‘Chicken Soup’ Writer’s Stories Find a Humorous Home
Erika Hoffman became a little worried about her own state of mind after reading a series of articles about dementia, a memory loss condition that plagued her late father, and decided to take action.
What happened next was downright laughable.
A story that Hoffman wrote – titled “Do you smell that?” – opens the second chapter of the recent publication of “Chicken soup for the soul: too funny! book, in a section titled “I Can’t Believe I Did This”.
The story of the long-running “Chicken Soup” book series recounts a daily habit she developed during the COVID-19 pandemic of testing her sense of smell with cologne. She doesn’t normally wear perfume, she wrote, she would spray some on her arm while in home isolation and if she could detect the scent she would gleefully announce herself (and the dachshunds in the family),” Another day without COVID!”
Hoffman ends up putting the cologne away after being vaccinated. But several months later, after reading a series of stories about dementia, she retrieves the bottle – a birthday present given to her by her friend Margaret of St. Aubin – fearing that the loss of sense of smell is a sign early memory loss and impaired judgment. . After his father Henry’s experience with the disease and after reflecting on the subject of aging and brain function, Hoffman decides to test his olfactory abilities again with St. Aubin’s gift.
The rest of the story involves a magnifying glass, a bit of Italian, some fine print, and a startling revelation about what she thought was “the most beautiful perfume I’ve ever been given.”
The story is the 17th Hoffman has published in the past twelve years in the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” book series, which began in 1993 and now comprises more than 250 titles. A new book is added to this list each month; over 100 million books have been sold in the series to date and have been translated into over 40 languages. Nearly 30 years after the first “Chicken Soup” book sold, the brand now includes a podcast, educational programs, a line of pet foods and movies.
“Chicken soup for the soul: so funny!” is the third comedy collection in the series and contains 101 true stories – written by people like Hoffman who lived the experiences they wrote about. The stories are described by the book’s publisher as “embarrassing, hilarious and truly relatable”. Readers gave the book, which was published in April, a 4.9 star rating (out of 5) on Amazon.com, with reviewers describing it as “soul healing”, “hilarious” and “so funny and comforting”.
Hoffman and her husband, Byron, married in 1977. They moved to Chatham County when he took a job here as an internist at the old Chatham Hospital. The couple were featured in an article in the 12 April 1979 edition of The Chatham News, just before they arrived in Siler City.
“I remember how welcoming the community was,” Hoffman said. “Byron and I lived in Atlanta, where he attended medical school at Emory, and also did his residency in Atlanta.”
She said her husband’s family moved from Pennsylvania to Alamance County in the 1700s, so returning to that part of North Carolina was something of a homecoming for him. He still practices at the “new” Chatham Hospital, serving as co-medical director of UNC’s primary care facility in Siler City.
Hoffman grew up in New Jersey and met Byron when they were both students at Duke University. After they married and moved to Chatham, she taught Grade One English and French at Jordan-Matthews High School and other schools in Chatham for about 10 years. Each of the four Hoffman children who followed were born in the old Chatham Hospital – where Byron worked – and attended school here.
She writes stories and essays without entertaining some of her eight grandchildren. She started contributing during a transition period at home – it was just before the last of her children left home and around the time her father, who had memory problems, moved in.
“Because Dad suffered from dementia, I stayed home to take care of him,” she recalls. “Being confined, I started to write.
Hoffman wrote down what she knew. The first story she wrote that was accepted appeared in a Chicken Soup anthology titled “A Cup of Comfort for Families Affected by Alzheimer’s Disease,” and her second was about kids heading off to college. .
These days, as a member of the “Chicken Soup” family, Hoffman keeps tabs on the Chicken Soup website — chickensoup.com — which lists upcoming book titles and deadlines. (Soon-to-be-released editions will feature topics like “How Stepping Out of My Comfort Zone Changed Me,” “Advice That Changed My Life,” and “Crazy, Quirky, Goofy, Lovable, Fun Families.” )
“Usually I have a personal story on whatever topic they suggest,” Hoffman said.
She sticks to the book series’ guidelines for submissions: “First of all, it has to be true,” she said. “Second, it has to be your story, not someone else’s. Of course, there has to be a satisfying beginning, middle, and end, and it has to create some emotion in the reader, even if it doesn’t. It’s just curiosity.
Authors whose stories are published — stories are typically under 1,200 words — are paid $200 and given 10 free copies of the book in which their accepted story appears. The Chicken Soup publisher has non-exclusive rights to accepted stories, meaning the authors retain ownership of the story – but it may be reused in any future Chicken Soup book title or related product.
“Sometimes I get comments about my ‘Chicken Soup’ stories,” Hoffman said. “A man from Saudi Arabia once wrote to me that he appreciated my essay. More often, however, I get comments on my stories that have been seen on an ezine where the reader can leave a comment.
In total, more than 400 of Hoffman’s works have been published in various forms – in regional magazines, places of inspiration or online magazines on the art of writing.
“I’ve also written travel articles that have appeared in magazines like ‘Northwest’ or online magazines like ‘Raleigh and Co.’,” she said. “Sometimes I’m entrusted with an article from ‘The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, which is a periodical for homeschooling parents.’
The Chicken Soup website receives hundreds of story submissions every day, so Hoffman considers herself a “prolific” writer for the series. She usually submits one story, sometimes more, for most new titles announced by the company. Only about one in 50 papers submitted is accepted for publication; she tends to focus on humorous stories, saying she’s not as good at the saddest stories, though she’s had her share of sadness.
“Editors said they liked my humor,” she said. “They love my humorous, conversational style pieces. I find it harder to write poignant things.
She will share stories orally with friends, sharing anecdotes and experiences.
“And if they laugh about it, I think it might be something I could write,” Hoffman said.
Writing doesn’t take long – maybe 30 minutes, maybe 90. Editing takes longer, but she tries not to overthink or overanalyze the finished product. She doesn’t write every day, but takes pen to paper when the idea arises.
Right now, she’s waiting to hear about a few stories she’s submitted for future editions of “Chicken Soup.”
And her advice for budding writers considering joining her as the author of “Chicken Soup”?
“I would tell them not to be afraid to write a true story,” Hoffman said. “And do it. Submit it without thinking too much about it. Don’t let anxiety dash your hopes. If you don’t succeed, try, try again.
Bill Horner III can be contacted at [email protected] or @billthethird.