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Tuesday, January 22, 2019


HISTORIC CONFLICT IN YOUR TOOLBOX?     By Cj Fosdick

      The Power of History lingers in the toolbox of authors. Every book written with diligence includes some research.  Even Sci-Fi and Fantasy writers have to research what often is a thin line between truth and imagination. Science breaks barriers all the time, turning what once was a dream or quirk of imagination into reality. Airplanes, automobiles, spaceships, submarines, reactors and robots—all were once locked in the imagination and dreams of inventors and writers. There was a time when such dreamers were ridiculed or even killed. Remember, the earth was deemed flat, until ancient navigators proved otherwise.
     History always fascinates me, particularly the drama of conflict, its collateral damage and after-shocks. You’d think that lessons learned from the world’s earliest conflicts to Cyber Wars would serve as cautionary tales for the future. But human nature prevails over caution. And conflict always makes for a good story. Whether it’s spun into a tapestry of war and/or romance between characters, it will be a measured requirement by agents, editors and ultimately readers who determine the next BEST SELLER. Think of Gone With The Wind, a novel which rolled multiple conflicts—real and imagined—into an international best seller that remains on every list of all-time favorite novels. Granted, the movie version gave it a huge boost. Casualties of America’s Civil War reached 1.5 million—more than all combined wars involving American soldiers. Over 65,000 books have been written about this devastating period.  A hundred seventy years later, that war still engages controversy. Think about the recent statue and flag conflicts in the South.  Collateral damage lives long when immortalized in written history about a war that decimated America’s population, ended slavery, accelerated Industry and subsequently grasped the 19th Century need for American settlement of the West. (Another favorite era of romance and tragedy.)
      Almost 40 years ago, I was writing my first novel. The storyline covered the colorful era that accelerated western settlement after the Civil War. Western posts meant to protect settlers from Indians were springing up everywhere in the American West. The novel’s POV was from a German/Irish heroine and a half-Sioux hero who as children were caught in opposing massacres between Indians and whites. Navigating through historic times and their own prejudices, they grow up to find each other in a love story with conflict that was an epic write—over 700 pages. The size for a lst novel had something to do with ultimate rejection. Devastated, I packaged the typed ms. and put it on ice.  Literally.  For 30 years it was shelved in a garage freezer while children, pets, homes and horses took control of my life.
     Writing was on the back burner, unless it was an occasional article or short story. However, one of the living characters in that huge novel was General Luther Prentice Bradley, the commander of Ft. Laramie from 1874-76.  Coincidentally, this same commander had survived the Civil War. While researching that first novel, I had written to Bradley’s living grandson in 1978. Prentice Bradley, the aging grandson sent me valuable historic anecdotes his father recalled as a child living at Ft. Laramie. It was many years later that coincidence. . . or karma would defrost the freezer novel, which was eventually scanned into a computer word file—with a lot of formatting errors to correct. 
     The Publishing Industry at the time was just beginning to recognize the threat of self-published authors who dared to forego agents and the dreaded “slush pile” of hope. Still, I began to pitch the book to agents at Writing Conferences and got similar blowback. Too long. Could it be a series?  Could you write a shorter book first, establish a website, platform and base? From a dozen Conferences all over the country, I learned what I didn’t know I needed to know and much of that had to do with persistence and timing. 
     Fast forward to empty nest, empty barn and finding a publisher for the shorter book I was now pitching—The Accidental Wife—with a contemporary heroine who was now a descendant of my freezer book heroine. About this time, someone online found my letter to the now deceased grandson, Prentice Bradley, in U.S. Army History archives in Pennsylvania. New contact was formed with the great grandson of General Bradley. Robert D. Bradley and I have been pen pals for years now. I was an enthusiastic cheerleader when he decided to self publish his great grandfather’s Civil War letters written home. After he sent me a copy of the project in the hands of Create Space, I helped to edit some of his personal contributions. He sent me the print version last fall, titled BRADLEY’S LETTERS SENT HOME—available also in the eBook version on Amazon. I was first to review the book on Amazon as “a gift to history” because of the amazing, eloquent and revealing letters from the General who had become a character in that freezer book yet to be published. Bob has also become a man-fan of my Accidental Series, frequently sends me something to laugh about, and is providing me with more great historic and family detail I can add to the freezer book—defrosted and warming on the horizon into a new series from Cj Fosdick! Stay tuned. 

