Sunday, December 8, 2019

Lost Excerpts from The Yemen Contract

Arthur Kerns

All writers lament how publishers cut sections and scenes from their manuscript, prose you are positive was just fantastic. Ah, those lost darlings. In The Yemen Contract, a spy thriller featuring CIA operative Hayden Stone and his friend Contessa Lucinda, I wrote a few scenes describing the country of Eritrea, a fascinating country on the Red Sea across from Yemen and Saudi Arabia. It is not on everyone’s vacation bucket list so I wanted to let my reader know I saw and experienced. My editor did not think these scenes moved the story and were cut. So here they are out of the dustbin. 

Contessa Lucinda and Hayden Stone ambled along the tidy streets of the capitol city, Asmara, stopping now and then to look into shops to examine the foods, clothes, jewelry, and curios. Lucinda’s bodyguard, Marcello, maintained a discreet distance. One shop along Liberty Avenue sold crude ivory carvings, which so soured Stone he barged out and stood on the sidewalk, watching the people pass by, most offering polite smiles. A few minutes later, Lucinda came out and leaned against him.
 He fumed. “I get pissed when I see ivory taken from a butchered elephant only to end up a piece of crap in a tourist shop.” 
 “What’s really wrong with you?”
 “The stitches in my leg are bothering me. Maybe we can take a car.”
 Lucinda patted him on the arm and then went over to Marcello. When she returned, she said she told Marcello they were taking a cab. He could follow if he thought it necessary. “Meanwhile, my dear, I will assume the role of architectural guide.”
  Stone arranged with the driver for an hour's ride around the city, which Stone had come to admire. An old Africa hand, this was one country where he needn’t keep his guard up. The people here were neat, looked you in the eye with dignity, and weren’t reluctant to offer a handshake. 
 Lucinda impressed him with her knowledge of the architectural schools of Art Deco, Cubist, and Futurist. “Rationalism was Mussolini’s favorite,” she said. “A group of architects led it in the thirties from Milan called Gruppo Seven. One of my cousins belonged to it.”
 Stone touched her arm. “Let’s see if we can get out of this bird watching trip up country tomorrow. Maybe hang around Asmara until I go back to Yemen.”
 “Patience told me that Ambassador Bunting wants to get you alone and discuss some things.” She smiled. “Besides, it will be fun. We will see something new . . . and learn a few things.”

The road became winding and rough. They passed scatterings of tidy villages with one-story house fronts painted in pale blues, others in aquamarine. Some were painted beige and had doors and shutters a dark shade of blue. Here and there were remnants of the war with Ethiopia, burned-out tanks, and rusting trucks.
 They reached the top of an escarpment and the embassy driver pulled to the side of the road. The fertile landscape below was a marked change from the arid country they had left behind. The deep canyon was terraced along both sides. Farmland lay on the floor of the gorge. 

The driver eased them down the switchbacks onto the valley below. Eventually, they saw their destination. In the distance, on a rise above cultivated fields, a collection of white buildings sat among tall trees. The settlement turned out to be not an active monastery, but a state-owned farm, built in the nineteen-thirties by an Italian settler. 
 The farm had a church with a tall steeple, holding a bronzed-colored bell. “I guess that’s where someone got the idea this was a monastery,” Stone said.
 “I have a feeling it was at one time,” Lucinda said. “The government probably wants to avoid controversy by not admitting they took over a religious building.”
 When the two were shown their rooms, Stone laughed, “Now I believe you. This was definitely a religious building. This room reminds me of a monk’s cell.”
 The accommodations were spotless and very ascetic: pale green walls, two single iron-framed beds with thin grey blankets. The shower in the corner comprised a showerhead and a hole in the floor. No curtain. 
 Stone stared at the two small beds. “How many nights are we staying here, dear?”
 “Hayden, consider this a religious experience.”
 After a dinner of pasta noodles floating in a watery acidic tomato sauce, yougurt, and a leaf salad no one touched, the four walked the grounds. They met few people, only birds singing at dusk. 
 Stone remarked, “I wonder how the facility can be kept in such good condition with so few people. Look, they prune the citrus trees, the bougainvillea trimmed, the grass is cut.”
 “They probably do the work during the week and have weekends off,” Ambassador Bunting said. “Then again, many of the young men are off at the Ethiopian front.”
 “It is so peaceful here,” Patience said. “Hard to imagine war could erupt at any moment.”
 Stone thought about the ruined Russian T-34 tanks, along with other damaged military vehicles they’d seen on the road on their way to the farm. “These interludes of peace are a blessing.” He thought about the day’s birding in the valley. “Good that we had a guide today to steer us away from the minefields.” 
 At Stone’s words the others became quiet. Lucinda gave him a gentle kiss on the cheek.

