Sunday, January 25, 2015

Dear Writer's Block, Please Die

It isn't the first time I've had writer's block. But, it certainly feels just as dreadful and career-ending every time I do.

When I have it, I often imagine writer's block to be a person who bursts in through my door uninvited, much like Kramer, wearing a red cape, two horns and a triangular tipped tail.

It doesn't take long before Writer's Block settles into my house. I imagine him sitting on my couch, dirty socks resting on the coffee table, laughing obnoxiously at the TV while cramming handfuls of chips into his mouth and spilling crumbs everywhere.

Meanwhile, I'm sitting in the uncomfortable armchair across the room, staring longingly at the couch. Every so often, I clear my throat and ask him impishly to "please leave..."

"Nah," he says, then takes a swig of coke directly from the 2 liter. "I'm good."

I generally have more to say, in much more powerful ways, but when he comes, my words grow stale, and my opinions vanish before they've reached my mouth. My mind, once crackling with ideas and images, becomes a dead silent, pitch dark landscape.

Lucky for me, this happened after I turned in Sapphire #3 to Diversion Books. Unluckily, he struck when I had ample writing time. If there's something that bugs me, it's wasted writing time. Some people call it Obsession, I call it Purpose.

Each time this pest comes for an unannounced visit, I Google. But when stepping away, free-writing, allowing yourself to write crap, running and Yoga doesn't work, what are you left with? A devilish man who eats all your double stuffed Oreos, spews negativity, snores like a wildebeest, and doesn't flush after going number two, that's what.

I've never managed to exterminate him in the past. He simply just leaves when he is finished, or when my cupboards are emptied of junk food.

The silver lining? While I, myself, can't get a word out right now, I at least have the time to enjoy the works of people who can. Without the help of people like Susan Ee, Amy Sherman-Palladino, Marian Keyes, Dean Koontz, and Matthew Quick, I'd be sitting in that armchair day in and day out, feeling every second pass as I waited for Writer's Block to leave, or preferably, self-die.

Until then, excelsior.


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.
mia-thompson.com
 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The 7 unbreakable Rules of #SocialMedia


Just like most criminals have an excellent knowledge of the law, I feel like my credentials to write this post are impeccable--having broken all 7 of the unbreakable rules of #socialmedia. And just like criminals do time for their transgressions (unless they can afford a good lawyer) I have been penalized for mine. Today (as part of my sentencing with the #socialmedia parole board) I will tell you all 7 unbreakable rules and explain what happens if you break them.

7) Don't be inconsistent. You can't #Tweet, post to #Facebook, #Stumble or #Pin on a regular basis, and then just stop, or take a long break as you watch all nine seasons of #Seinfeld consecutively. People forget about you, and they fill the void with someone else. Mind you, I am not telling you what your schedule has to be, just that you have to have one. Find a schedule that works for you, and stick to it.

6)  Don't spread yourself too thin. There are soooo many social media sites out there, and more come every day. You can't be adept at all of them. If you spread yourself too thin, you end up being mediocre, and, as I mentioned in #7, inconsistent. Pick two or three--definitely not more than four-- that you LIKE, and that work for what you are trying to accomplish.

5)  Gimmicks, tricks and subterfuge are right out!  Interactions on #Facebook, #Twitter, #Blogger or any other social media are the same as interactions in a car, living room, or anywhere else people still interact. (People still interact, right?) Just quicker. Whereas in non-virtual life it might take a person several weeks or months to realize you are disingenuous, in the virtual world it will take hours to days, maybe even minutes. So don't be disingenuous. If the title of your post boasts a cure for podagra, you damn well better be publishing a cure for podagra.  Keep in mind that virtual people are less patient than real people, because they don't know you other than that cute avatar you uploaded. One mistake--one episode of claiming you have the secret to making the perfect vegan quiche when you, in fact, don't--and you will be shut out. Sound cruel? It isn't--no tricks.

