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



Sue Coletta said...

I love this post. What a great idea, Peter.

Eliza, you were a diamond hand model and OJ asked you out? Good thing you said no!

Eliza Cross said...

I really enjoyed everyone's stories and remarks about writing. Kudos to Peter Hogenkamp for putting the group together and sharing these inspirational words.

Sue, believe it or not I met O.J. thirty years ago at Gene & Georgetti's Steakhouse when I was in Chicago on a business trip. I remember O.J. was wearing a full-length black mink coat, and he was with baseball Hall of Famer George Brett. We only talked for about 15 minutes, but O.J. was quite persistent in trying to persuade me to meet him after dinner. (It must have been a slow night.) I wasn't interested and declined.

JD Richardson said...

Peter - this is a great post which I've linked on my Twitter site (@lighthouse1247)Congratulations on getting so many writers to provide feedback. We'll all be at it now - I hope you realise what you've started!

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