Headshot!

coffeeshareIf we were having coffee today, I’d be showing you the new pictures.  No, no, no, not the grandkids, the dog, or the cats … they’d be pictures of me!  With the upcoming publication of my third novel, I decided it was time to skip the selfies.

It’s funny, in the beginning, I didn’t even consider a photo.  It’s vain, I guess, but I generally don’t like photos of myself. But every new author, especially an independent author, should follow the same processes of self-promotion.  This blog is one example of that.  A web page is crucial too. (ahem: my web page) An author should learn to use Twitter and Instagram as well. Youtube videos are a plus.  And one should never miss an opportunity to drop a link into the conversation.

 

And, of course, headshots are part of this mix. I’ve generally used opportunistic shots.

One was at my daughter’s wedding.  It’s a good shot too.  It’s just, I’m so obviously at a wedding.  I liked one selfie I shot with my cat looking back at the camera with a “yeah, right” look on his face.  I had another one I shot while waiting for my wife at her chiropractor’s office.  But none of them convey “author, so, the other day I found a local portrait photographer. We walked around our tiny downtown area and checked out some quaint locations she likes to use.

img_0038I really liked this one, taken at a loft over one of the local storefronts:

Since my cataract surgery, I don’t really need glasses except for reading (my current pair are no line trifocals, clear on top and reading glasses on the bottom). So I tried some without glasses.  I don’t know, I think I like pictures of me better with glasses.  Maybe that’s because I’ve worn glasses full-time for about thirty years.  Anyway, most of my shots were without glasses.

Nice photos, but I don’t like them as much as the one with glasses, although the alternate one at the window is a close second: the pensive author.  I like the image they both project. I have color versions of all of them, but I think it is the old-school part of me that is really drawn to the black & white renditions.

What do you think? Grab another cup of coffee and let me know.

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

B/W photos by Tonia Taylor at Blue Door Portraits, Mebane NC

 

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It’s a GO!

coffeeshareIf we were having coffee today I’d tell you about the contract.   You see, this week I signed a contract for Lucky Strike, my third published novel.  It is a big moment for me because it has been a long time coming.  The tentative release date is October 2019, which will make it three years since my last book.

It’s been a long two and a half years for me to get to this point.  I started this one shortly after the publication of my second book, but I short-circuited my own progress by embarking on my cookbook project.  It was a lot of fun and it showcased my novels very nicely but it took a lot longer than I realized and then I lapsed into aggressively marketing it and my other books.  I did manage to finish the rough draft of the new novel in 2017, and I indeed started revision but got sidetracked again by a request to help my publisher with more marketing.

2018 was momentous for me.  My wife’s cancer battle took up the first half, then my job took over.  Well, it was more the confounding array of details I needed to deal with when my employer made me an offer. I found out that an unplanned departure from work and a sudden transition to retirement is indeed a lot of work in and of itself.  It took me a while to complete that move; we’re talking physically, mentally, and psychologically.  Finally, late in 2018 I dug in my heels and began a deep revision of Lucky Strike.  Four months later, I have a contract.

You know what?  Like they say, it’s better late than never, but it comes at a cost.  When I re-started the revision, it really took me about half the novel to start feeling it again. Maybe “feeling” isn’t the right word.  Thinking the novel, that’s it.  It took me a while to get into “novel mode” again.  I don’t know about other authors but for me, this is the point where I can’t get the story out of my head.  When I drive to the store I have plot revisions percolating through my brain constantly.  I imagine my characters shopping for groceries and run and rerun conversations through my head.  Yes, even out loud sometimes.  I think about it in the shower and while cutting the grass. I’m analyzing plot devices while I’m watching television or movies.  It’s definitely an itch I have to scratch constantly.

Here’s what I learned: don’t lose your momentum. Oh, life intervenes, it always does.  But that momentum is important. I spent three years revising my first novel, The Fever.  I took short breaks but I never lost the momentum.  In this case, most of that similar amount of time was involved with no momentum whatsoever. Like I said, there was a bit of time involved in regaining that momentum. But I did it, and I regained the passion for this novel. Passion?  Heck, I’m stoked about it!!!

So, now I’m working corrections from my editor.  I still have to come up with blurbs and cover ideas. It is all part of the business of being an author.  Then the dreaded marketing push will start.  Or, wait, has that begun already?

