Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The 5 best thrillers of all time.

Good (Tuesday) morning: it's a landmark post for us--meaning me--at the Tuesday Morning Book Review, Episode#2. I have been hankering to write this one for a while, but other obligations--such as watching basketball and taking a lot of naps--have gotten in the way until now. So, let's get right at it: The 5 best thrillers of all time. (What are the criteria, you ask?  There are no criteria--the book needs only to be a thriller, of any sub-genre, by an author of any nationality, written at any time since Edgar Poe invented the genre.) Here they are, in descending order:

5) The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown. This is one of those no-win selections, because Brown has as many detractors as fans, but the top selling thriller of all time can not be left off the list--but not because it's the top selling thriller of all time. Yes, I know, Brown has some--well-publicized--writing issues, but let's face facts: I couldn't put the darn book down (and neither could any one else.) The reason: It's the premise, plain and simple. And the research and the setting as well. The interesting thing: I wouldn't have imagined a book could be on this list without a top-notch main character--Robert Langdon is okay at best, and others have been much more critical--but the plot is just that good.

4) The Eye of the Needle, by Ken Follett. There is a reason I have read this book three times, and it has nothing to do with the plot--not that the plot is bad, because it isn't. It's the memorable characters that make this book great: the calculating der Nadel, the courageous Lucy, and let's not forget Professor Percival Godliman, the world's leading expert on the Middle Ages turned counter-espionage agent. Add to these three Follett's tense prose and you have a book worth reading three times. If you haven't read it once; What are you waiting for?

3). Daniel Silva's Gabriel Allon series. I realize I said books, not series, but I did say there were no criteria, and how could I choose just one? Please know I have devoted an entire shelf of my favorite bookcase to this series, so good are they. Silva's formula is unforgettable characters, superior plotting, and the best prose in thrillerdom. When I read a Gabriel Allon book (Note The Heist comes out July 2014) I read it twice: once to appreciate the plot and re-aquaint myself with Allon and Shamron et al., and a second time to appreciate the way Silva puts words together. If you haven't read Silva, buy The Kill Artist and get reading. It isn't just that Silva has created the two best characters since James Bond and Jason Bourne, it's the relationship between them--Gabriel Allon, the art restorer turned spy, and Ari Shamron, the spymaster--that makes this series a must read. As my friend Andy says--'trust me on this one.'

2) The Guns of Navarone, by Alistair MacLean. If Poe invented the thriller, and I have already said he did, then MacLean re-invented the thriller for modern times And though several of MacLean's books could have made the list, I decided on The Guns of Navarone for two reasons. 1) The movie adaptation, starring Gregory Peck, David Niven and Anthony Quinn, is one of the best movies of all time. (I can only imagine how good it would be with modern cinematography. #didyouhearthatHollywood?) 2) MacLean wrote very stylistically and The Guns of Navarone demonstrates--in my opinion--the very essence of his style: a) the good guys are very good, and unflappable in the face of overwhelming odds; b) the bad guys are very bad, utterly cunning and ruthless, able to be defeated by only one person--who just so happens to be the main character; c) everything about the book, the setting, what's at stake, the prose, and especially the characters--including the many supporting characters--are all LARGER THAN LIFE. Grey is not a color in MacLean's box of Crayolas: consider the three main characters in the book, Captain Mallory, the world-class climber turned soldier, Corporal Miller, the American Cowboy and--oh by the way--explosives expert, and Andreas, the epitome of a hero: strong as an ox, clever, modest, and possessed of the purest motives. While very different, each of the three is alike in one aspect: Mallory, Miller and Andreas all have moral fiber of infinite strength, which, in MacLean's world, makes them incapable of failure.

1) The Bourne Identity, by Robert Ludlum. If MacLean re-invented the thriller, and I already said he did, then Ludlum made it what it is today, splashy, hard-hitting and complex. When you read a thriller of any sub-genre, the author is expanding upon what Ludlum did in 1980 when he wrote The Bourne Identity. What am I referring to? Ludlum razed the well-demarcated divisions of good and evil that were the hallmarks of earlier writers--particularly MacLean--and showed us a much more realistic world of questionable motives, bad good guys and good bad guys. He added depth as well, and flaw--and the result is Jason Bourne, a killing machine gone bad who doesn't even know who he's fighting for or against. Ludlum turned the whole good v. evil paradigm on its head with this book, painting the CIA with the crude brush strokes formerly reserved for the KGB or der Shutzstaffel. And it was about time someone did: do you really think the moral high ground is the sole domain of the US and its allies? (If you answered yes to that question please seek help.) Ludlum also ushered in the style of using multiple characters working, not in parallel or at loggerheads, but at different angles and dimensions askew to each other. Silva has done the best job of this of late, but Ludlum pioneered the craft. If you are part of the 'saw the movie' crowd but didn't read the book, a) shame on you and b) download it now and start reading. Regardless of what the last five Robert Ludlum books said on the cover--dead men write no books--they were written by someone wholly different than the man himself and you owe it to your self to read the real McCoy, or, in this case, the real Ludlum. You won't be disappointed.

