Monday, November 7, 2011

1/2 Dozen for Chandra Hoffman

Here's a 1/2 Dozen
debut novelist
(Parental types & Homeschoolers,
Check out
Hoffman's idea
of a book tour
with three kids in tow.)

Here goes:

I despise the pervasive myth of inspiration – the idea that an entire book can exist simply because of an accumulation of inspired ideas – but I don’t deny that inspiration exists. There are things that have no other explanation. Was there a singular moment of inspiration for this book?

My first novel, CHOSEN rattled around with me for several years. The novel was inspired by my work in an orphanage in Eastern Europe, my experience as the director of a domestic adoption program and my own transition to motherhood. The story is fiction-characters and settings and scenarios are as though I took a few handfuls of my past, threw in a well-marinated childhood paranoia of abduction, seasoned them with the salt of my vivid imagination, put them all in a bag and shook it. From all of these tidbits and themes, CHOSEN grew.

With the book I am working on now, it really was a moment of creative inspiration. Last year, I was on book tour with my three little kids all tucked around me in a hotel in Santa Monica. We had been traveling for two weeks, and it had been months since I had done any creative writing. I had a few stories that I figured I would work on after I got home and the dust settled, but that night, something happened. We had left the windows open so we could hear the ocean and I dreamed an entire novel, a love story set in the islands. I had to get through a day at Disneyland and hustling everyone on to a red-eye flight before I had four uninterrupted hours to write it all down, but I knew it was the next story.

What's your advice to a writer who's looking for a lifelong partner? Any particularly useful traits to suggest in said partner? (Do you want to tell us a brief love story here?)

It is helpful to pick someone who accepts that your life is a constant mining ground--that parts of it are going to show up in books. Recently, my husband made a rare, snotty remark. A few hours later, he came to apologize and said sheepishly, "That line is ending up in a book, isn't it?" It was already written into a scene.

In CHOSEN, the character of Dan bears some outward similarities to my husband and I wondered about reactions of readers who know us. I knew they'd see Dan's passion for kiteboarding and extreme sports and think of J. Of course, like all characters, Dan is a composite of traits and personality quirks that grew into his own entity.

I also wondered what J would think. My husband didn't actually read CHOSEN until it came out as an ARC, which means the book is coming out, soon. He read it in one sitting, and I heard him chuckling over conversations that were stolen directly from our history, and then some long periods of silence. I was sweating it a little. When he was finished, he kissed me, handed the ARC back and said, "Excellent work. If everyone is going to think Dan is me, at least you gave him great abs and made him good in bed!"

Writing Tip #17 for Aspiring Writers – or #47 or #2. Your pick.

Have several kids. Three worked for me. Get some animals too; really needy ones. You'll never be blocked again, because you will be so grateful for those stolen moments in a world where you have some semblance of control.

Seriously: a flawless, well-researched and dazzling query letter. I had offers from the first three agents I queried.

Have you learned to strike a balance between your writing life and the other aspects of your life?

I'm not sure.

Last year, when CHOSEN came out in hardcover, I decided to homeschool my three kids and take them on a twelve city book tour with me. We built the tour around things we wanted to see (like Mt. St. Helens for my volcano obsessed nine-year-old), readings and guest author visits to book clubs. I had a policy that if I could put together a minimum of three events in any city and there was something of interest, we'd go there. It was an incredible four months--a whirlwind experience we will never forget, but I wasn't doing any writing at the time. We perfected the art of rolling clothes and living out of carry-on size suitcases for three weeks at a time, navigating with an iPhone and playing Crabs in your Crackers/Awful Alliteration for hours in the car. But when it was over, it was a transition to go back to writing, with the added trick of having everyone at home.

Now, the kids are in school for twelve hours a week, and I'm still juggling... The second time I went back to grad school for my MFA, I had three kids under the age of five. Sitting in class, this single guy is whining about being so blocked, and my cell phone is buzzing with a message from my mom back at the hotel that my six-week-old hasn't stopped screaming for three hours and my two-year-old is on his second pound of room service bacon and I remember thinking that writer's block is a luxury and a curse I will never have again. (See above writing tip)

For me, it's never a matter of inspiration, only one of time. So I guess the answer is no.

Was there an extremely influential writing teacher who was impactful on your writing life?

I have only great things to say about my mentor, Leonard Chang. I met him the first time I attended Antioch, just back from the islands--twenty-two years old, a little wild and adrift. It was his first year teaching and he quietly blew me away. He was such an astute editor and really gifted at teaching craft, while assuring me I had a unique voice. I left my MFA program for the siren song of a little town in Spain with no internet cafe, but when I was ready to go back, ten years later, it was for Leonard. I picked him to help me hone CHOSEN because he couldn't be more different than my target audience. I didn't want a mentor who might get swept up in the emotion of the story--since so many of the topics are things that are close to our hearts. I wanted CHOSEN to have an edge. Leonard also connected me with another student, my dearest reader friend Linda Davis and created the framework for our bi-coastal weekly editorial relationship and friendship. Without her, I would be sunk.

What’s your take on touring?

You can read some of my stories from the road (see below)




By far, my favorite part of touring is the book clubs--I've done forty-two of these so far and I love being a guest author and talking about CHOSEN. It's fascinating how different each book club is! Some are structured and serious--following Harper's reading guide and answering the questions in order, and others are loose and loopy, where we all suddenly wipe away the tears of laughter from under our eyes, squint over our glasses of wine at the clock and realize it's after midnight. I had one group of really seasoned readers draw a parallel between two characters in my book I had never realized consciously, and I always love to hear about reader's reactions to Jason and Francie, those love-to-hates. I will happily make a serious effort to participate in any book club who reaches out to me, and though I prefer to be there in person, Skype works too. Even better, nobody is the wiser if I'm in my pajamas.

Are you a writer of place? Is place always one of your main characters?

Setting is always a character in my stories. I think of my novels as love letters to places I have lived with, loved, and left. Up and coming: the rustic gorgeousness of Boulder, Colorado in a study of physical beauty, morals and fidelity, and a sweltering summer love story set in the Cayman Islands.

CHANDRA HOFFMAN has been an orphanage relief worker in Romania, a horse trainer in the Caribbean, a short-order cook in a third world hospital, the director of a U.S. adoption program, and an event planner for Philadelphia’s Main Line elite. A graduate of Cornell University and Antioch’s MFA program, she has settled back in her hometown outside Philadelphia with her husband, three young children, and an ever-changing menagerie. Chosen is her first novel.