Sunday, May 13, 2018

Writing Lessons from my Mother.


When I finally become a published author, I am going to give my mother the credit. Why? Well, let me tell you why not first. She is neither a particularly good writer, nor does she even like to write. I can't remember the last time she's written anything other than 'Love, Mom' (Keep it short, another writing lesson) on my annual birthday card. Her story telling is reasobably good, but nothing out of the ordinary. And she's never been all that adept at grammar, punctuation, or finding the right word to express what she wants to say.

So, why her?

It's easy. My mother is the most positive person I have ever met in my life, and if there is one attribute I inherited and/or learned from her, it's a positive attitude. And that's why she's going to get the credit. My father will get some too, having passed on to me his love of reading and writing and the desire to find just the right word to say what he wants to say. But there are a lot of good writers out there, good writers that you and I have never heard of, and we haven't heard of them or read their books--not because they can't write--but because they didn't survive the road to publishing, which can be, take it from me, soul-crushing, confidence destroying and many other things I won't say out loud. They lost their confidence, became negative, didn't feel like they could beat the enormous odds, stopped trying to get better.

Thus far, my soul hasn't been crushed and my confidence has survived, despite ten years of heartbreak, unfulfilled expectations, and rejection. Why have I kept on the road? You know the answer; the positive attitiude my mother gave/taught me. Focus on the positve aspects of life. (Something she never told me, keep in mind, prefering to show me by example. Another writing lesson.) And there has been positives, a lot of them, highlighted by signing with a top-notch literary agent, the fabulous Liz Kracht of Kimberely Cameron & Associates.

My mother can help you, as well. Can't find an agent? Stay with it, believe in your self, and don't forget to learn from your mistakes. Can't get a publishing contract? Keep writing, keeping in mind everything the editors told you about where you fell short. Book not selling as well as you want? Listen to the feedback from your readers, and write another book without the same drawbacks.

So, Happy Mother's Day to my mother, 88 years old. And thanks for everything!

Cheers, peter
:)


Peter Hogenkamp is a practicing physician, public speaker and author living in Rutland, Vermont. Peter's writing credits include THE INTERN, a novel based loosely on Peter's medical internship, excerpts of which can be seen on Wattpad; ABSOLUTION, the first book of The Jesuit thriller series; and THE LAZARUS MANUSCRIPT, a stand-alone medical thriller; 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 The Book Stops Herethe literary blog for readers and writers written by authors, editors, agents, publishers and poets; the founder and moderator of groups on Facebook (The Library), Google+ (Fiction Writers Anonymous); and the chief of three tribes on Triberr, The Big ThrillFiction Writers and The Book Shelf. Peter tweets--against the wishes of his wife and fouchildren--at @phogenkampvt and @theprosecons. Peter can be reached at peter@peterhogenkamp.com or through his literary agent (Liz Kracht of Kimberely Cameron & Associates) at liz@kimberleycameron.com.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

X-Men: Oppression and the "M" Word

by Dr. Suzana E. Flores

A young Jewish boy walks in a crowd of prisoners heading towards an Auschwitz death camp. Suddenly, his parents are pulled from him. The boy's mother screams out his name, "Erik!" He yells back, "Mama! No! Mama!" Tears streaming down his face and he stares at the disappearing image of his parents. He will never see them again. Overwhelmed by rage and fear, he stretches his hand towards the iron gates. With a staggering force, his mutation surfaces--manipulating the magnetic fields around him, Erik bends the gates open, until an officer strikes him unconscious.

This mythological origin story belongs to the boy mutant Max Eisenhardt, later also known under the aliases Magnus, Erik Lehnsherr, and then ultimately "Magneto"--nemesis of Professor X, enemy of the X-Men, and leader of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.

                                                  Marvel Comics © 

Magneto's life became a living hell in Germany's 1930s as the Nazis began to institutionalize their xenophobic ideology that blamed the Jews for Germany's defeat in World War I and its economic collapse. Jews were beaten, sterilized, and barred from interacting with German citizens. Then the Nazis escalated their tyrannical practices to include unspeakable acts of torture and murder.

At this point you might be wondering, "What does Nazi ideology and racism have to do with the fictional stories of Marvel Comics the X-Men? Quite a lot actually.

