Thursday, January 30, 2014

Our Lady of the Golden Arches, Chaper 2 of The Intern, on the Thursday Afternoon #MINI, Edition #13

I just love the title of Chapter 2 of The Intern, Our Lady of the Golden Arches, but, to be honest, I can't take credit for it. The credit belongs to my brother-in-law, who told me a story about how he and his brother used to skip mass on Sunday morning and go to the McDonald's nearby, which they dubbed, 'Our Lady of the Golden Arches.' For some reason that phrase stuck in my head for over twenty-five years, and it dropped out last week--making a big thump on the countertop--when I started the second chapter of The Intern.

For those of you who haven't heard about The Intern yet, it is a novel I am publishing on Wattpad, one chapter at a time, as I write it. Why, you ask? (Or, as my friend Andy said: Peter, you're a doctor; don't you have hemmorhoids to cut off?) There are three reasons: 1) I love the challenge of serialized fiction, a throw-back to the early days of radio, because you have to get it right the first time; 2) I am trying to build a following, and the best way to do that as an author is write stuff--preferably good stuff--you be the judge; 3) I have always kicked around the idea of writing a novel loosely based on my internship, which I remember vividly. So, without further ado, Our Lady of the Golden Arches:

Chapter 2

Our Lady of the Golden Arches

            Our Lady of Perpetual Mercy Hospital had been standing on the corner of 112th and 2nd for over one hundred years, and yet everyone had referred to it as ‘Our Lady of the Golden Arches’ ever since the McDonald’s restaurant had been built next to it in 1974. And that included the few remaining Sisters of Perpetual Mercy who ran the place as well as both of the intern’s parents, who had met there during their own internships in the eighties. (That the intern might have chosen a different hospital for her internship had been out of the question since the time her father had bought her a toy doctor’s kit for her third birthday.)
            The intern pushed open the back door at 4am and trudged across the empty parking lot, passing through the spruce trees some previous administrator had planted in a failed attempt to shed the hospital’s moniker. She passed inside the restaurant and stopped in front of the counter without glancing at the menu. In the 8 months of her internship at Our Lady of the Golden Arches, she had frequented this place every day and yet had never gotten anything other than black coffee.
            “You again?” the woman behind the battered linoleum asked her.
            “’fraid so.”
            The tall, almost gaunt woman set two cups of coffee on the counter. “I saw you coming.”
            “Thanks, Cindy.”
            Cindy nodded her head in acknowledgement. “You want something to eat?”
            The intern shook her head. “No, thanks.”
            “You ain’t some kind of aneroxic, are you?”
            “If you are taking a history on me, Cindy, your bedside manner could use a little work.”
            “This ain’t no hospital and I ain’t no doctor, Sweetheart, so I could care less about my bedside manner.”
            “In that case,” the intern replied, “isn’t that the pot calling the kettle black.”
            Cindy splayed her arms and spun around, causing her black apron to flutter. “What’s the matter with me? You sayin’ I’m too thin?”
            The intern took a sip of her coffee. “No, not at all,” she lied. “I think you look good.”
            “Is this some kind of half-assed come on, Sweetie? Cuz’ I don’t go that way, no matter what bullshit my ex keeps spreading around.”
            The intern laughed, assuming she was making a joke—but in truth she was never a hundred per cent sure what Cindy meant by anything she said. She thanked Cindy for the coffee—it was free for the interns and other housestaff—and headed for the door.
            “But if you’re looking, Honey, I might be able to rustle you up a date.”
            The intern wanted to keep going, out the door and into the hospital where pre-rounds were waiting, but she couldn’t help herself from stopping.
            “What did you hear?”
            “I hear everything, Sweet Pea.”
            “In that case you know I’m seeing someone,” she said, and immediately regretted how snooty she had sounded.
            “Horse-mouth?” Cindy laughed. “A nice-looking girl like you can do better than that, Honey Pie. Much better.”
            A terrible curiosity possessed her, but she wouldn’t give in. “Nice-looking girl?” she replied. “Is that some kind of half-assed come-on?”
            “If I was coming on to you, Sweet Cakes, you’d have no doubt about it. None at all. And besides, a well-bred girl like you—ain’t no chance you could handle me.”