Ok, thanks for patience you showed getting through the semi-colons, parentheses, and em-dashes (Oh do I love em-dashes.) I am sure you might have a few different candidates for this list; please place them under the comments section. For you LeCarre fans out there, I did have a tough time leaving The Spy Who Came in from the Cold off the list, but you have to draw the line somewhere. Here are the links to several other--more legitamite--blog posts:

Reader's Digest list of top thrillers
NPR picks the top 100 thrilers of all time
The Guardian's best 10 thrillers

 Once again, please take a look at The Intern if you haven't already, the serialized novella I am writing on #wattpad, based loosely on my medical internship. And for those of you wondering about ABSOLUTION, the first book of THE JESUIT thriller series, Liz and I continue to revise and edit toward a spring shopping date. Shout out to Liz Kracht, my literary agent, for bringing out the best in the manuscript without inducing me into a state of blubbering. It's a rare skill--and she has it. Thanks, Liz. We hope to see ABSOLUTION in print next year.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Tuesday Morning Book Review: The Riviera Contract by Arthur Kerns.

I have been reading thrillers for years, ever since my mom's friend Betty Gralton gave me an old copy of Alistair Mac Lean's Fear is the Key. In the subsequent 40 years I have read hundreds and hundreds, in every sub-genre from historical to Eco, political to medical, religious to international. In the process, one picks up a few things about the genre: the plots, the settings, the dialogue, and, especially, the main characters. Fleming's Bond and LeCarre's Smiley have been oft referenced--guilty--and so I will leave then out, but the usual MC is often very predictable, a talented (plug-in ex-Navy Seal, NSA agent, Federal Marshal etc.) forced out of service because of a (plug-in alcohol problem, bad relationship, horrific experience) is forced back into service to save the life of his (plug-in red-headed, blonde, brunette) ex-wife, who he (wait for it) still loves. You've read that one too?

But it's a formula that works: the previous career gives the MC a plausible reason to be involved in the plot, without being just yet another faceless agent in a clandestine service. The flaw provides  a reason why the MC left his career in the first place, as well as a source of internal conflict he must overcome. And the saving of the red-headed ex-wife allows the reader to develop the all-important visceral empathy that keeps the reader and MC connected for a long time. (Consider A Time to Kill, by--the real--John Grisham: I read that book twenty years ago and I still remember Carl Lee Hailey, the father of the 10-year-old black girl raped by two white boys who takes justice into his own hands. That's the kind of visceral empathy I am talking about.)

The problem is that formulas which work get used a lot--especially in the crowded thriller market--and many of them start blending together like so many westerns and romances. Enter Hayden Stone, Art Kern's former FBI agent scooped out of retirement by the CIA to fill a vacancy in the glamorous French Riviera. Stone is divorced from his wife not because of his infidelity, but rather his wife's boredom, and your first clue about Kerns' twist on the tried and true is apparent: the entire book is heavily steeped in reality. No suspension of disbelief here. Which is not say that Hayden Stone is boring or mundane: Stone is anything but boring, but the point remains valid--The Riviera Contract is the genuine article, written by a industry insider. Kerns' long tenure in the FBI not only flavors Stone as am MC, but the dialogue between characters and the pacing as well. The reader gets a real sense of how operatives actually speak to one another, as opposed to the sexier but less realistic witty repartees that Bond was famous for. And the pacing is realistic as well, moving at the logic of an actual investigation, as opposed to from one violent scene to the--somewhat connected--next. The winner here is authenticity--and I think you will find it a refreshing change. 

Kerns' experience sinks into the writing as well; the prose is direct and not over-written, and the plot might well have been--and probably was--taken from Kerns' long career in counter-terrorism. Add to this the perfect setting for a spy thriller, a French Riviera that is painted by Kerns with subtle and reserved brush strokes, and you have a debut thriller leaving you wanting a sequel in short order. 

