Sunday, April 23, 2017

Book or Movie; A Very Private Gentleman vs. The American

Like so many others, I entered the theater showing The American with a large drink, enough popcorn for a family of eight, and expectations I was about to see a film along the lines of a Jason Bourne action-thriller. And therein was the basis of my initial disappointment (yes, the popcorn was too salty, but I was expecting that.) What I wasn't expecting was the paucity of action and thrills, which after all, are the main stays of an action-thriller. And, because I was always waiting for the action and thrills to begin I glossed over the first half of a genuine film, a true adaption of the book from which it was engendered. Keep in mind I hadn't read the book yet (it would be almost seven years before I would get around to that) and the trailers for the movie all promised George Clooney was just subbing in for Matt Damon or Tom Cruise.

But The American is not anything of that sort; it is a much, much better film; I can say that because I watched it a second time and it mesmerized me from the get-go with its Eurocinematography, patience, and restraint. The American is a subtle movie, featuring one of George Clooney's best acting performances. If you haven't seen it; put it on the top of your list. Watch it in the evening with a nice glass of Orvietto, or in the late afternoon with an espresso; you'll see what I mean. In addition to Clooney, Violante Placidio plays Clara with a wonderfully subdued sensuality, and Paolo Bonacelli shines as the priest who befriends the mysterious visitor to his parish.

As good as The American is, though, A Very Private Gentleman still takes top honors. I have never read anything quite like this book, although I should like to and I am open to suggestions (you can leave those in the comments section if you want to, or e-mail me at the address below.) The prose is picturesque (kudos to Clooney the director of The American for camera work that mirrors the prose) the characters--especially the main character--are complex and unique, and the setting is so well done you are sure you've been to this section of Italy before. And while the story is not the strength of the book, it moves along at just the right pace, a pace that lingers and meanders in the right spots, like an old churchyard in a secluded mountain valley or the dimly lit corner of a bar that lets off from a narrow alley.

Good fiction transports the reader; it you want to go to the Italian Alps but can't find the time, here's the link to Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I also like to include several other opinions; here's Roger Ebert's review of the movie and Publisher's Weekly review of the book.

Now, as to why it took me almost seven years to get to reading the book... well, I guess I don't have a good answer to that.

Cheers, peter

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


Saturday, March 18, 2017

The List

Rewriting is super easy...
said no writer EVER.

The first time I realized the importance of rewriting and notes, I was nineteen and in school for screenwriting. It was my favorite teacher who said the phrase I'd never forget: "writing is rewriting."

The term first draft meant nothing to me back then as I only did one pass before moving onto the next project. I immediately took the wisdom to heart, and the words became a mantra over the years. But just because I understood "writing is rewriting" didn't mean I automatically knew how to execute it.

During the second semester, we had a class dedicated to the subject, and were tasked with rewriting one of our scripts. With my new mantra in mind, I set out to dedicate myself to the rewrite. We had nine people in our class and everyone gave notes on every script. So that was eight people, eight different opinions, with about two-three notes each, bringing the total in somewhere between 16-24. So, what did I do? Eager and inexperienced, I implemented them all. The result, a 200 plus page script (your average movie is about 110) full of nonsense. If the script was a plate of food, it would've been spaghetti with ice cream and relish smothered turducken. Yummy. No?

After I submitted my script and realized my mistake, I vowed I would find a system that worked for me. In the end, and after years of writing, it came down to three ridiculously simple steps.

1. Receiving the Notes

There's a moment when you initially receive the feedback that your gut let's you know if a note feels right or wrong. Go with it. If it feels wrong, it probably is.
That said, don't confuse your hurt ego with your gut. Gut in writing, I feel, is just your subconscious story-logic, while the hurt ego manifests itself through anger or in unjustified refusal. Remember that there's a reason your reader feels the way they do.

If you're dealing with a inexperienced reader, I.e. not your agent, editor, or fellow writer, learn to decipher their message. Let's imagine your gum-chewing friend Lucy says, "I
would totally love it if the guy she likes was named Edward instead... and if he was a vampire."

Your initial thought is probably: Lucy, you suck.

But what Lucy said may actually have meant: "I didn't relate to the MC's love interest."

Voila. A note you can work with.

