Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The lost art of anticpation.

Have you ever wondered why some memories are just burned into your head, and why others--perhaps those attached to more significant events in your life--get lost in the neurosynaptic shuffle (and, yes, I made that term up, but I kind of like it.) For instance, I have very few memories of my graduation from grammar school, and yet I have almost visceral recollection of an event that took place the following summer, an event that will seem very mundane to many of you. I was fourteen-years-old and an avid reader of comic books and similar magazines for boys. My favorite part of these was the small ads in the back hawking all kind of things that a boy my age might want--like a model airplane with a real Cox engine.

I can still feel how badly I wanted that plane. When I spoke to my father about it, he shared my enthusiasm for it. "Best get going earning some money," he said. So I put a sign up looking for work, lawns, raking, weeding, stacking wood, whatever. I remember being very excited when the lady with the biggest house in our small town called requesting my services. The next day I biked down to her estate and started the process of cleaning up her many gardens which had become overrun with weeds since the death of her husband, a process that lasted three long days. When it was all over, I was rewarded with a five dollar bill and a glass of weak lemonade. I can remember my mother being somewhat put off by my earnings, remarking, 'the reason she has a lot of money, Peter, is because she like to hang on to it.' My father, of course, felt differently: 'Well, you're five dollars closer to that plane.'

Within a few weeks I was close, and good weather that spring translated into a good crop of black raspberries which grew in abundance along the hedges of the many hay fields dotting the landscape. I used to pick them ten quarts at a time and sell them to the neighbors for a quarter each. (1978 prices.) By the time the blackcaps had gone by I had enough money for that plane. So I cut out the ad and addressed the envelope, and my mother took me down to town to get a money order. On the way home we stopped at the post office and I dropped my letter into the slot, officially marking the start of the waiting period which was forecast to be six-weeks long.

I know what you are thinking. Six-weeks? Really? But I am not making this up or even exaggerating the length of time. The difficulty in comprehending this is that there is no modern comparison, and that's the problem. Today, most boys would just visit the website, click on the model they wanted, use a credit card to pay, and the plane would be on the doorstep in two days. More efficient? Most definitely. But better? I don't think so, most definitely not. Let me explain my reasoning.

The next six weeks were not difficult for me, they were just the opposite. Rather than be frustrated by the wait, I spent my days anticipating my new life as a pilot of a model airplane with a real Cox engine (I promise I won't use that same expression again.) I remember waiting for the postman to come, weeks before the package ultimately arrived, pacing around my yard like an expectant father. When he came without anything for me, I remember being excited that I would get to do the same thing on the following day, one day closer to the due date. It was just the way of things in those days; one waited for the things that one wanted. And it forced one to be more patient--a virtue which is in short supply these days,

Now, don't get me wrong. I understand the value of the internet as well as the next person, and I take advantage of it all the time. But here's the point I am trying to make: I eventually got the package and I remember that the plane was purple which remains my favorite color to this day (if you don't believe me, check out my website http://www.peterhogenkamp.com ). But that's about it in terms of my recollections after the plane arrived, other than that I had a lot of problems with the real Cox engine. What I remember so well is how much I enjoyed anticipating the arrival of the plane I had worked so hard to get. That is what has been lost in our modern 24/7 world, anticipation. And my inner fourteen-year-old tells me it is a big loss.

Thanks again for your attention, see you next time. Bloggers please check out my tribe, The Big Thrill, on Triberr; I am looking for like-minded bloggers.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

How to succeed at failing. (From somewhat of an expert in the field!)

We live in a success oriented culture. If you don't think this is true, consider the case of Alex Rodriguez (A-Rod) of the New York Yankees. When A-Rod was leading the Yankees to one pennant after the next, no one seemed to care that A-Rod was using steroids and other performance enhancing drugs. But when A-Rod started to struggle (after he was forced to play without PED) he became the pariah he is today. Lesson to the young people in the world: As long as you are successful, the methods you used to become successful don't matter. And the converse: if you are not successful, you will be rigorously cross-examined and then cast aside. By way of a second example, here is just one paragraph of what I found on the net when I googled the issue: (from Total Pro Sports)
The Caltech Beavers men’s basketball team (NCAA Div. III) hold the longest losing streak in NCAA history. Spanning 207 games and 11 years, the team went from 1996 to 2007 without a win. Their in-conference losing streak has lasted even longer. After last night’s loss to Pomona-Pitzer, the team has lost 307 consecutive conference match ups since 1985. It’s worth noting that the school has a strict admissions policy, which explains the lack of talented athletes. That said, why even have a team?

