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 "The unpublished one."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 After years of going unpublished (and generally unnoticed) I had received several offers for publication, and my most recent novel (The Intern, TouchPoint Press) was soon to be in print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 peter@peterhogenkamp.com or through his literary agent (Liz Kracht of Kimberely Cameron & Associates) at liz@kimberleycameron.com.


Gillian said...

Sounds as though summer will have all, or most, of your patients reading your book?
Are you planning to give them, or sell them a copy at their appointment? Please save me a copy for my June appointment.

Peter Hogenkamp said...

Absloutely, I will!