Erin Hoffman is a third generation San Diegan, growing up in North County before attending college in upstate New York. She eventually landed in the Bay Area, where she works as an educational video game designer. Video game franchises she has worked on include Kung Fu Panda World, Shadowbane, GoPets, and Frontierville. At the GlassLab (a division of the Institute of Play) Erin is the game design lead on SimCityEdu: Pollution Challenge, a version of the recently released SimCity modified to teach environmental science in middle school classrooms. She is a novelist, essayist, and speaker, with work in Polygon, The Escapist, Gamasutra, and more. “Shield of Sea and Space”, the final volume in her fantasy series “The Chaos Knight”, was recently published from Pyr Books, an imprint of Prometheus.
For what age audience do you write?
So far my published work is all adult fiction, mostly in fantasy and science fiction, but my current project is middle grade science fantasy. I’m having a ton of fun with it. I’ve made video games before for middle schoolers, and where they are in the arc of their life stories is really fascinating to me and wonderful. Middle school is also when I first fell in love with fantasy and science fiction — “the golden age”, they call it. My Chaos Knight novels are printed as adult, but Library Journal calls them appropriate for young adult readers too, which I think is great.
Henry: As a Warhammer Fantasy Battles fan, I have a special place in my heart for Chaos Knights.
Tell us about your latest book.
“Shield of Sea and Space” is the final volume in my “Chaos Knight” trilogy. It’s not the end of the stories I have to tell in Andovar, but it’s the end of a story. Growing up, I always loved fantasy trilogies that gave you a sense of completion while also feeding your hunger for more stories in the same world. That’s what I set out to do with “The Chaos Knight”. The trilogy is the story of a sea captain who ultimately sets in motion a massive change in the world, bringing back an age of magic and magically-enabled technology after centuries of dormancy. It’s a story of responsibility, in a way; an exploration of the consequences of initiating worldwide change.
What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?
I think a great book prompts a reader to ask and answer important questions about themselves. “Shield of Sea and Space” follows through on some of the philosophical underpinnings of the early part of the series, as the hero is pushed further and further to expand his own limits and awareness of the world. I’m also just in it for the sheer fantasy — the transportive experience of going somewhere full of magic and adventure. One of the most vivid memories of my childhood was reading a Madeline L’Engle book during a cold rainstorm; my family was freezing, but the scene I was reading was set in a desert, and I was so hot I had to take off my jacket. Evoking that kind of vivid experience from reading has always been my goal.
Henry: It may tickle you to know that I am a distant relative of Madeline L’Engle.
What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?
Writing is really an act of communication, so to me one of the biggest challenges is deciding to whom one is writing. We sometimes think we’re writing from this kind of mystical place inside ourselves, but that usually just means we’re writing for other people like us. It’s partly just the place that I think science fiction and fantasy are at in their cultural trajectory right now, but I’m interested in the challenge of taking what we love most about those themes and reaching people from diverse places — and ages — with them, which is quite difficult.
Henry: That’s a great point. We do always write for a specific audience, and it is better if writers are conscious of that from the start.
What’s a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer?
Being a published writer in particular will really make you confront your own identity in the world. You get a kind of endless barrage of feedback about this thing that is public but deeply personal. Plus, much of the feedback is contradictory (even though all of it is valid for each person expressing it), so you’re pushed to decide what’s most important to you. The process of receiving that public critique, feeling overwhelmed by it, and finally coming to a sense of peace about what you really believe in in terms of the work is very transformative.
Henry: Hopefully not transformative into a reclusive hermit. 🙂
What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?
I once had a reader with a teenage daughter tell me her daughter loved my books and had begun talking about being a writer herself as a result. That was extremely cool, and kind of full circle for me, since I can remember clearly the books I read at her age that set me on this path.
Henry: I once had a mother tell me her young son now eats mushrooms after reading “Nimpentoad”. A small victory, but we take them when we get them.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Read widely and often. In our modern world of labyrinthine subgenres, it’s very easy to get boxed into reading only a certain kind of book, when a writer really needs to expose themselves to the broadest possible variety of voices. Also read analytically; really try to understand why a piece of fiction works or doesn’t work. In readers of your own work, seek confusion or uncertainty rather than praise; praise feels good, but you rarely learn much from it. Keep learning, keep writing, and keep your fire stoked — which is to say, always remember why you write, and only write for love.
Do you have any favorite quotes?
Lots! I’m a quote junkie. “Seeks simplicity, and distrust it” is one of my favorites, from the mathematician Alfred North Whitehead. Almost anything Carl Sagan has ever said. Each volume of the Chaos Knight begins with a quote from an existentialist. Friedrich Nietzsche’s “I love those who do not know how to live for today” begins “Shield”. And Gandhi’s “become the change you want to see in the world” is something I try to live by.
Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write?
I try to avoid rituals in general, so you might say my ritual is to try new things. I like going to places I’ve never been in order to write; it keeps me flexible and the change in scenery is often a source of inspiration.
Henry: Technically, trying new things would constitute an “anti-ritual”. Well played, sir.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
You know, I really have wanted to be a shapechanger since I was a kid. Not the werewolf kind, but like Dolph from Piers Anthony’s Xanth series, who could turn into any species of creature he wanted, from an ant to a giant roc. I know that’s asking a lot, but it is technically one superpower.
Henry: That would come in very handy if you suddenly fell into the ocean or off a cliff. Personally, my favorite shapechanger would be Elastigirl from The Incredibles movie.
If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?
Oh, wow. Jane Austen, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Ursula LeGuin. Can you imagine the conversations?
Henry: Let’s see. Jane Austen wrote romantic fiction. Nietzsche struggled with the meaninglessness of the world. LeGuin won the Hugo Award, Nebula Award, Locus Award, and World Fantasy Award, each more than once! I imagine LeGuin asking Austen to pass the mustard. Austen would have a very emotional response to the request, while Nietzsche just shrugs his shoulders.
What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?
Readers of my work will expect only one answer to this question: a gryphon! Though I am also quite partial to centaurs (sssh). I’ve been drawn to gryphons since I was quite young. I could get philosophical about it — their sort of binary nature (eagle and lion) might resonate with my multiethnic heritage… but really I just think they’re darn cool. They represented a rather blank canvas as well, since there’s a ton of fiction about goblins, elves, dragons and the like, but really very little about gryphons, which is surprising considering their many great traits in mythology — loyalty, guardianship, intelligence, strength, all that good stuff.
Henry: Excellent choice. How do you feel about hippogriffs?
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I love being outside. Hiking, biking, exploring new places — that’s the source of a good measure of my inspiration. It doesn’t get better than the natural world. And I love to read, of course. And cook! Readers have occasionally commented on the epicurean tangents I can roam off on.
Henry: You forgot to mention your African Grey Parrot! Very smart birds.
What would you like it to say on your tombstone?
“Seeker, maker, friend.”
Where can readers find your work?
I’m on Facebook and Twitter — and I always post links to my new work there. And my website is erinhoffman.com. I’d love if your readers would check out Mysterious Galaxy if they haven’t already — a great local bookstore with shops in San Diego and Redondo Beach. They carry signed copies of my work. And of course you can find the books in Barnes and Noble or at Amazon.com. 🙂
This interview is also posted to the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.