Texas native Thomas Fenske moved to North Carolina years ago to pursue a career in IT. These days, he allows his combined hankering for Chicken-Fried Steak, Chili, Texas BBQ, and Tex-Mex food be one of the guiding forces in his writing life. Although he has done many interesting things over his years in North Carolina, his memories of Texas are still vivid … he drove endless farm-to-market highways and county roads in search of great local food … he rode the back country looking for lost calves (well, once, anyway), and hiked the Guadalupe Mountains … he rafted the rapids and still waters of the Rio Grande and suffered through waves of mosquitoes in The Big Thicket … he endured the extremes of Texas weather, hurricanes, ice storms, hail, wind, and floods … and, of course, he blistered in the heat of the long Texas summers and shivered through Blue ‘Northers.
He’d like to say he was a product of the famed writing program at the University of Houston, but in fact that program came into being the year after he graduated. This is but one of dozens of similar “missed-it-by *that* much” coincidences that have been recurring stories throughout his life …
He and his lovely wife of thirty years currently share their home with nine cats and one ninety-something pound dog, all rescues. Somehow, he manages to write amidst the chaos.
What is your writing process? Do you follow a regular routine or do you have any weird, funny, or unusual habits while writing and what are they?
I prefer to sit in a big easy chair in the living room and I generally write early, before anybody else in the house is awake. One or several cats sometimes “help” me. I use the arm of the chair as a mousepad. I am so comfortable doing this I almost feel awkward trying to write at a desk.
Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, what do you do about it?
Sure, we all sometimes just don’t have anything to write. My philosophy is to just write anything. Drop into journaling mode … dredge up something from the past. In a work in progress, I will sometimes break from my plan and kill a secondary character. Oops, Betty is dead. Now the story has something to talk about. Usually, that gets the creative juices flowing as all the other characters have to deal with this new development in their lives.
What is the single most important piece of advice for aspiring authors?
It is about a lot more than creating stories. It is hard work. Whoever said that writing was ten percent inspiration and ninety percent perspiration hit the nail on the head. A good story idea is fine. Cranking out the first draft is important. Editing and revision is where you really learn about the craft. And if you get published, there is yet a new challenge waiting for you … marketing. The great majority of published writers today are either self-published or are published by small publishers. You have to learn to market yourself. So many good writers can craft a wonderful book but can’t write a fifty-word blurb about their own book.
What are your current/future projects?
I’m in the finished stages of a sequel to my debut novel, The Fever. It’s called A Curse That Bites Deep and it should be out in the Fall of 2016. I’m also in the initial planning stages of a third book in the series. I have three other completed rough drafts as well. I work on their revisions as I get time.
Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre? If you write more than one, how do you balance them?
I have had many “book ideas” over the years, long before I found the discipline to start getting them out of my head and onto paper. They were just scenarios that occurred to me and I worked out plot elements. Years ago I spent a lot of time driving, and I’d think about a lot of these things while I drove. After working on revisions for The Fever, I broke off and wrote a new draft novel. I just took a month off for National Novel Writing Month and wrote it. When that draft was complete I went back to complete the revision on The Fever. It was like I took a vacation, it was refreshing. It was in a different genre too, historical fiction, one of my “other” story ideas. I’m not set on one genre at this stage. Probably not a good thing but that’s where I am now … just have these stories in my head I need to get out.
What do you think is the future for independent authors and do you think it will continue to be easy for anyone to be a published author?
The sad thing lacking in self-publishing is editing. One can not discount the importance of editing. Readers demand it. I think self-publishing will begin to impose stronger guidelines that will discourage some people, probably using software to filter out less acceptable works. Some people will move toward blogs and works written as serials. That is already happening. Big publishers will likely change also. Like most things, it will still end up being about money. It feels good to publish one or two books but it is depressing to think, “I’ve put in all this time and effort and … nothing?”
Are you traditional or self-published, and what process did you go through to get your book published?
I published with a small publisher … but with a small publisher, an author is on a bridge between both worlds. Things like design and cover and editing are professionally done and that is a big plus because they are specific skills and to buy them independently it could cost thousands of dollars. The publisher provides some marketing too, but MOST of that impetus is on the author.
My process was a bit anti-climatic. I hit them at a good time. They were primarily a romance novel publisher and they had decided to expand their list to other genres. The process is pretty routine after that. Back and forth with the editor, then it goes to the copy-editor. There is cover approval, then galley approval, which is a painstaking marathon. Then I learned a hard lesson check the “final” version too, and buy copies of all versions after they are published.
