Squirrel Armageddon

evilIf we were having coffee today I guess it would be high time I told you about my experience with Squirrel Armageddon.  That’s right.  I’m talking about evil, vindictive squirrels.

I was reminded of this the other day when I saw some television commercial that featured a number of squirrels all gathered in a tree and they were ganging up on a guy and pelting him and his car with pine cones.  It is amazing the horrors that can be dredged up from something so mundane.

Years ago in Austin, Texas I lived next to a park that stretched along a creek in a narrow band for about a mile or so.  Most weekends I’d take a walk down the length of this park and back.  My garage apartment was right at the edge of a wider area of the park that was nicely wooded and included tennis courts and a playground and at the end of my walk I’d usually saunter across this area back to my place.

One quiet Sunday I was finishing my rounds and as I entered the far edge of the playground I heard a loud noise over near my house.  My next-door neighbor’s dog was chasing a squirrel in the yard.  The squirrel managed to get away but not before it let off a loud frantic alarm screech.  In seconds, in every tree in the park, every squirrel in the area descended and started chirping and flicking their tails, not at the miscreant dog mind you, but at me.  The dog was long gone, show’s over for him.  These guys were all focused on yours truly, the only other living thing in the park.

I don’t know if you’ve ever really heard a squirrel alarm, so I found one on YouTube that sounds pretty close to what I remember.  https://youtu.be/i6IR0JmfkvQ … fast forward to about 43 seconds in.  Close your eyes and let it sink in, then multiply it by hundreds and add in spooky echoing effects from all the trees on an otherwise still Sunday morning. Yeah, I think that would be pretty close.

Don’t forget, they were focusing all their attention on me, every last one of them, their tails flicking, their evil, dark squirrel eyes sizing me up, re-positioning themselves to continue focusing on me as I warily crept across the park, at this point uncertain if the intimidation might possibly turn into action.  I have to admit I thought of that fearsome bunny in Monty Python And The Holy Grail.

This cacophony continued until well after I fumbled with my keys and entered the safety of my apartment.  I’m sure great-great grandchildren squirrels in that park still recount tales of their ancestors fighting and winning the battle of Sunday morning.  Brrrrrr.

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina.  http://thefensk.com for more information.

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Gobsmacked!

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I have to admit, this review left me completely gobsmacked.  If you’ve been on the fence about reading my novel The Fever, this should serve as a tie-breaker.

Catch THE FEVER!

http://redheadedbookloverblog.com/2018/02/19/fever-thomas-fenske/

February Sale

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I am please to report that my novel, THE FEVER, has been included in booksgosocial.com‘s Amazing February Sale Guide.  My book will be on sale through the end of the month ($1 off).

You can check it out, along with the other Mystery and Crime titles here: BGS Sale Guide/Mysteries

The full Sale guide is here:  BGS February Sale Guide

This is a great chance to Catch THE FEVER and support other independent authors.

 

#Weekendcoffeeshare Return

Public domain image, royalty free stock photo from www.public-domain-image.com

If we were having coffee today I’d apologize and lament my several month’s absence.  I’m not quite sure what happened.  The WeekendCoffeeShare is sometimes a bit like a meandering river, changing course with little to no notice.  Plus, I was fairly diverted through the second half of 2017.  The major events were my dog dying in July and my mom passing away in October.  At some point I expected I would do a post about the latter (I think I did in fact post about the former), but I never felt quite ready.  I still don’t.

Then after a deep sip, I’d go into more recent events.

I had a nasty case of this awful flu that is going around.  My lovely bride got it much much worse than me.  I hardly ever get sick.  I had the flu once in the early eighties.  I remember that mostly because of my cat.  At some point I had dragged my sorry carcass out of bed to let her in and she came in  limping on three legs and bleeding.  I remember taking her to the vet and the doctor asking which one was the patient.  I must have looked awful.  That’s the last time I remember catching the flu.

Oh, there have been other things. I had pertussis in 1999.  That’s right.  Whooping Cough.  I’ll take a bad case of the flu over that.  I have no idea where I got it.  Luckily, somehow, nobody else in the house got it.  It was not confirmed.  I went to the doctor with a bad cough.  No tests.  Got a prescription.  But at some point I read up on the symptoms and more than that, heard audio of the resulting coughing spells.  THAT is what I had, I have no doubt.  Drop to the floor, piss all over yourself, almost suffocate, making that gawd-awful whooping sound as you gag for air … yep.