I’ll tell you this, the new novel has a very intricate plot with many complex developments. The mystery is complex as well. The reader knows more about it than any of the characters but the different components of it are a challenge to several layers of characters.  Even the antagonist, who has a profound vendetta motive, is grasping at straws to find the answers he’s looking for.  And the reader has only a general idea of what it is all about as the twists and turns converge to what I hope is a surprising ending.  My beta readers and my publisher are all enthusiastic about it.  The major characters are back, including the ghosts.  There is a true villain too.  It’s a wild ride

I better get back to the edits.  More info to come.

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in NC.  You can find out more about his other book at http://thefensk.com
It would be a good time to start catching up, as Lucky Strike is the third book in my Traces of Treasure series.

 

Ides of February

coffeeshareIf we were having coffee today I’d probably be mentioning book news.  Well, there isn’t too much news.  I’m hammering away at the fourth revision of my next novel.  Pretty sure I got away with three on my last novel. But this time, I just wasn’t sure so I’m making another pass.

I use a technique called fast writing. By concentrating on word count, one chips away at the plot until an entire story develops.  I find it quite creative as your mind is consumed with ways to keep moving forward.  The traditional thought of writing, to slowly craft as one goes along has one drawback. If the writer sees something shiny, they stop. Sometimes for hours. Sometimes for days. Sometimes for weeks.  Sometimes forever.

Fast writing starts a self-induced competition against time.  In National Novel Writing Month the timeline is thirty days.  Fifty-thousand words in thirty days.  It’s doable.  And like I said, it is very creative. Ideas pop into your head.  But I admit: the process is dirty.  The first revision is primarily concerned with scraping and scrubbing and applying a lot of elbow grease to the words from the first draft.  Quite a bit gets scrapped. And then there are the additions.  The first draft often hits the high points.  The second draft is the time to flesh out the characters, to delve into descriptive paragraphs illustrating the highs and lows of the lives you have created.

My novel was in pretty good shape after the second draft. I did another revision pass and sent it to some honest readers whose opinions I trust.   But it is a third installment sequel of a series.  I like to think each book in my series should be able to mostly stand on their own.  But a lot had happened in the two other books.  And like life, the characters’ lives have been affected by those circumstances.  So most of my early readers thought it needed more exposition. This is where I am now.  It’s not hard to bring in exposition, I crafted a literary device to help, but I also have to tweak here and there to make sure it all fits together.

Revision is hard work; I find it much harder than the fast-written first draft.  The only thing harder is marketing.  I’ve mentioned marketing before: it kicks most authors in the ass. Yes, me too.  I hope to submit this manuscript for publication very soon; I’ll keep you posted.

Speaking of marketing: when I cobbled together a small companion cookbook a couple of years back, I threw together a cover. I liked it okay. I’m no graphic artist.  But through time I was more and more unsatisfied with it.  Revision is so tedious, one must take a break every now and then (weekend coffee share qualifies!), so I decided to play around with a new cover design.  For one thing, my old cover was too wordy. This one is similar but much simpler.  I love it. Go check it out!

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Thomas Fenske is an author living in North Carolina.  You can check out his current works (including the cookbook) at http://thefensk.com

 

The Curse of 29

img_6284If we were having coffee today I’d be lamenting the curse of twenty-nine. 

“What is that?” you might ask.

I’d sigh and tell you about Amazon.

Twice in the past year or so my first novel has breached the number of twenty-nine reviews.  Thirty looks so cool hanging out there on a book listing.

Ah, but twice, for unknown reasons, a review has been deemed unworthy by Amazon and the counter resets to 29.  The interesting thing is, it isn’t necessarily the most recent review that gets swatted away.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to have any reviews at all.  It is very humbling to get any kind of feedback on one’s work.  I’m even happy to have the ten reviews on my second novel and the two reviews on my cookbook.  ANY number is good.  I just don’t understand this seeming curse with the number twenty-nine.

There is a theory among authors, that Amazon has a mythical number of reviews where they begin to spontaneously help authors with an added marketing push.  I’ve heard several supposed benchmarks for this point, anywhere from twenty-five to over a hundred.  Fifty seems to be the consensus.  What all this has to do with twenty-nine, I don’t know.

A fellow author, Marianne Reese, has noted a similar trend with her books — stuck at twenty-nine.  What are your experiences with disappearing reviews?

Anyway, I had a good two week run this time.  It felt so good.

