. Do you think that applies to Elv? To Claire?
I'd also love to know Mme Simon's secret to raising wonderful children!
Bethanne 

 

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Alice_Hoffman
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Re: Alice Hoffman, June 22-26

Arnish is the invented language of the teen-aged girls, a mixture of Latin, French, Russian and English. I thought of all the literary sisters who had invented worlds together - the Alcotts, the Brontes -- and thought that three sisters living in an attic would be in tune when it came to an invented language

 

As for the parenting -- I think mothers are blamed for far too much, and that Annie tries to be a good mother, and in many ways is a good, caring mother. But children have secrets, and parents do, too, and it's difficult to navigate in a world of secrets

 

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Bethanne
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Re: Alice Hoffman, June 22-26


Alice_Hoffman wrote:

Arnish is the invented language of the teen-aged girls, a mixture of Latin, French, Russian and English. I thought of all the literary sisters who had invented worlds together - the Alcotts, the Brontes -- and thought that three sisters living in an attic would be in tune when it came to an invented language

 

As for the parenting -- I think mothers are blamed for far too much, and that Annie tries to be a good mother, and in many ways is a good, caring mother. But children have secrets, and parents do, too, and it's difficult to navigate in a world of secrets

 


Of course, Alice, I meant to write "Madame Cohen," not "Simon." Apologies!
It IS very difficult to navigate in a world of secrets. As you point out, both parents and children have them. Fairy tales are such an amazing human device for negotiating those secrets.
I do see a thread running throughout your work of women negotiating secrets. Do you think this is more important to the female psyche than the male? I'm not asking very elegantly...
Bethanne 

 

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ABH47
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Re: Alice Hoffman, June 22-26

[ Edited ]

Hello, Ms Hoffman,

It is a real honor to be able to say how much I enjoy your books! This latest, The Story Sisters, rings true to me in that, as you say, parents may never know what is in the hearts and minds of their children as they grow up and become adults. I think this is an important point to give readers, that parents can do the best that they can and children and siblings can still have  problems. I found this book a very satisfying read!! Thank you for giving it to us!!

 

I cannot say what my favorite novel of yours is, (usually it is whichever one of yours that I am currently reading!) but I did really enjoy "Blackbird House"...it has stayed with me ever since I read it, and is right up there in my 'best books' list.

 

Thank you for your creativity and all your books! I am always waiting for my next 'Alice Hoffman novel'....and it is always worth the wait!!

Alexis 

Message Edited by ABH47 on 06-23-2009 10:59 AM
Message Edited by ABH47 on 06-23-2009 11:04 AM
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Alice_Hoffman
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Re: Alice Hoffman, June 22-26

Dear Alexis

Thanks so much for your kind words about my books. You can find out more about my process at my website http://www.alicehoffman.com.

 

I love inter-related stories. Blackbird House all takes place in a little farm I have on Cape Cod that was an utter wreck when we bought it. I did some historical research, wrote about its real history, then invented an alternate history based on certain real situations on the cape. So glad you liked it. One secret -- the photo at the front of the book is my mother as a little girl.

 

My new novel, The Story Sisters, is more of a personal history. I think of it as a map of the soul.

 

Again many thanks for the kind words, Alice 

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Alice_Hoffman
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Re: Alice Hoffman, June 22-26

I do see women as the original storytellers, and fairy tales as coming from the oral tradition of stories being told to children by their mothers and grandmothers, and Madame Cohen comes from that tradition. I love the idea of the grandmothers being the heroes of the story!
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Rose13
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Re: Alice Hoffman, June 22-26

Dear Ms Hoffman,  I just wanted to let you know how much I love your books.  I return to them again and again.  I love the mixture of magic and real life in your novels.  Your style is often imitated, but never surpassed.  Thank you, Thank you, for your wonderful work and worlds.     
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Alice_Hoffman
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Re: Alice Hoffman, June 22-26

Thank you so much for the lovely comment -- it means a great deal to me. As a writer one is so alone and you never know how a book will strike someone and what it will mean to them. The books that I loved and still love mean so much to me. I've been thinking a lot about Ray Bradbury, whose work saved me, and Grace Paley, whose voice rescued me, and Wuthering Heights, a book that made more sense to me than my own life did. Without these books I'm not sure I would have survived.

 

Now I realize that's where The Story Sisters came from -- the idea that stories can redeem us, help us through trauma, show us a map, tell us the truth.