 The next morning being Sunday, Stone asked at breakfast if mass would be held in the church. The kitchen staff, while offering only fresh bread and an orange drink called Fanta, informed him that they held church services only on Christmas and Easter. 
 Afterward, he and Lucinda found the church door open and entered, going into the bright white painted interior decorated with Coptic images and carvings.
 “My father would have felt at home here,” Lucinda mused. “He was Egyptian and a practicing Copt before he married my Italian mother.”
 Stone went to the votive candle stand and lit two candles. One for his family; the other for his ancestors.
 “Hayden, I never saw you do that before.” She took the burning wick from Stone and with her delicate hand lit two of her own candles. As they walked back to their room to pack for the return to Asmara, she put her arm through his and held on tight. “You continually surprise me. You are a very complicated man.”

Arthur Kerns joined the FBI with a career in counterintelligence and counterterrorism. On retirement, he became a consultant with the Intelligence Community and the Department of State, which took him to over sixty-five countries. His short stories have appeared in a number of award-winning anthologies, recently in the Sisters in Crime, So West: Lady Killers. Diversion Books, Inc published his Hayden Stone thriller series, first, The Riviera Contract, and followed by The African Contract and The Yemen Contract. Early next year his new thriller, Days of the HuntersMurder, Mystery, and Romance in Tuscany will be published.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Pumpkin Belongs in Pie. Period.

Pumpkin belongs in Pie. Period. (And maybe bisque, especially if it's finished with sherry.) But there should be no Pumpkin flavoring in bagels, coffee, vodka (really?), tortilla chips and beer. Pumpkin flavored Pringles (no, I do not jest) are an abomination against natural law. Allow me to illustrate what happens when the epidemic of flavoring everything with pumpkin gets out of control:

I was in a hurry, trying to get a cup of coffee at the airport before my flight boarded. The line seemed pretty short at Starbucks, so I decided to brave it. And things started well--although I should have known that the lady in front of me carrying her dog was going to be a problem.

"How are you today?" the dog lady asked.

No answer from the barista, just a harried smirk.

"You got any specials today?"

The barista indicated the chalkboard, where a Pumpkin Spice Latte was featured. 

"Pumpkin Spice, eh? What does it taste like?"

(Editors Note: In the background of the security camera footage, I can be seen stuffing my neck pillow in my mouth.)

"Would you like to try a sample?"

"What do you think, Mary Alice?" This to her traveling companion, who is also carrying a dog in a small crate. "Should we try it?"

"I don't know, Mabel, do you think it's real pumpkin? You know how those imitation flavors don't agree with me?"

"Is it real pumpkin, miss? My sister gets really gassy if she eats anything artificial."

I glanced at my watch: boarding had started (and I am really hoping Mary Alice is going to foul the air on someone else's flight.) I try to sneak a peak at her boarding pass, but the large package of organic dog treats obscures the view.

"No, it's not real pumpkin ma'am. Is there something else you would like to try?"

"Ah, shucks, I kinda had my heart set on Pumpkin Spice."

"Maybe we should try it, Mabel. I brought some air freshener just in case my intestines started acting up."

Mabel turns to face her sister, and the boarding pass swings into my view. To my horror, they are on #369--my flight.

"Ok, what the heck. You only live once. One small pumpkin spice latte."

"Is that hot or iced?"

"Iced? Who in tarnation wants to have iced coffee?"

"Not so fast, Mabel! Maybe iced coffee is easier on the intestines?"

Mary Alice relays this question to the barista, who shrugs. A TSA agent gets into the back of the line, and I am hopeful the twins will be confused for a pair of terrorists. (It's even possible they really are terrorists--how do I know the matching toy poodles aren't filled with Semtex?) 

"Well, Mary Alice? Whadaya think? We can't take all day. I've got to take Peaches to the ladies room before we board."

"Is there a cost difference?"

"They are both 4.25$."

"4.25? For a cup of coffee? Are you out of your mind?"

