Gobsmacked!

img_8810

 

I have to admit, this review left me completely gobsmacked.  If you’ve been on the fence about reading my novel The Fever, this should serve as a tie-breaker.

Catch THE FEVER!

http://redheadedbookloverblog.com/2018/02/19/fever-thomas-fenske/

Advertisements

Murder-by-Siri?

If we were having coffee today I think I’d have to fess up about a recent case of attempted murder.  No, not by me, silly.  It was Siri.
You see, Siri tried to kill me a couple of months ago.

My daughter lives about three hours north of us, very near the Blue Ridge Parkway.  We had gone up for Thanksgiving with one of our grandsons and decided to try a different route south, mostly because the grandson lives west of us and I wanted to see if there was a more direct route, so I asked Siri.  She is generally quite attentive to such requests.
Indeed, Siri took us a different way, down a very unfamiliar path. But we were headed south so it seemed fine until we got to our second major turnoff. She spoke up

“Turn right.”

There were in fact what looked like two rights. We took the first.  Siri didn’t like that.  I have often thought any GPS with a voice should use an exasperated sigh when one misses a turn. Instead, she said,
“Turn around, when possible.”
GPS programmers take note:  this would be an ideal spot to program something like “No, No, No, the other right.”
There wasn’t any place to turn around. She repeated her request several times until we had gone more than half a mile.
At this point I guess I should mention a few pertinent facts:
I was in a rental.
I hadn’t purchased the extra insurance.
It was packed to the rafters.
I wasn’t inclined to do potential damage-inducing maneuvers.
I glanced at the map my phone and realized we were actually on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and a particularly narrow portion of it at that.  At this point, I expected one of the famous overlooks you see about every half mile along some stretches of the Parkway.  Nothing. Just narrow road framed by dense foliage.
Siri finally decided to recalculate a new route and soon instructed us to turn left.

We took a left on what we were assured was a state road, State Road 814.
I remember thinking at the time, “How could this one lane graded road be a state highway.”
Yes, indeed, I really could have turned around here and yes, I should have. It was only about five miles back to the turn-around.
But I had faith in Siri. I knew she was going to get us out of this, so we proceeded down “state road 814”.  It was reasonable to assume that we would soon intersect with that other road.  So I drove on and on.

The problem was, there was no place to turn around on this road.

And what a road it was … we went up and down and around, and up and down and around.  We traversed a couple of mountains with long stretches of steep drop-offs with no rail. This was ear-popping, white-knuckle driving.

It was the kind of road that has periodic gates somebody closes in bad weather but it was so narrow, I don’t know how anybody could turn around if the gates were closed. I don’t know how anybody would or even could try to drive up there in a snowstorm to close those gates. Talk about “worst jobs in the world.”
My darling bride kept saying what a fun drive it was.  She wasn’t driving.  Thankfully we encountered no vehicles going the other way.  I have no idea what we would have done if that had happened.  There was literally no room for two cars to pass … not in my rental car, anyway.
Finally, after about an hour or so, the road started to level out and we began to see signs of civilization again.  Eventually, we emerged onto some pavement.  Yes, I saw a street sign, it WAS still state road 814 but we also found out it was called Campbell Mountain Road. We eventually hit another real, honest-to-goodness, highway, with pavement and stores and gas stations.  It was salvation.
 Siri kept plugging away with myriad directions and eventually got us to … the same highway we would have taken if we had gone our “normal” route. I stuck to it like glue the rest of the way home.
Okay, I guess she didn’t intentionally try to kill me.
But then again, she’s smarter than all of us and has the entire internet at her disposal.  Consider this: I did some simple searches for this highway for this post and I found the following warning in some directions to a nearby campground (The phrase I boldfaced below particularly caught my attention):
“WARNING: Please use the directions we have provided below for safe and pleasant driving. If you choose to use another source for your directions, please be wary if they include Route 814; this winding, gravel mountain road is not for the faint of heart. DO NOT take 814 if you have a camper or RV.”
Sound advice.
=================================
Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina.  Check out his books at http://thefensk.com
All pictures borrowed from Google Maps in the interest of public safety.
Yes, he’ll probably go try to find Campbell Mountain road again sometime.

More Scratching

It’s been a while since I shook things up a bit so I decided to change the title of the blog … I liked “A Smidgeon’s Toll” okay as a blog title but it never seemed to catch hold.  So for the new year, I guess I’ll try a new one on for size.  Scratching The Surface.  It more fits what I’m doing with my blog, and with my writing.