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in NC.
Help him beat the curse: http://thefensk.com/fever.html  All reviews will be appreciated by me, even if they are rejected by Amazon.  Hey, it’s on KindleUnlimited … and it’s a good time of year to read it since all the action takes place between now and New Years.

WeekendCoffee Reflections

img_6284If we were having coffee today I’d admit I didn’t have much to talk about today until I read the lead-in WeekendCoffeeShare posting from EclecticAli.

Her 80’s Mystery Party reminded me of something.  I always think of my first published novel this time of year.  Virtually all of the action takes place from October through December, and it is set in 1980.  I liked writing in the 80s.  All this fancy technology we enjoy today was still in an infant state back then; things were simpler.  It is an easy era for me because, well, because I lived in it.  I just have to reflect on my own experiences as I allow my characters to do whatever it is they do.

A writer can’t help but add a little autobiographical info into anything they write, but writing in the recent past allows for a bit of mundane reflection. If I wrote in, say, the 1860s, I would have to do a tremendous amount of research.  Writing in the 80’s, I’ve already done that research.  When my character found themselves in an ice storm in the middle of nowhere with a non-functioning heater in the car, I can draw on my experience because, yes, that happened to me.  (I had one reader tell me she had to get up and put on a sweater while she was reading that section — high praise indeed). It’s what I call “writing with a slice of life.”

img_8900Anyway, it’s fall, and I am once again thinking about my novel, The Fever as the season progresses.  This weekend would easily match the late-October setting in the opening of the novel.  It’s an adventure and a time machine.

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in NC.  You can catch up at http://thefensk.com

Note: my fall giveaway contest continues for another week at tometender-bookblog.

Squirrel Armageddon

evilIf we were having coffee today I guess it would be high time I told you about my experience with Squirrel Armageddon.  That’s right.  I’m talking about evil, vindictive squirrels.

I was reminded of this the other day when I saw some television commercial that featured a number of squirrels all gathered in a tree and they were ganging up on a guy and pelting him and his car with pine cones.  It is amazing the horrors that can be dredged up from something so mundane.

Years ago in Austin, Texas I lived next to a park that stretched along a creek in a narrow band for about a mile or so.  Most weekends I’d take a walk down the length of this park and back.  My garage apartment was right at the edge of a wider area of the park that was nicely wooded and included tennis courts and a playground and at the end of my walk I’d usually saunter across this area back to my place.

One quiet Sunday I was finishing my rounds and as I entered the far edge of the playground I heard a loud noise over near my house.  My next-door neighbor’s dog was chasing a squirrel in the yard.  The squirrel managed to get away but not before it let off a loud frantic alarm screech.  In seconds, in every tree in the park, every squirrel in the area descended and started chirping and flicking their tails, not at the miscreant dog mind you, but at me.  The dog was long gone, show’s over for him.  These guys were all focused on yours truly, the only other living thing in the park.

I don’t know if you’ve ever really heard a squirrel alarm, so I found one on YouTube that sounds pretty close to what I remember.  https://youtu.be/i6IR0JmfkvQ … fast forward to about 43 seconds in.  Close your eyes and let it sink in, then multiply it by hundreds and add in spooky echoing effects from all the trees on an otherwise still Sunday morning. Yeah, I think that would be pretty close.

Don’t forget, they were focusing all their attention on me, every last one of them, their tails flicking, their evil, dark squirrel eyes sizing me up, re-positioning themselves to continue focusing on me as I warily crept across the park, at this point uncertain if the intimidation might possibly turn into action.  I have to admit I thought of that fearsome bunny in Monty Python And The Holy Grail.

This cacophony continued until well after I fumbled with my keys and entered the safety of my apartment.  I’m sure great-great grandchildren squirrels in that park still recount tales of their ancestors fighting and winning the battle of Sunday morning.  Brrrrrr.

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina.  http://thefensk.com for more information.

Still Basking

img_6284If we were having coffee today, I’d realize I hadn’t seen you in a week so I guess I’d simply have to mention my latest review.  It’s a little bit of a redo since I’ve already posted about it but consider this: the review was so good, I think it deserves two posts.

If an author is a scone, reviews are the butter and jam.  They are a source of validation, although they can sometimes be the source of consternation.  The best reviews are unsolicited, but writers can also submit books for review.  I hope that doesn’t surprise you but surely you didn’t think those newspaper or magazine book reviews were random, did you?  It is always a gamble.  Not every book is for every person so you never quite know how your book will be received.