 

Again, many thanks. Alice 

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Bethanne
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Re: Alice Hoffman, June 22-26


Alice_Hoffman wrote:

Thank you so much for the lovely comment -- it means a great deal to me. As a writer one is so alone and you never know how a book will strike someone and what it will mean to them. The books that I loved and still love mean so much to me. I've been thinking a lot about Ray Bradbury, whose work saved me, and Grace Paley, whose voice rescued me, and Wuthering Heights, a book that made more sense to me than my own life did. Without these books I'm not sure I would have survived.

 

Now I realize that's where The Story Sisters came from -- the idea that stories can redeem us, help us through trauma, show us a map, tell us the truth.

 

Again, many thanks. Alice 


Alice, your words "the idea that stories can redeem us, help us through trauma, show us a map, tell us the truth" should be posted somewhere permanently to help everyone understand why it's the story and how it grabs a reader that matters most, not the literary "quality" of a book. If you can have both, wonderful (and that, of course, is what many fiction writers achieve) -- but if it's simply style w/o story? Fuggedaboudit.
Which Story sister did you find most difficult to engage with as you were writing? 
Bethanne 

 

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Alice_Hoffman
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Re: Alice Hoffman, June 22-26

Bethanne

I totally disagree with everything you said in your post.

 

You couldn't be more wrong about what's important in a novel.

 

Of course stories are matter, they're all we have, but a list of ingredients in a hot dog is a "story" -- it's the way a story is told that matters most. I'd rather have a list of gorgeous words on one page than a five hundred page "story" told by someone to whom language and voice and style mean nothing

 

I'm trying not to be insulted by the fact that you don't know my characters' names. I'm almost there, but not quite.

Alice 

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Bethanne
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Re: Alice Hoffman, June 22-26


Alice_Hoffman wrote:

Bethanne

I totally disagree with everything you said in your post.

 

You couldn't be more wrong about what's important in a novel.

 

Of course stories are matter, they're all we have, but a list of ingredients in a hot dog is a "story" -- it's the way a story is told that matters most. I'd rather have a list of gorgeous words on one page than a five hundred page "story" told by someone to whom language and voice and style mean nothing

 

I'm trying not to be insulted by the fact that you don't know my characters' names. I'm almost there, but not quite.

Alice 


Alice, I apologize. I read and enjoyed THE STORY SISTERS. I think I got one character's name wrong, and I posted a correction to it. I'm not sure how we got to this point, but I don't agree that a list of ingredients in a hot dog is a "story." I was trying to say that you've put together a wonderful narrative. I clearly failed to communicate that to you.
Please accept my sincere regrets. I thought I was trying to ask questions about the sisters.
Bethanne 

 

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Re: Alice Hoffman, June 22-26

Ms. Hoffman:

 

I am very excited to read THE STORY SISTERS and the Q&A going on on this page has deepened my interest in picking up a copy.  I have read SKYLIGHT CONFESSIONS twice and absolutely adore that novel. I am looking forward to delving into a world of your creation once more.

 

Janelle 

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Mary_Lewis
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Re: Alice Hoffman, June 22-26

I read The Story Sisters a week or so ago and I really loved it! One of the things that kept happening as I was reading was a time/space warp. It felt to me as if the setting was the late 1800's, and I know it was more modern than that. Was that your intent - to make it timeless?

 

Thanks!

Mary

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Bethanne
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Re: Alice Hoffman, June 22-26


Mary_Lewis wrote:

I read The Story Sisters a week or so ago and I really loved it! One of the things that kept happening as I was reading was a time/space warp. It felt to me as if the setting was the late 1800's, and I know it was more modern than that. Was that your intent - to make it timeless?

 

Thanks!

Mary


Hi Mary, I'm so glad that someone who is finished with THE STORY SISTERS is here. I agree that one of its lovely elements was the "time out of time" feeling.
Bethanne 

 

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Bethanne
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Re: Alice Hoffman, June 22-26


nellebabe wrote:

Ms. Hoffman:

 

I am very excited to read THE STORY SISTERS and the Q&A going on on this page has deepened my interest in picking up a copy.  I have read SKYLIGHT CONFESSIONS twice and absolutely adore that novel. I am looking forward to delving into a world of your creation once more.

 

Janelle 


Hi Janelle! Glad you "stopped by." I hope you read THE STORY SISTERS soon; Elv, Meg, and Claire are vivid, unforgettable characters. Glad that Center Stage has piqued your interest, but since you are already a big Alice Hoffman fan, you know you're in for a treat.
Bethanne 

 

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