Alice Hoffman

454 Days Later

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I’ve been quiet and you probably think I fell into the ocean or got blown away by coastal storms. But no, I’m still here, learning all I can about my new home.

The reason I’ve been silent is that I’ve been busy. For a tiny dot on the map between Yachats and Lincoln City, Newport’s population is about the same as the town I left in Idaho. If you want a Costco or a Lowe’s you have to drive several miles, just like I did in Idaho. But unlike the town I left behind, there is so much more to do here I barely have time to read, let alone write.

Check out the latest issue of Oregon Coast Today and you will see there is always something going on. Add to that everything happening in The Valley between here and Portland and there is no time to be bored. Ever.

Take for instance last weekend. Since I don’t like to drive Portland traffic my son quietly obliged, taking me to Portland’s annual book festival Wordstock. I was so revitalized I’m still vibrating. My favorite author, Alice Hoffman, was in town and spoke about her new book Faithful. She even signed my copy and thanked me for stopping by. So many other talented writers attended, not to mention many Oregon presses including Ooligan Press, Tin House, and my favorite, Laura Stanfill from Forest Avenue Press. If that wasn’t great enough, admission to the event included admittance to the Portland Art Museum and the Andy Warhol exhibit. Now my son was vibrating, snapping pictures and studying one-of-a-kind art. Yes, it was raining. But in spite of the rain, it was a positive, energizing day.

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That evening my family took in The Drowsy Chaperone, a musical put on by my grandson Dante’s high school class. The students were top notch, high energy, and amazing. The day ended with dinner at The Ram and a glass of wine. Perfect.

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Many people told me I was crazy to move to Oregon. Several said I’d get depressed and miss the sun. And even though I miss my friends in Idaho, and sometimes I do miss the sun, mostly I love it here. Even when it’s raining.

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The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of the 2015 Association of Writers Minneapolis Conference and Bookfair

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I’m not an educator, nor did I have a burning desire to go to Minneapolis in the spring, knowing winter storms ground planes and make life in general just plain miserable

but

I couldn’t attend AWP 2014 in Seattle, which is closer to my home state

and

my son had two readings scheduled and invited me along. Being a writer myself, there was no way I was going to say no.

We arrived a day early, and I’m glad we did. I have Meniere’s disease, and any form of travel can set my head spinning. The added day gave my body time to settle down as well as some extra time to get my bearings.

On Wednesday, the first day of registration, the hotel and convention center was like the inside of a beehive.  With over 13,000 registrants, the place was abuzz as writers arrived and networked. It was almost like being in the middle of a great movie.

 

THE GOOD:

 One of the biggest literary writer conferences in the United States

 Opportunities to meet editors, pitch story ideas, and listen to other writers talk about craft

 Over 500 panels to choose from, consisting of readings, discussions, or pedagogy running consecutively from 9 am to 5 pm every day

 A gigantic bookfair manned by every conceivable literary small press including Tin House, The Rumpus, and Prairie Schooner, not to mention the university presses looking for new voices

 Some of the best writers in the United States

 Some of the best educators in the United States

 Offsite readings, book signings, and events

 Karen Russell, Lance Olsen, Pam Houston, Kim Barnes, Robert Wrigley, Lidia Yuknavitch, Cheryl Strayed, Claire Davis, Stephen Graham Jones, and Trevor Dodge, to mention only a few

THE BAD:

 Over 500 panels to choose from, running consecutively with fifteen-minute breaks. Impossible to settle on just one

 A gigantic bookfair with conference specials, writer guidelines, and bling. Extra totes to carry everything home

 Offsite readings, book signings, and open bars wherein you crawl into bed at 2 am too wired and over-stimulated to sleep

 Long lines, incessant chatter fueled by all that writerly energy

 No genre discussions, no Alice Hoffman, Margret Atwood, or Charles Frazier

THE UGLY:

Me the day I leave Minneapolis to fly home, exhausted, my head spinning with thousands of ideas

In this world there’s two kinds of people my friend – those who attend conferences, and those who stay home. You dig?

