Saturday, April 11, 2020

Welcome CJ Zahner to the garden interviews

Hello CJ

I'm so glad you could join us today. tell us about you and your books.

Are your characters based on real people?

Yes! Many of my minor characters are. Sometimes, with their permission, I use actual names. I’ve used people whom I’ve worked with, good friends, and neighbors for minor characters. It helps me remember them.

In The Suicide Gene, I created a character, Giff Johnson, completely after my son, Zak. I intended him to be a minor character. As the book was written, of course, I began to like Giff more and more. He morphed into a main character, and I will never pattern another main character after a loved one. There were things I could not do, like give him idiosyncrasies or include him in love scenes. Yikes! Never again.

Do you have set times during the day that you write?

Honestly, when I am in the middle of writing a book, I spend half of the night tapping my cell phone to see if it is time to get up and write. I try not to rise before five, but sometimes I’m so excited to get back to my characters I can’t help myself. So, obviously, I’m a morning person.

Who is the biggest influence on your writing?

I watched my mother read book after book for years. She sparked my interest in reading. Additionally, I had one sibling who was eleven years older than me, and both my mom and dad were hard workers, so I spent much time alone in my teenage years. I began writing stories at age thirteen. Then, in high school, an English teacher, Mrs. Patsy Root, influenced my desire to write. With both her and my mom’s encouragement, my journey toward writing a novel began.

How did you do in English as a kid?

Terrible. I had a horrid memory and couldn’t answer any questions about what I had read. I remembered concepts about the story’s tales of life, love, or a character’s journey, but I couldn’t, for the life of me, remember anything about eye color, what characters wore, or where they lived. Hence, at the beginning of each school year during elementary school, my reading was tested and I failed most of those initial exams and was placed in the lowest reading group. Orange! They graded by colors. Orange was the lowest level, and I began each year in the dreaded orange.
This infuriated me but also inspired me to read and write more. My hard work helped my writing so much that by the time I received my first assignment as a freshman in a college writing class, the professor told over one hundred and twenty students that only three students had writing essays worth reviewing. Mine was one of the three. After years of struggling with reading, to say I was shocked is an understatement.   

What tips would you give a new writer?

Read, read, and read more. I’ve learned more from reading than I have from classes. That being said, immerse yourself in any free class you can. If you have the advantage of going to college, take as many writing classes as possible. And research free online classes, there are a myriad of good courses literally at your fingertips.
Most importantly, hang on to your dream of writing. You may fill a room with rejection slips, but let each one re-spark that love you have. Work harder. You’ll find your place. Never give up.

Who do you see as a hero/heroine in your life?

My father. Though he dropped out of school in ninth grade to help support his family, he impressed upon me the importance of education. A World War II veteran, he often said, “People can strip you of your money, material goods, hope, dreams, and dignity, but they can never take away your education.”
He was the smartest, kindest, most giving person I have ever known. He loved me unconditionally.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be a mother and a writer. I never wanted anything more. I worked many years before retiring early and fulfilling my dream of writing novels. I also have been blessed with a wonderful husband, three children here and one child, a little girl who only lived one day, in heaven. And now? I have something I never even knew how much I wanted: a granddaughter.

What is your favorite drink?

I LOVE this question because I am addicted to coffee. I try to limit myself to five cups a day because I sometimes have trouble sleeping. I can drink any coffee drinkers under the table if I have to, though.
Secondly? I love the wine my husband makes. Red or white, he concocts a sweet wine better than any other!

Are you fun to go on vacation with?

I have excess energy so I may tire some of my vacation partners out, but I do think I’m fun. I travel with a group of five or six couples, annually. Sometimes more than once a year. They can count on me for a run in the morning and a long day of hiking. I’ve also been known, at the end of the day, to beg, “How about one more hike?” But most of the people I vacation with welcome a challenge. They are hard-core runners/hikers/vacationers.
And when we are done for the day? It’s into the hot tub with a glass of wine!

If you were stranded on a desert island, what three things would be the most essential for you?

I’m sorry. I could only survive if I was allowed five items. Coffee, chocolate, wine, cheese, and my Kindle, filled with novels. Then I’m good—for a long, long time.

find out more on ...

Download  The Suicide Gene on Amazon

See all of CJ's books at


CB Clark said...

Great interview, CZ! Thanks for sharing.

D. V. STONE said...

Thanks for giving us a peek into your writing life.
D. V.☕

Laura Strickland said...

Cindy, Like you, I'm an early-riser morning person, and I'm often up at 5 am. Your dad sounds like a wonderful man, and your love for him shines through this interview. Thanks for sharing!