15 December 2008

black bird is editor's choice

My short-short Black Bird is released in print this month in the 2008 Very Short Story Anthology by Lunch Hour Stories. The anthology is a collection of the winners of their annual Very Short Story contest.

Black Bird was first awarded the Whidbey Writers Student Choice award in October 2007 and remains online in their Winner's Archives (10/07). This story was written especially for their Halloween contest that was going on at the time. Then in Spring 2008, Black Bird was awarded the Editor's Choice Award by Lunch Hour Stories.

You can purchase your copy of the 2008 Very Short Story Anthology online at www.lunchhourbooks.com. My copies arrived today, and I am thrilled to see it in print. My thanks to the editors for the recognition.


28 November 2008

songs of geese

Migrating geese fly low over my house, their noise a jumbled clamor that belies the orchestrated flight. After a flash of sunlight and warm rain last week, the cold season has settled in with morning fog and frost on the rooftops. Yesterday there was winter rain, a soaking mist that chills you straight through.

It took at least five winters here in the Pacific Northwest to acclimate from the dry bluster of the high mountain desert. As a result of a military father and my own unsettled youth, I grew up without a geographic identity and did not expect to stay when I first landed in Portland, the city lights out the window of the plane that night reflecting off so much water I thought was surely the sea.

More than thirteen years and change that has occurred for me at a deep and fundamental level has also given me roots. Even as I have been blessed with abiding friendships from around the world and recent opportunity to travel to the beautiful UK and distant reaches of the North American continent, it is the myriad of grays in the skies of Washington that I mean when I say home.

I continue to write with gratitude for the experiences that contribute to my vision so that those odd, endearing details that make us so very human might reveal the order to our own cacophonous song.

Awareness is a gift from the universe. To translate it to words is an ongoing challenge.


07 November 2008

falling away at the edges

Just in time for the holidays, my story Falling Away at the Edges is published in Duck & Herring Co. Pocket Field Guide Cold Weather edition. You can read it online or order your own copy of the Pocket Field Guide, complete with some warming recipes for the holiday season.

Some of my characters become particularly endeared to me by the time their story is complete. This is especially so with this story. It reaches back into my teenage years for time and setting, and while the family isn't exactly my own, it treads on the borders of the family chaos of growing up with 6 siblings.

The story itself was passed to me through the community grapevine of a most endearing group of real people with whom I cross paths regularly, if not daily - possibly the most irreverent and riotous group of people I have ever met. I owe much to those who have put out a hand to me in times of need, cried with me in times of pain, and in times of joy or sometimes just moments of hindsight, laughed with utmost abandon.

My life is richer for those people whose paths cross my own. Thanks.


02 November 2008


A cold rain knocks lingering autumn leaves to the ground, spatters up from the hard road, gathers on the windows. Kāhiko o ke akua - adornment of deity - in Hawaii. Bringer of life. Preserver of the land. Cleanser of evil spirits. World cultures dance, worship, revere and fear the rain.

More than 20 years ago, I lived in a metal-roofed single-wide trailer house in Layton, Utah, just outside the South Gate of Hill AFB immediately under the flight path of the southern runways and up against the rise of the Wasatch mountains. The years there were bittersweet, the joys and sorrows balanced in my memories, formative years of new awareness and self-discovery.

When I moved away to a suburban stretch west towards the Great Salt Lake, it took me awhile to identify what was missing among other things in the contained 2-story tract house with its double-paned windows, carpeted stairways and high trussed-roof: I could not hear the rain. It's deep patter, the audible measure of the storm, day or night, had become a comfort to me and a touchstone of peace.

Today I opened all the windows to listen to the rain, and a Red-shouldered hawk flew down from the roof to perch on top of the center bird-feeder and crow over the yard. Adorned with rain.

My very breath is my prayer of thanks and my awe.


11 October 2008

Lysis Complete

My story Lysis Complete is published this week on 42opus in Fiction. My thanks to the editors of this lovely site.

This story is interesting to me because it comes out of some writing I did in what feels like another lifetime more than 14 years ago. I had been working with François Camoin at the University of Utah, and at his suggestion, signed up for a workshop with Phyllis Barber. Most of this story comes from pieces that I originally wrote for her in that workshop.

But perhaps most strange to me was the tangible rush of memories that opened up when I came across the draft of this story about a year ago. My life was in shambles at the time of Phyllis' workshop. I was in the throes of a failed marriage, in between jobs and had applied to the writing program at the university - surely if I could go back to school I could pull my life back together.

The workshop was in Park City. I couldn't afford to stay at the conference, so I was staying at my parents' home near the mouth of Emigration Canyon, driving up and back through the canyon each day.

One night I had imposed myself at some party, passed out in my '76 Camaro, and then, still drunk and shored up by a little pick-me-up, I headed down Parley's Canyon. It was early morning, cold and there was fog like there is in the mountains and little traffic - the occasional semi-truck heading East to Cheyenne.

