If we were having coffee today I’d be mumbling something about NaNoWriMo. That’s National Novel Writing Month. Yes, that’s a thing. I would be mumbling because the only way I’ve found to successfully participate is by getting up earlier than I usually do. That will be alleviated somewhat by today’s Daylight Savings time transition.
NaNoWriMo is not just another celebratory month. The celebration is by doing. Participants actually try to write an entire novel in that month. It’s a commitment, and it is a challenge to apply yourself to that singular goal. No, you don’t have to be published in a month; far from it. Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to write a fifty-thousand-word rough draft within that thirty-day time frame.
I can see you blinking your eyes, but seriously, it isn’t as hard as it sounds. Here’s what you need in order to do it: An Idea, time to apply yourself to that idea, and perseverance. Oh, and there is one other rule of thumb: never look back. If you are going to do NaNoWriMo, you should just keep writing forward no matter what. As founder Chris Baty said in his book “No Plot? No Problem!” you need to send your internal editor on vacation for the month. I know, it seems counter-intuitive, but seriously, you’ll never hit fifty-thousand-words by self-editing at this point.
In practical purposes, to achieve the goal you need to write at least 1667 words a day. That’s all. Single-spaced, that is probably about two to three pages. For the idea? We all have ideas. You see on TV “writers” who painstakingly graph out their entire novel in great detail. That’s fine and good for some writers. You can do all of that ahead of time, that is if you want. For me, I take my idea and loosely outline enough events to fill out something that will take about that 1667 words a day, one event per day. For me, that sometimes has a notation like “something else happens” or “a new character shows up.” Well, you do need to know one or two major characters too.
Here’s the deal. What I’ve found out is that by giving yourself this self-imposed deadline, something does indeed happen. Creativity. As you push, push, push, cranking out words to reach your daily goal you are bombarded by new ideas. The story begins to take on a life of its own. Yes, sometimes you end up straying from your outline, but that’s a good thing. It was just a guide. And you can usually get back to it.
Anyway, that’s my November and now I’m stuck with it. I’ve published two novels from NaNoWriMo projects. I have several other rough drafts I’ll resume work on one day. In this context, the base novel is the easy part. It is editing and revision that take the most time but you know what? You can’t edit a blank page. The main events are there, and the story arc is complete. I call that stage crafting the novel.
Don’t even get me started on marketing the danged things. That’s the real challenge and it is the hardest stage of all. The rough draft is almost a vacation.
It’s only November 3. Kick yourself up to 2000 words a day and you can catch up in no time. That 1667 word goal is just the minimum. Check it all out at http://www.nanowrimo.org
If 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.
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.
If 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.”
Anyway, 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.
It’s Autumn and you know what that means. No, I’m not talking about fall colors or Halloween or even Thanksgiving. I’m talking about BASEBALL.
I’m a lifelong Houston Astros fan. I grew up with the team. I’ve lived in North Carolina for twenty-nine years … still a die-hard Astros fan. Last year, finally finally finally they put it all together. And here we are again. The playoffs are full of ups and downs.
Baseball is a wickedly simple game. And it is played without time limits. The irrepressible philosopher Yogi Berra said it best (and it is entirely true), “it ain’t over ’til it’s over.”
Still, the ups and downs for fans will continue until the end, so I want to share the other most memorable, yet appropriate quote about baseball, this one from the movie Bull Durham (couldn’t find any other attribute).
Sometimes you win
Sometimes you lose
Sometimes it rains.
All I can add at this point is another unattributable quote: “PLAY BALL!”
If we were having coffee today I’d be in a confessional mood. Yes, I’d admit, I’ve been feeding the neighbor’s chickens. There is a hole in the fence and for quite a while a few chickens and guinea fowl have been getting out. They wander into our yard all the time.
I’ve never had much experience with chickens. A couple of them had been lurking really close to the house and a couple of months ago I decided to haphazardly throw out some birdseed. Big mistake. The primary culprit is a big Rhode Island Red rooster we call Pepe. If I go outside or if I talk to somebody outside or if I return in the car, I can expect Pepe to come running; really, he RUNS. He knows ME. He usually has a couple of his girlfriends in tow, we call them Beatrice and Henrietta.
For quite a while it was just Pepe and Beatrice. Then Henrietta started hanging around. I ran out of birdseed. I went to a local feed store and inquired about buying some chicken feed. The conversation went like this:
“What kind?” I was asked.
