A WeekendCoffee Backstory

img_6284If we were having coffee today I think I’d finally be willing to tell you about certain aspects of the backstory.

 

There was recently a national news story floating around concerning some changes in Texas law … you might have seen it, usually mentioning the plan to make it legal to carry swords or something like that.  Actually, that might be some sort of loophole, but what it really means is that the stalwart citizens of Texas will soon be allowed to carry knives longer than 5.5 inches.  This law has long been on the books.  They classified any knife longer than 5.5 inches as a Bowie knife.  Although Jim Bowie was a hero of the Alamo and was famous for his larger than usual knife, it has been illegal in Texas for quite some time — that is until this fall.

The current law was a major dramatic component to the backstory of my first novel The Fever.  It was based on a real incident I knew about.  It resulted in the arrest of the hero, who felt the same way about the irony of Jim Bowie’s knife.  This was the catalyst that threw my hero Sam into jail, where he made acquaintance with Slim, the derelict who slowly died in his arms.  Ah, but not before revealing his secret.  THAT is the other major backstory component, another bit of Texas lore.  Slim, it seems, had some personal knowledge of the location of the elusive Sublett mine.

That’s right.  And this, my friends, is a true mystery of mythical Texas proportions.  Ben Sublett was a real person who lived in West Texas and there are believable reports that he had access to some quantity of gold.  The stories go that he would disappear into the wilds of the parched landscape and return with gold.  People tried to follow him but to no avail.  He supposedly died without revealing the location to anyone.  If you google Ben Sublett you will see quite a few websites and articles dedicated to him and his lost gold mine.  They all mention pretty much the same details.  Like one curious fact … his name was actually William C. Sublett.  Not sure where “Ben” came from.
Here are a couple of my favorite links about Ben Sublett:

This one has a picture of a roadside Texas historical marker:  http://www.odessahistory.com/subltmkr.htm

http://www.sonofthesouth.net/ben-sublett-gold/Ben-Sublet-story.html

A friend pointed out to me that the historical marker in the first link above is just outside a place called Sam’s BBQ … I promise you that name “Sam” is just a coincidence.  Still a bit of added irony, no?

Old Ben apparently never got rich from his gold.  He seemed content to use it ,subsidize his life, like a sort of nineteenth-century social security.  The common thread in all of the stories about him is that he’d disappear and return with gold.  People have speculated on its location for over a hundred years.  The Guadalupe Mountains seems to be a common landmark, but if it was in the mountain range proper, well that is a National Park now so good luck with that, but there are a lot of possibilities in the general area.

I used both of these things as the core of my story.  An almost ridiculous arrest followed by a chance meeting that resulted in a deathbed confession.  “THE FEVER” was wedged into the hero’s soul where it smoldered until it became a full-fledged obsession.  THAT is what the story is about … a sort of “what would you do?” scenario.

How far would you go to feed your fever?


Thomas Fenske is a writer living in NC.  Info on his novels, including THE FEVER, can be found at http://www.thefensk.com  Before you buy them, be sure to check out his new video trailers on the videos tab.

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.  😉

WeekendCoffeeShare

Public domain image, royalty free stock photo from www.public-domain-image.comIf we were having coffee today I’d tell you I was still thinking about yesterday’s fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo One fire.

Fifty years. I have a FaceBook friend who had her fiftieth birthday yesterday too. I told her something I can’t tell many people.  I vividly remember that event happening on the day she was born.

I was a child of the space age. I was only eight years old when Alan Shepard blasted into space. It was like I had crossed over a bridge from my innocent young kid life into a bigger world. Sure, I grew up in Houston and it was all gung-ho space city, home of the space center and all the astronauts lived there and all.  My fourth-grade teacher dated some guy from NASA and he came and talked to our class.  We watched the entire John Glenn flight at school, the whole thing from launch to splashdown.  I read every news story about the space program.  I followed all six Mercury flights and all ten Gemini Flights.

I had the flu for Gemini 8, really, I did, but watched all day. I was not surprised at all that Neil Armstrong was picked to command Apollo 11 … because he had kept his head, thought on his feet, and totally saved the day when Gemini 8 almost became our first space disaster.

I was looking forward to the first Apollo flight.  We had a long string of space successes and it looked like we were on a roll.  Then I remember the first news flash about a fire during a ground test for that first flight.  I remember being cautiously optimistic that maybe the heat shield would protect them, or maybe the escape tower activated and flew them to safety.  Then came the report that the fire was IN the capsule.  I knew they were dead. Sure thing. I was fifteen years old, a mediocre student, lousy in math and science, but I knew about pure oxygen environments inside the spacecrafts of the time. I knew immediately they were goners, probably the same way everybody in the control room knew it.

I had the same feeling in 2003 when my son called me and told me to turn on the tv because there was something going on with the Columbia space shuttle.  The TV flicked on and I saw the multiple streaks in the sky and blurted out “that’s it, they’re dead.” My daughter turned to me concerned, “how can you know that?”

