The Carrie Hoffman Interview

February 21, 2003

Today is the day to wonder what the point of February really is.

Have you signed up for Iron Scribe? Have you? I have. Or I will today.

Why do I like Carrie Hoffman? Because she writes all kinds of stuff, from short and sweet to longer and less sweet. Because even though she gets money to write, she also writes for free. Even though she's smart as can be and writes very intelligent stuff, she also writes things small and funny and cool. She herself is funny and cool (but not small; she's normal, human-size, at least as far as I can tell.) Carrie Hoffman is not just a lady writer you should know; she's a writer you should know.

The Carrie Hoffman Interview: Just Under Twenty Questions

According to Googlism, Carrie Hoffman is a fiction writer currently working on her Master's Degree in creative writing at the University of Southern Mississippi, Carrie Hoffman is being recommended to fill the 5th section of four, and Carrie Hoffman is concerned. What are you concerned about? And what's the best answer that Google has ever returned to you?
I'm concerned about my hair and how straight or unstraight it is on a daily basis. I'm also concerned about my neighbors, who move in and out at an alarming rate. I feel concerned that with all these anti-depressants out there, people aren't being allowed to feel sad any more.

I'm not concerned about the Google because it is perfect. I haven't gotten its best answer yet so please bring this question up again when I'm thirty and I ask the Google to marry me and it says "yes."

Speaking of Google, in your story "Things the Internet Taught Me About the Phrase 'I Am Ugly'", did you contact any of the supposed ugly people ? Also, tell me about somebody who you think is ugly, and why. (If you feel apprehensive of calling somebody ugly, you can wax on the lack of attractiveness of Donald Trump, Jermaine Dupri, Sandra Bernhard or Christina Aguilara and I will take the blame.)
I did not contact any of the uglies. In fact, one of the wonderful things about Google and about the internet is how fleeting that search was. If I were to google the phrase "I am ugly" today, I'd find a whole new batch of people who thought they were ugly.

What I've been thinking lately is what your mom probably taught you: that ugly people are those who are mean to others. People who yell at the cashiers at the store, people who send hateful e-mails to strangers about delays, people who curse at the telemarketers. But then I've also been
thinking that these same people are probably the most fragile and the most beautiful.

When I read your story "Scab Parade" in Pindeldyboz Volume 2, I didn't think I had been that moved since Of Mice and Men. What inspired it?
That's nice of you to say because I've been criticized for using surreal, gimmicky hoo-ha because, supposedly, it's too clever and it prevents people from caring about my characters or feeling anything. I wrote "The Scab Parade" for a workshop I took in my junior year of college, and most of the inspiration came from the time pressure of having to write a story for class the next day. The rest of the inspiration came from having had a mysterious scab on my scalp, and from having had horrible acne in junior high, and from going through a typical college-student interest in misfits. I only
recently realized the similarities between "The Scab Parade" and one of my favorite movies, "Edward Scissorhands."

Sure, you're a photogenic bowler but are you a good one?
I am not a good one. Those photos were taken on my birthday and my fellow bowlers would not let me win. I scored in the mid-sixties all night and they scored considerably higher. I did, however, get a spare at one point.

What's your Master's thesis on? How's it going?
My thesis is a "creative thesis"-- a collection of stories that I've written in the last two years, things I've put up for workshop and revised. It's mostly finished and will be around 102 pages, or more if I decide to put short-shorts in it. I still need a title and an introduction. The title may be "Lawns and Windows" because those are two recurring images in my
stories. Or the title may be something like [Insert a story title here] and Other Stories. Anyone with suggestions is welcome to e-mail me.

Tell us about your teaching experience. How old are your students? Are they receptive? What do you do when they're being 'bad'?
Most of my students are 18, college freshmen, though I also have a few "non-traditional" students, people who've come back to college after being in the military, or having babies, or people who are doing it slow, taking one class at a time while they work full-time. Some of my students are receptive, but most of them, I think, just want to get their three credit
requirement done with. Part of the problem, as I've analyzed with people who know me, is that I have a hard time showing my own enthusiasm-I speak with little inflection, shrug my shoulders a lot-and the students tend to take on my ambivalent, quiet demeanor in class.

When they are bad, I shut off the lights and tell them to put their heads down, and that they can't play kickball.

Your father is a police officer. With your knowledge of the force, of the cliches perpetrated on television cop shows, which are the most erroneous and which are the most accurate?
I don't watch television cop shows so I'm not sure. The most erroneous might be that the cops are all detectives who get assigned one 'case' and do nothing but flip their badge open, driving around the city with a styrofoam cup of coffee on their dashboards.

The most accurate, of course, is that the cops shoot at people all the time, commandeer vehicles, and eat doughnuts.

Unless I don't remember it, I don't believe I've ever been to Mississippi. What would I need to know about it to truly appreciate it, other than that it's the most fun state to spell?
First, you need to check your attitude-if you have one, that is. You need to know that highways are beautiful and so are McDonald's signs and chain stores. Wal-Mart can be especially beautiful at two in the morning, by the bargain bin of five dollar DVDs.

