One Small Thing: The Blog

Gearing Up for Oscar 2

The 2018 Oscar nominations are out!

When I was teaching, this was the time of year in my film class when we kicked into high gear, taped ballots to the wall, kept track of our viewing in real time and applied all the things we had been learning in class to real-life, for-better-or-worse, up-to-the-minute, history-making movies. We considered plot and character, of course, but those discussions were often eclipsed by our attention to camera placement, editing techniques, production design, directorial idiosyncrasies and the effectiveness of the soundtrack. My students often complained that they couldn’t just “sit down and watch a movie” anymore and that their friends were getting sick of their constant commentary on a director’s use of tight close-ups or Dutch angles or parallel editing. I couldn’t have been more pleased.

It was all very energizing, this ushering high school kids through Oscar season. There was an urgency to it—new day, new lesson plan—and I was all in. I would see as many of the nominated films as I could so that I would be able to make educated comparisons and connections and predictions and fill in the gaps for the kids whose lives couldn’t accommodate going to the movies four times in one weekend. Not that mine could, either, but I saw it as my calling.

I took Oscar season very, very seriously.

When I retired from teaching, my enthusiasm for Oscar Quest waned. Getting to the theater became less of a priority. Too cold. Too late. Too expensive. Too crowded. Too much crinkling. So dark. Must feed the cats, read those emails, finish crocheting that doily. I’ll wait for nominees to show up on On Demand. Or Netflix. Or STARZ.

Or not.

It’s so easy to let yourself go.

So, this year, I’m going to do my best to make amends. Viewing, reviewing and predicting has begun in earnest. Doilies be damned.

I’m off to a late start. I should have been paying attention to the Oscar Buzz and chosen likely films to see in November and December. Many of them were out there. Waiting for the nominee list to come out feels a little like cheating. It means a lot of the chaff has already  been stripped away with no help from me. But it also means that I can focus my time and ticket money on the wheat and what fun that will be! Imagine being given the opportunity to see only good films. That’s what we’ve got here. It’s like movie Christmas—and it only comes once a year.

You can do it, too. Go to Click on NOMINEES. When you get to that page, click on PRINTABLE LIST to get your own ballot—a beacon to guide you through the season. Then see as many films as you can to be ready for Awards Night on March 4.

There are at least twenty films that I should see between now and March 4. As of today, I have seen two. Wish me luck.

As I see films, I’ll post a brief review here on my blog. I’ll make a concerted effort to avoid spoilers, so don’t be afraid to read them. Here, for example, is my review of The Shape of Water that appeared on my author Facebook page (D. Margaret Hoffman) yesterday:

Oscar Quest–The Shape of Water: 13 nominations including Best Picture.
This is a beautiful film. The performances are flawless and the look of it evokes the late 50s, early 60s world that shaped so many of us. The sights and sounds and sensory-ness of the film carry the day. The story, sadly, is one we’ve seen so many times that it’s hard to escape the cliché of it all. The misunderstood creature, mistreated by the government and coveted as a subject of study by scientists becomes the love interest of the lonely misfit who must then risk everything to save its life. ET. King Kong. Avatar. Fill in your favorite here. Don’t get me wrong. I really enjoyed the performances, the music and the visuals–many of which are Oscar-worthy. But the plot ultimately let me down. Tears formed but never fell.

And that’s it. Short, sweet, to the point and from the gut.

Sometime before 8pm on March 4, I’ll post my choices for as many categories as I feel qualified to predict. We’ll see how I do. Those who have watched me do this before know that, if I’m on my game, I can be a contender.

I’m a little rusty, but here goes.

Welcome to Oscar Quest, 2018.





Happy New Year! 1

Sometimes, in order to go forward, we need to look back.  Even though a few years have passed since I sat down and wrote “Getting My Groove Back,” an essay about getting back to normal after the holiday craziness, I find that it is as true today as it was the day I wrote it. It appears in Saving Our Lives: Volume One–Essays to Inspire the Writer in You and still sums up my feelings on the subject. So, to ring in the new year, here it is again.  Happy 2018, Everyone! Onward!

Getting My Groove Back

Christmas changes everything.

If you are a religious person, you are nodding and thinking of the promise of the Christ child.

If you are me, you are shaking your head and thinking, “Damn, I did it again.”

It is January. I am not the same person I was in November. I am heavier, poorer, slower. I haven’t written, exercised or kept regular hours in a month. I have ingested sugar in a frightening assortment of processed forms and carbs in abundance. I have spent much more money than I intended and dread the arrival of the first MasterCard bill of the new year. I enjoyed the holiday season very much. But somewhere in the middle of it I lost my mind.

