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Omaha Magazine

Crosswords and Crossroads: Discovering a New and Thrilling Chapter

Nov 01, 2022 08:18AM ● By Julius Fredrick
Louise Foster looking at the camera

Photo by Bill Sitzmann

9 Across; 12 Letters; Clue: Burgeoning Mystery Novelist from Omaha. Answer: Louise Foster.

“There’s a crossword puzzle at the beginning of every chapter, a clue that relates to that particular scene,” explained Louise Foster, author of A Crossword Puzzle Cozy Mystery series. 

“My protagonist […] she creates crossword puzzles and sells them to online venues, and that’s kind of a running theme. She makes these mental crossword puzzles for each case. She loves puzzles, but she hates leaving one unfinished. So, once she creates the puzzle…she’s got to finish the puzzle.”

In a nod to one of Foster’s childhood favorites—Trixie Belden, a more grounded, middle-class ‘detective girl’ counterpart to the affluent and pristine Nancy Drew—Crossword Puzzle Cozy Mystery’s events are relayed from the first-person perspective of protagonist Tracy Belden. Tracy is a single/surrogate mom whose entry into private investigation was more of a budgetary consideration than a desired career pivot. At first, anyway.

“I live in a downtown apartment and work three jobs […]” reflects Tracy in the opening pages of An Ex in the Puzzle, Foster’s debut novel. “In whatever spare time I have left, I create crossword puzzles and sell them to several on-line sites. The pay barely keeps me in flavored coffee, but it’s my first love and by far the most entertaining,” Tracy explains.

Though Foster enjoyed a steady, 40-year tenure at Nebraska Medicine—performing various roles before settling into information technology—Tracy’s words echo a plight negotiated by virtually all aspiring authors: when, and how, to take the professional leap. 

“I loved my team, I loved my work, I really enjoyed it,” Foster said of her career at Nebraska Medicine. “But, I’d been writing for a long time—23 years when I tried to break into traditional publishing—and I came close so many times…and then several years ago, a friend of mine said, ‘Why don’t you self-publish them? It’s so easy anymore.’”

“I already had the manuscripts written, so I waited,” she continued. “I worked with a professional publisher and had professional covers done. The first one came out in June 2021; then July, August, September. But then there’s the marketing and trying to get the word out, and I was still working full time. That was the main reason I retired…just to have more time.”

Foster’s measured approach yielded encouraging results. The quick succession of titles provided ample material to entice first-time readers, while providing content-hungry fans immediate satisfaction. In another reader-friendly move, Crossword Puzzle Cozy Mystery takes an episodic approach to storytelling—plots loosely tethered by a core cast of characters, the fictional resort town of Langsdale, Nevada, and of course, crossword puzzles. This means readers can pick up 2022’s Five Clues to a Killer (the series’ fifth entry), and dive straight into Two Down in Tahoe (Foster’s sophomore effort) without missing a beat, if they’d like.

“They’re all stand-alone, there’s no overarching theme where you have to read them in order,” Foster explained. “To me it’s more about the investigation; the puzzle aspect of putting pieces together. There’s a lot less angst to it, compared to the suspense murders. So, it’s kind of like I’m writing to myself as a reader. I know what sells because I know what I like—and I like ‘em fast-paced.”

Foster first began pursuing writing seriously in her 30s, the daunting task of planning and penning a full-length novel quickly becoming apparent. She turned to one of the few writers’ groups that accepted unpublished authors: Romance Writers of the Heartland. She gained valuable advice and editing help from its members, plus insight into her methodology.

“There’s two different kind of thought in writing, the plotters—people who plot everything out, they know where it’s going from the beginning—and then the ‘seat of the pants,’ or ‘pantsers.’ I’m definitely seat of the pants,” Foster conceded. “I don’t know a lot of the clues until I write them, I’m not sure who’s going be killed, and honestly, how they’re going to be killed. I never know who’s guilty ahead of time. Whoever comes on scene or comes on stage, that’s what I write.”

While online connections helped her understand and hone her craft, Foster noted she couldn’t have made it this far without the love and encouragement of her family.

“Honestly, from the beginning, they never doubted that I would get published someday,” she said. “All the years that I wrote, they always supported me, and since [the books] came out, they’ve been my biggest fan club. That’s who I dedicated my first book to, because they’ve been unbelievably great.” 

Now, Foster and Tracy are set to wrap up another crossword thriller just in time for mystery enthusiasts to cozy up with this holiday season: a Christmas-themed novella. However, at time of writing, one tantalizing mystery yet remains: While “Glue Guns for Christmas” is the clear frontrunner for Foster at time of writing, there’s an ever-so-slight chance the title could change in the interim. Curious readers will have to investigate for themselves when the novella releases December 1 on Amazon Kindle. 

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This article originally appeared in the November/December 2022 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Photo by Bill Sitzmann


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