22 October 2017

16 random facts: the shortest stories redux

16. I love the rain, which happens at home throughout the year. In Wisconsin, the rains come mostly late summer-early fall, and then again in spring, mixed with snow. In Rwanda, there are downpour rains off and on in January, which is the end of the rainy season, and on the west shore of the Big Island of Hawai'i, the winter rains can be seen coming from a long way out across the ocean most mornings, and they pass over to leave behind the smell of plants and trees and wet stone.

15. Baking is like prayer in that its ritual grounds me and brings me comfort. I rarely use a recipe anymore unless it's something new. My favorite pie is huckleberry.

14. I learned to play the violin in 4th grade and came to love the used violin my parents purchased for me though I was never very good at playing. The violin disappeared from my parents' house after I wasn't living there—somewhere between moves or spring cleanings—along with my first pair of skis and the saddle I rode with throughout my Junior Posse years. I always hoped those three things ended up in the same place.

13. My only notable vice is good coffee despite the cost of imported small-batch beans or how many times my doctor recommends cutting caffeine. Decaf is for posers.

12. Most movies I watch in the theater are either action-dramas with big explosions and complicated fight scenes or sci-fi with elaborate special effects. Ellen Ripley remains my all-time favorite movie character, followed by John McClane and Wolverine.

11. Graduate school is not the hardest thing I've ever done, but it's up there in the top 20. Or at very least, the top 50.

10. My favorite vegetables are green beans. Second is butternut squash.

9. I learned to play baseball from my dad when I was a kid, and the first pro game I went to was an Angels game in California after we'd moved back to the states. I was probably 11. That year, our family also went to Disneyland, Sea World, Knott's Berry Farm, the San Diego Zoo, and the Hollywood Wax Museum, which contributes perhaps to my ongoing questions about American culture.

8. If I could take up another instrument, it would be the cello.

7. I've had textbook aura migraines since I was about 10 years old, which have increased in frequency over the years to as many as 2-3 per week. I've tried all kinds of remedies, prescribed or not, with varying success. I've also read that migraines become less frequent for women post-menopause, which may be the only medical condition I know of that can be ignored until eventually it goes away.

6. Watching Kirk Gibson's home run to win Game 1 of the 1988 World Series makes me cry. Every time.

5. Spending Thanksgiving in Virginia with my cousin and his family has become a cherished holiday tradition for me over the last five years. Plus I get to try out all my latest baking recipes on them, and to date, no one has complained.

4. I love being able to tell people about all five of my daughters.

3. I used to sew most of my own clothes—everything except blue jeans—out of necessity but also because the work of sewing helps me think. Once when two of my daughters were toddlers, I made some fancy ruffled dresses for them out of bedsheets, and the most common question I got about those dresses was where I bought them. Strangely, I could never quite remember.

2. It always amuses me when people ask my husband how he could let me go off to school without him. The second question they ask—also amusing—is how he manages by himself.

1. I have successfully climbed a glaciated peak in the Pacific Northwest, which makes me eligible to become a Mazama, although I've never gotten around to turning in the paperwork. That day, the summit seemed like the top of the world, horizons falling away on all sides under the chromatic blues of high altitude. Also, it was covered with ladybugs.

What you are thinking, what shape your mind is in, is what makes the biggest difference of all.  ~ Willie Mays

02 February 2017

new fiction: Fire, Fire

We heard Fire! Fire! and hauled out of bed like it was a real emergency. Pounded out the back door in our boxers and bare feet. Ranger barking. Michael dragging his blanket. The summer was a dark chill on our skins dragged from our blankets. As soon as I guessed it was Lenny, I knew we’d been duped. Pops’ truck wasn’t in the driveway, and mom was still in Indiana keeping her secrets. Saying she needed a real Indiana summer. Even Pops knew it was something else.
from "Fire, Fire," by Sherri H. Hoffman

Read the rest of my short story, "Fire, Fire" in the newest issue of  Potomac Review, Issue 60. This story is a chapter from the novel I am working to finish, The Wildish Boys.

You can purchase your copy of Potomac Review, Issue 60, online. Or if you are going to the 2017 AWP Conference & Bookfair in Washington, DC next week, I'm sure you can pick up a copy at their table.

01 November 2016

new fiction: The Audrey Hepburn

Meredith wills her voice up her dry throat. "It's a famous design, this dress. Did I tell you? The actress who made it famous?" 
The women peer at her, pins held between their lips as their fingers coax the bodice into place. Meredith can't stop talking. Roman Holiday. My Fair Lady. Academy Awards. Lifetime Achievement. She rambles on, sweating and breathless, words spilling out of her in what must be English-gibberish to the women as they move about her in an undulating whirl until the sash neckline lies naturally over her collarbones, darts fitted neatly alongside her breasts, bodice perfect above the flare of the gored skirt.

~ from "The Audrey Hepburn" by Sherri H. Hoffman

More than one of the expatriates in Rwanda encouraged me to have a dress made while I was there. If only for the experience, they said. A culture of dressmakers is something I could only imagine from historic references in the U.S., and I was intrigued.

In Butari, the fabric and textiles vendors held the second floor of the open market, and tucked into the center of the cement stalls, the dressmakers worked in a single open room. The rows of sewing machines were of various age, and the women seemed to work as one body, heads down, all machines buzzing with industry at once.

Prepared with my vision of the iconic dress made famous in Breakfast at Tiffany's, I looped through the fabric shops several times until I'd identified ta pattern I wanted, a small pattern of of blue over a cream backing. The vendors all had access to the same textile production, so it was available in more than one location. The aggressive shopkeepers put me off, and I made my purchase from a woman in a smaller shop with a soft voice and a baby strapped to her back.  She recommended a specific dressmaker and sent me to the galley of seamstresses to ask for her by name. Within minutes of meeting with her, she had my measurements and had sketched a pattern from my photograph. She took my bolt of cloth and instructed me to return in two days for a fitting.

Nothing could have prepared me for the experience. The seamstress I engaged along with a bevy of her fellows were boldly attentive and profoundly skilled, their expertise a reflection of a lifetime of professional practice. Within the week, I had a custom fitted replica dress blue-and-cream. I was beyond impressed.

As I left, the women told me that there would be a new market soon with a larger sewing galley. They hoped I would come back soon. Wrote indecipherable phone numbers and addresses into my notebook should I wish to order another dress.

I suppose I was not surprised that none of the women had ever heard of Audrey Hepburn. My hope that the older black-and-white film had circulated as far as Rwanda was overly optimistic. It seems like the closest theater was in Kigali several hours away. And in the end, it didn't matter. The experience became the context for my famous dress. One of a kind.

Tiffany's salesman: Do they still really have prizes in Cracker Jack boxes?
Paul Varjak: Oh yes.
Tiffany's salesman: That's nice to know. It gives one a feeling of solidarity, almost of continuity with the past, that sort of thing.
           ~ from Breakfast at Tiffany's