For me, it seems, The Christmas Season brings with it the slow, imperceptible erosion of good habits, good judgment and common sense. I start out well enough. Adult. Responsible. Health conscious. Fiscally aware. But somewhere in the process, probably about the time I start to enjoy the 475 department store versions of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” I begin to lose my grip. It’s ironic, really. “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is a seduction song in the guise of a charming holiday tune. It is the story of one man’s shameless efforts to feign concern for the welfare of an innocent young woman, ply her with drink, break down her resolve to go home to her parents where she belongs and convince her, instead, to stay with him where it’s—nudge, nudge—warm. When the girl in the song concedes to another drink, we know she’s fallen. And when I start to enjoy this and the countless other corporate seductions thrown in my path, we know that I, too, have succumbed to a siren song, this one sung by the Ghost of Christmas the Way American Media Tells Us It Should Be.  Snowy. Bountiful. Bejeweled.  Sugary.  Carb-loaded. Gift-laden. Calorically dense. Alcoholically lenient. Impeccably decorated. Expensively dressed. Beautifully wrapped. Cost is no object! More! More! More! Yes! Yes! YES!!

They got me. Pulled me right in there. Got under my skin and into my wallet. Inhibitions fall away, the shopping begins in earnest and I officially lose control.

Why do I let this happen?

Well, for one thing, I like it.

I don’t like being manipulated by the media and the corporate America that it represents, but I do like the Currier and Ives, traditional, bountiful family Christmas that it portrays.

I like parties and presents and decorations and fancy food. I like lights and shopping and snow. I like having the family all together. I like having friends, acknowledging them and having them acknowledge me.  I like happy people. I like making happy people. I like ooohs and ahhhhs and kids with cookies. I like full plates and clinking glasses and sparkles on trees and on sweaters and in people’s eyes.

I like it when everyone forgets for a little while that there are so many things in this world that suck.

I like life coming pretty damned close to perfect once a year. I will do whatever I can to make this happen for people in my life even if it means taking temporary leave of my senses.

Who knows when or if the chance will come again?

This kind of Christmas doesn’t happen by itself. I have recently taken charge of the extended family Christmas celebrations, so I know how much work and planning goes into it. It’s a big responsibility. I take it seriously, and as much as I want to save time and pinch pennies, every year I reach that moment when I say, “What the hell! It’s Christmas!” And I mean it. But it’s like having that first glass of wine too early in the evening.  Once I quaff the Christmas Kool-Aid there’s no turning back. I shift into preparation overdrive and I inevitably overdo, as evidenced by the mountains of leftovers, the gifts that looked great under the tree but are not very useful later and the growing number of Rubbermaid tubs that it takes to store the decorations. This is my problem—enjoying the cruise without tumbling overboard. I’m working on it.

December, I’ve realized, is an anomaly. We have a sanctioned opportunity in December to find a crazy place that is just not available to us at any other time. That means loosening the restraints of the rest of the year, at least a little. It shouldn’t mean gaining twenty pounds, pickling our livers or going into hock, but it should allow everyone to experience the love and respite of at least one good party, whatever that means to us. Even if we give it to ourselves.

But getting there sure does throw off a groove.

And that is what January is for. It is the morning after. It is when we realize that it’s great to break the routine and have a wonderful time, but those songs that wish for Christmas all year ’round don’t know what they’re talking about. It’s beautiful to put up decorations and to enjoy them with people we love, but it is also a huge relief to take them down and vacuum the cookie crumbs out of the carpet. It feels good to eat salads again, to walk around the neighborhood instead of the mall and to give my charge card a chance to cool down. The tree was lovely this year, but it is nice now to have the window unobstructed to let in that precious, fleeting January daylight.

Seeking perfection and happiness is hard work and living up to such stratospheric expectations is only possible for short periods of time. January reminds us that cookies make us fat, that dried up pine needles hurt when we step on them, that staying up late makes us unproductive, that parties and presents come at a price, that maybe we did let corporate America get the better of us and that there really are many, many things in this world that suck. That’s the way things are. But having had a break from them in the noble pursuit of comfort and joy makes it all a little easier to live with.

December, then, is a vast departure from real life, like a much-needed family excursion to Disney World. This is good. January brings reality back. This is good, too.

But now we are encouraged to improve, to embrace the New Year, to renew ourselves with obligatory resolutions. I am not looking for a New Me. I caught a glimpse of that chick in December. And while she was cool, she is not at all sustainable. Maybe next December she’ll be back, armed with responsible intentions that will once again come unglued two weeks after Thanksgiving.  But she is not who I want to be now. So instead of resolutions, I am using January to make restorations, replacing the sprees of December with the sanity and steady habits of November from which I took an unsolicited yet predictable vacation. I was pretty happy with how things were going then and I’d like to now move forward by taking a step back. This means settling back into my groove by writing every day, walking every day, keeping the bird feeder full, maintaining a clean, low-glycemic diet (you hear that, chocolate?), getting out to the cineplex every once in a while, staying out of the mall except around birthdays, keeping in touch with friends and loving my family. No need to set the world on fire.

