WeekendCoffee Noir!

coffeeshareIf we were having coffee today I’d be telling you about last night’s reading.

Reading?

That’s right, for the first time anywhere I took part in a reading in a local bar. This reading was associated with another author event this weekend, a local author fair at the library.

The bar event was called “Noir at the Bar” and, for the most part, featured readings about crime or mystery. Many pieces were short stories. I cobbled together a few scenes from my first novel The Fever.  The timing was short, less than ten minutes, so I was probably a bit pre-occupied with time so I tended to rush a little. Seriously, twelve or fifteen minutes would have made a big difference for me. And the lighting was a bit splotchy, with some kind of revolving color wheel, which probably bothered me more than others. I wouldn’t say it was one of my best speaking engagements but it certainly wasn’t even close to the worse.

It seemed well-received though. I was the only author who presented my work with commentary, others just read. I was given a lot of positive feedback on using that approach, so that was good.

Saturday’s event will be more standardized, a hodgepodge of local writing talent from many facets of the writing community will all be crammed together into a room in the library.  There will be readings there too, but mystery writers were asked to shift to the bar event because the main event was basically overbooked.

Getting into the trenches and getting the word out is just another one of many things an author must do.  I need to do more of it.

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Thomas Fenske is an author living in NC.  His latest novel, LUCKY STRIKE, will be officially published next week (You can pre-buy now).  To celebrate that, the Amazon/Kindle edition of his first novel, THE FEVER, is on sale for 99 cents through September 30.
You can find links to all of my books at http://www.thefensk.com/main.html

WeekendCoffee Bucket List

coffeeshareIf we were having coffee today I’d be excited to tell you my news.  I got a job!

“A job?” you might ask between sips.  “I thought you were retired? You back in IT somewhere?”

No, I am realizing a lifelong dream.  As a fledgling little-leaguer, (mumble) years ago, I aspired to one day move up into professional baseball.  I am happy to report that although I have been on waivers for several more decades than I’d like to admit, a local minor league team has picked me up for the remainder of the 2019 season.

“You’re playing baseball?”

img_0752No, my dears, I am an usher for the Class-A Appalacian League Burlington Royals. Actually, before the season started, I had looked at their web page to see if they were hiring.  I never saw a notice so I figured that was it.  In past seasons it had been hard for me to go to games because my job often kept me late, but now that I’m retired I had managed to work in a few games this season.  I ran into an usher out on the concourse at the last game I attended as a civilian and asked him how they got those jobs.  He brightened right up … “We just found out today we’re losing somebody next week!”
FATE! I’ve learned to never ignore fate.

A couple of emails, and an application later… and I was in!  My darling bride likens it to me running away to join the circus.

Now, I’ve only worked one game, and I still have a lot to learn, but I had a blast.  For one thing, l need to get to know the long-time season ticket holders, who by and large prefer to be recognized and not asked for their tickets.  Then there are handfuls of scouts who show up.  Same deal.  It’s not a long season, either; come the end of August I’ll be back to retirement.

It’s exciting to be part of the organization. I get to meet people, show some minor authority, and I get to watch professional baseball.  And I get paid for it!  Minimum wage, sure, but for me, it’s just pizza money.  Hopefully, now that I’m part of the family, I’ll get to come back next season!

So that long-ignored bucket-list item can be checked off at last.  I’ve got my job in professional baseball.

Have you ever checked off one of your long-term bucket-list items, even in a roundabout way?

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in NC.  Find out more at http://thefensk.com

WeekendCoffee Buzz … and Neil!

apollo11If we were having coffee today I’d be pretty vocal about recognizing the fiftieth anniversary of the first lunar landing. I have privately noted the date every year since then.  It is hard to believe it has been fifty years because  I remember the events of Apollo 11 quite vividly.

In fact, I have followed the space program closely since the first flight of Alan Shepherd.  My fourth-grade teacher, Miss McGrath, dated some guy who worked for NASA (I grew up in Houston so he was part of the fledgling Manned Spacecraft Center) and he came in and got us all fired up about the whole thing.  We watched the entire flight of John Glenn on TV in school!  Big deal, you younger folks might think, but in 1962 it was indeed a big deal!

Even from the first days there were complaints about the spending of money on this entire effort.  These complaints continue today.  Improve things on earth first, they say.  I say, look around.  Chances are you’re reading this on a computer or better yet, a tablet or smartphone, based on information that was transmitted over the internet by wire or by wireless communication.  These weren’t just natural progressions in technology.