2.  Making the List

'Twas a very average and unspecial day, when I realized I was rewriting in a very hap hazardous, cluster f**k-y way. I'd start at the beginning and work my way through the notes as they came up. If your notes affect nothing but the page you're touching, this system works great. By the time you reach the end, pop the champagne, you're done. However, more often then not, one change sends a ripple effect through the manuscript. So, about 35, 000 K in you're not only dealing with the change coming up on the next pages, but you're simultaneously dealing with all the ripples from previous changes. The result isn't only a cluster f**k, but also something that overwhelms you and makes you feel like you'd rather stick something sharp in the eye than deal with it.

The day I wrote a precise list of changes, along with their ripples, and went through them note by note, my rewriting process from I hate my life to, Meh, this is not so bad. The simple action of numbering the notes, then crossing them off as they were implemented, made the process  ridiculously manageable. I, personally, don't even take them down in order; I just like number them so I can say: "Only number 6 and 9 left. Saucey."

This way, if you're having a particularly draining day (like the time I woke up to a teething baby, a dog with diarrhea, no toner, and a low-on-battery smoke detector going beep.....beep.....beep until I banged it loose with my Swifter) you might want to go with an easier note. If you wake up to the smell of coffee, yawning like a Disney princess, and birds tweeting on your window sill, it might be a good day to reel in that big sucker you've been dreading.

3. The Read

I didn't start doing this until my books came out on audio and I had a listen. Though Elizabeth Norton, who narrates the series, does an amazing job bringing the characters to life, all I could hear when listening were unnecessary words and repetitive sentences. So I started The Read.

No, I don't mean read your manuscript. I know you have, one million times. However, squinting at you computer's bright screen, while you read and fix, fix and read, isn't reading. Print your manuscript, once your think it's ready for the next set of eyes, then get cozy and read it, not like an author, but like a reader. I'll even read it out loud to myself, just to catch odd story
movements, certain adverbs, and other unnecessary words. This part of the process might be my favorite as it involves me, a couch, and a variety of snacks. It's my license to be lazy.

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.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017



Arthur Kerns

This is an excerpt from my West African travel journal, early June 2000.

June in the West African country of Guinea means rain, especially along the coast. The rain comes like a wall of water, with wind and black clouds that horizontally bend palm trees and snap the hardwoods. These storms are sudden, cling to the ground, and last longer than storms I’ve experienced in the United States. The streets flood and anyone not in a high riding four-wheel drive is at risk. It’s best to stay put and sit out the gale. Unfortunately, this may take a whole day. However, that doesn’t really matter; there’s not much to do here, even on a nice day.
I’m staying at the Hotel Camayenne in the capital city of Conakry. I asked a number of people, Americans and locals, what Camayenne means. I receive mixtures of puzzlement: why would I ask such a question, gee I would not have ever thought of asking that, but I’ll ask around and get back to you with the answer. Since Sabena Air owns the hotel, my Guinean friend suggested that it was the name of the corporate director’s wife. Later, I learned that it is name of the peninsula where we’re located.
The hotel is an island of civilization, very small, very vulnerable. Outside is the real Guinea. Across the street impoverished tradesmen, refugees from Sierra Leone and Liberia meander back and forth; hawking singsong fashion tribal masks, statues, and assorted gewgaws. There is an especially decrepit three-story apartment house across from the hotel that I must get a picture of. It encapsulates the town’s atmosphere: mold on the unpainted fa├žade, rusty railings, clothes hanging from broken windows, trash all about the balconies and grounds.

Last night, after a rain, my Guinean friend and I were smoking cigars by the hotel pool overlooking the steel gray ocean. The tide was high and there was a full pale lifeless moon. A moist salty breeze came in from the sea.
A young, thin man approached our table and I assumed he was taking drink orders. He wasn’t. He was a merchant, a trader in tribal masks, a refugee from Sierra Leone, who had conducted business with my friend a few days before. He had a mask in a bag that he selling; the same mask he tried to sell the day before to my friend, unsuccessfully. He was making another pitch in his Leonean English, not Guinean French.