At least not until next December.









As if it wasn’t hard enough the first time, I am asking you to VOTE FOR ME AGAIN.

Remember the poll that I told you about last week? Your response was terrific—all I could ask for. Except then the poll people decided to lift the one-vote restriction after seven days so that everyone who voted for me in the Just the Right Book poll last week can now VOTE FOR ME AGAIN. (Well, I guess everyone who voted for anyone can vote again, not just those who voted for me. But I’m not interested in them.)

So, if you voted for me anytime between December 1 and December 7, YOU CAN VOTE FOR ME AGAIN, on all of your devices, on Thursday, December 14. From what I can tell by the clock on the tally page of the contest, voting ends on December 14, around 7 pm.

So, if you have a minute and you’re not put off by my groveling,  please click the link below on Thursday and VOTE FOR ME AGAIN.

Thanks. You’re awesome. I promise I won’t ask again.





Vote For Me!!! 5

You know how much I hate blowing my own horn. My lips get all tingly and my cheeks turn red and my teeth jangle and my head aches like hell. But sometimes I simply have to step up to the bandstand, take a deep breath, pucker up and make some noise. And since ‘tis the season, here goes.

I have an opportunity for my first book, Saving Our Lives: Volume One—Essays to Inspire the Writer in YOU, to be featured on a podcast by Roxanne Coady, the founder and owner of the famous R. J. Julia Bookstore in Madison, Connecticut. Roxanne is a big deal in independent book circles. Her opinions are influential and her reach is long. Her “Just the Right Book” podcast is gaining steam and I want very much to be a part of it.

But there’s a catch.

People have to vote for me.

Aaarrggh. You know what that means. I have to screw my courage to the sticking place, pretend I am confident and get out there and ask for your vote. Now I know why I will never run for office—not that this book poll requires me to canvas neighborhoods, make speeches or work the phones, but standing up and saying, “My book is worth your vote,” even though I believe it, is really hard for me to do. I’ve always felt, even in my teaching life, that the work should speak for itself and that if my work is good enough it will find its way into the world with no help from me.

But that would be the easy way out and we all know that life is not like that.

So, here it comes. If you like what I write, please consider going to the “Just the Right Book” website, clicking Vote Now, scrolling down to Saving Our Lives and voting for me. Then, share the link with your family and friends and recommend that they, too, vote for me. You may vote until Friday, December 15.

Here’s the link:

JTRB’s Independent Author Poll

And, while you’re at it, please consider the Saving Our Lives books when you are doing your holiday shopping. They might be just the thing.



The Goatboy Girl 4

Autumn in New England is fair season. There are wonderful country fairs, harvest festivals, apple galas, agricultural celebrations and expositions all over the region full of rides and food and prizes and shows and vendors and fun. They make autumn special and people turn out in droves to walk around, meet their neighbors, vie for blue ribbons, cheat on their diets, check up on their kids and check out what’s for sale.

I live within driving distance of a zillion fairs. I could go to a different fair every weekend from Labor Day until Halloween, if I wanted to. I don’t, but I do have two or three fairs that I never miss. There’s the one with the great church food and another one with wine tasting and the big regional one with more farm animals than anyone could possibly need to see in one place. I like pig races and bunnies and arts and crafts and goats. And, I’ve discovered, soap.

Goats and soap, I’ve also discovered, are a thing.


Vendors are a big attraction at all New England country fairs. There are some who have been in the same spot on the same fairgrounds for years and years and there are others who come and go. The most ambitious of them ride the circuit and cart their “stores” from fair to fair every weekend of the season. As a fair-weather vendor who took my book booth to the summer markets for the first (and possibly the last) time this year, I know how much work it is to schlep tables, tents, decorations and products from patch of grass to patch of grass (or patch of mud), hoping to break through the indifference to make a sale—only to pack it all up and start again, from scratch, at the next place. It isn’t as easy as it looks—or as much fun.

So, when I find fair vendors I like, I try to support them in any way I can. Buying their products is one way. Telling others about them is another.

This is where the goats and the soap come in. Finally, right?


I am in love with Goatboy Soap.

I once received a bar of Goatboy Soap as a gift. I used it and liked it and started buying it from their website. When I use commercial hand soaps or, worse, hand sanitizers of any kind, the skin on my hands rebels in evil and painful ways, a problem which was eased considerably when I started using Goatboy goat milk soap regularly. In fact, I keep a bar in a soap dish next to every sink in my house and, when I travel, I cut a bar into small pieces and carry some with me so that I never have to worry about an epidermal mutiny when I am on the road.