4)  Don't be a jerk. This should go without saying, but it doesn't. It goes back to the same thing about virtual interactions being similar to real world interactions. Would you tell someone to her face that the book she spent 3 years writing shouldn't even be used as toilet paper? No, you wouldn't, so don't say it on the internet either. If you don't like something, keep it to yourself. (I learned this in Kindergarten, but I get the feeling a lot of my classmates were napping through this lesson.) If you absolutely have to say something that isn't positive--in a book review, for instance--phrase it tactfully. For example: 1) The premise is so lame and weak that I didn't even want to waste my time reading; versus, 2) Although the premise was not the strength of the book, the crisp prose drew me in. I love humor, especially in blog posts, but it should never be at anyone's expense, except maybe your own. Go ahead and self-deprecate all you want, but don't be THAT GUY, the one who is always trying to get laughs by putting people down.

This is especially true when you are making comments on posts you read (and you should be doing this, often.) It is one thing to make fun of Rush Limbaugh, and another to put down the woman who was brave enough to put herself out there. The most common place I see this is in chats and threads on various forums, but it doesn't matter what the venue: Don't be a jerk.

3)   Don't lie, misrepresent or exaggerate. You will see this a lot, but not from well-respected #socialmediaphiles. You may catch someone's attention with a lie or a distorted truth, but you won't keep it for long. Once peeps realize you aren't accurate, they will ignore you. In this digital age, people rely on the internet for information--that's all the web is, an easy way to access information. If you are misinforming, you are digging your own #socialmedia grave. Embellishment is sometimes okay, depending upon the venue. If you are telling a funny story, embellish away; people understand that you are doing it for effect. But if you are reporting something, like the number of reads you scored on the blog you wrote about a dangerous turtle fungus, don't embellish. Social media is about information, and information needs to be accurate.


2)  Don't post or tweet sucky stuff. This is a tricky one, because I already stated Rule No. 10, Don't be inconsistent, meaning that you need to be putting your stuff out there regularly. But posting sucky stuff is far worse than posting nothing, however, as it makes you look like you belong in a dog and pony show--you know, amateurish. One bad Facebook post, tweet, biog, stumble, digg or social media offering of any kind can put you back to square one in a hurry. I solve this problem one of two ways; if I am due to post a blog, for example, and I don't have the TIME to create something worthwhile, I either borrow (with permission) something from a friend, re-post old material (make sure you tell people it's a re-post, however, or just write something short. Some of my best blogs have been 300 words or less. Much better to post a short but good blog, than a long and sucky one, Much, much better.



1)  Don't ever--and that means ever--SPAM. What happens when you Spam? Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light. (Bonus points for the lucky reader who can tell me what movie that quote is from.) It can't be overstated, everybody hates a spammer. There are no exceptions. Virtual spam is just as bad as the inedible, semi-synthetic pork product that comes in oval tins. Don't do it. If your self-published book isn't selling on Amazon or Kobo or UncleJoePublishesYourBook.com, don't flood every known #socialmedia site with links to "the next Fifty Shades of Grey." Do, however, post a book review of someone else's book or write a post about your favorite bookstore. If they like your post, people will find your work--but please, for the love of the almighty, don't Spam. (But do watch the YouTube video above.)

Thanks again for your support and the tremendous stamina you showed getting through this post. Please check out The Intern , the serialized novella I am writing on #Wattpad, and don't forget to check out My Website.

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&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.


 
   






Friday, January 16, 2015

The Future Of Forensics

Have you ever wondered how forensics will advance in the future? If you're a crime writer or reader I bet you have.  

Well, wonder no more. Today, I brought along a friend of mine to predict the future of forensics. Garry Rodgers spent 20 years as a Royal Canadian Mounted Police homicide detective, followed by a second career as a forensics coroner. He also served as a sniper on British SAS-trained Emergency Response Teams and is a recognized expert in firearms. 

Garry's book, No Witnesses To Nothing, hit #5 on Amazon's Best-Sellers' list and is based on a true story-- a very unusual story where the paranormal played a role.

 Click the cover to purchase this book
Click to go to Amazon


As a crime writer it's important that I get my facts right, so Garry is my go-to guy for all homicide related questions. His generosity overwhelms me. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank him once again for all of his help. Thank you, Garry! 

Without further ado, the future of forensics...

