Thursday, October 26, 2017

Books That Captured The Imagination

In honor of National Book Month, I'd thought it would be fun to think back on the books that first sparked my imagination--the stories that pulled me in and remember the authors who bear some responsibility for my writing today. (God have mercy on their souls)

I've always been a reader. My taste and preferences may have shifted over the years, but I really can't recall a time when I wasn't reading something for pleasure. My college years were a low point because all the "boring required reading" took time away from "the good stuff." But, my first reading memories were back in junior high school, when I found science fiction.

Arthur C. Clarke, H.G Wells, Issac Asimov, and Ray Bradbury created entire worlds I could climb into, with fantastic creatures and futuristic machines that threatened to control all mankind. It was all pretty heady stuff for an adolescent geeky kid. War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Sands of Mars, I Robot, Fahrenheit 451, Something Wicked this Way Comes, and The Illustrated Man were standouts from those days.

These futuristic stories came to me during the peak of the Gemini and Apollo space programs. (Ask your parents if this reference pre-dates you) Watching real-life manned space flights and witnessing man's first steps on the moon made the outer space stories feel less science fiction and more science fact. I was hooked.

Soon after, I included classic horror into my reading addiction. I can say it was an addiction, even in those early days, because I remember grabbing a book and getting lost in it during any free time I had. I knew I was helpless over my addiction when I was waiting for the bus after school. I was deep into Bram Stoker's Dracula and at some dramatic point in the book, the school bells sounded, and I jumped and slid off the wall I was sitting on. Stoker, Shelly, and Poe were a gateway drug to Jay Anson, Thomas Harris, Ann Rice, and Stephen King.

I still dive into horror and fantasy on occasion, but at some point, mainstream fiction became my primary reading preference. It started with Ian Flemming and the James Bond adventures. What kid doesn't imagine playing that role? Supplemented with Ken Follett's Eye of the Needle, Fredrick Forsyth's Day of the Jackal, my reading list was filled with fast-paced, high-stakes adventures in exotic locations.

I'm not sure when I turned to crime--I mean--turned to reading crime fiction. I remember reading Micky Spillane and Raymond Chandler when something resonated, deep in my brain. The free-wheeling private investigator, the guy who tracked down a Maltese Falcon, or got justice for the little guy, was a man you could count on to do the right thing, no matter the personal sacrifice. Elmore Leonard's dialogue blew me away,  Walter Mosley's gritty urban basement clubs and after hours dive bars explored post-war race relations as Easy Rawlins searched for a missing woman. Although, more recently, Danny Gardner's Negro and an Ofay blew the doors off urban-noir and took it to a higher level. Check that one out when you get a chance.

I worked in the California prison system for nearly three decades. The stories there propelled me into the true crime and procedural genre titles. In Cold Blood, The Black Dahlia, Helter Skelter, and the Onion Field gave a backstory to the day-to-day prison drama I saw. The Onion Field Killer and the Hillside Strangler were on my caseload for a time and these books provided a peek into another dimension of the convicts I saw on the prison yard. Additional clues into what made them "tick."

Procedurals with a tight edge remain my drug of choice. Jeffery Deaver, Michael Connelly, Dennis Lehane, couldn't write fast enough, so I decided to start writing my own. I attended a session at a Mystery Writers Conference and Michael Connelly's advice was simply, "Write the books you'd want to read." And three published books in, I'm having a blast. I haven't stopped reading, now that I'm writing. I'm probably reading even more than ever. There are more new faces; debut authors, incredibly brilliant women writers, and persons of color in the crime writing world, and it makes it a better, richer place. I love nothing more than picking up a new book and getting caught up in a fresh character and unique plot.  I'm enjoying the work of some really sharp, talented writers, and I'm glad to be a part of this community. And it's a great time to be a reader.

How about you? What books have been an influence on you?  Happy reading!

