Author of: Friends Who Move Couches
Cyndie “CJ” Zahner is a digital-book hoarder, lover of can’t-put-down books, runner, author, and Mensa wannabe. That last trait explains the inspiration for her first novel, The Suicide Gene. Her second book, Dream Wide Awake, was inspired during long runs on Presque Isle State Park in her hometown of Erie, Pennsylvania and has prompted readers to ask: Is Dream Wide Awake fiction? Or one of CJ’s premonitions?
Connect with her:
About the auther
Cyndie “CJ” Zahner grew up in Erie, Pennsylvania, the second child of hard-working parents, Pasquale and Donna Mae Filutze. Her brother Mike, eleven years her senior, married when she was nine years old. Often alone, Cyndie created characters and wrote stories to wile the time away. During high school, an English teacher, Mrs. Patricia Root, introduced her to a world of reading and writing that would remain with her for life. Under Mrs. Root’s advisement, she became the school’s newspaper editor and, in her senior year, enrolled as an English major at Gannon College, now Gannon University.
Yet, in the summer before college, she worked at a local retail store as a sales clerk alongside four women with English degrees. Worried, she changed her major from English to Accounting but never lost her love for reading and want of writing. While working in the business world, she wrote grants and contributed occasional financial and women’s articles to local magazines and newspapers.
She fell in love and married her soul mate, Jeffrey Zahner, with whom she had four children. She is the proud mother of three adult children, Jessie, Zak, and Jillian Zahner, and one little angel in heaven, Jackie Zahner. Her daughter, Jessie, is now married to Dr. Jason Grieshober and lives and works in the professional sports and television industries in Los Angeles, California. Her son Zak is an attorney in Philadelphia, and her daughter, Jillian, is a special education teacher in Raleigh, North Carolina. Cyndie and her husband visit them as often as time permits.
In 2015, she began looking at life differently when her brother and his wife were diagnosed with dementia and early-onset Alzheimer’s. It was then that Cyndie’s husband pulled her aside and said, “Quit your job. You’re a writer.” After twenty years of service and the combating of repeated health issues caused by stress, Cyndie picked up her purse one day at work and quietly walked away. She never returned. She began her career as a novelist.
Since then, she completed her first book, The Suicide Gene, and a second book, Dream Wide Awake, and is in the final stages of completing her third and fourth books, Within the Setting Sun and The Dream Snatchers.
On most days now, she runs, reads, writes, smiles much, and dreams up her next novel in her lovely little hometown of Erie. On Saturday mornings, you’ll find her running with friends at Presque Isle State Park. When she’s not there, she’s usually visiting her children or hiking in one of America’s great National Parks with Jeff . She thanks God everyday for her husband, children, family, good friends, and—–for bringing her home.
Friends Who Move Couches
“Cherish every moment spent with family throughout your life, but if you want to be happy, find yourself some good girlfriends.” – CJ Zahner’s thoughts as she sprawled out on an emergency-room floor while Carolyn and Vicki fought to save her life.
I open my eyes. Singing angels dance across the sky. One grips my arm, and a long translucent thread guides us toward a blinding light in the heavens.
I focus, try to see my Maker. Faint shadows grow like flowers blooming. The echo of the angel’s soft singing dissipates to humming then whirring then—wait, what is that? I’m not in heaven?
My vision clears and the room around me materializes. A dangling IV, stained-white ceiling, and buzzing fluorescent light stare down at me. I smell a nauseating antiseptic that resembles embalming fluid and hear a gruff voice that sounds remotely like what I believe the angel of gloom might sound like, hot and nasally. A doctor’s voice.
Oh, for God’s sake, I’m alive.
I snap my eyes shut, disappointed in God’s decision to spare Mark from single parenthood, a plight I’ve sworn for years he could not handle.
My memory of the back yard, the wine, and—oh, dear Lord—the marijuana aroma swirling around the medics’ heads hits me in flashes. I remember people arriving. Faint voices.
“Mom? Were you smoking dope?” It’s Delanie, home from her part-time summer job, and Gianna, home from school. “Mommy, Mommy, don’t die.” “Shut up, Gianna. Stop crying. Mom’s not sick. She’s stoned.”
I block the rest from seeping into my memory and pray inside my head.
Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. Forgive me. Take me. Now. Quick.
A voice responds but not God’s. Evy’s. He’s talking to the nasal-sounding doctor.
“You can’t expect her to wake up in this room. The drapes are orange, for God’s sake. Do you want her to have another seizure?”
Though my eyes are shut, I can feel their presence, too many people hovering around my bed. Normally, I’d crave the company, but right now I want solitude. I tighten my eyes, wishing them away so I can die in peace.
“Nikki, are you awake?” Jody, of course. She never misses a beat.