Had a bout of pneumonia in 2013 too.  No cough, no fever, I just couldn’t breath.  I work in a 24/7 industry and was working with a team on a worldwide conference call. It was as scheduled software installation project at 2 AM one Sunday.  We were behind schedule because a developer was uploading a last minute revised program for me to install on a series of servers.  I had felt a little off that day, but with no real symptoms.  I felt about the same when I joined the call.  Then, while waiting, I simply could not catch my breath.  I didn’t have chest pains but that was the first thing I thought of.  I went downstairs from my home office and took a full-strength aspirin.  I struggled to get back up the stairs and sent the project manager a quick note: “I have to leave.”

“What?”

I quickly explained the situation.  Protocol usually means I need to find my own replacement or call my supervisor.  She would have none of that and said, “we’ll cancel and reschedule …. go wake up your wife right this minute and go to the hospital.”

When we got to the ER, they put me on a heart monitor but the ER doctor pretty quickly decided on a chest X-Ray.  They were going to give me an aspirin too.  I told them I already took one.  “A baby aspirin isn’t going to do it, you need a full aspirin.”

“I took a full aspirin!”

The doctor was impressed.  I remember thinking, “what, they think they’re playing with kids?”

The X-Ray showed a pretty significant chest blockage, confirming pneumonia.  I responded pretty well to whatever antibiotics they gave me and went home the next day.  After waiting all day to take a treadmill test (they just wouldn’t let up on the heart thing).  That was the first time I had stayed overnight in the hospital since … well, I remember the premier of Bewitched was on TV the last time. Seriously.

Anyway, we are both on the mend … and I’m happy to be back.

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina. http://thefensk.com

The Kindle version of his debut novel, THE FEVER, is on sale this week … 25% off.  This would be a great time for you to Catch The Fever.

Missing the Obvious

img_5454Marketing your own books is a pain.

There, I said it.  I worked in publishing for over twenty-years, but not in marketing.  Now I sort of wish I hadn’t generally ignored the marketing folks in my organizations. I sure could use their help these days.

I was in IT and I was awful to people sometimes.  Oh, I did my job.  I just evolved a bad bedside manner.  I wasn’t alone in that.  SNL had a series of skits about the bad IT guy.  I was just like that character.  “You need to hit tab, now enter, now up arrow … argggghhh, just get out of the way!”   Before you think unkindly of me understand that it was an uphill climb most of the time.  I mean, for example, I had a user who wrote correspondence in a spreadsheet.  Letters, she wrote letters using a spreadsheet.

Anyway, I have been out of publishing for almost twenty years now, and now, I’m back in it.  I’ve got two published books, several more in various stages of revision, and I’m bogged down trying to market my published books.

If you’ve ever been intimidated by the thought of actually writing a book, understand this:  Writing an entire book is hard.  Editing and revising that rough draft is harder. Marketing it?  Well, forget about it.  It continues to kick me in the ass every single day.

The heading of this post says “Missing the Obvious” … so here is a case in point.  I noticed something while was working on a twitter post about my novel, THE FEVER.

A review quote I had added to my Amazon page suddenly hit my eye.  It was there so I know I liked it enough in the past to include it on the page but the impact this time hit me like a ton of bricks.  “You’ll feel like you’re LIVING IN THIS BOOK …”

I have a lot of enthusiastic reviews.  It gratifies me as an author.  And they’re not all friends and family either, I promise.  But this statement, from an independent reviewer, well, that is the sort of thing that emboldens an author to continue on.

Then the old modesty gene kicks in.  “Gee whiz, shucks, Y’all …”

Thomas Fenske is a

 

More Scratching

It’s been a while since I shook things up a bit so I decided to change the title of the blog … I liked “A Smidgeon’s Toll” okay as a blog title but it never seemed to catch hold.  So for the new year, I guess I’ll try a new one on for size.  Scratching The Surface.  It more fits what I’m doing with my blog, and with my writing.

This reflects back to a pivotal scene in my first novel:

“… he had what I call ‘the fever’… it gets in yer blood and you can’t do nothing about it once you got that.”

“The fever?” Sam was amazed that Loot had used the same term he sometimes used himself.

“Yeah. Gold fever,” Loot said. “Or could be silver fever or hell, I guess diamond fever. It’s whatever gets under your skin and makes you scratch the ground looking to git rich. I reckon it musta been eatin’ away at old Slim all them years even after he couldn’t do nothing about it.”

