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 I had dabbled in short stories over the years and wrote a pretty mediocre novella in the 90s (unpublished).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

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Book Release / Giveaway!

Judgement day

At long last, my second novel, A Curse That Bites Deep has been published.  To help celebrate the release, I’m giving away several kindle copies through Amazon.

Ah, as with most things associated with a curse, there’s a catch.  Follow me on Twitter.  Not a big deal, the giveaway will guide you.

Here’s the link: https://giveaway.amazon.com/p/21b5f6291cccaac8

 

If you happen to win, please favor me with a review.  If you don’t happen to win, hey, you can still be bitten by the curse, and $3.99 is not really that much … it’s likely cheaper than a latte.

More information at http://thefensk.com

 

Weekendcoffeeshare-Video Tales

 

img_6284If we were having coffee I’m sure I’d eventually end up talking about the video.  “Video?  I thought you were a writer,” you might ask.

Then I’d explain that there is a lot of business to being a writer and videos are one of the newer things.   “Oh, you mean like movie rights?” You might ask innocently.

No, not movie rights, that’s another thing entirely.  Getting started in this business requires a lot of outside work that does not include writing.  Some of it does, though, like this blog.  Having a blog is part of a writer’s business, and thankfully, it includes writing.

I think every writer goes through this.  One tends to see the dream of being published with a limited vision, like looking at the world through a paper towel tube.  The concentration is on words and revision and editing.  Once the contract is signed there is a new harsh reality to actually having a book published:  you have to help market the danged thing.  There is a LOT of competition from other writers, especially in the world of independent writers.  A new author must master a number of different new skills, like blogging and tweeting to get the word out.  Website design is another skill.  Of course, if a writer has deep pockets, they can pay someone to do these things for them.  The idea is to get yourself noticed ahead of all the others.  Sadly, you are just one of many.

“But what about the video?” you’d ask, thankfully getting me back on track.

Video trailers are one of the latest things.  I paid for my first one, one for my first book.  I was really late in the game for that one.  It’s not bad, a little funky.  It was cheap.  You get what you pay for.  I was going to pay the same people for a new one.  I had an idea and thought I’d work up something to more explain my idea.  Decided to use Power Point to see if I could work out my idea.  I’d never used it before.  I’m fairly technical but I had never really had a reason to use it.  Microsoft bundles it in with Office … so it was there.

It didn’t take too long for me to realize that I could actually use this.  A book trailer is generally text based, so why not?  What I wanted to do required specific timing … visual effects that were timed with a specific musical score.  This presentation software had functions that facilitated that.  It took some time, especially to fine tune the timings, but I managed to work it out.  Then I found out it would even export a video file.  That’s a little funky, and it messed up the timing a little but I anticipated some of the blips and re-edited and managed to work through them.  I’m sure I could use some other video tools but I already had this and gave it a shot.

Is it perfect?  Naw.  Is it okay?  I think so.  It introduces the story and builds suspense and introduces the mystery.  The music is raw and edgy but I think it fits the video nicely.  Check it out here … tell me what you think.

https://youtu.be/DZu48lyY-Tc

Note: replaced link with newer version. 

Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina.  His latest novel, A Curse That Bites Deep will be published October 1 — presales of ebooks are available now.  More info at http://thefensk.com

Judgement day

Great News!

Judgement day

My latest novel, A Curse That Bites Deep, will be published October 1!

My publisher, in association with most of the major eBook retailers, have decided to offer the a 25% discount on eBook pre-orders until the official release day. On the first of October it goes back to normal price.

That’s a crisp one dollar bill off, folks!  It will reserve your copy and it will be available on release day.

This is a sequel to my debut novel, The Fever, and continues the story.  Ah, but things take an evil turn in this one.   People are dying, suspicions run high, and poor Sam seems to be in the thick of things.

More information and quick buy links can be found on my web page:http://www.thefensk.com

If you have already caught THE FEVER … you won’t want to miss this continuation.
If you haven’t caught THE FEVER … yet … well, there is still time!

 

A Continuation …

The pre-release of my novel A Curse That Bites Deep is in full swing.  Well, except for Amazon. All of the other major ebook retailers have their pre-buy links up and you can reserve your copy for a 25% discount.  Links are available on the “buy” button on my web page:  http://thefensk.com

Hopefully Amazon will get with the competition and activate it soon.  Then I’ll be able to market the book in earnest. 

The book is a sequel to The Fever and everybody is back. Well for a while, anyway. There is evil afoot and Sam seems to be at the center of it all. There are a few surprises and a few murders and a good mystery to be solved.  

I’m looking for reviewers so if you review books and might be interested drop me a line … 

There’s an email link on my web page as well as more information about both books and me. http://thefensk.com 

WeekendCoffeeShare: The Find

img_6284If we were having coffee I’d have to tell  you about the find.  I mean, we all seem to spend half our lives trying to find something, either our glasses, the car keys, or the remote control.  Sometimes it’s something we hung onto for six years and threw away as useless only last week.  Sometimes, it is something we weren’t even looking for.  Those are the best, especially when it is something significant or remarkable.

That’s what this conversation is about, something I found that was both significant and remarkable.  And I wasn’t looking for it, either, but I’m glad I know where it is now.

