Bestselling author Alice Hoffman returns to contemporary fiction with Faithful, a heartrending coming-of-age story.
In the novel, teenager Shelby Richmond must try to rebuild her life after a car accident leaves her best friend, Helene, in a vegetative state. We talked to Hoffman, who has published more than 25 novels for adults and teens, about love, grief, postcards and Paul McCartney.
Faithful leaves readers feeling as though they’ve spent time with Shelby and her family and friends. Is there a teenager or young woman in your life who in some way inspired Shelby and her friends?
I think there’s a bit of Shelby in every woman and girl. For me, she’s her own person—one I fell in love with despite her troubles and hard times. And I think her relationship with her mother, Sue, is very relatable to everyone who has ever had a difficult daughter, or been one.
The postcards Shelby receives throughout Faithful serve as tangible words of encouragement. Do you keep such encouraging messages around you?
I always think words can get us through the toughest times—it may not be postcards for me personally, but it is books. Books have been a survival mechanism for me—a life raft, and so I think it’s fitting that words help to save Shelby.
Have you ever had a pen pal? What role did that person’s correspondence play in your life?
I wrote to Paul McCartney but he never wrote back! My professor of writing and his wife, also a writer, were my mentors. We wrote to each other for nearly 30 years and I treasured their letters.
Dogs also play a significant role in this story. Were you inspired by pets in your life?
Growing up, my dog was the “person” I related to most. I’ve always had dogs and can’t imagine my life without them. In fact, I named my most recent dog “Shelby” after Shelby in Faithful.
Your books often deal with place, and lately you’ve shared a number of pictures of lovely places on your social media channels. Where do you feel most at home? Most creative?
I love the Cape, and Manhattan, and Paris, and so many other places. But to write I just need a chair anywhere.
You’re a prolific writer, capable of turning out deeply felt, thoughtful novels at a rate of sometimes one per year. What are your writing habits?
I tend to write early in the day, and I set my alarm to do so. I outline, and I rewrite and rewrite, many drafts. I have a few people I trust who are my earliest readers.
What are you working on next?
I’m very excited to be working on the prequel to my novel Practical Magic, called The Rules of Magic. It takes place in New York City in the 1960s and follows the lives of the aunts in Practical Magic. It was great fun to write, and, I hope, to read.