BREAKTHROUGHS IN FORENSIC TECHNOLOGY

tech1Technology has made huge breakthroughs over the past thirty-five years that I’ve been around criminal and forensic investigation (CSI). Without question, the next thirty-five are going to bring mind-blowing advances. I’ve looked into my forensic crystal ball to come up with five things I think will be real by 2050.

But first... let's look at the top five since 1980.

1. Computers

When I started policing, the PC was unheard of.

tech2The only computing system we had was a mammoth of a beast that filled-up many rooms at headquarters. CPIC-- Canadian Police Information System-- was in its infancy as was its American counterpart, NCIC-- National Criminal Intelligence Center. Both systems are still around but, instead of having to phone to book appointments to use the system, the information now comes straight to the patrol cars or to a detective's smart device.

Computers have affected every facet of forensic investigation.

Despite complex computerized analysis being fast and accurate, the routine is much easier. Report writing is far simpler-- no more carbon paper to make multiple copies, no more white-out, and thank God for spell-check.

Communications are instant with internet email and gone are the days of waiting for a report to show up in snail mail. Training is done through computerized simulation, sketching is replaced by computer-aided drawing, and administration is now done by the keyboard. Computers are what allowed the next four advances to occur.

2. AFIS -- Automated Fingerprint Identification System

tech3The science of fingerprinting has been around nearly one hundred and fifty years, but the mechanism of storage and matching prints was cumbersome. Known prints from criminals used to be rolled in ink and stored on paper and the latent prints from crime scenes were lifted in powder and stored in plastic sheets. There was no effective system to easily match the two. Today, suspect prints are digitally scanned and stored in data bases. Latent prints are still lifted in conventional manners, but they're then scanned and put into a search engine where they can be matched right from the crime scene.

3. Photography

tech4Today's digital photography is a tremendous time-saver compared to the days of negative and image development. It's instantaneous to share over the internet, even allowing an investigator to snap a digital photo in the field and email it to the other side of the world. Another facet of crime fighting is the incredible amount of mobile and stationary cameras that are out and about in society which capture movements of criminals before, during, and after events. Many crooks have gone down because they failed to realize they were on camera.

4. Education

tech5Today's forensic investigators are far better educated than in the 1980's. Much of that is due to the ease of which information can be shared. Where it used to take great blocks of time and huge resources to assemble courses and conferences, many agencies now use webinars and on-line presence to create 'virtual' classrooms. Education and sharing information are the jewels in crime fighting.

5. DNA

tech13Deoxyribonucleic acid or genetic fingerprinting is probably the best crime-fighting tool ever developed. Today, thanks to the computer, the sophistication and expediency of DNA testing has led to it being commonly-- and accurately-- used in the majority of serious crime investigations. Many convictions have been secured on DNA evidence alone. Conversely, many innocent people have been cleared of suspicion due to elimination of DNA typing.

So that's what happened over the past third century. Ever wonder what's going to happen over the next third?

Well, I'm gazing into the crystal ball and predict five things.

1. Holograms

tech73-D technology is commonplace in movies and on TV. Many criminal prosecutions are already presented through computer-aided reconstruction to lay out the scene, bullet paths, vehicle motions, and blood-spatter patterns.

I see a day when virtual-reality holograms are imaged in the middle of the courtroom so the jurors can watch a total recreation of how the crime went down.

2. Brain-Scan Polygraphs

tech8
Conventional polygraphs have only slightly evolved in three decades and that was by the replacement of the old ink-needle charts with laptop technology. The basics of polygraphy still depends on the ability of a skilled operator to formulate key questions and then interpret the subject's involuntary body reactions -- pulse, respiration, blood pressure, galvanic skin responses, and perspiration.

I see a day when brain mapping and analysis of how a subject responds under electroencephalography (EEG) and function magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) will replace the current polygraph. The technology is already here and research is underway towards its forensics application.

2. Laser Devices

tech9I think lasers have phenomenal potential in forensics. Currently, laser lighting is used to amplify fingerprint and tool marketing evidence. It's also used in ballistic matching where the old electron-scanning comparison microscopes are being replaced by laser/laptop examiners like the Bullettrax 3D which makes the peaks and valleys of a ballistic engraving show up like satellite ground mapping radar images.

