Showing posts with label Wildish boys. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Wildish boys. Show all posts

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 April 2016

writing the river

Over the last six months, I've been everywhere but home, which has made writing an interesting endeavor at times. I like my coffee just so, like I like my writing space. Being on the road for so long has given me some insight into what it takes to be adaptable. Not that the journey hasn't been lovely, this long strange trip. Makes me feel lucky.

To acknowledge that it has been challenging isn't a complaint. It's taught me a few things:

1. Be warm. Granted, it's winter. But I've discovered that whether I'm at a busy coffee shop or the quiet space of the Cardinal Stafford Library at the theological seminary, it's easier to focus if the space is warm. Noise and movement aren't huge factors, but give me a cold draft, and out goes my creative process.

Word cloud made with WordItOut
2. Spread out. My life is less of a linear outline and more of a word cloud. Whether I'm at a big desk or tall bistro table, my books and notes roam around as if they have a life of their own. I need space for my Black Warrior pencils-of-choice and whatever inspirational books I'm packing at the moment, Willa Cather to Philip K. Dick. And a good cuppa coffee.

3. Make time. I've heard other writers talk about needing time to get their head in the current work, and in practice, I've discovered that's true for me. I need time to get in, and once there, I need a enough time to stay in. Especially working with the complexities of multiple characters on multiple levels of awareness, from the character to the narration to the story consciousness. The process reminds me of doing geometric proofs--get in and stay until the solution reveals itself. Let's me work in cohesive arcs of story.

4. Activate the Omega 13. Every writer gets stuck, and I am no exception. When it happens, I've learned to switch writing projects. Sometimes working on an unrelated piece is exactly what I need to be able to come back to my stuck-point with new eyes and ears, and the writing opens up before me. From story to poem. Novel to flash. It can feel frenetic, but perhaps that's my brain-skill (see #2). Plus it guarantees that I'm always working on something, which keeps the writing reflexes engaged. Pretty sure I'll always need an Omega 13 or three in my back pocket.

One of my writing heroes Jim Harrison once said in an interview for the Paris Review, "In a life properly lived, you’re a river. You touch things lightly or deeply; you move along because life herself moves, and you can’t stop it." (read the full article). I remind myself that it wouldn't matter if I was away from home or not, life carries me forward. My joy is that I can write it back to itself along the way.

On this day, April 1, I remain grateful. No foolin'.

  ~ sherri 

08 December 2015

poetry + coffee = heaven

What could be better than your favorite cuppa coffee and a poem? Nothing! says the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's Literary Circular campaign. This week, The Grind, UWM coffeeshop, will wrap your delicious beverage of choice in select poems by authors Alessandra Rolffs, Franklin K.R. Cline, Jenni Moody, Noel Mariano, Mark Brand, and yours truly, Sherri H. Hoffman.

Come in and warm your literary heart with a poetic espresso.

09 May 2014

2014 uwm english departmental awards

I am pleased and honored to have received three awards at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee 2014 English Departmental Annual Awards Ceremony alongside some talented and esteemed graduate students in the English PhD and MA programs.  It is an honor to be recognized for my writing as well as my academic work at UWM, and I am deeply grateful to the donors who endow these awards. 

Ellen Hunnicut Prize
Guest Judge: Christine Sneed
for an excerpt from The Wildish Boys - a novel

The contest recognizes an unpublished novel or novella by a UWM student. Excerpt is submitted anonymously. Judge's comments:
"The author's panoramic rendering of the characters and the two communities where these opening sections take place, as well as the vivid sensory detail on each page, were impressive and exciting."
Wladyslaw Cieszynski Literary Prize
Guest Judge: Christine Sneed
for "Seemingly Unrelated Events" published in december, V24, Dec. 2013

Contest recognizes a previously published work, poetry, fiction, or nonfiction by a UWM student. Submitted anonymously.

