NAW Interview with Peter Hogenkamp

Peter Hogenkamp

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. Visit him here.

NAW- Tell us about your book, Absolution and the Jesuit Thriller Series. How did you get the idea for it?

Four years ago, I was working with a literary agent on a previous manuscript, when she suggested I read The Kill Artist by Daniel Silva. She explained that my writing reminded her of Daniel’s writing (Now THAT is a compliment) and she wanted me to learn from the master, so-to-speak. It was the best advice anyone has ever given me. I fell in love with Silva’s characters from the word GO, and the way he wrote changed forever my expectation of the kind of writing that a novel should have. Daniel’s ability to write dialogue is unmatched, and his prose has a poetic nature to it that makes the reader want to highlight every line. If you haven’t read Daniel’s Gabriel Allon series, get going to your local book store right away.

The idea for Absolution came from a minor character in The Confessor, the third book in the Allon series. In The Confessor, the pope’s secretary, Father Scarletti, plays only a small role, but I was attracted to his demeanour—confident but not brash—his unassuming nature, and his quiet capability. In my mind, I created a similar character, but I wanted to give him a greatly expanded role. It became only a matter of time before I found the premise to give birth to Marco Venetti SJ, aka The Jesuit.

NAW- Why did you choose a Jesuit priest as a protagonist? The clergy theme has already been explored by some other authors, so what makes your book unique?

Yes, the clergy theme has been explored (the maniacal albino priest in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code and the Machiavellian Cardinal Valendrea in Steve Berry’s The Third Secret come to mind) but most generally in the same ‘overzealous cleric who will do anything to preserve the object of his warped and unrealistic faith’ way. Not that there is anything wrong with that—and I enjoyed both those books—but I wanted to explore what happens when you take a thoughtful and peace-loving Jesuit priest and thrust him into a cesspool of violence and moral turpitude for which he is wholly unprepared. The layers of conflict just kept unfolding as I wrote the first few chapters, and conflict drives stories. I remember waking up in the morning—half past four, to get a few hours of quiet time before the kids woke up—excited to see how Marco would react to the strife into which I was putting him.

NAW- Tell us about the research you carry out for your works. How do you go about it?

Although I love the Internet, and use it often in my writing, I am and always will be a boots on the ground type of person. And I have been lucky enough to live in Europe—where the Jesuit Thriller series is set—for over three years. Combine that with several recent trips to the continent with a pile of notebooks and that is how I go about it. To me, what makes a seting authentic are the senses other than sight. When I think of the Cinque Terre—where Marco Venetti shepherds a small parish on a rocky bluff overlooking the Ligurian Sea—it is the smell of salt air and frying sardines and the sound of the gulls trying to make themselves heard over the crash of the breakers on the rocky shore that come to mind. When I read a scene and I am not stolen away, it is because the author relies entirely on visual images to conjure the place. I can’t help but think this is because she or he has never been there, and I feel shorted in some way.

There is no substitute for having your boots on the ground, and I tell myself this again and again when I see the price of airfares to the places I want to include in my series. (The key is to go off season, you can’t believe the deals you can get!)

NAW- What can a novice reader expect from Absolution?

I love this question; thanks for asking it. A novice reader can expect the three basic things that are the fundamentals of a good book. 1) Absolution is a good story, and when you take away all the literary terms and devices that we authors love to throw around, a good book is nothing more than a good story. 2) The reader can expect to meet and CONNECT with great characters, the kind of people she or he would like to meet in real life. 3) Absolution is free transport to some of the best locations in Europe (Rome, Italy; Monterosso Al Mare in the Cinque Terre; Salzburg, Austria) and there are five more exotic places to visit in Doubt, the second book in the series.

NAW- Tell us about your other works.

I wrote my first manuscript when I was in the eight grade. It was a thriller about a fearless MI5 operative who went maverick to stop an evil genius with an entire arsenal of stolen nuclear weapons. The only person who read it was my father and he gave me an “ehhh.” I will never forget his words: “You put words together well, Peter, but I feel like you have nothing to say, and this plot has been done again and again. Go live your life, and write again when you have something original to say.” I like telling people this story, because it draws a perfect picture of my father, who is my hero in every way. He was honest (sometimes to a fault) and he was ALWAYS didactic, always trying to frame things in such a way to teach me about life. And he was right!!! How many James Bond spin-offs have been written in the 35 years since I tossed that manuscript onto the shelf?