Look at the 20th Century:  most “advances” were slow, almost cosmetic, and this continued up through the 1960s.  It was after the space program that things really took off.  This is because of the huge investment in technology, which created new industries, and a lot of jobs, along with a lot of new ideas solving problems that people hadn’t even considered before.  This served to make people more interested in pursuing educational goals to advance various fields of engineering, that is, as opposed to more traditional trade pursuits.

All of us have been affected by the amazing advances in electronics, medicine, engineering, metallurgy, chemistry, manufacturing, robotics, heck, I’m running out of fields but there are more — I just can’t remember them all — you can trace all these things back to the initial investments in the lunar landing project.  It wasn’t just an investment in achieving a singular technological triumph, it was an investment in all of us that continues to enrich our lives to this day.  Maybe these things would have eventually happened, but I assure you the progress would have happened at a snail’s pace compared to the way it worked out.

You want a really good example? In May 1977 we celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of Charles Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic.  Think about that.  Yes, air travel had advanced, mostly due to wartime necessity, but that’s pretty much it.  Television?  It existed in concept at the time of Lindbergh but wasn’t even crudely available for another twenty years.  When did things really start to take off?

To the deniers, I have to ask, where is the motivation for such a conspiracy — one that would involve hundreds of thousands of people?  The money?  It really wasn’t that much in comparison to the rest of the Federal budget … remember it was funded piecemeal over a period of years.  It still is.  The thing I hate about the deniers is this: at the core of their denial is that they deny humans are even capable of doing something like this.

Here are some common claims.  No stars in the pictures.  It’s daytime!  There is no atmosphere and no ocean to reflect blue, but it’s daytime and it’s really bright and the cameras must be f-stopped really tight.  I’ll tell you this, if there were stars in the pictures, that would be proof of a fake.  The flag?  It had a spring to make it unfurl.  Hanging limp would have looked really lame.  We weren’t entirely without class in the sixties. The danger of the Van Allen Radiation Belts?  It’s a phenomenon. Really, there’s much more danger from solar wind (which is where the radiation in the belts comes from).  We know about these things … there is layered shielding.  Most of the time you get more radiation from the electric burner on your stove. I saw some guy post once about “how did they take off from the moon without an engine?” … where did he get that?  Of course there was an engine.  Lordy.

In my opinion, two events precipitated these conspiracy theories, both of them were movies.  Star Wars and Capricorn One.  Capricorn One came after Star Wars … it was about a similar sort of conspiracy but involving a Mars landing.  Pretty low budget and forgettable movie but some people didn’t forget and it cemented the merest idea of a conspiracy in their minds.  The other, Star Wars, heralded a technological leap in movie special effects that continues to this day.  Note: before Star Wars, space special effects were pretty darn awful.  You have to think about this in context.  I think a lot of deniers consider the issue through the post-Star Wars special effects revolution, not before.

Yes, people have died.  Space has always been a dangerous endeavor.  So is the freeway and air travel. In times past, people would go off on ocean voyages and disappear without a trace.  Did they stop sailing the ocean? Nope, they built newer and better ships.

You might note that I used Buzz Aldrin’s name first in my title … that was both for aesthetics as well as to give Buzz a big shout out.  We all remember Neil Armstrong first and foremost; he stepped out first, after all.  But you know what?  They landed together; they were a team, and I think they thought of themselves as a team of three.  Success depended on all three of them … including Mike Collins, the man in the tin can up above.  So to all of you, Buzz, Mike, and Neil … thank you for helping us realize what is no doubt the most awesome technological event yet created by our species.  Think of it, yeah, America did this, but more than that … humans did this!  Let’s go back!

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in NC … find more information about him and his writing at http://thefensk.com
NEWS!  His companion cookbook, The Mossback Cafe Cookbook, is now FREE on Amazon!  Take a look >>> HERE

WeekendCoffee Fireworks

coffeeshareIf we were having coffee today we’d probably catch up on our respective Fourth of July festivities.  I generally remain pretty sedate about such celebrating, maybe a little cooking out, along with some intensive movie watching.  It’s almost too hot to do anything else.  We went to a small cookout at a family member’s place and, on the way home, we managed to catch sight of a few of the local town’s fireworks.  Once I got home, I was amazed that quite a few neighbors were shooting off some pretty good fireworks themselves.  We’ve generally don’t have too much of this around here since fireworks are very illegal in NC. This was the most I’ve seen in a while.  Thankfully, our dog Daisy does not seem to be bothered by the explosions.