“I have no idea,” I answered.
“You don’t know what kind of chicken feed you need?”
The clerk looked at me like I was insane. Maybe I am. I bought the smallest bag of feed I could, twenty-five pounds. It’s filled in pretty good. Some days we have had as many as four or five chickens and maybe a stray guinea.
Okay, yesterday, Pepe was outside when we left for a doctor appointment. We were running late. He flapped his wings and crowed. “No dice, Pepe,” I told him, “we’re in a hurry.”
I could see him in my rear-view mirror, standing in the driveway and plotting.
When we returned a couple of hours later we could see them. Yes, them. Pepe had been talking and the word was obviously out. My neighbor’s side yard was full of ducks. They were lounging near his carport, some were roosting on his carport roof and even the roof of the house. Now understand, we see his ducks from time to time. Mother ducks often come waddling through our yard, cute ducklings in tow on some sort of field trip. Never have we seen anything like this. And the second I pulled up the driveway they started moving into our yard.
When I first saw them all in total and saw them begin to move, the opening bars of the Ride of the Valkyries started rolling through my mind. I wish I had a video of it because the music would have been a perfect backdrop, especially when the ducks started soaring off the roofs. And yes, from some unseen corner, here came Pepe and the girls too, sprinting over as usual. When all of them finally made the long waddle I counted twenty-two ducks, plus the chickens.
Obviously, we have bitten off more than we can chew. I mean, we don’t feed them a lot. It’s not a meal by any means, more of a snack. My neighbor doesn’t care. They eat bugs in our yard too. I usually pick up a tick or two every month but I haven’t had a tick all summer.
I guess this isn’t the worst of it. Others are waiting in the wings …
Thomas Fenske is a writer living in NC. Kindle versions of his novels THE FEVER and A CURSE THAT BITES DEEP are ON SALE 9/28 and 9/29. http://thefensk.com/spec.html
There are no birds in the novels.
If we were having coffee today, a storm out in the Atlantic named Florence would be on my mind. I keep watching the forecasts and it apparently is aimed at the coast of the Carolinas.
I live a bit inland, but these storms are so big we can get some impact here, depending on where it hits. In 1996, Hurricane Fran hit the coast just south of Wilmington NC. In looking at historical tracking maps it looks like that area between Myrtle Beach and Wilmington is the sweet spot as regards deep inland penetration to this area. Fran caused great damage in the area where I live, mostly wind damage. Note: wind damage means long-term loss of power.
Here’s a link about Hurricane Fran: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hurricane_Fran … there’s an interesting graphic on that page that details the ranking of the ten “Most severe landfalling Atlantic hurricanes in the United States” … in looking at that I realized that I have been affected by FOUR of the storms on that list. Hurricane Carla in 1961 I remember very well. I don’t remember Audrey but I know it affected the area I lived in but I was 5 and we were on the fringes of it. Hugo didn’t have a huge impact here in central NC but it was so big we got the fringes of it and they were significant. And, of course, Fran.
We lived in a single-wide mobile home in 1996. Yes, don’t ride out the storm in a mobile home. I know that. We also didn’t have any place to go. We lived in a mostly rural county. The evacuation center they set up was 25 miles away down an awful road I didn’t like to drive on in clear, dry weather. By the time we knew it was going to be bad where we were, it was too late. Even worse, the storm hit in the middle of the night. The power went out pretty early. I remember sitting in on the couch watching a half-empty 2-liter bottle of Coke on the coffee table. Remember that scene in Jurassic Park when the Tyrannosaurus was approaching and the coffee in a cup had ripples in it with each step? This bottle of Coke did the same thing. Huge gusts would hit the mobile home and cause ripples just like that, again and again. Things hit the walls. Unidentifiable sounds in the blackness of night were terrifying. Eventually, I drifted off to sleep and woke up to birds chirping. I looked out to a stark reality. We lost a huge tree in our backyard (one of the terrifying sounds in the night) but it miraculously fell away from the house. It would have crushed the mobile home and probably killed me where I was sitting. My neighbor on that side had a stand of pine trees on his lot. This one tree took down SEVENTEEN of his trees (most with a trunk diameter of 8-10 inches).
