Today at 12PM EDT my friend and fellow writer Staci Morrison will be hosting an event on Facebook to celebrate both the one year anniversary of the inauguration of her MILLENNIUM epic fantasy series AND the publication of the fourth volume in that series, Sword OF THE SPIRIT.
Congratulations to Staci … four books in one year is quite an accomplishment!
I’ll be participating at 1PM EDT with some information about my own books … You can join at 12 for Staci or you can join at 1 to see what I have to offer. Other authors will be participating. There will be drawings for free books and some other stuff as well. I’ll be giving away a copy of THE HAG RIDER!
Well, to get down to the nitty gritty basics, before you can get published or publish your own work you have to write something. And it isn’t good enough to simply write it, after you develop a concept you need to create a structure, then figure out characters, situations, and locales. You need conflict and resolution. You need one or more protagonists and also, ideally, an antagonist. It has to all work together. Your characters need to talk, feel, and be alive within the pages.
I took quite a bit of creative writing in college. Part of it was laziness, if any part of writing can be called laziness. The course applied toward my English degree as an advanced level course and it could be repeated. The coursework was primarily short stories. It taught me one thing: a good short story, and I mean a really good short story, is harder to pull off than a novel. A vast majority of short stories are just that, stories that are short. They can be entertaining, even enjoyable, but most never of convey a complexity that only the best achieve. Still, it’s a good training ground and a novel can be perceived as a huge undertaking that seems insurmountable.
My debut novel. THE FEVER, began as a two page treatment, written on some hotel stationery in the summer of 1986. All of the rudimentary details of the plot are there. Over the years, I started to write it at least four times but I never got more than a few pages in. Once I actually wrote about ten pages. I like to say, “Life intervenes” and I’m sure that is part of the case, but in reality, I just had no idea how to write a novel and I would put it aside out of frustration.
Then one day (for perspective, in late November 2010) I picked up a book, NO PLOT? NO PROBLEM! by Chris Baty. He was the founder of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). One could, he said, write an entire novel in thirty days. Nice trick, I thought. But as I read through it, I realized, “You know, I could do this.” As I read about NaNoWriMo, I was mortified to learn that the real event took place in NOVEMBER. I was too late for 2010. But I kept reading. I realized, it isn’t the event, it’s the process. I finished the book in early December and again resolved to myself, “You know, you could do this.” Simple math indicated that all one needs to do is try to write a little less than 2000 words each and every day. I decided to prepare myself and dig in January 1.
The process is simple: you shouldn’t expect to have a fully completed novel in 30 days, but you’ll have a completed rough draft in that timeframe. One of the main things Baty emphasizes in his book is that you can’t edit as you go along. As he says, you have to send your internal editor on vacation. Bogging down on a sentence or a verb or a pronoun is what drives most fledgling writers into the weeds. Don’t get me wrong, it works for some, but it never worked for me. For them each sentence is a masterpiece, carefully place one after the other until you have a … well, like I said, I tried that four times with THE FEVER. Bogged down every time. I endeavored to give this different process a good try. In retrospect, knowing what I know now, I don’t know how you can get chapter two just perfect when in reality you have no idea what’s really going to happen in chapter 23!
It was my New Years Resolution for 2011, to have a rough draft by the end of January. Oddly, I decided NOT to write THE FEVER. This was, after all, a test. I figured THE FEVER was my best idea, but I had other ideas. Even though I had worked out a lot of the plot and different elements I wanted to explore in that story over the years, I didn’t want to waste my best idea on this process if it didn’t work. I couldn’t bear another failure. So I picked a harmless project I had bandied about. I had less of an idea of what I wanted to do, but according to Baty, it really didn’t matter. “Pantsing it” he called it; flying by the seat of one’s pants. I had a locale based on some autobiographical journaling I had done earlier that year, a marvelous old building where I used to work in an older area of downtown Houston. The gist of the storyline was somewhat autobiographical: write what you know.