Loot leaned forward and stared Sam right in the eye. “You got it too, aintcha?”

I always liked that scene … it clarifies the title and begins to show how serious these characters are about the personality flaw they both have that is at the core of the story.

Writing is not unlike the struggle of the character in The Fever.  It also gets under one’s skin … tapping the keyboard is akin to scratching the ground.  And now I’ve barely scratched the surface.

What gets under YOUR skin making you willing to “scratch the ground”?

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in NC.  http://thefensk.com

What Would YOU Do?

Like the riddle in the Sam’s life, the idea for this story smoldered in my soul for thirty years.

It’s a “what if” tale:

What if happenstance introduced the notion of finding a lost gold mine into your life?

What if even the minimum of research proved that certain facts you were given were true?

What if everyone you knew thought the idea was totally nuts?

What if it cost you every cent you managed to save?

What would you do?

Would you worry about the weather, the fact that you must trespass, or the danger?

No, it would become your new normal.

I’ll tell you what you would do.

You would likely catch THE FEVER.

That is what this story is about.

How far would you go to feed your Fever?

http://thefensk.com

Weekend Coffee Dreams

Public domain image, royalty free stock photo from www.public-domain-image.com

If we were having coffee today I’d tell you about the dreams.  Oh, not any dreams.  I guess we all have repetitive dreams, but last night I had more of a repetitive theme dream.

These revolve around finding some hidden section or room of the house.  Sometimes it is the current house, sometimes it is some past house, sometimes it is even (this will sound silly) some other dream house, a place that seems familiar from past dreams.

These are funny after I wake up, I mean, the notion that a room or in some cases a vast network of rooms, might exist.  I guess psychologists would read a lot into that.  Our house is cluttered, I guess deep down maybe I really wish I had extra rooms.  It wouldn’t have done much good in last night’s dream, the rooms were cluttered with broken furniture and leftover debris.

This dream even had another level.  Not another level to the dream, another level to the rooms.  During the dream, after marveling at the find, I later went back and looked a little closer and found a stairway and another set of rooms off to the side and below. I guess within the context of the dream it makes sense. The first one was supposedly outside an upstairs window.  When outside I had noticed something hanging near an upstairs window.  Later I remembered and sought to go out and take it down. The additional level provided access from below.  I didn’t get a chance to do more exploration before waking up.

I have had another series of dreams where there were vast furnished rooms branching off a hidden corner hallway, easily doubling, perhaps tripling the size of the house. Oddly, for some reason, it occurs to me in the dream to go into this area and I keep wondering to myself why I don’t use these rooms more.  I had a dream once that a house we had looked at when we were house hunting had a complete and fantastic basement section.  The house itself was somewhat lacking for our purposes but this basement section made it a no brainer that we should have bought that house.  In the dream, when I found this out, I got miffed at the real estate agent for failing to show us the extra rooms.

Anyway, this was so vivid, it was just on my mind when I woke up.  I need to go look around now, to make sure I haven’t missed anything in the twelve years since I moved into this house.

What sort of repetitive dreams do you have?

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina.  For information on his writing check out his web page at http://thefensk.com

A WeekendCoffee Backstory

img_6284If we were having coffee today I think I’d finally be willing to tell you about certain aspects of the backstory.

 

There was recently a national news story floating around concerning some changes in Texas law … you might have seen it, usually mentioning the plan to make it legal to carry swords or something like that.  Actually, that might be some sort of loophole, but what it really means is that the stalwart citizens of Texas will soon be allowed to carry knives longer than 5.5 inches.  This law has long been on the books.  They classified any knife longer than 5.5 inches as a Bowie knife.  Although Jim Bowie was a hero of the Alamo and was famous for his larger than usual knife, it has been illegal in Texas for quite some time — that is until this fall.

The current law was a major dramatic component to the backstory of my first novel The Fever.  It was based on a real incident I knew about.  It resulted in the arrest of the hero, who felt the same way about the irony of Jim Bowie’s knife.  This was the catalyst that threw my hero Sam into jail, where he made acquaintance with Slim, the derelict who slowly died in his arms.  Ah, but not before revealing his secret.  THAT is the other major backstory component, another bit of Texas lore.  Slim, it seems, had some personal knowledge of the location of the elusive Sublett mine.