What I found was the original note I wrote detailing the basic premise of my novel, The Fever.  I remember the fact of writing it but here was the remarkable thing: I didn’t know I had dated it.  I don’t date anything, but I did this time.  It was written 30 years previously THAT SAME WEEK.  I’d come across it from time to time but hadn’t seen it since long before I wrote the novel.  The mere fact of writing it down pretty much committed the few facts I jotted down to memory, but the note itself had been floating around the house for quite a while.  I hadn’t planned on writing anything that day in 1986.  My wife and I had gone to San Antonio for a weekend getaway.  She was several months pregnant and had decided to take a nap after some of our running around and I retired to the hotel bar to let her sleep for a short while.  Bored, I asked for some stationery and wrote down a page of notes.

There wasn’t a lot of detail but at the heart of it was this:  “Shift to flashback – ten years earlier.  Scene: Jail holding tank (Austin?) Protagonist is incarcerated >> befriending grizzled old-timer who has been manhandled by police during arrest.  He was punched in the throat and is coughing up blood. Our hero holds his head up and gives him water and talks to him but he is dying.  At this point he is told certain details of the lost Franco mine in West Texas.  They seem to be the muddled words of a dying wino but the hint of truth rings clear.  The information seems to be a bit more than an empty legend.  The man dies and the information is quietly filed away.”

The novel has all of that, although I later found a bit of Texas folklore to use as the goal — not sure how I concocted the “Franco” mine, but it was the idea I think.  But the injured wino in jail, making his deathbed confession remained the catalyst of the story over all the years of speculation, writing, and revision.

The note ended up with: the hero beginning to … “research the legend.  The information he was given jives with the legend — and then some.  The fire burns in his breast now and he tries to find every and any shred of evidence he can.  He studies historical records, oral histories, geologic maps, & topographic maps >> IF it exists — maybe he can find it.”

All remained central to the story.  Even the “fire burns in his breast now’ … later naturally applied itself to the title: The Fever.

It’s ironic I find it right now too, I’d tell y ou … here, right on the cusp of the publication of the sequel to The Fever.  I never envisioned an extension to the story, but now there is not only an extension, there is even a third book in the works.

All from my decision to take a short break in a bar in San Antonio Texas.


Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina.  He is the author of The Fever and A Curse That Bites Deep (Due out October 1).  More info:  http://thefensk.com

 

 

Tree of …wait, what?

treeIf we were having coffee I guess at some point I’d mention the lollipop tree.

“What?”

Yes, that’s right, lollipop tree.

As we’ve seen with the previous post about the repurposed ballet pointe shoes, my darling bride is something of a crafter.  We were recently invited to an event where she wanted to do something special.  She’d seen this tree project somewhere and she wanted to do one.  “Seems doable,” I naively said.

Okay, there were no instructions that she could find but it seemed to be a simple enough idea.  A planter, a dowel, a styrofoam ball, a few lollipops … sure, I said, we can do that.

Of course, there were technical challenges to be overcome.  Some were surprising.  Like where the heck do you get lollipops?  On the surface, it seems like a simple enough thing, but go browse the candy aisles.  Most are inadequate (looped sticks)  and then there is a question of the quantities.  You need a LOT of lollipops.  We settled on the one we could get in the most quantities, something called Dum-Dums … sort of a Tootsie-Roll Pop without the Tootsie.  In fact, we originally considered using Tootsie-Roll Pops but the colors were less than desirable.  At least the Dum-Dums were a sort of flowery pastel.

All of the technical challenges fell to me, your faithful coffee partner.  I found a planter bucket that seemed sufficient.  8 1/2 inches wide with a mild taper.  I chose Plaster-of-Paris for the medium.  I cut a length of pvc pipe and inserted it into the globby mess with a dowel inserted and painstakingly tried to anchor it to keep it level.  It was mostly level.  Without a proper shop to work in, it was hard to get it 100% perfect.  Drilled a hole in the 10 inch styrofoam ball and inserted the dowel.  It looked pretty good.

Shortly after she started inserting the lollipops, darling bride decided the ball was going to be too big.  I agreed.  This required another trip to the craft store to go down a size.  We probably could have gone down two sizes.  The insertions were tedious but fairly easy, but I had to go back to get more pops TWICE.  I estimate it took almost 600 lollipops.  Most of the lower ones required a dab of hot glue to stay put.

It was top heavy.  Despite a gallon of Plaster-of-Paris, it was still fairly unstable.  Off to the store for a bigger container, big enough to contain the smaller container.  Luckily, it being the end of gardening season, I got a pretty good deal on a large ceramic pot.  I used a combination of plastic bags and tissue paper to stabilize it and we topped it with almost ten pounds of decorative rocks to both add weight and fill in the gap between old and new pot. The combination of these two made this thing quite heavy.

She finished it off with a wrapping of decorative ribbon around the “stem” and a wrapping of flowery garland around the base.  One problem: while gluing the ribbon she accidentally glued the dowel to the pvc pipe.  I had originally figured on pulling the top out for transport but it was tight in there so it had to travel assembled. 

We almost got to the venue before it tipped on a turn.  The tinkle of rocks spilling out of the planter was unnerving but I managed to pull over and get it upright again.  Amazingly it survived the tip in great shape, just needed to scoop the rocks up.

I think it came out pretty good but I don’t think I’ll ever want to do one of these again … but we’ll see how long this lasts.  It might make for for some emergency rations one day.

Find our more about author Thomas Fenske at TheFensk.com