So, I’m watching this storm. I bought a generator yesterday. I’ve been meaning to get one for a long time. Here we also have ice storms that result in lengthy power outages so it is something I’ve meant to get for a long time. In the time I was at the store, I saw four other generators purchased.
I’ll stock up on nonperishable supplies today and tomorrow. I’ll pick up debris around the house. I just had a roof leak patched. It hasn’t been completely tested. I guess it will be tested. I’ll have a tarp and bricks ready. Gas in the car, gas for the generator. With my luck, all of these preparations will likely steer the storm away.
Oh, coffee, I should lay in some coffee as well as some water (but our rural water system supply seems pretty stable). The one bright spot after Fran: our kitchen range was propane and I had plenty of gas. I also worked at that time as a barista for a high-end coffee purveyor. We had really good coffee.
Just as I was finishing this post I saw another forecast … bullseye on the NC/SC border. It’s still almost a week out. We’ll see …
If we were having coffee today I’d tell you that I found out this week that my darling bride Gretchen had not been very truthful to me recently. After she told me the details I was not mad. I understood her reasons.
When she first told me she had found a lump in her breast, we initiated a series of diagnostic actions that culminated in a cancer diagnosis and major surgery. She’s doing well now, thank you. She still has significant bouts of pain but she came out of the ordeal with no chemo, no radiation, and, so far at least, no cancer.
Ah, but this week she told me it wasn’t as simple as “she found a lump.” In reality, she had hundreds of lumps and nodes. This was the main reason she had a mastectomy instead of a lumpectomy. Every nodule and papilloma was a potential cancer bomb and she was looking at a lifetime of biopsies and surgeries.
So if she hadn’t found a lump, what was it?
She heard a voice.
It wasn’t a physical manifestation but it was just as real as if she had heard it with her ears. Somewhere deep within her soul a voice emerged in early January and said, “You have cancer.”
It unnerved her. I could tell she was more than just concerned, she was visibly upset when she told me she had found a lump. I later wondered to myself how she managed to find one cancerous lump amongst the hundreds of targets in her breasts. I attributed it to luck. Obviously, it was much more.
We’re human. It’s easy to assume others won’t understand if you say you heard a voice. Now, voices, the potential for a deeper problem exists there. But I find the notion of a prophetic warning to be quite acceptable. I cover such things in several of my novels, both published and unpublished. I believe in ghost stories too and I don’t discount many other prophetic happenings.
Whose voice was it? Does it matter? If could have been the massive supercomputer we call the subconscious brain. That’s a clinical answer. Myself, I prefer a more spiritual explanation. The voice of God? Perhaps. Or maybe what people call a guardian angel. Sure, that works for me too. It could have been the spirit of a loved one, like her mother or her grandmother. Heck, my mother passed away in the last year, it might have been her.
It doesn’t matter who said it. Not really. The real point is: she listened.
There are many things in this world that are far beyond our understanding. I think it is best not to question the good things. Miracles? Who am I to say?
Here’s a fun thing: Gretchen has a notion that I really like. When she finds a random penny on the ground, she considers it a reminder that her late mother is watching over her and she picks it up because she considers it to be a gift from her mother. I do it too. Hey, it means someone is looking out for you. Besides, this notion is much better than that “see a penny, pick it up and all the day you’ll have good luck” saying.
Have you had similar experiences or do you know someone who has?
If it happens to you, my advice is to LISTEN.
Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina. There are prophetic and otherworldly glimmerings in both of his published novels too: http://thefensk.com
If we were having coffee today I’ll tell you that so much has been happening since our last meeting, I can’t tell it all. I’m actually going to leave a bunch of stuff for later, maybe next week, but probably the week after.
What I thought I’d talk about today though, is how much I enjoy these little chats over coffee. Weekend Coffee Share is such a great idea, I am totally shocked more people don’t do it.
In simple terms, it is a blog share. The only requirement is that one add a qualifier to the text … giving a personal introduction to your good blog friends, both new and old, as if we were sitting down and talking over coffee. Oh, and you need to add the hashtag #weekendcoffeeshare too it.
Some bloggers take this them quite literally, using this time to update us all on their lives and the happenings of that week. This is fine and informative. We all get to know each other. I join a few other bloggers in using the forum to blog about whatever strikes my fancy, but I still follow the protocol. It works for me because if you know me, I’ll tend to talk about *whatever* anyway, over coffee or calzone or cupcakes, coffee, tea, chocolate shakes … you name it.
