Sunday, April 26, 2015

150 Years Ago...Part II

In my last post I wrote about the national tragedy that was the loss of Abraham Lincoln (150 Years Ago – PartI). For our country, this single event was one of the largest tipping points contained in our history—an event so enormous that it resonates still today, shaping the very fabric of our society. This is exactly why I find tipping points so fascinating (For more on what I mean by the term see my much earlier post—Tipping Points). There’s something compelling about a moment in time that changes the world we all know.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

150 Years Ago...Part I

On April 15th, 1865—150 years ago—America lost our president to assassination. The nation was just beginning to exit the most costly war in American history, with over 600,000 soldiers killed and an untold number of civilians. The destruction of the nation, especially the southern states of the Confederacy, was incomparable to anything seen before. And yet, through the despair, there were glimmers of the hope to come—the Emancipation Proclamation, the 13th amendment to the Constitution, and a leader who plotted the direction in the uncertain times ahead. “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds…”

In one of the great injustices in American history, the man who guided our nation would not live to see those wounds bound up. It is little consolation, though important to note, that we would be an entirely different country, a different people, without him. Even today, President Lincoln is still trapped in our national consciousness—a figure and a story that provides endless fascination. As we approach the 150th anniversary of his passing, a new crop of books attempts to make sense of his story, his impact on the nation, and ultimately why he perished in sacrifice to our people.

Monday, April 20, 2015

How Close are You to Landing An Agent?

(Blog #2 of 5 Blogs to Agented!)

I have been there, trust me. I have gotten the promising e-mails, I have done the waiting, I have gotten my hopes up, I have revised and resubmitted, I have waited more.... Sometimes it's hard to say where you are in the process (As they say in Vermont, Hard Saying, not knowing...) but there ways to tell you are getting closer to landing a literary agent...

#1: We have all read the kabitzing on various Internet threads and blogs, the 'all I ever get is form rejections' talk. And there is a lot of truth to these comments: When you are not close to getting a literary agent, what you will get in response to your query letter is form rejections and--even worse--the dreaded no-reply. Take this as a sign: Your query isn't piquing anyone's interest. The first sign you are getting closer to finding an agent is getting submission requests. But keep something in mind: getting few requests doesn't mean your manuscript isn't good; it is an indictment of your query letter--revise it. A good query letter is worth ten times its weight in gold, and is very unlikely to be the product of your first attempt at writing it. Here is the link to a fantastic resource on Writing A Query Letter.

#2: After careful revision, your query letter has landed you several submission requests--and raised your expectations greatly. This is where it gets tricky, because the response you get--or don't get--reflects what the agent thinks of your manuscript. Keep something in mind: an agent will request a hundred manuscripts (and sometimes many more than that) for every one she ends up signing. Hearing nothing back (and yes I got plenty of No Responses back at this level) means you are not close; getting form rejections means you are not close. If, however, you get any personalized response, feedback of any kind, this means you are getting close. Agents are busy people, very busy people: If one takes the time to give you feedback, it means your manuscript has real potential. Listen to the feedback; don't get defensive. Listen and Revise.

#3 Even better than personalized feedback is getting a Revise and Resubmit request. In this case, the agent is giving you specific guidelines along which to revise your ms and asking you to send the revised manuscript back to her when you are done. This means she has spent a significant amount of time on your work, and it indicates a high level of interest. But keep two things in mind: don't resubmit until you have done the revisions in earnest, and don't count your chickens before the eggs have hatched--she may not like the revisions, or she may have lost interest in the project for a variety of reasons, including signing something similar in the interim (it happens, trust me.) 

#4  The phone call. Quite obviously, a phone call from an agent indicates a high level of interest, but the converse of this is the point I am making here: It is unlikely you are going to get an offer without getting a phone call first. The other point I would make is: Getting a call is not a sure sign you will be getting an offer, it is just one of the steps you take along the way to a contract. Phone calls are great signs for three reasons: one, they are unusual in a business done primarily with e-mails; two, they are time consuming in a business where time is a precious commodity; three, they raise expectations in a business where expectation management is taken very seriously. If you get a phone call, you are getting very, very close. Here is a hint on taking the call: be yourself, relax (easy to say) and let the agent do most of the talking. I was very nervous the first time I spoke with an agent on the phone, and I made a mess of it (and didn't get an offer from her.) Be who you are! And let's hope the whole process culminates in a:

And enjoy signing the contract. Use your favorite pen, play Chariots of Fire on your stereo, eat dark chocolate, drink a martini. You've earned it. Congratulations.

I hope you found that helpful, and please contact me if you have any question on the process. I am always happy to help someone in his or her quest to land an agent. In case you missed Blog#1 of the 5 part series, here it is: How to Find An Agent (Without Duct Tape.) And good luck! Cheers. 

