Hoffman Opens His Door: Author Discusses Writing, New Short Story Collection

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Editor: Jeffrey W. Hunter
Date: 2001
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 2,007 words

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[(interview date 24 May 1999) In the following interview, Hoffman discusses his approach to writing, his short story collection Doors, and the thematic concerns of his fiction.]

Editor's Note: The following interview took place at the home of Bill and Susan Hoffman at their home, Wynyard, in Charlotte Court House, on Monday, May 24. The occasion was the publication of Mr. Hoffman's fifteenth book and fourth short story collection, Doors. ... The interview was conducted on behalf of the Farmville Herald by Bill Frank, Professor Emeritus of English, Longwood College.

[William L. Frank:] Most of our readers are familiar with your work, but for readers new to the area would you tell us when you began writing, and why did you decide that writing fiction was to be your principal life's work?

[William Hoffman:] I started writing fiction when I was at Washington and Lee University and took a writing class there. I really entered my intense and sustained period of writing in 1952, when I went to teach at Hampden-Sydney College. I wrote my first four or five novels while I lived in Farmville. I chose fiction because it chose me, I guess. I love to read fiction because I believe fiction is a lot more than entertaining. I think the greatest fiction conveys truths that can be gotten in no other way. It speaks to the heart and the brain simultaneously.

Aside from stories written for classes at W&L or the University of Iowa Writing Workshop, your earlier published work consisted of novels. Many writers I've known--Doris Betts, George Garrett, Lee Smith, Allen Wier all spring to mind--started out as short story writers and then "graduated" to novels. You seem to have reversed the process. What were the circumstances that led to the publication of your first published novel, The Trumpet Unblown?

You're absolutely correct about my writing. I wrote and published many novels before selling my first short story, but I got plenty of rejection slips along the way. The first short story I sold was to the Gentlemen's Quarterly, and it was pretty slight. The first novel I completed was postwar novel whose characters were chiefly casualties of World War II wounded in spirit or mind as much as in body. I was in my first year at H-S and while that novel, Days In The Yellow Leaf, was making the rounds at New York publishing houses I started work on my second novel, The Trumpet Unblown.

I was living in Farmville up on High Street and teaching at H-S. My good friend and the President of H-S, Dr. Gannon, told me he couldn't hire me to teach again unless I got a graduate degree. I filled out an application for the graduate school at UVA and almost at the same time completed Trumpet and sent it to my agent in New York.

That Christmas I went home to visit my grandmother in Charleston and came back early to hunt birds. I went out on...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1100038774