Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Who/What is a Writer? & Why does she or he Write?: The Book Stops Here; Episode 1

The strengthening March sun pokes over the ridge line to the east, burning off the obscuring haze. The peaks of the mountains--Blue Ridge, Pico Peak and Killington--glimmer brown and bare in the pale light of a beautiful spring morning. But I am not there to see it, because I am shut away in the cellar staring into the void of my computer screen. I'll get out--be sure of that--but not until I drink a few cups of coffee and string a handful of sentences together. Once the blankness is marred by a smattering of paragraphs--three or four pages on a good day--I'll lace on my boots and go for a hike, but the writing comes first.

I write for the simple reason that it's impossible for me not to... believe me, I've tried. After I received the last of several dozen rejections for my first manuscript, I decided to pack it up and stop writing, but it wasn't long before I was back, staring into the void again.

In search of Why I am doing this to myself?, I decided to ask a few other people with the same affliction: Who/What is a Writer? and Why does she or he Write?

Joe Clifford, author of the upcoming DECEMBER BOYS, says this: Why I wanted to be a writer? Beats working in a coal mine and I'm not very good at hanging curtain rods or anything practical? I suppose the same reason we all do it: a need, compulsion, sickness, vacancy. Or some combination thereof.

Mia Thompon, author of SENTENCING SAPPHIRE, gave me this advice: Whenever I feel a bout of writers block come on (symptoms include word constipation, authors fever, and incessant whimpering) I do two things: I turn on Food Network to watch Chopped and I read quotes from the greats. Neither helps, but it gives me something to do while I wait for my mind to return.
“First, find out what your hero wants, then just follow him.”
– Ray Bradbury
I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Maya Angelou
If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.” – Toni Morrison
“Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
– E. L. Doctorow
“If you write one story, it may be bad; if you write a hundred, you have the odds in your favor.”
– Edgar Rice Burroughs

Susan Clayton-Goldner, poet and author of A Question of Mortality, was--well--poetic:

Eliza Cross, Writer, Speaker and Journalist, tells us about herself this way: Here are three truths and one lie about author Eliza Cross:
1. She was a diamond ring hand model in her 20s.
2. O.J. Simpson once asked her out on a date.
3. Her great-uncle was best friends with Fred Trump, Donald’s father.
4. She is allergic to hyacinth bulbs and breaks out in hives if she touches one.
The lie is #3. Eliza’s great-uncle Edward Weeks was editor of the Atlantic Monthly from 1928 to 1966, and was one of the first people to encourage her to write.
Garrett Calcaterra, author of the YA fantasy series The Dreamwielder Chronicles,  said this about his path to being a writer: I've had a couple of key turning points in my life as a writer. The first was in college when I took a few creative writing courses and realized I had promise as a writer, and that it could be more than a mere hobby. That led me to opt out of going to optometry school and instead pursue writing. The next big moment was when the first novel I wrote got summarily rejected by anyone and everyone in the speculative fiction publishing world. That's when a lot of aspiring writers sensibly hang it up. For me, my stubbornness beat out sensibility, and I kept writing with even more conviction. I've never had a big break-through moment, but a lot of small successes along the way, and I plan to keep chugging along, no matter how many obstacles interrupt those small successes.

Leigh Anne Jasheway, award-winning humor speaker and author, waxed humorous when I asked her about her writing career: I believe I may have emerged from the womb with a pencil for an umbilical cord. I started writing seriously in the 4th grade. But when I was in my 30s, I discovered that it was possible to write everything in life, from petty annoyances to heart-tugging tragedies, in a way that could make me and others laugh. That moment changed my life. It changed my writing. It changed my worldview. It changed my underwear. And for the past 21 years (although I’ll deny being over 37), I have been trying to pass that epiphany on to others through my comedy writing classes and workshops.

Holly West, crime fiction writer and author of Mistress of Lies, ended up a writer when her singing career didn't take off: As a kid, I vacillated between two career goals. The first was singing—I wanted desperately to be a singer. Specifically, I wanted to be Marie Osmond. Those were the days when Donny and Marie had a variety show on Friday nights and I watched it with the same delicious anticipation with which I now watch programs like House of Cards or Better Call Saul, or Breaking Bad and The Sopranos when they were on. Or Ink Master, if I’m being honest. I’m addicted to that show.

My best friend Debbie and I loved Marie and hated Donny. The most vicious insult we could throw at each other was You love Donny. On a family vacation to an amusement park, I etched Debbie Loves Donny into the painted railing governing a ride queue and when I came back bragging that her adoration for Donny had been recorded for all to see until the end of time, she vowed to get revenge. I don’t know if she ever did.

