Monday, March 30, 2015

5 Incredible Debut Novels

Let me start by telling you what great first novels I didn't put on the list: Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone (doesn't need the publicity); The Hobbit (same reason as before); Gone With The Wind (I never read it); The Portrait of The Artist As A Young Man (I'm still not sure what was going on, but everybody else seems to like it);To Kill A Mockingbird (I have already written three blogs about this book and even I am getting tired of talking about it.)

Ok, which books did I select? There are so many great debut novels I love, but I can only choose five (the title of the post says so!) So, here they are. If you feel like I left an important debut novel out, I am sure you are right: Please correct the omission by writing the title in under the comments. I have started something called the Debut Novel Review on PeterHogenkampWrites and the Fiction Writers Anonymous Community on Google+, as well as The Library, a Facebook group dedicated to reading. I plan to post at least one (and potentially many more) debut novel reviews per month.

Why I am I doing this? Because debut authors by definition don't have the name recognition, and have more trouble getting reviewers to take an interest. I also believe that in order for a debut book to be published, it has to be very good--it's too easy for a publisher to pass on it otherwise--and is therefore deserving of the attention. So, time for the main event:

1) The BFG by Roald Dahl. I know what you are thinking: The BFG is a children's book, and that should make it ineligible, right? Well, #1, The BFG is is one of those books (like Harry Potter) that adults love as well as kids, and, #2, no one said anything about children's books being ineligible. The only criteria is that the selected debut books are incredible, and what could be more incredible than a dream-catching giant that subsists entirely on snozzcumbers and frobscottle (which causes whizpopping.) If you haven't read a Roald Dahl book, go to your Local Independent Bookstore and buy The BFG; Dahl is a master of language and characterization, and his books are just plain fun to read.

2) Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier. True Story. I tried to read this Civil War love story three times before I was successful. The first two tries were short-lived; I never made it past page 50 in either attempt. On the third try, I found the same prose which I previously found dense and impenetrable to be fluid and poetic. The story I had found to be slow-moving and uninteresting was now gripping. The characters went from dull and two-dimensional to complex and rich. If you have not tried this well-written book, give it a try. If you--like me--tried and and didn't get anywhere, try again.

3) A Time To Kill by John Grisham. Grisham made his name with The Firm; it was only after The Firm made it big that A Time To Kill was published. This is sad, because A Time To Kill is the better book, but it does go to show you how important commercial appeal is in the publishing industry.

Why is Grisham's debut novel so good? In my opinion, it features his best characters, ones that are sympathetic and real. I wasn't able to get through The Firm: sure, the story is good and everything, but the characters tasted like plastic and the writing lacked the passion found in his first book. A Time To Kill dripped with passion, and Grisham knows how to write setting. If you have never read this fantastic debut, Get After it!

4) The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larrson. Why should you read debut authors? Steig Larsson is why. Oh my word!!! The man not only wrote a damn good book, he created his own genre, the Scandinavian Crime Novel--a genre which is now busting at the guts with copycats and lookalikes. You can say what you want about Larrson's never-ending prose and the almost complete lack of editing (they do have editors is Scandinavia, right?) it's the fantastic characters and the riveting story that make #TGWTDT a must read. In a few words, LisBeth Salander is the bomb. Read it and see.

5) The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. If you are like most people, you have never heard of this book. I only came across it by happenstance, in the process of doing some research for the first book of my Jesuit Thriller series. It turns out that the main character of The Sparrow is also a Jesuit priest, and Mary Russell chooses a Jesuit priest to be the main character of her first novel for many of the same reasons I choose a Jesuit priest to be the main character of mine--but the parallels stop there. The Sparrow is ostensibly a work of Science Fiction, but I think it is more of a literary novel with pyschological undertones.

Now that I have piqued your curiosity, The Sparrow is the story of the disastrous exploration mission launched by the Jesuit Order to a planet in the solar system which has been emitting radio signals thought to be musical in origin. I know, it sounds like SF/F, but it isn't--it's literary. What makes it literary and not SF/F? The Sparrow is character driven--the exploration of a new world is the setting, not the main focus of the book. Whatever the genre, it's a great book, thought-provoking, well-written and very unique. Read it.

Okay, thanks again for your support! And speaking of debut novels, the Prose&Cons own Jan Moran is the proud author of her first book, Scent Of Triumph. Jan's debut novel will be reviewed on the Debut Novel Review shortly after it is launched on March 31, 2015. Please look for the review on one of the above venues.


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 or through his literary agent (Liz Kracht of Kimberely Cameron & Associates) at


Monday, March 23, 2015

The Why, What, and How of a Fantasy Sequel

After my debut fantasy novel, Dreamwielder, was published, I was on the fence about whether to leave it as a stand-alone novel or write a sequel and turn it into a series. After sitting a little too long on that fence, I decided to go for it, and I penned the sequel, Souldrifter, which will be coming out from Diversion Books this summer. In some ways, the sequel was far easier to write than the first book, but it posed its own unique challenges. So for any writers contemplating writing a sequel or those who are curious about the process, here’s the why, what, and how of my experience.