The Lazarus Mansucript was my next attempt. This is the mansucript I was working on with Jamie Brenner, the then literary agent (and now author) who gave me the great advice I mentioned earlier. When Jamie bailed on agenting, I took it as a sign and shelved the manuscript. But that doesn’t mean I have forgotten about it. I am blessed indeed to have been signed by a truly wonderful agent, Liz Kracht (Kimberely Cameron & Associates) and we plan to take Lazarus out of the grave (yes, bad pun was intended) once the Jesuit Thriller series is going ahead full-steam. Here is the pitch I wrote about The Lazarus Manuscript:

When forty-something Jack Hanley takes a leave from his medical practice to earn a master’s degree in public health, he has no idea that his decision will lead to the murder of a United States Senator, Jack’s college roommate, Henry Grayson, and spawn numerous attempts on his own life. He doesn’t realize that his thesis, a complete revision of the healthcare delivery system, is the motive. Only two other people have seen the manuscript: Grayson, and the now missing Dr. Edward Collins, Jack’s advisor at Georgetown. The FBI thinks Jack is behind the murder, swelling the ranks of the people pursuing him. Only Molly Anderson, a friend of Henry’s from law school, is on his side. Too stubborn for his own good, Jack will risk everything, even his growing feelings for Molly, to uncover the conspiracy behind Grayson’s murder.

The Lazarus Manuscript considers the national healthcare crisis in the context of a fast-paced suspense novel. Few themes have as much relevance—and garner as much interest—as the impending failure of a healthcare system “collapsing under its own weight.” More than just another thriller, The Lazarus Manuscript is an insightful look into the shortcomings of modern American medicine, as well as the ineffectual political establishment unable to improve upon it.

NAW- Tell us about your publishing journey.

I have been writing (and garnering letters of rejection) my whole life. In the fourth grade I wrote a story about a K-9 police officer and his dog stopping a bank robbery. What made this tale interesting (from my perspective) was the POV—I wrote it from the dog’s point of view. I sent it to the NewYorker (got to think big!) and was rewarded with a beautiful letter from the fiction editor who encouraged me to keep writing and keep submitting. I wish I still had that letter but I am not the type who keeps stuff. (I can still see it in my mind’s eye anyway.)

I had to stop writing after the 8th grade because of high school, college, medical school, internship, residency, and seven years of 80-hour weeks to establish my own practice. And I thought that the writing bug had been eradicated. WRONG. I was just inhaling life like my father told me I should. When I picked up a pencil in my late 30s, it all came back: the late nights sitting on the couch with a pad and pencil, the characters jostling around in my head, the great feeling you get when the perfect word find its way onto the paper. The writer was back, and this time he had something original to say! (Wish you were here to read it, Dad. :))

NAW- Tell us about yourself. What do you do when you are not writing?

I am a husband to a very understanding and talented woman, a father of four great kids, a physician attending to many patients, and a lover of the outdoors. If you can do something outside, I enjoy doing it, although hiking the Green Mountains with my incredible Cairn terrier Hermione tops that list.

NAW- Please name your favourite writers. Are there any who you’d like to name as an inspiration?

Daniel Silva and Graham Greene top the list, and both have inspired me to a better writer. Also on the list: Alistair MacLean, JRR Tolkien, Ken Follett, Robert Ludlum, John LeCarre. Some other folks from more recent times and this side of the pond include: Olen Steinhauer, Linclon Child, Steve Berry, Tess Gerritsen, Michael Palmer. I also have to mention my former professor and now friend Edward Callahan, who was the first person to demand that I think for myself.

NAW-What are you currently reading?

Well, since you asked, I am reading a lot of medical education about the Ebola virus. By the way, be prepared for the onslaught of bio thrillers featuring terrorists wielding a modified strain of Ebola, but please keep in mind that Tom Clancy did it years ago. #justsayin’

I just finished A Small Death in Lisbon, written by Robert Wilson, an author I admire greatly, and The Cairo Affair by Olen Steinhauer is next on my list—when I grow tired of Ebola. Both Wilson and Steinhauer write thrillers in a literary style and I must aspire to do the same because I always pre-order their books.

NAW- What will you be working on next?

I am working on an outline for Doubt, the next book in The Jesuit Thriller series, for which I have already written five scenes. I have never worked with an outline before, but I am giving it a shot, hoping that it allows me to get Doubt finished inside a year’s time. On the good side, I have already travelled to all the scene locations and taken notes, which helps a lot.

I am also writing a novel called The Intern, and publishing it on Wattpad as I go. I have always wanted to write a novel based loosely on my internship, and writing it has been a great experience—and the reviews have been good, albeit mostly from my mother and her Canasta group. If you are on Wattpad, check out The Intern, and if you are not, it takes 30 seconds to join. And it is free!

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