Speaking of that, Kerns' next book, The African Contract, is due out soon, also on Diversion Books. Diversion Books is mainly an e-publisher, but does have a print-on-demand option for those of you who still like the feel of a book in your hand. I bought my copy of The Riviera Contract through Kindle, but it is available with any e-reader. 

And don't worry--the brunette ex is in there, and she's just as shapely and exotic as any Bond girl.

Thanks again for tuning in to the inaugural post of The Tuesday Morning Book Review on PeterHogenkampWrites. I will end by posting a direct link to DiversionBooks for those of you whose interest I piqued.  The Riviera Contract

If you are in a mood for book reviews (and since I am in a mood for shameless self-promotion) here are links to several other books I have reviewed: Saving Laura, by Jim Satterfield 
An American Spy, by Olen Steinhauer

Sunday, March 9, 2014

3 reasons why the novel is more imortant than ever, On the Saturday Evening blogPost, edition #17

The novel is not the exclusive domain of good writing; I have seen well-written words on tweets, blog posts, pins, bathroom walls, carved into the bark of beech trees, and scrawled on bits of used envelopes. But there is something about the novel--something we are losing. Consider this quote from English teacher extraordinaire and novelist Conrad Tuerk:

...as a high school English teacher, I have seen firsthand (social media's) insidious effects on today's youth.  Not only are their language skills poor, but they lack the attention spans to sit quietly with a novel and ponder its depths.  The same point you make about the novel can be made for long form journalism.  It gives substance to short news bytes and allows for critical investigation.

Depth, substance, richness: These are just three of the attributes of the novel. I suspect you will be able to build that list from your own experience as a novel reader; allow me to add from mine. Consider the following three novels: To Kill a Mockingbird, The Lord of the Rings, The Power and the Glory.

If you have not read The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene, pick up your Kindle, grab your Nook, type Amazon into your browser, or--best yet--go to your local library or book store. In his iconic work, Greene portrays a man's journey to sainthood, a journey which leads him through neither joy nor self-satisfaction, but rather through self-loathing and despair. It would be quite impossible to construct such a tale in any form other than the novel. You can do a lot with 140 characters--but even Greene needed 222 pages (in the Penguin Classics edition) to get the job done.

The Lord of the Rings has been called everything from an extended allegory of Jesus Christ to the best motion picture in the history of film. I call it the best novel of all time, in that it has everything a novel should have: memorable characters, a riveting story, good prose and dialogue, and meaning. I will add that it is neither concise nor simplistic. Consider this: Tolkien created at least 18 different languages, complete with vocabulary and rules of grammar, including the 12 different tongues spoken by Men in three ages, and the languages of Elves, Dwarves, Ents and Mordor, called the Black Speech, which shall not be uttered here. Think of the complexity and labor involved in writing a work which involved making up 18 different languages--and please don't think this process was only incidental to the writing. Tolkien himself, in one of his many letters, wrote: 'The invention of languages is the foundation. The ‘stories’ were made rather to provide a world for the languages than the reverse.' Try making up 18 different languages in 140 characters.

What more can a reviewer say about To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee's classic tale of race relations in the Deep South; ranked above the Bible by the Association of British Librarians as the book to read before you die. (And those British Librarians know their stuff.) Somewhere around my fortieth year, my wife discovered I had never read Mockingbird and so she gave it to me as a birthday gift. And so I read the book and found out what all the British Librarian buzz was about. Much has been said about the book and I won't simply re-write it (plus, it's a blue-sky day and Maria and I need to go skiing). But I will add something: Attitcus Finch--who is not a real person--made me want to be a better person. To Kill a Mockingbird inspired generations of Americans--not to mention scores of British Librarians--to be more just, more open-minded and more courageous. I don't know of many #tweets that have done that.

Thanks again for your patience and stamina--please note I did not fall when I got off my soapbox. For fans of The Intern, Chapter 4, A Walk in the Park, is published and ready to read. Please don't be put off by #Wattpad, it takes only a minute to join. If you like the story, please follow me so you can get the updates automatically, and don't forget to cast your vote--Democracy depends on it. And Thanks again to the Association of British Librarians.

For those of you who haven't seen my website recently, check it out:
Peter Hogenkamp

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Why the novel has never been more important: The Saturday Evening Blog Post, Edition #16.