I came fast around one of those sweeping bends through a bank of fog, and my headlights caught the most enormous porcupine I had ever seen, illuminated by fog and headlamp to appear completely white. It turned its head towards me. Then I flashed by, swerving hard into the far lane, banking back again to adjust and readjust for my panicked over-correction.

I didn't stop. I doubt I even slowed.

Some psychological theory somewhere will explain how memory imprints most clearly under duress. The burst of adrenaline that implodes at chest level and then drops to churn in your stomach also binds the detail of every silver tip of porcupine quill and the round, dark eye just above the curve of its face, childlike in the headlights.

I carry more than a few memories from those long, bad years, set, as they were, by duress heightened with adrenaline, fear and pain. Even now, with resolution for the greater burden of guilt and shame, the images remain unfaded, ethereal and vivid, with crisp edges and the faintest taste of regret at the back of your throat like bitter almonds.


27 September 2008

like music

There are many theories about how to write. As a reader, I am most moved by works that connect me in an emotive way, the confluence of intellectual and emotional and shared human experience.

Music moves me at the same level. Or perhaps beyond as it surpasses language. It is emotive from a different direction. That being the ultimate challenge for a writer - to evoke connection in a holistic way. Breathe life into character and story, with subtlety and balance. Like music.


14 September 2008

City streets

There's noise on the street. The two strangers in front of me at the Starbucks on the corner. The produce guy who brings me fresh cucumbers from the back, talking over the counter to the woman in the bakery. The gas man trading quips with his co-workers across the pumps. My husband's friends downstairs in the Cigar Room at Kells that feels like a real old-fashioned speakeasy. Everyone's talking about it. Election. Power. Abuse of power. Counting votes, opinions, days.

While I am amused by the daily stupid human quote that makes it to the internet and then, days later, the local news, I hope to stay out of the debate. Especially the one that breaks out in my living room between the brother-in-law, nephew, and step-son.

But I enjoy the buzz. The conversation. The flight of words. Sometimes it's exactly like the old soup-can phone, string pulled tight between our refrigerator-box houses. It's like eavesdropping on the collective.

And then in the stillness of a breath, a moment of silence for David Foster Wallace. Be at peace.


07 September 2008

Turning leaves

Along the Sylvan Hill ridge, the alders bear the first speckled yellows and reds of autumn. Football season begins. The school zone lights flash and on the side of the road, there's the square flags of the crossing guard. Morning is more dark and sharp with the glint of something colder.

How did it happen so quickly this year? Where have I been?

Austin was so hot. Crater Lake was a bright, glimpse of unearthly blue. Takhlakh Lake and Rainier were a brief intake of breath and sun. Orlando was a string of conference-room days and theme-park nights, bright lights and fireworks. Was I gone so long?

Or perhaps it was just me. Flowing just under the surface, it has been a summer of grief, a thick, weighted loss that presses your head down, even some days so that you cannot see past your own feet or just barely into that small space ahead to watch for the jutted edge of sidewalk you know is coming so maybe you can keep from ending flat on your face with a bloodied lip and your front teeth knocked out.

I carved out space for it this time, gave it honor so as to allow its full course - lessons learned from old grief caught in stifled cracks of self-will and fear. But now, looking back, it was in Orlando when it began to lift.

Our midnight flight landed, and some hours later at the hotel, I swam with my daughters in an expansive, silent pool under a black sky lit by a vaguely familiar pattern of stars. The days were a flurry of schedules, new faces, lectures and PowerPoint presentations, but on the second night, we took off our shoes and I walked with my girls in the black curl of the Atlantic Ocean under the Cocoa Beach Pier, under christmas lights and a local rendition of Sublime.

We swam every night for relief from the humidity that made everything sticky damp. Hurricane Faye was incoming but not so close to be responsible for the evening lightning or that mid-afternoon downpour that moved the closing party indoors where we exchanged handshakes and hugs and then went to SeaWorld where the whales leaped and twisted in the damp air just the same, I expect, as in those sunlit commercials.

Strangers know they are sisters - my three daughters - even as they are distinctly different. As their mother, something unspoken and connective happens when I am with them. Something no less than awe rises in me to see from inside a lobby window as they walk across the courtyard and cross the bridge together. The swing of one's hair, the way this one moves her hand, the curve of the other's smile.

It was not anticipated, this change of course, not at least by me. Collectively, the smallest moments of joy throughout the summer have become entwined to keep me intact, and then unexpectedly, my daughters' presence bore me light. So that I might see the alder leaves.


01 September 2008

what stories?

