Friday, 25 July 2014

Kotar & Gessler: Strawberry Fields

It's our pleasure to welcome back the writing duo, SL Kotar and JE Gessler. We first met SL and JE back in January when they released their first novel, Pirate Treasure, book one in the Kansas Pirates Saga. Then in May, they were back with the first book in a new series -- First Draw, The Hellhole Saga, book 1.

Today, we're back to welcome the second book in the Kansas Pirates Saga -- Strawberry Fields.

 First, let me tell you about this dynamic writing team.

S.L. and J.E. wrote for Hollywood. One of their earliest sales was to the Gunsmoke franchise -- Kitty's Love Affair. What makes this episode so important is that it was the first time ever in which a kiss was shown on screen for this series. Until then, hand holding was as steamy as Gunsmoke ever got. It was a good old shootem up western, not a romance. But we all know, Kitty and Matt had a thing between them since the series first aired in 1955. Kitty's Love Affair also earned the franchise their highest ratings ever! Well done, ladies.

S.L. and J.E. went on from there to write pilots for William Shatner, who gave S.L. her nickname, Captain. They've both written for a number of magazines and periodicals, and as medical professionals in their 'day job', the pair have also written some very important medical texts which are used in universities today -- Smallpox: A HistoryCholera: A Worldwide HistoryThe Complete Guide to Ambulatory Cardiac Monitoring and Full Disclosure Telemetry; and their book, Yellow Fever: A History, is due out later this year.

If that wasn't enough, S.L. and J.E. also wrote and published historical nonfiction -- The Steamboat Era: A History of Fulton's Folly on American Rivers, 1807-1860Ballooning: A History, 1782-1900The Rise of the American Circus, 1716-1899; and Riverboat: The Evolution of a Television Series, 1959-1961.

AND I hear-tell they have about 150 novels in a shoe box under the desk! Fortunately for their publisher, Tirgearr Publishing, S.L. and J.E. are slowly revealing some of these gems.

Which brings me back to Strawberry Fields.

The Kansas Pirates Saga is not your typical series of stories. These stories focus on the Ward family. Pirate Treasure introduced readers to Seth Ward and his two children. A widower, Seth was not looking to marry again, but in walks a strange woman with even stranger tales. Barbara Nelander, who just goes by Nelander, is the daughter of a seafaring man. She grew up on the sea and is full of pirating tales. It's with her love and understanding that Seth's family can move away from the tragedy that took their wife/mother and make a future together.

In Strawberry Fields, we're back visiting Seth's family as they advance in the next stage of their adventures. Seth remembered the fields of wild strawberries when he was a child. He always wanted to find a way to acquire the land. As an adult, that dream has never left him. He confides in Nelander and she vows to find a way to help make that dream come true. When the land comes into their possession, Nelander uses the last of her seafaring savings to buy cultivated strawberries with the hopes of creating a hybrid variety that will yield them a great return. Obstacles get in their way. Jealousy, anger, and ne'er do wells try stopping the family at every turn.

As with the first book in the series, Strawberry Fields is just as engrossing as Pirate Treasure. Through their expert writing abilities, Kotar and Gessler pulls readers in from page one, back to post-Civil War Kansas and into the lives of a small family just trying to survive harsh conditions in the expanding American West. There's always someone there to try pulling you down, but often there can be someone there to help pull you up again. Seth and Nelander are an ideal couple with an enviable and apparent love for not only each other, but also Seth's children. These characters are well-written and easy to become endeared with. Nelander is such an interesting and unusual character that her part in this series is essential. No other type of heroine would bring these stories alive as she does. SHE is the reason there are pirates in land-locked Kansas. This is a wonderfully engaging story, and anyone who loves historical romance, pirate stories, Civil War and post-Civil War stories, and how has a bit of a sense of humor will love this series.

Before we get to an excerpt, be sure to drop S.L. and J.E. a note in the comments below **with your email address** to enter the draw for a copy of this book.
• • •

What is a dream but a fight against the odds; a struggle to rise above the ordinary and express a creativity that encapsulates the soul. When love is shared, that emotion becomes a dual consciousness. As a small child, Seth Ward had seen a valley filled with wild strawberry plants and had imagined that one day he would own that land and cultivate those plants. Growing to adulthood and facing the harsh reality of raising two small children in Lawrence, Kansas of the 1850's, however, life was reduced to dreary survival and dreams were tucked away into the recesses of yesteryear.

When love and remarriage came to Seth unexpectedly in the person of a strange, wild, nautical woman named Nelander, he shared his dream and she determined to make it a reality. A sad twist of fate brought the strawberry field into their possession and using the last of her seaman's savings, she bought 5,000 plants to add to the wild variety in the hope the family could make a success growing and selling the sweet berries.

The enterprise faced nearly insurmountable obstacles but as often as disaster struck, the touch of a higher power seemed to guide their way. With the assistance of two former slaves, an elderly woman and her son, the small clan of "Kansas Pirates" persevered, ultimately discovering that one dream had the power to blossom into dozens.

All the wrath of the sea gods, combined, could not have come close to approximating the pain she felt. Barbara Nelander-Ward had prepared herself for the worst, but this agony surpassed her wildest expectations.
Face flushed, heart racing, fists clenched, she stifled one cry, but as the spasms came again in fresh waves, she howled an invective.

“Damn!” Ashamed of her weakness, for she was not one to surrender easily, Nelander clenched her teeth, spat, then offered a weak apology. “I am sorry. I had not meant to cuss. But at least,” she tried, “I did not put a ‘God’ in front of it.”

