Allyson Hoffman’s piece “The Body is Not a Raft” appears in Midwestern Gothic Issue 23, out now.
What’s your connection to the Midwest, and how has the region influenced your writing?
I’m a Michigan native, and I grew up in a very small town. I’m fascinated by the culture and community of small towns, the local businesses, and the everyday conflicts people face. These elements are at the center of my current project: a collection of linked short stories.
What do you think is the most compelling aspect of the Midwest?
Lake Michigan. I grew up going to the lake in the summers, and I think the beaches along Michigan’s west coast are some of the most beautiful places in the world.
How do your experiences or memories of specific places — such as where you grew up, or a place you’ve visited that you can’t get out of your head — play a role in your writing?
I think the change of seasons, especially in small Michigan towns, plays a big role in my writing. The landscapes of the towns and cities I know completely change when the leaves turn red or the cornfields are buried under snow. When I start a story I have to know what season it is, because that sets up the tensions my characters will have to face. I picture the treeline near the house I grew up in, and that helps me see details about the season the reader will need to know.
Discuss your writing process — inspirations, ideal environments, how you deal with writer’s block.
My writing ritual is to listen to Philip Glass’s Metamorphosis (fantastic solo piano) while I write. I know the piece by heart, so it’s comforting and not distracting. In an ideal world I’m half-asleep while I’m writing so I’m using all my energy to write. It means getting up extra early and writing for an hour before the rest of the day gets started.
I always have three or four pieces that I’m working on, so if I get stuck on one I just move to the next one for a few days. I believe in leaving pieces alone for awhile and coming back to them fresh. But in the meantime, I’ve got to be working on something else.
How can you tell when a piece of writing is finished?
I can’t. Sometimes it feels like my pieces are never finished. I could rewrite sentences and change words forever. Deadlines help me work towards as finished as I can be. In both fiction and nonfiction, that’s when the tensions among my characters are clear, and they come to some sort of resolution, whatever that may be.
Who is your favorite author (fiction writer or poet), and what draws you to their work?
Right now I’m drawn to linked short stories, and there’s so many good writers creating fantastic collections.
Louise Erdrich is one of my favorites. Love Medicine is a perfect example of how short stories in a linked collection can be read individually, but when they’re read together they tell a much bigger story.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on my collection of linked short stories, crafting more essays, and have notes for a novel. When I get stuck on one project, I’ll move on to another.
Where can we find more information about you?
I’m on Twitter @AllysonIHoffman