The barista shook her head; no, she was not out of her mind. (Editor's note: I am now out of my mind, and am doubly glad that TSA regulations prevent the carrying of sharp objects.)

"You got anything cheaper than that?"

"A small cup of coffee is two dollars."

"But there's no pumpkin in it? Right?"

"That's correct. No pumpkin in the regular coffee."

Sadly, I couldn't stay for the ensuing discussion, because Peaches wasn't the only one who needed to go to the bathroom before boarding. There was a line to use the bathroom and I just barely made my flight, ducking inside the gate right behind--you guessed it--Mabel and Mary Alice and Peaches just before the gate was closed.

Out of sheer morbid curiosity, I considered asking them if they had gone with the pumpkin spiced coffee, but I didn't have to bother. Mary Alice had been dead on about the effect of artificial flavors on her intestines, and she evidently didn't have the air freshener handy.

If this true story (Ok, it's embellished, but still true) doesn't make my point, nothing will. I am calling for a ban on all pumpkin spice before Pumpkin Spice toothpaste appears. Ooooppppsss, it's too late:

Rant over. 
Cheers, p 

Peter Hogenkamp is a practicing physician, public speaker and author living in Rutland, Vermont. Peter's writing credits include The Intern, coming in 2019 from TouchPoint Press; ABSOLUTION, the first book of The Jesuit thriller series, which was a finalist for the 2019 Killer Nashville Claymore award; 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. Peter is the creator, producer and host of Your Health Matters, a health information program, which airs on cable television, streams on YouTube and sounds off on podcast. 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

Thursday, June 13, 2019



Arthur Kerns

A long time ago, in a world far, far away, Memorial Day used to be called Decoration Day, the day when one would decorate monuments and gravesites with flags and flowers. It was customary that on that day my family would pile into the old 1938 Ford convertible, top down on a sunny day, and head for Holy Cross Cemetery. The expansive burial ground located in Lansdowne, Pennsylvania was only twenty minutes from our home in Darby. It was an important family ritual. We would dress in our Sunday best—even if it wasn’t Sunday—and drive off in the morning to visit the family plots. Donuts, a thermos of coffee, and a soda or two would be brought along in an old wicker basket.

At the cemetery, the grass and trees, which now had lost their dull winter brown, shimmered green. Dad would park the car in the vicinity of the family plots and we all would disembark and start reading the tombstones to get our bearings. Pretty soon, after a few disagreements about where we were, we’d find the headstones for his family, my mother’s family, and other assorted relatives, whom I knew only through family stories. Warm springtime air prompted us to wander from one family grave to another scattered throughout the cemetery.

At last, after the placing of flowers and flags on the many burial sites, we’d sit under a tree and have those donuts that I’d been thinking about since we had left home. Being the only child in the group, and living in an age when children were, “to be seen and not heard,” I remained silent and listened to family stories, some of which I had heard before with slight variations, and then some new tales. Soon, the cemetery bustled with the voices of other visitors, arriving, parking their cars, and walking along the narrow macadam lanes. The family then murmured about it being time to leave.

I have one great memory and it is a very early one. I remember the day being brilliant, the air fresh and smelling good, the tombstones bright white, and me running along the pavement, calling up to my father. He looked down and gave me a warm smile and said something that made me feel good. I took his left hand and as we walked along together for a few minutes, I felt overcome with a river of joy and love. It felt like flying. That memory has lasted to this day.

Some years later, my mother showed me a black and white photograph of my father and me walking in Holy Cross Cemetery. My father, looking dapper, wore a fedora slightly tilted and was dressed smartly in coat and tie. I wore white shorts and a white collared shirt. We both looked happy. The date on the photo indicated I was one month shy of my third birthday.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Why I Write: Writing and Self-Discovery

I had just settled into my seat when she sat down, the same lady who had next to me on the same flight exactly 1 year ago. It had to be her; the pince nez glasses, the narrow, pinched face, the slightly blue tint to her tight perm. I grabbed desperately at the in-flight magazine to shield my face, but it was too late. She recognized me.

"You, eh..."

Her tone implied I had stolen her recipe for homemade ginger snaps, tromped on her parent's grave or kidnapped her favorite cat.

"Yes, it's me."

She slid into the open seat next to me, despositing the world's largest purse on the floor in front of me.

"You don't mind, do you?"