Now, the Goat Boy enterprise has taken to the road and is riding the fair circuit—no small feat because not only to they bring their booth and their soaps, but they also bring their goats! I was thrilled to see the critters in person (in goat?) that have done so much for my hands. They are cuties with the most beautiful coats, washed with—well, what do you think?

But I was also thrilled to meet Lisa, the Goatboy Lady herself, a mom whose goat journey started because her son has severe allergies. It was fun smelling the soaps and picking them out by hand instead of on the website. As I filled my bag with deliciously scented five-ounce bars, I chatted with Lisa about how much her soaps have helped me and how I can’t leave home without them. That’s when she reached beneath her table and pulled out a bag full of what she calls “Scrapples,” an assortment of thin end cuts that she bags up and sells as they are. It’s all the same soap, just not as pretty.

“Here,” she said. “I want you to have these. Then you won’t have to cut up your good bars when you travel.”

Her gift came from the heart. She appreciated my story—and my business. And I appreciate her product—and her kindness.

So, while I rarely use my blog to advertise, I will do it this one time. Go to the Goatboy website at . Buy some fabulous soap from some very nice people.

And, should our paths cross at a market or fair, I’ll be be one with the scent of Goatboy soap wafting out from inside my purse!

Number One

Welcome to my new blog, my new book, my new business and my new website! I have arrived! Well, actually, I am still making my way down the road, but I should be pulling into the driveway any time now.
I am very proud to announce that my new book, Saving Our Lives: Volume Two—Essays to Release the Writer in YOU, is available now both digitally and in print. It’s coming out a little later than I had originally planned, but, like all of us who are perennially late for things, I have a really good excuse.
Here’s my story.
I was on track to have Volume Two out in the spring of 2016. Volume One had just won a Benjamin Franklin Award from the Independent Book Publishers Association and we put things on hold at home to fly out to Salt Lake City for the annual IBPA conference and awards banquet. If I had known then that this organization and its conference would spin my head around, set my hair on fire, delay my work and send me off into a world so far outside my comfort zone that I didn’t recognize myself, would I still have gone to this meeting?
Well, yeah. Of course. What did you think I would say?
Here’s my story.
I have been to many writers’ conferences. Two recent gatherings that I have been lucky enough to attend were The Mark Twain House Writers Weekend and the Wesleyan Writers Conference. They are quite different in their approach. As you might guess, the Wesleyan conference is very academic. Instead of workshop choices, writers follow a set schedule, everyone attending four-day classes together—one in poetry, one in fiction and one in non-fiction—interspersed with readings and panel discussions and meals and wine and cheese soirees and speakers from The New Yorker. So very civilized. The ivory tower of academia, I realized, is alive and well and quite alluring. After a four-day immersion in the rarefied world of words and writers, it took me a couple of days to float back down to real life and to get my feet planted firmly on the ground.
The Twain House Weekend, like Twain himself, was more homespun—and practical. Workshops about podcasts and social media and independent publishing scattered themselves among sessions in ghostwriting, journaling, storytelling, nature writing, screenwriting, researching, children’s writing, memoir writing and other concerns of those who write. Panel discussions and keynote speakers proved that there are people out there who do this for living—and that most of the time, especially for those who like to eat regularly, it ain’t so easy. But for those who love the written word, it’s worth a shot.
Then, into my life comes the IBPA. Notice that the name of this organization does not include the words write, writer, writing, written, author, poet, novelist, essayist or anything referring to the creation or the creators of text. The workshops offered at this conference included things like branding, copyrights, contracts, marketing strategies, distribution methods, book registrations, cost control, management apps and my very favorite, the optimization of metadata.
These workshops didn’t cater to writers. These presenters didn’t give a shit about how the words got on the page. That’s the writer’s job—and the subject of those other conferences.
These people are independent publishers. Their job is to figure out what to do with these pages once the writer is done with them.
This is business!
And I was officially terrified. My head was spinning with every business cliché I had ever heard. The business of business is business. Mind your own business. Don’t take it personally. It’s only business. Business before pleasure. Don’t ever ask about my business. Keep it in the black! Always be aware of your bottom line. There’s no business like show business.
Business! Nothing could be further from my comfort zone.
But, by the time I left Salt Lake City, I was well on my way to becoming a bona fide authorpreneur.
Today, as my second book hits the market, I am a writer and an independent publisher, learning the ropes as I go, growing my business by baby steps, attending both writing and publishing conferences and switching hats as necessary.
And that, my friends, is why this book is late.
I believe in the independent publishing movement and I am proud to be a part of it. I still have a lot to learn. And, I have a lot to say about writing, making books and making a living from making books .
Actually, I have a lot to say about a lot of things.
Good thing I have this new blog.
I hope you will join me for the ride.