Do you notice the derisive tone? Why even have a team? Really? I chose this sample because it was the best example of my point: we have lost sight of the value of losing. Value in losing, you ask? What could that be?

Losing teaches courage. Don't agree? Watch a little league game for verification of this. The winning nine will be all smiles, standing erect and jumping around as if they just won the World Series; the losing side are hunched over, heads down, not saying much. I like to watch the latter bunch. When you see one who straightens up, holds his or her head high and looks the opponent in the eye while shaking hands, jot down that kid's name; he or she is going places.

Everybody knows you can learn lessons from losing, but most people don't bother to find out what those lessons were. Sometimes the reason for a loss can be obvious, such as: they have LeBron James and we don't. But many times the critical factor is much more subtle. I recently wrote a post about my long journey to get into medical school. When I was told by my pre-medical Dean that I wasn't going to be recommended for medical school, that was a loss, a painful one. And I had the same choice that every person does when they are put to the loss test: I could gripe about it, vent my spleen about how things weren't fair, blame the people that had let me down along the way (the American pastime), even contest the ruling, or I could accept it and figure out why things had gone down the way they did. What could I do differently the next time to lead to a better outcome? That is the loss test in a nutshell, and I think there is no better judge of winning character. Every one smiles when they win; far more important is how one reacts to a loss.

I am a writer; I lose all the time. Try pouring your heart and soul (and wallet) into something, only to hear 'Not for me' or 'The market is too tight' or, even worse, hear nothing at all. It isn't a lot of fun. But there is a reason your manuscript didn't make the cut, and you have to find out what that was and change it. If you didn't get the job you were interviewing for, don't blame anyone and everyone else. How could you have prepared differently? If you are overweight: How can I change my eating habits to slim down? Filing a law suit against McDonald's indicates you have failed the loss test. It means you have refused to accept personal responsibility for your loss, and are blaming others--in this case, in a very deliberate and public way.

There is a reason we all need to learn to fail successfully: we are all going to fail. We are going to fail in every facet and discipline in our lives. We will have failed relationships, failed courses, failed businesses, failed undertakings of all kinds: And do you know what happens to you if you don't know how to succeed in failure? Yup, you got it, you stop participating and spend your life on the sidelines, where will you be spared from having to fail. Putting yourself out there requires the courage to fail, and many (I call them life spectators) don't have it.

I can't imagine a worse predicament in life than not participating in it. There is more to life than sitting in front of the television set. Like to travel? Pick up your backpack and go to Italy like you have always dreamed of. The only person stopping you is you. Take up skiing or golf. Buy a dozen Dixon Ticonderogas (the best pencil made) and write a memoir or a novel. Make a movie using your Iphone. Learn how to make pies and then make the best blueberry pie ever (and then send it to me, it's my favorite). Plant some blueberry bushes. Read a book and write a review on Goodreads or Amazon. Volunteer at a local homeless shelter. Start a blog! Learn to play the piano. Do something. Get involved in your life, whatever way you can.

But remember, somewhere along the way, you are going to rack up some losses in your new endeavors. A golf match will end in a loss; your blueberries will be eaten by birds; your memoir will be rejected by two dozen agents and publishers; your trip to Italy will be cancelled because the entire sky over the Atlantic Ocean will be covered in volcanic ash (this actually happened, remember?) But it is how we react to these losses that defines us. If you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get back on the horse, you win, regardless of what the scoreboard says.

Ok, that's enough from me, and I have to mow the lawn. In case I have inspired you to read, check out Fancy Feet by Heidi Cave, the defining story of turning tragedy into hope. I have pasted the link HERE. Thanks for your attention.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

PeterHogenkampWrites: Book review: Saving Laura by Jim Satterfield

PeterHogenkampWrites: Book review: Saving Laura by Jim Satterfield: If you are, like me, on the lookout for a fresh voice in the thriller genre, clear out your schedule for a few days and ...

