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 I had dabbled in short stories over the years and wrote a pretty mediocre novella in the 90s (unpublished).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

Please help a fellow out …

What? Three posts this week?  Well, things are happening.  Like this little ditty:

My latest novel, A CURSE THAT BITES DEEP is currently in a cover competition.  I need your vote!  Yeah, it’s a beauty pageant of sorts … or a popularity contest.  I’m beating the bushes trying to get some votes.  You can vote once a day.  I’m really proud of this cover.  I won this competition a while back for my first novel, and I want to repeat that success.  So I need your help.

It’s on a marketing site (Author Shout) that hosts this competition every week.  All you have to do is cast your vote (hopefully) for A Curse That Bites Deep.

Here’s the link:  http://authorshout.com/cover-wars

You can vote once a day.  Please do!!

Thanks!

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

 

 

WeekendCoffee Fools

 

img_7251-2
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.  😉

A funny thing happened on the way to the WeekEndCoffeeShare

img_6284If we were having coffee today I’d have to break the news.

You’d say, “It’s not the freaking cookbook again, is it?”

I’d smirk, and say, “I’m afraid so.”

The first thing I’d say is that I’m embarrassed.  Ever since I got this idea, I’ve been hammering away at it.  I recruited family members, friends, and acquaintances to give me feedback.  Most have read my novels.  I wrote my novels.  Finally this week, I was ready to take a big leap and upload this thing to Amazon. I had second thoughts about the title.  I loaded up my first book and did a quick search. Ack!!

Okay, I admit it.  In the novels, I never called the restaurant The Mossback Inn.  Never.  Not once.  Always Cafe.  Nobody noticed.  Especially me.  As big a problem as it now seems to me, it probably doesn’t matter.  Still, I could have sworn I did that search earlier, but obviously, I didn’t.  So I considered my options.  Although I’ve marketed it informally for a couple of weeks, I still considered it in beta mode, that is, in computer terms, a high-level test.  If I still need to make changes, now would be the time.  Thank heavens I hadn’t uploaded it.

One option was just to ignore it, or add a paragraph in the forward about how it was originally called The Mossback Inn.  That was a viable possibility.  The other option was to just bite the bullet, make the changes to Cafe, and continue on as before.  There really weren’t that many changes needed in the cookbook.  There were quite a few on the website.  I needed to change the cover, but once again, that is not a major change.  I decided to check out one thing before I made the decision. I Googled it.

I found a minor wrinkle.  There is a Mossback Cafe in Kingston Washington.  I checked out their web page.  It looks like a charming place, using locally sourced foods.  Farm to fork, I think they called it.  Heck, I’d like to eat there.  There is no way my cookbook impacts that place.  But I wrote them anyway, just to be on the up-and-up.  The owner wrote me back, somewhat amused by it all, but he agreed, my cookbook would be fine as The Mossback Cafe Cookbook, saying they more call their place just Mossback anyway.  He even commented on a few of the recipes and invited me up sometime.  Awesome.  You can check them out here:  http://mossbackcafe.com — like I said, it looks like a really nice place

cafe-coverSo, today, I’m launching an extended beta test with the rebranded title.  The Mossback Cafe Cookbook.  I think “Cafe” will likely play better in social media.  What do you think?  The rest of the cookbook is exactly the same.

Feel free to download a copy.  There are files for epub (good for Nook, iBooks, Kobo),  mobi (kindle), or pdf (just about everything will open pdf … hey, you could read it at work!).

Check it out and report back.  It’s a small book, but it is packed with good recipes.  And it gives a glimpse into one of the major characters of the books.  No spoilers, you have to read the books to find out more.  It’s a fun book to browse and hopefully a few who look at it will be enticed to check out the novels …

 

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina.  You can find out more about his writing (including the cookbook) at http://thefensk.com

WeekendCoffee DST Remorse

newmossbackcover2If we were having coffee today I would no doubt be complaining about Daylight Savings Time.  Yes, I hate it.  I mostly hate it for a week or so when the clocks go forward.  After that things sort of settle out.  My feelings, though,  go more toward why is it even necessary?

I don’t buy most of the arguments.  I frankly don’t see where it saves energy in this day and age.  What it mostly does, is give people more play time in the evening.  And since there is still the same amount of daylight no matter how you slice it, gradually increasing until the Summer Solstice, then decreasing until the Winter Solstice, all in all, I guess it doesn’t much matter.

I still have three favorite observations about DST.  One, the popular slogan is invalid.  Spring Forward and Fall Back sounds fine enough, but it has always seemed to me to be backward — it doesn’t make practical sense.  If I fall, I almost invariably fall forward, or at least to the side.  Ah, but if something startles me, I’m entirely likely to spring back.  You see?

The other two observation have to do with the intent and the implications.  I understand the concept of  “who needs sunlight at 5AM?”.  Sadly, we can’t change the way days progress.  What DST switches show us is the true arbitrary nature of time.  It’s arbitrary!  Admit it.  For all our dependence on it, we are dependent on something totally arbitrary.  So, to my way of thinking, when it was arbitrarily set up originally, it was made just a bit askew.  More on this after I make the second observation.

In the US, “STANDARD TIME” is now barely over four months of the year.  MOST of the year is that special designation of Daylight Savings Time.  What the heck?  How is that “Standard?” And people wonder why the aliens are so hesitant to make contact with us.

So my arbitrary solution is this:  Let’s just choose to buck up and change to a new standard time in the fall … Fall Back (ugh) not an hour, but a half-hour.  And then just leave it there.  We’ll sort of have the best of both worlds.  It is probably how it should have been set up in the first place.  It’s not as crazy as you might think … there are half hour time zones in some areas and the world goes on.