The tall, solidly-build man at her side, himself the color of a furled topsail, forced a grin. “That would have been swearing.”

“I promised I wouldn’t, but you damned landlubbers have such delicate ears.”

He didn’t remark on her second use of the impolite word.

Offering his hand, Seth Ward encouraged her to take it.

“Hold onto me. Squeeze as hard as you can. Concentrate on —”

“Crushing your fingers? That is an incentive, if ever I heard one.”

Despite the temptation, she did not oblige. “Go to the door and look out. Just one last time, to see if anyone is coming.”

Slipping silently away with the grace of a deer, which belied his stature, Seth crossed the living room and stood in the open entranceway. A breeze blew in from the north, cooling his body, if not his nerves. He might have saved himself the trip. The road leading to the farm had not been traversed in several hours, and then by the doctor. No sign of any wagon, carriage or foot-weary traveler met his eye.

He wished it otherwise. His wife put a great deal of stock and not inconsiderable faith in the arrival of her friend. As unlikely as it seemed for a woman to travel by herself from the Nebraska Territory all the way to Lawrence, Kansas on a journey of mercy, such events were known to happen.

But not by an ordinary woman, he reminded himself. By an extraordinary one.

Barbara Nelander-Ward, familiarly called “Nelander” by friends and foes alike, had undertaken just such a trip only five months before. It had been winter then, but she swore to go, and by God, she had. Making her way across one territory and into another, she had sought and ultimately found the temporary home of their former neighbors, Terrance and Beth Windsor and their two sons, Jed and James.

The reunion had not been a happy one. During the summer of 1859 when drought held the land in a viselike grip, burning the soil and parching all living creatures to the point of death and beyond, the Windsors had opted to pack their bags and seek greener pastures. While the Wards held steadfast and ultimately persevered, they had not.

Nebraska had proved proven greener, but only in a figurative sense, for it did the Windsors no good. Without land to till or money to take them further, they had settled in a shanty town named Snow Bluff.

For all their chance of escape, it might better have been named Hell's Bottom.

• • •

S. L. Kotar and J. E. Gessler's first writing success was an episode of the television series GUNSMOKE. The episode, "Kitty's Love Affair," guest-starred Richard Kiley as a gunfighter who saves Kitty's life and then becomes romantically involved with her. This was the highest-rated episode in the series' 20-year history. They published an iconoclastic Civil War magazine called "The Kepi" for many years, specializing in new historical perspectives of the battles and leaders as well as presenting detailed articles on life in the 1860's. Their published works include a detailed account of the series starring Darren McGavin, "Riverboat: The Evolution of a Television Series, 1959-1961" and historical non-fiction texts including, "The Steamboat Era: A History of Fulton's Folly on American Rivers, 1807-1860," "Ballooning: A History, 1782-1900," "The Rise of the American Circus, 1716-1899," "Smallpox: A History," and a cardiology textbook, "The Complete Guide to Ambulatory Cardiac Monitoring and Full Disclosure Telemetry." Their book, "Cholera: A History" is due out later in 2013 and they are currently working on "Yellow Fever: A History," due out in 2014. Outside of writing and cardiology, their main interest is baseball; they are close friends with Whitey Herzog, the great Hall of Fame manager, who inspired them to move to St. Louis and they have rooted for the Pittsburgh Pirates for many years.

Find S.L. and J.E. online at --

Facebook --
Tirgearr Publishing --
Tirgearr Publishing --

Don't forget to leave a comment with your email address for the draw!
Strawberry Fields, The Kansas Pirates Saga, book 2
Pirate Treasure, The Kansas Pirates Saga, book 1


  1. Welcome back to Heart of Fiction and congratulations on the release of your latest in the Kansas Pirates Series.

    1. Thank you! This is a tremendous experience and publishing with you and in e-book form in general has far exceeded my expectations. We have always had our hand in the Western genre and it is a great pleasure to continue the tradition we absorbed as children with the classic TV series. While "Strawberry Fields" is not a exactly a Western, it is an historical drama from the "Western period" and fits nicely into that time period of pre-Civil War. As far as our interests go you will probably never see any novels set in what we call the post-GUNSMOKE era (anything after 1876) because then you're getting into telephones and the era changed dramatically after that. For those who are interested in the writing process, when we first developed these people (they're too real to us to call characters), the idea was completely centered around the plot in this book. It was only after we started writing it that it became clear we would have to develop some serious background before we could get to the strawberries and thus "Pirate Treasure" was born. The title of this book is a nod of grateful love and appreciation to John Lennon and the Beatles, who were and always will be a lasting inspiration. (SLK -

    2. I couldn't help but notice your dedication in the book :-)

      I think you're right about post-Gunsmoke era books. I haven't seen many in traditional historical romance. It was smack in the middle of the Victorian age, but that really didn't hit the US until the late 1800s. I researched Victorian history in California many years ago when I started writing romance, as the story was set in 1891 and I wanted to ensure that I have all my facts straight. Turned out, as you said, the telephone was introduced into homes and started changing things. Back home, where my book is set, the only phones in town connected from the doctor's house on the hill to the town hall, which was connected to the police and fire. That was all that was required. 75 years later and just about every house had a phone, and sometimes two or more.

      I totally 'get' that your characters are people. We get so involved with them that we make them real. Especially so for your Ward family, as they're the focus of all three books in the series.

      Speaking of three books in the series, can you give us a hint at the plot for book three?

  2. thank's your information,,