I grew up in Texas where there was a serious demarcation line between city and county.  It was illegal to sell, possess, and use in the city, out in the county it was okay.  It’s a bit like the old wet-county, dry-county thing … twice a year, just outside the city limits, temporary plywood fireworks stands would suddenly appear just before New Year’s Eve or Independence Day.  Imagine, an entire cottage industry for two days a year.

My parents were not major proponents.  We never, not once, made the yearly pilgrimage to the fireworks stands.  As a result, this fledgling pyromaniac had to resort to scavenging.  The Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve meant two things to me: July 5 and January 1.  I’d head out early both of those days and prowl the nearby streets of our subdivision.  I found out early on that there were leftovers which were easy-pickings to someone industrious enough to seek them out.

I reasoned that those large strings of firecrackers would often blow a small percentage of individual units away from the group. Not duds, mind you, but fully functional explosive devices that fate had spared from certain explosive extinction.  I’d generally find dozens of these lying about, unnoticed and unforgotten in the late-night festivities. There were other things too.  At the time I was amazed at the bounty of bottle rockets and other small items that would have been overlooked.  I know now that, sadly, Mr. Stumpy and Old Man Lefty were likely drunk when they were shooting them off, so it was easy to miss a few out of the bag in the orgy of pyrotechnics they were intent on exploiting.

I even found a way to utilize “dud” firecrackers. If you broke them in two, you could light the innards and they’d be like earth-bound rockets, spewing jets of sparkly and intense flame. Fizzlers I called them.

So the day after both holidays were my day of celebrating.

As long as my mom didn’t find out.

What about where you live or have lived?

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina, where most fireworks are illegal although they try to assuage the masses by allowing some really lame ones that are even sold in grocery stores.  If you want the really good stuff, you have to try to illegally import from south of the border … South Carolina.

His latest novel, Lucky Strike, is coming in October 2019. Info on his writing is available at http://thefensk.com

Touching All The Bases

coffeeshareIf we were having coffee today I’d be in a good mood.
“Why?” you might ask.
I’d tell you that I finally finished all the identified corrections on my latest manuscript.

Getting a book published is a process and you need to know you can’t skip any component parts of that process.  Well, to be more correct, you shouldn’t skip any of the steps.  If you’re lucky enough to get your manuscript accepted by a publisher and are offered a contract, the publisher proceeds to edit your manuscript. This is humbling because you, as an author, have been pouring over your own manuscript with a fine-toothed comb, striving to deliver the best possible work. When you get the manuscript back you find out just what a fumble-fingered oaf you really are.  I’ve reviewed some of the corrections wondering to myself, “who the hell wrote this crap?”

Yes, you get your manuscript back with hundreds of corrections, each of which you must review, and accept or decline. Sometimes you have instructions to rewrite a sentence or paragraph. Those must be flagged for the editor to review. It’s a process, usually involving two, three, or more rounds of correction/review.

At that point, it goes to the copyeditor, a process that can take several weeks.  This is a period of waiting, a chance for an author to revert to lazy habits. Or, sometimes, a really good author might take this opportunity to work on the next novel. I’ve done both.

When the copyeditor is finished, the publisher proceeds to package the book into something close to the final form and sends you a test edition, called a galley.  My publisher concentrates on ebooks so my galleys come in the form of a PDF file. This is the author’s most important step in the process. We’ve written the book.  We’ve spent months, sometimes years, revising the manuscript, crafting it into the product we sold to the publisher.  Now it is our turn to painstakingly read our own work. I mentioned a fine-toothed comb earlier. At this stage, we really need to sift the work for any errors we can find. I generally go to the library and sequester myself into one of those little study rooms for this process.

It is surprising, after revision, editing, and copyediting, I always find several dozen errors that need to be corrected. The corrections are listed with the full line, then on the next line, you put the full corrected line with the correction highlighted. You double-space after the correction. This allows the editor to easily find the exact line in the text and differentiate between corrections. Note: some of the “errors” are spacing corrections since the fully justified text sometimes results in inordinate spacing between words. This is your last chance to be creative.  For Lucky Strike, I submitted five pages of these corrections.

Once this stage is completed, the publisher applies the errors you found and sends you a corrected PDF.  You’re finished, right?  Nope. There is one more base you need to touch.  You need to double-check the corrections.