James A. Sappenfield Fellowship
The award recognizes academic excellence; recipients are selected by department faculty within each graduate plan: Literature and Cultural Theory; Rhetoric and Composition; Creative Writing; Professional Writing; and Media, Cinema and Digital Studies.

I have just completed my first year of coursework in the PhD Creative Writing program. My thanks to the department faculty for their recognition and enduring support.

~ sherri

Getting it Right

Lying in front of the house all
afternoon, trying to write a poem.
Falling asleep.
Waking up under the stars.

~ by Jack Gilbert (1925-2012), from The Dance Most of All

18 July 2010

at work

Head down, I am in the middle of a rewrite, working out some issues with the structure of the novel. I shifted some pieces around about a month ago, and it changed up some real-life facts. The timeline shifts solved other issues, eliminated flashbacks and some "telling" to fill in the gaps - all important. Still feels like the right thing to do.

Last year about this time, I was struggling with POV, shifting verb tense and narration. Some big nuts and bolts to grapple with, and it felt overwhelming, but necessary. Solving for voice cleared the way for new variables to surface. Revealed the equation, so to speak. Solve for y; substitute, and solve for x.

The original novel timeline is mapped on a whiteboard over the desk in my home office. The most recent working timeline is a flexible set of post-its stuck to the top of my coffee table. I posted one version to my Facebook page the other day; this one is today's iteration. Note the bare space in the center. That's the transition to the start of 1976, still missing.

If I have learned anything, it's to trust the process. Keep writing forward. The missing post-its will appear; the stuck points will resolve. The human mind is an amazing place of relationships, connections and story.

The other thing I know is that for every decision I make, another writer out there will make the exact opposite one. I attended a fabulous session of the Tin House conference on Friday, disagreed completely with the presenter's evaluation of a Barry Lopez piece, and came away with some valuable perspective about my own plot structure. All hail diversity.

Today's morning trip to the grocery for toilet paper, milk and potato chips solved a piece of dialog. If I had a sign, I suspect I would have to wear it 24/7, taped to my forehead: Writer at Work.


"I think," said Anna, playing with the glove she had taken off, "I think...if so many men, so many minds, certainly so many hearts, so many kinds of love."

~ Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy

25 May 2010

shout out!

Thanks to everyone who came out to the reading at the Press Club. It was a really great experience for me, and I was honored to be included with my fellow writers, Joanna Rose and Scott Sparling. They both read pieces that were engaging, unique and full of real life.

Reading from the podium was a bit nerve-wracking. Had to keep pulling my breath from deep, like the monks taught in meditation. That seemed to work. Kept me from feeling like I was drowning. Had my game-face, my story-telling voice and my favorite boots. On.

Once I started, I didn't look up so that I wouldn't lose my place (that was the nightmare from the night before, along with the one where I turn the page and it's blank, and so is the next one, and the next...). 

Keep pace. Keep breathing. Don't rush or your tongue twists up. Read my story.

It's a far cry from my 9-year old self. Dyslexic. Displaced, this time into a whole new country called the United States. With a severe lisp that landed me in special education for a few years. (You can still hear it, soft, but still there.)

It's even further from some dark places where I ended up in later years. Spiraled down and dragged along the bottom for far too long. Or perhaps just long enough.

The victory for me last night was just to be there. Bonus points for the positive response to the Wildish Boys.

A big shout out to the Mountain Writers Series. They continue to sponsor readings every third Wednesday of the month at the Press Club. Check their website for the list of events, including the upcoming conference:

Another to the Pinewood Table Writing workshop. That's the fancy name for Stevan Allred and Joanna Rose, both amazing writers and poets, mentors and teachers. Both my friends.

I remain grateful. And amazed.


"Make connections; let rip; and dance where you can."
 - Annie Dillard

22 March 2010


Lately there is a recurrent theme in my private circles about childhood and those places we came from. Coincidentally, in this month's Smithsonian magazine, Joyce Carol Oates wrote a beautiful piece about her home: Joyce Carol Oates Goes Home Again.