It gets me blogging when I might otherwise just let it slide. Like today. I’m busting at the seams to tell you a whole lot of stuff, but there are reasons I want to let things percolate just a little longer. But I haven’t updated my blog in a while and here it is Saturday, and I’m drinking coffee and I figured, what the hell?
So, if you created that blog two weeks ago, or two years ago, or … whenever, and you haven’t updated it in a while and you feel all guilty about never updating it, here’s your chance. Just grab a cup, and sit down and start sharing. We are more interested than you think.
You need to know one more thing about it. The share is hosted by “eclecticali” at WordPress, who posts an intro and reminder every week along with the share link. It isn’t totally required to click that and add your blog, just the hashtag will generally suffice, but it definitely adds to the sense of community and fun. if you follow the blog you can also subscribe to email updates … this helps remind me to fire up my guilt-trip generator. Here is this week’s intro, blog, and linkup:
If we were having coffee today I’d again be waxing all nostalgic on you. I saw this picture in the Spring 2018 University of Houston Magazine. Wow, what a flash from the past. I see from the banner that this dates from the campaign days of 1976. I could so easily be in this picture as during those years I went up and down those stairs countless times. I was even grabbed by a Secret Service agent on the bottom of the stair case on the left when I attempted the go up the stairs while President Ford’s son was getting ready to speak on the upper landing during the 1976 campaign.
I got nostalgic seeing this picture because I have very deep roots to this building and most of my experiences there went way beyond just being a student. For over two years I was employed there with two different jobs. At that time the building comprised of two sections, the three story primary structure (well, basement and two upper levels) and an adjacent one story underground structure. Just behind and below those stairs is where the entrance tunnel to the underground section was. My first job was in an office down there and I was heading to class from work when the Secret Service grabbed me.
I worked for what was then called the “Campus Activities Department” and they provided support and advisors for all on-campus organizations like clubs, honor societies, student government, campus programming, fraternities, and sororities. This service center took up the major portion of the underground portion of the building. One of the services was called the Organization’s Bank, and it allowed qualified groups from all aspects of campus life to have an “account” for their treasuries, all managed through a central Campus Activites bank account. I first encountered this when I volunteered in the campus programming board, then called Program Council. The woman who ran this bank was very friendly and pleasant so I’d drop by and visit from time to time just to say “Hi.”
In early 1975 she needed a new assistant and offered me the part-time office job. It was convenient working on-campus and it helped draw me into the mainstream of virtually all of campus life. This was long before mass computerization so all the transactions were handled manually via an even-then ancient Burroughs automatic posting machine with individual ledger cards for each account. Young people are always amazed that we were able to use tools such as this in those pre-computer days but the machines and the procedures worked quite well. I worked there for over a year and quite enjoyed my time there. The office was down a back hallway and I was working once when a fire occurred in one of the maintenance closets on the far edge of the building. They evacuated both buildings as a precaution and that office was so out of the way, I was found happily working away by someone making a last pass through the building. It was news to me. Of course, they had suppressed the alarms. So much for fire drills, right?
I could have worked in that office for another year until graduation, but through contacts in the building I became aware of a job in the maintenance department of the same building, as a student assistant to the building mechanics. Office work was okay, but this job provided the opportunity for more hours and an even more flexible schedule. My hours were quite limited in the office job but in this role, I could work evenings and even weekends and pretty much set my own schedule. There was *always* something to do. Some weeks I could almost work full-time if the evening mechanic was sick. On a student economy, more hours was always a plus.
This job was great, and because of it I eventually came to know almost every inch of the building complex. I’m talking every office, every mechanical room, every deep dark cranny, even disgusting places you don’t want to know exist. Those steps in the picture? I painted those once, with a non-skid coating. I regularly had to go onto the roof of the building too. One of the main duties was to go on rounds and make sure there were no problems like squeaky belts or grinding motor bearings (remember that fire I mentioned). Once, while working over the holidays, I found a large amount of water pooling in the corridor between the main building and the underground offices and checked outside on the ground above that corridor. It was obviously a major water main leak. University repair crews had to be called in for an emergency repair even though it was Christmas Day.
