Chandra Hoffman, author of Chosen, answers five questions from Kelly Simmons, author of Standing Still and The Birdhouse, due out March 2011, about screenplays, authenticity, and sending your book out into the publicity snowstorm.
1. With its tense story and crisp character dialogue, I almost felt as though your book read like a great screenplay. Did you ever dabble in screenwriting, or any other forms of writing, or have you always written novels?
No, I’ve always been a novelist, and one who needs to reign it in at that. Chosen
was 130,000 words when it sold; now it’s around 88,000. It is a huge tribute to my editorial team and dearest reader friend that it is the tight, plot-driven mainstream story it is.
As far as a screenplay for Chosen
, my agent is working on finding the right fit for that.
2. Your book blends some interesting worlds – the transactions of adoption, the lives of drug addicts, and the world of kiteboarding. I know you worked for an adoption agency for quite some time, but what kind of research did you do to create the other aspects of your book?
is fiction, informed in part by my life experiences. Some areas where reality inspired the story are obvious—like my background as an adoption caseworker or that I am married to a kiteboarder (and we have the basement full of gear to prove it!)
I know an electrician, I've done the pregnancy and birth thing (three times) and I've been a 'message boarder', so those parts were easy. Then whenever I get out of my depth in writing, I ask around. When I can’t make it work, I go back to what I feel like I can write about with some authenticity. I remember a guy in grad school who was from the Pacific NW reading the manuscript and telling me Brandi would not have done coke in the gas station bathroom scene—he said in Portland in 2000 it had to be meth. I have a friend who is a nurse in a large hospital so I interviewed her about the physical effects of meth. Then working in adoption, I knew the vernacular, the meth slang, but I couldn’t get enough first or even secondhand about actually using meth to pull it off; everything I wrote felt contrived. I grew up in the eighties/nineties—I had to stay with coke for that scene.
Authenticity in setting is also really important to me—all of my novels feature a city or country I have lived in. I want the place, the tone of each city to exist as a character in the story. Then writing it becomes like a love letter to a place I have known, loved and left behind.
3. I was fascinated by some of the cut-throat transactional behavior between birth mothers and adoptive mothers – the blatant disregard for drinking, drugs and cigarettes, the naked requests for cash, the desire for young, pretty, wealthy birth parents. After what you’ve seen, do you find portrayals in the media, on shows like MTV’s Teen Mom extremely sanitized?
I had to give up watching TV when I became serious about writing, so I haven’t actually seen Teen Mom, but I know the premise. I will say this: all of the behind-the-scenes adoption aspects of Chosen
are informed by my real life experience and not sensationalized for the sake of fiction. This stuff really happens.
4. Publishing a book, while a dream for many people, has its own unique share of joys and tribulations invisible to anyone who hasn’t gone through it. What is the one thing that surprised you most about the process?
This is a great question. Yes, I’m sometimes overwhelmed with the necessity and busywork of creating the buzz; how there is always something more you could/should be doing to promote your book. I’m not talking about obsessively watching my Amazon rank (my husband does that for me) or catching up on my Google alerts—that’s kind of fun. It’s this whole loud cyberworld of self-promotion and social networking and blogging and blogrolling (I still think that sounds a little naughty—will you blogroll me?) and tweeting and freelancing.
Sometimes I fantasize about just pretending it is ten years ago and none of this exists and my book will just find its own way out into the world… But that feels like saying, “It’s a howling blizzard out there, but I’m just going to wrap a wool scarf around my baby girl’s neck and let my preschooler toddle ten miles off to the little red schoolhouse on her own.” That might be how they did it in the old days, and sure, some kids made it, but others disappeared in the snowdrifts. I don’t want Chosen
to get lost in the storm.
5. This book was borne from many personal experiences in your career. Is your next book similarly connected? Do tell!
The four word summary for Following
is ‘infidelity--with a twist’. While the infidelity part is not inspired by my own marriage, my husband and I just hit our mid-thirties so we’re at that place where friends’ marriages are hitting the rough spots; it feels timely. To me, there is something sacred and precious about marriage as the foundation for family, which is a primary structure of our society. But people sometimes end up treating their partners with less courtesy than they give the stranger on the airplane.
This next novel has lots going on—it’s also about the necessity of female friendship, body image and self-esteem, how secrets can destroy a relationship and exactly how far physical beauty will (or won’t) get you.