 Ok, I hope you liked the first part of Chapter 2. If you want to read more, clink on the link below, and please follow me on Wattpad, vote for the story, and leave a comment. Thanks again for your support. And don't be deterred by Wattpad, it's free and easy to join, and there are lots of other stories to read if you are interested.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Under the Cold January Sun: a short story by Peter Hogenkamp and an original painting by Peter Huntoon, on the Saturday Evening blog Post, Edition #14.
It was about ten years ago and we were in the middle of arctic front that lasted about eight days. From what I can remember, there were three days when the temperature never got above -10 degrees. Now, you smart people out there will realize this would be a good time to hunker down by the wood stove and settle in to a good book. But I was young (still less than 40) and foolish (those of you who know me well will have no trouble believing that.) And so I snowshoed up the second highest mountain in Vermont that day, Killington Peak, when the temperature at the base was -12 degrees Fahrenheit, and the summit was -20 and whipped by a COLD wind. 

In the following years I have thought much about that day, and when the quintessential Vermont artist Peter Huntoon asked me to write a short story for his website, that day under the cold January sun came right to mind. I have always loved paradoxes, and the idea that the sun (which is 27 million degrees F at its core--although only a cool 10 million F at the surface) could be cold appealed to me greatly. But I can assure you it was a very cold sun staring at me on that day 10 years ago. 

So, here's the story on which Peter based his painting. I have fictionalized it slightly--I don't own a truck and my snowshoes were made of plastic and aircraft-grade aluminum--but, for the most part, it's entirely accurate. Hope you enjoy it. 