With my first novel, I neglected to do this.  I trusted them.  I was writing part-time, it was a busy time at work. I was new, I didn’t know what I was doing.  If I had checked even a few of those corrections, I’d have immediately realized that they had somehow not saved any of the galley corrections and the “final” version was, in fact, the uncorrected galleys.  Two weeks after publication I started getting reports of errors … very familiar errors.  The enormity of the problem became evident very quickly but I had a heck of a time convincing the publisher what had happened.  This is a story for another blog entry, but in short, I learned a very valuable lesson … double-check the corrections.

So, after I completed my corrections for the Lucky Strike, I double-checked the file and found a handful of errors that were either missed or were miscorrected.  In most cases, these were instances where there were multiple corrections in the same sentence. We call the corrections errata, so I sent a new file of errata errata.  This is what I just finalized. I got the new corrected PDF.  Yes, I checked it again.  Done!

But you know, it isn’t over there.  On publication day, an author should actually order all versions of their own book, just like a normal reader.  It is in our best interest to do this, so we can again spot check the published versions and also determine delivery times and availability.  Again, if I had done this with the first book, I would have discovered the error much earlier than my readers.

So, like the title says, touch all the bases!  Is it going to be perfect? Probably not.  There are always things that slip through the process.  How do other publishers do it? They do the same thing.  I used to never see errors in books, but after going through this process, I spot things all the time.  I don’t fixate on their errors, I just take a moment to feel the author’s pain.

What publishing nightmares have you survived?

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Thomas Fenske is an author living in North Carolina. His latest novel, Lucky Strike, is due out in October.  Now is a great time to catch up on his Traces of Treasure series … get more info on his web page.

Disquieting Thoughts

coffeeshareIf we were having coffee today I would be happy if the waitress brought us our drinks.  I don’t much like to see the backside of anyplace I eat or drink. Out of sight out of mind, I guess.

I was just talking to somebody about restaurant practices.  We all hear horror stories.  I’ve had quite a number of jobs and second and third jobs.  I was a maintenance man in the student center in college and saw the food service areas up close. That was before I realized what to look for though.  At that time, I was more involved with things like pulling the mangled remains of a bent fork out of drive chain of the huge dishwasher. (One time, I mounted one on a piece of wood and gave it to the manager to give out as an award.)  This happened a lot. It was great for the workers. They didn’t have to load/unload the dishwasher for a period of time.

My first duty in my first job was sanitizing a soft serve shake machine. We took it apart every night, washing all the inner components and in the morning we’d actually sanitize it with bleach and a half dozen rinses before reloading the precious cargo.  Every day.  Why? Because the health inspector would periodically take samples from it to check for bacteria.

But wait, what don’t they check?

I’m talking about things I learned at other jobs.  Take lemons.  You get lemon in your tea or water, but did you ever stop and wonder for just a minute … do they actually wash the outer surface of those lemons?  Actually, some places do.  Most don’t.

Most everybody loves to get butter on their popcorn at the movie theater.  First of all, it’s not butter.  It is some vaguely-butter-flavored-foodlike-substance out of a can. Nobody knows exactly what it is or where it comes from.  But that’s not my point.  When I worked for a movie theater, I never once, not ever, saw anyone wash the dispensing container.  It’s low? Open a can and pour some more in.

I was a barista for quite a while.  My pet peeve when I got to work, usually after my day job, was the towel used to clean the steaming wand, you know the one that creates that wonderful froth and heated milk for your precious lattes and cappuccinos? After that frothing action, you need to clean off the scalded milk residue.  When I arrived for EVERY shift, I would pick up that towel with the tips of two fingers and carefully deposit it with the soiled linens.  I’d go through five or six towels a shift but I’d assume the towel I removed at been on duty since the early morning. Hint: forget about the towel … take a look at the wand before you order your expensive drink. I’d rather they wipe it down with a dirty towel than not wipe it down at all.  You ever scald milk in a pan on the stove then try to clean the pan?  THAT happens to the wand every time.

Espresso machines have another pitfall: the screen.  There’s a metal screen up where the espresso head clamps in.  Nobody can see it, but if you work the machine you are supposed to know it’s there.  You should take it off and scrub it with a bristle brush every day.  It screws in with a single screw.  It’s a pain.  A lot of people skip it because of the pain part but it’s a necessity.  Oh, it’s bathed in super-heated steam again and again, but it also sits quiet and warm for a while too.  It’s also a good idea to just blow it out several times a shift, run water without the espresso head locked in. That at least blows out the tiny coffee particles that stick to it.

We washed all our drip coffee stuff in the dishwasher, thankfully.