When writers convey any theory or philosophy their work there is typically some level of truth in order for their work to be believable to the reader. Similarly, comic book writers and illustrators channel real-life experiences onto the panels so their readers may be able to relate to the mythology of their crime-fighting characters.

The X-Men tales embody themes of mutants in search of acceptance and equality in a world that hates and fears them. In the Marvel world, humans see mutants as dangerous freaks of nature and so persecute them, try to contain them, or eradicate them. Parallels between these story lines and the real-life confrontations experienced by marginalized groups in America such as African-Americans, Latin Americans, LGBTQ populations, and various religious (or non-religious) denominational groups are evident.

The mass violence in X-Men story lines mirror the abuse and debasement minorities worldwide continue to face on a daily basis. For example, recent laws or policies aimed to suppress marginalized groups include: detaining individuals from Middle Eastern countries at airports, dehumanizing Mexicans who cross the U.S./Mexico border by calling them "rapists, murderers, or aliens," banning transgendered individuals from using bathrooms because of their identity, or the excessive use of force or wrongful arrest by police against African Americans without reason, provocation, or probable cause--a practice so common it is often referred to as "Walking while Black."

Some X-Men story lines even touch on themes of hate groups that harass mutants at every turn such as: Church of Humanity, the Purifiers, and Humanity Now! By comparison to real life hate groups, one will inevitably think of the KKK, other White Supremacy Groups, or the literally hundreds of U.S. based organizations classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as hate groups.

                                                                       Marvel Comics © 

In reality, bias takes many forms and is found virtually in every country around the world. The United Nations human rights mechanisms have had to repeatedly express condemnations of human rights violations around the globe, with equal rights activists struggling against great odds to make the world a better and safer place for ALL of its inhabitants.

Marvel's mutants are a collective metaphor for the minority "other." The X-Men love America--they'd have to. Every day they face oppression by the government and yet they try to protect the humans; try to work with them in the hopes that one day, they will be accepted as equal members of society. As such, the X-Men story lines mirror current day political and social climates.

                                                                        Marvel Comics ©

Regardless of where one falls on the political spectrum, most Americans agree the U.S. has not been so polarized since the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. Just like the X-Men, minorities love America, or at least the idea of America, even when American doesn't love them back. Despite tolerating centuries of hatred, minorities strive to find a place of acceptance and respect in society, even knowing that complete and total equality in America will never be possible for them. And every day, society undermines the struggles of minorities by trying to convince them they have equal opportunities to any Caucasian, heterosexual, male American. When Black people are attacked without provocation, the privileged say, "They must have done SOMETHING to deserve it." When women are groped or raped, too often their clams are ignored or blatantly dismissed, and when refused a job or an opportunity due to their ethnicity, accent, or appearance, minorities are told, "If only you would try just a little bit harder."

This is the reality of minority groups. They are victimized and then blamed for their victimization. Many minorities find themselves in "no-win" scenarios. Yet every day, they take another run at equality. They go out to work, to vote, to make their voices heard . . . if and when allowed.

America continues to be a Darwinian thrash of who receives an invitation to the "We the People" club, but minorities are not ignorant as to why their invitation to the soiree' always seems to get lost in the mail. The current polarization in America has been escalating for decades, and now Americans are feeling its effects on a very personal and very painful level.

In the Marvel world, Professor X makes it his mission to try to liberate the minds around him from taking aggressive opposition with a goal of living in a world where humans and mutants can live together in peace. Magneto, on the other hand, believes in fighting for mutant rights by any means necessary. But in the real world, liberating our minds from discrimination and oppression is our own responsibility and this can only be done when we can gain insight as to what has happened and continues to happen to the oppressed.

I recently did a TEDx Talk entitled "Untamed: What Wolverine Teaches Us About Rage." In my talk I outline how Wolverine (the muscle of the X-Men team) represents the rage we experience when facing personal victimization, and the rage minorities feel when experiencing societal oppression. I address how sometimes in life we need to allow ourselves to experience anger in order to understand what is causing it, and what we can do to change it. Many activists strive to channel their anger to one of positive action, through fighting against oppression and discrimination.

The X-Men remind us of the most important things to fight for in this life: respect, inclusion, and equality. Just like Wolverine and the X-Men, we can be heroes too. We can stand up for ourselves and speak out against injustice. We can all make a difference in the world through making our voices heard, even if only one blog post at a time.