That’s right.  And this, my friends, is a true mystery of mythical Texas proportions.  Ben Sublett was a real person who lived in West Texas and there are believable reports that he had access to some quantity of gold.  The stories go that he would disappear into the wilds of the parched landscape and return with gold.  People tried to follow him but to no avail.  He supposedly died without revealing the location to anyone.  If you google Ben Sublett you will see quite a few websites and articles dedicated to him and his lost gold mine.  They all mention pretty much the same details.  Like one curious fact … his name was actually William C. Sublett.  Not sure where “Ben” came from.
Here are a couple of my favorite links about Ben Sublett:

This one has a picture of a roadside Texas historical marker:  http://www.odessahistory.com/subltmkr.htm

http://www.sonofthesouth.net/ben-sublett-gold/Ben-Sublet-story.html

A friend pointed out to me that the historical marker in the first link above is just outside a place called Sam’s BBQ … I promise you that name “Sam” is just a coincidence.  Still a bit of added irony, no?

Old Ben apparently never got rich from his gold.  He seemed content to use it ,subsidize his life, like a sort of nineteenth-century social security.  The common thread in all of the stories about him is that he’d disappear and return with gold.  People have speculated on its location for over a hundred years.  The Guadalupe Mountains seems to be a common landmark, but if it was in the mountain range proper, well that is a National Park now so good luck with that, but there are a lot of possibilities in the general area.

I used both of these things as the core of my story.  An almost ridiculous arrest followed by a chance meeting that resulted in a deathbed confession.  “THE FEVER” was wedged into the hero’s soul where it smoldered until it became a full-fledged obsession.  THAT is what the story is about … a sort of “what would you do?” scenario.

How far would you go to feed your fever?


Thomas Fenske is a writer living in NC.  Info on his novels, including THE FEVER, can be found at http://www.thefensk.com  Before you buy them, be sure to check out his new video trailers on the videos tab.

Two Years On …

 It has now been just over two years since I became a published author. This was something I aspired to for a long time. I’m proud of my accomplishment and am working on a third book in this little series that has come to be called Traces of Treasure. Will there be a fourth book? Who knows? At the time I wrote THE FEVER I hadn’t even dreamed of a second book.

It wasn’t an easy goal to achieve. I had dabbled in short stories over the years and wrote a pretty mediocre novella in the 90s (unpublished). On my way to my English and History degrees, I had taken quite a bit of creative writing. At first it was an attempt at a “blow off” course but it wasn’t. Sure there weren’t tests, especially no final, but you had to produce and you had to read. And you had to develop a thick skin because your work went on display to the entire class and everything you wrote went under the microscope of peer review. Believe me, in some respects I preferred tests. Oh, and you had to participate so that meant you had to read everybody else’s stories. If you didn’t write and/or didn’t participate in class, you didn’t get a good grade. 

A lot of people are drawn to short stories. I was. The prospect of writing a novel is daunting. They’re long and drawn out and detailed and involved. Short stories are, well, uh, um, how can I put this? They’re short. They have to be easier, right? 

Allow me to burst your bubble. A good short story is much harder to write than a novel. I mean, to pull it off as a literary work of art. In a novel you can take your time to develop a story, to draw your reader in. To explain things. The aspects of beginning, middle, and end can be fully explored

Understand this: a really good short story is very hard to pull off. Sure, anybody can string a bunch of words together and tell some kind of story. It might even be entertaining. Most are at the high end of mediocre at best. And even if you do manage to pull it off, the financial prospects are minimal at best. There I said it. Financial prospects … and having said it I’ll let you in on a little secret. I shouldn’t disallow short story writing based on financial prospects because the financial prospects of being fabulously successful as any kind of author are pretty dim. 

In the long run, we write because we want to write, the same way an artist sketches or a wood worker sands with the grain for long hours to draw out the soul of a piece of timber.

Then there is the fact that being a writer involves a bit more than stringing words together. Sure some people can do it the first time through. Many more think they can. But there is another level of work that is required to produce a viable written work. I can’t speak for now, but creative writing classes when I was in college didn’t address any of the nuts and bolts aspects of being a writer. For one thing, revision. Of course a novel takes a lot of revision. As I said, we wrote short stories back then. Revision is one advantage to short stories. They’re shorter. Revision on a novel is hard. I spent three years on THE FEVER start to finish. That is entirely due to the fact that in the beginning I didn’t really understand how to effectively revise, how to edit myself, in short, how to actually craft the novel.