Per request:

Black bird, 2008 Very Short Story Anthology, by Lunch Hour Stories, Editor's Choice Award, Dec. 2008, www.lunchhourstories.com

Falling away at the edges, Duck & Herring Pocket Field Guide Cold Weather Edition, Nov. 2008, www.duckandherring.com

Lysis complete, 42opus, Oct. 8, 2008, www.42opus.com/

Doing time in the real world, The Noneuclidean Cafe, Volume 3, Issue 2 - Winter-Spring 2008, Apr. 2008, www.noneuclideancafe.com

With the surety of a revelation, Poeticdiversity, Apr. 2008, www.poeticdiversity.org

Road dogs, Etchings IV: the Art of Conversation, Mar. 2008, www.ilurapress.com

Thicker than water, Bewildering Stories Issue 273 and Bewildering Stories First Quarterly Review of 2008, Jan. 2008 and Apr. 2008, Editor's Choice Award, www.bewilderingstories.com

Black bird, Whidbey Island Students' Choice, November Student Choice Award, Nov. 2007, www.whidbeystudents.com

Last resort, The Flask Review, Jul. 2007

10 August 2008


Hummingbirds click-click outside my open window, and mourning doves flush to the roof at any lift of a tree branch or perhaps the suggestion of a cat.

I am breathing.

Too many projects flying in weighted trajectories that cross and inevitably intersect, flying just ahead of deadlines and higher demands. It is the nature of the work.

But today I am in between, glad for the shift of air, the mix of gray that is the sky and the company of a green parakeet who sits on my shoulder and speaks a mix of childish rhetoric and a sailor's blue streak.

Tomorrow is a new day. Tomorrow is still a day away.


27 July 2008

Ice and water

Those who know me know that my favorite TV show is Discovery Channel's Deadliest Catch. I am a dedicated fan, enthralled by the men who make their living pulling king and opilio crab out from the depths of the Bering Sea.

The fishermen are truly men above men. Courageous, confident, daring...vulnerable. To challenge an insurmountable sea bares wide their humanity and their fragility. It achieves that masterful dichotomy of heroic accomplishment against the purest demonstration of human frailty. As true to form as Greek mythology, Eastern legend or Western folklore. I watch each episode in sheer awe.

There are few facets of our world left upon which we human animals have not worn a careless track, even in some cases to defeat or extinction. We often rage against the very universe that supports us.

The Bering sea is not exempt of human mistreatment. But its freezing spray to encase ships, the monumental rise of waves, and the roll of sub-zero waters that sap a man's life in seconds are reminders that we are not the masters of this universe, merely some of its smallest members, and tender ones at that. That which is sacred remains the vast expanse of green sea, the Aleutian gray sky, the scream of gulls and the pink barnacled shells of crab.

And the thickening of ice in sheets that extend like solid ground until the fishermen can even step over the side of their ship and walk on the surface of the sea, miles away from any shore.


17 July 2008


Flat land draws more of the sky closer to the ground. Austin is like that. The sky comes clear down until the sides fall away so that you can feel the curve of the earth under your feet as if the rest of the planet extends down from the capitol of Texas.

Trees grow in wide rolling hills here. Live oak, elm, maple and lacy willows in colors like crayons – spring green, mint julep, sea foam, emerald – and flowering trees in veils of purple pink ivory blossoms.

But it’s hot. And wet like breathing inside out, body fluid and organ warm, and flowing with a deep rhythm so that my own pulse flutters sparrow-fast and the jackdaws, flycatchers and mourning doves quicken into a single, held note.

Down from the capitol building, there are bats under the Congress Bridge. I watch them at dusk emerge in a cloud to feed against the fading sky. I am told it is the largest urban population of Mexican Free-tail bats and that these are the mothers, their offspring still tucked away in the man-made crevice of cement and steel that has become part of the regular migration path. Texas Capistrano’s swallows. I am down-river from the bridge, the crowd too much of a deterrent for me, but I am delighted at the flurry of erratic wings on the hunt.

And I wasn’t bitten by a mosquito even once.


28 June 2008


Yesterday in the early morning when I looked at my bedside clock for the millionth time since my husband was away and it wakes me to reach out to his side and find it empty, and it was 4 a.m. and that morning bird began its early song and I remember thinking that the birdsong would keep me awake longer but really that was the last conscious thought I had before my alarm went off at 6:30 and the day began in earnest.

It is still dark at 4 a.m. but not like winter dark. In the summer it is much more gradual, the light spread thin, a quiet refusal to retreat entirely. The bird begins its call.

It is a robin. An American robin, different from the European robin since it is related rather to a thrush than the little robins over the pond. Lang Elliott, an authority on birds (what would that be like - to be an authority on birds?), qualifies the dawn call of a robin as a "more animated, excited territorial declaration."

Some 5-ish years ago I worked a graveyard shift at a women's care facility while I was in between jobs. It was summer and I kept the wide windows on the west side of the front office thrown open all night since they were high enough to be inaccessible from the outside. The robin's song became my touchstone. It signaled the shift from one side to the other, the ramping upside to the quiet slide down into dawn. The pitch and timbre translated into a desperate stand against the vestiges of night. And a call to the sun.