I see a day when forensic investigators will map out a crime scene with hand-held laser devices to perfectly record information which will be transformed into hologram reproductions.

4. Ion-Sniffers

tech10Detection of ions through gas chromatography mass spectrometers has been around fifty plus years and is still used daily in crime labs. What's missing are portable devices to assist in field searches of buildings, vehicles, boats, planes, and the great outdoors. Often investigators know exactly what they're looking for-- a firearm, explosives, contraband, or even a dead body-- but the parameters of the search area turn it into the needle-in-a-haystack scenario.

I see a day when the ionic signature of the article(s) being searched for are then dialed into the device and it zooms right into the location.

5. Satellite Tracking of Dangerous Criminals

tech11Over the past few decades we've got a better handle on controlling violent and prolific offenders through DNA profile banks and ankle bracelets of parolees. We've also had tremendous advances in satellite technology where smart-bombs are delivered down terrorist's chimneys and GPS apps tell you exactly where you are on the planet. We have microchips in everything from our bank cards to our pet Schnauzers and there are more cell phones in Africa than people. What we don't know is where the dangerous .001 percent of the population are and have been.

AB23479I see a day that we'll ditch these guy's rights. We need to protect the 99.999 percent of the population that's at risk. Common sense will prevail and there'll be court orders mandating satellite tracking chips being surgically implanted into dangerous offenders.

I'll check back with you in 2050. It'll be interesting to see what I've missed.

Garry Rodgers
He blogs at DyingWords.net and can be reached at garry.rodgers@shaw.ca

Thank you, Garry!

Do you think Garry missed anything? Or, if you have a question for Garry, leave it in the comment section.

Posted by Sue Coletta

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Road to Published – Part III: Rejection & National Public Radio


I know I left some of you hanging in the last edition of this mesmerizing mini-series (The Road to Published—Part II: How to Survive a Rocket Attack). So I’ll go ahead and drop the ending on you…I made it through that first rocket attack—with all my fingers and toes. Hopefully that wasn’t too much of a spoiler. In fact, I’ve been back to Afghanistan twice since then, and lived through plenty of other attacks, all without forgetting to duck when I ran into the bunkers. 

Keep reading...I promise it will make sense why I have a picture of Terry Gross in here!

Since I already let out the spoiler, let’s recap—I have no idea how to get published. It’s some wonderful combination of hard work, more hard work, pain, hard work, lack of sleep, self-doubt, luck, and rejection! And somehow all of it makes you a better writer…if you keep going. So far we have, in order:

Friday, January 9, 2015

Successful Authors Don't Keep Secrets

When I began writing, it was definitely a solitary effort. So solitary, in fact, I kept it a secret. I wrote early in the morning, when my husband was at work and the kids were asleep. No one to look over my shoulder. No one to critique. No one to criticize. Just me, and my novice efforts and my fledgling craft.

Who was I kidding? Back then, I had no craft. I just wanted to write. I had no goals, no real plans, and certainly no schooling. Those days were long before I educated myself with craft books and the internet articles. I had no regard for plot and I couldn’t have cared less for dialog structure. All I knew was I wanted to write word after word and see if they took me anywhere.

Then, one day my husband asked me who Marek was. Erp. He’d found the bits and pieces I’d been writing, a first person POV with a romantic interest. I had to set him straight real fast. Marek was a character I was writing, and no, he couldn’t read it.

I lacked confidence. I wasn’t a writer—I was a pharmacist and a homemaker. I grew up in the eighties, when only professionals got published by big companies. Stephen King was a writer. I was just a girl with an imagination too big to stay in my head.

He didn’t see it that way. He believed in me and said if I wanted to be a writer, I should just stop saying can’t, and start doing it.

So, I did.

Eventually, I let others in on my secret. I showed my scenes to my sister, cringing and waiting for her to declare it complete suckitude. She didn’t. Neither did my husband, who took my characters very seriously (and decided he hated one of them violently). I got my younger sister to read an early draft—and she finished it. That really blew my mind—that anyone would actually want to read the whole thing.

