WeekendCoffee Tardiness

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

If we were having coffee today I’d be lamenting our lack of coffee sharing lately.  I’d end with the “it’s not you, it’s me” explanation.

It’s not that I don’t have anything to write about, but a few weeks ago I found myself glued to the weather channel watching news about my hometown Houston and Harvey.  Then I was closely watching the doings of Irma … and even now, Maria’s course is still a bit of a question mark regarding the NC coast.

Ah, hurricane season.  Global Warming?  Maybe.  I’m not a naysayer but I’m also not firmly in the “we humans are totally screwing up our world” camp either.  I think the earth is a much bigger engine than we give it credit for.  Sheesh, thirty years ago scientists were saying the exact opposite: we were causing a general cooling trend, possibly starting a new ice age.  Nobody made a movie about that though.  If you follow planetary astronomy, you’d know that the ice caps on Mars have been in decline as well.  We’ve thrown a lot of trash at Mars but I don’t think we’ve created emissions yet.  Maybe there are solar causes for some of this?  I don’t know.

Nobody talks quite as much about the massive loss of tropical rainforests … probably because they are out of our control.  I think they have a bigger effect on the global climate engine.  And don’t get me started on contrails … sometimes half the clouds in the sky are contrails.  Should be cut emissions?  Sure.  Couldn’t hurt.  Save the rainforests? Definitely.  Those are the scrubbers of the emissions.  Recycle?  Sure.  But I had to wonder when my local program started just saying separate THIS, but not that … just put it all together.  Okay, makes me wonder if that stuff is actually being recycled. Recycling depends on available markets for the materials.  But I still recycle.  Why? I have curbside recycling but not curbside garbage pickup.  If I recycle, I cut down the solid waste I have to haul to the local garbage place by more than a half.  Whatever works, right?

But back to the hurricanes. We’ve always had hurricanes.  Ever heard of the port of Indianola?  Probably not unless you’re from Texas.  Even then, probably not.  It was once the second most active port in Texas.  It was thriving.  It was the county seat.  It had a nice huge courthouse.  It’s gone.  It was destroyed twice in the late 1800s.  In the 1870s, it was pretty awful but it was rebuilt.  In the 1880s people sort of said, why bother after a massive storm really whacked it hard.  All that remains are a few foundations and headstones.  The county seat was moved and most of the town was reclaimed by the sea.  Granted, if you follow hurricanes and the Texas gulf coast they built the town in the exact worst place.  Countless storms, including the massive Carla in 1961 and this year’s Harvey would have hit it again.

I live about 200 miles inland from the NC coast.  It’s far enough to not worry too much but close enough to take notice anytime a storm is out there.  I’ve lived here almost thirty years … one storm whacked us pretty good inland in the mid-nineties.

Everybody I know in Florida did okay through Irma.  Most people I know in Houston came through okay, and those unlucky few are alive and working through the rebuilding process.  Global Warming?  I don’t know.  It seems to me that blaming Global Warming outright for a bad storm season is sort of along the same lines as saying God is punishing us for this or that.  It’s just a bad storm season.  Keep your eyes on the sky and a few extra cans of something for an emergency.  Oh, and coffee.  I wish I had a gas stove.

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in NC

 

 

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Disastrous

Photo Courtesy of Melanie Hauser
I might have mentioned before that I’m originally from Houston. The situation there is dire … thankfully, all my friends and family seem to be holding their own so far. My younger sister lives with our 95 year old mother in the house we all grew up in. It has flooded once before, with Tropical Storm Allison. This time, so far (literally knocking on wood here), the water got up to the house but not into it. They haven’t had power since Saturday night. 

I’ve seen a lot of conjecture on the media about this situation, but there are a few things you should know.

 Houston has *always* had flooding problems. The place is basically a swamp they built a city on. Most often, it is localized, but any part of the city can get at least temporarily inundated. I always hated even the temporary inconvenience of flooding. I’ve had to clean up after a catastrophic flood only once, in 1976 … the first citywide flood I’d seen. I worked for The University of Houston, at the University Center (the student center) at the time and their “satellite” student center  flooded. Small wonder, as it was underground. The aftermath was awful, especially in the food service area. 
Some of my earliest memories back into the fifties are of our street flooding. Those floods rarely extended much beyond the curbs. The worst one of my childhood was Hurricane Carla. It got about 1/3 of the way up the yard. Unlike Harvey, Carla blew and rained and moved on. That’s what these storms are supposed to do. 