It speaks to another time, years ago, a time of desperation and my last failed stand. I had lost everything. I couldn't sleep for the terrors that waited for me in my dreams and the weight of my grief and shame and of a nameless, bottomless, demoralizing despair. I paced. Tried to read. Listened to Eric Clapton, Bob Segar, Stone Temple Pilots, Nirvana—Cobain newly dead. In the dark, pre-dawn, I would give up and stand outside with my back against the peeling red paint of the door to the sleeping quarters and smoke, lighting each new cigarette off the last, until the black shape of the Wasatch Front deepened, its topmost edge backlit gold to fire-white, the sky fading purple, violet, lilac to the spread of peach and pink and then, at last, the sun would break over the peak to another day. And then, at last, I would sleep.

I did not hear the robin before. But there were many sacred gifts I missed back then, back in those old bad days of old bad ways of ignorance and self-will and despair.

A restless night might lay on me still. And it is a comfort to hear the robin call up the sun.


12 June 2008


This week, my novel found its voice. It has been more than a year of writing pages and pages of these boys, the Wildish boys. I have worked parts of it in and out of sessions at The Pinewood Table with Stevan Allred and Joanna Rose.

Most recently in a short summer session, I read a section that I knew was key but not working. Around the table with Stevan, Joanna, Hope, and Christi, the comments were as I expected - and more. High marks on character details, language and energy, but lots of confusion. Chaos. Anarchy, even.

Stevan wrote in his end notes, "I'm pretty lost."

But the conversation over the table was exactly what I needed. It prodded at the sensitive parts, revealed options, opened up language and potential. I went away last week with a new sense of direction and hope, infused with the energy and insights of my teachers, friends and peers.

Reading. Reading. I can hear it, that "thing" that I want, recognize it in my favorites. Stephen King's Stand By Me, William Kennedy's Ironweed and E.L. Doctorow's Billy Bathgate. I spent some days with Billy, marking "vertical" and "horizontal" in the margins, line by line.

Taking up my story, this novel in progress, I cleared away everything to get to the part that held my heart, the core of the Wildish story. And then I wrote. Or re-wrote, as it were.

Last night, Julia Stoops read the last chapter of her new novel, and we celebrated. A brilliant achievement. A lovely, talented writer. I am honored to have been across the table from Julia as she breathed life into her novel.

Then I read my revision, a 2-page segment, across the Pinewood Table. And I heard it. Voice.

Bigger than character voice. Stevan called it stance. It is the voice of the story.

It changes everything. I am elated.

My deepest thanks to Stevan and Joanna and all those who have sat across the table from me so that I might hear and practice. And write.


05 June 2008

Baby orca in the Puget Sound

There's a new baby, spotted on my own daughter's birthday. A new orca swimming in one of the returning pods in the Puget Sound. Most glorious!

Credit for the photos to Kelley Balcomb-Bartok at the Center for Whale Research. Please donate generously and frequently.

I have been on the Sound a number of times, but never seen orcas. Perhaps one day. For me, they embody an ancient spirit, of salt and wind, sunlight and the enfolding naissance of the sea. I am grateful for the very news of their return.


27 May 2008


There's a clear view of Mount Olympus out the back of my parents' home near Emigration Canyon above the Salt Lake valley. Ghosts inhabit my memories of Utah, and it is a Memorial Day weekend to honor them all. Honor to those who can be named: Michael, Robert, Francella, John, Pauly, Daisy, Grace, Dorothy, Craig, Mara, Linda, Art. Those who cannot be named have my prayers and my love.

Snow falls at my brother's house in Park City, and there is thunder and lightning at my sister's north along the Wasatch front. Back at home, there are tornado warnings and 3" of hail at Multnomah Falls in the Columbia Gorge. Rain across all things.

Through the Blue Mountains, a semi-truck jackknifes across the freeway ahead of us with the smell of burning rubber and brakes, and we turn off the engine and park in the lane until the emergency crews clear the road. Rain eases off, and all along the side of the roads, lupine, yarrow and wild daisies. True to their name, the mountains reflect the sky.

The Columbia River greets us over the flats beyond Pendleton and leads us the rest of the way. I love the skies and the rain and the thousand colors of gray as deep as the universe. I am not born in the Northwest, but it is my home. No matter where I roam.


09 May 2008

Doing Time in the Real World

Doing Time in the Real World is published on The Noneuclidean Cafe.

This story has made the rounds. It was accepted at another publication provided the language was edited out. After a few days of thought and a whirling email debate with my writing compadres, I withdrew the story. Another story was accepted in its place, and I renewed the submission process for Doing Time where it was accepted by the Noneuclidean Cafe.

