09 March, 2020

#GuestPost :: Inspiration Behind The Fever by @thefensk

About the Book:
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In the late 1800s, Ben Sublett was already known for his secret gold mine in the far reaches of west Texas. When Ben died in 1892, it was thought his secret died with him. Eighty years later in a central Texas jail, a dying, homeless wino named "Slim" Longo whispered a long-held family secret to twenty year old Sam Milton. Sam had comforted Slim as the old man succumbed to injuries suffered during arrest. That secret contained one word that changed Sam's life: Gold. In his last moments on earth, Slim had rewarded young Sam's kindness with certain clues that old Ben Sublett had given to Slim's grandfather. In eighty years, neither Slim, his father, nor his grandfather had ever found the mine. In considering the source, a filthy, broken, shell of a man, Sam instinctively knew that surely this information was more of a curse than a reward but the clues burned a hole in his soul and he could not help but continue a search that had already stretched out for another ten years. Sam had "the fever" and he knew he would either find the elusive gold mine or die trying...

Inspiration Behind The Fever 

People often ask me where the basic premise for THE FEVER originated.  I have to admit that the catalyzing event came from real life.

In the story, the hero, Sam Milton, is obsessed with the notion of a lost gold mine in the western reaches of Texas.  An old drunken derelict told him about it when both of them were in a crowded jail. Sam helped the old man, who said his name was Slim.  Slim’s health took a turn for the worse but the jailors didn’t seem to care, Slim was a regular, a homeless wino. Sam comforted Slim as he got weaker. Slim realized he was going to die and decided to reward Sam’s kindness with a secret: a riddle that was supposed to unlock the secret to the location of a lost gold mine.

Unfortunately, portions of that scenario were somewhat autobiographical.  Sam’s arrest and initial incarceration, even befriending the wino, these things all happened to me.  Today I call it the result of a bit of youthful indiscretion.  Everything in the novel, except for the lost gold mine and the guy dying, was taken from my life.

Every writer puts a little bit of themselves into their work and I’m sure I’m not the only one who pulls entire scenes and mines their own experiences for vignettes in the plot.  Here’s another example: Sam finds himself on the road when the weather turns bad as a winter storm descends upon him.  To his horror, the heat in his car was out.  It was a weekend, it was late, and he was hundreds of miles from home, pretty much in the middle of nowhere. All he could do was dress in as many layers as he could dredge up and push on.  One reader remarked to me that she had to get up and put on a sweater when she was reading this passage.  Seriously.  Where did I get this notion?  The heat aspect came from real life … I got caught in a winter storm with no heat.  I’d just bought a used truck before heading on a trip. It was late summer. Well, actually the storm came up suddenly on the first day of autumn; I was in northern Wyoming.  The weather had been either comfortable or warm since I had purchased the truck so I hadn’t checked the heat; one usually assumes the heat will work.  I drove a couple of hundred miles on ice-covered roads in no heat … well, they say write what you know.

I sometimes call this writing with a slice of life.  Sometimes it is a comment, sometimes it is a scene, sometimes it is borrowed from something else I’ve witnessed or read.  In the second novel of the trilogy, A CURSE THAT BITES DEEP, two of my characters suffered through a disagreement and brief breakup.  I compiled several components from my life and thought I led up to the ultimate split pretty well.  My editor contacted me and didn’t think it was believable.  I usually take such criticism constructively but pushed back a bit because of my personal experiences.  I did this time too, adding a little more background, along with more give and take in the pages leading up to the event.  She shortly got back to me and told me that after she reread the pages, she decided she had let herself get too invested in their relationship and was disappointed. She didn’t want them to break up.  I thought to myself, “My editor got invested in my characters!  That can’t be a bad thing!”

In the third book of the trilogy, LUCKY STRIKE, one character is kidnapped and spirited away to Mexico.  I needed some way for the antagonist to get him across the border undetected.  The novel is set in 1984, and as it happens, about that same time I happened across a place where this could happen very easily and since the novels are set in West Texas, it was entirely plausible.  Somewhat east of Big Bend National Park, there is a road that runs to the border.  I joined a group of friends on a rafting trip down the Rio Grande and the ideal spot to stop the trip was where this road crossed the river. One would have to drive a car about an hour and a half out and around the park to get down there and leave it (or have someone meet you), but that was the only way you might have  transportation back.  There’s a small bridge there leading to the small mining community of LaLinda.

Now TODAY, that bridge is still there but it is totally blocked off, but in 1984 it was wide open.  No customs, no officials on either side.  One could drive from the US to Mexico as easily as one could drive to the store. We were curious when we pulled out of the river so we drove over to see LaLinda. There was not much there and the road was rough so we quickly headed back across and home.  So I used that experience to further my plot.  The antagonist, driven by a revenge motive, was willing to drive hundreds of miles across forbidding terrain to further his aims.

Another interesting tidbit about LUCKY STRIKE is contained in the opening chapter. It’s a flashback of sorts, a look back in the life of one of the primary characters in the first two books and involves an incident in North Africa during World War II -- an incident that fuels the plot in the rest of the book.  Let me digress a bit; one character in that scene is a Major Elkins. He’s mentioned at least twice in war correspondent Ernie Pyle’s writings. Ernie Pyle is one of my favorite writers and one day I was rereading one of the compilations of his work something clicked as I was reading about Major Elkins.  I shared an office for eight years with a woman whose married name was Elkins.  Pyle always mentions a little bit of the background or at least the hometown of people he encounters.  Something he said about Elkins spurred me to contact my friend and ask her, was Pyle talking about her husband Bob’s father?  The short answer was YES.

I could not let a coincidence like this slip past, so the prime characters in this small setup scene were all soldiers serving under Major Elkins in a halftrack company on patrol and I gave the major a cameo. Take it from me, this guy was a war hero.  He was captured in North Africa once and managed to escape during an air raid, then hid with the aid of some villagers and he eventually made his way back to friendly lines. The villagers threw coils of rope over him as he hid in a ditch.  None of that part is in my book, but I just wanted to share that and the fact that I wanted to include a glimpse of this real personage in the book.

My point is, personal experiences do provide the opportunity to write with a slice of life.  THE FEVER is the first book in a trilogy of mystery and adventure.

For more information on me and my writing, check out my web page.

About the Author:

Thomas Fenske is a Texas-born writer who currently lives in North Carolina. After dabbling in writing for over forty years he finally managed to publish his debut novel, THE FEVER in 2015.  He graduated from the University of Houston with a degree in English Literature (UH has a highly regarded creative writing program but alas, that program didn’t start until shortly AFTER he graduated).  He worked at a wide assortment of jobs over the years until experience finally led him to the infant IT field where he prospered until retirement.  His Traces of Treasure adventure mystery series begins with a trilogy of books that explore a common theme of obsession.

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