One for the Book Clubs

Ever get to the end of a book and say, “W-what?” Well, rest assured, if you select  Dream Wide Awake or The Suicide Gene for your book club, I’ll answer all those questions that leave you wrinkling your nose and scratching your head.

Book Clubs should email their questions to me.

Email me at with the subject line “Book Club ?s.” I’ll respond.

And pay attention while you turn those pages. I love a good Easter egg hunt. Read closely and you’ll find a hint in the beginning of Dream Wide Awake about who the perpetrator is. Give the ending of The Suicide Gene your total attention, and you’ll know just how smart M. McKinney was.

And please, please, please, leave me a review.

Reviews are more important than you know!

Especially for new authors. I will be indebted to anyone who leaves a review. Amazon won’t consider me a serious writer until I’ve gotten 50. Here are the websites (Look for DWA in address for Dream Wide Awake and SGene for The Suicide Gene):

Amazon and
– Click on one of the stars 1-5
–  click customer reviews next to stars and/or “write Review”
– add a headline (what is the most important thing to know)
– Copy and paste your review

Goodreads and
– Click dropdown box (arrow) under Cover picture
– As you hover over “read” options appear, select “write a review,”
– A review box appears
– Give a star rating, copy your review to the “what did you think box,” (all else optional),
– click save.
(Click on my name and “follow author” to make me really happy!)

Bookbub and
– if you don’t have an account it will prompt you to create one
– Click review box on the right
– Give book 1-5 stars
– Click as many traits as you think describe the book
– Copy in your review
– Click share
(Click on my name and follow me to make me really happy!)

Barnes & Noble and
-scroll down page past “customer reviews” and select “write a review”
-It will prompt you to sign in
-click stars
-copy in your review

Rifflebooks and
– click star rating on right of cover and check box to show read and heart to recommend
– click “add review” below the cover”
– click “post”

Kobo and
– Scroll down to review section and click on red “write your review” button
– It will prompt you to sign in
– Add star rating
– Copy in review
– Add title for review
– Add your name

Thank you and read on!

________________________________________Cyndie “CJ” Zahner is an author of The Suicide Gene and Dream Wide Awake. She is also, very much, a dreamer. Follower Zahner at  www.cjzahner.comAmazonFacebookInstagramtwittergoodreads and Bookbub.


Dreamcycle, A Sonnet

Of life and dreams, a simple child is born.

His days pass by abound in rapt, and road

That lead to gain and loss, sweet bliss, and mourn.

‘Til night draws close, and eager step is slowed.

So, too, the dream is slowly whittled down.

From heights and mounts to plain and graded ground,

Where hues held fast do, sadly, fade to brown

And faith and hope grow dim and, then, profound.

Yet, dreams n’er die while beat the heart of man.

Before death rears its head and dreams defile,

Man turns his hope to tiny heart and hand,

And waning dreams live on in dreamer’s child.

Count years or wealth or friends or great esteem,

What keeps the soul of man alive–is dream.

________________________________________Cyndie “CJ” Zahner is an author of The Suicide Gene and Dream Wide Awake. She is also, very much, a dreamer. Follower Zahner at  www.cjzahner.comAmazonFacebookInstagramtwittergoodreads and Bookbub.


The Flagship City Book Fest & Little Pink Miracles

Do you believe in little pink miracles? The simple kind? I do…my belief was inspired by an innocent, little message from Diana…

The Flagship Fest

The first of, what I hope to be, many Flagship City Book Fests was held on September 28th and 29th, 2018. The event, hosted by the Erie Downtown Development Corporation, brought authors, readers, and book store owners together on a stretch of road in the four-hundred block of State Street. During the festival, customers paged through books, children gathered on the steps of the Erie Art Museum for activities, Mayor Schember  stopped by, and readers relaxed in comfy chairs of an outdoor makeshift reading room.

Being a brand-new author, I gratefully participated. As a tool to draw readers to my little Cyndie and Mayor Schmberspace in the Erie writing world, I raffled off my books to someone who stopped by to sign my list.

A few hours into the festival, I received a Facebook message from Diana.

Diana and I grew up in the same Parade Street Boulevard neighborhood and had reconnected on Facebook. She wanted a chance to win my novels, but she couldn’t come. She had just been diagnosed with breast cancer and was about to undergo treatment.