The Winter issue was originally slated to be released in January, but real life stepped in for editor James Swingle and the issue was delayed. My thanks and respect to James for walking through his life experiences and pulling us together for this exciting double Winter/Spring issue.

Doing Time is one of my favorite stories. It speaks to something that weighs on my heart, of people overlooked or forgotten. Of despair and survival.

Perhaps there is a greater statement about failed systems and the cost of what constitutes success in bigger circles. But in the end, it is a personal story. Change begins with awareness and is carried forward by individual compassion when one person reaches out to another. The connection then lifts us all, one hand reaching forward, one hand always reaching back.

But that is just my experience.

Sherri H. Hoffman

20 April 2008

Wonky Weather

April 20 and there is snow on my tulips and violets.

There hasn't been so much weird weather like this since the first year I was here - 1995. That year there was ice on the Columbia River, a windstorm to rival some 1950-ish record, and snow. Then a flood that ultimately breached the Portland seawall and flooded the train station and the international airport. The city was cut off by mudslides in the Gorge and both north- and south-bound I-5.

I remember calling my parents from my basement apartment during a power outage just to reassure them that all was well. All my friends told me it was "unusual." I suppose it was, but for all I knew, winter was one chaotic natural disaster after another.

Five years ago, we had an ice storm that shut us in the house for 5 days. No work, no school, no groceries. We could get out in our 4-wheel drive but not safely. The little birds trying to land on the feeder in the back yard were slipping right off. The heating bill that month was over $1000.

This year, we got the tornado in February, snow in March, and hard frosts and snow in April.

It just proves we pitiable humans are not in charge. Thank goodness.


13 April 2008

Writers Night

Last night was the 6th Annual Writers Night at the Springwater Grange presented by The Estacada Area Arts Commission. Reading were my mentors, Stevan Allred and Joanna Rose, along with Jackie Shannon-Hollis, whom I adore as both peer and teacher.

I rode out to the grange with my friend Mary Milstead and her husband Nathan and baby Solomon, who were most engaging travel partners. We got to discuss all things llama, bbq, and grizzly bear and swap stories about when you first met the parents of your significant other, since my daughter was that very afternoon meeting the parents of the boyfriend. Solomon mostly listened.

The theme for the evening was The Elephant in the Room, an open look at those things we don't talk about in polite company, things like politics, race, religion, sex, and mental illness. Except that Mary, Nathan, Solomon and I had pretty much run the gambit on the drive, including how my darling muscular husband would be the Donner Party first-choice should his Mazama climbing class become stranded on their climb this weekend.

Keeping with the theme, Stevan tackled racism, Joanna religion, and Jackie mental illness. "Writers," said Stevan, "have the task of addressing these issues with grace and wit, so that the unspoken can be heard and discussed in a way that is intelligent instead of threatening."

Joanna opened with part of her novel in-progress, Ruby's Roadhouse. Jackie read her short story, Her Own Special Touch. And Stevan closed out the evening with the end of his story, As Men Will Do Unto The Least Among Us; he read the beginning last year, but there were so many requests to finish, he had to comply.

The stories were engaging and poignant and thoughtful. The language beautiful. Cecily Patterson showed up and we both laughed at Stevan's reference to atheists, although Cecily may have just been laughing at me.

I'm sure the party-after was no less than fabulous - I have been to one before, with oysters on the half-shell, an unlimited supply of wine and drink, and a troupe of belly-dancers. Stevan is admirably committed to throwing a good party.

Alas, it was a party we would miss this year. Solomon was well past his bedtime, and I had to pickup the teenagers from VSAA Spring Fling and get the scoop on the parent-meeting. Thanks to Nathan's keen ability to avoid deer, we made it home without incident.

I always love to experience to the greater community of writers. To hear those who are ahead of me, my mentors, read in their own voices, their own works. It was a night to remember.

Sherri H. Hoffman

12 April 2008

Road trip!

Yesterday Rick and I drove north to Seattle to hear His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama speak at the Seeds of Compassion conference. Thanks to Barry Anderson for the tickets (thanks Barry!!). Even from our seats in the rafters of the Key Arena, when His Holiness walked across the stage to start the session, I burst into tears. It was the first time I have ever seen him in person, and I was so moved by his presence and his joy.

The focus of the conference session was about raising compassionate children. The result of which, if we succeed, will bring about world peace. So says the Dalai Lama. He undid his own boots and then pulled his feet up to sit lotus-style in his chair during the session. Listened with intent as each of the panel presenters were introduced with all their pomp and resume.

When asked to speak, he outlined in simple terms the practice of daily compassion and its far-reaching consequences. Ending very matter-of-fact with, "That's all."

I am pressed to put words together at this point. It opened up an unexpected awareness, and I am better off for the experience. I wondered at those panelists who got to share their stories and ask a question of His Holiness. What would be my question?