We live in a day and age where the evolution of language and words is driven more by social media than books and novels. As both a social media user and a lover of literature old and new, I have mixed feelings about this trend. There is something about the speed of social media which alarms me. Consider this: Edgar Poe, who created the thriller, died broke and without any acclaim, and yet his works are now considered to be masterpieces. Contrast this to the blitzkrieg world of social media where someone who uploads a cat video can become an icon in a single day--or less.

Good or bad? Probably both, but allow me to point out the latter. Poe had substance. Sometimes it takes time for substance to be appreciated. In Poe's case, a hundred years. It takes deep substance to endure a 100 years. Do you think a glitzy cat video has that kind of staying power? Or do you--like me--think it will be forgotten in ten minutes, to be replaced by a meme featuring an aardvark?

The point I am trying to make is that there is a danger here: A very real danger. Please don't get the idea that I am one of those people, you know the kind that think Facebook and Twitter are the ruination of the world. Because I am not, and I believe that Facebook/Twitter/Social Media have many upsides and are, in general, wonderful tools of expression, language, and connectivity. But like anything else, they have a dark side as well, a dark side which has been well-documented. Missing from this list of cons, however--at least that I have seen--is the effect of Social Media on language.

There is a stress to Social Media, an urgency, that seeps into the language. I mean, when you r racing to be the first person to post or tweet something, you keep it short and simple. And because you are doing this again and again, you start using the same abbreviations again and again and eventually u use the abbreviation all the time and evolution has occurred. And yes--as I have stated before--the 140 character limit teaches us to be concise and to the point, but there is still plenty of occasion: to be detailed; to expound; to have layers of meaning; to be rich and complex.

And that, my friends, is why we need the novel more than ever. Social media is not going away--nor should it--but it needs a counterbalance. Twitter hits quick and hard, the novel is slow and insidious(Can you hear Liz, my literary agent yelling; Not that slow, Peter! Speed it up, Peter!) Facebook is over-the-top, Facebook is sensational. The novel is under-the-surface, the novel is meaningful and lasting. Pinterest is visual. the novel is literary. SnapChat is transient (by design) the novel is permanent.

The problem, of course, is that it's a lot easier to whip off a quick tweet about #theoscars (Stop using so many adverbs! Outstandingly talented? Liz would have fits editing these speeches.) than it is to construct a 500,000 character work that is deep and rich and complex and permanent.

But it has never been more important.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

A Vermont State of Mind, on the Saturday Evening Blog Post, Edition #15.

I am going to come right out and say it: Vermont is more a state of mind than a state of the Union. And rather than tell you why I believe this, I am going to show you. My day yesterday:

My daughter had been talking about the big cheerleading competition for several weeks, and so--in an effort to get her to stop dropping hints about it--I offered to bring her and her friend up to Vergennes High School to watch her beloved Rutland Raider cheerleaders in the State finals. In turns out that Vergennes is not far from Snake Mountain in Addison, Vermont, a hike I have been wanting to make since we moved to Vermont twenty years ago.

Yesterday morning dawned clear and warm, with a steady wind out of the south that tasted like spring. As Abby put on her cheering bow, I slipped into my Gore-Tex snow pants and Polypro skin layers and we got into the car and went to get her friend, who--to Abby's dismay--opted against the bow. It was a beautiful drive to Vergennes with the sun reflecting off the snow-covered ground, just what the doctor ordered for my light-starved brain. I dropped the girls off at the high school and headed into the quaint town of Vergennes. There is a cafe there I have been wanting to visit--The Three Squares Cafe, right on  Main street--and as I parked it front of it two of my buddies just happened to be walking inside. We enjoyed a great breakfast--five stars, really--and some laughs and I left them and drove to Addison.

The trailhead was located several miles off the main highway, on a graded gravel track that could only achieve 'road' status in Vermont, in which state over 50% of the thoroughfares are still not paved. Despite being out in the middle of nowhere, the lot was chuck full of like-minded people and I struck up several conversations and got sniffed by my a handful of dogs. When there was no one left to talk to, I strapped on the snowshoes and started up the trail. Snake Mountain is more of a foothill than a mountain, and before long I was trekking along the serpentine ridge that led to the summit. I would have loved to linger at the summit, enjoying the expansive views of Lake Champlain and the Eastern Adirondak Mountains, but time was growing short and I had promised to return on time.

