After several years in the works, JP resident and author Amy Hoffman’s new novel, Dot & Ralfie, is set to be released very soon. The novel takes place in Jamaica Plain and focuses on elder issues and the LGBTQ+ community.
According to her website, Dot & Ralfie is about a lesbian couple facing the physical, emotional, and relationship challenges of aging.
Hoffman grew up in New Jersey, but has been living in the Boston area since 1973 and in Jamaica Plain since about 1990.
“I’ve always been an avid reader and I think I’ve been writing since I learned to write, basically,” she told the Gazette. Publishing her books came later on in her life, she said, adding that “I think my first novel came out when I was around 40.”
Hoffman has a degree from Brandeis University and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She worked in a variety of jobs over the years, from editing to nonprofits to fundraising, and she served as the Editor in Chief for the Women’s Review of Books published by the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. She has also recently taught writing at Emerson College.
She said that the pandemic has created some issues in the publishing industry which has affected Dot & Ralfie. Hoffman said she turned in final edits for the novel in the fall of 2019, but “it was delayed a few times,” as “most books are printed abroad in China and India,” and issues with shipping and paper shortages have arisen.
Additionally, promoting books has presented its own new challenges because of the pandemic. She said in-person readings, panels, and conferences have all largely been put on the back burner over the past couple of years. Instead, many events are being held on Zoom, “which is just not the same as getting to talk to people face-to-face,” Hoffman said. “That happened with Dot & Ralfie.”
She said that throughout the pandemic, she didn’t do a whole lot of writing save for a “couple of essays. In a lot of ways, it was a hard time,” she said. Both of her elderly parents passed away, which “made it really hard to focus on writing fiction,” she said. “I’ve actually just gotten back to it more recently,” and is even working on another new novel.
Hoffman said that with Dot & Ralfie, readers should expect to deal with the “psychological, physical challenges of aging, which sounds kind of dismal,” but “in my opinion, the book is very funny,” she said. “I totally love writing about these characters. I think, like all my books, it’s kind of character-driven more than plot-driven.”
Though the characters live in Jamaica Plain and are around Hoffman’s age, she said they are “completely made up characters,” though some of the issues that Dot and Ralfie deal with are some she is familiar with either in her own life or that of someone she knows. Issues range from finances to work to mobility issues in typical Jamaica Plain walk-up apartments.
Hoffman is also the author of three memoirs as well as another novel, The Off Season, which is set in Provincetown, a “place in real life that I dearly love,” she said. She said she’s watched it change over the years and appreciates that it is welcoming to “queer people and artists.”
The characters in Dot & Ralfie live in Hoffman’s apartment, she said. “They definitely live in my neighborhood,” and take walks around Jamaica Pond.
Though she said the book was not intended for a certain age range, it is “definitely about people” in a certain age range—the main characters are in their late 60s, while one character is in their 89s and another in their early 30s.
“I think, inadvertently, it’s probably aimed at people of my generation,” Hoffman said, who, like Dot and Ralfie, is in her late 60s.
“Really, I don’t want it to be confined to people in my age group,” she said. “Hopefully all of us will be getting older. Some of the issues the book deals with are issues people are going to have to think about.”
At the beginning of the novel, Ralfie is recovering from knee surgery, and she is an employee of the Boston Public Works Department, so she worries whether or not she’ll be able to continue her job with her knee issues.
Dot is a children’s librarian who has am “on and off sexual relationship” with her friend Viola during her time with Ralfie. “She at one point falls and ends up in the hospital.” Ralgie also suffers a mild heart attack and the duo questions whether or not they should still live in a third floor walkup.
“In Boston, that’s actually kind of a big issue,” she said, as the majority of apartments in Boston do not have elevators, which prove to be an issue both for parents of young children and aging residents.
Hoffman said these characters are important because they deal with real issues, and also there is a subplot with immigration.
“That’s an issue that’s very close to my heart,” Hoffman said. “My grandparents immigrated to this country.” She said in the book, the library intern’s parents are from Vietnam and are “terrified that they’re going to be deported…their fears are not totally grounded in reality.” She added that she “had to make it clear that this was taking place during the Trump administration.”
Though there are no plans to make a series out of the Dot and Ralfie characters, Hoffman said that “it’s possible” that she’ll write another story that includes them.
There are also a couple upcoming readings tentatively scheduled for the novel, including one at the Jamaica Plain library with fellow novelist Michelle Gabow on April 28. Another reading is planned for the Harvard bookstore in Cambridge on May 2 at 7:00pm.
At this point in her life, Hoffman said she is “very happy to be writing more,” and hopes to get outside more as well as play the violin.
She said “I really like the neighborhood I live in,” where she has friends and is able to converse with everyone. “Some people I know well, and some I just recognize,” she said. Hoffman said she also loves Centre St. and all its local shops and restaurants. “It’s very convenient and fun,” she said.
Dot & Ralfie is expected to be released on April 26. For more information, visit amyhoffman.net