• November 2011

Practical Magic: A Look Inside Author Alice Hoffman's Enchanting Career

By Hope Katz Gibbs
Author
Truly Amazing Women
Photo by Deborah Feingold

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.

For instance, her novel, “At Risk,” 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 everyday life.”

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, however, 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.

The supernatural is another theme that the writer weaves through her work.

Consider, 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 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.”

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 newest novel, “Dovekeepers,” which hit bookstores last month.

Lonesome Dove

The story begins in 70 CE., 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 haunting, and ambitious works to date.

Critics are calling it her masterpiece, including Kirkus Book Reviews, which said the book is, “an enthralling tale rendered with consummate literary skill.”

The Boston Globe reviewer wrote: “Alice Hoffman’s ‘The Dovekeepers’ is a splendid entertainment, a harrowing, thrilling, feminist historical novel fueled to fever pitch by a rich imagination. Although it plays on some of her favorite themes—magic, mystery, witchcraft, strong women—it’s a departure for the prolific author of popular women’s fiction. This novel is short on the happy endings Hoffman’s fans may hope for, but readers looking for a compelling story full of vivid characters in a dramatic and haunting setting won’t be disappointed.”

And Novel Laureate Toni Morrison said the book is “beautiful, harrowing, a major contribution to 21st century literature.”

Meet Alice Hoffman: Speaking Engagements for Fall 2011

ROCKVILLE, MD: Friday, Nov. 4
10:30 AM JCC OF GREATER WASHINGTON
42nd Annual Book Festival / 6th Annual Book Club Brunch
6125 Montrose Road, Rockville, MD
Buy tickets here: $36, members; $42, general public

LAWRENCEVILLE, NJ: Sunday, November 6
12:00 PM
6th ANNUAL BOOK LOVER’S LUNCHEON
Greenacres Country Club
2170 Lawrenceville Road, Lawrenceville, NJ
You need a ticket for this event. For cost and registration details, visit http://hvef.org/booklovers.html.

LA JOLLA, CA: Thursday, November 10
CENTER FOR JEWISH CULTURE
Lawrence Family JCC
4126 Executive Drive, La Jolla, CA 92037

PHOENIX, AZ: Saturday, November 12
9:30 AM to 3:30 PM
32ND ANNUAL ERMA BOMBECK AUTHORS LUNCHEON
Arizona Biltmore, Phoenix, AZ

5:00 PM, POISONED PEN
4014 N Goldwater #101
Scottsdale, AZ 85251

BOSTON, MA: Monday, November 14
5:30 PM
PLOUGHSHARES 4OTH ANNIVERSARY HOSTED BY DENIS LEARY
The Paramount Theatre
559 Washington St., Boston MA 02111

BOSTON, MA: Tuesday, November 15
7:00 PM
NEWTONVILLE BOOKS
296 Walnut Street, Newton, MA 02460

DUNWOODY, GA: Thursday, November 17
12:00 PM
MARCUS JEWISH COMMUNITY CENTER OF ATLANTA
MJCCA- Zaban Park Campus
5342 Tilly Mill Road, Dunwoody, GA 30338

For more information about Alice Hoffman’s work, visit http://alicehoffman.com.

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