This tendency to flood is a major reason I decided to move away. I’m a wimp about flooding, I admit it. 

I hear the Mayor, Sylvester Turner, has gotten some undeserved flak about not ordering an evacuation. I knew him in college, he is one of my favorite people from those days. He’s a stand-up guy. He made the right choice. The critics need to understand two things …
ONE: anybody can choose to evacuate on their own. One of my sisters chose to do just that. There was plenty of warning. If you have a place to go, then get there as early as you can. 
TWO: where was anybody expecting to go? This storm in particular, was (and still is) a big question mark. San Antonio? Austin? Dallas? There were chances all three might be affected. It is easy to “say” evacuation … but as Houston found in 2005 after Katrina and when Rita was threatening, there are a LOT of people in Houston. People were literally stranded in the worst traffic jam in history. And in this case it very well might have placed hundreds of thousands at serious risk of death or injury. Can you imagine being stuck in gridlock then slammed with a storm? And for all anybody knew, they might be going someplace worse. There was no clear track to this storm. Still isn’t. They’re pretty good with predictions but sometimes, these storms will basically make their own weather. 

Twenty plus years ago, we thought we were high and dry here in central NC, 130 miles from the coast when Hurricane Fran threatened. It maintained hurricane strength all the way to Raleigh! It was one of the scariest nights of my life. Not so much flooding here, but trees were down EVERYWHERE and power was out for quite a while. 
In short, these are natural disasters. Disaster is the action word here. It’s never going to be good. 

Keep your thoughts and prayers with the people in harm’s way, especially my mom. 

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in NC. 

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

WeekendCoffee WooHoo

bookofweekIf we were having coffee today it would be all about the contest.  “What contest?”  The weekly Cover Wars contest.  I don’t know why, but I chose not to proselytize here last week when the contest was starting. I don’t know why.  I guess I thought I had a lot of followers from here already and I posted about it outside of weekendcoffeeshare, but I just didn’t feel right about talking “vote for me” here.  Ah, but the week is over and my cover won!

One of the perks of winning:  A CURSE THAT BITES DEEP is the book of the week!

A little background: This competition is hosted by a book marketing site called Author Shout.  They offer a lot of author and book services and when you purchase marketing from them, they promote the heck out of your book on social media.  Every week, they have a free “Cover Wars” competition … they put up a batch (usually 10-15) cover photos and people vote for their favorite.

Sure, I think my novel A Curse That Bites Deep has an awesome cover, but I also know, this is WAR.  I enlisted the aid of my FaceBook friends and tweeted and posted on several mailing list groups I belong to.  The key to this contest is repeat votes … people can vote once every 24 hours.  I was able to gently pester my friends enough every day for seven days to get the win.  I’m always amazed at covers that get less than seven votes.  I mean, even if I was totally not going to win, I’d make sure I got at least seven votes, right?

So please excuse me for tooting my own horn a little this morning.  After all, it IS an awesome cover for an awesome book.

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina.  More information on his books can be found at http://thefensk.com

WeekendCoffee Fools

 

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Christmas photo?  April Fools!

If we were having coffee today I guess we’d both mention April Fool’s Day.  It always seems so appropriate to “do” something on April Fools Day.  The fact of the matter is, I joke all the time so I’m a bit jaded by April Fools. It’s a bit like a heavy drinker making a big deal over New Year’s Eve or St. Patrick’s Day as a drinking day.  I mean, for them, every day is a big drinking day so why seize on those events, right?  So, anyway, I’m just not in the mood this year.   Maybe it’s my weeklong backache, or the reorganization at work, or the growing grass and weeds in the yard which brings me back to, well, back to my backache.

 

Sigh.  With my back, I know I just need to give it some time.  It always manages to work itself out.  It twinged up on Friday a week ago and was feeling better last Sunday so I did a little bit of yard work but paid the price.  If I’d let it go last week, I’d probably be ready to go out and do battle now.  As it is, I’ll probably need to wait until next weekend.

As far as the reorganization goes, they are a way of life at work.  Somebody is always reorganizing something.  I’ve worked at the same place for seventeen years and I have completely lost count of the reorganizations.  The other day I tried to remember all of my bosses names and I drew a blank on a couple of them.  It is simply a way of life in big corporations.  I have two theories about why that is, and I think they are related.