The return trip was short as I decided to carry my shoes and glissade down the icy path. I arrived at the car and got in without striking up a conversation with the half-dozen people in the lot--that hurt, let me tell you--and got back to Vergennes at exactly the time I had promised. (There is a first time for everything.) On the drive back home we stopped at Fire and Ice for lunch--five stars, really--and made it home around 3pm. It was still sunny and warm--and my wife was sleeping on the couch--so I grabbed the leash and went for another hike, this time with my faithful companion, Hermione.

It was finally getting dark when Hermaggedon and I got back, and my wife was just opening her eyes from a well-needed nap. I spent the rest of the day with the family in the living room, and went to bed early. Fresh air and exercise make for great sleeping, and sleeping is one of my few real talents--along with appetite, height and regularity. (Not that I'm complaining, mind you.) And that was that--the end of a great #VT day.

Thanks again for tuning in. I appreciate the support, I really do. Don't forget to read Chapter 3 of The Intern, The Chapel of Perpetual Help, if you haven't done so already. And please follow me on Wattpad and vote for the story. ABSOLUTION is in the editing and revising phase, and Liz the ueber-agent plans to shop it late-spring to publishers. Have a great week. peter

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Our Lady of the Golden Arches, Chaper 2 of The Intern, on the Thursday Afternoon #MINI, Edition #13

I just love the title of Chapter 2 of The Intern, Our Lady of the Golden Arches, but, to be honest, I can't take credit for it. The credit belongs to my brother-in-law, who told me a story about how he and his brother used to skip mass on Sunday morning and go to the McDonald's nearby, which they dubbed, 'Our Lady of the Golden Arches.' For some reason that phrase stuck in my head for over twenty-five years, and it dropped out last week--making a big thump on the countertop--when I started the second chapter of The Intern.

For those of you who haven't heard about The Intern yet, it is a novel I am publishing on Wattpad, one chapter at a time, as I write it. Why, you ask? (Or, as my friend Andy said: Peter, you're a doctor; don't you have hemmorhoids to cut off?) There are three reasons: 1) I love the challenge of serialized fiction, a throw-back to the early days of radio, because you have to get it right the first time; 2) I am trying to build a following, and the best way to do that as an author is write stuff--preferably good stuff--you be the judge; 3) I have always kicked around the idea of writing a novel loosely based on my internship, which I remember vividly. So, without further ado, Our Lady of the Golden Arches:

Chapter 2

Our Lady of the Golden Arches

            Our Lady of Perpetual Mercy Hospital had been standing on the corner of 112th and 2nd for over one hundred years, and yet everyone had referred to it as ‘Our Lady of the Golden Arches’ ever since the McDonald’s restaurant had been built next to it in 1974. And that included the few remaining Sisters of Perpetual Mercy who ran the place as well as both of the intern’s parents, who had met there during their own internships in the eighties. (That the intern might have chosen a different hospital for her internship had been out of the question since the time her father had bought her a toy doctor’s kit for her third birthday.)
            The intern pushed open the back door at 4am and trudged across the empty parking lot, passing through the spruce trees some previous administrator had planted in a failed attempt to shed the hospital’s moniker. She passed inside the restaurant and stopped in front of the counter without glancing at the menu. In the 8 months of her internship at Our Lady of the Golden Arches, she had frequented this place every day and yet had never gotten anything other than black coffee.
            “You again?” the woman behind the battered linoleum asked her.
            “’fraid so.”
            The tall, almost gaunt woman set two cups of coffee on the counter. “I saw you coming.”
            “Thanks, Cindy.”
            Cindy nodded her head in acknowledgement. “You want something to eat?”
            The intern shook her head. “No, thanks.”
            “You ain’t some kind of aneroxic, are you?”
            “If you are taking a history on me, Cindy, your bedside manner could use a little work.”
            “This ain’t no hospital and I ain’t no doctor, Sweetheart, so I could care less about my bedside manner.”
            “In that case,” the intern replied, “isn’t that the pot calling the kettle black.”
            Cindy splayed her arms and spun around, causing her black apron to flutter. “What’s the matter with me? You sayin’ I’m too thin?”
            The intern took a sip of her coffee. “No, not at all,” she lied. “I think you look good.”
            “Is this some kind of half-assed come on, Sweetie? Cuz’ I don’t go that way, no matter what bullshit my ex keeps spreading around.”
            The intern laughed, assuming she was making a joke—but in truth she was never a hundred per cent sure what Cindy meant by anything she said. She thanked Cindy for the coffee—it was free for the interns and other housestaff—and headed for the door.
            “But if you’re looking, Honey, I might be able to rustle you up a date.”
            The intern wanted to keep going, out the door and into the hospital where pre-rounds were waiting, but she couldn’t help herself from stopping.
            “What did you hear?”
            “I hear everything, Sweet Pea.”
            “In that case you know I’m seeing someone,” she said, and immediately regretted how snooty she had sounded.
            “Horse-mouth?” Cindy laughed. “A nice-looking girl like you can do better than that, Honey Pie. Much better.”
            A terrible curiosity possessed her, but she wouldn’t give in. “Nice-looking girl?” she replied. “Is that some kind of half-assed come-on?”
            “If I was coming on to you, Sweet Cakes, you’d have no doubt about it. None at all. And besides, a well-bred girl like you—ain’t no chance you could handle me.”