I have made previous reference to my own childhood as nomadic; my father served in the USAF and moved us at least once every year of my life until I was 13 when we landed in southern Idaho. It proved to be the longest stretch of time in my life up to that point in which I lived in one area. I attended both Shelley Jr. and Shelley Sr. High School and graduated in 1983.

Those years were often inglorious for me, but to be fair, they were not without light. Dickens's two cities had nothing on Shelley, Idaho. In the midst of turmoil and what would prove to be far-reaching developments, I also had some solid and joyful moments.

Most of the goodness in my memories comes from the kindness of people in my life: friends, teachers, coaches, piano and guitar instructors, sheepherders and horse handlers. And from the wind-swept, sun-warmed, rolling landscape of the foothills of the Rockies. On a clear day, the pristine tips of the Grand Tetons might peek over the hills to the east. To the west, the snub-nose of a cinder cone was the marker by which I gauged the setting sun's seasonal movement along the horizon. I spent many evenings in the back of my parents' house perched on the top bale of the haystack or up on the metal roof of the horse barn, hoping for the sun to land right in the center of the scooped out crater.

In the best of my dreams now, peace manifests as one of the frequent rides on horseback down the long country roads or across the freshly turned up wheat or potato fields, my gold and white dog, Topper, loping alongside.

Those memories still move me. Continue to inspire. Inform a foundation that sustains my beliefs of family, faith and, perhaps more significantly, love. Much of the character development in my writing reaches back and taps into those times, those people and the dynamics that swirled around my life.

If one writes what one knows, it is inevitable that the extension of place should touch each story. People I know, places and unfortunate ghosts reflect in my characters: Sandra and Howdy, Thad, Maverick and Sebastian, Wilson Taylor, Jack Melvin, Vincent, and the Wildish boys. None of these would exist without the people whose paths my own has crossed and perhaps re-crossed, for better or worse.

I am better for it all.


"I have sometimes sat alone here of an evening, listening, until I have made the echoes out to be the echoes of all the footsteps that are coming by and by into our lives."
~ Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

26 December 2009

personal reflection at solstice

With all the holiday preparations and celebrations going on, I have been a bit neglectful of my blog. Almost all of my writing energy has gone into the novel as of late. On one hand, it feels productive to have that body of work nearing completion. At the expense of everything else. Current submissions are down to almost nothing. Multiple small projects suspended in varying stages of draft. Two larger projects waiting in the wings for time and space. A drawer full of post-it notes with story lines, scenes and snippets of dialogue.

Don't get me wrong. I remain grateful for it all.

There was a time when I was not writing anything. Given up the dream. Lost all faith. For almost ten years, I wrote only business letters, marketing copy, or technical web instructions.

Ah, I lie. I did find a set of song lyrics that I wrote during that time - angry, hurt, and emotionally broken. My old friend Craig Shell once said that professional musicians often made their best money on lyrics like these. No money here. Mine never made it out of the yellow pad stashed in a box marked "Personal" along with legal papers from the divorce, old resumes, bus schedules, and random news clippings ranging from the Oklahoma City bombing, local crime stories, and the 1995 NBA playoff standings - probably more of a story there.

But I digress.

December 31, 2003. The end of a most trying year. My husband was working two states away and only able to come home every month or so. My children were in varying stages of crisis and teenage angst, flailing around to find their way in the world. One of my nephews was living with us as all of his parents were away. I was in the early stages of what turned out to be a deep cycle of depression. We lit a handful of fireworks that night to send out that old, bad, sad year. My nephew said, "If it doesn't get any worse, it will be a better year."

And then it was worse.

The strain and the pain of that next year pushed me to a point where I had to write again, if only for my own sanity. Which led me to meet Christy Krug. Who directed me to Stevan Allred and Joanna Rose. Who in turn connected me to many, many other very talented writers who continue to guide, support and inspire my ongoing writing practice.