This reflects back to a pivotal scene in my first novel:

“… he had what I call ‘the fever’… it gets in yer blood and you can’t do nothing about it once you got that.”

“The fever?” Sam was amazed that Loot had used the same term he sometimes used himself.

“Yeah. Gold fever,” Loot said. “Or could be silver fever or hell, I guess diamond fever. It’s whatever gets under your skin and makes you scratch the ground looking to git rich. I reckon it musta been eatin’ away at old Slim all them years even after he couldn’t do nothing about it.”

Loot leaned forward and stared Sam right in the eye. “You got it too, aintcha?”

I always liked that scene … it clarifies the title and begins to show how serious these characters are about the personality flaw they both have that is at the core of the story.

Writing is not unlike the struggle of the character in The Fever.  It also gets under one’s skin … tapping the keyboard is akin to scratching the ground.  And now I’ve barely scratched the surface.

What gets under YOUR skin making you willing to “scratch the ground”?

=======

Thomas Fenske is a writer living in NC.  http://thefensk.com

I’m Giving It Away!

New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day … the Kindle version of THE FEVER is FREE!

Take a walk in Sam’s dusty boots and catch THE FEVER!  A riddle, an obsession, and a quest … what could possibly go wrong?

Don’t have a Kindle? Get the free Kindle app and start reading on your phone.

It’s only free for two days … get it NOW!

Happy New Year!!

A Bit of News

img_8019My publisher, Wings ePress, has decided to distribute exclusively with Amazon.  You’ll find my books, The Fever and A Curse That Bites Deep available as part of the Kindle Unlimited program on Amazon.

This basically means Kindle Unlimited subscribers can download the ebooks for free.  Others can still buy them but look for specials from time to time to time.

Get links and more information on the books here: http://thefensk.com/ku.html

Prefer print books? Don’t worry, the link to the paperback is there too, on Amazon, right next to the eBook.

I want to wish you all the happiest of holidays.  Be safe!

======================================================

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

What Would YOU Do?

Like the riddle in the Sam’s life, the idea for this story smoldered in my soul for thirty years.

It’s a “what if” tale:

What if happenstance introduced the notion of finding a lost gold mine into your life?

What if even the minimum of research proved that certain facts you were given were true?

What if everyone you knew thought the idea was totally nuts?

What if it cost you every cent you managed to save?

What would you do?

Would you worry about the weather, the fact that you must trespass, or the danger?

No, it would become your new normal.

I’ll tell you what you would do.

You would likely catch THE FEVER.

That is what this story is about.

How far would you go to feed your Fever?

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


===============

Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina … for information about all his books go to http://thefensk.com

WeekendCoffee WooHoo

bookofweekIf we were having coffee today it would be all about the contest.  “What contest?”  The weekly Cover Wars contest.  I don’t know why, but I chose not to proselytize here last week when the contest was starting. I don’t know why.  I guess I thought I had a lot of followers from here already and I posted about it outside of weekendcoffeeshare, but I just didn’t feel right about talking “vote for me” here.  Ah, but the week is over and my cover won!

One of the perks of winning:  A CURSE THAT BITES DEEP is the book of the week!

A little background: This competition is hosted by a book marketing site called Author Shout.  They offer a lot of author and book services and when you purchase marketing from them, they promote the heck out of your book on social media.  Every week, they have a free “Cover Wars” competition … they put up a batch (usually 10-15) cover photos and people vote for their favorite.

Sure, I think my novel A Curse That Bites Deep has an awesome cover, but I also know, this is WAR.  I enlisted the aid of my FaceBook friends and tweeted and posted on several mailing list groups I belong to.  The key to this contest is repeat votes … people can vote once every 24 hours.  I was able to gently pester my friends enough every day for seven days to get the win.  I’m always amazed at covers that get less than seven votes.  I mean, even if I was totally not going to win, I’d make sure I got at least seven votes, right?

So please excuse me for tooting my own horn a little this morning.  After all, it IS an awesome cover for an awesome book.

===========================

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

Weekend Coffee Research

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

If we were having coffee today I’d have to hurry because I’ve been busy researching and want to get back to it.  Book three in my Traces of Treasure series has been off to a slow start and I am finally making some progress.  I’m pretty much what they call a “pantser” in my writing.  Well, a total pantser just starts writing, as if by the seat of their pants, going wherever the story may take them.  I’m not that hard-core. I have the germ of an idea and I cobbled together a basic outline based on that idea.

