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  • 5gen Staff

Interview with author Chandra Hoffman

Updated: Mar 14, 2021

Q & A with author Chandra Hoffman

I’ve read What Pretty Gets You was twenty-three years in the making. Were you really writing this for all that time?

Definitely not. If I’m being fair, the idea for this is even older, as the inspiration for Maia was a friend in college. But in 1998, I moved to Boulder, and started sketching the story. There have been drafts of it, revisions and edits, but the whole idea of the story never changed.

The idea of the story being?

Physical beauty—we worship it in this culture. I’m not blameless. Aesthetics have always been very important to me. I wanted to explore the idea of beauty without depth, and what was something that was more important than the appearance, what has substance, depth... I wanted there to be limits to what beauty can do for you, that whole idea of privilege and peril. What I chose for Maia to bump up against was a marriage, a family.

But you yourself weren’t married at the time.

No, but I was already with the person who is now my partner in all things. And I knew, even as a starry-eyed kid, that we had the potential and the want for the long haul. We were both seeking a relationship that would be our lifelong home. In fact, the book comes out on the twenty-fifth anniversary of our first date.

Wow, a quarter of a century—that’s a love story! What changed over the course of drafts of this novel?

The ending! I joked in a reader group that this book has had as many endings as years in gestation. Things would happen in my life, or in the world, and I’d think, I have to go back and change the ending of Following,which was the working title of this book for years, because two women essentially follow the same man.

Without giving anything away, can you talk about some of the different endings?

Sure. I mean that for instance, I was heavily into literary fiction for awhile, which has inherent in it a sense of longing, inevitability, maybe even sadness. At the same time, there was someone in my life I loved who just kept making the same hard, destructive choices. So I wrote an ending where nothing changed. The characters showed they had the potential for it, a crack, a sliver of light, and then they went back to their same sad patterns. While that ending felt super realistic, and had a fun, final sentence revelatory twist, I knew it would make way too many people want to throw their book at the wall.

With e-readers, that’s an expensive gamble.

Exactly! Or years later, I had a daughter, and I wanted to write a strong, feminist ending. Things like that. Over the years, the story of Maia and Carolyn really evolved with my story.

And you're happy with the ending now?

Very. It feels equal parts inevitable, satisfying and hopeful.

I like that. Let's talk about time. This novel is not set in the late nineties.

No, there was really no reason for it to be, nothing critical to the story, so I chose to update it.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned, as you updated a book nearly a quarter of a century old?

There was the usual stuff, the ubiquitous connectivity of tech, cell phones, taxis mostly became ride shares, all the post 9/11 travel changes, as there are several scenes in airports. But I have to say, the most heartening thing was this time around, my editor got stuck on a scene where Maia does something dangerous and dumb—the kind of head-shakingly stupid thing my friends and I did a dozen times in our young lives, the kind of thing Joyce Carol Oates heroines did in the nineties—and she wrote This is not believable—young women today would not do this. So I asked around, my teenage kids, their friends, and they agreed that girls, women today, have evolved to be savvier and more empowered than this. I was thrilled to make that edit. Nothing makes me happier than signs of evolution.

That’s wonderful. Can you talk a little about your writing process? I remember reading an essay of yours called Dawn Chorus, about your late mother-in-law’s inspiration to get up and write before the sun came up. Is that still your practice?

Wow, no, but I will say, it served me well when my kids were little! Now they’re older and more independent and willing to let me fall down the writerly rabbit hole, plus I do teach, so my mornings are kind of a scramble. I don’t have a sacred set time any more. I write when I can, usually on my bed, lying on my stomach, surrounded by needy animals.

Lying on your stomach?

Yes, I don’t know why. It makes me silly-good at cobra in yoga.

Do you practice?

Yoga? (Sigh) I have such a love/hate relationship with yoga. When we moved to Isla de Utila, in 2012 or 2013, I had to give up long distance running, and everyone I knew was doing yoga, and I hated it, so much. I wasn’t good at it, and it took too long, and I am very achievement oriented. Plus, the culture felt inherently selfish to me. I mean, I hated it so much there was even a time where I owned the domain name, because I really wanted to create the merch. But I went. Somewhere there’s an essay I wrote about this. And when I did it regularly, I did get better. My hamstrings unfurled a bit. And I have to say, as I get older, I realize if I want to keep doing all the physical things I like to do, like ride horses, or rock climb with my family, trek through fields with my dog or run, yoga has to be a part of my regular routine. So while I don’t ‘have a practice’, yes I do some amount of yoga, e’ery damn day.

What are you working on next?

Oh I love this question. It’s a lot of fun to be actively writing again. I have a widow/widower love story with a twist, set in the Cayman Islands.

You lived there, too, didn’t you?

Yes, for several years. Setting is really important to me. I like place to be present in the story, almost as if it is another character. With us not being able to travel as much, I hope this gives readers a chance to experience another place in the world, even if it is virtual.

Wonderful. I know readers will look forward to that. Thank you for being here today!

Thank you for having me.

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