I keep still. Not a twitch.
“I know you’re awake,” she says, a slight snigger in her pitch.
I pinch my eyelids as tight as I can, screw up my lips, and sigh.
“Open up,” she instructs, and I do because only Jody knows what’s best for me. I’ve listened to her for years.
“Did they do a blood test?” I whisper. At first, no one else notices I’m awake.
She nods. Raises her eyebrows.
“For who? You or me?”
“You.” She laughs.
“She’s awake,” Evy announces, and suddenly people lunge toward my bed as if I had flat-lined.
Hello CJ and welcome to The Spotlight! If you could change something about one of your books already released, what would it be?
I would include my friend Rochelle’s name in the dedication page of Friends Who Move Couches. I took everyone’s name out for fear I’d miss someone, then decided to put them back in. Her name disappeared! I’m mortified. My apologies, Rochelle!!! You are definitely a friend who would move a body!
Oh no! Dedications are so hard! What’s your favorite part of the writing life?
Writing, everything else is a far-away second.
I totally agree! It's also the most fun! What is the most difficult thing about writing a book?
Keeping track of characters, which is why I pattern my minor characters after people I know.
That's a great idea! They are hard to keep consistent! What book have you read that you wish you had written?
So many. The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen; Big, Little, Lies by Liane Moriarity; The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein; The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins; Gone With The Wind…I could go on.
So many good ones there! If writing is your first passion, what is your second?
What’s one thing that your readers would be surprised to learn about you?
I’m a big chicken. I’m terrified to sleep alone in a house—any house.
That's funny, my grown daughter has that same problem! What is your favorite quote?
“And where does the power come from, to see the race to its end. From within.” -- Eric Liddell, Chariots of Fire.
Awesome quote! A word that's overused but truly a great quote! How much of the book is realistic?
Friends Who Move Couches was inspired by my friends, family, and true-life events, yet many aspects differ. It’s true I do come from a small family and am frivolously addicted to friendship, but thankfully, I married Jeff Zahner, not Mark Grey (the husband in my book). Throughout my thirty-eight-year marriage to Jeff, I often wondered how many men would so easily smirk and shake their heads at my escapades. But Jeff and I have been faithful to each other since the day we met. (He assures me I can state this. He does not want to end up a character in one of my thrillers.)
It's hard writing events based on reality but cathartic too! What do you like best about your hero?
Her frivolous flaws that never fail to get her in trouble.
How do you choose the names and physical characteristics of your characters? Do you base them on real people?
I based most of the characters in this novel on real people. Jody and Val are lifelong, childhood friends supplanted in my adult neighborhood. The others, from Carol and Carolyn to Doctor Jim, are real except for Evy and Ellie (who are the culmination of all my friends), and the villain, Janice Everglade (whom I hope I never meet).
What would you most like to say to your readers?
Please post an honest review. Readers have no idea how much they mean to authors. We read every one.
About the Book
Friends Who Move Couches
Release Date: May 1, 2020
I relax, swing the club, and it sails through the air—the club, not the ball. That’s still perfectly perched on the tee.
Humility overpowers me, and I burst forward out of my little rubber stall and run for the club. The last thing I hear before the eighty-year-old lady’s ball makes a line drive to my temple is Blake the Pro yelling, “Don’t go after your club.”
I regain consciousness and refuse the ambulance. Blake the Pro says he’ll give me a ride home, but once we are riding in the car, he admits he lied. He’s taking me to the hospital. Anger and delirium overpower me. I try to get out of the car at every red light, but I keep rolling down the window instead of opening the door.
Once we arrive at the emergency room, he does all the talking. He strolls into the room with me as if some of this was his fault.
I don’t dare to admit I am a hopeless born loser.
Let’s finish with everyone’s favorite… Speed Dating!
Favorite movie: Dreamer
Best place you’ve visited: California (where my granddaughter lives)
Place you’d like to visit: England
Favorite food: Chocolate
If a movie was made about your life, who would you want to play you? Although I look absolutely nothing like her, Reese Witherspoon.
What song best sums you up? I get knocked down, but I get up again
Oxford comma, yes or no? Yes
Pen or pencil? Pen
Favorite music? Perfect by Ed Sheeran and Andrea Bocelli
Coffee or tea? Coffee
What does your desk look like? Disastrous
What is your writing vice or must-haves? Coffee
Plotter or pantser? Reformed plotter
Mac or PC? PC
Favorite dessert? Plain milk chocolate dipped in coffee
What is your favorite thing to learn about in your free time? People who have a sixth sense
You have a time travel machine. Where and when? Pass. No time travel for me. (I’m a big chicken, remember?)
Are you earth, wind, fire or water? Fire