In more important matters, we’re likely to have another cup while I mention the cookbook I told you about a few weeks back.  I have a pretty good version of it available NOW, free for the asking.

Just send an email to mossbackinn@yahoo.com and tell me what version you need, mobi (for Kindle), epub (for Nook, Kobo, or iBooks), or pdf (for everything, really, including downloading it and reading it at work).  It’s really a load of fun, a companion book to my two novels, full of Tex-Mex and Southwestern dishes and some just down home good comfort food too.  Like I said, it’s FREE!  “Smidgeon Toll” is a character in both books and by character, I mean she IS a character.  You’ll like her.

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in NC.  Find out more:  http://www.thefensk.com

Weekend Coffee Cookbook

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

If we were having coffee today, I’d have to talk about the cookbook.

What cookbook?

Well, it’s this way:  I saw somebody else had a cookbook based on their book series.  I was downright gobsmacked.  I’m a cookbook collector, I’ve created a couple of cookbooks before, my novel series Traces of Treasure has a small country cafe as a central locale, and I’m just slapping myself in the forehead for not thinking of this before.

Sure, I’m being derivative.  So, who isn’t?  As a collector I have to tell you, everybody and their dog has put out a cookbook.  Everybody is being derivative.

So, I’m cobbling one together.  I actually have the concept pretty well nailed down, I’ve got the recipes copied and (mostly) formatted.  Formatting, that’s the key.  Takes time.  And I need to find some more royalty free art to sort of jazz it up.  I’ve got a little, just need a little more.  Then finalize things and it will be ready to go.

If you’re interested, I suggest you sign up to my mailing list.  You can find a link for that on my web page.  That will be part of the promotional part of this, to get the mailing list moving along.  Anyway, I think it is an awesome cookbook.  Since the novels are set in  West Texas there are lots of Southwestern recipes and just a little bit of fun too.  It’s written as if the fictional proprietress of the little cafe has put it together.  She’s a lot of fun.

Keep tuned!


Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina.  You can find out more information about his books and subscribe to his mailing list at:
http://thefensk.com

Weekend Coffee Research

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

If we were having coffee today I’d have to hurry because I’ve been busy researching and want to get back to it.  Book three in my Traces of Treasure series has been off to a slow start and I am finally making some progress.  I’m pretty much what they call a “pantser” in my writing.  Well, a total pantser just starts writing, as if by the seat of their pants, going wherever the story may take them.  I’m not that hard-core. I have the germ of an idea and I cobbled together a basic outline based on that idea.

But at this stage of the story, early in, I tend to get bogged down in simple details.  I want to set the stage just right, and possibly set up for future action.  Working in the past (the story is set in 1983) is tricky and I am in a somewhat unfamiliar locale.  Limited resources prevent me from traveling there so I use a combination of Google maps & Satellite views and USGS topographic maps to help me.  I’m lucky on the latter because I can get USGS maps from the past.  Most of my action takes place in far West Texas so things don’t change too much.  But they do change, so I rely on the topographic map to keep me in the time frame.

I used to buy the maps for some location work.  Ironically, one of the characters in my first book did the same thing, spreading them out on the floor with a huge magnifying glass and a big lamp.  Now, you can get those same maps in PDF format.  I have to say, zooming the PDF gives one a much better view than any magnifying glass.  Awesome details emerge.

I found something so interesting, I had to write to the actual ranch I identified in the PDF to get some clarification.  I hope they write back.  They should.  It’s a big operation and they have their own web page and had detailed contact information.  It’s a working ranch so I’ll have to be patient.  It is funny where research takes you.  Their web page had a history of their ranch and it was a fascinating look into a place I’d never heard of before.  But it was a typical story too, one small piece of history that helps to fill in an overall sense of time and place.  Really interesting.

It feels really good to be actively writing again.  Getting excited about this story.  I think it is going to rival the other two in suspense and mystery.  I had to take off so long because of my eyes, then got lazy because of that downtime, it’s been tough to start up again.  Today was the first day I felt like I was really back.

 

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina.  Yes, a writer.  And he’s writing.  I promise.  More info: http://thefensk.com

Life Imitates Art?

img_6284If we were having coffee today I’d have to mention the treasure hunter.  Why?  Because my two novels are about a treasure hunter.  Me?  Naw, I’m not a treasure hunter, I just acted upon an idea I had like thirty years ago.

Anyway, six months after the publication of my novel, THE FEVER, I spotted a news story about a missing treasure hunter.  A somewhat clueless guy set off to find a treasure based on vague clues and disappeared.  That is the basic plot point of my novel.  Of course, there was no cross-pollination here and this is a very tragic story.  A guy died.

I based my story not on something real, like this, but on an idea.  A “what if” scenario. A tragic outcome was always a major possibility in the story and Sam, the hero of THE FEVER, always made sure certain people knew where he was going and when to consider him overdue.  He comes close a couple of times but … well, no more spoilers … that’s why you have to read it!

Why do I bring this up?  I was writing a pitch to a radio station today and I thought the real-life story might be a useful sidebar to the information about my own novel … and found an update I didn’t know about.  The guy’s body had been found about six months after he had disappeared. It’s a little too close to home and frankly the coincidence of the two stories still kind of freaks me out.

Here’s a link to that story:  https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jul/26/randy-bilyeu-dead-new-mexico-treasure-hunter

People say, art imitates life, but I always say it is a two-way street.

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in NC.  More information about his books (and about him!) can be found at http://thefensk.com