It Can’t Already Be April

I’ve been absent from this blog for quite a while and that can only mean one thing: I’ve been writing!

All authors have their own process. For me, it means hammering out a rough draft in a very short time, then spending a lot of time pouring over it, correcting, adding, deleting. Some prefer to painstakingly pour over the manuscript, working on each sentence in progression until it is perfect. That never worked for me. I get a few sentences in and something else attracts my attention and those few pages I managed to complete languish forever in some kind of writer’s purgatory.

No, I like to dash it off, working from a plan, to be sure, but for the most part I let the story tell me where it wants to go. Make that: let the story tell me where it needs to go. The plot develops from the outline, but strays if it needs to. Writing fast is creative and when a writer is on a productive streak new ideas just pop up out of thin air. What I end up with is a complete draft, the story exists from beginning to end. The editing and revision process is tedious, but then again, these actions should be tedious. I call it crafting the novel and it is a lot easier for me to continue to work on a the thing. It’s like building a house. One doesn’t erect the door and get it perfect and painted, then start adding walls in successive building sessions, then flooring, then ceiling and roof. One gets the framework in place as quickly as possible and the roof in place, and only then will they concentrate on the interior, gradually adding and improving until it is complete.

Anyway, my latest work in progress, a crime novel I call HARMON CREEK, is in the late stages of that process. It is based on a true crime. Well, sort of. It’s about my wife’s great uncle, who mysteriously died in 1930. He was a candidate for District Attorney in a mostly rural area of Texas. She’d told me about it several times. The family contended it had been murder, pure and simple, but whoever perpetrated it was never caught. I researched quite a number of newspaper articles about it. Various local papers reported on the case for several days. He died in a one-car accident at the site of a new bridge construction at Harmon Creek in Walker County Texas. Details were sparse, but one interesting detail emerged: stab wounds. There was also a statement from a woman who had purportedly accepted a ride from the man, but exited the car prior to the accident and procured a ride from a friend she had noticed following them. It seemed quite innocent but they never quite tied in any detail that explained how they found her and she and the “friend” were never identified. That was how the first article presented things.

The next day it was reported that she’d added to her story, but to a Dateline aficionado like me it sounds more like she changed her story, which is always an indicator that a lie is involved. The Sheriff also floated a new theory: the puncture stab wounds were likely caused by nails from the nearby railing when his car crashed through it. I thought, puncture wounds on a moving victim from a stationary object. Hmmmmm. Within thirty-six hours of the wreck, he pushed the local authorities to declare it an accident, albeit with weak protests from the justice of the peace and medical officer.

That’s pretty much the gist of the story. There were follow-up stories for several days. The governor dispatched a Texas Ranger to aid in the investigation and the woman changed her story yet again, this time adding a contention of inappropriateness to her story. She was still unnamed. None of this was part of the family lore but the guy was obviously a straight shooter good guy. He’d formerly been county attorney and was now going up against the incumbent for the next step up the ladder. The family contended the incumbent was quite dirty. The most troubling aspect of this story for me was the fact that the progression of news stories simply stopped cold. After about a week there was no more mention of his death, of the investigation, of anything. Gone. Kaput. Nada.

So I compiled the limited facts and anecdotes and used a mystery writer’s eye (and like I said before, a long association with Dateline and 20/20 programs), and pieced together a progression of possibilities. With an incumbent district attorney involved, it seemed too easy to think the guy had simply been bumped off. It is rarely that simple. So I built a progression of cascading events using what I thought to be plausible actions and counter actions. I don’t want to offer spoilers, but I think I explain all of the questions raised in my mind by the various news articles quite nicely. To me there was an obvious reason the case simply disappeared.

And, of course, the country was in the beginnings of the great depression, and the election followed in two weeks. After that, basically life went on.

I have to admit, there was some fun involved in writing this too. I introduce a glimpse into lower echelon criminality, and had a bit of fun digging up criminal slang of the 1920s/early 30s. Here we see the mysterious unnamed “woman” and her “friend” concocting the beginnings of a plot at the behest of the DA’s underling.


“I got a special deal, a sort of blackmail deal.”

“Branching out, are you?”

“McIntyre wants me to frame a john.”

“Not me, I hope,” he quipped.

Betty laughed deeply, “I already have the goods on you.”

“So let me see if I can guess. He wants a Sheba who’s known to skate around to be seen in public with some weak sister.”

“That’s the crop. I’ve got the goods to play the end game, but I’m not much with the planning.”

“Which is why you want me in on the deal. What’s my end?”

“I figure maybe a yard, but I might be needing more help than just a plan.”

“A cool C note? Tell me more.”


Another side story involves Claude. I had to include Claude. One of the most intriguing parts of my wife’s family stories involved her great aunt, the victim’s widow, and her … well I don’t quite know how to categorize him … her friendship with a black man named Claude. Think Driving Miss Daisy’s Hoke Colburn (Morgan Freeman’s character), except Claude wasn’t exactly an employee. Nothing romantic, nothing like that. To hear my wife describe him, he was oddly devoted to her great aunt, almost like a compulsion or a duty. That’s how it seemed to me. So, Claude has a big piece of this story, which I ultimately use to explain his later devotion to the great aunt, even thirty years later.

I’m still smoothing out the kinks, but I think this will be my best book yet. HARMON CREEK, look for it.

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in central North Carolina.

Look for more information about his current works at http://thefensk.com

New Release!

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!

Ah, but you can still buy the Kindle edition today. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08D7267W7/

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina. Check out his web page at http://thefensk.com

Steeling My Heart

Pound for pound, my favorite Christmas gift this year was my Baking Steel. That pound for pound comment was a joke. It is heavy.

Most people have heard of a pizza stone. The Baking Steel serves the same purpose, only much better. Think of it as a pizza stone on steroids.

I’ll tell you this: even my most mediocre attempts with it have been better than any pizza I’ve ever made at home. The crust is phenomenal.

baking-steelIt is basically a slab of steel, just like the name implies. You preheat it for about an hour. You assemble your pie, and using your pizza peel you launch it onto the hot steel. About 5-6 minutes later you retrieve it and … mama mia!

I’ve watched this company grow from their facebook postings over the last several years. I couldn’t take it anymore. “This is what I want.” The flat HEAVY present under the tree was no secret.

They make griddles too, although you could use the basic product as a griddle for something like pancakes. Just nothing with too much grease.

Check them out at http://www.bakingsteel.com

I know it is expensive but your grandchildren will thank you for leaving them this awesome heirloom. It will last that long.

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina. Hmmm, how about pizza tonight?

Check out my books: http://thefensk.com

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

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