Book review: Saving Laura by Jim Satterfield

If you are, like me, on the lookout for a fresh voice in the thriller genre, clear out your schedule for a few days and pick up a copy of Jim Satterfield’s Saving Laura. Set in Wyoming and Colorado—a region Satterfield knows like his backyard—Saving Laura is the tale of a young man willing to risk everything to save the girl he loves from an unscrupulous drug dealer. It is a common theme, yes, but Satterfield does it with uncommon style: in the smooth and easy prose that flows like the waters of the Roaring Fork River, in the characters as real as the Rockies themselves, and in the use of the setting—described beautifully—as a character unto itself. So well does Satterfield know the terrain and understand its denizens, that the reader is much like a movie-goer, watching the story unfold amid the snow-tinged peaks and aspen-covered hills.

But there is more to Saving Laura than beautiful scenery, much more. In classic thriller fashion, there is never really any doubt as to how the story will end, but it is the getting there that drives the story, the reader’s desire to see how it all goes down. It is a testament to Satterfield’s ability to create sympathetic characters that we yearn to see the protagonist (twenty-one-year-old Lee Shelby) succeed despite watching him commit grand larceny in the opening scene. We allow it because we understand Shelby is desperate to save Laura from cocaine addiction and from the man who enabled her addiction, an easy-to-hate drug peddler that Satterfield draws up in grand fashion.

But the author’s talent for characterization is perhaps best seen in the many supporting characters: in the renegade mountain dweller who helps Shelby escape from the police who are looking for him for a murder he didn’t commit; in the beautiful and flawed Laura for whom Shelby is willing to risk his life; and in the maverick author (a doppleganger of Satterfield himself?) who comes to Shelby’s aid when he needs it most.

So, pull up a beach chair, brew up a large pitcher of iced tea or mix a Tanqueray and Tonic (don’t forget the lime so you can count it as a fruit serving), and crack open a copy of Saving Laura by Jim Satterfield. Just make sure the lawn is already mowed!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

A candid interview with literary agent Liz Kracht of Kimberley Cameron & Associates

 It is my great pleasure today to bring you an interview with my literary agent, Liz Kracht of Kimberley Cameron & Associates. I want to keep my introductory remarks brief--because you all have heard much from me before and you are reading this because you want to hear from Liz--but suffice it to say that Liz is an author's literary agent (kind of like a player's manager in baseball): approachable, witty, realistic yet hopeful (tough combo in this gig), loyal (let me stress how important this is), and reliable. Enjoy the interview.

Peter Hogenkamp (PH): What is the biggest misperception today about writers and/or publishing?

Elizabeth Kracht (EK):  I think one of the biggest misperceptions I’ve seen—concerning both writers and publishing, plus media coverage—is around highly publicized “overnight” success stories. I don’t believe there are overnight success stories. I think we like to believe there are, because it gives hope and feeds our fantasy life, and can even encourage us to keep moving forward.  But where you see a success story, a lot of hard work has been invested. What strikes me about these types of stories is what is left unsaid, which I think is that the author was flexible, listened to feedback and worked very hard to succeed.

PH: Do you accept many first novels?  What are some common mistakes inherent to first novels?

EK:  I do take on debut fiction authors. Our Agency prides itself on being very open to first time authors.  I think the bulk of my list is made up of unpublished authors. The traditional publishing climate is tougher than ever, so it’s not easy to launch a debut author, but if we believe in the work, we don’t hesitate. I don’t think there has ever been a conversation in our office about whether or not to represent a first time author. There have been conversations on whether or not to sign a difficult author, or keep one around (generally, we don’t, life is too short). Our agency bias definitely leans in favor of debut authors.

PH: When I was unagented, I used to dream about sitting next to a literary agent on a plane where I would wow him or her with my novel pitch. Has this ever happened to you? What is the most unusual path you have taken to signing an author?

EK:  I’ve never been that unlucky agent pitched to in the bathroom stall. I was on the street in town doing errands when a man overheard a conversation I was having with someone else and pitched me a book idea that wasn’t formulated. One of my shortcomings is that I’m too nice, so I let him monopolize my time for about a half an hour before I excused myself. When I saw him a couple months later in Peet’s, I prayed to the Greek gods (I was working on a Greek-themed manuscript at the time) that he wouldn’t recognize me; he didn’t.

