22 April 2012


Some writers play inspiring music while they write in their private studios. Some need a visually stimulating work space. Since my days are usually crammed with a regular day job, kids and family, and I have no private space of my own, I can write anywhere—living room, kitchen table, coffee shop, library, dentist's office lobby, front seat of my car. My words come from somewhere else.

That being said, my favorite preference is to be accompanied by the game of the day: basketball, football, soccer, rugby, horse racing, lacrosse. Sometimes just ESPN Sports Center. Even with the sound muted, I like the action on the screen and a quick score check.

Lately, it's baseball.

Yesterday I watched a perfect game. Philip Humber of the Chicago White Sox pitched the 21st perfect game in the history of the MLB, a game that happened to be against the Seattle Mariners. The final out came on a dropped third strike. I doubt Humber could breathe while his veteran catcher, A.J. Pierzynski, scrambled for the ball, firing it to first to secure the final out.

Humber dropped to his knees. He stood in time to be mobbed back down to the ground by his ecstatic team. The Seattle fans gave Humber a rousing standing ovation.

It was a perfect game, but its beauty was the imperfection. In the 9th, Humber backed himself into a 3-0 count against Michael Saunders, his nerves showing a bit before he was able to drop into the zone, fanning Saunders with a slider. Then John Jaso sailed a high fly into right that Alex Rios snagged. Ending with the final bobbled strike.

Humber dropped to his knees.

Those breath-holding moments show us what's at stake. Reveal our shortcomings. Make us human.

It's what brings a stadium to an ovation for the visiting pitcher. Stings our eyes with tears for someone else's victory.

Drops us to our knees.

Write about that.

~ sherri

"A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives."
- Jackie Robinson, #42 Brooklyn Dodgers

13 March 2012

an intriguing interview

Read the interview:

» Ask the Author: Sherri H. Hoffman

This is a nice follow-up to the publication of my story, Blue, by PANK Magazine. Plus it was a fun interview. Seriously. Talking about sea turtles, blowing things up, Lassie, hangovers, and the perpetually cool senior at my high school, Brad Darrington.

My thanks to the editors and staff at PANK for such a fabulous publishing experience. What a great mag.

~ sherri

21 February 2012

reading in bed

"Read Rock Springs by Richard Ford," my advisor tells me. "These stories are some of the very best." I read them late at night in bed, read until my eyes burn and the words swim on the page. It takes me a week because I read every story twice.

Ford does something in his stories that I can describe with a childhood memory. I am with my sister in the back of my father's blue Dart. We are in a downtown area surrounded by tall buildings. I have no idea which city or how old I am. The car is the same one in which my sister and I and one of our cousins got busted for sliding down the windshield on our little fannies, from roof to hood. It is also the car in which we accidentally broke a bunch of root beer bottles in the rear footwell, and then my sister fell into the glass and cut open her knee so that she needed stitches, although that memory is vague and could be wrong.

It is also not the memory for Richard Ford's stories. Here it is.

From the backseat of my father's car, I look across the street. Perhaps we are stopped at a light. Perhaps parked on the curb, waiting for someone. I cannot recall if either of my parents are there, only my sister. She is 16 months younger than me, which makes her subject to both my adoration and torment, although most of the family stories from our early childhood are about her trickery, how she could provoke me into trouble in order to get whatever she wanted—a cookie, Raggedy Ann doll, attention. What can I say? I had a short temper, and she was smart enough to use it to her advantage.

Across the street, a man stands on the corner, holding a cane. I have no recollection of whether he is old or young, tall or short, fine or poor. Only of the cane in one hand and, on his head, a hat such as other men are wearing on the streets of the city. I have enough time to peer at him, the man and his cane across the street from the wide, sticky-vinyl backseat of our blue Dart. There are no seat belts inside to secure us. We could have been hanging out the window, my sister and I, gawking at any passerby.

The moment of importance, however, is just that—a moment. Some pigeons break upward from the sidewalk near the man with the cane. An abrupt clatter of wings, the man turns his head, and I, watching him, turn with him, seeing what he sees.

That is the moment. In that instant, I am transported across the street to stand inside his shoes as if I am there with him, taking in his startled breath, grasping onto the cane with my hand, birds thrashing up from my feet.

As quickly as I understand the shift, it reverts back, and I am just a gangly-legged, tantrum-prone girl, skin sticking to the blue vinyl bench seat in the back of my father's blue Dart along with my pesky sister.

Did I make it up? Imagine it? Is it merely a child's fantasy? Does it matter?

That shift of perspective—the ability to look at someone and experience "being" them—is an exercise in empathy. It's what makes rich characters of depth live and breathe on the page. As a child, it may have been just a game. As a writer, it is a craft-worthy goal.

Ford's stories make that shift for me. Throughout his stories, I am drawn into the characters, breathe their air, feel the Wyoming night, Montana sun, or the Bitterroot river water on my face. Ache with their despair, confusion, and love. I case the parking lot of a Ramada Inn, understand how a man becomes a desperate criminal, drive a runaway through the night to Great Falls, hear my father crying—or dream it. Shoot a white snow goose.

Feel the curve of a cane in my hand. Witness the rise of birds.

That's a good story, isn't it?

~ sherri

The Darkling Thrush
By Thomas Hardy

I leant upon a coppice gate
    When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter's dregs made desolate
    The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
    Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
    Had sought their household fires.

The land's sharp features seemed to be
    The Century's corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
    The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
    Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
    Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
    The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
    Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
    In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
    Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
    Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
    Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
    His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
    And I was unaware.