“That would be one streak if it was an intact vehicle, if it is in pieces, there’s nothing left.”  That’s all it took for me, one look long enough to focus on the screen.  It was tough for me because I had managed to witness the first launch of Columbia in 1981.  And earlier that week, in 2003, I managed to catch sight of the orbiter’s Venus-bright track across an early morning sky.  All of this ran through my mind when I saw those multiple streaks. It’s exactly how I felt when I heard the words “inside the cockpit” in 1967.

Ironically, that tragedy caused a total revamp of the moon project.  A failure in space would have doomed it, but happening on the ground, before the flight, gave them the chance to figure out what was wrong.  What would have been guesswork with a space failure became a solid investigation with all the evidence right there.  We were on a roll.  We still had that goal. We made that goal.

I know a lot of people think it is all a waste of money, but really, we, humanity, have reaped tremendous benefits from space research.  That computer or tablet or phone you’re reading this with, the internet, wireless networking, cell communication, all the fancy gadgets we use every day owe a great debt to things that were started back then.  Sure, eventually we would have maybe progressed this far, but it would have taken a much longer time.  The space race jump-started a new industrial revolution. It did.  It got research moving, and that in turn funded more research that made things happen. In the early 1960s computers were still huge things.  That phone in your pocket has more power than all of the computers NASA used in the Mercury program.  ALL OF THEM.  The beginnings of the technology existed at the time, but the motivation to advance the technology did not exist until we made the push.

And guys like Gus Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee were sitting there inside a pressure cooker built by the low bidder on a government contract trying to make it happen.  Is it good they died?  No, it was and will always be a horrible tragedy.  But they knew the risks and they knew the score.  What came out of that was a better system and understand this … we figured out ways to use the newer, more powerful computers to help design the next generation of systems … and on and on after that. They needed the micronization to fit inside the vehicles but once they started to hit that stride, they created systems to design new systems … THAT is when the exponential growth in technology began.  Slow at first but gaining momentum every day. THIS is what we owe to those guys, those early pioneers and to their loss.  That was the motivation so many people forget.  Not landing on the moon.  We owed it to those three guys to do our best to minimize such losses.

Sure, we’ve had two more equally tragic space losses, and there will be more.  Consider this: we lose people to plane crashes, train crashes, even car accidents, yet we still travel.  We just strive to make it safer. But in the case of the space program, everybody gained from this one tragic loss.  Before you hit reply to tell me I’ve got it wrong remember what you’re using … the g-g-g-g-g-g-grandchild of that room sized UNIVAC that calculated orbital trajectories.

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in NC.  You can find out about his books at 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

Weekend Coffee Reflections

Public domain image, royalty free stock photo from www.public-domain-image.com
http://www.public-domain-image.com (public domain image)

If we were having coffee today I’m sure I’d wish you a happy new year.  It’s something we all do.  Seriously, I don’t care much about the philosophy of the new year.  I understand the importance of noting the passage of time but celebrating the change?  Really?  It’s always seemed to be something of an arbitrary thing to me.  But people like it so I go along with it.

2016 has been something of a mixed bag for me.  It started with the inspiration of a young man’s struggle with heart disease.  A boy, really.  He’d lived his entire life with this Sword of Damocles hanging over his head … a bum ticker that threatened his existence every single day of his life.  His name is Albert Jefferies, but everyone calls him AlJ, and he did get a new heart. This has changed his life and the life of his family in so many ways.  Unfortunately, this is a miracle that has a dark side as well … another family had to suffer an unspeakable tragedy to allow this miracle to happen.  AlJ and his mother Tina have gone on to embrace the donor family with a tremendous amount of appreciation and support.  I tell you this about AlJ’s mom … if I ever get in a health crisis and need an advocate, I’m hoping I can somehow get her in my corner.  Although I posted a bit about AlJ and Tina earlier in the year on my own blog (those posts are still there), you can catch up on his continuing story at https://www.facebook.com/Teamalj/

Speaking of heart transplants, I found out as I started typing this that a good friend of my wife, Kelly Wagner, received a new heart yesterday in Maryland.  She has also suffered from a debilitating heart condition for a very very long time. Please send your prayers and good wishes her way as she recovers.

With two such momentous bookends to the year, my own struggles have seemed insignificant.  I started the year seeing clearly … and I’ve already referenced the degradation of my eyesight due to cataracts.  My last surgery was complete December 1 and I am seeing very well, thank you.  I got up early this morning to watch the space station pass … it was an outstanding viewing and I was quite grateful that I could completely enjoy it.

In October our daughter got married, another event I partially chronicled in this blog … preparations for that wedding took up the rest of our spare time (and money!) for months and months.  The wedding was lovely.  What the heck are we going to do with all those shoes?  img_6772

In the middle of everything else, I published my second novel.  So far, the response has been lackluster, but all I can do is just keep writing and hope that readers will realize what a good story it is and that the combination of the two books (along with the 2015 debut novel) is an entertaining bit of reading.  I have managed to attract a smattering of very loyal fans and I am grateful for that.  My eye trouble sort of got in the way of starting book 3, but I’m ready to start hammering away at the keyboard again.  Or maybe I should revise one of my other three completed drafts on different subjects?  Hmmmm.