Ever amazed

03 April 2008


Poeticdiversity: the litzine of Los Angeles has published my short-short "With the Surety of a Revelation" online in the April 2008 edition.

Marie Lecrivain, executive editor of poeticdiversity, quotes Wm Shakespeare:

"Once more, unto the breach, dear friends, once more. . ." - Henry V

April is National Poetry Month. Visit www.poeticdiversity.org and celebrate a poem.


01 April 2008


Ah, the cruelest month. I have lived and died and lived again in Aprils past. I am a true April Fool.

This year, March went out with snow and a hard frost on the daffodils. April must be in like a lamb - if the lamb had pneumonia and spent most nights of late coughing its lungs up. My darling husband actually suggested we try out the new medical coverage. ha.

When I was in high school, I contracted some kind of infection around my heart. I'm sure my dad and all my other doctor-siblings and sibs-in-law could easily provide a medical latinate for its infectious identity. I only recall that it felt as if I was stabbed from inside with every breath. For the duration of the infection, I bedded down in the reading nook of the basement family room where I could sleep sitting up. Sleep and weep and read. Never able to do just one, I read Tolstoy and Tolkien, Asimov, Heinlein, James Joyce, George Orwell and Thomas Hardy. A plethora of human suffering. Plethora - I've heard Chris Berman use it successfully on ESPN. Goes with "Whoop!"

My point? Long gone under the haze of Advil and Dextromethorphan HBr extended release.

The beauty of some down days as April opens up in all its glory is that I have started a new book(s). John Dos Passos, Sherwood Anderson, and Grace Paley. An April plethora.


31 March 2008

Thicker Than Water is Editors' Choice!

Editor Don Webb notified me that Thicker Than Water has been selected as Editors' Choice for the Bewildering Stories First Quarterly Review of 2008 in the category Short Stories.

Don writes, "The Quarterly Reviews are 'the place to be' at Bewildering Stories. The Editors' Choices represent the recent best; they give newcomers a good place to start and veteran readers a way to catch up with anything they may have missed."

It is an honor to have this piece recognized. The Wildish boys live on in the novel-in-progress (working under the same title) that I am hoping to finish sometime this summer.

I see that Stevan Allred's The Painted Man was also selected in Serialized Works. Congratulations to Stevan!

08 March 2008

Editor's Choice Award for Black Bird

Nina Bayer, Editor of Lunch Hour Stories Magazine, wrote to inform me that my story Black Bird has been selected for the Editor's Choice Award in the 2007 VERY Short Story and Narrative Prose Poem Contest. I am pleased and honored to have this piece recognized.

Final judge in the contest was Helen Sears; semi-final judges were Helena Bayer, Catherine Carter, Nancy Cluts, Ginger B. Collins, and K. Gordon Neufeld.

The award makes Black Bird eligible for inclusion in the Lunch Hour Stories Anthology later this year.

You can subscribe to Lunch Hour Stories (1 year/16 issues) for only $26! Go to www.lunchhourstories.com. Also the Lunch Hour Stories 2008 Short Story Contest is going on now!! Deadline is June 30, 2008.

Sherri H. Hoffman

06 March 2008

Road Dogs is in Etchings

"Road Dogs" is included in the newly released issue of Etchings: The Art of Conversation. This is Lena and Vincent's road trip from Portland to Denver and all thoughts between.

You can read more about it (and purchase your very own copy) at http://www.ilurapress.com/index.php?pid=2

Sherri H. Hoffman

01 March 2008

The Sound of It All

It is no secret that music moves me to tears. So does dance. And the sound of the ocean.

My father bought our first piano out of the officers' mess when I was maybe 5 years old. It was a black lacquer baby grand patterned with the rings from years of wet mugs of beer set on its top. The gilded soundboard was stained and slightly warped from spilled drinks, irreparable but not un-beautiful to the child I was. My lessons were tedious when I would lay under the piano as if inside its very bones and listen to my father's reel-to-reel recordings of Mozart, Ravel, Dvorak, Smetana, Tchaikovsky. Even as a child I could weep at the rise in Rachmaninoff's Symphony #2, the 1812 Overture, or Horszowski's Beethoven. Pavarotti's nessun dorma still brings me to my knees. Mahler remains my muse.

But the first song I ever performed myself, outside of Sunday School learning and John Jacob Jingle-heimer Smith (sp?) was Glen Campbell's Rhinestone Cowboy. My parents recorded the performance, perhaps for some future opportunity for blackmail. My sister and I couldn't have been more than 8 and 9. We knew all the words to every verse and performed in an acapella disaster that climbed with every stanza to reach a piercing falsetto by the final line. The recording is stunning, and, hopefully, lost.

I was also a nun once. My friend Barbara Hanson and I were juniors in high school, walked down the auditorium aisle together with candles and the women's choir, Ave Maria in full black and white habits for the Sound of Music. Hang on to that visual through the rest of my personal history.


