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.

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Running Afowl …

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.

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Pepe

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.

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Pepe and Beatrice

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.

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note: just the first wave

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.

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I guess this isn’t the worst of it.  Others are waiting in the wings …

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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.

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.

Avoiding shelter …

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

If we were having coffee today I’d tell you about the lost dog.  It belongs to my son’s family, slipped out a week ago when a gate was apparently left ajar.

Sadly, Bert is a bit long in the tooth, an older dog with a variety of mild illnesses.  Partially blind, not too worldly.  Poof.  Gone.

We’ve joined the search, but I’ve been here before and it is harder than trying to find the proverbial needle in a haystack.  We’ve all done all the usual things.  It is just amazing how completely they can disappear in such a short period of time. I half-expect them to show up on the island of odd socks or the valley of the missing coat-hangers.  They disappear that completely.

They live three towns west of us, and the shelter for that county/town is on the eastern side of town; it is actually closer to us than it is to them.  So, we’ve been going to the shelter.  There are no happy dogs or cats at the shelter.  Excited, yes. Running the gauntlet in the hall of the German Shepherds is evidence of that.  There was no Bert, either.

When we first arrived, there was a woman there with a quiet dog sitting patiently by her side.  I thought she was perhaps in the midst of adopting.  Quite the opposite.

As we returned we witnessed her handing over the leash and walking out the door.  The dog moved to follow her, was stopped by the leash, looked back and then forward at the closing door, a look of total confusion on her face. Then we could see a distinct look of realization and resignation flash over her face.  Welcome to the shelter, right?

We just lost a dog last July, by natural causes.  We have ten cats.  We are overrun.  But we were sorely tempted by this dog, Daisy.

We followed up on Daisy’s status.  She was almost immediately adopted.  We’re both happy for her, but we’re also just a little sad.  We got totally involved and invested in that few seconds.  But we’re both hopeful that she found her forever home.

Bert’s still missing.  We’re checking the shelter online now.  They update their webpage hourly, which we know for sure now.

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You can find out more about Thomas Fenske at http://thefensk.com … the Kindle version of his novel THE FEVER is on sale for $1.99 for the rest of February.

Is it just me?

I was just thinking to myself … dang, it’s still January.  Is it just me or do November and December seem to fly past and after New Year’s Day, January just creeps along. Maybe it is just anti-climatic or something … after all the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, maybe we just hunker down.

Well, the doldrums can get some help.   I got knocked off my feet by this awful flu that is spreading around, then we were snow-bound for several days.  My darling bride got the flu right after me (funny how that works, right?) and spent those snow days off her feet as well.  And here, now, we’ve got another week of January left.

Most of you know I’m from Houston Texas.  Suffice it to say, I didn’t grow up with snow.  I found an old family picture a while back of a dog standing in the snow in front of my great-grandfather’s house. It wasn’t dated but other similar pictures were from the roaring twenties.  I found a site that listed significant snowfalls in Houston.  It wasn’t a very long list.  I figured it was either December 1925 or January 1926.  One of those unusual years where it snowed twice in a short time.

The point is, I never personally saw snow until 1960.  Yeah, that one was on the list too … right before Valentine’s day.  It was quite an event.  I didn’t see snow again until 1973.  It snowed an unprecedented three times that year.

I’ve lived in NC since the late 1980’s … it snows more here, but not that much more.  We’re lucky to get a good snow every year or so.  The snowfall last week was unusual … close to a foot.  That is a lot of snow for this area.  I know you northerners and mid-westerners scoff at that but understand this: we have minimal snow removal.  Houston and Austin have almost none.  When it snows, those places virtually shut down.  We’re not much better, but we have maybe 10% more snow removal.  They actually do a pretty good job on what are considered main roads.  The problem is … 98% of the people don’t live on the main roads.  Side streets and side streets of those side streets become icy wastelands.  I lived for a couple of years just two hours north of here, in Virginia.  They get even more snow and you get spoiled by all the extra snow removal they have there.

I actually do pretty well driving on ice and snow, but I dislike testing my skills.  I don’t worry so much about going out of control myself, I worry about other drivers losing control and hitting me. Several times in my life, even when I lived in Texas, I’ve been in situations where I simply had to drive fairly long distances on snowy or icy roads.  It is a white knuckle experience that is taxing physically and mentally.  I even included a scene in my novel, THE FEVER, where the protagonist is dealing with exactly that situation.  In that scene, the heat in the car was not working so it was further complicated by episodes of his windshield being covered in a sheet of ice every time a big truck passed him.  Yeah, been there done that.  Write what you know, right?  Seriously, one reader even told me she had to get up and put on a sweater while she was reading that section.