We held singing competitions and argued about which one of us sounded more like Marie when we belted out “Paper Roses.” I did, of course, although listening to the song now I can’t say that’s a good thing. Still, I remained a singer until I graduated from Loyola Marymount University, where I sang in the chorale under the direction of one of the finest chorale directors in the United States: Paul Salamunovich.

I seem to have gotten off track somehow. This was supposed to be about writing, wasn’t it?

All those years, while I was singing my little heart out, I was also a passionate reader. Television and the Internet weren’t the distraction they are today and reading was my primary form of amusement. I had a peculiar habit of re-reading books and though I read constantly, I didn’t actually read very many books during my childhood. I just re-read the ones I loved over and over again. Some of my favorites included the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books by Betty MacDonald and the Pippi Longstocking books by Astrid Lindgren. As a teenager I read anything by Judy Blume or Lois Duncan.

I particularly remember my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Boravicka, reading us Three Without Fear by Robert C. Du Soe. Holy cow, I loved that book. I still love that book. It’s about a shipwrecked American boy named Dave whose raft washes up on the shores of Baja California, where he’s found by Pedro and his younger sister, Maria, who are trying to get to their grandmother’s house near the California border. The story of their adventures as they travel up the Baja peninsula mesmerized me and inspired me to hunt clams on family vacations to the coast and, as an adult, to make my own tortillas. Neither enterprise was ever successful but the inspiration—that was the thing.

The desire to instill the same wonder in readers that had been instilled in me by the books I read is why I wanted to be a writer and why I still want to be a writer. One of my goals in writing my debut novel, MISTRESS OF FORTUNE, was to make readers fall in love with 17th century London the way I’d fallen for it after reading FOREVER AMBER by Kathleen Winsor. As I polish my third novel, my hope is that readers will get a feel for Venice, California and understand its quirks, both good and bad. And my short stories often explore the Los Angeles neighborhoods I lived in for nearly thirty years, highlighting my experiences of both the city and its people.

Basically, I love creating a means of escape for others, the same way I’ve escaped through a good book. There was no specific moment when I decided I would be a writer-- the desire has simply been in me nearly as long as I can remember.

As for the singing, it’s now limited to sporadic performances on the karaoke stage. I’ve never sung “Paper Roses” but now I’m thinking I should add it to my set list. 

Lily Gardner, author of A Bitch Called Hope, sent me this:

Lily also sent this gem of a blurb about Scandinavian Noir, her favorite genre: Nothing spells dark like a winter night in Scandinavia, with the big three, Norway, Sweden and Finland, all reaching into the Arctic Circle. We’re talking whole nations with SAD. It’s not surprising that Scandinavian detectives range from anxiety-ridden to nihilistic. Life may not serve up a happy ending for the protagonist, but justice will prevail. I find that very satisfying.
A few of my favorites:
The Black Path, by Åsa Larsson
Headhunters, by Jo Nesbø
Smilla’s Sense of Snow, by Peter Høeg
Sidetracked, by Henning Mankell
Voices, by Arnaldur Indriðason

Arthur Kerns, FBI Agent and author of The Riviera Contract, was concise: Writing allows me to communicate what I want without being interrupted.
So was AJ Krafton, speculative fiction author of The Heartbeat Thief: Ash Krafton writes because, if she doesn't, her kids will. And *nobody* wants that.

Suzana Flores, clinical psychologist and author,
 tells us why she wrote her best-selling Facehooked: There is something about our expression on social media that seems to be changing us: the way we perceive ourselves and others, our relationships, our sense of privacy, our work and friendships, and how we interact with others. In the real world, our self-identity is formed, and grows, through our interactions with other people. We learn to think, feel and behave by experiencing ourselves in these relationships.
As social creatures, we need and seek responses from others, sometimes for validation, sometimes for provocation.  Whatever we post on Facebook will be subject to interpretation, and sometimes this interpretation is the intention behind the post.
My goal in writing Facehooked is to provide insight regarding what the primary purpose of social media should be––an expression of positive personal and social growth. Such growth is possible by first taking a moment to understand how we view ourselves and others. What we do and how we behave on Facebook expresses and reinforces this view, and if we approach each other with the understanding that we all have the same basic need to thrive - to get through our day by maximizing the things that make us happy and minimizing the things that don’t - then Facebook becomes a powerful tool for personal and social growth.

Sue Coletta, author of MARRED, said this about her need to write:

The need to write is buried deep in my soul. It's a yearning, a desire, and a passion. I don't know who I'd be if I didn't write. The writing community is unlike anything I've ever experienced. We ban together, share heartbreaks, and rejoice at victories. Writers are some of the most caring people I've ever encountered, and I feel blessed to walk among them.