I minded, but my head shook of it's volition and she patted me on the shoulder.

"I just don't like anything near my feet... in case we have to make an emergency landing." (But it was okay with her if get tangled up and burned in the wreckage.) "You're the writer, aren't you."

With no other recourse, I nodded, confirming it. Her lips curdled into a sneer. "The unpublished one."

This was it, my moment of triumph. After years of going unpublished (and generally unnoticed) I had received several offers for publication, and my most recent novel (The Intern, TouchPoint Press) was soon to be in print (Summer/Fall 2019.) But she didn't even give me a chance.

"I thought I told you to do something else."

She had, of course; I refer you to my blog of last year documenting the conversation.  Why I Write; Part 1. I shrugged.

"You're just gonna have to face facts... It's not happening."

I suppose I could have interjected here, but I could see she was revving herself up for a diatribe.

"Evvvvery one think they're a writer. Evvvveryone has a story to tell."

She twirled her alabaster index fingers around and mouthed, WhhhhuuuupppppyyyyttttyyyyDooooo.

"For heaven's sake, even my friend Mabel is writing a book."

She turned to fix me in her stare, using her index finger to push her glasses back up her nose.
"Mabel, of all people."

Now, sometimes having a memory for details is a good thing, and sometimes it isn't, because she had told me last year that her friend Mable liked to read erotica, and I had spent the better part of the year trying--unsuccessfully--to purge the image of Mable reading 50 Shades of Grey from my cerebral files.


She nodded emphatically; the glasses slid very close to the end of her long, angular nose, where they came to rest on a small mole with three white hairs sticking out of it.

"Of course, and do you know what?"

I did not know what. I did not want to know what.

"She asked me to read it over."

"Did you?"

"What was I going to do? Mabel and I go way back."

This was a conundrum. My first instinct was to change the subject, to something more pleasant, like ogres eating puppies or 12-year-old bourbon being poured down the drain, but I was possessed of a morbid curiousity I coundn't exorcise.


"It was alright, but I think she went a bit too far with that scene with the foursome in the elevator."

I was taking the stairs from now on. My hand lunged for the roll of TUMS in my pocket.

"Anyway, I wish Mabel would go back to Canasta... I haven't used that many Nitro pills since my husband died."

She lapsed into silence and I almost told her about my book, almost... In the end, I decided to keep quiet, surprising even myself. You'd think that after spending fifteen years writing and trying to get published, I'd want to celebrate finally getting to the finish line. But that's not why I write.

I've said this before, but I'll say it again, because--now that I have a book coming out--it's no longer a rhetorical question. I write because I am convinced there is great value in writing (which isn't to stay I am not going to enjoy being published.) I already am, and I look forward to getting a box of galleys in the mail and reading reviews on line and watching my sales figures on Amazon. But those things are bonuses.

I believe there is value in writing, in the struggle to express oneself. I am always amazed at how much I learn about myself when I write. In the process of revising The Intern, I realized what I had been trying to write about when I started the book a few years earlier. The Intern is the story of a young doctor struggling to make it through her first year of residency at an inner-city hospital in Spanish Harlem, and the relationship she develops with a twelve-year-old boy dying of cancer, but that isn't the driving force behind the book. The Intern is really about the transformational power of love and it's ability to bring about meaning and happiness in life.

I have to say I was a little surprised when the theme of the book dawned on me; I guess I had never thought about it that much, but there it was, literally in black and white. And then I thought about many of the books that have made the biggest impression on me and I realized they were thematically similar. But only in the writing and revising of The Intern was I able to see that, to realize the importance of this theme in my life. That's what I mean when I say that writing leads to self-discovery, to understanding your true self. And that's why I think everyone should write. What could be more important than learning who you really are, what actually makes you tick? And it's free, all you need is a keyboard, or a pencil and paper (which is how I started, only switching after a hundred pages of script ended up in my sister-in-law's pool.)

That's enough from me, because there is something else I've learned from writing; No one wants to hear me keep droning on and on, on paper or in speaking. Besides, my friend next to me has fallen asleep and I want to use the time to do some editing, BECAUSE I HAVE A BOOK COMING OUT!

Cheers, peter

Peter Hogenkamp is a practicing physician, public speaker and author living in Rutland, Vermont. Peter's writing credits include The Intern, coming in 2019 from TouchPoint Press; 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