30 August 2009


Until this spring, I commuted several hours every day to and from my day job. Over the years, the offices where I worked were in downtown Portland, then Gresham, Lake Oswego and finally, Tigard. The hours driving gave me time to think. Or music. "Reading" books on CD. Voices in my head - ha.

The thing about commuting is that the variable is outside of any participating driver's control. Timing can be predicted only in general terms, and anticipated heavy traffic days are sometimes, randomly, not. Or exponentially so. Planning is a veritable craps-shoot. I could map my hours, leave on time, use all my commuting tricks, and one stall on the bridge would add hours to my plan.

Such is my writing at the moment. Stalled out by one element. An unanticipated glitch in my thoughtful schedule. Granted, this particular element is key to the ultimate success of the story and warrants thoughtful review and selection. But, oh, how I wish I was not stuck here. It's the work-weary return drive at a full-stop on I-5 behind a raised bridge and a diesel truck dually accompanied by the bass-boom Honda Accord with tinted windows in the next lane and the open window blast of country music from the Ford truck behind you.

Here I sit. Sans country music.

The good news is that being stuck does not mean inaction. Not if you want to get anywhere. The re-write of Chapter 1 in first-person has been rejected. A second re-write is in process.

I know that when the traffic breaks free, it flows forward like before. As if the delay had never happened.

Someone honks. "Get ready."


13 August 2009

things i learned in conference

The Willamette Writers Conference was a great experience for me. Lots of writers. Lots of writing theory and practical suggestions. First-time exposure to the art of pitching, a most amazing process to witness. I did not pitch anything myself - just trying to figure out how it works at this point. And I might need to work on my knuckle-ball.

I did get a one-on-one manuscript critique with an established writer. The first 20-pages of my novel in progress were submitted back in June, and at the conference, I had a meeting with author and editor Jill Kelly for the review. It was encouraging to get positive feedback. Also confirmed some of my instincts that I have been second-guessing up to now, although in retrospect, it would have been nice if I could have embraced some of those thoughts six months ago. Ah, well. What's that they say about water and a bridge?

The good news is I have a good, orderly direction to pursue as I move forward on the novel.

The bad news is my synopsis sucked. Ha. My first. Silver-lining is that there is "plenty" of room for improvement.

To quote my most favored (and frequent) rejection letter: Onward.


07 August 2009

black bird (reprint)

Black Bird
by Sherri H. Hoffman

Those Mackey boys from up the road always teased Howdy. Called him Retard.

Sandra stepped down off the school bus, and before it had even pulled away with a puff of dust, the boys started throwing horse apples at the back of Howdy’s head. Howdy walked alone toward the wooded lane where Sandra knew he lived with his mother, although no one had seen her much since the flu outbreak back before Christmas. Howdy did all the shopping now, brought the brown chicken eggs to the grocery in his mother’s old wicker baskets. Ailing, he said when inquired after her health. His jeans hung low across his narrow hips, and his clean white t-shirt stretched across his broad, straight back, unflinching, even when the Mackey boys switched to small stones.

Stop it, you animals.

Sandra loves the Retard. Sandra loves the Retard.

Sandra called Howdy’s name, but he didn’t turn around. She had to run to catch up.

Howdy! What ya’ doing, Howdy? Can I walk with you?

Howdy slowed, bent forward, held a single finger up to his lips, then spread his hands low and wide. Sandra followed his crouch, holding her skirt down against her bare legs. Sunlight glinted off a filament of fishline stretching into the underbrush.

What is it? Who put this here?

His long, fine fingers lifted the line, held the tension, walked forward as if climbing the invisible thread. A scrabbling in the leaves, thump-thumping in the brush startled Sandra back a step.

Oh! Something’s there. Some animal. Howdy! It’s something!

The fishline looped around the bird’s yellow-stick leg. Its black wings were half-shrugged, half open, its yellow beak open and panting. Howdy called to the bird, soft clicks with his tongue. Sandra crouched closer, close enough to smell the musk of him, his hair, his skin warmed with sun. She leaned in, almost brushing up against the curve of his arm.

It’s beautiful, Howdy. A beautiful bird.

He wound the line around his fingers, cooing soft now. The bird’s yellow eyes were wide and still, its wings drooping. It flapped weakly and hop-hopped one more time. Howdy’s fine, long fingers cradled the bird, folded in the curve of wings, stroked the iridescent black feathers that shimmered like oil.

Howdy turned. His cheekbones were sharp ridges over the equally sharp jaw line, his full, red lips parted just so.

Let me touch it, Howdy. Pet the bird.

Howdy’s eyes were flat, black pools like tar. His right eyelid slanted lower, twitched. His hands held the bird out to her.

Sandra touched the shiny black of the bird’s feathered head. It sagged forward, its neck limp as grass, snapped. She sucked in her breath.

Howdy’s eyes narrowed. He smiled. A casual flick cast the dead black bird away into the bushes.

Sandra backed fast. Howdy’s hand caught her wrist, long bony fingers closing in a vise.


His full lips rounded, clicking soft with his tongue, and his other hand clamped hard over her mouth.

### End

Winner October 2007 Student Choice Award: Whidbey Writers (10/07)

Winner Editor's Choice Award: 2007 VERY Short Story and Narrative Prose Poem Contest, Lunch Hour Stories Magazine (3/08)