Have you ever changed a title, book cover, or even the content of your book after it was published? What was that process like?
My publisher made an error on the final copy. Luckily the print book was print-on-demand so that file was easily fixed. Getting the ebooks fixed meant propagating the fixes out to all the venues. Amazon says they will do it but they do not like to do it. There is still a problem with the kindle version. It isn’t major, but it is embarrassing.
What opportunities have being an author presented you with and share those memories? (i.e. travel, friends, events, speaking, etc..)
Since my success has been limited I’m still working on this. I do have a core of very loyal fans though and I am gratified for their enthusiastic support.
What are your marketing, advertising, promotion strategies and which one(s) have worked the best for you? If you had to share your most valuable promotion tip, what would that be?
Try anything. I started with what I call personal infrastructure. You have to have things like a web page, a blog, a mailing list, and twitter. I didn’t even understand twitter but it works with the other two wonderfully. The real key is to get your name out there. My best success was a collaboration with a popular youtube video personality. In one scene in The Fever, the main character enjoys a very special dish at a cafe that becomes very important to the story. I approached this person with an idea for a video recipe of that dish and she loved the idea. Of course, she read the book too and she loved it. It’s a great video and a great dish — there’s a link to the video on my web page.
If you are a self-published author, which platform do you prefer? (Amazon, Smashwords, Lulu, Author House, or something not mentioned), and why?
I’ll answer this even though I went with a small publisher. Smashwords is a great across-the-board platform … it covers all the others. But Amazon is the standard, and I like them for this one reason they give authors a fair deal of control If you register through Author Central you can change your description and add other details about your book — even link back to your blog.
Do you believe there is value in a review? Do you believe they are under rated, over rated, or don’t matter at all?
I think reviews are fantastic. People like to play follow the leader. But the market is so saturated, it is really hard to get independent reviews.
What is the intended audience for you book?
My first book, The Fever, is a general interest fiction book. It covers a lot of areas, including suspense, mystery, adventure. Since it is about a man out in nature a great deal of the time I expected more men would be attracted to it. Surprisingly, women seem to love it more than men.
Give us a fun fact about your book(s)?
In The Fever, most of the character names are anagrams of a phrase key to the book. I ended up changing a couple of them, including the main character, but 90 percent of the names are still anagrams of “lostgoldmine” … even one place name.
What would you like to write about that you have never written about before?
Science fiction. I wrote one science fiction novella years ago, and I read a lot of science fiction, but I’ve never written any I do have a good general idea for a future project … the basic premise is there, but I haven’t worked out a basic subplot yet.
Have you ever had a book idea or characters come to you in a dream? What did you do about it afterwards?
That science fiction novella I mentioned, that basic plot idea came to me in a dream. I don’t know how or why, but I was on Mars and discovered some obviously human “scratchings” on the wall of some sort of structure. I still remember how I, the dreamer, felt in viewing those figures and words, obviously by a lonely and desperate child, somehow isolated in that desolate place. I should dig up that story and rework it sometime. I’d have to rewrite it from a print copy … all electronic versions were, at best, on 5 1/4″ inch floppies in pre-windows Word. All lost.
Were your characters based off real life people/events or did you make it all up?
In The Fever, there were a number of events from my life I mined for the book. Most of the characters were pulled from people I knew too. At least visually. Characters take on a life of their own.
What are your thoughts about eBooks vs. print books?
I think they are interchangeable. I have grown so comfortable with ebooks. I think it pays to have a good cover and for an e-reader I prefer a smaller format. I had an original Nook and loved it. Then I got one with a larger screen. It was great for videos but I hated it for books. I didn’t read nearly as much. When it came time to get a new one I had a choice, 9″ or 7″ … I chose the 7″ and am back to reading. Here’s the deal it *feels* more like a book.
Don’t get me wrong, I love books too.
Do you view writing as a career, labor of love, hobby, creative outlet, therapy, or something else?
Yes. I hope to develop it into a career. I’m closing in on retirement age … I hope to just transition into full-time writing as part of my long-term retirement strategy.
What are the advantages/disadvantages of self or traditional publishing?
The advantage of traditional publishing is with the services they provide. Editing, copy editing, format design, cover design … these are hard skills for most of us to master, I mean in addition to actually writing. And they are all important. With a traditional publisher, they are included Your royalties might be a little lower, but they handle it. With self-publishing, you foot the bill yourself. If you have deep pockets, well, fine. Most of us don’t have those deep pockets. There’s another advantage of small-publishers community. The authors in my publishing house are a little mini-community.