Anyway I’ll take snow over ice any day.  Our last ice storm knocked out our power for five days and dropped about ten pickup truck loads of branches and trees on our property.  But that was in March and we were talking about January, right?
How did TS Eliot put it … April is the cruelest month?
Maybe. But January is probably the longest month.

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

WeekEnd Coffee Snow

img_6284If we were having coffee today, well, we’d probably be doing it by phone or Skype or something … it’s snowing hard out there.  It’s pretty and it’s nice and it’s a pain.
I grew up in Houston, Texas and I think I saw snow maybe twice in the first twenty years of my life.  In looking at Houston history blogs it’s funny when they talk about snow … they’ll talk about this snow and that snow … basically a counting on the hands sort of thing.  And although I haven’t lived in Houston since 1978 I know most of the earlier events they are talking about!

I’ve lived in North Carolina for almost thirty years.  We don’t get a lot of snow here either, but we can expect at least one event a year.  Some years more, some years less.  We sometimes go two years with any.  We also get significant ice storms every few years.  I hate ice storms.   You can expect days without power and I don’t care where you’re from, nobody is used to driving on ice.  Don’t do it.

Now, don’t get all Yankee on me about driving in snow.  It can be done, but you have to understand the fact that here, there just isn’t much snow removal capacity.  Oh, they brine the roads beforehand … that always seems to me to be more like priming the pump.  And sure, there is some snowplow activity, but the plowing appears to be more like they are using a Zamboni to prepare the ice rink. It amounts to scraping, scraping down to the point where they compact whatever ice is left onto the surface.  We end up with a sheet of ice.  If we are lucky and it gets sunny at some point, usually in the spring, the road clears pretty quickly.  No word yet on when the sun will be restarted.

So, no matter what part of Maine or Minnesota or Chicago you are from, you’d probably be one of the people I really fear on the roads out here … zipping along with too much confidence and likely to slide and run into me.

Several times in my life I’ve had to drive long distances in snow and ice.  Once, I was on a business trip, driving from central Virginia to Atlanta.  I neglected to check the weather for my entire route.  It was fine when I left.  In NC I hit some flurries.  As I went south, it got worse and worse.  I just stayed in the wagon ruts and kept going hoping some overconfident Yankee didn’t run into me.  Oh, I’m just joshing … it is the SUV drivers you have to worry about, really.  I lost count of the number of SUVs I saw flipped, run into walls, or stranded dozens of yards out into fields by the side of the interstate.  It was quite a trip.  The entire state of South Carolina at twenty-five miles an hour … the only way to go.

There is a section in my novel THE FEVER where the hero gets stuck on the highway in such a situation … it was a compilation of some of those trips.  One fan told me that was her favorite part but that she had to stop reading at some point and go put a sweater on.

So let’s sip our coffee and chat quietly and pray that the power doesn’t go out.

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Author Thomas Fenske is currently hosting a paperback book giveaway in partnership with the TomeTender Book Blog.  For more information:  http://tometender.blogspot.com/2017/01/thomas-fenske-presents-traces-of.html
More information on his books can be found at:  http://www.thefensk.com

 

 

Traces of Treasure

img_7200-1When my second novel, A CURSE THAT BITES DEEP, was accepted by my publisher they wanted me to add a “series” name.  It was a sequel to my first book, THE FEVER, and even if it was just two books they were seen as parts of a series.  I wasn’t sure there would be more than two, but that’s the way they did it so I was compelled to create a series.

I’d never thought in terms of a series … from a marketing standpoint it isn’t a bad idea, but I hadn’t even considered it.  Now I was on the spot … I needed to come up with something quickly.  I’m not quite sure where the idea came from, but Traces of Treasure just sort of stuck in my mind.  I needed something that conveyed the basic plot ideas of the two books.  My hero is a treasure hunter but his hunt always seems to be more about the idea more than the fact.

My hero is a treasure hunter but his hunt always seems to be more about the notion more than the fact.  Despite years of struggling with the idea, Sam Milton, has found very little in the way of the gold he was promised in the first book.  In the second book, he does find a treasure of sorts, but it wasn’t what he was looking for and it, in itself, seems to point to yet another mystery (wide open for book three, right?).   He always seems to find just enough of something to keep him going.   Basically, a “missed it by that much” mentality.   I guess a slot machine works on the same principle … the tiny payouts keep one hoping that the jackpot looms just beyond the next pull … or two … or three …

So Traces of Treasure was born.  The term left me open to explore other tangents with the same characters, but it was still vague enough to allow different story lines to be part of the same series.  I didn’t want it to be a “Sam Milton Adventure” or something like that.  Hey, he lives a dangerous life … he could die.  No promise or spoiler there … seriously, but this plot and storyline could go in a thousand different directions at this point.