Let’s return to tea. You go someplace and it is self-service ice tea. It’s in that big, dispensing urn, right?  It’s big.  How often do you think they actually pull that thing down and really scrub it? It probably won’t fit in the dishwasher. Places I worked might swish some hot water through it, maybe once a day.  Sweet tea sits in that thing for HOURS at room temperature every day.  The health department checks the soft serve? They should check those things.

Some more drip coffee?  Sure. The basket and pot have likely been through the dishwasher.  Oh and some water, please?  No, no lemon, thank you.

What sort of health-impacting issues have you encountered?

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina.  You can get more information about his books here: http://thefensk.com

WeekendCoffee Punctuation

coffeeshareIf we were having coffee today, I’d be in a tizzy about punctuation. Not just any punctuation, mind you, but specifically colons and periods.

I keep getting zinged by editors on my enormously bad habit of spacing twice after colons and periods. I am currently using great effort to force myself to space singly right now as I complete every sentence.

The habit dates me. I learned to type on a typewriter. It was a standard rule I was taught. TWO spaces after colons and periods. TWO. If not, you’d get that big ruler smacked across your knuckles. I told you, it was a long time ago.

Somewhere along the line, as word processors came into being, the rule changed to a single space. I believe very large numbers of us didn’t get the memo.

It is a habit that is almost as hard to quit as smoking. It’s automatic, especially when I am on a two-thousand-word writing spree.

How many of you still double space after colons and periods?

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina. You can buy his books on Amazon. Handy links are available here: http://thefensk.com

His second novel, A CURSE THAT BITES DEEP is on sale through June 2 at Amazon, the ebook is only 99 cents.

 

Headshot!

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

WeekendCoffee New Year

coffeeshareIf we were having coffee today I’d say welcome back.  Well, I’m the tardy one I guess. Sorry about that. Things always get a bit hectic during the holidays and I had other things going on as well.  I’m working deep revisions on my next novel and that is taking up most of my writing time.

img_0385I hope your holidays were good.  For the second year in a row, we hosted our family at a rental on the NC coast. I know, I know, holidays are for home and hearth, but after our previous year’s experiment, we found that Christmas at the beach is really quite laid back and enjoyable.  Let me start off with this: I don’t really like the beach during the “normal” beach-going season.  Crowds, hype, salt, and sand are just not my bag.  I like my downtime to be a period of relaxation.  During the off-season, lower rates are in effect so one can upscale a bit. And it is so quiet!

img_0394It is not totally deserted, a lot of people live down there year round and there are those who use their own vacation homes for much the same thing.  But let me put it this way: there were only perhaps three of twenty beach houses nearby that showed any signs of life.  The beaches had scant handfuls of people strolling every now and then. The soothing sounds of the ocean and seagulls were unspoiled by loud music and shouting. The traffic was light. The weather was absolutely fantastic.

My Christmas morning had something else pretty special. I keep track of International Space Station viewings and I found out it would be passing over just after six A.M. that morning. It was crisply cold and the sky was incredibly clear. I bundled up and went outside and here it came, right on time.  It was one of the best viewings I have experienced, horizon to horizon, a bright Star gliding across the heavens sending its silent glorious message: Merry Christmas.

img_0399It was one of the most relaxing holiday celebrations I’ve ever had.  Every morning I got up before everyone else and thoroughly enjoyed my solitary cup of coffee taking in the morning view.

Then back to writing.  The latest novel is shaping up.  I finished the rough draft some time ago, then I dropped the ball a bit. Both my unplanned retirement and, of course, my wife’s cancer battle, were huge diversions.  So I worked on my first deep revision in November during National Novel Writing Month.  Yeah, I cheated. But it was a good opportunity for me to get back in the swing of things, using the structure of NaNoWriMo to apply myself.  I completed the revision and turned it back around in December and did a second deep revision. Those two revisions resulted in about fourteen thousand words of fresh material.  After Christmas, I followed up with a quick polishing pass.  I have beta readers looking at it now.  Still waiting on a couple but they’ve been identifying a few tweaks here and there. I’m excited about this story and hope one more good revision pass will add the finishing touches.

So here I am on a Friday with a little time to write something besides fiction. I’ll keep you posted. Okay, let’s have a scone and a refill and we can dream of wonderful winter beach sunrises.img_0403

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img_0383Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina.  It’s a good time to catch up on his first two novels.  You’ll be glad you did when the third one comes out.

http://thefensk.com/main.html