My friend told him, no, he was still not going to purchase the mask. It was too large. It would not fit on his wall with the other masks. It was too expensive. He had inquired of other Sierra Leoneans, creoles, who knew masks who said that the price was too expensive for the quality. The young man countered, but it was his only mask, the only one in his personal inventory. He worked at a stall across from the hotel. This was to be a private deal, between the two of them. 
He continued, “It’s a good price.” He looked into the bag. I could not see the mask. My friend said, “It’s not a good price. It’s not a good quality mask. I don’t want it.”
The young man stared. “You will not give me the money?”
My friend shook his head. “No. We’re talking business now. You do not have a good mask.”

The young man was a soft-spoken fellow, with fine facial features. He had the sad eyes of a recent refugee from a bad place. “Why do you not give me the money,” he asked again. He was barely audible.

My friend sighed, and then proceeded to give him some business advice. The mask is not thin enough. The wood must be thin for a mask to be of value. The wood must be hard, hard wood that was dry before carving. The young man reached into the black bag and felt the unseen mask. He stared at a space in the air between my friend and me. 
“Do you remember the other day, when I was looking at your masks? I was feeling them. Running my hands, my fingers along the sides, feeling the carves, how deep they were, if the carved lines ended into points. None of the masks I felt were of good quality. I know good quality Sierra Leonean masks. I lived in Sierra Leone. I know. Your mask there,” he pointed to the bag, “is of lower quality.” 

The young man squirmed in the chair and spoke quickly and quietly, “This is a good quality.” 
“No, it’s not.”

A long pause. My cigar was good and burning even and cool. The damp breeze, now with the fetid smell of the tropics, made my shirt limp.

“Look,” my friend said. “You want to make a lot of money on this one mask. You want to sell it for 100K guineas, when it is worth only 25, maybe 30. It cost you how much?” 

No answer, except for some shoulder and arm movements. 

“It cost you 10K, right?” 

A big smile, “No. No.” 

“10K or maybe 15K guineas,” my friend continued. “So make a profit of 10K for this one, the sell five more masks, at this good price to the tourists. Sell more at less profit. That adds up. Don’t wait for one big sale that may never come. Sell a lot for a little profit for each one.” 

A long silence. He was staring in the air again. “You will give me the money, yes?” 

“No. I told you, I’m not giving you any money. This is business.”

As my cigar burned down, the exchange continued. The same words, the same business lesson offered, the same resistance. I never saw the mask that was never sold.

We were joined, uninvited, by the young man’s boss, the proprietor of the stall across the street. The new guy had energy, while the young man just sank back into his chair, holding the bag with the mask nobody wanted at any price.

The new guy starts with the buzzwords. “Knowledge is power. Power is life.” 

My friend knew him from the day before. “We’re talking business,” he says, then goes on to repeat the same theme given to the young man, who I doubt wanted to hear it again. After a few minutes, the new guy says, “You are a philosopher.” 

My friend says, “No, I talk business.” He then shifts the topic. “What are you wearing,” he asks the new guy. “Around your neck?” 

It is a large tooth-like brass pendant hanging from his neck on a brown leather string. The new guy says something about it being a totem from his village. My friend says, “Make those things, about five of them, to sell at about 10K a piece. Those Sabena airline flight attendants over there will buy them just like that.” He snaps his finger.

The new guy is speechless, and then mutters, “10K? We sell good masks for 100K.” 

“No,” my friend says, “You try to sell masks at 100K. You can sell many of those pendants to women and make a little on each one and make more money. Build a business.”

The new guy doesn’t like the drift of this conversation and heads back to pitching the masks. My friend, however, is unmovable. My cigar has gone out and I feel raindrops. It’s time to retire for the evening. My headache has come either from the malaria medicine or the conversation. I say goodnight to the three men, none who notice I’m leaving, and pass by the blonde Sabena hostesses. Those pendants would look good on them.
Back in my room with the screeching air-conditioner going full blast, I review the day’s events. Think I’ll leave out Guinean business practices in my daily report to Washington.

Arthur Kerns is a retired FBI supervisory special agent with a career in counterintelligence and counterterrorism. A past president of the Arizona chapter of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers, his award-winning short fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies. He is a book reviewer for the Washington Independent Review of Books. Diversion Books, Inc. NY, NY published his espionage thrillers, The Riviera Contract, The African Contract and The Yemen Contract.
See more in author’s website,