Get this: I found the process incredibly creative. I created bullet points of a rudimentary outline but as the story progress, I left that far behind as I hammered out sentences intent on making my daily word counts. The story told me where it wanted to go. I became consumed with it, and woke up each morning with a fresh new desire to find out what happened next. When I reached the end, I was elated. I’m still proud of that manuscript, set in 1972 and populated by the hippie-types I knew in my youth. Oh, it’s pretty awful and needs so much work, although I did a little revision work on it later that year, I’ve never completed the revision work. But it still has a soft spot in my heart. One other plus: I actually achieved my New Year’s Resolution!
I turned around and did it again in November, with yet another story idea. I still avoided THE FEVER, I wanted to prove it wasn’t a fluke. I had similar results. Both of the first two manuscripts were written in first person. The original actually works in first person, but the second one should have been third person. I’ve been thinking about picking it up and working through it. It will be a lot of work.
By the next November, I was ready to dive into THE FEVER. I was so pleased with the result, I turned right around and started revisions after I finished the draft. I loved the story. This was when I found out one minor detail: I didn’t know how to revise a story. Oh, I knew I needed to clean things up, expand character development, and add more details. In the first couple of revision passes I did way too much and added extraneous details and descriptions that had little to do with the story. My 50,000 word draft ballooned to 130,000 words. It was bloated and heavy. It had lots of good stuff, but many things didn’t apply to the real story and true to the first two manuscripts, far too much autobiographical information. Some of it applied to the core storyline quite well, but I realized 130,000 words was far too much for a debut novel, so as I got better at reviewing my writing, I cut and honed. I call this crafting the story.
I eventually allowed a few trusted souls to read the drafts and got some valuable feedback. I kept plugging away. I basically skipped the next two NaNoWriMos, well, I cheated and worked at revisions one time and worked through my journaled autobiographical info another time. But NaNoWriMo is fun, you can buddy up with other writers, track each other and encourage each other. Picked a few long term friendships there. One of those contacts suggested I approach her publisher. I didn’t at first, because I didn’t think it was ready and her publisher seemed to be mostly interested in Romance books.
I was coming up on the third NaNoWriMo since I’d written the draft and, to be honest, I was burned out. One of my NaNo buddies strongly suggested I just dive in on a new project to clear my mind. It almost seemed like I was cheating on my novel, but I did it. Totally fresh idea, completely different story. I hammered out the word counts just like the other three and before the end of the month I had another rough draft. I liked it, and thought it had a lot of promise, then I shelved it and dug back into THE FEVER. My mind was ready to take it all the way.
I’ll leave off here. Next time, I’ll relate the next stages of getting it published.
Thomas Fenske is a writer living in NC. More information about him and his books: http://thefensk.com
If we were having coffee today we’d probably still be relegated to sitting six feet from one another at some outdoor venue. These are sad times for coffee shares. Actually, I just got the news that Reed’s Coffee & Art, my favorite local coffee spot, is closing this weekend. It is another casualty of the ongoing pandemic.
If you think about it, coffee shops, despite the huge markups for fancy drinks, struggle to make any money anyway. Locally, they didn’t have to close like bars were forced to do but that difference of people hanging out seems to have tipped the scales against them. I feel guilty that I haven’t been a good customer the past few months but then again, I’m pretty much a medium cup, black coffee kind of guy.
I may have mentioned before, I was a part-time barista for about eight years so I am pre-disposed to not spend the extra money on … oh, how can I put it … extra milk. But, that’s just me. I made awesome lattes and cappuccinos. I occasionally bought pastries from this shop, but not since my diabetes diagnosis. Basically, I had become a low-end customer, but they still treated me like I was one of their best and it was a welcome quiet port in the storm of daily life. Oh, and they had good wifi. I even managed a bit of writing and revision, sitting and sipping.
If we were somehow having coffee today I’d probably be in a hurry to get back, so here is a truncated narrative on my views of all the current issues.