Peter Hogenkamp is a 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 serialized novel based loosely on Peter's internship, published bi-weekly 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 Prose&Cons; a frequent contributor and reviewer at ReadWave; the founder and moderator of groups on Facebook (The Library), Google+ (Fiction Writers Anonymous); and a Beta-reader at StoryShelter. Peter tweets--against the wishes of his wife and four children--at @phogenkampvt and @theprosecons. He can be reached at or through his literary agent (Liz Kracht of Kimberely Cameron & Associates) at


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Conquering the Cliche

Whether a plotter or a pantser, a novice or a pro,  every writer will eventually do the same exact thing—and that's stare at the screen, fingers poised over keyboard, planning a character's next move.
How you handle your character's next move will set you apart from the rest of the writing masses.

Genre matters not; length matters not. What matters is whether or not that next move is a cliché.

A cliché is any expression, idea, or element that has been overused to the point of losing its original intent or effect. There are the obvious clichés, namely those turns of phrase that get used over and over (whoops, that was cliché). They are comparisons and references and descriptions that are so overused that they render the very language empty and boring.

While clichés are most often recognized as those annoying catch phrases, they can also relate to larger things like character and dialog and plot. Clichés are wicked little buggers that weaken our
writing and writers should do their best to find them—and fix them.

Do The Unexpected
Clichés are often found hiding in plain sight (another cliché) whenever we let our characters act naturally—and these are the clichés that doom us to failure (probably cliché).

By acting naturally, I refer to the character doing what feels perfectly natural to us. I like to call it "First Response Syndrome", an unhealthy story condition wherein the character acts upon his/her first—and therefore natural—response to a situation or stimulus.

When a character does exactly what we expect them to do, remember this—every other reader on the planet (cliché) is expecting them to do it, too. And that's kinda boring.

Say your character is waiting for a bus that doesn't seem to be slowing down for her stop.

• The natural response is to let her wait safely on the curb so she doesn't get flattened.
• The unexpected action would be if the woman takes off her shoe and throws it at the bus, cracking the windshield. That's more interesting.
• More interesting, still, would be if the character jumped into the middle of the street and made the bus driver slam on the brakes (technically a cliché but you know what I mean).

Do the unexpected.

Of course, there's a difference between unexpected and ridiculous. You wouldn't have an arthritic ninety-year old grandma jump into the street to stop traffic. (Unless, of course, we only thought she was a ninety-year old grandma but was instead an escaped acrobat who's on the lam (cliché) and wearing a disguise. That is so not cliché.),

But, as I said—ridiculous is not a good thing and you don't want to pull the reader out of the story. You just want to keep them on the edge of their seat (cliché).

Actions aren't the only things that can be cliché in this fashion. Dialog can be cliché, too, even when it doesn't contain any overused expressions. Any character who says what we expect them to say suffers from First Response Syndrome and is in dire need (cliché) of a rewrite. Don't allow your teen protagonist to be a carbon-copy (cliché) of every other teen you know. Forbid your villain the pleasure of twisting his mustache and howling his favorite mu-hahaha laugh (no matter how cool it sounds, it's cliché.)

Breaking The Habit
It takes effort to break a bad habit (cliché) like writing in cliché. However, the story will reap the rewards (cliché) if you can train yourself to spot them and fix them by doing the unexpected.

For instance, doing the unexpected may cause your character to come to a realization about themselves or someone else. An unexpected response may lead to heightened emotions. An unexpected response may tell the reader something about a character's makeup that would otherwise take pages of description—in short, an unexpected response would show a quality that the writer might otherwise be compelled to tell.

Try this exercise: select a portion of your manuscript and print it out. Using a highlighter, mark everything that seems it might be cliché—look for those expressions that are done to death (cliché), scour your dialog for trite or dull responses, and mark off every reaction to a stimulus.

Then, evaluate each instance of highlighted text. Think of a different way to write over those overused phrases. Add color to dialog using emotion and fresh language. Make your character do the exact opposite of their original response.

Do any of the rewrites heighten tension? Make the character seem more interesting? Take the story in a new direction? If it's more interesting to you as the writer, it's going to be more interesting to the reader, as well.

What a lot of us fail to realize is that sometimes our stories get rejected not because our writing is bad but because our work is clichéd. Good isn't acceptable anymore—our work has to be great.

Our characters need dialog that is fresh and original and our characters have to be ready to do the unexpected. Thinking past the first response will add an element of surprise and excitement to your work—and a reader who has to keep reading to find out what happens next is the reader that stayed hooked.

A hooked reader—that's not a cliché... because that never gets old.

Ash Krafton is a speculative fiction writer who, despite having a Time Turner under her couch and three different sonic screwdrivers in her purse, still encounters difficulty with time management. Visit Ash at for news on her upcoming June 2015 release: THE HEARTBEAT THIEF by AJ Krafton is a New Adult dark fantasy that blends Jane Austen and Edgar Allan Poe in an endless dance of death and devotion. Ash is also a contributing editor at the QueryTracker blog.  .