For every anxious writing session, rejected draft, or sleepless hour in the middle of the night spent agonizing over some character detail, I equally celebrate the process. The act of writing has given voice to something deeper, powerful, intimate. Something previously lost. Call it faith or inspiration. Call it love or light. Whatever it is, it is restored to me, and in turn, has restored my being.

Over this next week, I am doing a final sweep to complete a first draft of the current novel for its first full review. 40 hours of work, at least. I am at the same time anxious and hopeful.

And grateful.


About the photo: the analemma is the path of the sun throughout the year. The shape can be tracked by taking one picture per day, always at the same time, with a fixed camera.

09 June 2009

chapter ones

Writing has been focused on the first chapter most recently. And although I would love to report that it is going "smashingly," it has been a decidedly un-graceful process. Chapters 2-5 evolved the storyline so that the first chapter no longer included any of the right markers—the Wildish boys lived on the east side of Bellevue, then the west, then Factoria area; a pregnancy was in, out, then in; Pops was drunk, then...nope, still drunk. Not to mention the original premise of the boys' complicated genealogy.

Solution: return to the muse, sans super-massive black hole.

Chapter Ones.

Billy Bathgate (E.L. Doctorow)

He had to have planned it because when we drove on the dock the boat was there and the engine was running and you could see the water churning up phosphorescence in the river, which was the only light there was because there was no moon, nor electric light either in the shack where the dockmaster should have been sitting, nor on the boat itself, and certainly not from the car, yet everyone knew where everything was, and when the big Packard came down the ramp Mickey the driver braked it so that the wheels hardly rattled the boards, and when he pulled up alongside the gangway the doors were already open and they hustled Bo and the girl upside before they even made a shadow in all that darkness. And there was no resistance, I saw a movement of black bulk, that was all, and all I heard was maybe the sound someone makes who is frightened and has a hand not his own over his mouth, the doors slammed and the car was humming and gone and the boat was already opening up water between itself and the slip before a thin minute had passed. Nobody said not to so I jumped aboard and stood at the rail, frightened as you might expect, but a capable boy, he had said that himself, a a capable boy capable of learning, and I see now capable of adoring worshiping that rudeness of power of which he was a greater student than anybody, oh and that menace of him where it might all be over for anyone in his sight from one instant to the next, that was what it all turned on, it was why I was there, it was why I was thrilled to be judged so by him as a capable boy, the danger he was really a maniac.

Keys of the Kingdom (A.J. Cronin)

Late one afternoon in September 1938 old Father Francis Chisholm limped up the steep path from the church of St. Columba to his house upon the hill. He preferred this way, despite his infirmities, to the less arduous ascent of Mercat Wynd; and, having reached the narrow door of his walled-in-garden, he paused with a kind of naive triumph—recovering his breath, contemplating the view he had always loved.

Behold the Many (Louise Ann Yamanaka)

The valley is a woman lying on her back, legs spread wide, her geography wet by a constant rain. Waterfalls wash the days and nights of winter storms into the river that empties into the froth of the sea.

Another Roadside Attraction (Tom Robbins)

The magician's underwear has just been found in a cardboard suitcase floating in a stagnant pond on the outskirts of Miami. However significant that discovery may been—and there is the possibility that it could alter the destiny of each and every one of us—it is not the incident with which to begin this report.

The Wapshot Chronicle (John Cheever)

St. Botolphs was an old place, an old river town. It had been an inland port in the great days of the Massachusetts sailing fleets and now it was left with a factory that manufactured table silver and a few other small industries. The natives did not consider that it had diminished much in size or importance, but the long roster of the Civil War dead, bolted to the cannon on the green, was a reminder of how populous the village had been in the 1860s. St. Botolphs would never muster as many soldiers again. The green was shaded by a few great elms and loosely enclosed by a square of store fronts. The Cartwright Block, which made the western wall of the square, had along the front of its second story of row of lancet windows, as delicate and reproachful as the windows of a church. Behind these windows were the offices of the Eastern Star, Dr. Bulstrode the dentist, the telephone company and the insurance agent. The smells of these office—the smell of dental preparations, floor oil, spittoons and coal gas—mingled in the downstairs hallway like an aroma of the past. In a drilling autumn rain, in a world of much change, the green at St. Botolphs conveyed an impression of unusual permanence. On Independence Day in the morning, when the parade had begun to form, the place looked prosperous and festive.