One: some form of movement gives the outward impression of progress.  In fact, it is really just moving the many pieces around.  Oh, little things change, sure, but basically, it ends up being the same work.  Nothing ultimately changes.
Two: by its nature, this form of change tends to cause anxiety and discontent.  This leads to what I call passive layoffs.  These occur if people are already dissatisfied with the company and the unnecessary changes might just spur them to quit and move on. This is a win-win for the company because formal layoffs are very expensive.  If they can up the irritation factor just a little, they save a ton of money.

Silly April Fools notion?  Think about it.  Think about times you’ve worked at a job and some inane policy has come up that made you seriously consider moving on.  As far as I know, I made this term up but deep in my heart, I know it is a real thing.  No joke.  It’s a subtle form of managerial influence.  It is akin to the theory that fast food eateries have color schemes designed to influence you to eat fast and get the heck out of there by using a subconscious influence to increase their customer turnover and make more money.  We’ll have to see how all that plays out for me.   I’m pretty used to these changes, but we’ll have to see.  It’s a big unknown.  Yesterday I had one manager, today I have another.

In other April Fool’s Weekend news … there is an important sports milestone this weekend.  No, I’m not talking about Basketball.  Never have been a big fan, although sometimes I’ll watch the last two minutes.
No, I’m talking about a real sport:  BASEBALL SEASON STARTS TOMORROW.
Note: there is no “last two minutes” in baseball.

Downloads of the new cookbook have slowed down.  Please check it out.  It’s fun, it’s got some good recipes, and it’s free.  It’s also a good introduction to the world of my two novels.  As a reviewer put it this week:  “This little cookbook makes the novels seem almost like reading about friends” … ebook only right now, but like I said, it’s free and there are versions for virtually any device.

It is only in ebook formats right now, but like I said, it’s free and there are versions for virtually any device.  https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/712183

So, even though I haven’t joked at all … that is so out of character for me, I think I can say, April Fools.

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in NC.  You can make his back feel better and make him less uneasy about his job if you BUY HIS BOOKS.  More info at http://thefensk.com.  At least download the cookbook … you know you can get the pdf and read it at the office while you are pretending to work.  At least an increase in free downloads gives the impression of some form of progress.  😉

Another Great Review

I’m starting the new year off right … someone just posted Amazon review #5 for A CURSE THAT BITES DEEP.  

“… Set in Texas, it is an excellent depiction of the people and places of my home state. Buried treasure, ghosts, romance and constant danger will keep you engaged and entertained …”

The reviewer had read both books in the series and concluded … “Read them both!”

You can get more information on both THE FEVER and A CURSE THAT BITES DEEP (along with quick buy links for Amazon, Barnes &Noble, Kobo, iBooks, and Smashwords) at:  http://thefensk.com

WeekendCoffeeShare – Christmas Eve Eve

If we were having coffee today, Friday the twenty-third, I’d wish you a Happy Christmas Eve-Eve.  

The day figures prominently in my novel, The Fever. In fact the entire Christmas week is a big part of the story.   In the book, the day has been celebrated by several of the characters as both a Christmas celebration and the commemoration of a shared tragedy — the destruction of their old workplace by a fire-bombing.  It was a bar called Trotsky’s. No one knew if it was radical right-wingers lashing out at a perceived symbol of Communism, or radical leftists intent on preserving the memory of a revered servent to the cause.  Really, it was just a bar with a catchy name. 

The “holiday” concept was born out of my own usage of the term when I used to host an informal get-together as a chance to celebrate with friends before they headed home for the holidays.  

Ironically the day has gained some traction as “Festivus” from a Seinfeld episode. Ah, but another sitcom, New Girl, has just aired an episode about Christmas Eve-Eve. I an glad I put it in the book, so if it takes off you’ll all know where it originated.  

So, Happy Christmas Eve-Eve!  And also, a warm Season’s Greetings to you and yours. 

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More information about Thomas Fenske’s novel THE FEVER can be found at  http://thefensk.com

Treasure or Trouble?  

Time to walk a Texas mile in Sam’s dusty boots … 

THE FEVER explores Sam’s obession with a seemingly unattainable dream.  Just how far would you go to feed your fever?  

A CURSE THAT BITES DEEP continues the story of Sam but this time there is a killer in the mix, and maybe a ghost or two. 

Remember … “if one searches really hard for something, often they’ll find it.  But the “it” they find may not be the something they were after.”

So, what’ll it be-Treasure or Trouble?  Or maybe a heaping helping of both!  
The books are available for Kindle, Nook, Kobo, iBooks, and in Paperback.  http://thefensk.com