Kristan Hoffman - Writing Dreams Into Reality
Wed Apr 2 2014

On the alphabet of madness, my particular worldview, and adding sentences

I don’t talk much about my “process.” Probably for the same reasons that I feel compelled to put “process” in quotes. It’s just such a fickle, fluid thing. Some days I do X; some days I do Y. If I’m lucky, I can just go back and forth between those two. But more often, I’m forced to try Z, or G, or B, or M. There’s a whole alphabet of tricks and techniques. Of methods and madness.

But I really enjoyed Natalia’s post about writing the other day, so I’m going to participate in this blog-hop about my “process” too. Who knows. Maybe if I talk about it enough, someday I’ll lose the quotes.

What are you working on?

Right now, mostly a story about a girl escaping to Spain.

Sometimes I play in pages about a girl and her parents visiting the Galapagos. And very occasionally, I dip my toe into a story about a girl and her famous football-playing father.

But yeah, mostly the Spain thing.

It’s about mourning the loss of a toxic friendship, holding onto an identity that everyone except you questions, and dancing your heart out in a noisy, electric nightclub in Barcelona.

I like it.

How does your work differ from others of its genre?

Hm. I guess the primary difference is that my work is written by me, while the rest of its peers are not.

And of course what that means is, my work is infused by my specific thoughts, questions, and feelings. My stories embody the particular discussions and debates that I have with myself about the world. Most of all, they reflect what I see — or hope to see — in the world around me.

I especially like to focus on uncommon settings, diverse characters, and strong emotional relationships.

Why do you write what you do?

Because it is what interests and compels me most.

Because I don’t see enough of it on the shelves yet.

And because I have always liked to connect with people and explore the world through stories.

How does your writing process work?

Ah, and now we come to that pesky alphabet I was talking about…

Most days, I sit at my desk, open my Word document, and try to add sentences. Other days, I sit on my couch, with my journal and a pen, and try to add sentences.

Sometimes I go for a walk with my dog and think about a scene that’s giving me trouble. Sometimes I talk through ideas with my writing buddies, who often help me find an even better path than the one I was considering. Sometimes I read for hours — to fill up my well of inspiration, and to study good storytelling. Sometimes I watch TV or spend time with loved ones — to recharge my batteries, and to remember that there’s a world outside my own brain that I need to be in dialogue with.

I am by no means an expert in How To Write. I am just a person who tries, and fails, and tries again, and hopefully fails better.

Bottom line: Add sentences.

(Until it’s time to revise. Then delete!)

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Wed Mar 26 2014

Unexpected encounters with grief

1.

We’re standing in the front atrium of our high school, forty or so girls in rows of ten. We’re all in matching warm-up clothes, and there’s a boom box up front, blaring hip-hop music. We’re rehearsing for our halftime dance number.

Suddenly our coach comes hurrying down the hall. She pulls the team captain aside and speaks quietly into the girl’s ear. The girl crumples. Without a word of explanation, she walks away, supported by the arms of our coach. Practice pauses while the other team leaders figure out what to do.

Later we learn that the captain’s father has been in poor health for a long time. She’s only a few months away from graduation, but they don’t think he’ll make it. Eighteen years old and facing life without her dad.

2.

September 11th starts as television broadcasts from a faraway city. Then it becomes rumors whispered in the hallway between classes. Buildings falling, dust clouds flooding the streets, a plane crashing into a field.

I’m in third period calculus when a front office aide interrupts the lecture and hands a note to our teacher. He reads it, then asks the pretty blonde girl two rows in front of me to gather her things and go with the aide. Terror and tears gather in her eyes as she leaves the room.

Later we learn that her brother worked in the Twin Towers. That’s all we ever hear.

3.

It’s the summer after my freshman year of college, and I’m getting ready to go to my parents’ office. The bathroom radio plays Top 40 hits while I brush my teeth, wash my face, and get dressed. Through the closed door, the phone rings, but I know my dad will get it.

He knocks a few minutes later. I open the door and find him braced against the frame, his head buried into the crook of his arm. My brows furrow, but even then I’m not alarmed. Just confused.

Later, at my uncle’s funeral, I will think about that moment over and over. I will hear my dad’s voice, calm but thick, as he tells me that his brother is dead. I will think about how we are never really ready for something like that. Never expecting to lose someone that we love.

But I will also remember the strength that my dad showed in the moments after. He grieved, but he did not let grief shut him down. He cried, but he did not drown. He was changed, but not diminished.

I don’t know if I can be that strong that quickly. But I’m glad to have a model for it in my life.

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Wed Mar 19 2014

Confession

Untitled

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Thu Mar 13 2014

Being different doesn’t have to mean being divided

Today I’m over at DiversifYA talking about my experiences as a halfie, as well as my advice on how to write diverse characters. I’d love for you to check it out!

Also, this opportunity came about after I commented on my friend Jasmine Warga’s great interview there. She had a lot of smart and eloquent things to say about her Middle Eastern heritage, and about people’s (mis)perceptions of that region (i.e., Aladdin, terrorism, and being “untouched by time”).

I’ve learned to embrace my background. It’s sort of the old adage that when you’re younger, what makes you different makes you embarrassed, but as you grow up, you learn that what makes you different makes you unique, makes you, you.

We’re all human with our own separate affinities, opinions, and interests. As important as I think it is for people to talk and discuss diversity, I want there to be a greater focus on what makes us all similar, as opposed to what divides us.

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Wed Mar 5 2014

Clothes for an empress

1.

I duck into a circular rack of clothing, a giddy smile on my face. Soon Mommy will notice that I am not by her side. She will, at least for a moment, panic. She will think that I have wandered off and gotten lost, or maybe even been kidnapped.

But then Mommy will come to her senses, calm down, and search for me. She will call my name in a sing-song voice and bend down to peek under the clothes.

I pick up my feet and tuck them onto the bars. Now I am invisible. I am a monkey nestled into a tree. I am a chameleon blending into my surroundings.

Still, I know somehow Mommy will find me, and I will shriek with glee. Then we will go to the next store and play again. This is my favorite game.

2.

My mom’s closet is a treasure trove. Sometimes when I am home alone, I go inside and rifle through all the sweaters and dresses and shoes. There are jackets with shoulder pads from when she worked in an office. There is a thick winter coat from when she went to school in Philadelphia. There are even skirts and shorts from when she still lived in Taiwan.

My all-time favorite thing in my mom’s closet is her bright red qi pao. Long and silky, embroidered all over with blossoms, fastened from ribcage to collar with delicate butterfly clasps. It is the most beautiful, regal thing I have ever seen. A Chinese princess dress. And it belongs to my mother.

The first time I put it on, I am too small in every way. A few years later, I try again, but I am still not quite there. Finally, in high school, the hem falls to my ankle as it should — but the sleeves and chest are tight, and the stiff high collar won’t even close around my neck.

Wistfully I realize that I have outgrown my mother. I will never fit her qi pao.

3.

In my own closet, there are a number of items I should probably get rid. Star Trek t-shirts, all XL, because as a kid I hid my body. My dance team uniform, stiff and cliché, but a reminder of the joy you can find in stepping outside your comfort zone. And way in the back, two tiny dresses that I loved in pre-school, one handmade by my best friend’s mother, the other frilled and polka-dotted, affectionately dubbed the Blueberry Dress.

I will never wear any of these things again, but each one tells a story about who I have been. About who I am. And maybe someday I will have a daughter who hides between hangers or presses her nose into the mothball scent. Maybe she will want to read my life in my clothes or try them on for herself. Maybe she will be fascinated by that “otherness” in me and want desperately to connect to the “otherness” within herself.

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