Plus it fits the first book … Sam’s lifelong quest is based on a hope and a prayer, totally trusting the sincerity of a dying total stranger, and a wino at that.  And it fits the second book too … .Sam spends time and resources trying to get to the end of the crude tunnel he’d found in book 1.  He’s found a few specks of gold but as yet no mother lode … wait, maybe that’s where I got it … he found traces of the promised treasure.

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina.  More information on his books can be found at http://thefensk.com … this post reminds him that he really needs to add info about “Traces of Treasure” to the website.

 

WeekendCoffeeShare-Update

img_6284If we were having coffee today I’d have to tell you I am very happy to see you.  Last week I talked about my upcoming eye surgery on my cataracts, so I thought I should give you a little update.

It is nothing short of amazing.  And that’s just one eye.  Of course, my right eye was my dominant eye, it always has been, but I’d been depending more and more on my left eye, although I knew it was rapidly deteriorating too.  The doctor suggested I have the right lens removed from my glasses but I actually think I function better without that … since my left eye, even corrected, is pretty bad.

I was just standing on the front porch.  There is a small store across the street from us.  I can close my left eye and see the small, lit “OPEN” sign clearly.  If I cover my right eye, I CAN’T EVEN SEE THE SIGN.   That’s uncorrected.  I can see that there is a store there, as I can with most other big things.  It is like looking through smoke and haze.  Understand, this eye is about 50% better than my right eye had become.

I had become pretty used to my deteriorated vision.  I was still driving up to two weeks ago, depending on the weather and the light conditions and how my eyes seemed to be functioning at the time — some days I could see better than on other days.  Since the surgery, my wife had been reluctant to let me drive again, but I told her, really, I can see so much better than I could even see two or three months ago.

The new situation is not without its adjustments and pitfalls.  I still have what they call “floaters” … including one I was calling a dragon’s claw, shifting back and forth just out of my central vision, a bit like a hair on an old projector lens at the movies.  It has diminished over the last several days, now more like a spider or fly, dancing around.  The doctor said it is not uncommon and should likely fade over the next couple of weeks.  The nature of my eyes precluded a complete adjustment … although the eye tested at 20/20 for distance, I still need enhancement to read.  Although this seems a minor adjustment, it is actually more than I anticipated.  I’ve worn progressive lenses for almost 20 years … basically trifocals without lines.  I used to joke they were like being young again.  Now, I don’t need glasses for distance but have to relearn what I used to do years ago before the progressives and keep reading glasses handy.  I haven’t had to do that in a while and it is different now with things like tablets and smart phones.  I’ll know more when I have the other eye complete.

But considering I struggled to even see the screen to type last week’s dispatch, I can see the screen clearly now with minimal strength reading glasses, although I think I’ll need to take it easy because even now I can detect eye strain as my left eye struggles to help. Not complaining, mind you, as I know this is temporary.

Eye two scheduled for early December.

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in NC.  Find out about his novels The Fever, and A Curse That Bites Deep at http://thefensk.com
He really needs some sales to help pay for all these related medical expenses!

94 Years Young

momIf we were having coffee I’d be lamenting the fact that I am once again missing my mother’s birthday.  I live across the country from my mom, who turns 94 today.  I’d raise my mug in toast and say “Happy Birthday, Mom!”

The photo is my favorite picture of my mom,   High School graduation photo.  FYI, that’s pre-war … and I’m sure she was all piss and vinegar as they say.  She got married right after the war and I came along third in line to the throne with two following.

There’s a little-known secret about my early years …   my parents were remarkably cyclic … four of my five siblings were born five years apart.  Only my older sister was out of sequence.  She’s four years older than me.

What this means is that when I was a toddler/young hellion, and my older brother and sister started school. me and my mom were home all day … just her and me.  She was the typical 50’s housewife then … stay at home.  When she was a fledgling mother she had two infant/toddlers at the same time.  By the time I emerged from that cycle, for 2-3 year until my younger sister came along, it was just her and me.  By the time that was over, she had started working again.  Both younger sisters knew the joys of daycare but me, I never experienced that.  Oh, she had periods of at-home time with them, and of course with my older siblings, but I had her all to myself during those few great years.  I’m not gloating, I just feel fortunate. I’ve done a lot in this life, but those are some of my fondest memories.

So, Happy Birthday, mom!

Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina, far from his mother in Houston.  His second novel, A Curse That Bites Deep, was just published this month.

http://www.thefensk.com/main

 

 

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.”