The main reason I was indecisive about turning Dreamwielder into a series was because I was hesitant to commit the time and energy into writing multiple books with the same world and characters I’d already spent so much time with. Would I grow bored with them? And what about all the other book ideas I had percolating in my imagination?

I told myself I’d wait, and if the first book was successful, then I’d commit to the long haul. That was stupid. I mean, what’s the definition of “successful,” particularly with a debut novel? Leading up to Dreamwielder coming out, my biggest fear was that it would get bad reviews. Like many new novelists, I discovered that the worse fate—and more probable one—was indifference from the marketplace, resulting in the book fading into obscurity. The reviews of Dreamwielder, from critics and readers alike, were positive, but they were few and far between. Similarly, the book peaked with some solid numbers on the Barnes & Noble and Amazon fantasy rankings, but quickly sunk into mediocre sales numbers. Was that a success? I didn’t feel so. The more important question, though, was whether I’d given the book a chance to be successful.

In doing a little research and picking the brains of my agent Liz Kracht and acclaimed author and writing coach Bruce McAllister, I discovered there’s good reason why there are so many fantasy series out there, and hell series within all genres. For starters, readers enjoy spending more time with characters they’ve come to know and love. Think of how much anticipation there always is for a new Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, Hunger Games, or Jack Reacher novel. For fans, a new book in the series is like spending time with dear old friends. And for authors, writing sequels is a simple numbers game: the more books you have, the better the chances are readers will discover them, and if you have a series, readers are more likely to buy several books of yours rather than just one.


Once I decided to expand Dreamwielder into a series, I needed to determine what exactly the first sequel would be. I decided to pick up the sequel with my main characters—Makarria and Caile—pretty near where we left them at the end of the first book. After all, as I discovered in the “why” process, it’s all about the characters readers have come to know and care about. From there, I needed to figure out the conflict that would drive the action, and again that stemmed from the first book; Makarria’s and Caile’s deeds fundamentally changed the world they lived in, and as with any change, new problems are bound to arise. For Makarria and Caile, that problem came in the form of the Old World Republic seeing an opportunity for expansion. Of course, figuring what I was supposed to do was much easier than actually doing it.


It’s never easy to write a book, and the process will never be the same for any two books, even within a series. Having said that, Souldrifter was much easier and quicker to write than Dreamwielder. This was partly because I’m more experienced and confident as a writer now. The other factor was most of the groundwork was already laid out with writing the first book: I knew who my characters were and I knew the history of the world they lived in. The challenge was in making sure the new book was even better than the first, and that meant upping the stakes for my characters and making the plot even more fast-paced and twisted than in Dreamwielder. In addition, as my young adult characters grew older, I wanted them to explore more complex issues.

The Scent-Hounds from the first book play an important
role in the sequel. Sketch by Patrick Williams.
So, how did it all add up? Well, the plot was driven largely by those complex issues I wanted to explore, namely gender bias when it comes to sexuality and politics, but also environmental concerns, militarization, imperialism, and ethnic diversity. Once I had those conflicts in place, I put my characters into action. I did very little outlining in this book, as compared to the first one. That meant writing the first draft was mostly getting the main plot and structure down, which was no easy chore (seeing as how I had over six different viewpoint characters spread out across the Five Kingdoms), but it was still easier than writing the first draft of Dreamwielder.

The part of the process that really kicked my butt for Souldrifter was the revision phase. Because I wanted my characters to mature and grow more complex, I had to make sure they were reacting realistically to the situations they were in. This all came into focus with their internal viewpoint, which is a layer of the narrative that was pretty thin with the first draft. It was painstaking and slow going refining each chapter so that every character had clear motivation and wasn't simply doing things because it was convenient for the plot.

In the end, the result was a story I’m proud of and one I think readers will enjoy. And this time I’m not going to make the same mistake of sitting idly by to see if the book is a success of not. Instead, I’m going to trust myself and give the books a chance to succeed by jumping right into book number three.

Garrett Calcaterra is an author of dark speculative fiction. To learn more specific details about the process of writing process for Souldrifter, read his post "Behind the Numbers" at his personal blog, The Machine Stops.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

5 Types of Friends

Like most writers, I spend a lot of time observing people. Not in a creepy lurking-guy-behind-the-newspaper sort of way, but in a subconscious humanity-intrigues-me sort of way. And, again, like most writers, I take from life and life experience, to build my plot and my characters. Sometimes there are pieces of me in my characters, sometimes, they are made up of pieces of others.
When making up minor characters, like my main character's friends, I look at the five different friends I've come across and choose a base that I later elaborate on.


1# The Mirror

This girl/guy likes everything you like, is up for anything you're up for, and hates bananas because you hate bananas. Not because they don't have their own likes and dislikes, but because people like this are generally Deflectors. Meaning, anything you ask them gets deflected right back to you.
Example: You: "Hey, what's your worst memory from childhood?"
Deflector laughs: "Oh, I'm sure it was all traumatic. What's yours?"
Maybe it is because they won't/can't allow themselves to let you in. Maybe because they simply hate being the center of attention. Or perhaps, they deflect because their thoughts are deeper than any of us can perceive.