Little Pink Miracles

I only had to think for a moment before deciding to open the raffle to my online followers. I posted a message on Facebook stating if people were unable to come to the Flagship City Fest, they could simply message me their name and telephone number, and I would sign them up. A few people took me up on the offer. Diana was one of them.

I’m sure the reason I did not draw the name of the person who won my novels on Sunday, as I promised I would do, was a simple little “pink” miracle. On Monday, October 1st, I remembered the raffle, hurried to my laptop, and brought up a number through a random-number generator program. The number 33 appeared on my laptop.  I ran my finger down the raffle list to number 33.  And the name Diana Dodson Bool smiled up at me.

You may say, ah, coincidence. I don’t. Not only was October 1st the beginning of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it was also Diana’s first day of breast cancer radiation therapy.


Growing up, Diana lived in the house next door. She walked me to kindergarten and helped my mother with my birthday parties. Four years my senior, I remember her as the nicest “older” kid in the neighborhood. She was kind, sweet, and always looking after the younger kids.

Fast forward fifteen years and Diana became a teacher. (No surprise there.) She worked in this capacity for a total of thirty-two years, the last twenty at Rolling Ridge Elementary School, before retiring seven years ago. Then, this past August, Diana received the bad news; she had breast cancer.

She said she surprised herself with a calmness that she can only attribute to her faith.  “I am a Christian, and I know God was with me.  I have an inner peace like I’ve never quite felt before.  To this day, I still have not cried,” she said.

During Diana’s first visit with her surgeon, Dr. Engel, he told her, “You’re not going to die from this.”

For Diana, those words were comforting. “I thought, okay, well let’s get on with this then.” Although she does admit that, at home, when her husband asked if he could get her anything, “I thought for a minute and then answered, ‘a scotch and water and chocolate chip cookies.’”

With this, Diana laughs, and as she does, I remember that boisterous laugh from childhood—from Diana, strong, sweet, optimistic Diana—now a grown woman whom I’m beginning to realize is the type of woman who is sure to weather most any storm.

The SAVI Brachytherapy treatment

Diana’s three choices included a lumpectomy, breast reduction, or a mastectomy. She elected the lumpectomy and because she did, she was a candidate to receive the SAVI Breast brachytherapy. Typically, radiation includes five or more weeks of five-day-a-week radiation treatments. With SAVI brachytherapy, SAVI catheters deliver radiation to the lumpectomy site.  That treatment occurred in a much shorter time frame–two times a day for five consecutive days.

After several doctor appointments, screenings, and consults, Bool was determined to be a viable candidate.

“I was so fortunate to qualify,” she said. “I still can’t believe how blessed I am.”

In this procedure, a tiny radiation seed travels through each catheter to deliver a precise dose of radiation, customized for the exact size, shape or location of the tumor cavity.  (

Rather than the burning sensation that sometimes accompanies radiation to the outside of a woman’s body, Diana said the SAVI therapy produced no pain. She attributes some of the painlessness of the procedure to the care of her doctors and clinicians who continually made sure she was comfortable.

The people who matter

Diana said the loving support of her daughters, Katie and Meghan, and her husband, Chuck, have helped her through this period in her life, and she believes her six-month-old granddaughter, Samantha, Dianas granddaughterwas the best medicine ever. She’s sure they are a part of the reason she’s come through this so positively.  She feels blessed to have them, and other family and friends who delivered flowers and meals, in her life. She also said there were a myriad of medical professionals who were encouraging.

“My family physician, Dr. Debra Radder, is an angel. She is the one who reminded me I was behind in my mammograms,” she said. Other medical personnel in the community who went above and beyond were the radiologist, Dr. Thomas, the Regional Cancer Center’s Medical Oncologist and Radiation Oncologist, the nurses and technicians at the various health facilities, the home health care worker, and her surgeon, Dr. Engel.

“Dr. Engel spent an hour and a half with us at my first appointment,” she said. “Everyone treated me like I was their only patient.”