James L'Etoile has twenty-nine years of law enforcement experience in prisons and jails across the country. An experienced associate warden in a maximum security prison, chief of institution operations, hostage negotiator, and director of parole, James is the author of At What Cost, Bury the Past and Little River. You can find out more at

Monday, October 23, 2017

Lessons of Revenge Writing

Revenge writing, it's a thing.
Not quite as gross and well known as revenge porn, or going Carrie Underwood on someone's car, but I promise, it's a thing. Ask the Swift.

I revenge write from time to time. Hell, I've even revenge written for other people (see Sacrificing Sapphire, out on December 12.) As a writer I work things out consciously or subconsciously through my writing, and revenge writing, I suppose is a part of that. It's seems, to me at least, like a very healthy way of dealing with issues that would otherwise have remained unresolved. And, since it's just storytelling, revenge writing, isn't something that ever comes back to bite you in the ass. By all means, it's absolutely bulletproof.

Or so I thought...

The first time I found myself revenge plotting (I always revenge plot before I revenge write, otherwise it leads to too much revenge editing) I had been in a long-running argument with my husband about...actually, to properly tell this tale of love and hate--mostly hate--I have to take you back to its beginnings.


I was studying Screenwriting in Los Angeles at the time, and was involuntarily crushing on a guy in my class. It was involuntary because the last thing I wanted at that time was to be distracted by anything unrelated to writing. Nonetheless, I was crushing hard. So hard that I was too mesmerized by his charming smile and bright blue eyes to notice what was on the black T-shirt he wore every once in a while.


I was now married to my crush, and though I was still mesmerized by his charming smile and bright blue eyes, I'd become well aware of what that black T-shirt, with the bold white letters, stated:
I don't take shit. I don't give shit. I'm not in the shit business. 

Not that bad, right? The slogan moderately annoyed me, but it could've been worse; he could've owned one of those FBI - Female Body Inspector shirts.
But the more he wore this shirt, the more it annoyed me. He wore it like it was any other shirt--to the movies, the grocery store, and once to a fairly nice restaurant in Beverly Hills. I'm generally not one who cares that much about how one should look, act, and speak, but this shirt was starting to rub me the wrong way. Every time he put it on I started feeling as if the shirt, along with its now majorly annoying slogan, initiated a Eastwood-like stare down, while singing I'm ba-aaack.
Over the coming years, my relationship with the T-shirt went from dislike, to detest, to hate. And my husband really couldn't see what my problem was.

2009 (maybe..?)

I was in the middle of my initial bout with writing my first novel, Stalking Sapphire, in which the male MC, Aston, starts out in the series as an assh**e. As I sat there typing away, the thought struck me and my fingers froze momentarily over the keyboard. What would an asshole wear, if not THE T-shirt hanging in the closet at that very moment, silently mocking me.
I saw it all play out in my mind's eye. It was top-shelf vengeance. I would write the novel, and one day so many people would read it that when my husband and I walked down the street, readers would stop me and say: "Gosh, that really was one terrible T-shirt in chapter 6."
After which my husband, who may be the most stubborn person on earth, would look at me and say, "Yes. I can see now. It is the second worst T-shirt (the first being the FBI one) since the history of T-shirts. Let's BURN it." 

Yes! I thought and smiled, that was exactly how it would happen. And then I typed.


The T-shirt in question mysteriously (eh...) vanished while I was doing laundry.


Stalking Sapphire got published earlier that year, and had just been put up on Wattpad because its sequel was coming out. For those who don't know, Wattpad=online Mecca for readers and writers. After a few months on there, and right around the time Stalking Sapphire reached a million reads, I decided to shut off my comment notifications to save my email inbox from filling up.

Present Day (-ish.)

A couple weeks ago, I went into Wattpad to check on something and ended up at the beginning of chapter 6 of Stalking Sapphire. That's when I saw them, the amount of comments that had been filling up over the past four years, all centered around this dialogue cluster.

