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Nina Kiriki Hoffman (1955-) Biography

Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights

Born 1955, in San Gabriel, California; Education: Santa Barbara City College, A.A., 1977; University of Idaho, B.A., 1980.


Agent—Matthew Bialer, Trident Media Group LLC, Carnegie Hall Tower, 152 West 57th St., 16th Floor, New York, NY 10019.


Writer; teacher of short story classes at a community college; B. Dalton bookstore, bookseller; Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy, production work.


Phi Beta Kappa.

Honors Awards

Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a First Novel, 1994, for The Thread That Binds the Bones; Nebula Award finalist, Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA), and World Fantasy Award finalist, World Fantasy Convention, both for The Silent Strength of Stones; World Fantasy Award nomination, World Fantasy Convention, for A Red Heart of Memories; World Fantasy Award nomination, World Fantasy Convention, for novella "Unmasking"; Nebula Award nomination, SFWA, World Fantasy Award nomination, World Fantasy Convention, and Theodore Sturgeon Award nomination, University of Kansas Center for the Study of Science Fiction, all for the novelette "Home for Christmas."


Legacy of Fire (short stories), Pulphouse (Eugene, OR), 1990.

Courting Disasters, and Other Strange Affinities: Short Stories, Wildside Press (Newark, NJ), 1991.

(With Tad Williams) Child of an Ancient City, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1992.

The Thread That Binds the Bones, Avon (New York, NY), 1993.

The Silent Strength of Stones, Avon (New York, NY), 1995.

Body Switchers from Outer Space ("Ghosts of Fear Street" series, number 14), Minstrel Books, 1996.

Why I'm Not Afraid of Ghosts ("Ghosts of Fear Street" series, number 23), Minstrel Books, 1997.

(With Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith) Echoes ("Star Trek Voyager" series, number 15), Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1998.

(With R. L. Stine) I Was a Sixth-Grade Zombie ("Ghosts of Fear Street" series, number 30), Golden Books (New York, NY), 1998.

A Fistful of Sky, Berkley/Ace (New York, NY), 2002.

Time Travelers, Ghosts, and Other Visitors: Fiction, Five Star (Waterville, ME), 2003.


Unmasking, Axolotl Press (Eugene, OR), 1992.

A Red Heart of Memories (adult novel), Berkley/Ace (New York, NY), 1999.

Past the Size of Dreaming (adult novel), Berkley/Ace (New York, NY), 2000.

A Stir of Bones (prequel, for teens), Viking (New York, NY), 2003.

Several short stories, novelettes, and novellas are included in the "Red Heart of Memories" series, including "Home for Christmas," published in 1995.


In a review in Science Fiction Chronicle of Nina Kiriki Hoffman's first work, the short story collection Legacy of Fire, Don D'Ammassa called Hoffman "one of the best new writers" in the science-fiction field. Though this first collection was published when the author was thirty-five years of age, Hoffman had been writing stories for much longer. "I started writing my own stories when I was twelve," she explained in an interview with Karen Meisner for Strange Horizons. "I often wrote about gifted kids trying to blend. I didn't envision these stories as extending into a connected series of novels. I didn't even realize I was writing novel-like objects. I just kept writing about the same characters and their friends and eventually their children because I liked my established worlds."

By the time she was twenty-seven, Hoffman began submitting stories for publication, drawing on the worlds she had created fifteen years earlier. Although she has not specifically tailored her writings to young adult audiences, many people have told her, "everything I write has a YA feel," Hoffman told Meisner, then joked, "This probably has to do with my mental age, which varies from eleven to fifteen to the occasional twenty-three." Many of her early short stories fell into the horror genre. Hoffman explained to a Locus interviewer, "Early in my career, I wrote a lot of horror. I always wanted to write fantasy, but I wrote horror because I was doing a lot of psychological work at the time and there's so much cool scary stuff in that."

Hoffman's first two books collect many of the short stories Hoffman published in magazines at the beginning of her career. Hoffman's second book, Courting Disasters, is a collection of nineteen stories reprinted from periodicals such as Weird Tales and Amazing Stories, along with one original addition. Faren Miller wrote in Locus that Courting Disasters is "a more telling compilation" of Hoffman's work than the previous collection. "We're talking here about fresh eyes and a brain skewed so as to perceive life's magic and the world's weirdness from new angles," noted Miller.

Hoffman's Child of an Ancient City, written with Tad Williams, is a fantasy about a group of lost soldiers who are challenged to a story-telling contest by a vampire who offers to free the man who tells the saddest story. The stories, which are contained in the last part of the book, feature black and white reproductions by fantasy artist Greg Hildebrandt. Sally Estes wrote in Booklist that Child of an Ancient City is "a colorful variation on the Arabian Nights theme" and "a haunting fantasy."