Masks. Wear them. It is NOT a political statement. It is NOT an action based on fear. If you are a conservative like me, yet think that means you are anti-mask, understand this, if it helps. I consider wearing a mask to be an extension of my second amendment rights. Period. I will arm myself however I wish to protect me and my family. Period. If you don’t wear a mask on principle, I hope you at least wash your hands after going to the bathroom, but I don’t hold out much hope.
Black Lives Matter. Of course they do. This choking stuff? Where did that come from? It’s obviously a bogus tactic. Here’s the deal: if someone is being choked to keep them from continuing to struggle, it is completely counter to human nature. Not being able to breathe is one of the strongest fear responses ingrained into every human being. Can’t breathe… must struggle. It is a counter-productive tactic.
To the ‘all lives matter’ people: yes, of course they do too, and I’ve seen a lot of videos of the same thing happening to all races (and the same thing above applies) but you have to understand that the highly disproportionate numbers of these cases involve blacks. Period. And for what? a counterfeit bill? Another guy in Texas didn’t dim his headlights? No one faults police for reacting with force when someone points a gun at them. The cases people are protesting weren’t like that. They were convictions, trials, and executions for infractions that should in no way involve execution. I think people have a right to be worked up. Enough is enough.
What about the rioting and looting? Wrong. Never a justified response. There is a big difference between protest and riot. It doesn’t help the valid cause people are marching for … not at all. Kudos to the brave souls who worked to stop it. It could very well have escalated into something no one wants to experience.
Military bases named after Confederates, and Statues honoring them? I’m from the south, and I have a degree in history so I can add a little perspective. Grant has a great observation on this in his memoir (an awesome book), reflecting on the surrender of Lee: “I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse.”
We, in the south, were influenced by teachers themselves influenced by a flawed narrative known as “the lost cause.” It involved rationalizations that do not hold up to historical scrutiny, in my opinion. Most of the monuments are extensions of the lost cause mentality and were erected to displace shame. The fort namings are an extension of this … no doubt something to placate the suspicions of placing “US” forts on southern soil by naming them after southern “heroes.” Oddly, some of them were awful military leaders … Hood and Bragg? People call Grant a butcher (part of the lost cause narrative) but Hood literally squandered his army in fruitless frontal attacks. Sigh. People say “they” are taking away our heritage. No, our heritage was the enslavement of human beings. In realistic terms, by pushing the nation to the point of secession and war, the south ironically fast-tracked abolition. Slavery would have persisted for decades without the war. The south was never going to “win” … the best they could hope for was a stalemate and even if that had happened, they’d find out their expected European markets had sourced raw materials from other more stable sources and continued border conflicts would have bankrupted them pretty quickly.
In closing, understand that change takes time. I know, there has already been a lot of time wasted, but attitudes and habits need a lot of nudging to get them in the right place. Shoving them in place usually doesn’t work. Patience and persistence. We all have a long way to go. It doesn’t have to take a long time, it shouldn’t, but it will take time.
I’ve just released my fourth novel, The Hag Rider. It is historical fiction set during the Civil War and because of that setting, it covers subject matter that can generate an emotional response in many people. In normal times I’d let it go at that and leave it to the reader to draw their own conclusions. But because of the nature of the book, I want to offer just a little more introduction.
It is written as a Civil War memoir from the viewpoint of a Confederate cavalryman, who was just fifteen-years-old when he enlisted. Early in the book, we met Jack, a broken boy in Texas who runs away. He manages to discover parental love and wisdom through Moze, an enslaved man who in essence becomes his family. Moze is anxious and reluctant when Jack is enticed by fiery secession fever and decides to enlist, to join the Civil War campaign. Concern for Jack leads his mentor to seek protection for his young friend through the only source available to him. A local witch, Vanita, who is also a slave, embodies a source of mysterious power in spite of her life situation. Jack makes his way through the violent and confusing time of war, with her help, and through his reflection on lessons gleaned from Moze’s discourses about dignity, respect, and humanity.