I hope that explains a few things...

Cheers, peter

Peter Hogenkamp is a practicing 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 novel loosely based on Peter's medical internship, excerpts of which can be seen 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 The Book Stops Herethe literary blog for readers and writers written by authors, editors, agents, publishers and poets; a frequent contributor and reviewer at ReadWave; the founder and moderator of groups on Facebook (The Library), Google+ (Fiction Writers Anonymous); and the chief of two tribes on Triberr, The Big Thrill and Fiction Writers. Peter tweets--against the wishes of his wife and four children--at @phogenkampvt and @theprosecons. Peter can be reached at or through his literary agent (Liz Kracht of Kimberely Cameron & Associates) at


Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Fantasy and Sci-Fi Novels that Inspired The Dreamwielder Chronicles

The Dreamwielder Chronicles are branded as YA fantasy, but when you delve into the books, you’ll find there’s a bit more to them than that. They are, in fact, a unique mashup of fantasy, steampunk, and horror for young adults and adults alike. I have consciously drawn from several inspirations while creating the series, and I’m much indebted to their authors. So here they are, without further ado, the fantasy and sci-fi novels that inspired The Dreamwielder Chronicles.

A Song of Ice and Fire
By George R.R. Martin

Martin is one of my favorite authors, and I’ve read most of what he’s written, including his sci-fi work he did before ASOIF, so it’s no surprise his work is a big influence of mine. One of the ideas Martin has espoused on writing genre fiction is the idea of “used furniture.” I’m paraphrasing heavily here, but the idea is that there are certain tropes in each genre that readers are accustomed to, and that authors should use those tropes to their advantage so that they don’t have to describe every detail of their world in tedious detail.

Since A Game of Thrones has become such a big part of the modern fantasy landscape, I decided to borrow some of Martin’s furniture. I used the idea of having messenger ravens and even named the realm in my world similarly to his. He has the Seven Kingdoms. I have the Five Kingdoms. Other inspirations include the grittiness of the narrative and the fact that no character is safe. Ever.

A Wizard of Earthsea
Ursula K. Le Guin

Magic is a big part of The Dreamwielder Chronicles. When developing how the magic worked, I drew heavily upon the work of Le Guin, who to my mind creates magic with the most symbolic significance of any writer out there. Magic in A Wizard of Earthsea is all about understanding the true nature of the natural world and working in harmony with it.

I invoked this same spirit in The Dreamwielder Chronicles. You’ll see it in the discordance between magic and the budding industrial technology in the Five Kingdoms. You’ll also see it as Makarria, the main protagonists of the series, matures and learns how to control the magic she was born with.

The Lord of the Rings
J.R.R. Tolkien

Even if you’re not influenced by Tolkien as a fantasy writer, you’re influenced by Tolkien. His stamp on the genre is ubiquitous. I for one am glad of it. Tolkien’s attention to detail when creating the world of the LOTR, The Hobbit, and The Silmarillion is unparalleled. Not only did he create a vast history and mythology for his world, he created language for its denizens. Those sort of details pervade his writing with a richness that makes Middle-earth feel as real as our own.

I didn’t go nearly as far as Tolkien, of course, but I was inspired to thoroughly imagine the world of the Five Kingdoms well before ever sitting down to start writing the story. I have pages and pages of history, mythology, maps, and timelines that will probably never factor into the story of The Dreamwielder Chronicles, but by knowing those details, I was able to make the world far more believable for the reader than I would have otherwise.

Wild Seed
Octavia Butler

It seems like most epic fantasy stories are set in either a medieval British/European setting or a pseudo-medieval British/European setting.  Same goes for a lot of steampunk, except it’s Victorian era rather than medieval era. Wild Seed was probably the first novel I ever read that was an American fantasy. This amazing novel by Octavia Butler, along with the works of numerous Latin-American women authors I read while in graduate school, had a profound impact on me.

I set out to make The Dreamwielder Chronicles an epic fantasy that was roughly analogous to the real world Americas. Part of the history I mentioned when discussing Tolkien involved the arrival of conquerors from the Old World, at the cost of assimilation, and in some cases, annihilation of indigenous peoples. This facet, in particular, will be more apparent in book 3, but even in the first two books, there is a conscious mixing of cultures that is indicative to the Americas.