And while Bool is realistic, her positivity is hard to combat.  “Yes, it could come back,” she said. “But breast cancer is not usually a death sentence. Women have to remember that.” What she wants to relay to other women is: “You have to be good to yourselves. Don’t be afraid. Schedule that mammogram. And remain positive.”

Bool refuses to bring her family and friends down.  “This has to be a positive experience. If I can show other people how wonderful the medical personnel in Erie were and how a good attitude helps, then maybe women will be less afraid.”

Positive words of encouragement from a woman who used to hold my hand when I crossed the street. Her love, strength, and kindness are still apparent.

And what about the festival

So, back to the festival. Was the first annual Flagship City Fest a success?  It was for me—in so many ways. Flagship Book Fest 2018


Cyndie “CJ” Zahner is an author of The Suicide Gene and Dream Wide Awake, of which Diana Dodson Bool is currently reading. Follower Zahner on her website at, Amazon, Facebook, Instagram, twitter, goodreads and Bookbub.

Dream Wide Awake: How real-life people, like Donna Vahey, become characters in a book. This might surprise You.

Can a bad memory get an author in trouble?

Donna Vahey is someone I know from my time spent working at city hall in my hometown of Erie, Pennsylvania. She worked for the police chief, and I remember her as sweet, kind, and very efficient. She dealt with officers and federal grants without ever raising her voice—need I say more?

When my manuscript called for me to attach a name to the Police Chief’s secretary, I pictured Donna in my head but named her Mary. No harm there, right?

Ugh. My memory.

I gave Mary a last name, but chapters after she first appeared, I couldn’t remember it.  So I was forced to sift through pages to find her. Her name came up a third and fourth time, and I forgot it again and again. Understand, there are a myriad of minor characters in a book. How many people does a main character come across in a day? Too many. I finally gave up and named her Donna Vahey. That, I could remember.

And that in itself wasn’t the problem. The problem was Donna was just too nice and normal. So I spiced the character up. Made her a bit louder. Bossier. And in the end I loved the fictitious Donna—but only for the book. She wouldn’t be as easy to work with as the real Donna.

Hence this formal apology. Donna, I’m sorry.

Flash this apology in your husband’s face when he reads about the chief wanting to get Donna’s voice out of his head or that her trigger was touchier than a recalled Remington. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. (If it is any consolation, I only put people that I like and admire in my novels.)

There are other people in my book who are friends of mine.

Sorry Donna

Chapters 31, 44, and 58 are titled with real people—well, dressed up a little like Donna. And main character Billy Mack? I patterned him after one of my husband’s friends who worked as a cop years ago. Just changed the name to protect the innocent a bit.

I’ll save those apologies for another day.

Read on…


Cyndie Zahner is the author of Dream Wide Awake and The Suicide Gene. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Amazon, Bookbub, or goodreads. Purchase her books on Amazon or Barnes and Noble through her website.

A Thank You to My Candle Holders

“First day of the rest of your life…. You ready?!”

These words travelled 2440 miles through the air and landed on my phone at 6:35 am this morning.  “OMG I love you but what are you doing up?” I respond. “I’m working dude! Gotta get these images right!” comes back on the screen.

It’s 3:35 am in LA and my daughter, Jessie, (a new mother by the way) is still working on pictures for me. She’s relentless. Never stops. And I’m so lucky to have her in my life.

Publishing these two novels has been a roller coaster ride. I’m up. Down. And all around.  Putting your work out there is scary. And piecing everything together into a full-length novel? Terrifying. But I have Jessie and her brother and sister and father and you. I have you guys. You are the tracks beneath this roller coaster ride that has turned me sideways, upside down, and nearly ejected me from my seat.

My books are not perfect. But is anything in life?

I’ve been in love with words for decades. I read, write, rearrange, and loop them in and out of each other all day long. But I never really get the order perfect. There’s always a better way to say something.

Just this one time, though, I wish I could find the perfect words. For Jessie. And Jeff and Zak and Jilly. And for those of you who mean so much to me: Carol and Carolyn and Mary and Marie. For my unbelievably strong running friends Robin, Heather, Jan, LeAnn, and who did I miss? (Laura!!!) For new friends Jean and Christine, old friends Jody and Val, my great friends Teresa, Karen, and Linda, my sorta-aunt Penny, my Rose friends, reviewers, editors. AND to the large community of Facebook friends too wonderful yet too numerous to mention.  (And I’m sure I missed someone important because I’m exhausted.)