In a way, this was a random review since the reviewer expressed interest in the book.  Some reviews, like on Amazon or other sales outlets are pretty much a surprise. “Oooo, look, a new review!” I’ll say when I notice it.  But when you submit to a reviewer the waiting game starts.  There is a period of anticipation as you wonder, will they like it?  Will they not like it?  Will the simply post something like, “Meh … yeah, it’s a book,” or “wow, what a lot of words.” But wow, when it is finally out and you read things like, “Thomas Fenske is an incredible talent and an author whose work radiates throughout,” it tends to make one’s heart beat a little harder for a few minutes.

But that’s just me. You can check it out for yourself here.

I guess it sounds like I’m reviewing the review, but really, I’m humbled by the reviewer’s reaction and elated. I want to share it from the highest mountaintop.  But I guess quietly talking over a steaming cup of coffee will have to do.  Now, for some reason I’m hungry.  Scone?

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Thomas Fenske is an author living in NC. He encourages you to leave reviews for your reads … they are important to an author.  A simple review on Amazon can be a big deal to the success of the book.  It doesn’t have to be long, “really enjoyed it” will do.  Even “Meh” helps … it’s something of a numbers game.
Check out his web page at http://thefensk.com

Missing the Obvious

img_5454Marketing your own books is a pain.

There, I said it.  I worked in publishing for over twenty-years, but not in marketing.  Now I sort of wish I hadn’t generally ignored the marketing folks in my organizations. I sure could use their help these days.

I was in IT and I was awful to people sometimes.  Oh, I did my job.  I just evolved a bad bedside manner.  I wasn’t alone in that.  SNL had a series of skits about the bad IT guy.  I was just like that character.  “You need to hit tab, now enter, now up arrow … argggghhh, just get out of the way!”   Before you think unkindly of me understand that it was an uphill climb most of the time.  I mean, for example, I had a user who wrote correspondence in a spreadsheet.  Letters, she wrote letters using a spreadsheet.

Anyway, I have been out of publishing for almost twenty years now, and now, I’m back in it.  I’ve got two published books, several more in various stages of revision, and I’m bogged down trying to market my published books.

If you’ve ever been intimidated by the thought of actually writing a book, understand this:  Writing an entire book is hard.  Editing and revising that rough draft is harder. Marketing it?  Well, forget about it.  It continues to kick me in the ass every single day.

The heading of this post says “Missing the Obvious” … so here is a case in point.  I noticed something while was working on a twitter post about my novel, THE FEVER.

A review quote I had added to my Amazon page suddenly hit my eye.  It was there so I know I liked it enough in the past to include it on the page but the impact this time hit me like a ton of bricks.  “You’ll feel like you’re LIVING IN THIS BOOK …”

I have a lot of enthusiastic reviews.  It gratifies me as an author.  And they’re not all friends and family either, I promise.  But this statement, from an independent reviewer, well, that is the sort of thing that emboldens an author to continue on.

Then the old modesty gene kicks in.  “Gee whiz, shucks, Y’all …”

Thomas Fenske is a

 

Weekend Coffee Video

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

If we were having coffee today I’d still be giddy about my latest video trailers.  I have to admit here and now, I have never much messed with iMovie, but it was my grandson Griffin who showed it to me and inspired me.

Okay, my hand/eye/video coordination is not all that great.  But it was young Griffin who showed me that they have movie trailer templates.

I’m sure there are probably a thousand apps that do this, but this was easy, it was already there, and I had a few pictures I hoped would work … took me a few tries to cobble together something visually appealing and somewhat informative.  I have to admit that after viewing these I was inclined to buy my own books myself.

So give them a try … I put them together on a link off my page.

VIDEO TRAILERS

(The other is an awesome video by a youtube sensation, Hilah Cooking,  who highlighted a dish I created within the pages of my novel The Fever.)

Tell me what you think.  Even better, tell me they inspired you to check out my books.  I also have a new “Amazon specific” page on my website.  Look under “MAIN” on the menu.

In case you are also inspired to buy … I also have a new “Amazon specific” page on my website with links to purchase, share, or even download a sample.  Look under “MAIN” on the menu.

Hint: put down your cup before you view the video for A CURSE THAT BITES DEEP.

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Thomas Fenske is an author living in North Carolina.  His film making career is still a question mark.  Find out about his books at http://thefensk.com

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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