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Thursday, July 12, 2018

CHARACTER NAMES THAT SING! by Cj Fosdick



     Uriah Heep, Pippi Longstocking, Ichabod Crane, Ebenezer Scrooge, Holly Golightly, Huckleberry Finn, and Katniss and Primrose Everdeen. Who can ever forget character names that sing in the classic stories and films we all love?  No doubt the authors who created them set out to tweak memorable impressions of the characters they named, as well as the titles of their books. Would their novels be less memorable…or less successful with more pedestrian names and titles? Is there a psychology involved in these choices?  Do supporting characters need pedestrian names to make the main characters more memorable? Villain names can swing either way.

     I spend an inordinate amount of time choosing character names and book titles. My character list was long for book three in my Accidental Series--The Accidental Heiress. The process is more disciplined than accidental, however. Because the book was set in Ireland, it took several days to research, google and compile a master list of Irish first names and surnames with brief meanings. Did the names trip on the tongue and fit character profiles?  Were they true to the era, country and culture?  Too modern?  Too American?  Too close to other character names? Did the syllables vary in both names?  Did both first and last name end in the same letter or syllable?  Sometimes that works, sometimes not: (Mary McGary or Galen Moran). 

     After pairing favorite combinations, I tweaked the profiles and slept on the decisions and alternates before making final choices.  Since this book involved an ancestral mystery, I had to create an O’Brien family tree with birth and death dates for easy reference, particularly for the family graveyard chapter that finds my honeymooners looking for a specific grave.  For quick reference, I pinned the family tree, along with Irish words and phrases and miscellaneous notes to a portable bulletin board for quick access. Before I hit chapter ten in the new book, a few names were also changed. 

     Did Shakespeare go to such lengths? “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet," as Juliet points out to Romeo in one of the bard’s famous quotes—which brings to mind another consideration. Romantic couples need names that sound as compatible as Tristan and Isolde, Claire and Jamie, Nick and Nora. Would Scarlett and Steve be half as memorable as Scarlett and Rhett?

     Often, I like to thank friends or favorite relatives for their support by naming minor characters after them. Maria Schmidt, who was the riding instructor of heroine Jessica in The Accidental Wife, was once one of my riding students. Stella Lowry, Jessica’s boss in the same book, was really the late Sandra Lowry, the archivist and librarian of Ft. Laramie for over 35 years. Sandy was my historical “google girl” for years. When I told her I was naming a character for her, changing her first name to Stella, she laughed. “My mother-in-law’s name is Stella Lowry.” (The coincidence wasn’t lost on me; there have been several “Twilight Zone-like” coincidences in the series, but that’s another story.)

     Choosing names for my real children, even names for some of our pets didn’t take this much planning.  But the prep and research does work. My fictional characters  (Tallie, Scout and Emery) approve of their unusual names, and readers do remember them. I can’t wait to introduce Caitrin, Cormac and Quinn in the new book!

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Monday, June 11, 2018

MORELS & MORALS by Cj Fosdick


June is blooming with both. MOREL mushrooms poke through Minnesota earth in wooded areas and around deadwood that surrounds our home each spring. My eagle-eyed daughter—who once could spot a 4 leaf clover while sitting atop a horse—has not lost her uncanny talent. Mid May, she quickly filled two plastic bags with the brainy-looking fungi while I spotted only freckled mushrooms that were big as dinner plates. Google and FB to the rescue!  My dinner plate mushrooms were called pheasant backs, according to a FB friend who suggested the edges were more edible than the middle. (Breaded and fried, the morels are a gourmet favorite for us—and most upscale restaurants when in season.)

Connecting some dots with MORELS in mind, I was already deep into research—reading Irish fairy tales for Book 3 of my Accidental  Series.  Of course, fairy tales are known for their MORALS—silly or serious. And the Irish are definitely noted for their enchantment with leprechauns and faerie folk—the sidhe who star in their tales and superstitions.

Sometimes, themes in fiction also drip into the morality pool. And if the moral in The Accidental Wife is that a grieving woman can be transformed in a summer of time travel to find her soulmate in the 19th century, the mirror image of that plot is the soulmate can spring ahead to reunite with her again in the 21st century sequel, The  Accidental Stranger.  (Time travel is a nifty plot filter when a man loves two nearly identical women and a woman loves two nearly identical men in the same family—each a  century apart.) I’ve considered an alternate MORAL in both books:  The transforming power of love bridges time—with twists and turns—to find that sweet “forever.”  Here’s hoping a cool drink, good summer reads and gourmet mushrooms are on your menu! I just added a cherry to my favorite summer pie: The Accidental Stranger is a RONE FINALIST in the Time Travel category!

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Thursday, September 28, 2017

PUSHING THE 'WRITE' BUTTONS


                                “My avocation was a spark ignited by sugar.”

