His family was about to go back to France for an extended stay in the Languedoc region, and at the encouragement of his wife, Mary Jo, they invited Lee Dean, the Taste Editor at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, out for lunch. The Hoffmans were testing a new theory they called, "Do good work and put it where people can see it."
Steve says he spent years keeping extensive journals during the family's travels abroad, sharing them with a select few friends and family members. This, he felt, was good work, but talking to Lee was the first step toward putting this writing where people could see it.
Suddenly Steve was not just a tax preparer, landlord, and real estate broker who hoped, someday, to write. He was a writer with an assignment, a suggested word count, and three very specific deadlines. "I was a food writer," he says, "almost in spite of myself."
Eventually Steve's "Letters from France" won an AFJ (Association of Food Journalists) Award, and, most recently, the coveted Bert Greene Award from the International Association of Culinary Professionals.
Steve's year is divided into seasons. There is tax preparation season from January through April, "when all I do is eat, sleep, and prepare tax returns," he says. "Through the rest of the year, because I am self-employed, I can block off writing time from about 8:00 am to 12:00 noon, and schedule work around that daily time slot."
Steve describes his best working days as "Big Ship" days. "Like an oceanliner, I am slow to start, slow to gather momentum, but then difficult to slow down once I get going. I like to get physically comfortable so I can sit for a long time if necessary."
He has done his best writing on the sunny terrace of the family's rented house in Languedoc "on the most comfortable chaise longue I've ever sat in." He tried to recreate that atmosphere last summer while writing the first draft of the book. "I would sit on our deck or in the corner of our living room by the fire," he told me, "in a big comfortable chair."
His most productive days tend to be long days of writing, when there are no work appointments in the afternoon.
"I often struggle through the morning to find the right tone for a piece or a chapter," Steve says, "but then ease into my own voice with growing excitement and confidence. Often on these days, I am writing furiously to get it all down at the very end of an eight or ten hour session, with my laptop keyboard still clicking while I listen to dinner being prepped in the kitchen behind me."
"At the end of the best days," he says, "there's an ottoman under my feet and a side table to hold a glass of wine while I read the days' work to Mary Jo--and the kids if they are interested."
To read Steve Hoffman's award-winning article, click here. To see more of his work and visit his website, click here. To view Mary Jo's amazing photographs, which accompany all of Steve's work, click here.