28 February 2008

Ah, the Real World

Tomorrow is my last day at my old job. It's a mixed bag. I will miss some people there. I have always loved my work - the re-branded company website launched, and today I sent off the last of the re-branded collateral to the printer. It is very satisfying. The beauty of my craft, as I said to someone earlier, is that it applies across industries. I will be glad, however, to leave the finance industry behind.

Driving home, I got a call from Julie Granger, Program Director at VOA. She's an amazing, intelligent, beautiful, soulful woman and the director of the Outreach program when I worked there. Talking with her brought back a reminder of a key component of the work at VOA, that element of human service.

I am looking forward to my new job. It feels right. Perhaps I'll even hang up some pictures in my office space, actually move in. My kids have teased me about that. In hindsight, I suppose it is a manifestation of my reservations over the last couple of years.

I was about 13-years old when my dad called me a cynic. I remember saying, "I'm not a cynic. I'm a realist in a cynical world." I also remember that made him laugh.

My short story "Doing Time in the Real World" is due to come out soon in the Noneuclidean Cafe at http://www.noneuclideancafe.com/ . Jim Swingle, editor, was quick to respond to my email query and reports that he is just running a bit behind schedule, but that the Winter edition will most likely be released the end of March. I'll post a link as soon as it comes out.

And in the real, real world, the Utah Jazz beat the Detroit Pistons last night, 103-95. Most Excellent.


19 February 2008

How many licks does it take?

Yesterday was a weird day.

First my story Falling Away at the Edges was accepted by Duck & Herring Co Pocket Field Guide Cold Weather Edition 08. After 62 submissions.

Also yesterday, my story Black Bird was selected as a finalist in the Lunch Hour Stories Magazine 2007 VERY Short Story contest. 2 submissions. It kind of skews the statistics, doesn't it?

Then there's the whole thing about getting 2 acceptances in one day. Against only one rejection: 2-1. Double weird. The good news about the rejection is that it does save me one withdrawal letter.

Here's the thing. Falling Away is a story that came out of a single line that arose from a 5-minute freewrite warm-up about my family history combined with a Christmas turkey tossed out the window. It has been a much shorter piece and a much longer piece. It has been workshopped through 2 different groups, Dangerous Writers and Hot Pages. I love the story. I love the characters. And while it is not my family exactly, the setting is literally in the home of my teenage years, in farm country of southern Idaho. It evokes all the warm fuzzies, if I had any in there from those years of teenage angst.

"Black Bird" on the other hand, is a short-short piece written in a single sitting during the 3rd quarter of a Giants/Falcons game on Monday Night Football immediately after some earlier discussion with the Hot Pages crew about the characteristics of a sociopath. There is a poetic rythmn, no dialogue punctuation, one of my sisters wants to know why I chose that particular name for the girl (it is what it is, Sam, nothing personal), and my dad says it just leaves you hanging. But I guess that was the point.

Eckhart Tolle said, "All true artists, whether they know it or not, create from a place of no-mind, from inner stillness." Apparently my inner stillness seems to manifest during football. I think I'm alright with that.

Yesterday, I also gave my two weeks' notice at work. The new job starts March 3. Gotta make the doughnuts. It will be nice to get my feet back under me at some point.

In the meantime, I might have to make a run to the store for Tootsie Pops.


15 February 2008

More Juggling

"I was juggling my own self as well in a kind of matching spiritual feat, performer and performed for, and so, entranced, had no mind for the rest of the world as for instance the LaSalle coupe that came around the corner of 177th Street and Park Avenue and immediately pulled up to the curb in front of a hydrant and sat there with its motor running, nor of the Buick Roadmaster with three men that came next around the corner and drove past the warehouse doors and pulled up at the corner of 178th Street nor finally of the big Packard that came around the corner and rolled to a stop directly in front of the warehouse to block my view, if I had been looking, all the boys slowly standing now and brushing the backs of their pants, while a man got out from the front right-hand door and then opened, from the outside, the right rear door, through which emerged in a white linen double-breasted suit somewhat wilted, with the jacket misbuttoned, and a tie pulled down from his shirt collar and a big handkerchief in his hand mopping his face, once a boy known to the neighborhood as Arthur Flegenheimer, the man known to the world as Dutch Schultz."

- Billy Bathgate, E.L. Doctorow

It's my favorite sentence.


10 February 2008


"My old typewriter was named Olivetti. I know an extraordinary juggler named Olivetti. No relation. There is, however, a similarity between juggling and composing on the typewriter. The trick is, when you spill something, make it look like part of the act."
- Tom Robbins, Still Life with Woodpecker

It could be the real secret to success. It's really about perspective, then. Isn't it?

