Please introduce yourself and your book(s)!
My name is Thomas Fenske and I’m a writer currently living in North Carolina. Although I’ve lived in NC for thirty years, my writing has been focused on my home state of Texas, at least so far. I’ve written three novels, The Fever, A Curse That Bites Deep, and Lucky Strike, and all of them center on characters in the Lone Star State. They are mysteries based in one way or another on obsession.
What is/are the real-life story(ies) behind your book(s)?
In The Fever, the main character, Sam, is consumed by a personal quest in search of a lost gold mine. That mine is a true part of Texas lore, The Lost Sublett Mine. As a young man, Sam lands in jail where he befriends an injured man, who, before he succumbs to his injuries, rewards Sam’s kindness with information that is supposed to find the mine. Many parts of this backstory are all based upon personal experiences.
What inspires/inspired your creativity?
I try to create real-life situations as often as possible. Many of the storylines begin in my head as a “what if” scenario. What if you found out about facts about a lost gold mine? What if people around you were dying mysteriously? Then I throw in some paranormal to make it more interesting. In The Fever, although there is an undercurrent of spectral visitation the reader never encounters any spirits, BUT Sam does meet an old Hispanic witch woman who gives him a special luck token. In the other two books the spirits follow and observe the characters and occasionally add to the story in more profound ways.
How do you deal with creative block?
Write anything and keep going. You can go back and delete things you don’t need but let’s face it, you can’t edit a blank page.
What are the biggest mistakes you can make in a book?
Too much narrative. I believe that characters and dialog should drive the story. The only time a lot of narrative is acceptable is when writing in first person, but one should only do that when the story absolutely needs that point of view.
Do you have tips on choosing titles and covers?
Think visually and keep it short. I’ve found that a face engaging the potential reader is a good thing. Short titles are easier to market.
How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?
All feedback is good feedback so I try to find a positive aspect in any criticism. Not every person is going to like every book. You have to have a thick skin. In my second novel, two of the characters were romantically involved and they hit a rough patch. My editor told me she didn’t buy their sudden separation. I thought I led up to it pretty effectively and told her so, but based upon her observations I realized I could enhance the lead-in a bit more. In the meantime, she wrote me back and told me she reread it and decided she had become too invested in the characters and was disappointed by their separation. I didn’t discount her gut reaction and left my enhancements in, but thought to myself, “My editor got invested in my characters!”
How has your creation process improved over time?
With every rough draft, with every revision pass, with every final push for publication, I feel myself becoming a better writer. I recently picked up an old rough draft, written before my first published novel, and began the revision process after letting it sit untouched for years. I found myself frustrated by the lack of skill I exhibited in that draft because I knew that more recent rough drafts had been in much better shape from the start than this one. It’s a good story, but it is going to take me a while to bring it up to my current standards.
What were the best, worst and most surprising things you encountered during the entire process of completing your book(s)?
took a lot of creative writing in college, but never took a course in
novel writing. I’m not sure they even teach the primary thing
you need to know: the science and discipline of revision.
Plotlines and story arcs and character development are all good
things, but taking a rough work and hammering it into a finished
product is a difficult process. I don’t care how good you think you
are, if you think you can write a draft and call it a finished novel,
you are fooling yourself. You should go through it with a
fine-toothed comb a minimum of three times before you even consider
letting an editor near it. I call it crafting the novel.
But even that isn’t the hardest part. The hardest part is marketing.
Do you tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve your readers? Do you balance the two and how?
I primary goal is to entertain my readers. I want them to laugh, cry, and remember my stories. Satisfying them is what satisfies me.
Do you have any creativity tricks?
For my rough drafts I employ something called fast-writing. One methodology is to use National Novel Writing Month. In that process, one endeavors to write a fifty-thousand word rough draft in thirty days. It boils down to less than two thousand words a day. It takes discipline and commitment, but I find forcing myself to continue with the story every day ends up being very creative. I work from a rough outline and am amazed at some of the directions my stories have taken, just because new twists or ideas popped into my mind in my rush to keep moving.
What are your plans for future books?
Once you start a series, your readers always want more books in the series, so I have plans for a fourth book in my series. With every book, I generally come up with an idea for the next one along the path to completion of the current one, so I don’t have plans for the series beyond book 4. But I do have plans for at least two Science Fiction novels and another novel about a young man in the Civil War. And there is the rough draft I mentioned earlier, and I have one other rough draft that I’d love to work up sometime.
Tell us some quirky facts about yourself
I collect cookbooks and have several thousand. I have had to back off purchases for a while because I have no room for them. I concentrate on older cookbooks, 1950s and older, with a few side-collections like bi-centennial cookbooks from the 1970s. Because of this interest, a couple of years ago I created a free companion cookbook to my novels, The Mossback Café Cookbook and designed it to look like the homespun creation of a small local establishment in the 1980s, the timeframe of the books. It is a frequent locale in the books. The subtitle is “The Best Little Fictional Café in Texas” … but the cookbook has real food and I patterned it on other cookbooks from similar places. I think I nailed the look and feel I was shooting for.
A CURSE THAT BITES DEEP: https://www.amazon.com/Curse-That-Bites-Deep-ebook/dp/B01LXHFKGE
THE MOSSBACK CAFÉ COOKBOOK: https://www.amazon.com/Mossback-Cafe-Cookbook-Thomas-Fenske-ebook/dp/B071XRC8MP