At 24, Alice Hoffman kicked off a stellar literary career by publishing her very first book, Property Of. That was 1977. Then came the deluge: 16 more novels (including Practical Magic, The Ice Queen, The River King, Here on Earth), plus short stories, screenplays, fiction for teens, picture books for youngsters, not to mention critical acclaim and financial success. Hoffman’s latest novel, Skylight Confessions, presents a part romantic, part toxic portrait of a wildly dysfunctional family across several generations, with ingredients such as an architecturally significant house, a red-haired ghost, and the constant intervention of fate. Victoria Lautman chatted with Hoffman, who spoke by phone from her home in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Q: Three decades, 17 novels, and nearly a dozen other books. I’d say that’s prolific.
Q: Skylight Confessions encompasses a slew of unusual characters and strange situations. Which inspired you first?
Q: Considering your own survival of breast cancer, it seems awfully brave to kill someone off with the very same disease.
Q: Edifices and ectoplasm make dramatic appearances in a lot of your work, and the modernist glass house at the core of Skylight Confessions even becomes haunted.
Q: But why all the ghosts?
Q: So are you the pet author for Wiccans and other fringe groups?
Besides car chases through the Loop, what elements constitute a homegrown crime thriller? Chicago inspected the prose of first-time local novelists Marcus Sakey (TheBlade Itself; St. Martin’s Minotaur) and Sean Chercover (Big City, Bad Blood; William Morrow), both débuting in January. In addition to tackling Chicago’s seedy underbelly, Sakey and Chercover contribute to a crime fiction blog, theoutfit collective.com.
The Panic Bell (Undertow)
It’s a Wonderful Lie (Warner Books)
Bambi vs. GoDZilla (Pantheon Books)
Photography: Lautman - Marc Hauser, Hoffman - Deborah Feingold