You Can't Go Home Again (Thomas Wolfe)

It was an hour of twilight on a soft spring day toward the end of April in the year of Our Lord 1929, and George Webber leaned his elbows on the sill of his back window and looked out at what he could see of New York. His eye took in the towering mass of the new hospital at the end of the block, its upper floors set back in terraces, the soaring walls salmon colored in the evening light. This side of the hospital, and directly opposite, was the lower structure of the annex, where the nurses and the waitresses lived. In the rest of the block half a dozen old brick houses, squeezed together in a solid row, leaned wearily against each other and showed their backsides to him.

It's like returning to safe harbors. My heroes always restore my faith in the process.

The Wildish Boys (working title)

Church was not over, and we were walking home early. Ma had herded all of us boys out before Father Andrew began Confiteor after Sawyer called Lenny "stupid as Esau." Lenny said at least he had a birthright, and Sawyer punched him in the eye. Right there in the third row of pews.

"Onward," says every rejection letter I've ever received from Howard Junker, editor of Zyzzyva.


25 May 2009

for bigger trout

Convergence: those unexpected "coincidences" that set you back on your heels in awe. Powell's Books seems to be a portal for convergence with their collections of new and used books. One of my recent visits for a gift resulted in a book on art that included in the pages some found artwork, a shopping list for acrylics and pencils, and a pressed cannabis leaf. Strong with the presence of the previous owner, it was the perfect gift for my artist friend.

Work on my novel is getting down to nuts and bolts, and I've had to reach out to libraries, photo galleries, books and even take a couple road trips in order to clarify the facts. It's not enough to write by experience if your facts are mis-aligned.

This week, the focus is fishing. My personal experiences are many and varied. I fished as a child with my father, then with my brothers, and now with my husband and my own children. Years ago, I was dumped by a boy I was dating after we went fishing together and I caught more fish than he did (3 - 0). And once I lost an enormous brook trout for my husband after he had played it in to the shore where I failed to net it before it flipped out into the waterway, gone forever—reasonable grounds for divorce, our friend Big Danny advised my husband.

The shortcomings of my memories are that they are attuned to the broad experience. In order to take the Wildish boys, my family of characters, fishing with their father, I needed a more accurate vision of the fish and the language of those who are the artists of their craft—the real fishermen.

Off to Powell's with a specific book title recommended by my youngest brother, Scott, who holds the esteem of being a real fisherman. Powell's has an entire section for fishing, and then sub-sections: fishing in the northwest, trout fishing, fly fishing, fly fishing for trout, and (my target) fly fishing for steelhead in the northwest. Advanced Fly Fishing for Steelhead by Deke Meyer. The author is a local expert and has written in particular about the steelhead on the Stillaguamish.

I browsed several books on trout, including Trout: an illustrated history by James Prosek. Inside the pages, a folded article "For Bigger Trout" by Tom McNally, Outdoor Life, May 1957. Of course, I bought the book.

In 1957, The Wildish boys' father, Abraham Leonard Wildish, was 21 years old. He was still living in Indiana with his family, never dreaming that his life would go to hell seven ways from Sunday over the next couple of years. Naive to the changes that would alter his life forever, he probably even read this particular article, his only aspiration to become the greatest of all fishermen.

Coincidence? I'm not a believer. But I believe in universal connection, the convergence of thought to reality, collective conscience, the repercussions of a lifted butterfly wing. Call it what you will.

Today's gift from Mr. McNally:

"As every fisherman who has chucked flies or dunked bait in a trout stream knows, big trout like big mouthfuls. Fishing records go on to prove that wherever large trout are caught on flies. . ."


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.