Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Saturday Evening blogPost: The off-the-beaten-path Travel Log, Gran Canaria

It was 1988 and I was teaching at an international school in Salzburg, Austria. It was late May, and school had just ended for the year, meaning that the traveling season for my fellow teachers and I was just beginning. My friends Bill and Chief and I had been planning to hike from the Italian/Austrian border, across the spine of the Austrian Alps, to the German/Austrian border, staying at Alpine Mountain Huts at night. I had been looking forward to the trip all year, but when it arrived the weather forecast was a deal breaker: cloudy, raining and cold. So, we improvised, and rode our bikes downtown and found a travel agent offering last minutes deals on trips that other people had already bought and paid for and then cancelled last minute.

A few hours later we were on board a plane for Las Palmas, Gran Canaria. To be honest, I had never even heard of the place, but it had been a dreary spring in Salzburg, and the travel agent had promised us sunshine (or that's how I translated his words, although my German was never noted for its accuracy.)

The trip started out great. We had a chartered aircraft, (SpanAir--which we called SpandexAir) and we arrived on Gran Canaria right on time, whereupon a bus brought us to our little Villa on the eastern shore of the island. So far, so good. And it was sunny, I will say that, not a single cloud marred the skyline. The problems started shortly after that when we went to the beach. Although we had seen a steady stream of pale Northern Europeans head in that direction, we couldn't actually see anyone on the long strand of beach. And as soon as we passed the protection of the thin line of cement buildings that comprised the town, we saw why.

Or, rather, we felt why. It was the wind, which raged across the Atlantic and pelted us with sand and beach detritus. It was the equivalent of full exposure inside a sand blaster, but we had invested a week's time and two weeks' paycheck into the trip so we kept going. It quickly became apparent why no one was visible. As we advanced we happened upon them, the foxholes that had been dug into the beach to protect the sunbathers from the artillery like effect of the wind blown sand. We stayed for a short period--none of us had an inclination to dig and the bunkers were all occupied--and then went back to the villa.

There was a cement courtyard in back of our villa which was protected from the wind, and we thought we would catch some sun there, with a lovely view of the garbage collection area. But, as I said, the courtyard was protected from the wind, leaving us with no defense against the equatorial sun, which beat down on our heads and radiated up from the cement floor. (Perhaps they should have planted grass to absorb the sun?) In less time than I have spent writing this paragraph--and you can tell by the writing it wasn't very long--we were forced inside by core temps rapidly approaching temperatures incompatible with life. We went inside and turned on the AC.

I am going to end here in the interest of keeping you on the edge of your seat. But keep in mind that this trip remains one of my favorite trips ever, and I will explain how we snatched victory from the jaws of travel defeat next SEbP, which comes out, as you would expect, next Sunday afternoon. Thanks again for your time and attention, and please visit my AUTHOR WEBSITE.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Thursday afternoon #MiniPost, because small is the new big.

Let me get this right out in the open: The Thursday afternoon #MiniPost is not sponsored by Mini, not yet anyway, but it is inspired by Mini. True to its name, this post will be shorter than most, easy to park, good on fuel--and oh so fun to drive.

Part of the genesis of this creation is my theory is that small is the new big. Don't believe me? Let me direct your attention to my first (and only) item of evidence, Twitter. 200 million users--135K new users every day--can not be wrong. And why is Twitter so popular, you ask? Because we all have a limited attention span, that's why. There is a global ADD out there that makes the novelist in me very scared. On the less pessimistic side, there is something that Twitter can teach us: How to be concise. It never ceases to amaze me how much a talented writer can do with 140 characters. We blabber on about this all the time talking about writing prose: get your message across with as few words as possible, if a word can be cut out, cut it out. And yet Twitter has done more for teaching concise writing in ten years than every English Department in the Anglo/Saxon world has accomplished since William the Conqueror invaded England in 1066. Props to Twitter.

Maybe there's hope for me yet.

cheers, peter
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&Consthe literary blog for readers and writers written by authors, editors, agents, publishers and poets; a frequent contributor and reviewer at ReadWave; the founder and moderator of groups on Facebook (The Library), Google+ (Fiction Writers Anonymous); and the chief of two tribes on Triberr, The Big Thrill and Fiction Writers. Peter tweets--against the wishes of his wife and four children--at @phogenkampvt and @theprosecons. Peter can be reached at or through his literary agent (Liz Kracht of Kimberely Cameron & Associates) at

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Saturday Evening blogPost, #2: Travel Diary, The Cinque Terre

It was twenty-five years ago and I was on a train going through southern France, or perhaps it was Spain, I honestly can't remember. But I do remember running into this guy in the dining car, called himself Chris. He was a cheesecake guy; the first five minutes talking to him, like the first bite of cheesecake, was flavorful. The next ten minutes, like the next few bites, were pretty good, although not quite as good as the first bite. And then, out of nowhere, the fried calamari, the six pieces of bread, the Caesar salad draped with anchovies, and the steak that looked like an entire side of beef catches up with you and you can't stomach even the thought of another bite. This is what the next hour of talking to Chris was like, only with lots of gas. Imagine hoping for a bout of cholera or other highly infectious and unpleasant disease in order to encourage him to find someone else to tell his embellished stories to. Of course, I can only blame myself, as there were clues early, such as when he was extolling his virtues as a marathoner and claimed that his best time was 2:05, which would have made him the world record holder in every marathon in the free world.

Why did I stay? Well, it was a long train ride and you can only look at so many olive groves. And there is also the bus crash phenomena, the idea that I had to stay in case he claimed he had won a Nobel prize in astrology or mentored the Dali Lama. I was about to leave when he came out with it: "Dude, you gotta go to the Cinque Terre," and then proceeded to tell me about the 'five lands' in detail. At some point, I made the mistake of asking him when he had traveled there. "Never been there, dude. I read about it in a book."