Oh, I knew the basics of what I needed to do, technically anyway. I had a foundation laid down, but there is an artistry to sit down and actually build something on top of that foundation of words. I changed the ending three times. I changed the beginning four times. Each time I thought it was better, and maybe it was, but as I read through it I would find myself dissatisfied. My first three revisions were pretty much a waste of time, useful only as a starter course in novel revision. 

I did hit upon a technique that has served me well since then. AT first I would run through a revision cycle, then pause and regroup my brain a little, and read through the novel start to finish. I noticed that the quality eventually improved through the work and I reasoned that in my revision cycle I was getting better and more insightful as I found my groove. So in the fourth revision, as I reached the end of the book, I went back around and attacked the beginning AGAIN, while I was hot. Eventually, I just began to swing around again and to start again. My revisions were more productive after that.

I did decide to take a short break later, after revision seven. I was burned out. So what did I do? November was coming up … and that meant NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month (where one endeavors to write a 50,000 word rough draft in 30 days). I took a month off, not from writing, but from THE FEVER. I wrote another novel. I still have that one, waiting to be revised. Then I started right back on revision eight of THE FEVER.

About other novels: I wrote two others before THE FEVER. All three are good stories but they need to be revised and crafted. All five, including THE FEVER and A CURSE THAT BITES DEEP were NaNoWriMo projects. 

A testament to my learning curve from the first novel revision is the fact that I only spent six months revising A CURSE THAT BITES DEEP. 

So, here I am, two years on, with two novels in publication, plus a whimsical promotional cookbook that I spent a lot more time on than I ever thought I would, and I am working on a third book in the series (but working on that one outside of NaNoWriMo.) This one has been slower going, but that is due to the breaks. One long one because of eye surgery then, just as I was starting to roll I got the idea for that cookbook. It was fun, and it also taught me the rudiments of self-publishing. I hoped it would help draw attention to the novels and increase sales. THAT is still a work in progress. 

See, that is the other aspect of being a writer they didn’t teach me in school: marketing. Even the lucky few who get picked up by a major traditional publisher have to deal with it; although those publishers do a lot of the marketing, you still have expend a bit of effort to market yourself. With small publishers, or in self-publishing, the lion’s share of the marketing responsibility falls on the author. At just about this exact time two years ago, that reality started to dawn on me. “Okay, I’m HERE … Now What?” 

I had no web page, no blog, no Twitter presence, no “book” or “author” page on Facebook, no Instagram account or Pinterest presence. I hadn’t even thought about any of these things. What did I do? I googled “book marketing” and I scrambled to get things in place. As part of my pre-publication work I was presented with the opportunity to provide blubs and key words … huh? I cobbled something together. Remember what I said about short stories? You want to work literary wonders of high art? Learn to write effective 200 word book blurbs. A 95,000 word novel is child’s play compared to that. I’m still learning. Feel free to peruse my blurbs on Amazon and give me pointers. 

There is always work to do: I don’t post to this blog enough. I depend a lot on Facebook and Twitter. Sales are still lackluster and sales of my second published book lag far behind the first, which surprises me because I think it is really a much better book. Although a sequel, I feel I did a good job of making it stand on its own. If I had anything to do over, I would have asked the publisher to de-emphasize the “book 2” on the cover. I think it causes people to hesitate. You need that gut level … THIS LOOKS INTERESTING … you don’t want them to hesitate and wonder “what about book 1?” I remember the time I was looking for something to watch on Netflix and saw the series “EARTH 2” and started searching for “EARTH 1” …. Then realized, oh, we live on Earth 1. Anyway, I’m telling you now … you don’t have to read the first book. Sure, it helps … it’s a great story too, but you can read “Curse” all by itself and not be lost at all. 

Heck, even The Mossback Café Cookbook helps for both books. And it’s free! Mostly. Still trying to get Amazon to price match. 

So, two years on and I find that my status as a novelist is firm … and I’m making just enough money to keep working full-time at my day job, er, probably forever.

I will say this, I have a core of very enthusiastic fans for which I am very thankful. Through them I have found that once people read the books, they really enjoy them. Even my editor kicked back one scene in “Curse” then recanted because she realized she got too invested in the characters. I thought at the time, “my editor got invested in my characters … that can’t be a bad thing.”

So check them out. Don’t forget, I’m Author of the Month at authorshout.com


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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina … for information about all his books go to http://thefensk.com