Harmon Creek opens with a man sitting uncomfortably in court. We find out his name is Claude, and Earl Swanger is his attorney. Claude is a black man at odds with the world he lives in. He was arrested for petty bootlegging during prohibition and the sitting District Attorney is prosecuting him like a hardened criminal. Why? Because Claude is represented by his opponent in an upcoming election.
Claude is not part of the real story, at least as far as I know, but he’s based on a real person. My wife knew the real Claude much later when she’d visit the house of Earl’s widow, Lily May. He was a common presence in the house and on the property. The two had an interesting relationship. Well, relationship is probably the wrong word because there was nothing romantic here. He was a neighbor who had an uncommon devotion to “Miss Lily May” … he was more friend than a handyman and he certainly did a lot of work for her, but for the mid-Twentieth Century in a racially divided America it was certainly a kind of Driving Miss Daisy sort of friendship. Knowing this man was one of my wife’s fondest memories of her visits.
I have always been intrigued by this notion, so I endeavored to add Claude to the equation to perhaps inject some sense to it, at least in my mind. Also, the character Claude adds a great deal of depth to the story and creates a side-story that interweaves with the rest of the novel to make it more compelling, or at least I hope so. In most ways, it is as much Claude’s story as it is Earl’s.
Although the family thought Earl’s death was outright murder, after digesting as many facts as I could, I didn’t think so. I’ve studied murders and although some are cut and dried, most revolve around something quite different, more likely a misunderstanding that got out of hand.
Some of the later witness statements devolved into insinuations by the mysterious woman that Earl had perhaps been drunk or possibly had been behaving inappropriately with her. She apparently changed her story several times, with each iteration becoming more prone to the latter notion.
Please understand, I’ve read family letters both from him and about him, and this man was a nice guy, not prone to cheat on his wife, certainly not a drunk, and anyway, to do so in the middle of a campaign would be political suicide. I also didn’t think an incumbent would be so stupid as to assassinate an opponent. It’s too obvious.
Cheating? I mean, this was a small town, and Miss Lily May was out campaigning for Earl in another section of the district. It was getting into the final stretch. No, this was out of character for this guy.
Ah, but a setup…that would work. Even a somewhat dirty DA wouldn’t be above hiring someone to lure his opponent into the appearances of impropriety. Once I created this premise, the rest of it pretty much wrote itself. I had a backdrop of truth to paint my story against and the increasingly sordid tale meandered across several of the complications that naturally follow these types of crimes.
It’s an old motif. Witnesses who can’t keep quiet, or who you can’t trust completely, must be kept quiet by whatever means. And if the DA is dirty, he’s probably in cahoots with organized crime, which wasn’t just active in Chicago and New York; Huntsville TX sits within the range of a major organization operating out of Galveston at the time. Similar operations existed in Dallas and New Orleans. It makes sense that if there is unwanted attention in even a backwoods part of the operation, it is in these organization’s best interest to help smooth the waters and, if necessary, help each other in the process.
I don’t want to spoil the fun … you’ll just have to read it!
Thomas Fenske is a novelist living in North Carolina.
Look for HARMON CREEK in June 2022 on Amazon or ask your favorite bookstore to order it.
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!
I just finished what I call the galley reviews for my June release, HARMON CREEK. Some people might call them the page proofs. What that means is that the book is in the pipeline and it will be foisted upon an unsuspecting public come June 1, or thereabouts.
My media savvy daughter reviewed some materials of mine (I’ve been book marketing for going on seven years now, but still consider myself a rank amateur). Two things she pointed out were my “yahoo” email address (been using it for over twenty years), and my book’s web page domain (thefensk.com).
I’ve used “thefensk” as a marker for a long time. I think it was originally a suggested username on some web site and I liked it. It is flippant and fun, but it doesn’t convey a sense of professionalism. With my new book coming out I want to embrace professionalism.