THE END

Kim Barnes discussing No Country for Good Old Boys
Kim Barnes discussing No Country for Good Old Boys

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Speaking to kids at Career on Wheels

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My writing partner and I had a great time speaking with more than three hundred fifth-graders at the annual Career on Wheels held at the Eldon Evans Expo Center in Twin Falls on May 21. One of these students might be the next Stephen King or Alice Hoffman.

Alice Hoffman, Taylor Swift and Me

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If you know anything about me, you know that Alice Hoffman is one on my favorite authors. Now, before you turn your nose and dismiss me like a clerk in a bookstore did recently, let me tell you why.

I stumbled across Hoffman’s books years ago at a writer’s conference. Hoffman wasn’t there, and she wasn’t well known among the audience of genre writers. But an author whose work I admired commented on Hoffman’s books, and when I got home, I looked up Hoffman. I went to the library and read about her in the journals of literary criticism. I read all her published novels. Then I read them again. I took out pen and paper and rewrote some of her paragraphs to get a sense of her rhythm, voice, and style.

When I tried to tell my son the English professor why I liked Hoffman’s work, I could only falter and say, “When I read her books I feel like she is sitting across the kitchen table from me, and that we are drinking coffee and telling each other our truest secrets.” Not that her work was brilliant or sent me to the dictionary, or even avant-garde. Not that her writing was political, or historical or made me want to move to New York City or Massachusetts. But that her writing made me deal with my emotions, and do it honestly.

Wow. I wish someone would say that about my work.

This observation comes today because I just finished Hoffman’s latest novel, The Red Garden. Now, I have read every book Hoffman has published including the books for young adults, and at first this book didn’t speak to me. It is not a novel, but a collection of short stories that act as a novel. And if you read them fast, you miss the message each story contains. There isn’t much of a plot. Some of the characters lack motivation. But if you read them slowly and listen to the voice of the author and try to keep in mind the connection of the characters, you get to the underlying gist of the stories, an eerie sort of longing and contemplation about life and death. A Tree of Life that bears Look-No-Further fruit. I can usually finish a Hoffman book in one sitting. With this book, I had to slow down and let the simple, common, haunting words hit their mark. After reading “The Principles of Devotion,” I had to set the book aside for the rest of the day. It is one of the shorter stories in the book, but did it ever punch me in the gut. A dying sister, a loyal dog, small and unfulfilled wishes. Wow. I was so paralyzed by her words I had to stop reading.

This is not meant as a review of the book. I do not believe in critics’ reviews because each reader brings something different to a book or to a movie. Who’s to say which interpretation or experience is the better? What I’m trying to convey is how this author evoked my emotions. Did the book make me laugh? Yes, a couple of times. Did the book make me cry? Yes, once. Did the book make me feel? Absolutely, all the way to the end.

The same thing happens when I listen to the music of country and pop artist Taylor Swift. If I were fifteen and falling in love for the first time, I might be drawn to Taylor because she has spunk, energy, and charisma. But I’m nearer sixty and I’ll tell you what draws me to Taylor — her talent and ability to tell stories honestly.

I was first drawn to Taylor because I was writing about my 16-year-old protagonist Abbie Buchanan and wanted to capture the raw emotion of a teenager. When I would write about Abbie, I would put on Swift’s music from Fearless and let Abbie’s emotions bubble. In my Hoffman tradition, once I discovered Taylor, I devoured everything she released. For Christmas, I asked for and received her first album, Taylor Swift. I was expecting a so-so album since it contained songs Taylor wrote in her early teens. But these songs are as powerful as those in Speak Now and Fearless. I love Taylor’s songs and find myself waking up with them in my head. Like Hoffman, the stories Taylor tells stir my emotions. They make me remember I’m human, the elements of life–the breathing, the loving, the hating, the messing up, the forgiving and accepting.

And then there is me, inspired by these talented artists who dare to tell it like it is without any apologies, who inspire me to face each new day with enthusiasm and deepened insight.

To that I say, Wow. Absolutely, Wow. And a very gracious Thank You.