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Q&A with Alice Hoffman, Bestselling Author and Rutgers–New Brunswick Writers’ Conference Opening Keynote Speaker

Alice Hoffman, Bestselling Author and Rutgers–New Brunswick Writers’ Conference Opening Keynote Speaker

SOMERSET, NJ— Alice Hoffman has been called “America’s literary heir to the Brothers Grimm,” and her remarkable “fables of the everyday” have enchanted readers since the publication of her first novel, Property Of, in 1977. More than 30 years later, with numerous acclaimed and bestselling novels including Practical Magic, The Dovekeepers, and The Rules of Magic, as well as two short story collections and many books for young adults, Hoffman continues to seduce readers into her vividly imagined world. Her books have been translated into more than 20 different languages, and her short fiction and nonfiction have appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe Magazine, and many other magazines.  


Hoffman will be the opening keynote speaker at the second annual Rutgers-New Brunswick Writers’ Conference to be held on June 2-3, 2018 in Somerset, NJ. Aspiring and established writers, agents, editors, and publishers will gather to learn and share. Attendants choose workshops from multiple concurrent sessions, meet individually with agents, editors, and publishers, join a panel discussion on publishing options, and attend an evening reading event featuring famous authors. Concurrent sessions will address creative non-fiction, fiction, genre fiction, poetry, the business of writing and writing for performance. Additionally, on June 1, 2018, conference participants will have the opportunity to attend An Evening With Stephen Sondheim. This special opening event will feature an interview with legendary Broadway composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim, hosted by NPR's David Bianculli. For a complete lineup of presenters, the full program schedule, and event registration information, visit


Rutgers Division of Continuing Studies spoke with Hoffman about the craft of writing.


What is your writing process: how many hours a day do you write; do you write a certain number of words a week or when inspiration strikes; how long does it generally take to complete a first draft?


It has changed over time. I have been writing for over 40 years. But I would say that writing every day is really important. I used to get up at 4:45 am, two hours before my day would start, when I had little children.  I do not get up that early now, but I do write every day. I don’t know that I used to set a goal, like writing 50 pages in two weeks.  But I was always writing. It had become so much a part of my life, I was even doing it as the moving men were packing up my boxes. Writing is a central part of each day.


What inspired you to be a writer? When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

I was a reader. I always thought that I would be a librarian. I wanted to be with books.  I was the girl who took them everywhere. I was a secret writer starting in college. Then my graduate program changed my life. (Hoffman received a Mirrellees Fellowship to the Stanford University Creative Writing Center, which she attended in 1973 and 74, receiving an MA in creative writing.) I had a great teacher there who helped me to get published and who was a lifelong mentor. If you can find a great teacher, I recommend it.


Do you have any suggestions to help other aspiring writers become better writers? 

I am a big believer in writer’s workshops and graduate school programs. I am a board member of the GrubStreet writers’ community and center in Boston.  It is really important to be with other writers, not to sit home alone. You inspire each other. It is almost like a contagious thing, great writing.


If you could tell your younger “author” self anything, what would it be?

I don’t know that I would have listened to anything (laughs). I think I did it the way that I had to do it. You learn from each book, each experience. It was all a growth process.


What is your favorite childhood book? 

I have many but my favorite would be Edward Eager’s Tales of Magic. Half Magic. Magic or Not? All of these books were so important to me.  They spoke of magic in suburban life.


What do you think makes a good story?

You want the reader to turn the page. I would say that story is complex and plot is simple. Story is everything that goes in, including characters, locations. The plot is straightforward.  The most important thing is the writer’s voice. There are so many stories out there so you want yours to stand out. A good story is something where you have to find out what happens next.


Do you come up with a plot first, or do you create a character and then craft a plot around him or her?

It is always different for me each time. Sometimes a book starts because I have gone to visit a place.  The Dovekeepers began that way. It started because I had gone to visit a place and then the characters kind of moved into that place.


As a lover of books from a young age, you must feel so pleased to now be an author whose writing is loved by other readers.

For the longest time I did not recognize that I had readers. I felt like I was in a room alone, writing for myself.  But then with book tours and the Internet, I gained more of a sense of readers out there. For me, it is a very powerful connection, knowing that, in the end, what I wrote is what they enjoy.


Do you work with young writers often?

I went to Adelphi as an undergraduate, and they have a program for teen writers that I wish I could have taken back then. I go and meet with them and it is very exciting to me that young people still love books, even with such competition for their attention. And I am very pleased to come to Rutgers-New Brunswick this summer and meet with so many aspiring writers.


For event registration information, visit

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