Sadly, I just renewed my current web provider for two years and also renewed the domain. But that’s too long to wait. They also charge a lot extra for an email address in that domain. So, my other option was to find a good intro deal for a new host, and one that would be more cost effective in the coming years. I was successful on both fronts … so although I’ll still update what I call my legacy site for the foreseeable future, I also have a more forward-looking NEW SITE located at https://tfenske.com!
I’ll be using the new site for most promotion aspects and I could certainly use a lot of help getting it established in search engines, so please click on the link!!!! Yes, this link: https://tfenske.com
Thomas Fenske is a writer living in NC … look for his new release, HARMON CREEK in June. More information on this and his other books can be found by starting here: https://tfenske.com
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
It’s been a while, but this sleeping cat has awakened and he’s decided to gear up the old blog again in anticipation of his upcoming publication.
In my last post, I mentioned a bit about the new project,, HARMON CREEK. There will be more about it coming later. The best news is that it will be released in June of this year. That gives me not quite three months to get off my duff and dust off my blogging and marketing skills.
To get started, I’ll post about the story, sure, but also about the marketing and publishing process. For today, I’ll say that part of the delay in posting was due to my decision to actively pitch to agents and other publishers. It’s not that I’m dissatisfied with the publisher of my first five novels, it’s more along the lines of this was something I’d never even tried. Understand, querying is a lot of work. I sent out dozens of queries but only had one positive response and unfortunately that was received after I had all but given up on the process and submitted to my current publisher. Ah, well. I gave it the old college try (although in my creative writing classes in college we never covered queries).
What I learned, was that you should definitely do your homework and pay close attention to what individuals say they are interested in. Even more important, stick to the guidelines they provide. I know that likely half of my queries failed because I didn’t notice the term “double spaced” (which drastically reduces the amount of text they are requesting) and although I personally think that is so “pre-word processor” — well, the rules are the rules. My bad.
The what, though, that is where a lot of prospective authors fail. The category of “what” is a moving target and can change with the wind. It is whatever an agent thinks publishers can be convinced THEY can make a lot of money on — if they pick this manuscript. Usually it follows currently successful trends and has very little to do with the actual quality of your story or of your writing (although a negative impression of either or both of those can sink you pretty quickly). I won’t comment on the “what” I perceived, but take under advisement: I suspect tails of survival from war-torn Ukraine will soon be a must-have on the lists of agents and publishers. All I’m saying is — pay attention and don’t get your hopes up if your hard work falls outside the current trends.
All that said, smaller publishers, although they still want to make money, can be a little more forgiving in the trend department. And, who knows? YOU might be the next trend setter. I can say with a great deal of authenticity I was dressing grunge in the early 70s long before grunge became a trend. I still do, for that matter, but that’s another story entirely. Oh, and never forget self-publishing, but you can’t skip the same steps publishers take to prepare a manuscript for publication. More on that later as well.
Anyway, after almost a year, I’m back, baby and ready to share.
Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina USA. More info about him and his work: http://thefensk.com
If we were trying to have coffee today I’d no doubt be all excited! It’s release day for my latest novel. PENUMBRA.
Some people make a big deal about release day. For me it is a bit anticlimactic…okay, it’s official. Distribution is a little wonky today too. This month my publisher is expanding the print copies into a new supplier. We have been exclusively Amazon for a while. Now Amazon will provide print copies sold on its platform and the new supplier will be able to more easily provide copies to bookstores and libraries.
Of course with anything new, the publisher had no real guidance into how long the new books would be in limbo. When they are available, they’ll be available. To make matters worse, the print copies on Amazon are delayed as well.
It’s a good thing I didn’t plan anything big for release day. Today’s big “release” activity? I cut the grass!
Okay, tomorrow is the big day! I know, I’ve bothered you all week, but I just wanted to be sure I got the word out.
This will mark three books published in 10 months. It’s not quite as amazing as it sounds. For one thing, for a number of reasons I had a three-year-hiatus in publishing, well, except for my companion cookbook. So, this pretty much puts me back on track for a book a year. It amounts to the four books of the Traces of Treasure Series, and the stand-alone historical novel The Hag Rider (my other Summer of 2020 release).