Exit stage left. I made my way back to my seat and told my buddies about my adventures, whereupon my friend Bill told me that the Cinque Terre was, in fact, on our agenda for the following week. When I asked him where he had heard about it, he admitted that he had "read about it in a book."

A week later, we arrived in La Spezia and and piled into the local train for the Cinque Terre. A few hours later, we filed out of the train in Monterosso al Mare, a little village tucked into a rocky inlet of the Ligurian Sea. Right away--and I hate to say this--I knew Chris was right (and, no, not about Knight Rider being the best show on TV.) The Cinque Terre was a smorgasboard for the senses. (And, yes, I did borrow that term from Chris.) The smell of caper blossoms and frying anchovies haunted the air. The sea breeze tasted of brine and spiny lobsters. The Ligurian Sea sparkled in the Mediterranean sun. Gulls cried. Waves slapped against the rocky shore. The sandstone felt warm against my bare feet.

I can't remember how long we spent there, because time stands still in Liguria. I will say this, though, however long it was, it generated a lifetime of memories and a yearning to go back and stay indefinitely: to hike the terraced slopes lined with vineyards: to swim in the sea green waters as clear as a swimming pool; to drink the local wine in the courtyards by the sea; to stroll along the cliffside walkway connecting the five villages. I could go on, but I don't want to sound like Chris. (Too late, you say?)

Thanks again for your time and attention, I appreciate it. Don't forget to check out MY WEBSITE, and please sign up to follow my blog. If you have an idea for me to blog about or would like to write a guest blog, please let me know. See you next Saturday.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The first ever installment of PeterHogenkampWrites:the Saturday Evening BlogPost: The near occasion of writing.

Ok, you guessed it: I am a big Norman Rockwell fan. My office is full of his prints, including this one which a friend made for me with needlepoint. In his honor, I am going to (try, real hard, to) publish a blog post every week (you guessed it, on Saturday evening). There are a number of reasons for this effort, chief among them that I haven't written an original post in almost two weeks (There is no truth to the rumor that this coincides with the start of football season.)

So, the topic of the first installment? The near occasion of writing. In case you are wondering where this title came from, it comes from The Act of Contrition which Sister Ruth taught me in the second grade. (And I know that nuns have made great fodder for artistic medium of all kinds--books, plays, movies, Saturday Night Live skits--but Sister Ruth was a kind and sympathetic person who could look past someone's faults--and I had quite a few--to see the good in someone.) One of the things I love to do in writing is to take a word or expression with a common meaning and employ it in a different context. The line from the Act of Contrition should read I firmly resolve, with the help of Your grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin.

I have always loved that line, if not necessarily always followed its advice. And so I am re-employing it in a different context, in an imitation is the most sincere form of flattery sort of way, to: The near occasion of writing. One of the great things about words is that different people interpret them in different ways, and my interpretation can be just as meaningful and full of inspiration to me as your (wholly different) interpretation can be to you. I therefore interpret avoiding the near occasion of sin to mean to stay out of brothels, crack houses, breweries, chocolatiers, bakeries, etc. Where ever you are likely to sin: Don't go there. Reconextualizing, the near occasion of writing means, Where ever you are likely to write well: Go there. As a case in point, I am writing this post at Caribou Coffee on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, NC. See below:

There are six reasons why I write best at coffee shops and bars, and only five of them are the traditional senses. If the smell of freshly brewed coffee doesn't get ideas flowing into my brain, then nothing will--with the possible exception of the actual freshly brewed coffee flowing into my body. But it's not just the caffeine, although in fairness I should state that I have never knowingly ordered a cup of decaf. It's the gemutlichkeit of the place, the vibrancy of the atmosphere. As a writer, I think vibrancy is the sixth sense. And although it is something you feel, it is quite different from the tactile sense. Vibrancy is the sense that something is alive; a vibrant place exudes possibility, and nothing is as important to the writer as possibility. I think of possibility as not what has generally happened or will usually happen, but what might possibly happen given the right mixture off circumstances.

I remember sitting at a cafe on the Piazza di Spagna on a warm summer night, doing some writing as my son did some last minute shopping. The other patrons spoke a dozen different languages, wore six different colors of skin, and dressed very differently. And although most were probably tourists like myself, enjoying a drink and the street performers, I imagined them differently. The Korean couple next to me were diamond smugglers; the large group of Slavic people behind me were clearly from the Russian mob; the Japanese man off to the side drinking a glass of Sangria was laundering money for the Red Army militants. When you are in a vibrant place, the ideas jump into your head like raindrops in a July thunderstorm, quick and furious.

Struggling with writer's block? Find a vibrant place. Need to get a paper done, find a vibrant place. Want to create something, no matter what it is? Find a vibrant place. Notice I haven't told you where that is. I know where my vibrant places are (although I am always in search of new ones) but yours may be different. I wrote the best chapter of my second novel--on my IPhone--sitting against the stone wall in the middle of Central Park, (you know, by the pond) listening to Natalie MacMaster on my headphones. Find your vibrant place; seek out the near occasion of writing.

Ok, that's enough, and it's evening in Russia where, according to Google analytics, there are a lot of people who read my blog (I would say, while drinking cheap Vodka, but some things go without saying.) Thanks again for your time and the endurance you showed getting through this post. Please sign up for the blog so that you won't miss the second installment of the Saturday Evening Post, coming, you guessed it, next Saturday evening. Ciao.