You're an artist as well as an author. Have people asked for Carrie Hoffman t-shirts and temporary tattoos? And how do you decide what goes on the signs that your characters hold?
No one's ever referred to them as "characters," but I like that. Yes, people have asked for and have also received Carrie Hoffman t-shirts. I have a company called Scruffy Designs, and at this count, I believe that around 20 people have Scruffy shirts. Some have more than one shirt and one
person has been photographed pointing at his shirt in front of some Greek ruins. Besides t-shirts, I've also designed: greeting cards, framed art, CD covers, mouse pads, and tote bags.

I can't explain how I decide what goes on the signs. Usually it's something going on in my personal life. Other times, I take a phrase that I overhear while I'm drawing. Sometimes, something just comes out. And sometimes, the character involved doesn't get a sign. It's sort of a mysterious process
and I'm creeping myself out by thinking about it.

Who are the Mnemonic Devices? And will you be starting a singing career anytime soon?
The Mnemonic Devices is a musical group, a "band" if you will, that records beautiful, catchy, and funny keyboard music at Love and Letters Studios, which was located here in
Hattiesburg and is now located in Edinburg, Texas. TMD is the creation of the famous Rusty Spell, who sings and plays all instruments, and also allows various lovely ladies sing with him or on their own while he plays the music. These ladies are known as Devicettes, and I am one of them. I contributed my voice to two songs-"Hubba, Hubba" and "Jenny"-on the album Sparkling Objective Correlatives, an album for which I
contributed the cover art. It should be known that Rusty Spell has an aesthetic of untrained voices, which made me a good choice. I sat in the closet with headphones and sang into a mike while Rusty did things on his computer.

As for my singing career, I will continue being a Devicette as long as the famous Rusty will have me. During my spring break, I'm going to visit the new Love and Letters studios in Texas, and while there, I may sing on a new album for a brand new band called "The Strawberry Explosion." Look for our first single, "Kissy, Kissy."

Is there anything you're sick of female writers writing about, or is it all still fair game as long as it's done well?
I don't really care. I find it difficult to get all up in arms about
literary issues. Some people say they hate grandparent stories, or stories about children, or stories about college kids travelling in Europe. I guess as long as it's well written, I don't really care what it's about or what gender the author is.

Thisbe Nissen, a few weeks ago, touched upon an aversion to self-conscious humor, yet you are described as being a member of the Please Put Jokes in Stories Society. (It was published online and thus it must be true.) Why jokes? And why in stories?
It is true that I'm a member of the Please Put Jokes in Stories Society. Humor stems from awkwardness, usually, and that's something that interests me in fiction. My characters are usually awkward and uncomfortable. Also I don't want my stories to be a chore to read, or a serious chore to write, so
jokes are the way to go.

What have you done or learned in writing school that's made it worthwhile?

I've met other writers who are nice to me. That's the best thing.

Is it true that your college, Cornell, has the highest suicide rate of all colleges in the country? Why would that be?
It's not true. I think college is a confusing time for people, so the suicide rate at college is probably pretty high in general. At Cornell, their suicides get magnified because there are waterfalls and gorges on campus, and students jump from bridges - so it's more dramatic than it might be somewhere else. Also, there's the Ivy League pressure mystique that
people like to attach to Cornell, this idea of the maladjusted genius who works too hard and is lonely and kills him or herself to stop the pain of the cruel cruel world.

You recently won a nice big fat cash prize for a story of yours. What was the story, what was the contest and what are you planning on doing with the $crilla?
The story is called "Fidelio Street" and it's currently in envelopes across the country, looking for a home in a slick magazine. The contest was one that's open to graduate students in my creative writing program, and the award is called The Joan Johnson Award. I plan on using my dough to pay my phone bill and to do something fun when I go to Texas for spring break.

I enjoyed "Dickwad and Fuckface" on Opium Magazine.
But did anybody, like, say, parental figures, raise their eyebrows at the names of the characters?

My parents don't know I'm published anywhere so keep your mouth shut before I get a phone call. They don't use the Google so it's not a problem, but I am always afraid that a student will find my stories, which would be embarrassing. Maybe they have and are just too polite to tell me.

True or false: mono is a low-key disease that just makes you tired and gets to keep you out of school for a few days.
It's false, Claire, and as a fellow mono-sufferer you know this. For those who think it's a big nap, imagine soaking your sheets in sweat, peeing orange pee, and not being able to sleep on your stomach because your spleen and your liver hurt. Then imagine puking a lot, getting winded walking from
your door to the car, and losing ten pounds. Imagine all of these things for about a month. That's mono. [Editor's note: Lets not forget a throat so sore that one editor was known for expressing a wish to die.]

What's a literary site or journals you think deserves to reach the pinnacles of fame and fortune?
Any literary site or journal who will publish me is destined for the stars.

How does it feel to be the 44th person interviewed for
I feel like the loveliest numerical palindrome.