I’ve been a bear these past weeks and you’ve all put up with me, because, well, because you know I’m not perfect. So, thank you. Thank you from my soul. I’m blessed to have you in my life.

My books are out. I’m still alive. I’m finally an author.

What are those words? Oh, yeah, right. “Do not go gently into the night.”


Cyndie “CJ” Zahner is an author.

Saturday Runs on Presque Isle State Park

From the sky it looks like a puzzle piece, Presque Isle. The sort of piece that finds your hand first because it’s the most colorful, most distinguishable. It’s the one you want to begin with, fit the other pieces around. From high above, its jagged edges disappear into the blue water, and its magnificent green hues mix with soil brown and take your breath away.

There is so much to love about Presque Isle.

A bald eagle took my breath away there once as he soared along the shores of the bay. Three of us were lucky enough to witness his wide wings slowly and gracefully, rising and falling in flight. He was there and gone in an instant—a small, blessed piece added to each of our puzzles on a near-perfect morning.

I’ve logged over thirty years of Saturday mornings in the same manner. Running. Mostly on that little strip of land jutting into Lake Erie called Presque Isle State Park. And usually with my best running buddy, Robin. Runners have come and gone over the years, but Robin and I remain—a little slower, a little wiser, and, more profoundly, a little closer to gathering up all of our journey’s puzzle pieces and heading home.

Ernest Hemingway once said, “It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” At a stone’s throw from sixty, I know the importance of the journey.

And that thirteen-mile stretch of road on Presque Isle State Park has been a big part of mine. Its contour is flat and lazy. Yet, there are times, bone-chilling mornings, when its frost and ice-bending trees hide the beauty within its edges, when woods and wildlife cower, but somehow I appreciate even its worst days with Robin and Heather and Carol and Laura and Jan at my side. Good friends and encouraging words firm up the slickest footing and most treacherous terrain. As we talk on those days when our breath fades into the air like puffs of icy powder floating away, we slip in and out of each other’s lives and forget the biting cold. Even in life’s most wickedly cold hours, the pieces snap warmly into place.

I buried a child on a cold February day. An infant. A little girl with a full head of hair that would be flowing over her shoulders by now if she had lived. For a long time afterwards it was hard to run at that park, nearly impossible to see its beauty. Yet every Saturday, my friends showed up and ran beside me, their shoulders so close to mine I could feel their warmth, their strength. They would not let me fall.

Life is precious. It’s sad to think of death on land so alive, and yet death, too, is a part of the journey.

So, occasionally when I run at Presque Isle, I reflect on my little angel or on other loved ones who have journeyed home, and my thoughts sometimes settle on a June Saturday in 2015. I began that morning as usual, congregating with other runners, leaning against my car, texting late friends, “Are you coming?” The mood was light. The conversation, jocular. I didn’t know my path was about to cross Death’s path once again. That Death would swoop down in front of me and claim another mother’s child.

He was seventeen years old, and seventeen is so much a child to someone finishing her sixth decade. My running buddies and I first saw him at the mouth of the Peninsula. A car sped by. He was a passenger inside. I don’t recall the exact time or the temperature or his face, but I remember the air was thick that morning. One runner mentioned the car’s erratic ride, but we began our run with hardly a thought of it. We were a mile or two down the road when we heard the crash, a half mile from the accident when the metallic smoke singed our nostrils.

A few minutes later, the scene was horrifically upon us. There was a cyclist standing near the car and two hunters came toward us, herding us away, saying we didn’t want to see inside. I remember the quiet anguish of the air. The stillness that fell on life. I will never forget that scene—that moment in time when the boy’s journey ended, when his path crossed other paths for the last time. A senseless car accident, metal against tree, and he was gone—a mere memory, one small but much-loved piece forever clicked into eternity’s puzzle.

I think of him whenever I pass his resting place. Pray for his family. Pray for my own children and my friends’ children, because on that little patch of road, I watched every mother’s fear come to life. I was ashamed that I knew her grief before she did. Hated that, really. His last piece falling to complete strangers.