Friday, November 23, 2018

GAMING CHRISTMAS! by Cj



Moving beyond the Santa Claus stage means entering a new phase in celebrating Christmas. The kids have grown into teenagers, college students and beyond. No more transformers, doll houses, rocking horses and bicycles. No more home visits by a family-designated costumed Santa. At least not until there are grandkids. A practical gift exchange and dinner or buffet now tops the home agenda of many families celebrating Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

However, tearing those older kids away from their cell phones and social media toys for gift opening and gorging now requires something interactive to grab—and hold—their attention.

 Games.

 For several years, we have achieved this with gift games that are surprising and creative. Going through the letters of C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S, we buy one gift at a designated price that represents the letter. For instance, “C” could be cinema tickets, a cashmere scarf, camera, collectibles, crafts, Costco gift card, even cash, etc. (In one of our “S” years, I ended up with a giant sock monkey in a sailor hat, while someone else chose a box of frozen steaks.) Gifts are wrapped and put under the tree. We then choose numbers and number one picks a gift and opens it. Number two either chooses a gift from under the tree or steals number one’s gift and so on. Whoever has a gift stolen down the line immediately picks another gift.

Rules are established ahead, besides designating the amount to be spent. Can someone steal more than once? Can the gifts be tagged with M or F for male or female? Can the hostess provide a final grand prize for the most creative or popular gift? Even with small children in the family, this works as they open their gifts from everyone first, and while they play with their toys, we play our letter game. Variations of the words we go through can be “Holiday-Noel-Snowman-Winter,”etc. Buying only one gift per person makes this game very affordable in large families or groups and clubs. We established a $5 max with a group of 14 friends that met during the holidays.

In recent years, after a buffet, our family looks forward to playing card and board games like 13 Skidoo, Rummikub, Spoons, or Play Nine. We each bring a $10 gift card of choice and whoever wins a game round chooses a gift card. Nobody can win twice until all players have won at least once. As a hostess, who is trying to downsize, I varied this by wrapping up white elephant booby prizes to give to the losers. Everyone now looks forward to Gaming Christmas!

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

WAS IT THE ROAD TRIP FROM HELL?


WAS IT THE ROAD TRIP FROM HELL? Not if God, Garmin, and a determined hub could help it! Covering over 4300 miles (round trip thru 14 states), our trusty  Rav4 maneuvered us through 2-6 lanes of speeding traffic, and around hundreds of semi’s, detours and construction zones to destination—California! The InD’tale Writer’s Convention at the Marriott Hotel in Burbank was a 3 day respite--if you could call it that--for  3 weary passengers (including our  patient furbaby Hannah Jo.) 

AFTER FULL DAYS OF CLASSES— e.g. Branding, Marketing, Mastering Blurbs, Smashwords,
Body Language, Finding Your Core, Hiding a Body, and How to Write Villains you Love and Heroes you Hate, besides keynote addresses that drew tears and applause, a 4 hr.Book Sale, a Reader Rave luncheon, evening entertainment that included a Murder Mystery Dinner, Karaoke Contest, and the annual Rone Awards Gala, I was sure my own body language was slammed to the core! Good thing I was wearing the I.D. badge I was given!
 AS ONE of 3 FINALISTS in the Time Travel Category for The Accidental Stranger,  I was a runnerup, happy to be included in a literary award that had more criteria for winning than the Academy Awards. Meeting a LOT of best-selling authors that weekend was a highlight; also sitting next to the legendary ANNE PERRY who has sold over 30 million books in 33 series and still writes as she nears 80 years. I was shocked when she told me she writes ALL her books in longhand and doesn’t know how to do FB.! Not so shocked that she believes 80% of books are sold by word of mouth & reviews--or even that readers care more about relationships than WHO Done It !        
I left the WC with a big satchel of new books by authors new to me, a new smartphone filled 
with photos, a yellow tablet filled with journal notes, and a LOT to think about.  I Already read Suzan Tisdale's Rone winner with a highland theme,"The Brody Bride."  Suzan, with me at the Book Sale, is proof that Indie authors rock! 