I’d love to be able to say that I signed one of my family members, particularly my brother Jeevan. He’s a poet and screenwriter, and I’ve been encouraging him to write a novel. I think he’s finally working on one. I’d like for this to be my most unusual path.

But currently, I think the most unusual path so far is in signing one of my brother’s friends, Jason Wake Smith. Jason used to work with my brother in Santa Cruz and I also did yoga with him when I was in my mid-20s. Jason wrote for Surfer Magazine and at some point went off to work for the LA Times. I was slightly jealous and in awe of Jason, because I wanted to be a writer. Recently, through my brother and Facebook, we reconnected. He asked if it would be okay if he sent me some book ideas. I said sure.

When I received his ideas, at the top of the list was a narrative nonfiction idea concerning a mutual friend. I’d always wanted to write about this friend because his story is compelling, much in the same vein as Susan Casey’s The Devil’s Teeth. Part of my wanting to tell this mutual friend’s story, was to help him; he’d fallen on serious hard times. He’d always been a very generous person to me, willing to help, and my natural inclination was to try and help him by getting his story out. When I saw Jason’s interest in telling this same story, I called him up and told him if you write this story I’ll send you a contract today. I’m also working with Jason on a narrative nonfiction animal rescue story (I finally found a great animal rescue story set in Russia!). 

PH: What advice would you give a person just starting down the writing road?

EK: Okay, Peter, I think a list is in order (not necessarily listed in the order of importance, however):

1.              Immerse yourself in the publishing industry.
2.              Go to writers’ conferences and learn.
3.              Read as much as possible.
4.              Take writing courses.
5.              Be savvy around genre protocol, i.e. word count.
6.              Start building your social media platform now.
7.              Build an author website.
8.              Set up a writing routine.
9.              Never send an agent your first draft.
10.           Embrace revisions.
11.           Be flexible around your writing.
12.           Be grateful for any feedback.
13.            Don’t give up.
14.           Study character development, plot, character arc, story arc, writing setting and dialog, pacing…
15.           Understand general submission protocol.
16.           Perfect the 275-word query letter.
17.           Learn how to write a one-page synopsis.
18.           Always double space your manuscript and insert page numbers.
19.           Work with an experienced freelance editor (in book publishing) before submitting to an agent.
20.           Stay hopeful, especially in the face of rejection.

PH: Every person’s perspective is flavored by the events in his or her own life. What life events have colored your perspective, and how does this translate into the type of books you want to represent?

EK:  Personal interest plays a large part in the types of projects we take on. Our agency may operate differently from others in this way. If an agent at our agency decides to represent someone, there is no doubt that there is a degree of personal interest invested in the story. A project can be well executed and ready for publication, but if it is of no personal interest to any of the agent’s in-house, we won’t represent it. There are many projects that would interest me but Kimberley would not touch and vice versa. I guess it’s safe to say there are degrees of personal interest.

In a larger sense, with respect to my life experience, yes, I’m interested in a wide range of things. I’m very eclectic in the projects I represent. The interns sometimes shake their heads because I’m that kid who is willing try anything, which forces them to read farther into projects when they were hoping to get a head shake.

Some examples of recent projects I’ve taken on because I’m personally interested in these subjects:

1.              A thriller with a priest protagonist set in Italy.
2.              Book on the moon.
3.              An edgy mystery where setting is a character.
4.              Heroic animal rescue story.
5.              Self-help book around social media.
6.              Dog humor book (I have two of these).
7.              Communication book on listening.
8.              An illustrated adult humor book that made me laugh hard.

Authors want agents that have a personal interest in their work.

PH: When a writer sends you a query letter and a partial manuscript, are you the first person in your office to lay eyes on it, or do readers and/or interns screen the pages first?

EK:  It really depends. Both Kimberley and I have assistants who help us with our e-mail inboxes, though sometimes we put them on other projects (developmental). Over the last three months, I have probably only looked at 15 queries because I’ve been extremely busy with new clients, conferences, and running the office. I have SO many people I need to get back to! If I have met an author in person at a conference, I ask my assistant to leave those submissions alone, though unfortunately they sit for a long time then. Right now my e-mail box hovers around 640 e-mails, about 540 of which are non-client e-mails (or cold queries and conference submissions). My goal is to better pace myself so that I can be involved in the submissions that come to me. It’s been strongly on my mind that I need to get to my Santa Fe submissions, because I know there are some gems there.