Yet, one never knows how many lives they have touched until that final piece finds its place. I still take in the beauty of Presque Isle State Park, but I treasure the people who run beside me a little more now because of that child. He taught me that life is fleeting and that every encounter I have, no matter how brief, fits finely together with the others and shapes me.

Next Saturday, Robin and I will probably meet at Presque Isle. On that path of profound beauty, we’ll run alongside each other, placing one foot in front of the other until we finish our journey. We will talk about our families and the places we have been or the people we have met and the pieces we’ve gathered, because, like Hemingway, we know the journey is more important than the end.

And if our run becomes taxing and our legs heavy, we can remember that day we saw the eagle. Watched as his massive wings floated up and down in splendor. Took in his beauty as he sailed along the parkway. We can recall his flight toward the sky as he glided upward, soared, ascended like an angel flying home, and then gazed down at us as we journeyed up and down and over and around on winding path.

Yes, from above, the path looks unfettered and the journey amazingly clear, and Presque Isle, like a beautiful puzzle piece embedded in stark, jagged blue—and in me.

Cyndie Zahner is a freelance writer at and Follow her on Instagram at athletchicz or on Twitter @Tweetyz.

Saturday Morning Flights was originally written in 2013 and then updated on April 20, 2017.  

Dream Wide Awake Cover Reveal

Many thanks to all of my Facebook friends who weighed in on the cover for my novel, Dream Wide Awake.  My artist, Amanda Filutze, and manager, Jessie Zahner, and I reviewed every single comment, many of them twice. The conclusion we arrived at was simple: none of the covers seemed to hit the mark.

Lots of you said Mikala Daly (the little girl) looked creepy. And even more said the covers all looked YA (Young Adult). So we tossed them aside and started almost from scratch. So (drumroll) here’s what we decided upon:

Dream Wide Awake Cover 2500


We discussed the title of the book at length and decided to put it front and center. So many people have told us the name itself sparks interest, so we wanted the title clear. We also chose green because, well, we tested many pictures but green seemed to stand out the best on bookshelves.

We were tempted to select orange but when we went back to Barnes and Noble, it appeared every other author thought orange was best, too. The shelves were lined with orange covers.

As for for narrowing down the picture to the little girl’s eye? That idea was a combined effort that came from my son-in-law, Jason, my daughter, Jessie, and my niece, Heather Havern.

In the end, it was my talented niece, Amanda Filutze, that redrew it to perfection. I knew as soon as I saw it, I loved it. We hope you do, too!

Many thanks. In case you missed my past posts, I’m saying it again. I have the best friends in the world!!!! Thanks for your help.


Cyndie Zahner is an author and blogger. Her novel, Dream Wide Awake, will be available for purchase on Amazon, Itunes, Barnes & Noble, and KOBO on or before October 1, 2018. Follow Cyndie @CJzahner on Instagram and @Tweetyz on Twitter.



The Inspiration behind My Novel, The Suicide Gene

Is there such a thing as a suicide gene?

As if Thirteen Reasons Why wasn’t controversial enough, on September 26, one week after my novel, The Suicide Gene, hits the market, another TV series, A Million Little Things, begins with a suicide.

I don’t like the “S” word, yet I planted it front and center in my novel. I chose the name three years ago when I had the idea of beginning a novel with the death of an identical twin. Back then, suicides weren’t in the headlines as often, and most people hadn’t heard of the novel, Thirteen Reasons Why.

Now ABC’s A Million Little Things airs September 26th. The series begins with a suicide. Its premise is “friendship isn’t one thing, it’s a million little things,” and “friends may be the one thing to save them from themselves.”

The Suicide Gene is totally fictional and was inspired mostly by my crazy imagination and a little by my life. But the story bears the similar idea that environmental factors (certainly friendships) can influence depression. I have long wondered if there is a suicide gene, and if so, does the gene run in my family?

Here’s a little bit about the inspiration behind the book:

First, Minnie McKinney was my great-great-grandmother’s name. (Who names a child that?) I made her a little crazy not only because her name seems to imply it, but because someone once told me she was the black sheep of the family. Since she was three generations removed, I didn’t think anyone would mind if she wasn’t so sane. I named her twin Mary because it was the most common M name I could find.