 Ok, I hope you liked the first part of Chapter 2. If you want to read more, clink on the link below, and please follow me on Wattpad, vote for the story, and leave a comment. Thanks again for your support. And don't be deterred by Wattpad, it's free and easy to join, and there are lots of other stories to read if you are interested.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Under the Cold January Sun: a short story by Peter Hogenkamp and an original painting by Peter Huntoon, on the Saturday Evening blog Post, Edition #14.

It was about ten years ago and we were in the middle of arctic front that lasted about eight days. From what I can remember, there were three days when the temperature never got above -10 degrees. Now, you smart people out there will realize this would be a good time to hunker down by the wood stove and settle in to a good book. But I was young (still less than 40) and foolish (those of you who know me well will have no trouble believing that.) And so I snowshoed up the second highest mountain in Vermont that day, Killington Peak, when the temperature at the base was -12 degrees Fahrenheit, and the summit was -20 and whipped by a COLD wind. 

In the following years I have thought much about that day, and when the quintessential Vermont artist Peter Huntoon asked me to write a short story for his website, that day under the cold January sun came right to mind. I have always loved paradoxes, and the idea that the sun (which is 27 million degrees F at its core--although only a cool 10 million F at the surface) could be cold appealed to me greatly. But I can assure you it was a very cold sun staring at me on that day 10 years ago. 

So, here's the story on which Peter based his painting. I have fictionalized it slightly--I don't own a truck and my snowshoes were made of plastic and aircraft-grade aluminum--but, for the most part, it's entirely accurate. Hope you enjoy it. 