            Remember Candy Dots? Sometimes called buttons, those little rows of rainbow sugar were easily peeled off long white strips of paper. (I always ate the cherry rows first.) Penny candy and nickel chocolate bars were sweet rewards in my childhood. Neighborhood Groceries or “Dimestores” displayed glass canisters of candy that could be scooped into little bags for little cravers deliberating over choices like Atomic Fireballs, Tootsie rolls, Root Beer Barrels, Sugar Babies, Blackjack Gum, and Taffy squares in four flavors. I was lucky to get my fix for a dime…at a little red brick store about half way (six blocks) between home and school. (Yes, I once walked a mile for a two cent box of candy cigarettes.)
            So, as my mouth is now under construction for implants with three dead molars needing replacement, I’m shamed into recall. Did the origin of my porcelain decline begin with a landmark splurge after winning my first writing contest at age ten? A Western Union Telegram (remember them?) notified me of my win. A five dollar prize  in the hands of a ten year old with a sweet tooth was dangerous. I blew it on Candy Buttons.
            The win propelled a normally shy little redhead to the front of her class for Show and Tell. I like to imagine classmates were more awed by telegram proof of my new literary status than the candy strips I distributed.  
            Decades later, as I prepare a power point presentation for Book Clubs and organizations interested in the novel journey of a writer with a crammed portfolio and sore gums, I am reminded of those Candy Buttons and what literary lessons I might salvage from that bittersweet childhood splurge:
            Everybody loves a winner! True. It is easier to get noticed when you can show you have some credible awards and great reviews. This requires losing enough humility to put yourself out there. I try to do a lot of 21st century Show and Tell now that I’m an award-winning author working on my fourth book. This includes speaking to groups in their venue...or at my teaparties featuring the sweet treats that hallmark my novels.
            Marketing means spending to receive! So true. Candy was once a sweet incentive to grow attention. Not so much today. Adult readers in a market with more supply than demand crave discounts, free books, gift certificates or even trendy gadgets to win their attention. Book parties--online and off--feature incentive give-a-ways to promote a book. However, the price of those give-a-ways and necessary ads, as well as review and promo services, can take a bittersweet bite out of royalties. New novelists are like minnows swallowed up by bigger fish with a publisher or a unique platform that attracts schools of followers. I think of “50 Shades of Gray”—and turn 50 shades of green over the 16,000  reviews it garnered and how the book saved a Publishing House. No candy or freebies  required?
            Creative people need to promote creatively! Right. When a promotion works well, writers are encouraged to repeat the success and always think outside the box. Candy Buttons inspired celebrity a half century ago. Are they still sold—like candy cigarettes and tootsie rolls? I check online and find Minnesota’s largest candy store (a 90 minute drive away) sells new and nostalgic candy. In a historic town closer to home, I find a chocolate shop that also sells Candy Buttons. Five packages for $6.00 inflates the childhood price by about 1000%. Still, it’s a small price to pay for renewed celebrity and more readers. When I present my “Novel Road” power point to Book Clubs and aspiring authors, I’ll have a sweet reminder to give away with bookmark swag. It feels right—a nostalgic treat to promote a taste for my nostalgic brand of fiction.

            “Sweet!” My eight-year-old granddaughter approves the idea with a high five and a toothy grin white as chicklets. She loves to read, but actually prefers veggies.

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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

STILL FLYING!! by Cj Fosdick


    Thirty years ago I attended my first Writer’s Conference in Rochester, MN. It was a weekend mecca for birds of a feather--hopeful writers flocking together to learn from two famous Minnesota authors.
     Frederick Manfred and Jon Hassler are both deceased now, but their writing was alive in 1986, and they actually read and evaluated the excerpts that were turned in. Mine was one of them. I had already won a short story contest and been published in a few magazines and anthologies, but I was a novel novice. I was also a novice coffee drinker, nervous and trembling enough to slosh over my agenda.
     Tall and formidable, the 6 ft. 9 in.Manfred pulled my excerpt first and read his comments in the margin. “Condense…use simple liquid words…polysyllabics diffuse meaning.” My wings were clipped.  Jon Hassler’s critique restored flight. The college professor/novelist announced one graphic piece reminded him of Giants in the Earth, an acclaimed novel by Minnesota’s most famous Norwegian immigrant, Ole Rolvaag. “Powerful stuff,” Hassler announced, “from C.J. Fosdick.” When I introduced myself to him later, he confirmed his view with that golden word, “publishable.”
     Sadly, that first novel was rejected, however, and its thin-skinned author banished it to a garage freezer. Iced for decades!  Life, meanwhile, continued with occasional freelance work sandwiched in time slots between four children and thirty animals, including 20 horses. Horse shows, training and rescuing animals filled the family agenda.
     In 2012, I visited a friend in Las Vegas and attended another Writer Conference while there. WC’s had drastically changed in 26 years, along with the Publishing Industry. Only 5% of published manuscripts were first novels in 1986. With the internet and eBooks, new novelists in 2012 were storming the castle gates of traditional publishing. Pitching a novel at Conferences was a new substitute for query letters that used to end up in slush piles. Like speed dating, a writer was given 5-10 minutes to convince an agent or publisher they were "traditionally publishable.” (Self-publishing was still Cinderella’s ugly stepsister five years ago.) Today, new self-published authors are flooding the market with a wide range of manuscripts—widely critiqued.
     I had to test the climate. I joined three National Writing Groups and in the last five years, attended 10 Writer Conferences all over the U.S. and one in London. Sometimes I pitched the freezer novel with positive results, though one agent suggested it was far too long and another suggested I write a novella first, then market the freezer saga.
     It was at a Kansas City Conference with Women Writing the West that I won a Laura award for a short story in 2013. The judge suggested it begged to become a novel. I didn’t pitch at that WC, but managed to dine beside the publisher of an acclaimed small press “Send me the ms. once it becomes a novel,” Rhonda Penders suggested. Motivated fingers flew over my laptop keyboard, and a year later my first published novel was released by The Wild Rose Press. 
     I’m still flying high. With an empty nest…and barn… I’m working on my third novel in the Accidental Series, with two more stories published and occasional freelance articles surfacing in our newspaper or a Woman’s magazine. The freezer novel Jon Hassler deemed “publishable” is still in the hanger, but my award-winning debut novel is still flying high, the eBook on sale in August for just .99 at the buy links below

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