Yes, it is set in the south during the Civil War, but this book is far from a glorification of the antebellum era. At its core, it is a soldier’s story told through young eyes. Jack is against slavery and he strives to overcome the prejudices of the time while at the same time knowing he is a product of those times.
If we were in some way able to meet for coffee today I’m sure we’d be drawn to the events of the past week. The overbearing question is, why are we still at this point? Frankly, it amazes me that we haven’t figured it out yet … Rodney King put it plainly:
“People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along? Can we get along?”
It was a profound statement from a guy whose suffering at the hands of heavy-handed police officers was broadcast far and wide. Yet this continues and continues and continues.
Frankly, I have only had good experiences with law enforcement, even when I was on the short end of their efforts. I have always found them polite and supportive. Frankly, I am white.
I grew up in the South. I grew up knowing two branches of racism. I did not grow up in a blatantly racist home, I grew up in a home that more practiced paternalistic racism. Many people don’t see any difference but understand, I did not grow up thinking poorly of people of color. Sure, we had a black maid. Believe me, I knew a LOT of kids whose families wouldn’t hire a black maid, they had white maids. My folks hired a black contractor too, to build an addition to our house. In many ways I think my mother wanted to provide jobs and opportunities where she could.
When I was about eight I was with some friends riding our bikes around a nearby shopping center (the early 60’s, right?). It was a hot day, and I was thirsty and I saw a water fountain so I stopped to get a drink. My friends were horrified.
“What are you doing? You can’t drink from there!” he said, pointing at a sign on the fountain. “Colored Only!”
I just shrugged and took a drink. “You can be arrested for that,” I was told. I look back now and can only say, “Yeah, right.”
I wasn’t raised to really care about such distinctions. Am I perfect? Nope. Bias is a deep wound that is not easily healed but you know what? I’ve always been aware of it and I try to keep myself on an even keel and rise above it.
A few years ago I worked in a convenience store and this cemented my overbearing current view of blacks: they are just folks, like anybody else. They work, they love, they hurt, they cry. Just like me. Just like you. When you look at someone in this country, you need to not see white or brown or any other color, you need to see a person who deep inside is pretty much just like you.
=============================== Thomas Fenske is a writer living in NC … his novel THE HAG RIDER will be published on June 1, 2020. More information: http://thefensk.com
I know a lot of people are stuck at home right now. What a great time to catch up on your reading! The safest way right now to get new books to read is to embrace eBooks; they provide a wonderful combination of low price, easy online shopping, and immediate delivery.
Wait, you don’t own a kindle? Amazon has you covered: https://amzn.to/39U6Rno
All you need is a tablet, iPad, computer, or even a phone.
If we were having coffee today, well, hopefully, we wouldn’t be, would we? Maybe we picked up to-go coffee at the drive-through and we’re talking in the parking lot like two cop cars comparing notes, me in my car and you in yours.
I’m sorry that I’ve been out of touch. I’ve been busy putting the finishing touches on, not one, but TWO novels. In this case “finishing touches” means working through the changes from the editing process (third-party editors) and then working through the galley approval process, for one at least. I still have that to complete on the second one.
My historical novel, THE HAG RIDER will be out in June. It is set in the civil war and involves a bit of paranormal activity. More later, but I can assure you my history degree came in quite handy while I was researching this one. Hey, I’m finally working in my other field of study! (I have a degree in English as well … so I’ve put that into use too).
The fourth installment of my Traces of Treasure series, PENUMBRA, will be published in August. Still working on this one. Same characters, plus a couple of new ones, a new mystery to unravel … early reports indicate this one surpasses all the others.
In other news: COVID-19, Coronavirus, or as I like to call it, C19.
Demographics at this early stage of the game are useless. This is why I get tired of the endless talking heads on 24-hour news. We’re not even getting other news. How many people know a whack-job was stopped from bombing a hospital in KC last week? Not many. It’s true, look it up.