Under the Cold January Sun

         The sun lifted over Killington Peak to the east, marking the start of another cold January day. The man loaded up the wood stove with the last of the apple wood he had stashed on the porch, and waded through the snow in the backyard to fetch the wheelbarrow. It was a quiet morning in the valley; all he could hear was the crunch of his boots underneath him and the rattle of the beech leaves in the hedgerow behind his house. Apple smoke wafted in the gathering breeze, mixing with the sweet odor of rotting hay from the farm next door.
         When the porch was filled again—this time with the maple he had removed from his neighbor’s roof—he passed back inside to the intoxicating warmth of his kitchen and readied his backpack, as Gracie looked on from her usual spot on the throw rug halfway between the stove and the slider that overlooked her territory. He tucked the last of the supplies into the sack, tightened the cord and headed for the door with his yellow Lab at his heels.
         His old truck complained bitterly about the cold, but turned over in the end, and forced its way through the snow that had fallen before the arrival of the arctic front. He turned onto the highway and headed up the pass, the lone vehicle foolish enough to brave the cold. The Wheelerville Road loomed ahead on his right, a single lane running next to the brook that gave it its name, and he turned on to it and stopped to lock the hubs into four-wheel before resuming his way. At the sharp turn marking the beginning of the Notch road he swung into the parking lot for the Bucklin trailhead.
         It took him two minutes to lace on his shoes—a pair of Tubbs fashioned from ash and catgut—but his fingers were frozen stiff by the end and he was happy to shove them into the welcoming warmth of his mittens. He collected Gracie and his rucksack from the cab and started off, shoeing steadily up the flat section of the trail that skirted the North Branch of the Cold River, which gurgled noisily under the ice. A mile up the trail he crossed the river on a thick floe of ice that resembled the Champlain Bridge and started up the steep shoulder that led to the mountain.
         Halfway up the ascent he stopped to pull off his wool sweater and swap his mittens for a light pair of gloves. Gracie sat in the snow as he changed, calmly surveying the nearby pines for something to chase. But the squirrels were all tucked away, the grouse were huddled together out of sight, and even the hares weren’t foolish enough to venture out on such a day.
         He reached the top of the shoulder around mid-day, arriving at Cooper’s Cabin as the cold sun arrived at its zenith in the sky. Gracie padded inside, and he followed her in and deposited his rucksack on the old picnic table. Lunch was simple—a PBJ for him and two pieces of dried venison for Gracie—and quick; not even five minutes had elapsed before they went back out, leaving his shoes and pack in the cabin to be retrieved later. But it was all he could afford; already the cold—his thermometer registered a chilly fifteen below, without the wind chill—had penetrated beneath his clothing and hooked the flesh beneath with its icy claws.
         The last half-mile of the climb was all that remained, a steep chimney of rock hewn out of the back side of Killington Peak. He had climbed it a hundred times before, and knew every stony step. It amazed him that a dog as big as Gracie could negotiate the narrow pitch, but she made easy work of it, stopping often to gaze back at him with her watchful eyes. Half-way up the birches petered out, giving way to the scrub pines that lined the trail. The problem was that he was six-feet and then some, well above the protection the shrubs provided from the bitter wind, which increased with every foot he ascended.
         He reached the top and celebrated in his normal fashion, with a piece of dark chocolate and a biscuit for Gracie. It was his wont to linger up top and appreciate the view, but the thermometer registered 20 degrees below zero, and the wind whipped the exposed peak with a hatred centuries in the making. He could feel the heat draining from his body, and knew he had to get off the peak in short order.
         A bit of panic set in and he started off too fast, loosing his footing on an ice-covered root. He slid ten feet or so, and came to an abrupt stop, bruised but not broken, inside a dense thicket of pine branches. Gracie came back right away, looking him over with her chocolate eyes to make sure he was okay.
         It was a full hour before he returned to the cabin, and he was chilled to the bone. The cost of a safe passage had been time and exposure, and the price had been as steep as the rocky chute itself. He collected his gear, donned everything he had stowed in the pack—wool sweater, Caribou-hide hat, and Gore-Tex mittens—and tied on his shoes.
         It was an easy descent down the long shoulder and that was the problem—it was too easy. He hadn’t realized he had built up a sweat on the way up, but he realized it now as the thin layer of water froze on his skin, chilling him further and stiffening his gait. Worse still, the wind had changed to the west, whistling up the slope with a ferocity that discharged the snow from the trees and warmth from his body.
         There was only one thing to do; he needed to go back up. And up he went, slowly at first, and then a little faster as the burning calories defrosted his skin and made movement a bit easier. After several hundred yards he could feel the stinging in his fingertips and his toes burned like an oil-soaked log. In another few minutes the pain resolved with the return of his circulation, and he turned around again to face the wind.
         It was dark when he arrived back at the trail head, a consequence of his pop-goes-the-weasel descent. The truck turned over first time, and he sat in the cab and warmed up before braving the road. He parked in the rickety old barn behind the house and grabbed a few sticks of firewood as he went in, dumping them onto the dying embers lining the floor of the wood stove.
         The smell of venison stew permeated the kitchen, bubbling up from the Crockpot next to the old sink. He divided it into two equal parts, put Gracie’s on the pine board floor, and sank into armchair next to the stove. His brother had given him a bottle of porter for Christmas, and he drank this in accompaniment to the stew, the warm comfort of the kitchen, and the crackling of the fire.
         Gracie finished her meal and plopped down on her rug, and they drifted off to sleep, putting a fitting end to a good day under the cold January sun.

I hope you enjoyed the story and I am sure you enjoyed the painting. For those visiting my blog, please check out my website (link on the sidebar) and sign up for my blog. I can also be found on #wattpad, where I am writing a serialized novel about the life of a medical intern (called, imaginatively, The Intern). Please click on the link and check it out. (My mother has given it a good review!) The Intern.

My first book, Absolution, the first book of The Jesuit thriller series, is currently being shopped to publishers and my agent tells me it should--with any luck--be available sometime in 2015. And thanks again to Peter Huntoon. I appreciate the opportunity and I love the painting. If you want the chance to bid on the painting, or check out some of Peter's other original artwork, here is his WEBSITE.

Thanks for your support, peter