Wednesday 2 June 2010

Interview with Kristan Hoffman

Today we're chatting with a brilliant writer currently on the rise. Let's welcome Kristan Hoffman.

Hi, Kristan. So glad to have you here. Tell us a bit about yourself.

I'm a 24-year-old writer of Young Adult and “New Adult” fiction. Taiwanese halfie. Born/raised in Houston. Living/working in Cincinnati. I love Spain. And I dabble in design & photography.

Recent activities: querying agents, coming up with tons of new ideas, and eating a lot of cookie doh. I mean, dough.

Sounds like you've got your hands full, lol. Let's talk about Twenty-Somewhere. How did you get started writing it?

I started writing Twenty-Somewhere completely for fun. I had no idea where it would take me. But I was hitting a lot of mental walls with my novel, and I desperately wanted something I could see, something I could share, something I could finish! Something that would bring a smile to my face, you know, and hopefully to the faces of readers. So I thought, Why not write about the misadventures of 3 twenty-something girls? Obviously I knew a bit about that.

I also decided to use 20SW to experiment with an online serial format. I had seen a few done, not always well, and I wanted to try it out myself. It’s very hard, actually, writing fiction specifically for the web and an online audience. Hard in a different way than novels or short stories.

What are the webisodes about?

Twenty-Somewhere tells the story of 3 best friends: beautiful and confident Sophie Lin, goody-goody aspiring writer Claudia Bradford, and boy-crazy nerd MJ Alexander. They were inseparable throughout their schooling, and then suddenly they’re graduating and going to new places all over the country and even the world. 20SW really shows what modern friendship is like, across thousands of miles and several time zones – how hard it is to keep connected, but how special it can be too.

And of course there are cute guys, and relationship drama, and career problems, and all that good life stuff.

Can you tell us more about the New Adult genre?

Well, let me start with a warning: “New Adult” is not established yet. Agents do not like to hear about it. Do not query with your “New Adult fantasy novel” or your “New Adult memoir” or anything like that. New Adult has no credibility yet.

Now, the explanation: “New Adult” is a term coined by one editorial team at one publishing house (St. Martin’s Press). They believe that there is a need for more literature that deals with people approx. 18-26 years old, who are transitioning out of adolescence and into “the real world.” Of course, that’s fairly broad criteria and covers a large landscape. “New Adult” could be literary, fantasy, mystery, etc. “New Adult” could be anything.

I hate to plug myself, but for more information I recommend checking out my guest post at Guide to Literary Agents, as well as Uncreated Conscience, the blog of St. Martin’s editorial assistant Sarah Jae-Jones.

When did you decide to make your books available on Amazon?

I decided to make 20SW available on Amazon as an experiment, after reading about screenwriter John August’s success with publishing his short story “The Variant.” On his blog, August openly discussed the process of formatting and publishing “The Variant,” as well as the results (i.e., purchases).

Now, August had his clout as a screenwriter to help sell his work without additional marketing efforts, and of course I didn’t. But I still wanted to see what it would be like to put something out there for people other than my friends and family (who, at the time, were the majority of my blog audience).

The reality is that self-publishing to Amazon was not a financial success for me, but that’s not what I was looking for. What I got out of the experiment was worth much more than money: I got experience. After 20SW went live on Amazon, I went to forums (at Amazon and and “publicized” it a bit. A very little bit. Enough to get feedback from people about what they liked (the idea, the characters) and what they didn’t (all the episodes they had to download). Enough to reconfirm that I didn’t want to go this journey alone; I want an agent and a publishing house to stand beside me and my books.

Understandable. So then, what's your next step?

Truthfully I never intended for 20SW to be a book, but the opportunity arose to submit it to St. Martin’s through an online contest (via JJ’s blog and YALitChat), and to my surprise they were interested. After reading the full story, they have asked me to create a proposal for turning the episodes into a more traditional book. That’s what I’m working on now, and I’m very excited! Through these revisions I am delving deeper into Claudia, MJ, and Sophie’s characters, raising the stakes in their stories, and really honing in on what makes life in your twenties so significant.

Do you have a critique partner or beta readers?

You know, I don’t have an official critique group or partner, but I definitely don’t do this alone. I love bouncing ideas off people when I’m trying to work through plot issues. I also belong to a local writing group, and I have a lot of friends and family who are willing guinea pigs – I mean, readers! That said, I have yet to establish an order: who reads as I go, who reads the first full draft, who helps me nitpick, who cheerleads, etc. I suspect it may be different for every project, depending on people’s tastes (and schedules).

What’s the hardest part of writing that you've struggled through?

What’s the hardest part? All of it!

No no, I’m kidding. Well, mostly.

For me, the hardest part is focusing. If I can get myself to sit and focus for 20 minutes, then I can usually sail through the next hour without even noticing. But those first 20 minutes? Oh man, they are agony. And so hard to come by. If it’s not the phone interrupting me, it’s an errand, or my dog, or something.

Time. Time is the hardest part. It’s hard to get, and then when you do get it, it’s hard to make good use of.

Yeah, I keep hearing about this mysterious thing called "time" but I have yet to find it. *wink* Any tips you’ve learned about writing you’d like to share?