Some years ago, we waited in a long line upstairs at Powells after hearing Tom Robbins read from his latest book - I lose track which one. It was hot and there were more people than I ever expected. Robbins is Rick's all-time favorite writer and my appreciation was due mainly to his recommendations. Mr. Robbins was gracious and unhurried as he signed our books.

I am generally baffled into silence by autographing authors, especially if my admiration extends to a larger body of work and the success as a working writer. I could only offer my name over my worn copy of "Roadside Attraction."

Tonight Herbie Hancock won a Grammy for Album of the Year. What an achievement. What a musician. He is one of the sounds of my childhood.

It's after midnight. My life is messy. Full. Amazing. All the balls in the air. . .


06 February 2008

How do they get those big teeth into the Mammoth?

Last year I made a total of 346 submissions to a target group of literary magazines and anthologies. As a result, 6 pieces were accepted. 1.734%.

Granted, my story "Black Bird" skewed the statistics since I wrote and submitted it during the 3rd quarter of the Monday Night Football Giants/Falcons game and it promptly won (as did the Giants) the Whidbey Writers Student Choice Award the next day (the story-not the Giants). Definitely my unicorn.

But I digress. If it takes 346 submissions to achieve 6 publications, how many does it take to get a novel published? Or does that just count as one piece?

Three years ago (has it been so long?) I couldn't even fathom writing a novel. Heading up Dangerous Writers, Joanna Rose and Stevan Allred kept telling me it was possible. One bird at a time.

Now I have the first draft of a novel - working title "Something Big Far Away." And another in progress - "Thicker Than Water." Although lately I am inspired by Jim Harrison's novellas, so perhaps it is a short novel.

OMSI opened up the new dinosaur exhibit for members only. We had no idea there were so many other science geeks in Portland. What a relief.

2 rejections today. 2 submissions. Who says there's no balance in the world?


27 January 2008

Oh the Snow

My eyes are still a bit sun-affected after spending the day in the snow up in the Gifford Pinchot forest, above Swift Resevoir and south of Mount St. Helens. At Eagle Cliff, a sheriff flashed his lights at us to say that the roads ahead were unplowed with 14"-16" of new snow.

"I turned around. Not going to make a mail run today. But you can go if you want," he said. "Not like you can go off the road. The sides are all piled up."

Up the road to Curly Creek, we followed a truck pulling a snowmobile trailer, staying in the tracks cut ahead of us. The big fir trees were so weighed down by the snow they looked like folded up umbrellas. The Jeep slipped around, but Rick kept us more or less on track in between the walls, kind of like a pinball. Sans the giant flippers.

Random thought? It's a fine line of perspective whether you see your place and feel like you have something to do with how and why you are there or you feel like someone else got you into this mess and that same someone should probably step up and make it better for you.

Submission count this weekend: 13


19 January 2008

Some days the bear wins

Three rejections today. One is another from a mag I have been trying to break for the last year. I hadn't heard from them after going on 4 months, and I was fairy-tale hopeful that this was the one. To be fair, it was a handwritten note on my cover letter. The last one from them was a personal letter on their own letterhead saying I had been in the final selection round, thank you but no thank you. Not sure which is better.

Glimmer Train announces on their website that they are accepting simultaneous submissions now. A toast to all mags that accept the simultaneous. May your production always be flawless and your sales exceed inventory.

Working on a draft of something new in time for Monday's Hot Pages. So to quote one of the masters of rejections, Howard Junker, "Onward!"


15 January 2008

Etchings publication

"Road Dogs" has been accepted in print in the upcoming issue of Etchings: The Art of Conversation. The editor, Patrick Allington, sent me proofs yesterday and I made two changes and sent it back. I am very excited to see this particular story in print. Vincent and Lena are two of my most favorite and dear characters.

The history of this story is also tied back to the beginning of my second life. It is the first piece finished when I began to write again, working out some debilitating self-doubt. I remain ever grateful to Christy Krug from Wildfire Writing for her gentle, selfless, unwavering support while I exorcised my demons and began to heal. Not to be dramatic, but the experience changed my life.

Perhaps exactly why I love Vincent and Lena so much.

13 January 2008

Jan 2008

So begins the new year and my first attempt at the online media.

2008 begins with "Thicker Than Water" published online in Bewildering Stories Issue 273:


This is an excerpt of a novel-in-progress of the same name.

The long story is that I had submitted a different story to Bewildering Stories and it was accepted - provided I would remove the profanity. So I debated whether to edit or withdraw for a few days. When I finally decided to withdraw it from consideration, the response was a request for another story. With nothing else appropriate for the profanity requirement, I compiled a piece from the novel-in-progress, and it was accepted.

As a further footnote, just days later, the other story (Doing Time In the Real World) was accepted - profanity intact - by the Noneuclidean Cafe and will be published sometime soon in the Winter edition. I will forward a link as soon as I am notified.

Thanks for all you support and encouragement! I am looking forward to a new year, new stories and a new experience here in the world of blog.