Dr. Suzana E. Flores is a TEDx Speaker, licensed clinical psychologist, and author of UNTAMED: The Psychology of Marvel's Wolverine (McFarland Books) and FACEHOOKED: How Facebook Affects our Emotions, Relationships, and Lives (Reputation Books).

Dr. Flores has appeared on national and international newscasts, podcasts, radio and talk shows. Dr. Flores has been quoted in The Chicago Tribune, The Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post, Time.com, CNBC.com, ABC.com, CBS.com, Esquire.com, and Men's Health Magazine.

She can be reached at drsuzanaflores@gmail.com or through her literary agent, Liz Kracht at liz@kimberelycameron.com.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Writing and the Rule of Three

I’m a reader…a writer…but definitely not an arithmaticker.

Numbers make me shudder. They tend to lurk in the boring part of my brain. Although my formal education is in pharmacy—which is all about numbers—my happiest moments are spent tickling the right side of my brain, making it jiggle until the words fall out. I retreat from the rigors of numerical stringency and mathematical regulation every moment I can, to run free among the open fields of word play.

And yet…the numbers follow me wherever I go, like nasty little shadows.

I first noticed the rotten little things when I started querying. I blame it on Query Tracker. The website makes it so easy to obsess over stats and percentages and all ten of those numerals in every possible combination—from response statistics to requests. Getting carried away with the statistics made it infinitely easier to tolerate the agonizing wait for responses.

Although I haven’t queried in a while, I have been writing—and I’ve found that the numbers are still lurking around every corner. Lately though, it hasn’t been a random gang of numerals. It’s been one particular number. Always watching, always waiting, always showing up where I expect no numbers at all.

Three. It seems to be a magic number. (Cue the School House Rock music.)



Why does three seem to show up in nearly every story I write—or read, for that matter? Perhaps it’s because, structurally, three is a very strong number. Think about it: archways and pyramids are based on triangles. So is the system of judo my kids are studying, with triangles present in everything from stances to joint locks. Strength comes in many forms and the number three is a solid presence in that strength.

Three data point give us our location in time and space. Three points on a map show progression. Three legs of a tripod give a camera a level sense of stability, leading to clearer pictures and more solid images.

All of these things--strength, setting, progression, focus--are things we want in all of our studies. It's a universal goal of writers to incorporate these elements into our work.

That School House Rock song is really like an earworm now: three’s a magic number.

The Number Three and Writing

Despite the left-brained quality of numbers, three is present everywhere in our writing. For instance, take a look at the foundation of our stories. No surprise to see the number three echoed throughout basic story structure.

  • beginning, middle, end: every story needs them
  • three act story arc: it’s how a story moves from beginning to end
  • three plot points: it’s what is happening--gives the story a reason to be written.

And what about the Almighty Trilogy? I have yet to see a story “duology” or “quadrolgy” or whatever they may be called. Some things are too bizarre, even for fiction.

Look closer into the details of the story you’re writing, and you’ll find threes everywhere. Even the characters themselves work best when we identify the importance of three.

  • hero, quest, villain/ hero, heroine, obstacle: the essential cast of players
  • goal, motivation, conflict: the blueprint of each character

What about romantic tension? Three is a key element when a build-up of emotional climax is needed (and, to be clear, it’s always needed.)

  • romantic triangles: so much more fun when there is no clear choice
  • third time’s the charm: what’s better than the near misses the couple experience before landing that first kiss on the third attempt?

The idea of three will find its way into every sentence, every line, every phrase. One such way is through the use of rhetorical devices.

  • Anaphora: this heavy-hitting device uses repetition to emphasize ideas and increase emotional impact. I could go with any number of brilliant quotes from King or Churchill, but instead I’ll choose a more contemporary example.
"I want her to live. I want her to breathe. I want her to aerobicize." (Weird Science, 1985)
If that doesn’t illustrate the example of building to a climax, then nothing will. :)
  • Epistrophe: similar to anastrophe, but the repetition comes at the end of the sentence.
  • Asyndeton: also leads to a building-up effect and reaches maximum impact when three ideas are linked, but their conjunctions omitted. (Many references cite “three or four” ideas but, to me, the fourth can make the sentence too cumbersome.) If you want an example, just re-read the above introduction to rhetoric.

