Nina Kiriki Hoffman: Young at Heart

Nina Kiriki Hoffman (by Amelia Beamer)

Nina Kiriki Hoffman was born San Gabriel CA, and grew up in Santa Barbara. Her first story, “A Night Out” (1983), appeared in Jessica Amanda Salmonson’s Tales by Moonlight anthology. Her first novel, YA Child of an Ancient City, was a collaboration with Tad Williams (1992). Her first solo novel, The Thread that Binds the Bones (1993), won the Bram Stoker Award for first novel. Her second, The Silent Strength of Stones (1995) was a finalist for the Nebula and World Fantasy Awards. A Red Heart of Memories (1999) is part of her Matt Black series; its sequel, Past the Size of Dreaming, appeared in 2001, while related novel A Stir of Bones appeared in 2003. A Fistful of Sky (2002) was shortlisted for the Tiptree and Mythopoeic Awards. She turned to science fiction with Philip K. Dick Memorial Award nominee Catalyst: A Novel of Alien Contact (2006). Spirits that Walk in Shadow (2006) was a Mythopoeic and Endeavour Award finalist. Her latest, Fall of Light (2009), involves the same magical family from A Fistful of Sky.

She has published more than 250 stories, and some of her short fiction has been collected in Legacy of Fire (1990), Courting Disasters and Other Strange Affinities (1991), Common Threads (1995), and Time Travelers, Ghosts, and Other Visitors (2003). Her novelette “A Step Into Darkness” (1985) was a Writers of the Future third-place winner. Matt Black novella “Unmasking” (1992) was a World Fantasy nominee, novelette “The Skeleton Key” (1993) and novella “Haunted Humans” (1994) were Nebula finalists, and Matt Black novelette “Home for Christmas” (1995) was nominated for Nebula, World Fantasy, and Sturgeon awards. “Trophy Wives” (2008) was her first Nebula Award winner.

In addition to writing, Hoffman does production work for F&SF, teaches writing at her local community college, and works with teen writers. She lives in Eugene OR.

Excerpts from the interview:

“My dad used to say, ‘When are you going to write real fiction, regular fiction?’ But every time I think about writing something that doesn’t have magic in it, it bores me before I even start. I need the extra dimension of a science fiction or fantasy element. I’m not interested in writing about mundane things like, ‘I just saw the dentist’ or ‘I went to the hernia surgeon.’ It doesn’t really compute. (Maybe that will come with an older age than I already have.) If I was just writing about normal families — I couldn’t do it! Still, writing about the family seems like my niche, though a lot of characters in science fiction and fantasy seem to start as orphans, and fantasy based on fairy tales tends more to siblings like the Dark Sister and the Light Sister.”


“I’m really glad I had some fan experience before I started selling stories, because I know a lot of people who have come to conventions after they’re already published, and they say, ‘Who are these weird people?’ I’ve been those weird people, so I feel like I don’t have that judgment. I’ve run around the halls late at night, talking to anyone and getting excited about books and ideas. That was a real social revolution for me, in terms of personality. I became much more extroverted.”


“When I first started writing, my characters were over here and I was over there: ‘Oh they’re all different. They’re not me and they’re not anybody I know.’ Now I can’t say that. I think everything goes in to my head, and comes out changed. The family in A Fistful of Sky is closer to mine than most of the people I’ve written about, and that’s kind of difficult. The older brother Jasper is kind of a conglomeration of three of my brothers, and not like any of them specifically.

“I don’t plot very well. I just try to throw a whole bunch of cool stuff in and hope it will resolve by the end of the book. And I take a lot of naps, and hope the answer comes to me in my sleep! I haven’t been able to get other methods to work, so I’m writing to find out what’s going to happen: ‘Let’s put something weird in there, and see how it plays out.’”


“The commercial way to write adult fiction seems to involve catastrophic blah blah blah, and maybe multiple viewpoints, but that’s not what I do. I have a mental age that’s in the younger camp: I tend to think like someone at age 15. Even in the stuff I consider my adult novels, there’s still a YA sensibility. The Silent Strength of Stones has a kid who is 17 as the protagonist. The ones in Red Heart of Memories and Past the Size of Dreaming are in their 20s or early 30s, but I think they all read younger.

“I have a middle-grade novel coming out next spring called Thresholds, and it has science fiction and fantasy premises intermixed. A kid moves in next door to a house where they have a gate to other dimensions, and anything can come through the gate — they can be people from other planets, but they can also be fairies. There are two groups with these gates, but one is using people to make the portal and the other guys are using machines, so there’s a clash going on and my protagonist ends up in the middle of it, taking care of an alien egg, which hatches into something very strange. It’s the first book of at least two, and the sequel is what I’m working on next. At the moment, I don’t know if it’s going to turn into a series.”

Read the full interview in the December 2009 issue of Locus.

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