How to use them in your story
The Mirrors are great to do just that, mirror your character. Since this type of person is all about their friend, they make excellent minors for you to reflect your character through. Unfortunately, unless you're making their inability to open up a storyline, these characters will remain minor, since they will never confess to having problems of their own.

2# The Me-Me-Me

I'm sure we've all come across a friend like this at one point or another in our lives. This person likes to talk about themselves and only themselves. They also tend to be the funny one, the wild one, and the one who is responsible for that night you had 13 tequila shots and threw up in your purse.
Sometimes this 3-for-1 is just what you need, but usually, your friendship will never evolve past a certain stage. They can also be dangerous for longer periods of time. Since their attention is always on themselves and they tend to come wild, there's a risk they'll put you in bad predicaments.

One way of knowing if you have a Me-Me-Me in your life, rather than just The Talker, is by telling them some news--positive or negative--about yourself, and see how they react.
A Talker, will jump on board with whatever you say, because they love to talk for hours about anything, not just themselves. A Me-Me-Me will respond to your news quickly then change the conversation, or suddenly remember that they have even greater/worse news to share which will top yours by a miles.
Example. You: "I got promoted today."
The Me-Me-Me. "Oh...nice. My boss will probably send me to New York this year. All expenses paid. Room at the Ritz. It's going to be Eh-pic."

How to use them in your story
Those who have read my books, have probably already figured it out. And yes. Chrissy is a Me-Me-Me. Many readers find her annoying, and many people should, but I chose to believe that Chrissy, just like the other Me-Me-Mes out there, have a reason for being self-absorbed and that there is something to be discovered below their surface.
Not only are these characters fun to write, but they also make excellent antagonist, or Frienemies who put your character is sticky situations. In addition, they make for a great peeling-off-the-layers subplot.

3# The Negitator

The Negitator is that friend who is fun to be around, until they're not. The Negitator will take anything and put a negative spin on it. They are quick to comment on the fact that you're wearing the wrong shoes, shirt, makeup. Should you ever accidently think too highly of yourself, the Negitator will make sure to bring you back to earth immediately. As opposed to the Me-Me-Me, the Negitator doesn't feel the need to put the attention back on themselves when you have news to share; they just want you to know that good things don't last forever, your new shoes will give you bunions, and "so what if you graduated from Yale, so have hundreds of thousands of others."

The origin of the Negitator probably stems from their own self-doubt, shortcomings, and bitter endings. Perhaps, they even give you a good verbal lashing when you're being too positive because they just don't want you to suffer the same disappointments they have. Still, in order to manage this friendship, you need a pretty thick skin, and a deep sense of self-confidence that prevents their darkness from pulling you down.

How to use them in your story

So how could this personality benefit your character? They are a great way to reflect your main character's own doubts and fears. Since the Negitator will always see the worst in every situation, they are a great tool to use as a culprit for your character's inner struggle. However, when using a Negatator like this, it's essential to use the anti-force as well. Enter the...

4# The Positator

As opposed to the Negitator, the Positator will see a silver lining in everything. They are generally calming people, who push you to see a problem or a situation from a different angle. They see the best in both people and the world around them, and believe All Things Happen For a Reason. At first glance, one might think the Positator is na├»ve and blue-eyed, but in my experience, they always have a story to back up their positive claim. Surprisingly, the Positator tends to be a person who has been through a lot, had a hard life, or has seen and experienced more than the average Joe.
Whatever their story, if you meet a friend like this, hold on to them. They're a rare gem.

How to use them in your story
The Positator can be used to reflect your main character's hopes and dream. While the Negitator is the devil on your MC's shoulder, who fills their head with fears and doubt, the Positator is the angel that let's them know their strengths and the possibilities ahead of them, should they choose the right path.

5# The Compadre

The Compadre is someone very close to you, a best friend. The Compadres come in different forms, with different personalities, and as opposed to the other four friends listed, their actions are tailor made just for you. They may be just an okay friend to people, until they meet you. After your personalities click, and you let them in, they grow into the role of the Compadre.
They will stick with you through thick and thin, throw themselves into a bar fight for you, and come over at 1 a.m. to have a look at that strange mole you're panicking over. The Comparde doesn't only listen to your good and bad news, but feels the news along with you. They are usually not the positive, perfect being the Positator is, but they always have your best interest in mind.

How to use them in your story
The Compadre makes for a great character. They have their own personality, their own problems, but they always have your MC's back. Because they want what is best for your character, they are great truth speakers. They will not just drop a negative/positive POV to the conversation, but will tell your character the truth they need to hear, good or bad. When your character is in need of an epiphany, the Compadre will be there to hand it over.

While most people you know are probably a mix of all the above, you've likely met a few of the extreme these types as well.  As a Positator in my life once told me: Different people come into our life at different times for a reason. Good or bad, there's always something to be learned from them.

I often think of this statement when making up my MC's friends. The question to ask yourself before you put pen to paper is: What type of friend are they, and how can they teach my character a lesson?

Mia Thompson is the author of an internationally bestselling New Adult Thriller series.  Her first two novels, STALKING SAPPHIRE and SILENCING SAPPHIRE, were published by Diversion Books in 2013.