The Rule of Three

Three is a very important concept when it comes to writing. When in doubt, remember the Rule of Three:  omne trium perfectum. “Everything that comes in threes is perfect.”

So, maybe School House Rock did more than come up with a catchy little song. Three really is a magic number (yes it is, it’s a magic number). Maybe the song eventually gets overrun by ranting hoards of digits that stampede mathematically across the rest of the verses, but even that doesn’t subtract from the brilliance of the original idea.

When it comes to writing, three is the most magical number there is…and numbers don’t lie. They're too left-brained to do it convincingly.


Ash Krafton is a USA Today bestselling author who, despite having a Time Turner under her couch and three different sonic screwdrivers in her purse, still encounters difficulty with time management. Visit Ash at www.ashkrafton.com

Friday, January 26, 2018

From the Bottom Up: Leading America out of the Morass


Almost 250 years into our nationhood, the United States of America is mired in a morass of massive proportions. It would be nice to say that the morass is of a strictly political nature, but it would be inaccurate. Our morass is political—let there be no doubt—but it is also physical, ethical, academic, and economic. (Add another adjective here.) As we approach our sestercentenial, our roads, bridges and cities are in an appalling state of disrepair; a significant number of our elected officials are either under investigation for ethical breaches or have already been expelled; our primary and secondary schools are failing at an unprecedented rate and our colleges and universities—although still strong—are prohibitively expensive. Worse still, the disparity between rich and poor grows daily, and our leaders (word used with great misgiving) seem more focused on the stock market than stagnant wages, lost jobs and growing unrest with gender and race inequalities and other social ills.

My father used to say that if you want to get the mud out of the water, you need to get the hog out of the spring. Of the many hogs in our spring, the biggest and fattest hog—the one that is most responsible for the mud that flows thick and murky in our water—is the lack of governing taking place at the federal level. How is it possible, I ask you, for any of these problems to be fixed when our national government, paralyzed as it is by partisanship, egoism, and the complete absence of listening, does nothing but breathe hot air and vitriol?

The answer is to turn on its head the usual paradigm of leadership; instead of leading from the top down we need to lead from the bottom up. Our people remain our strength and the only path out of the abyss. We live in a democracy, albeit one gravely threatened by the influence of power and wealth, but still a democracy, in which our elected congressmen, senators and executive officers are a mere election away from irrelevancy.

Leading from the bottom up needs to involve more than just voting, however. We need to listen to one another, especially to people with views that oppose are own; we need to respect one another, and to treat every person with dignity; we need to look out for one another, especially for the people at the margins of our society; and, above all, we need to shake off the complacency that has led to inaction. Acknowledgement of the problem is the necessary first step to resolving it.

If you are not ready to merely shrug your shoulders and accept the status quo, you can lead us to becoming the country in which you want your children and your children’s children to live. Open your mind to what someone else has to say and, more importantly, to what they do, ignoring his or her gender, race, creed, sexual orientation, and political persuasion. In this day and age of sound bites and social media, it is the walk we walk that defines us. Having said that, action begins with talk: words matter. Speak carefully and post with caution; one hateful comment, retweeted and amplified by the incredible power of social media, can be a potent and destructive force. Social media is a tool, and, like any other tool, it can be used for a variety of purposes, good or bad. You choose.

Leading from the bottom up is not going to be an easy or quick task, but many hands make light work, and the more hands we have, the faster we will be able to get that hog out of the spring.


 Cheers, peter
:)


Peter Hogenkamp is a practicing physician, public speaker and author living in Rutland, Vermont. Peter's writing credits include THE INTERN, a novel based loosely on Peter's medical internship, excerpts of which can be seen on Wattpad; ABSOLUTION, the first book of The Jesuit thriller series; and THE LAZARUS MANUSCRIPT, a stand-alone medical thriller; 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 The Book Stops Herethe literary blog for readers and writers written by authors, editors, agents, publishers and poets; the founder and moderator of groups on Facebook (The Library), Google+ (Fiction Writers Anonymous); and the chief of three tribes on Triberr, The Big ThrillFiction Writers and The Book Shelf. Peter tweets--against the wishes of his wife and fouchildren--at @phogenkampvt and @theprosecons. Peter can be reached at peter@peterhogenkamp.com or through his literary agent (Liz Kracht of Kimberely Cameron & Associates) at liz@kimberleycameron.com.