Learn to say no. Say no to the things that tempt you away from your writing. Say no to your doubts and fears. Say no to anyone who doesn’t support you. This biz will give you enough rejection; you need it from the people around you, nor from yourself.

Wow, brilliant advice. Who are your inspirations?

My mother. My father. My boyfriend. They’re all tireless workers, I don’t know how they do it. Plus they give me guidance and encouragement, and they’re such good people, you know?

My closest friends (you know who you are). They believe in me so completely. And they don’t mind when I borrow from their real lives. (Not that I ever do that…)

As far as writers go, I adore Jhumpa Lahiri, Amy Tan, and Suzanne Collins. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd totally blew me away – it was the first book I ever wished I had written. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery set a foundation for me as both a person and a writer. And my first ever favorite book (I have many favorites now) was Honest Illusions by Nora Roberts – yes, a romance author, and one of the best storytellers and most prolific writers I can think of. I would die happily if my career were like hers.

I happen to own a LOT of her books, and I agree with you. Let’s get to know you on a deeper level. What do you absolutely have to have nearby when writing.

Truthfully? Not much. Either my computer, or a pen and paper. I don’t have any rituals or lucky underwear or anything like that.

So boring, I know, but it’s all I got!

LOL, not boring. It's obviously working for you.

Quick writing test! Use these words in a sentence: tadpoles, merchant, and serendipity.

I examined the tadpoles in the tiny tank and then looked up dubiously at the merchant of Serendipity Sea Life. He had a dirty mustache and a lazy eye, and they made me uncomfortable. I shook my head. “I don’t believe you.”

He shrugged. “Fine. Some other little girl can become a princess then.”

He started to take the tank away, but I put my hand out to stop him. “Wait!” I grimaced at the thought of kissing some slimy toad, but wasn’t it worth a shot?

I dug into my backpack and pulled out all my piggy bank money. Coins and bills dropped noisily onto the counter. “I’ll take two,” I said. “Just in case.”

Wow, it's like a mini story. I love it! Here’s the part where you thank the people who are supporting you. Who would you like to give a shout out to?

Oh crud, I did that already, didn’t I? Well, I’ll add Riley, my crazy little panda-faced pup. Because he’s adorable and cuddly, and every writer needs someone like that.

How adorable! And finally, where can people find you online?

Everywhere, haha, which is probably a bad thing. My website ( – writing dreams into reality) is the central hub, though. From there you can go to my Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Amazon author page, etc.

Oy, I’m sort of an internet junkie…

Aren't we all? *wink* Thanks so much for chatting with us, Kristan. It was great having you here, and good luck with publication!


Tahereh said...

great interview! thanks so much to both of you for sharing!!

this was particularly interesting given Kristan's webisodes -- i'd never heard of them before!

best of luck with SMP, Kristan! hope we get to see your books in the store soon!!


Stina said...

Great interview! And good luck, Kristan, with your books. :)

Gina said...

Wonderful interview! I love the sound of this "New Adult" genre...honestly, I think it wil lbe a hit! As far as Twenty Somewhere, it sounds like a fun adventure....I couldn't imagine readers not getting behind it (I mean we all reach that stage in our lives...there's bound to be someone to identify with). Good luck on those revisions...and thank Dorothy for another great spotlight interview!

Kristan said...

Tahereh and Stina-
Thanks so much!

"I mean we all reach that stage in our lives...there's bound to be someone to identify with"

Exactly! That's my hope anyway, hehehe.

Dorothy Dreyer said...

Thanks, everyone, for the comments, and thank you again, Kristan (my partner in halfie-ness, in that I'm half Filipino), for letting me interview you.

And I agree, the "new age" group should definitely be able to identify with the "new age" genre. :)

Sonja said...

You couldn't have picked a nicer person to interview. I'm also one of those who will be happy to count myself as someone who knew Kristan from before she was published. Especially because she'll probably be way too arrogant to bother talking to me once she's an award-winning author, drinking champagne by the pool of her house made out of twenty dollar bills.


Kristan said...

LOL Sonja! If that day ever comes, I'd have to talk to you, just because you predicted it. :P

Shelli said...

Great interview. I agree, I think "New Adult" has potential as a genre. With my own kids entering or approaching that age, I know they would love it. I love that you've explored the possibilities with Amazon and web episodes. I hope Twenty Somewhere (great title, by the way!) does wonderful things for you.

Kristan said...

Thanks so much, Shelli!

Liz Czukas said...

Great interview! You never fail to amaze me, Kristan. And thanks for finding another great writer to interview, Dorothy.

- Liz

Todd Newton said...

Fantastic interview, both funny and interesting!

Kristan said...

Liz and Todd, thanks for always supporting me! :)

erin f. danehy said...

Lovely interview! I can't wait to be one of those people who gets to brag, "I knew Kristan way back when! I went to college with her! She is as awesome as she seems!" >.>

Meghan Ward said...

Great interview! Thanks for both of you for posting this. And Kristan - love the book cover!

Cindy said...

Kristan, you rock! I may be in my 30's...but I still want to read your book! Terrific interview. Good luck with the "New Adult" category.

Kristan said...

Erin, the bragging will be mutual. ;)

Thanks, Meghan and Cindy!

Sherrie Petersen said...

What a cool story! Now I'm going to go to Amazon to check these out :)