THE LEG HOME had it’s own highlights. Besides the memorable scenery flashing by, esp. in Utah and Arizona, we met and dined with a great half-uncle and his wife that I didn’t know existed until I joined Ancestry.com last February.  (A long story that feeds a future mystery in my growing novel agenda. Chuck Seider has 2 sisters as well, one of them a redhead born just weeks before me.  Two great aunts !  :)  


WE ALSO CHECKED OUT  five Arizona snowbird communities for seniors. Weather and facilities were great. Lack of green and no lack
of traffic gave us pause.  Shortening a MN. winter appeals; an annual road trip—not so much anymore.  Stopping for a couple hours in Dodge City was fun and finding not one, but two Cracker Barrels to eat & shop at on our last day was a treat. Regular meals, aside from snacks or fast food and comp breakfasts, allowed our itinerary of 600+ mi. per day—before dark. Hannah Banana was elevated to "Hannah the Easy Rider,"never once  whining “Are we there yet?” She loved multi daily walks and left the barking to our driver, who had some disputes with Ms. Garmin.  At home, Hannah  helps me post her day-by day journey on FACEBOOK.  Note her favorite Kansas souvenir!  



FREEBIE HALLOWEEN BONUS!  For the first time ever I'm offering  my RONE special, "THE ACCIDENTAL STRANGER" FREE only in October and ONLY on SMASHWORDS   for a click and a grin! As  always, a review is also appreciated. 


ROYAL READER/FAN BIOS will continue next month with Jennifer Querry, a nurse I met in a Wyoming ER  after a  Denver WC/research trip to Wyoming in 2015. Nurse Jennifer, Dr. Hawley—AND the hospital are in The ACCIDENTAL STRANGER!  That thin line between fiction and reality works!  (Well, maybe not in politics!)


Tuesday, August 7, 2018

BAKING in KEYWORDS by Cj Fosdick

    Every published  book, like every other marketed product, has keywords that identify its genre and basic content—kind of like ingredients in a recipe. They affect ranking, sales and SEO (Search Engine Optimization). Keywords for my Accidental Series are Time Travel, Romance, Suspense, and sometimes, even Western. I like to think my books offer even more ingredients: a good pinch of humor, a cup of comparative culture, a pint of history, a box of animal crackers, folded into settings well creamed with a mixed-nut addition of characters beyond those who reflect red hair and green eyes.

   How does one begin to pigeon-hole a multi-genre book?  Compare it to shopping for a mild salsa, only to find it burns like wasabi and raw cayenne. This became clear to me when some reviewers confessed PLEASANT surprise, admitting the Accidentals were not what they expected, or even what they were used to reading.  Here is a example of how my 45th (recent Amazon reviewer) was surprised by reading “The Accidental Wife”:

   This is an amazing book! I am still reeling from it! Normally, I do not read westerns, or fantasy, just stick to romance for the most part. Reading the description to this book, I was intrigued by the unique plotline, so I decided to read it. It surpassed all my expectations!  This book is well written, full of the introspection and definition of unforgettable characters. It is a love story and at the same time, it is a glimpse at what life was like for the settlers of Wyoming. There is an interracial marriage of a part Sioux Indian and our protagonist. He is the most adorable, simple and intense man I have read in a long time. He is cultured and yet in recognition of his roots, he is in tune with the Earth, willing to live off the land in peace with his family.  5 stars—An Amazing Story you will not want to put down!  (BOTH Accidentals on sale.)  https://amzn.to/2IdLXFh                                  

  Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series must have encountered similar problems with genre description, maybe because DG used her scientific background and love of research to show how Claire—a contemporary doctor—could outsource her medical knowledge 200 years into the past. For me, it was fascinating to see how resourceful and creative a strong, intelligent woman could be in an era that killed witches and honored the superiority of brawny warriors and flawed Kings. The history/culture element in her series was enlightening. The romance and character conflict was hot; the battles were exciting.

   Her books were promoted as Time Travel, Fantasy or Romantic, but more in the Mainstream vein.  A multi-genre book is like a good recipe with numerous ingredients. Until you taste the final product, you may not know the end product is a treat to repeat. By virtue of nine best sellers and a TV series on Starz, DG baked a feast that has a over 33,000 Amazon reviews, a million fans…and the bucks to prove it.  Color me green!

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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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