The novella Unmasking takes place in the small town of Linden, where residents confront painful, repressed memories that return after a scientist adds an enzyme that releases those buried memories into the local water supply. The central character in Hoffman's novella is Matilda "Matt" Blackaver, a homeless woman with psychic powers who talks to her cardboard-box home, as well as to houses, cars, and doors. Most of the people of Linden cannot cope with the return of their psychic pasts; revenge, suicide, and other failed attempts to come to terms with the past figure heavily in the plot. Tom Easton in Analog Science Fiction and Fact called Unmasking "a beautifully executed story," and added that the novella is "very enjoyable, a pleasure to read." Reviewer Edward Bryant wrote in Locus that Unmasking "is cut from a bolt of classic science fiction fabric … what a perfect therapeutic metaphor for the me decade .… what a direct line to personal honesty .… what a nightmare." Bryant compared Un-masking to George Romero's Night of the Living Dead, and wrote of the way in which Hoffman's voice draws the reader into the story. The critic called Unmasking "first-rate story-telling … Hoffman tosses off fascinating sparks that ought to be fanned into flames." Hoffman "is one of the genuinely distinctive voices in contemporary fantasy," praised Bryant. Science Fiction Chronicle contributor Don D'Ammassa called Unmasking "very strange and disturbing." Matt also appeared in Hoffman's 1995 short story, "Home for Christmas," which Tim Pratt of Strange Horizons considered "one of the best fantasy stories ever written about the holidays."

The "Matt Black" series continued in 1999 with A Red Heart of Memories, which gives the series its secondary name. Matt possesses "dream-eyes" which allow her to "see" what others are thinking, and she can also communicate with objects. She meets two fellow wanderers, Edmund Reynolds and his friend, Suki Backstrom. The three friends embark on a journey to learn how to deal with the hidden pieces of their pasts. The plot reveals that each of their gifts was the result of trauma. "Hoffman handles the interconnected solutions to the trio's problems with skill, as each solution leads subtly to greater understanding and compassion," noted a Publishers Weekly reviewer, while Library Journal contributor Jackie Cassada commended the author's "graceful storytelling and down-to-earth magic."

Edmund, Suki, and Matt reappear in Past the Size of Dreaming. A host of new characters include Julio, who was abducted by a wizard as a child. All have taken over a haunted house with its own distinct personality, and cast spells and work to combat the darkness within themselves. A reviewer in Publishers Weekly described the book's premise as "a fuzzy concern with spiritual union with all the universe." Cassada, writing in Library Journal, once again gave positive praise to Hoffman's style, observing that her "sensuous prose and gentle humor add a graceful charm" to the story. Booklist reviewer Roberta Johnson found the characters "so vivid and likable that this is surely a lasting addition to the urban fantasy canon," and also commended the author's "beautifully precise writing."

A Stir of Bones is a prequel to the stories in the rest of the series, explaining how Susan and Edmund first met as teens. The story is told from Susan's perspective, and shows the unpleasantness she survives in her teen years, during which her mother is physically abused by her father. Susan's dad also beats her if Susan is anything less than perfect. Forbidden to socialize with her friends, Susan begins to lie to her parents to spend time with Edmund and many of the characters who appear in Past the Size of Dreaming at an old abandoned house. They soon discover that not only is the house (somewhat) self-aware, but it is the home of Nathan, a teenaged ghost who is tied to the house. Over the course of the book, Susan is tempted to commit suicide in the house, so she can spend eternity with Nathan, but the house and her friends convince her that she must continue to live, and possibly transform her life.

"Hoffman's writing is clear-eyed, deft, and compassionate. She deals with the complexities of child abuse admirably, without offering pat answers or unrealistic resolutions," Tim Pratt noted in his review of A Stir of Bones for Strange Horizons. John Peters, writing in Booklist, described the book as "richly endowed with complex relationships, a strange and subtle brand of magic, evocative language, and suspenseful storytelling." Kathleen Whalin pointed out in her School Library Journal review that, because the story is told from Susan's perspective, "everything … seems matter-of-fact and dispassionate, which draws readers in and intensifies the horror." A critic for Kirkus Reviews found, "The writing is controlled and effective," and considered the book "the best of the three" novels in the "Red Heart of Memories" series.

