First-time author and long-term Cayman Islands visitor Chandra Hoffman will discuss and sign her debut novel Chosen at Books & Books at 7pm Friday, 7 January. The event is free and open to the public.
Chosen, the author told Weekender, “grew out of three defining experiences: the first was my time in Romania post-Revolution as an aide worker in the infamous Orphanage Number One.
“It was overwhelming — I was given 50 infants my first day — but inspiring to see the human spirit surviving in spite of the bleakness. Romania led me to the second experience, a job in the United States as the director of the domestic adoption program for a private agency, the sole caseworker managing birth and adoptive parents. My goal was to create happy endings, everything I hadn’t been able to do in Bucharest. But I quickly learned that there was another side to this, the business side, and that it was very difficult to meet the needs of everyone in the adoption triangle and keep a boss happy. I left the adoption world when I became a mother myself — my skin had become predictably thin.
“This was the final defining point that shaped this novel:
Our first son’s birth and unexpected health challenges, nearly losing him as an infant. As a new mother to a child with huge medical hurdles, I pondered some of the deeper issues that form the backbone of Chosen: How does parenthood change you? How will the challenges you face shape you as a couple? What happens when your expectations of parenthood are so far from the reality? More specifically, what happens when you get what you thought you wanted?
“The story is purely fiction – characters and settings and scenarios are as though I took a handful of experiences, threw in a well-marinated childhood paranoia about abduction, seasoned them with the salt of my vivid imagination, put them all in a bag and shook it up. But the themes are real, straight from my own life and those I have witnessed,” said the author.
Her engrossing story takes readers behind private adoption agency doors and into the hearts of birth parents, hopeful couples, and green social workers, revealing the hurdles and emotional challenges that can be part of the adoption process.
There are several aspects to Chosen, explained the writer.
“It is in part a social novel, addressing the challenges, the potential for joy and heartache inherent in US domestic adoption from a behind-the-scenes perspective. Then there’s the suspense/thriller element–the gritty kidnapping and extortion plot that drive the novel and keep the reader up late turning pages.
“But at the heart of it, I wrote Chosen to talk about new parenthood, however it happens, and about bridging that gap between expectation and reality. I wanted to write a story in which there aren’t necessarily heroes or bad guys; just real people trying to recover from their human stumbles with grace.”
The book was conceived seven years before coming to publication, albeit in that period Hoffman found time to run an event planning company, write a Master’s in Fine Arts thesis and have three children.
Her links with Cayman go back to when she was a baby, so the Books & Books event brings her back to familiar territory – kind of, she said.
“Back then there was only Silver Sands, Victoria House and the Holiday Inn on Seven Mile Beach. After college I lived here in a little rental house in West Bay for several years, writing and working, and I fell in love with a dive master – now my husband.
Met on island
“We actually met on island when we were 12 and 13 at the old Holiday Inn to the tunes of Barefoot Man but couldn’t give each other the time of day back then! The island has such a special place in our hearts and we love coming here several times year to visit family – my sister married Barefoot’s son – and share our passion for the ocean with our children,” revealed the writer.
The future seems fruitful, too, with a new book just having been completed and three more stories in various stages of draft and completion. It’s all about balancing writing and motherhood, however.
“We’re doing this home-schooling thing, and right now there’s the book tour, and I’m really enjoying being with them and meeting readers. But it definitely doesn’t leave me endless hours to write and hang out with my characters and dive into the deliciousness of these waiting stories. Writing is never the problem — it’s time.
“I’m working on that.”