I managed to cobble Penumbra together in a little over five months, from the first page to the final revision and signed contract. My first book, The Fever, took close to three years. Writing is like any other journey. There are left turns and right turns, and any number of hard stops. One encounters bumpy roads and pitfalls. Actually, in writing, we create a lot of bumpy roads and pitfalls.
Anyway, thanks for coming along for the ride. There will be more to come, most certainly. I have assembled quite a crew of characters who are meant to take this series forward, but I probably won’t feature ALL of them at the same time as I did in Penumbra.
Look for Penumbra on Amazon tomorrow, in Kindle, KindleUnlimited, & paperback. I’m working on getting copies into some bookstores as well but with my small publisher, this is a work in progress.
There are three days until the release of Penumbra!
Today I’d like to share a little bit about the story. This is the fourth installment of the Traces of Treasure Series and, like the others, it involves a search for a treasure. The first three eventually became a trilogy, one story led directly to the next. I fooled myself into thinking they could each stand-alone, and to some extent, I guess they can, but they are definitely tied together. Penumbra, though, is a story unto itself. We have the same characters, but we are not as concerned about their past exploits this time. Events move quickly and although there is some sense of their community of friendship, they are too busy doing what they are doing to bother much about the past.
What they are doing is trying to find the lost boyfriend of an acquaintance of cafe owner Smidgeon Toll. Of course, the pendulum of fate has made another pass: HE was on a quest for a lost treasure. In order to find him, Smidgeon and her boyfriend must enlist the aid of their friends to first get on his trail, then discern more about this treasure he was after. Along the way, they encounter a huge, centuries-old mystery, confront a crew of bad guys who kidnap and murder their own way in pursuit of the loot. New friends join the quest as well, including Ximena, who I mentioned a few days ago.
Another new friend is Bea Welbourne, a special collections librarian at a nearby university. Bea has no reason to become involved, but she’s intrigued by the tale she’s heard and is even more intrigued by the trail of clues she manages to uncover. She’s no stodgy librarian, she is smart, fit, and can hold her own out in the wilderness. When told she doesn’t need to help them, she simply responds that she enjoys a bit of excitement. She certainly gets more than she bargained for.
I don’t want to say too much more, because I’m getting into spoiler territory, but suffice it to say, there are many veiled layers concealing the core of this mystery. All the pieces fit together, but it takes a while for our hardy crew of treasure-hunter, investigators to a conclusion. It is full of twists and turns, with criminals lurking and popping up when you least expect it. And there are several supernatural things complicating matters at several turns. Oh, and the cover? You’ll see all of that in the story.
There are four days until the release of Penumbra!
How about another review?
Diane Bylo is co-owner of the Tometender Book Blog. She is an awesome book-reviewing machine. I just checked her totals on GoodReads and Diane has at this moment, 6490 reviews posted. By the time you go check, it will most likely be more!
She took a chance on my first book, The Fever, and has reviewed every one of my titles since then. I told her I thought this was the best book so far, and she agreed. Here’s what she had to say:
Thomas Fenske’s writing, his characters and the scrapes they get into always remind me of simpler times and dare I say the family television of yesteryear? PENUMBRA is the latest in the Traces of Treasure series and it combines mystery, mayhem and a touch of the unknown as Sam, Smidgeon and their friends take time off from the diner and head to the hills for adventure.
This time out, Sam isn’t at the top of his game, so when someone Smidgeon met before seeks her help in finding her missing boyfriend, the plot thickens as the whole truth comes out. There is treasure buried in them thar hills and isn’t that just right up their alley?
Whose treasure is it? How can it be found? Who knows the secret to finding something buried centuries before? Who will live to uncover the truth? Who is scamming who? Hang on tight, this down-home mystery has Sam and company up to their pickaxes in deceit and the supernatural and you are going to love it as old friends return, once again!