Practical Magic: A glimpse inside author Alice Hoffman's enchanting career [Costco Connection, September 2011]

By Hope Katz Gibbs
The Costco Connection
September 2011

Love. Loss. Survivorship. These are the themes that are at the heart of the 18 novels, eight young adult books and three books of short fiction that the prolific Alice Hoffman has crafted since the beginning of her career in 1973.

Her novel, Here on Earth, was an Oprah Book Club choice in 1998. That same year, her book, Practical Magic, was made into a Warner Brothers film starring Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman. Her young adult novel, Aquamarine, made it to the silver screen in 2006, starring teen queens Joanna “JoJo” Levesque, Emma Roberts and Sara Paxton.

Hoffman says that while it’s thrilling to watch her books make a splash in theaters, her goal is to understand life’s biggest questions. Her novel, At Risk, for instance, concerns a family dealing with AIDS, and can be found on the reading lists of many universities, colleges and secondary schools.

“I have a deep desire to find the answers to questions about love, death, and how to cope with disappointment,” the 50something writer tells The Connection from her home outside of Boston. “I work to find those answers through writing, because it’s not really something you can do in every day life.”

The supernatural is another theme that the writer weaves through her work— including this month’s book pick The Third Angel, a story that came to Hoffman when she was on a book tour in London back in the 1980s.

“When you read the book you’ll find out that there’s the suggestion of a ghost sighting, and that part is true,” she insists. “I thought I heard a ghost in the next room in the hotel. That got my imagination going.”

As a kid, the author says she was a fanatical reader who loved to write, but never thought she’d grow up to become a novelist. After high school, she took a job at the Doubleday book factory. Then, one day at lunch, she up and quit.

“I never really thought too much about the future, although I did think I’d marry Paul McCartney,” she admits.

That day, though, she realized her brother, a graduate of Brown, was right when he suggested she go to Stanford. Soon after, she applied for and won the Mirrellees Fellowship at the Stanford Creative Writing Center, where she met Professor Albert Guerard, and his wife, the writer Maclin Bocock Guerard.

They helped Hoffman publish a short story in the magazine Fiction, which caught the eye of book editor Ted Solotaroff. He contacted the then 21-year-old to ask if she had a novel ready.

Hoffman immediately began working on Property Of, a book that told the tale of a lonely outsider who tries to become the “property of” a local gang’s brooding leader—only to discover what can, and cannot, be possessed.

While Hoffman has a strong idea and characters in mind when she sits down to write any book, she says they almost always take on a life of their own. That certainly holds true for her next book, Dovekeepers, which is expected to be a blockbuster when it hits bookstores in October.

The story begins in 70 C.E., after the fall of Masada, when 900 Jews held out for months against armies of Romans on the mountain in the Judean desert. While for centuries it was thought there were no survivors, in reading the work of the ancient historian Josephus, Hoffman discovered that two women and five children actually may have survived.

“As soon as I learned that, I knew the novel would be about what happened to those people,” Hoffman says, admitting that Dovekeepers took five years to finish, and is one of her most ambitious works to date. Early reviews suggest it is also one of her most mesmerizing, and is expected to become her masterpiece. Stay tuned for more.

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