Under the Cold January Sun

         The sun lifted over Killington Peak to the east, marking the start of another cold January day. The man loaded up the wood stove with the last of the apple wood he had stashed on the porch, and waded through the snow in the backyard to fetch the wheelbarrow. It was a quiet morning in the valley; all he could hear was the crunch of his boots underneath him and the rattle of the beech leaves in the hedgerow behind his house. Apple smoke wafted in the gathering breeze, mixing with the sweet odor of rotting hay from the farm next door.
         When the porch was filled again—this time with the maple he had removed from his neighbor’s roof—he passed back inside to the intoxicating warmth of his kitchen and readied his backpack, as Gracie looked on from her usual spot on the throw rug halfway between the stove and the slider that overlooked her territory. He tucked the last of the supplies into the sack, tightened the cord and headed for the door with his yellow Lab at his heels.
         His old truck complained bitterly about the cold, but turned over in the end, and forced its way through the snow that had fallen before the arrival of the arctic front. He turned onto the highway and headed up the pass, the lone vehicle foolish enough to brave the cold. The Wheelerville Road loomed ahead on his right, a single lane running next to the brook that gave it its name, and he turned on to it and stopped to lock the hubs into four-wheel before resuming his way. At the sharp turn marking the beginning of the Notch road he swung into the parking lot for the Bucklin trailhead.
         It took him two minutes to lace on his shoes—a pair of Tubbs fashioned from ash and catgut—but his fingers were frozen stiff by the end and he was happy to shove them into the welcoming warmth of his mittens. He collected Gracie and his rucksack from the cab and started off, shoeing steadily up the flat section of the trail that skirted the North Branch of the Cold River, which gurgled noisily under the ice. A mile up the trail he crossed the river on a thick floe of ice that resembled the Champlain Bridge and started up the steep shoulder that led to the mountain.
         Halfway up the ascent he stopped to pull off his wool sweater and swap his mittens for a light pair of gloves. Gracie sat in the snow as he changed, calmly surveying the nearby pines for something to chase. But the squirrels were all tucked away, the grouse were huddled together out of sight, and even the hares weren’t foolish enough to venture out on such a day.
         He reached the top of the shoulder around mid-day, arriving at Cooper’s Cabin as the cold sun arrived at its zenith in the sky. Gracie padded inside, and he followed her in and deposited his rucksack on the old picnic table. Lunch was simple—a PBJ for him and two pieces of dried venison for Gracie—and quick; not even five minutes had elapsed before they went back out, leaving his shoes and pack in the cabin to be retrieved later. But it was all he could afford; already the cold—his thermometer registered a chilly fifteen below, without the wind chill—had penetrated beneath his clothing and hooked the flesh beneath with its icy claws.
         The last half-mile of the climb was all that remained, a steep chimney of rock hewn out of the back side of Killington Peak. He had climbed it a hundred times before, and knew every stony step. It amazed him that a dog as big as Gracie could negotiate the narrow pitch, but she made easy work of it, stopping often to gaze back at him with her watchful eyes. Half-way up the birches petered out, giving way to the scrub pines that lined the trail. The problem was that he was six-feet and then some, well above the protection the shrubs provided from the bitter wind, which increased with every foot he ascended.
         He reached the top and celebrated in his normal fashion, with a piece of dark chocolate and a biscuit for Gracie. It was his wont to linger up top and appreciate the view, but the thermometer registered 20 degrees below zero, and the wind whipped the exposed peak with a hatred centuries in the making. He could feel the heat draining from his body, and knew he had to get off the peak in short order.
         A bit of panic set in and he started off too fast, loosing his footing on an ice-covered root. He slid ten feet or so, and came to an abrupt stop, bruised but not broken, inside a dense thicket of pine branches. Gracie came back right away, looking him over with her chocolate eyes to make sure he was okay.
         It was a full hour before he returned to the cabin, and he was chilled to the bone. The cost of a safe passage had been time and exposure, and the price had been as steep as the rocky chute itself. He collected his gear, donned everything he had stowed in the pack—wool sweater, Caribou-hide hat, and Gore-Tex mittens—and tied on his shoes.
         It was an easy descent down the long shoulder and that was the problem—it was too easy. He hadn’t realized he had built up a sweat on the way up, but he realized it now as the thin layer of water froze on his skin, chilling him further and stiffening his gait. Worse still, the wind had changed to the west, whistling up the slope with a ferocity that discharged the snow from the trees and warmth from his body.
         There was only one thing to do; he needed to go back up. And up he went, slowly at first, and then a little faster as the burning calories defrosted his skin and made movement a bit easier. After several hundred yards he could feel the stinging in his fingertips and his toes burned like an oil-soaked log. In another few minutes the pain resolved with the return of his circulation, and he turned around again to face the wind.
         It was dark when he arrived back at the trail head, a consequence of his pop-goes-the-weasel descent. The truck turned over first time, and he sat in the cab and warmed up before braving the road. He parked in the rickety old barn behind the house and grabbed a few sticks of firewood as he went in, dumping them onto the dying embers lining the floor of the wood stove.
         The smell of venison stew permeated the kitchen, bubbling up from the Crockpot next to the old sink. He divided it into two equal parts, put Gracie’s on the pine board floor, and sank into armchair next to the stove. His brother had given him a bottle of porter for Christmas, and he drank this in accompaniment to the stew, the warm comfort of the kitchen, and the crackling of the fire.
         Gracie finished her meal and plopped down on her rug, and they drifted off to sleep, putting a fitting end to a good day under the cold January sun.

I hope you enjoyed the story and I am sure you enjoyed the painting. For those visiting my blog, please check out my website (link on the sidebar) and sign up for my blog. I can also be found on #wattpad, where I am writing a serialized novel about the life of a medical intern (called, imaginatively, The Intern). Please click on the link and check it out. (My mother has given it a good review!) The Intern.

My first book, Absolution, the first book of The Jesuit thriller series, is currently being shopped to publishers and my agent tells me it should--with any luck--be available sometime in 2015. And thanks again to Peter Huntoon. I appreciate the opportunity and I love the painting. If you want the chance to bid on the painting, or check out some of Peter's other original artwork, here is his WEBSITE.