But at this stage of the story, early in, I tend to get bogged down in simple details.  I want to set the stage just right, and possibly set up for future action.  Working in the past (the story is set in 1983) is tricky and I am in a somewhat unfamiliar locale.  Limited resources prevent me from traveling there so I use a combination of Google maps & Satellite views and USGS topographic maps to help me.  I’m lucky on the latter because I can get USGS maps from the past.  Most of my action takes place in far West Texas so things don’t change too much.  But they do change, so I rely on the topographic map to keep me in the time frame.

I used to buy the maps for some location work.  Ironically, one of the characters in my first book did the same thing, spreading them out on the floor with a huge magnifying glass and a big lamp.  Now, you can get those same maps in PDF format.  I have to say, zooming the PDF gives one a much better view than any magnifying glass.  Awesome details emerge.

I found something so interesting, I had to write to the actual ranch I identified in the PDF to get some clarification.  I hope they write back.  They should.  It’s a big operation and they have their own web page and had detailed contact information.  It’s a working ranch so I’ll have to be patient.  It is funny where research takes you.  Their web page had a history of their ranch and it was a fascinating look into a place I’d never heard of before.  But it was a typical story too, one small piece of history that helps to fill in an overall sense of time and place.  Really interesting.

It feels really good to be actively writing again.  Getting excited about this story.  I think it is going to rival the other two in suspense and mystery.  I had to take off so long because of my eyes, then got lazy because of that downtime, it’s been tough to start up again.  Today was the first day I felt like I was really back.

 

=======================

Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina.  Yes, a writer.  And he’s writing.  I promise.  More info: http://thefensk.com

Breaking the Code

img_6284If we were having coffee today, I think I’d have to break into my annual moaning session about marketing.  Yes, the books.  Again.

If you have ever aspired to be an author you really need to be aware of the biggest pitfall: Marketing.  I joked in a facebook writer’s group not long ago … writing a novel is hard.  Editing/revision is even harder.  Marketing kicks me in the …
Well, you get the idea. Now, if you are talented enough or lucky enough to attract the notice of a big publishing house, they do all that for you.  Oh, I imagine even then you have to do quite a bit yourself.  But as an indie author or an author from a smaller publisher, the mantle of marketing responsibility falls on your shoulders.

Marketing is a special skill I am still struggling to learn.  I actually worked in publishing for over twenty years, but it was mostly in IT.  Now I sort of wish I hadn’t treated all those marketing people like lesser beings.  To be fair, we IT hacks generally treat everybody as lesser beings.  Still, now I regret it.  I could use some help.  In an irony of ironies, sure, I could buy help but I really need to sell some books first so I can afford it.

There is another irony at work here too.  Writing.  Most of the type of marketing I am talking about involves writing.  I have published two novels and written three others that are in various stages of revision.  I used to be intimidated by a novel’s length but now I find that hammering out a ninety thousand word novel is not that big a deal.  What’s hard, is a two hundred word book blurb.  Sheesh.

So here I am, on a Saturday, when I am supposed to be chipping away at the third book in my series but I’m struggling to, once again, revise my Amazon book blurbs. Succinct, catchy, to the point.  Sell the book.  It sounds so easy.   There is no shortage of advice on-line, some of it is maddingly contradictory.  Mention names, don’t mention names, ask questions, don’t ask questions.  “Short” is the common suggestion.  Okay.

I first encountered this when I got my original book contract.  I blinked at it for quite a while.  They wanted me to supply the blurb.   Uh, uh, uh … I managed to cobble out something.  It was awful.

One impressive thing about having a book on Amazon is the fact that if you register as the author, you can revise your own book description.  I am on what is probably the fourth major revision of my first novel’s description.  Sure, I use the same one on my web page.  If I think it is good enough, I poll the other vendors like Barnes & Noble to change … but you have to ask.  Same with my publisher’s website.

So this is what I’m doing today … One day I’ll crack the code.  I’ll be able to tell because I’ll maybe start selling some books.
Here are the amazon book links … click read more at the bottom of the description to get the whole thing.

How did I do this time?

The Fever
A Curse That Bites Deep

===========

Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina.
More evidence of his lack of marketing skill can be found at http://thefensk.com