The building was extensively renovated a few years ago and I’m sure when they were doing that, they found my scrawl on any of the older breaker boxes that had survived 35+ years in the building. Once, some electricians were working in the ceiling above a dining room of what was called the old Cougar Den on the bottom level. The workers found they needed to flip an unmarked breaker and this unfortunately cut power to the cash registers in the main dining area one floor above. This happened in the middle of the lunch rush. Nobody realized that during some past construction work power had been tapped below the floor to a circuit in the Cougar Den to facilitate installation of new outlets for a cash register station that had no other access to power. It took a frustratingly long time to locate the problem because no one thought to relate the work on the lower floor to this problem. After that, another student worker and I spent a weekend mapping all the breakers in the building.
That particular work came in handy too because not long afterwards, we had been called in to help the short-staffed custodial group to do a rather large banquet reset in the third level ballroom late one Saturday night. When we were almost done I was in the hallway outside the ballroom and detected a faint whiff of burned tar, which I knew was most likely the tell-tale odor of a fluorescent light ballast shorting out.
Sure enough, a quick survey discovered a nearby display case just beginning to fill with smoke. We immediately ran to shut off power at one of the recently audited breaker-boxes down the hall. My boss found a key to the case, which was thankfully almost empty and I removed the bulbs which rendered that fixture totally inoperative. I replaced the ballast the next Monday morning and found it had suffered primary short that had already burned a hole in the ballast case (sometimes they just get hot and stop working) — this would have definitely continued into a bad fire and would have caused a lot of damage. It was just pure luck we were there (hey, it was a chance to grab a couple of extra hours pay, right?) and we knew the smell and immediately went hunting for the source. A hot ballast can not be ignored.
Ah the anonymous life of the Unsung Heroes.
I checked every maintenance closet and machine room every day I worked, mostly for just that sort of thing. Problems were always cropping up on equipment that ran 24/7 (I return again to the fire, even though that pre-dated my maintenance work). I had other regular duties too, for instance I changed all the air filters in the building every month or so. I also changed uncounted numbers of light bulbs in every section of that building. To this day I still find myself instinctively scanning ceilings in big buildings and secretly noting the lights that are burned out. I worked on plumbing repairs, helped with repair work on the food service equipment, and was involved in really unusual stuff too.
Once, one of the sewage sump pumps (one of those disgusting areas I mentioned earlier) jammed and bent the long drive shaft. It needed to be machined but most machine shops around the area could not handle a shaft that long; it was at least ten feet. Somehow my boss heard about a super machine shop in the Physics Department, which even back in 1977 was an amazing facility. We both carried this disgusting, mumblemumble-encrusted hunk of metal by hand far across campus to that shop in one of the science buildings and they machined it. It barely fit in the service elevator, which opened directly into the machine shop floor.
The curious thing about working in that building was that, as it turned out, both jobs were unplanned extensions to my education. The office and bookkeeping skills I learned in the Organization’s Bank were a huge help in every job I held later. Note: computer business processes were all built on the models of the tried and true manual process. In he next job, by doing the varied maintenance work I gained invaluable on the job experience in electrical, plumbing, and carpentry repair. These are things I still use to this day.
The other great part about the maintenance job was that it was a blast most of the time. The two senior mechanics were WWII veterans, one was a marine in the pacific and the other one had been with the Flying Tigers and was later a B29 mechanic in India, working on the bombers that flew over the Himalayas, so the stories I heard were personal and insightful. Truly they were part of the greatest generation. Once that B29 mechanic and I had to make a long excursion across campus in the underground tunnels that snake under most campuses. (Maybe I’ll share that story another time.)
I had other duties too. I served as projectionist for campus-run movies and there were times I ran the sound and lights in the ballroom for dances and other events held there. As I previously said, there were also times we helped out the custodial staff for banquet setups.
Neither one of these jobs were college “work-study” positions, they were considered regular employment; part-time jobs that added to my seniority when I later held a position at another state institution. But just like any work-study job, it was a great convenience to work on campus.
Heck, I even had a master key to the building, something I needed to use while doing my general rounds. Even custodial staff with many years employment there didn’t have a master key. If I had to work on Saturday/Sunday mornings, I had to be on-time because I was the guy with the key!
Who knew what a flood of memories would come from that simple picture.
Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina. He’d like to say he was a product of the famed writing program at the University of Houston but sadly, that program came into existence the year after he graduated. Missed it by *that* much.