Welcome everyone to another great week of the Writer's Revolution. I am your host, the author of The Phoenix Blade, Andrew Hess. My guest this week is author and doctor Peter Hogenkamp
Let’s get to know you a little more. Describe yourself in a hundred words or less.
PH: In order: Husband. Father. Doctor. Writer. Son. Brother. Friend. Recreational Athlete. Limited User of Adjectives. (Let’s not even mention adverbs.)
You said you are currently a practicing physician. What made you decide to become a doctor? How long have you been practicing for?
PH: I wanted to go to school for creative writing but my late father ‘recommended’ I do something else and write later in life when I had figured things out some. (Good advice, Dad Thanks.) So I went off to Holy Cross College as a physics major, switched to math, and then to Chemistry. My first job was as a chemistry teacher in Salzburg, Austria. I didn’t even apply to medical school until two years after I had graduated from college. I have been practicing for 17 years.
Seventeen years is a long time to be practicing medicine. So, what inspired you to write?
PH: Reading. The more I read, the more I wanted to create my own stories. When I read my first thriller, an old copy of Alistair MacLean’s Fear is the Key. It was given to me by my mom’s friend when I was ten-years-old. I knew I wanted to write thrillers.
I feel thrillers and mysteries are the most intense stories to read. They really capture the reader’s attention. Now as I understand, you have a thriller series you’re working on. Tell us more about it.
PH: Absolution is the first installment of the Jesuit thriller series. In a sentence, Absolution is the story of what happens when you thrust an intelligent, peaceful man into a cesspool of violence and moral turpitude from which there is no escape.
This sounds good so far. You already have my attention. How did you come up with the story?
PH: The book is built around the main character, Marco Venetti, S.J., a Jesuit priest from Monterosso al Mare, Italy. Once I had finished creating Marco, my next step was to force him to act in a manner that was alien to his training, disposition and experience. I like 007 as much as the next guy, but let’s face it: he’s 007, he’s supposed to kill bad guys. I thought it would be interesting to replace James Bond with his opposite—a Jesuit priest. There was only the matter of how to do this in a plausible way—it struck me one day as I was hiking with my dog—and I was set. The book came very easily after that.
I like books better when they have more of a realistic or plausible feel to them. I want to know more about Marco. Tell me about him. Who is he, what makes him special to you?
PH: Marco Venetti is a Jesuit priest from the Cinque Terre region of Italy, along the Ligurian Coast. Like many Jesuits, Marco is an intelligent and complex man, but he is somewhat frustrated as well, a frustration the reader can feel even as the story opens in the airless confessional of Marco’s 800-year-old church. Some of his frustration stems from his position as pastor of a dying parish, yes, but his struggles to stay celibate in a non-celibate world don’t help. And the woman he left to enter the seminary is never far from his mind. I suppose that my boyhood love of Indiana Jones played a role in the formation of Marco’s character, and there is some of that archeology professor turned action figure in Marco, but with an added dimension: Marco’s internal conflict about using violence to problem solve that Indiana never had.
Now as I understand, you signed with a literary agency. How did this come about?
PH: It was my goal from the very day I finished my first ms. I will never forget getting a positive response (from Josh Getzler) to my very first query letter and thinking, ‘What’s so hard about this?’ Well, I learned the hard way that getting an agent is hard—really hard. Josh quickly turned down my partial ms, and rejections were a weekly if not daily occurrence for months. But there were enough positive responses and nice comments along the way to keep me going. After about a year, I came to the conclusion that my book—although very good—was not good enough to overcome the long odds of gaining representation from a reputable agent. So I shelved it (literally, it’s on my shelf, gathering dust) and moved on to a new idea. But it was apparent to me that I was not back at square one. I had learned much, both in the process of writing and querying, and I realized that I was starting from square 30 or so.
I had much better luck with the next ms, garnering over twenty requests for the full ms. But I still couldn’t break through, until a very savvy agent recommended a number of changes that made immediate sense to me. The irony of the situation is that when I sent her the revised ms six months later she never got back to me. But I didn’t care at that point because the revised ms was well received, ultimately scoring six requests for representation. I could have held out for two more as well, but I got a call from Liz Kracht of Kimberely Cameron & Associates that convinced me I had found my agent.
I agree it is a long process to find an agent, and most people don’t get representation. Congrats on being one of the lucky ones. It shows that hard work and determination pays off.
Who has been your greatest writing inspiration?
PH: Daniel Silva. If you haven’t read a Daniel Silva novel, go straight to your local bookstore. Daniel’s The Kill Artist is the first book in his Gabriel Allon series. I challenge you to read this book and abstain from getting the next book in the series as soon as you finish. What makes the series is the main character: Gabriel Allon, an art-restorer turned assassin. I love the paradox, and I credit Allon for planting the seeds of Marco Venetti in my head.