Here’s a statistic: A virus like this has the ability to spread exponentially. If unchecked, it WILL spread exponentially. It can be like an out of control wildfire. Social distancing is the firebreak.
ANYONE can get this disease. Young, old, healthy, sick, male, female, and no matter the race and ethnic background. It does not discriminate. Do not draw conclusions from the talking heads … if it gets into you, you have no idea how your particular metabolism will react to it.
The only defense against it is for people to refrain from socializing. Period. You can protect from the required occasional need for shopping by strenuous adherence to common sense: keep your distance and no face touching prior to effective hand cleaning or sanitizing. I keep sanitizer in the car
Yes, probably more people won’t get it than get it. A high percentage of people who get it survive it. Our fatality rate is small compared to Italy, but in Italy, it is at least 10% … it is what happens when the hospitals are swamped and they run out of supplies and equipment. A high percentage of the people who survive but are hospitalized do so because of respirators. When they run out, the fatality percentage increases. It will happen here too, in most areas. Also, when protective gear runs out, more health professionals get sick.
One other thing: yes, people who have some underlying condition have a real problem surviving. But a LOT of people get sick and die of this who had nothing else wrong with them. The truth be told, it will be years before the demographics on that are known. I don’t want to flip a coin on this thing …
“Let’s be careful out there …”
Thomas Fenske is a writer living in NC. Remember, ebooks are the safest books to shop for and read and they are immediately available, virus-free! I have a specialized page with links to my books and some handy tips into joining the ranks of electronic readers. My books are also available in paperback, but right now … well, I hope nobody coughed on them. http://thefensk.com/fd.html
If you are able to, please work from home. If you have never worked regularly from home, I “telecommuted” for the last twelve years at my last job and here are some tips for success I suggest you review.
Have a special work “place” in your home … another room like a spare bedroom is ideal. In my job, we HAD to do this and the door had to be lockable (gov security stuff)
Keep to a daily/hourly routine. (although my job was more like “hey, you can work 24 hours a day”). You need to police yourself.
My company had a special work-related instant messaging that worked great for co-worker interaction. If you have that, great. You might want to use FB messaging if nothing else.
I had a dedicated ip serviced phone/phone line, but you may not have that option. Skype might be a work option. It does not have to be video skype. It’s another good option for messaging too.
Learn to work from PDF copies because you’ll soon find yourself buried in pieces of paper if you print (and you’ll need extra supplies). In my last years at work, I had printer cartridges go dry because I printed so rarely.
I saw on TV someone suggested get dressed like a normal workday. I’d say that is optional unless you video conference.
Some people may want to do video conferencing, but I’d say voice conferencing is good enough. BUT, research screen sharing apps if you ever need to have someone look over your shoulder.
Most important: keep liquid beverages at least an arm’s length from your laptop/keyboard. Lean away from your workstation to sip. Hardware support is much farther away when you work at home.
Keep the TV off.
Do your work.
Get into a routine.
It all seems like common sense but for me, it required a learning curve. It’s a great and convenient option, so don’t squander the apparent freedom of it. Remind others at home that you are, in fact, at WORK.
It is hard to do at first but if you stick with it, it becomes normal.
If we were having coffee today, I’d catch you up. The holidays, am I right? I was also busy working on the fourth book in my Traces of Treasure Series.
Truth is, I’m about posted out. I had a great post yesterday, and I confess I was originally going to re-edit the beginning and update it as today’s weekend coffee share, but today I hesitated. It’s a good post just as it is.
It’s about a seal encounter at the Outer Banks in NC last week. Christmas was good with our family, but this encounter put a cherry on the top of the holiday.
It was a rare and amazing encounter. Read about it here:
Beyond that, book sales have picked up after a very successful promotion in December. “Picked up” is a relative term. But it is definitely a blip in the right direction. I’ve declared 2020 to be the Year of THE FEVER! Catch it! The trilogy awaits.