I do feel it’s important to mention that the interns who come and work with us are all educated, and most are writers, so they do have inherent empathy. They are motivated to find projects because it’s exciting. Since our location is somewhat remote, they really have to want to be at the Agency. They hate “crushing dreams,” as they put it, but also quickly learn it’s part of the process, and even though writing is very personal, our rejection of an author’s work is not personal. The interns are tough critics. It’s true they don’t like seeing typos and that they’d love to be able to reject on the basis of a bad query. But we train them to pop the submission open and read because we understand that query letters are tough for writers.

This should be a lesson to authors, though. Our agency is forgiving, but there’s no doubt in my mind that other agency’s don’t operate with the same philosophy. Do your homework, and have others proofread your materials.

PH: There are so many things that make up a good book: voice, characters, pacing, story line, the writing style, etc. When you consider a book for representation, are any of these more important than the others? For instance, will rich, multi-dimensional characters make up for pacing that’s too slow? Will an original premise carry a story with a weak voice?

EK:  Our recent trip to New York to meet editors reaffirmed that authors have to “bring it” on all levels. The traditional publishing climate is tough. Kimberley says there used to be a thriving midlist, but not any longer; it’s been wiped out. We heard the term “genre plus,” on our trip, which we understand to mean all pieces (mentioned above) need to be in place. At lunch in New York, renowned editor Otto Penzler said to us: “I want to cry. I want to laugh. I want to get angry.” Every aspect of a manuscript needs to be as rich and multidimensional as possible. “Great writing” is not a one-dimensional term.

PH: What are your goals as a literary agent?

EK:  Of course I want the bestseller, Peter (I hope you note your name in italics). And once I have one, I just may need a few more.

PH: If you were to sit down and write a novel, what genre would it be? Give me a description of the main character?

EK: I’ve never considered writing fiction. My writing interest has always been nonfiction. Personally, I’d like to write a memoir. I think I have an inherent need to communicate a part of me in writing. As I child I felt stifled around communication. For example, when I got caught smoking cigarettes by my Dad and he grounded me right before The Police played the “Day On The Green” (I’m dating myself), I had to write a letter to him to ask him to defer my grounding, which he did. Verbal communication with adults was tough for me; I didn’t feel like they listened or heard what I had to say. Thus, communication has become an important part of my life. I’m drawn to memoir for this reason. And I also believe that everyone has a story to tell, whether they’ve studied how to tell it well is another matter…and that includes me.

What’s most likely to happen, though, is that I’ll co-author a humor project with someone, possibly my neighbor. We’ve been kicking around an idea.

If my life depended on me writing fiction for some reason, I might try my hand at a heartbreaking love story (like The House of Mirth), a Young Adult manuscript or a historical (I do have one in the back of my mind for this set in China).

PH: Ok, last question: If you could work with any writer in history, who would it be and why?

EK: I think I might like to “work with” Poe. I certainly wouldn’t want to take advantage of him, because he didn’t earn much for his genius and struggled most of his life. There is so much speculation around what type of person he was that I’d love to get a sense of him myself, one on one.

Thank you, very much, Liz, for your time and insightful answers. You can find out more about Liz and her agency at http://www.kimberleycameron.com, Once again, thanks for your attention, and please check out my author website at http://www.peterhogenkamp.com.

Peter Hogenkamp is a physician and author living in Rutland, Vermont. Peter's writing credits include ABSOLUTION, the first book of The Jesuit thriller series; THE LAZARUS MANUSCRIPT, a stand-alone medical thriller; and The Intern, a serialized novel based loosely on Peter's internship, published bi-weekly on #Wattpad. Peter can be found on his Author Website as well as his personal blog, PeterHogenkampWrites, where he writes about most anything. Peter is the founder and editor of Prose&Cons; a frequent contributor and reviewer at ReadWave; the founder and moderator of groups on Facebook (The Library), Google+ (Fiction Writers Anonymous); and a Beta-reader at StoryShelter. Peter tweets--against the wishes of his wife and four children--at @phogenkampvt and @theprosecons. He can be reached at peter@peterhogenkamp.com or through his literary agent (Liz Kracht of Kimberely Cameron & Associates) at liz@kimberleycameron.com.