My husband and my sisters became my most powerful critique partners and my dearest lifelines. They gave me the confidence I needed to crawl out from under the rock I’d been writing under. They took the solitude out of my efforts. And they cheered when I got published, because it was a victory for us all.


Flashing forward to today... my third novel came out in June, the third in a series that began with a character named Marek and a writer who was too cowardly to tell anyone about him. A paranormal romance came out in October, I published an anthology in December, and I'm getting ready to release my first full-length self-produced novel. I’m no longer quite as solitary a writer and often have long conversations with my husband about the people who dwell inside my head. He daydreams about retiring from his career in pharmaceuticals so that he can be my full-time assistant. (He doesn’t realize I’d gladly hire him, even if only to shovel off my desk once a week. I tend to stock-pile it to the point of oblivion.)

The one thing he’d never do was manage my social media. You need a personality to sell books, he said, and I don’t have your personality.

While I’m sure he meant it as compliment, I took it as a painful reminder of the uncomfortable, vulnerable moments I experienced when I first showed my pages to others. I wrote in solitude because I was safe there. As long as I was writing for only myself, solitude was fine.

While writers can exist in their vacuums, authors cannot. I’m using the term author to mean someone who is writing for an audience—so, by definition, solitude can play no part of it. While there are websites devoted to authors getting their stories out to an audience (Wattpad.com is a favorite), it eventually becomes necessary for us to put ourselves out in the world, book in hand, face to face with real, live people in the hopes that they will read our work.

Once again, I’m reminded of the concepts I’d stubbornly carried with me since the eighties. Book signings and readings and tours were for real authors and big publishing houses. That would never be me. The only concession I made in recent decades was to admit the Internet was a good place to sell books, which was just fine by me. I could still hide behind a computer, no sweat. I’d been doing it for years.

But, alas. I might write fantasy, but I can no longer pretend to live in one. My illusions have been completely dispelled. Putting a book on Amazon didn’t guarantee sales, not when your book is a mere drop in a literary ocean. Having a publisher doesn’t ensure a landslide of PR, no matter who the publisher is.

I’ve read a fair share of posts from mid-list authors of big houses as well as mega-successful indie writers—and none of them are saying anything even remotely close to what my eighties-era conceptions would have had me continue to believe.

So, what’s a writer to do, other than get out there and sell my books? No one is going to do it for me.

And that, I think is where I realized my husband had put it all together for me in a single word: personality. He can’t be my voice on Twitter or Facebook, because he doesn’t have my voice. He couldn’t post to my blog any more than he could write my next book. It all comes down to personality. Readers are drawn to a writer’s voice, so why wouldn’t they be drawn in by an author’s personality?

Personality doesn’t mean being the most popular person in the room, the winning smile or the center of attention. It’s us, pure and simple, as we can only be in person.

Personality is both our strength and our weakness. While it’s our nature—and, being creative people, writers should naturally have interesting personalities—it’s also the most intimate thing about ourselves and we are protective of our privatest parts. Public speaking is not for everyone.

Conferences and their opportunities for schmoozing with the big-wigs give most emerging authors the willies, if not outright palpitations. The whole face-time thing means we can’t hide behind our computer screens anymore.

Personality and in-person go hand in hand. Bye-bye, solitude.


It's all part of the publishing game. We must learn how to write better and improve our craft if we want to be published. Likewise, we must learn how to appear in public if we want to sell our books.

Emerging authors sell more books to personal contacts than by any other route. Our first readers are our family and friends—so, naturally, they become our first customers. Using our personality to sell our books to them is as easy as blinking. However, once you try to move past the innermost circle of our audience, it gets a little harder.

So we must learn how to do it, and do it well.

My only regret is that when I started to take my writing seriously, I didn’t know enough to look ahead to the business side of things. Why would I have done that? I never crept out of bed at five in the morning because I planned to pursue publishing contracts. I did it because I wanted to write, not because I dreamed of book signings or meet-and-greets. Culturing an author appearance-worthy personality takes as much craft as completing a manuscript.

