Practical Magic author Alice Hoffman discusses new book, North Carolina | Arts

Practical Magic author Alice Hoffman discusses new book, North Carolina



  • Photo by Deborah Feingold
It’s not unusual for an acclaimed author to make an appearance at a Triangle bookstore, but Alice Hoffman is going the extra mile to promote her new novel The Red Garden with consecutive appearances at four Triangle book stores over three days, starting tonight in Durham.

“It seems like North Carolina is a land of independent bookstores, more than most places,” says Hoffman, who credits positive experiences signing at Quail Ridge and the Regulator in the past for her extended stay. “I felt like I wanted to spend some time there.”

The Red Garden consists of a series of linked stories that tell more than 200 years of history in the small town of Blackwell, Mass. For the novel, Hoffman created family trees to figure out how everyone was related to one another, and their lives intersected.

“I love linked stories,” says Hoffman, who says Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man was a major influence on her writing as she was growing up.

“They’re among my favorite things to read, and to write. I love that feeling of it being both novels and stories, and it’s all mixed up and everything you want.”

Though The Red Garden gets into the secrets-of-a-small-town trope that has long been a hallmark of fiction, the Boston-based Hoffman drew from the opposite of her own experiences to create Blackwell.

“I was a city girl, and that whole idea of a small town is very interesting to me—how people know you in a different way in a small town than in a big city, for both good and bad,” Hoffman says. “People know your history, but there’s also kind of no escape. I always wanted to know what it was like to live in a small town, and this was my way of doing it.”

The prolific Hoffman has been published regularly since her 20s, producing more than 20 novels in genres ranging from realistic fiction to outright fantasy to children’s and young adult tales (several of her films have been adapted into movies, including 1998’s Practical Magic with Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman, and the 2006 mermaid fantasy Aquamarine with Emma Roberts).

Hoffman resists the idea of labeling authors as “literary” or “genre-based.”

“I don’t like the ‘genre-ization’ of people,” says Hoffman.. “I find it interesting how someone like Cormac McCarthy can write something like The Road, which is kind of fantasy and science fiction, but it’s looked at in a different way when he does it.”

She compares writing her books to a quote from Jeff Bridges in the recent PBS documentary The Dude Abides: “He says every role is like slipping into a snake skin, and for the audience, it’s a movie, but for him, it’s just about the experience of playing this character, and then moving on to the next character. I do this research, and create this product for people, and then it belongs to them and I’m off researching another book. It’s all about the experience for me.”

Her next book, The Dove Keepers, comes out in October. It’s set in 70 A.D,. around the fall of Jerusalem.

“If I had any idea how difficult it was going to be, I never would have written it!” says Hoffman, who spent five years working on it. “It’s been a massive undertaking for me—I just mailed it in the other day. And then I’m taking a break!”

Hoffman’s four-day Triangle tour begins tonight at the Regulator Bookshop (Feb. 9, 7 p.m.), then continues to Quail Ridge Books and Music (Feb. 10, 7:30 p.m.), Flyleaf Books (Feb. 11, 7 p.m.) and McIntyre’s Books (Feb. 12, 11 a.m.).

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