Thanks for your support, peter

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Books & new media: the sea change, a guest blog by Doug Wilhelm on the Thursday Afternoon #MINI

 Ok, #MINI fans, a real treat for you this week: a blog written by someone other than me. In this case, the guest blogger is my friend Doug Wilhelm, author of 13 middle-grade novels including The Revealers, the most-used work of fiction in middle-schools today. Doug and I have chatted often about the brave new world of publishing, and I think Doug's blog does a beautiful job--in a short space, this being the #MINI--outlining some of the challenges that the digital revolution presents to the author and publisher. I have included the first part; please click on the link to Doug's blog for the rest. If you have a middle-schooler you want to buy a book for, take advantage of the site to order a book or two. Without further ado, Doug Wilhem: Books & new media: the sea change.

Driving to my sister’s house on Saturday, to work on a Kickstarter video — we hope to win support for publishing a “bridge into reading” chapter book for second and third graders — I heard a TED talk on the radio, about young people putting their work out through the new media. The presenter said, “We don’t feel like we have to ask permission.”
And boy, is that different. I want to write today about how it’s different, and what this may mean for writers and readers of books. 

The first book I wrote, myself, was rejected 75 times. It never got published by anyone. Since then, like most people who do some sort of creative work professionally, I’ve had years and years of knocking on doors, working with agents, trying to get one project or another green-lighted, published, whatever. Sometimes I’ve succeeded, sometimes I haven’t. That’s pretty normal.

And now along comes this whole new world.

Click here for the rest of the blog.

Thanks again for your support, and don't forget to tune in to the next Saturday Evening Blog Post for my collaborative effort with the premier Vermont artist, Peter Huntoon, coming close to the end of this month. I have written a short story, Under the Cold January Sun, and Peter has painted a watercolor inspired by the story. Both the story and the painting can be viewed on my website and Peter's website as well. Have a great rest of the week, peter.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The January Thaw: The Saturday Evening Blog Post, Edition #13

It happens to me, too, you know, that temptation--when it's five degrees below zero, cold enough to freeze your nose hairs into needles--to pack up and move to Southern California where the sun shines 330 days a year and the temp never goes below 60. But then it warms up and your nose hairs thaw out and the temptation passes, leaving you slightly embarrassed that you ever considered something so ridiculous. It's one of the many things I like about the January thaw (FYI, it was 55 degrees here yesterday on the 11th of January). The grass appears and reminds you of warmer times--and the mole problem I never addressed last year. The snow on the sidewalk melts and I don't have to feel bad I never shoveled it. And the snow banks clogging the turnaround go away, clearing the way for my boys to play mini-hoop.

Rest assured it will snow again, and the air will turn colder, but it doesn't matter. Just the reminder that the seasons change and spring threatens is all I need to brave the next cold snap and keep my head high through the ice storm forecast for next week. Of course, it could snow and I could get to enjoy some fresh powder on the slopes with my daughters or a snowshoe with my wife, but I don't control the weather and so I will live with whatever Mother Nature throws our way (well, maybe just a tantrum or two.)

Frankly, I don't think I would like Southern California anyway. What would I do without the black flies and the mosquitos? Golf year round? Who needs that? I am sure I would love long walks along the Pacific but by the twentieth time some surfer called me 'dude' I would be packing the car. (And let's not even discuss the traffic!)

Ok, that's a wrap. Short and sweet to start off the New Blog Year (well, short anyway.) The next Saturday Evening Blog Post should be a memorable one, featuring my short story Under the Cold January Sun and the original watercolor inspired by it, painted by the preeminent Vermont artist Peter Huntoon. Peter will be auctioning off the painting on his website, A Day in Vermont; click on the link and check out his entire portfolio of original paintings in oil and watermedia. And don't forget to take a look at my website, Again, that's the next Saturday Evening Blog Post, coming later this month, probably near its close. Thanks for viewing. peter