TOO SHATTERED In The New York Times Book Review

My new novel TOO SHATTERED FOR MENDING was selected as one of four crossover books by the New York Times Sunday Book Review this week (“crossovers” are books that can be enjoyed by both mature teens and adults).

Here’s the full review:

TOO SHATTERED FOR MENDING
By Peter Brown Hoffmeister
373 pp. Knopf. $17.99.

Little is called Little because he’s big — a sophomore in high school and already 6-foot-5. But his nickname in his gorgeous but meth-ravaged Idaho town is more than an easy joke. Hoffmeister is reminding us that this person we come to care about and fear for — who’s been abandoned by his drug-dealer grandfather, who has to hunt illegally if he wants to eat meat, who’s been exposed to every kind of toxic masculinity but still puts everyone else’s needs above his own — is just a boy. Early on, a deputy seeks Little’s help finding his grandfather. That request eventually becomes a threat, adding tension to a portrait of the heart and will that’s so tragic and beautiful it singes.

Little has an older brother, JT, a promising football player who is ruining his prospects with alcohol and violence — and may soon ruin Little’s with faulty advice. JT’s girlfriend, Rowan, on whom Little has a heartbreaking crush, is a ragged free spirit who can’t understand her own worth.

“Too Shattered for Mending” is as spare as a bird in a bare tree, but it’s cathartic, not depressing. Little’s struggle with dyslexia alone — he places a red transparency over schoolbooks to make the page clearer — is enough to launch a thousand of those tweets that say, “I’m not crying, you’re crying.” In the end, you realize that what Little needs, what we all need, is a red transparency to put over the world itself so that life and love aren’t so hard.”

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Simple Writing Advice For October

This will be the shortest post ever. Writing advice for October:

  • Write fewer articles.
  • Write fewer adverbs (or no adverbs at all).
  • Start sentences with verbs to push forward action. Let the reader assume the subjects that correspond to those verbs.
  • Trust your reader. Explain less. Write the action and the dialogue.

“Failure as Fuel, Staying Hungry, and Wolf Naps” – PBH on the CNF Podcast

Here’s my new interview on The Creative Nonfiction podcast with Brendan O’Meara:

Click to listen.

When you have friends like this…

After my outlaw (what I call any former in-law) failed to meet up with me last night, he sent me the best email I’ve received this month. His nickname is “C-Murder,” thus his sign-off:

“I missed your call last night, after I failed to check my calendar during the day.

But that was before I got drunk in the back yard and passed out in the shed after dinner.

I hit my head on a stack of snow tires that don’t have any studs left. Except the one that lacerated my forehead. 

I woke up somewhere in Creswell without pants. Bleeding profusely from above my left eye. Your voice mail came through sometime around 9pm. 
I sat on the railroad tracks and cried.
I’m sorry. 
I’m free tonight though. My house? So-and-so made plans to go out. 
C Murder”

New Interview On Too Shattered, Failure, and What’s Next

This interview just came out today. I talk about my new novel Too Shattered For Mending, what a real writing process looks like, having no talent, hip-hop, and my next book – An American Afterlife:

Click to read.

Best Author’s Bio Ever

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Recently, I’ve been reading as many of the Best American Short Stories anthologies as I can. With 20 stories by 20 different authors in each addition – edited by a different guest editor each year – they’re all excellent. I’m entertained while also learning from the various styles and techniques of these award winning authors.

I’m not reading the collections in any particular order, just reading whatever anthology I find next at my used bookstore or library. That’s how I came across the 1998 edition, guest-edited by Garrison Keiller. It includes incredible stories by Annie Proulx, Carol Anshaw, Akhil Sharma, and others, but it’s the authors’ bio sections that really caught my eye in this edition, because a short story writer named Poe Ballantine wrote the best author bio I’ve ever read.

Since it’s not available online, I’m going to retype his bio for you right here:

“I am forty-two. College dropout. Live in a motel room. I generally move every year, but I am tired of moving and I like this room so I think I will stay another year. I have had lots of odd jobs, mostly cooking. I worked at the radio antenna factory just across the tracks for a while, then sold a couple of stories, so I quit March 5, and if I live on $400 a month and this wisdom tooth coming in doesn’t knock the rest of my teeth sideways, I will be able to write until August.”

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Write What You Don’t Know.

Teachers and professors tell young writers, “Write what you know.” And there’s a certain truth to that idea. If I try to write about a cricket match, but I don’t know anything about the game, have never played it, have never watched it, don’t know the rules, and am not sure I can name 5 countries where the sport is played, I’m not going to write an excellent scene that includes the sport.

In the same way, being a high school teacher and having a teenager myself, I recognize when “young adult” authors clearly don’t know much about teenagers and are too far removed from the personal experience to do the subject justice. Their “teenagers” – for example – never swear or only think & act in culturally competent ways.

So writing what you know is a good piece of advice. Or maybe it’s not…

Recently, an editor told me that I couldn’t have a Latino narrator in one of my stories because I wasn’t “Mexican enough.” That’s a strange thing to say in any context, but especially odd since my grandmother is Mexican and I do speak and read Spanish. But apparently – in that editor’s eyes – this piece of fiction was an example of me trying to write what I didn’t know.

I recognize that politically correct mores have permeated everything in our culture – and I’m sure that this particular editor is simply a politically correct conservative – but her command (her imperative?) made me think of the idea on a larger scale.

Should Margaret Atwood not have written the science fiction novel within The Blind Assassin?

Should Cormac McCarthy not have written John Grady’s Mexican prison scenes simply because McCarthy had never been incarcerated?

Should Toni Morrison not have any Caucasian characters or narrators in any of her novels or stories?

Again, I could go on and on.

And where would this idea stop? What would be its limit? Why would we allow for this type of censorship of creative possibilities?

So – to keep this piece short – I’d say that instead of the old “write what you know” adage, I’d say it’s fine (and good) to write what you don’t know as long as you’re willing to learn about it.

With encyclopedias, empathy, books, neighbors, friends, coffee shops, Youtube, relatives, films, traveling, and curiosity as basic starting points, what can we not learn? What can we not write about?