All-in-all it was a fairly good year.  I know 2017 has a lot of question marks looming but my suggestion is to just set your own expectations low and keep things close to your heart and simple.  Here’s wishing you a happy and safe transition to that arbitrary delineation we call the new year.

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina.  His somewhat undiscovered talent lies smoldering within the pages of THE FEVER and A CURSE THAT BITES DEEP … more information on them can be found at http://thefensk.com
They are both available in paperback from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Createspace and in ebook form from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and for iBooks.  Links for all of those are on the web page.  Happy New Year.

 

The SHOES, Part 2

If we were having coffee today I’d have to beg forgiveness again because, well … I just have to give an update about the shoes.

I first mentioned the shoes last June, while they were still in the process of being transformed into the showpiece/centerpieces for our daughter’s upcoming nuptials.

To recap, Gretchen, my darling bride, took our daughter’s sweat-stained, ragged, worn-out pointe shoes, remnants from many years of intense dancing, and proceeded to turn them into works of art. To this end she used paint, decoupage, glue-on gems and flowers, and all manner of arts and crafty add-ons. She created about twenty unique pieces for this wedding.

When the florist delivered the bouquets and boutonnieres he mentioned to me that  no centerpiece flowers were ordered and I showed him what we had instead … he was impressed.

Anyway, as you can see from the pictures, after she finished decorating all the shoes, the plan was to display them in a tall glass vase. After looking them over, she decided a little height was necessary, so each vase was elevated with an inverted glass heart dish. A dab of lace around the dish, a round table mirror, a little decorative border and a few  additional accents completed the centerpiece … I think it was a marvelous and unique idea and I am not alone. In looking at facebook postings of wedding pictures, everybody included multiple shots of different shoes.

The glass dishes were a little unstable as a platform and this required a late-breaking modification … we glued them, and very late at that, so we were quite fearful of the glue curing in a timely fashion. It made for tricky transportation because I did not feel safe boxing them … so I put them on the floorboard of the two cars we were driving with a little light padding around them … and tried not to take any sharp turns during the 170 mile trip to the venue. All arrived intact.

Like most wedding preparations, these shoes were just one of many details.

The wedding? Simply magical.img_6809

 

Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina. His latest novel, a Curse That Bites Deep has just been released. More info: http://thefensk.com

Returned: Insufficient Funds

Years ago I worked a second job in a convenience store for a while.  At that time, the thought crossed my mind that Shakespeare had to have worked at the Elizabethan equivalent of a convenience store … one manages to see a lot of life from behind that counter.  Here’s just a snip from my catalog of convenience store stories.
There was a notorious bad check writer who haunted our part of the county back then.  Her father was a respected businessman and she wasn’t above dropping his name if she thought it would help, but he didn’t bail her out of her checks.  She’d cruise different stores and if she noticed somebody new working at one of her haunts, she’d ply her trade.   I once noted that the grocery store down the street had a note taped to every single cash register with her name written boldly.
She must have made a mistake this one night and didn’t recognize me–I had worked there a while and had been caught by her on my second shift.  The owner gave me a ‘bye’ on that one, but said that was the only one.  She pumped gas and came in and tried to pass a check.
The woman pumped gas and came in and tried to pass a check.
“I can’t take it.”
“Why not?”
“You KNOW why not.”
“Well, I’ve pumped the gas, so whatcha going to do?”
I sighed.  It was about 6:30 and I really didn’t want any hassle on my shift.  
I said, “You come back with the money by ten and I won’t call the cops, but I call at ten sharp.” 
She turned and left.   She owed like nine bucks for the gas.
Big Jimmy came by after a while to keep me company.  He used to work there but he still liked to come hang out.  His name was well-earned .. he stood about 6’5″ and weighed way over 300 pounds.
We were sitting around and talking and here she came, carrying a pizza box.   It was about 9:45.
“How about seven bucks and two-thirds of a pizza?”  She opened the box … sure enough, inside the box was two-thirds of a pizza.  It was still hot.  
She opened the box …  and sure enough, there was what appeared to be two-thirds of a pizza.  It was still hot.  
I’m thinking to myself “oh my fxxxing gawd ….”   Then I’m thinking, what a pain in the ass it would be to call the cops for three bucks.   And I also realized that the pizza smelled good and I was a hungry.  I had to give her some credit, she was good.  
I had to give her some credit, she was good.  
I loudly sighed and resigned myself to the situation.
“Okay,”  I said as I threw in the three bucks to balance the register.
Her debt paid, she left and I opened the box and offered some to Big Jimmy.
Big Jimmy gnawed on a piece and said, “The thing I don’t understand, is how did she get a pizza if she didn’t even have the money for gas?”
I think the concept of irony was a little lost on Big Jimmy.
I shook my head and said “Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy … she wrote a *check* someplace for it …. “
Jimmy then got it  … .”Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh.”