Second, I chose the name Emma for the main character simply because I have loved the name ever since I saw Debra Winger in Terms of Endearment. Period.

Thirdly, I named the good guy in my book, Gifford John Johnson. Gifford after my grandfather and Johnson after my mother’s cousins because I liked the sound of John Johnson.

Naming one of the main characters Gifford was important to me because my grandfather, Frank Gifford (not THE Frank Gifford but Frank Merle Gifford) was a big inspiration behind my thinking. He attempted to commit suicide after his wife died. Hence Giff was named after my grandfather; however his personality was patterned after my own son. I created Giff as a minor character, but because he was so like my son, of course I grew to love him and couldn’t bear him taking second fiddle to any other male characters in the book. So he emerged as a main character. (He is the good guy and not the least little bit suicidal.)

Here is something I learned and something I advise other authors: Never base a character after your child or grandchild.  Its disconcerting. You can’t bring yourself to write anything bad about that character. (Go ahead and try. I dare you.)

I will never again make this mistake. There are a myriad of reasons why (pardon the pun) but I’ll state my top three: 1) You’ll protect your child/grandchild on paper as much as you will in life (nothing bad can happen to them), 2) there can be no intimate scenes involving that character (even typing that felt creepy—there are some things a mother never wants to know), and 3) I read Gone Girl and never want to cast an Amazing Amy burden on any of my offspring.

Fourth and finally, the idea that a suicide gene might exist came from my own life. Here comes the confession. Only my husband and close friends know this. When I was in my teens, twenties, and thirties, I suffered suicidal thoughts. The feelings surfaced three or four times a year and always before my period. Routinely, I told myself to suffer through the next week and I would be all right. Obviously, I suffered through.

Yet, therein lies the spark that ignited in my head and developed into a book. I don’t know if I believe there is a suicide gene or not. Scientists and researchers must tackle that question.

My book is totally fiction and includes other anomalies, such as the impossible identical twin gene, but I believe the novel will generate questions about genetic links. Today, people are enamored by genetics. Our DNA secrets seem to be as close as a stroke on our computer keyboard and, what, $99?

We need more research, more compassion, and more funding for mental health issues in our nation. I’m very sure that statement will spark a multitude of pros and cons, but please—save those remarks for our politicians. I simply want to know: Do you believe someday scientists will identify a suicide gene?

What a better world we would live in if we could eliminate this horrid problem that strikes so many.


CJ Zahner is the author of The Suicide Gene and Dream Wide Awake.  was used to gather information about the new series A Million Little Things.

Dash Queen Fetish

I have a dash fetish. I am the dashes-create-tell-all-adjectives queen.

My addiction began while writing reality recaps for my daughter’s website, Jessie, my daughter, asked me to admit I was addicted to The Bachelor and begin blogging recaps about the show. readers were asking for them, and Jessie dedicated her Monday evenings to blogging about the Kardashians. So could I write it?

Admitting I watched The Bachelor was no easy feat. I was working in the business world and hoping my co-workers didn’t get wind of it. My dash-queen qualities began surfacing slowly. First I mentioned Shower-shy Brit—a bachelorette noted for not taking showers. Then came What’s-her-name Megan whose name the Bachelor could never remember. It advanced to Love-my-widow-story Kelsey about a girl who (it almost appeared) relished recanting her widow story. Then it peaked. I reached the dash-queen apex when my fingers typed Pick-me-pick-me-I’m-a-virgin Ashley for a girl who constantly flaunted her virginity hoping to persuade the Bachelor to pick her. It was there in print before I knew it. I had sunk to a new low. Six dashes. Is there a linguistic chastisement for using that many dashes?

Now my real-world diction mingles with my blog-world diction. It is a thoughtless diction that was accidentally catapulted by addiction. Yet, in the blogging world, readers loved it. Compliments flowed and followers multiplied. They couldn’t get enough of the dash-queen’s adjectives.

So now I read and reread, watch and re-watch Write 101x’s adjective lectures to right my wrong. Bad habits are hard to break. But I must change my ways and refocus as I enter back into the literary atmosphere.

Let my love-my-dashes-more-than-conventional-adjectives ways cease to exist. Well, at least Tuesday through Sunday.