Wild Seed influenced me in two other ways. For one, it served as a model for me in writing a true omniscient third person narrative in Dreamwielder. Most modern fantasy fiction, like other popular contemporary fiction, relies on tight, limited 3rd person viewpoints, even when there are multiple viewpoint characters. Yet Butler masterfully weaves a true omniscient narrative in Wild Seed, flowing from one character’s viewpoint to another from one paragraph to the next as the story unfolds. Reading this narrative story telling mode gave me the license to do the same, even if true omniscient is out of fashion.

The final influence Wild Seed had on me, along with all the magical realism I read over the years, was a comfort level writing a story with a woman protagonist. Butler approaches her characters in Wild Seed with compassionate and unbiased viewpoints, regardless of race, gender, or anything else. Perhaps I was naïve when I first read it, but I took this as a matter fact as to what good writing was supposed to be. As such, it never occurred to me that it might be odd for a male author to write a woman protagonist. I wrote Makarria, Taera, Talitha, Fina, and all the other women characters in The Dreamwielder Chronicles the same way I wrote any of the male characters: I put myself into their shoes, and wrote them like the humans they are.

The Anubis Gates
Tim Powers

The connections between my work and Tim Powers is not as evident as some of the others, but book 2 in The Dreamwielder Chronicles, Souldrifter, was directly influenced by The Anubis Gates in two distinct ways. First, Powers is a master of crazy plot turns that all tie together at the climax of the story. Souldrifter is very much in that vein, with a crazy plot that leaves readers guessing until the end. The second influence is one of the characters in The Annubis Gates, Dog-Face Joe. I won’t go into details, since I don’t want to give any spoilers about Souldrifter, but let it suffice to say, that this was another conscious borrowing of furniture.

(On a side note, it’s worth mentioning that Wild Seed has a character, Doro, who is similar to Dog-Face Joe, or perhaps visa versa is more appropriate since Wild Seed was written three years earlier. In any case, I’d forgotten about Doro when writing Souldrifter, but it’s likely that I subconsciously borrowed from this character as much as I did from Dog-Face Joe.)

Lord Kelvin’s Machine
James P. Blaylock

It’s no secret that Blaylock has been one of my writing mentors. I began reading his work when I was one of his students in grad school. The Last Coin is my favorite book of his, but his genre-defining steampunk story Lord Kelvin’s Machine is much more of an influence on The Dreamwielder Chronicles. Much of the steampunk aesthetic in my series is directly influenced by Blaylock’s Victorian England. Another smaller, subtler influence, is the humor Blaylock imbues into his characters. Going into writing The Dreamwielder Chronicles, I knew one of the dangers was that the books and protagonists might take themselves too seriously. To divert, or at least diffuse this issue, I came up with the character Natarios Rhodas, probably one of my favorite characters in the series. He’s a despicable human in most ways, but has a sense of humor and never takes himself too seriously—that’s a direct influence of Blaylock’s characters, albeit a bit more Dr. Narbondo than Langdon St. Ives.

Dream Baby
Bruce McAllister

I had the pleasure of meeting and getting know McAllister in recent years, and he was even gracious enough to read an early draft of Souldrifter and provide some revision suggestions. This was a huge honor for me because, in no small part, his novel Dream Baby was a direct influence on the first chapter of Souldrifter. The two novels couldn’t be more different, but one particular cave scene in Dream Baby was so chilling that I couldn’t put it out of mind, even months after reading the book. The emotional gut-punch of that scene was a direct influence for Chapter 1 of Souldrifter and helped set the tone for the rest of the book.

The Belgariad
David Eddings (and in all likelihood Leigh Eddings) 

I gobbled up this series and everything else Eddings wrote back when I was in junior high and high school. It’s hard to quantify the true impact of books you adored when you were young. I’d venture that they make you a part of who you are. If nothing else, Eddings influenced my writing style.

While Eddings’ writing is by no means high-literature, he wrote with a fluidity that sucked me into his worlds, combining high fantasy, action, humor, and twisting plots into tales that made me read through them with an unhealthy fervor. The writing never got in the way of the story, and that’s something I’ve tried to emulate as an author.

It’s worth noting that The Belgariad, despite having adolescent protagonists, was sold as straight up fantasy. There was no YA tag placed on it. I took the same mindset when writing and marketing Dreamwielder, which was perhaps a mistake. The modern marketplace is geared very much towards niche marketing, and YA is hot, hot, hot. If we had branded Dreamwielder as YA from the outset, it’s very possible it would have reached a wider audience, but so it goes.

Garrett Calcaterra is author of The Dreamwielder Chronicles and other works of dark speculative fiction. Book 2, Souldrifter, is available now in ebook and paperback formats from Diversion Books. Learn more at