My fantasy had (kind of) come true. I was Thrilled! Ecstatic!  People hated the shirt just as much as I did. Practically radiating with gloat, I clicked on the comment bubble and waited as the page loaded, the way Ralphie waited for the secret code to be revealed in A Christmas Story. The moment the comments appeared I would run up to my husband while pointing and yelling: "See! Seeeeeeee!"
After which he would immediately admit that yes, it was a terrible shirt, and it was a good thing it mysteriously (eh...) vanished in the laundry.
As the comments appeared on my screen, my victorious grin tapered off. The longer I scrolled, the further the corners of my mouth dropped, until finally, I looked like the saddest of all emojjis.
Here are just a few of the comments I saw:

They all loved it. My husband's shirt had not gotten a single negative comment. What else was I wrong about, I wondered. Did red and pink not really clash? Was the ending of Dexter not actually terrible? My way of viewing the world could be completely upside down.

"Oh my God," I said, baffled.

"What?" my husband asked.

"You win..." I said, in shock. "They love your T-shirt. I don't know why, but they love it."

He squinted. "What T-shirt?"

"Come on, the T-shirt. The one that mysteriously (eh...) vanished  in the laundry a few years ago."

No response.

"The one that I hated so much that I wrote about it in my book..."

Still nothing.

"The one that said 'I don't take shit, I don't give shit, I'm not in the shit business!'"

"Haha! Right...hilarious," he laughed, then his eyes grew wide with excitement, and he reached for his phone. "I wonder if I can find it again!"


So...lesson learned. Will now proceed with revenge writing more cautiously as it appears not all of it is as bulletproof as I once thought. It seems it may actually come back to bite you in the ass after all...even if it's a decade later.

Mia Thompson is a Swedish-born author living in California with her husband, daughter, and dog, Oreo. She is known for her internationally bestselling series, featuring heiress and vigilante: Sapphire Dubois. Prior to her life as a novelist, Mia studied Filmmaking in Europe, and Screenwriting in Los Angeles.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

The First Book I Ever Loved

I still have it, a tattered paperback copy of the first book I really loved, Alistair MacLean's Fear is the Key. I was ten or eleven at the time, traveling with my parents, bored out of my mind, looking for something to eat. It was in my mother's handbag; I grabbed it along with an apple, and leaned back against the headboard of the bed in the economy hotel we were staying in. 

Next thing you know it's early the next morning, and I haven't moved. I remember my mom getting up to use the bathroom and yelling at me to go to bed. I ignored her.  It wasn't really a conscious decision, I was just absorbed in that book. Really absorbed: by MacLean's stylistic writing, by the smart dialogue which still sticks in my head forty years later, and by the twisting story which unfolded one little piece at a time, just enough to make you even more curious about what was happening and why. When I went to sleep a few hours later, I had received my first lesson in how a good book can transform your life. It's a lesson that's stayed with me, and one that I have re-learned time and time again.

A good book can be transformative; it can change the way you look at the world, inspire you to do new and better things, bring you to a new place, make you forget. In this case, Fear is the Key did all of those things. It made me forget about where I was (Motel 6 somewhere on the Mass Pike), and brought me to the sweltering environs of the Florida Gulf Coast. More than that, it inspired me to read prodigiously and dream about writing my own books. 

October is National Book Month, and rather than just hope some ten or eleven year-old kid somewhere is going to put down a video game and pick up a book, I thought I would share my experience. Who knows where I would be without Fear is the Key on a drizzly spring night in Palmer, Massachusetts. Reading did so much for me: opened new worlds, entertained me, educated me, and built my imagination. 

There are so many good books out there; they just need to be opened. I truly believe that the answer to so many of the problems facing our society today could be eliminated or mitigated to a significant extent by a return to books. If people flocked to libraries and book stores as often as stadiums and ball fields, think about the effect on every facet of our lives.

I wish I had some great idea to bring this about. I don't; in lieu of that, here are a couple of links to articles that do: 7 Ways to Encourage Young People to Read More and 10 Reasons Non-readers Don't Read--And How to Change their Minds.

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