Hoffman has written several stand-alone novels outside of the "Red Heart of Memories" series. The Thread That Binds the Bones is the tale of Tom Renfield, a janitor with magical powers who uses his gifts to prevent the suicides of two youths in Portland. Tom avoids the ensuing publicity by taking a job driving a taxi in the small town of Arcadia. Here he meets Laura Bolte of the centuries-old Bolte, Locks, Seales, and Keyes families. They marry and the plot unfolds. D'Ammassa in Science Fiction Chronicle called the story "a delightfully unusual fantasy that … keeps you guessing right to the end." Bryant noted in a Locus review of the work that "Hoffman staffs her novel with a cast that would do Dickens proud, in terms both of number and of character traits," and maintained that protagonist Renfield has the "reader appeal of the Anastasia figure." Bryant compared the novel's magic to sequences of Fantasia but noted that after the fast-paced beginning, the momentum of the plot "starts to vanish like fairy dust." Hoffman "beguiles the reader by means of magic," Bryant continued, adding, "It's a spell I suspect few will regret falling under." Hoffman's next solo effort, The Silent Strength of Stones, is considered "one of our greatest contemporary fantasy novels" according to Tim Pratt in Strange Horizons, who continued, "Hoffman is a genius."

A Fistful of Sky introduces readers to a family in which teens "transition," gaining magical powers. Setting her tale in Southern California, Hoffman admitted to her Locus interviewer that the family in the novel is very similar to her own family when she was growing up. Unsure how her family was going to react, she spoke to her mother about it. Hoffman explained, "She told me to write a little forenote explaining that the character of the mother is not really based on her." The novel focuses on Gypsum, who has graduated from high school but has yet to "transition," which earns her the pity of her family. She finds comfort in her father, who is non-magical, her job, and food. However, one weekend when the rest of the family is away, she falls extremely ill, and recovers only to discover that her powers have appeared: she is able to communicate with inanimate objects. In a review for Booklist, Roberta Johnson noted that A Fistful of Sky's "real attractions" are "its portrait of family dynamics and its sympathetic heroine."

In 2003, Hoffman published another collection of her short fiction, Time Travelers, Ghosts, and Other Visitors: Fiction. The nine stories vary from horror to science-fiction to fantasy, and deal with such subjects as time travelers looking for comic books, ghosts hoping to save a woman from a serial killer, alien invasions, and dancing princesses. Many of these tales, like the ones published in her earlier collections, were previously published in such magazines as the Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Roland Green, writing for Booklist, praised, "this is contemporary short fantasy at its best."

Hoffman's writings for a young-adult audience include work in novelist R. L. Stine's universe in the "Ghosts of Fear Street" series, as well as contributions to the "Star Trek Voyager" novel collection. She also participates in writing workshops and plays her fiddle at local granges. "Right now I'm meeting with a couple of teenage writers every week," she explained to Meisner, "ostensibly to help them with their writing, but I'm sure getting a kick out of listening to them talk to each other." Hoffman also has a bi-weekly commentary spot on her local National Public Radio affiliate. In her Strange Horizons interview, she offers the following advice to aspiring authors: "Make friends. Take classes. Learn what supports you in your work, and look for more of that .… Be open to new information and new experiences. It's all material."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Science Fiction & Fantasy Literature, 1975-1991, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1992.


Analog Science Fiction and Fact, September, 1993, pp. 160-168.

Bloomsbury Review, December, 1991, p. 27.

Booklist, December 1, 1992, p. 662; March 15, 2001, Roberta Johnson, review of Past the Size of Dreaming, p. 1360; October 1, 2002, Roberta Johnson, review of A Fistful of Sky, p. 308; May 1, 2003, Roland Green, review of Time Travelers, Ghosts, and Other Visions: Fiction, p. 1586; October 1, 2003, John Peters, review of A Stir of Bones, p. 310.

Book Watch, April, 1993, p. 3.

Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 2001 review of Past the Size of Dreaming, p. 224; August 1, 2003, review of A Stir of Bones, p. 1018.

Library Journal, October 15, 1999, Jackie Cassada, review of A Red Heart of Memories, p. 110; March 15, 2001, Jackie Cassada, review of Past the Size of Dreaming, p. 110.

Locus, February, 1991, p. 57; March, 1991, pp. 25, 35; January, 1992, p. 57; March, 1992, pp. 21-24; February, 1993, pp. 23, 54; June, 1993, pp. 23, 53; February, 1994, pp. 39, 75; June, 2002, interview with Hoffman.

Publishers Weekly, September 20, 1999, review of A Red Heart of Memories, p. 79; January 29, 2001, review of Past the Size of Dreaming, p. 70.

School Library Journal, January, 1993, pp. 134-135; December, 2003, Kathleen Whalin, review of A Stir of Bones, p. 152.

Science Fiction Chronicle, April, 1991, p. 30; April 1993, p. 31; July, 1993, p. 32; December, 1995, p. 58.

Wilson Library Bulletin, October, 1993, p. 125.


StrangeHorizons.com, http://www.stronagehorizons.com/ (November 24, 2003), Tim Pratt, "The Birth of Damage: Nina Kiriki Hoffman's A Stir of Bones, Karen Meisner, interview with Hoffman.*

Additional topics

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