Lucky for me, I like to talk. My career in pharmacy requires me to be an expert in the field, an educator, a counsellor, and a professional communicator. When I go to book signings, I draw on the strengths I’d developed in my day job and use them to my advantage. (Bonus is I don’t have to filter everything I say. When I’m at my author job, I get to be as sassy as I want to be.)

I love to talk to readers about books, and not just my own. I get to connect with readers who like the same kinds of stories that I do. My favorite appearances have been in libraries because that’s where the readers live. The real payoff lies in knowing that I made face-time with readers who will tell their friends about my books. That word-of-mouth is what grows our audience in the beginning—and word-of-mouth spreads fastest when we’re the ones doing the talking.

The Real Secret to Success...
If you are on submission with your first book, or anticipating your first release, celebrate the first victory: the moment you took your book out of the computer and sent it to a complete stranger.

That’s bravery at its finest. Just remember, though, that there are still times ahead when you are going to have to re-prove your courage—when you have to actually go out in the world, book in hand, and tell a complete stranger what it’s about and why they should read it.

Don’t wait until your first appearance is a week away and decide to have a complete meltdown because you just don’t have the type of personality. You do have that type of personality. You just need to cultivate it.

Start close to home. Practice your pitch on family and friends. They are going to buy the book anyway—why not use the opportunity to hone your charm? Practice now means ease of execution later.

Do mini-readings where you’re already comfortable. At work, at your kids’ playgroups, at your church or community events—your neighbors and your acquaintances are perfect for pre-appearance practice. You may have started writing in secret solitude like I did—but when you have a book to sell, the time for secrets is long past.

Start small. Does the thought of walking into Barnes and Noble to ask for a book signing scare the living hell out of you? Don’t start there. Start with your local library and offer to do a reading. Bring some bookmarks to hand out and a few copies of your book. You will drive home and have that surreal moment where you go Holy cow. I just had a book signing. Then you’ll wink at people in their cars the rest of the ride because you’re all that and a bag of chips.

Barnes and Noble just might still be there next year. You’ll get there. Don’t worry.

The bottom line is…you may write in solitude now, but you can’t stay there forever. Hone your writing craft, but don’t neglect your in-person personality. Write your pitches and read them out loud. Tell the very next person you encounter that you are a writer, and that you’d love to tell them about your book.

Don’t keep your biggest achievement a secret. Learn to talk about your book now so that the word-of-mouth you get later on will be made of good words.

Experienced authors—what secret can you share with emerging writers regarding those scary first appearances?



My recent release, a fantasy romance called WORDS THAT BIND, is on sale for a limited time (Jan 9 through Jan 23)…I'd be thrilled if you shared with your readers.  : )
"Some wishes should be Forbidden... WORDS THAT BIND by @AshKrafton #fantasy #romance #ebook on sale $.99"


Ash Krafton is a speculative fiction writer 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 for news on her urban fantasy series The Books of the Demimonde (Pink Narcissus Press). Her paranormal romance WORDS THAT BIND (The Wild Rose Press) is now available.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Lost in Revision

https://gallery.mailchimp.com/d55ac0cd10b24b2d50def8c8a/images/Under_a_Cold_January_Sun.jpg

Happy New Year peeps; I haven't been around in a while but I swear there is a good reason. (One of the members in my mother's Canasta group came down with podagra and I was forced to sub in--cuz the Canasta must go on.) Besides that, I am--as the title of this post indicates--lost in the last revision of ABSOLUTION, the first book of the Jesuit Thriller series. Seeing as that this is the ultimate revision before Liz (ueberagent Liz Kracht) shops it sometime this winter, I am giving it my all, sparing nothing--including attention to personal hygiene. 

So, to keep you folks from getting restless, I am re-posting a blog I wrote last year. If you already read it, why not give Canasta a try--my mother is still looking for a few good players. If you somehow missed it, clear your schedule for the next ten minutes and settle in to your armchair. Happy New Year!

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 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

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



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 also created and judges a #bestfirstparagraph contest for #NaNoWriMo; entries may be submitted 12/1/14 - 12/31/14 on the Fiction Writers Anonymous feed. 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.