“As a reader, the books I’ve really loved are the ones that helped me through something,” said bestselling author Alice Hoffman. “And, as a writer, there’s nothing more special than when someone feels that way about a book I’ve written.”
“Faithful” is the story of Shelby, a Long Island, New York teenager whose life is changed forever after she survives a car accident which destroys her best friend’s future. The book will be published on Nov. 1.
“I’d been working on ‘Faithful’ for a while, put it away to write three big historical novels but kept coming back to it because I was really interested in Shelby,” said Hoffman. “I wasn’t sure what the story was but I knew I was writing about someone who had survivor’s guilt.”
Fans of Hoffman’s work know that survivorship is a recurring theme in her books and one that the author herself is quick to acknowledge.
“I think it’s because of my grandparents, who came from Russia and had such a hard life – and yet they survived,” explained Hoffman. “I was always in awe of what they managed to deal with and accomplish. I’m also a breast cancer survivor and ever since then have been even more fascinated by the idea of why one person lives and one person dies.
“Sometimes you don’t even know why you’ve written a book until you’re finished,” continued Hoffman. “Maybe I was feeling guilty about surviving cancer when other people close to me had not survived.”
Hoffman also credits Anne Frank’s “The Diary of a Young Girl” as a major influence on her subject matter. “It was huge,” she said. “I think when you read that book at a young age, it’s so powerful. It has this incredible voice of a girl who’s so positive and so filled with life. Also, it really makes you think about the idea of who survives and who doesn’t. It’s kind of the big mystery and the big question.”
Mystery is another signature of Hoffman’s writing – but more in the way of magic than thriller.
“That’s from what I read growing up. I loved anything with magic. I loved fairy tales, I loved myths, I loved my grandmother’s stories and folk tales – that’s what I gravitated to,” she said. “The themes of fairy tales are so interesting psychologically and they’re actually so adult. They allow kids to subconsciously understand the deeper meaning of finding themselves and going through dangerous paths to become heroic.”
Hoffman’s characters have shown their own heroism in so many different ways – some quite ordinary, others quite extraordinary – in her 25 novels, three books of short fiction and eight books for children and young adults.
“I really try hard not to write from reality. I’m not that interested in reality as either a reader or a writer,” she laughed. “Emotionally, true things do come out and I always think in some way I’m sort of writing about myself or my questions or what I’m interested in, but I don’t want to write about real people or real things. I really want to write from my imagination.”
Over the past 40 years, Hoffman’s imagination has taken her readers all over the world and back and forth in time, yet one thing has remained consistent – her voice.
“I had a professor who always said that every writer has a single voice and that nobody else can write like you,” she said. “And that’s true. It’s your voice. It’s like a fingerprint.”
In “Faithful,” Hoffman’s voice especially comes through Shelby’s mother, a character who may physically spend more time in the background but whose love and emotional support are always very much present.
“I feel very motherly toward Shelby,” admitted Hoffman. “In the end, I think I was really writing about this mother-daughter relationship. That, to me, is the heart of the book.”
She went on, “I’ve been a mother and I’ve been a daughter, and I think I was a worse daughter than I was a mother. But even though we fought and, at times, didn’t even talk to each other, I always knew my mother was on my side. Always.”
Hoffman believes that the things we hate our mothers for when we’re young are often the same things we admire and respect about them when we get older. Her wish for this book is that mothers and daughters will read it together to see and understand each other’s side.
“I always feel like if you have one person standing by you, that’s all you really need,” she said.
Hoffman will be speaking at the Author Lunch at the Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club on Nov. 10 at 11:30 a.m. Proceeds will benefit the Rancho Santa Fe Library. For more information and to buy tickets, visit rsflibraryguild.org or call 858-756-4780.