Friday, April 24, 2015

Keeping Family Secrets

Alice Hoffman
When Alice Hoffman spoke with us about Nightbird recently in an interview for SLJ's Curriculum Connections, she talked about its origins as a story about the isolation that comes from secrets. For Twig Fowler, that secret involves a family curse that has rendered her older brother half-human, half-bird.

Q: Nightbird shares a melding of magic and realism that’s present in your books for young adults, Green Angel and Aquamarine, and your adult novels. What is it about that combination that compels you as a writer?

Alice Hoffman: My childhood reading was fairy tales, and even though they were magical, they felt the most real. In terms of what was happening emotionally and psychologically, even if the story was about a beast or a rose that wouldn’t die, there were truths there. That the magical and the real exist side by side makes sense to me. I always think of myself as a 12-year-old reader…[and] write the book that I want to read.

Q: Where did the idea of Nightbird come from?
AH: This story is about the isolation that comes from secrets. I think many kids know about family secrets, and they know they’re not supposed to discuss them.

Q: What was the inspiration of James’s curse? I thought of the Minotaur—because of his birthright, he’s confined to this half-man, half-creature body. It’s that idea of the sins of the father visited upon the son, isn’t it?
AH: The idea of a family curse, especially one that isn’t talked about, is ancient, whether from father to son or mother to daughter. It’s like the secret of the nursery: you know it even when you don’t know it.

Also, the monster in the family is a common mythological situation. Nightbird came to me as the story of a “monster’s” sister—one who knows that her sibling is not a monster. How you appear on the outside isn’t necessarily how you are inside. Kids at this age intrinsically know that.

Q: It appears that Twig’s mother moved to New York to escape the fact that everyone knows everyone’s business.
AH: Yes, but you carry your legacy with you. That’s what happened to her. I thought of this as a mother-daughter book…. It’s about understanding your parent a little bit [better]. You can never know your mother when she was younger. Twig’s mother, too, doesn’t really know Twig.

This is an excerpt from a longer interview first published in SLJ's Curriculum Connections.

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