Monday, March 23, 2009

An Interview with Joanna Campbell Slan

M&M: Joanna, tell us about your writing schedule.

I work full-time writing and promoting my work. Some days I spend more time promoting, and others I spend most of the day working on new books, series ideas, or articles. It varies, unfortunately. I say “unfortunately” because I tend to feel depressed when I don’t get my real work done. That is, when I have to do everything other than work on stories! Most days I’m in my office working from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. The only breaks I take are to eat and to let the dogs out. At night I often work on art for my online magazine, and when I read, usually it’s research. I work every day of the week. On weekends and evenings, I often do presentations. I haven’t taken a weekend off in months. I don’t intend to, either. I’m too happy doing what I’m doing.

M&M: For you what is the best part of writing a series?

Definitely I love revisiting the characters. I like them, and I enjoy seeing their lives grow and change.

M&M: Tell us about PAPER, SCISSORS DEATH, and how long you have been a scrapbooker?

Paper, Scissors, Death is the story of a young mom, Kiki Lowenstein. Her comfortable life turns upside-down when her husband, George, is found naked and dead in a hotel room. The autopsy says he died of natural causes, but she refuses to believe it. Then his business partner claims George “borrowed” a half a million dollars in company money. Kiki is forced to sell everything she owns to repay the debt. She takes a job at a scrapbook store to support herself and her eleven-year-old daughter, Anya. Kiki vows to bring George’s killer to justice. She’s not worried about the killer targeting her because she’s a mom, and everyone knows moms are invisible—right?

With the help of dashing Detective Chad Detweiler, her best friend and former cleaning lady Mert, and her new boss Dodie, Kiki discovers her husband had a tawdry secret life—a shadow world that quickly threatens her and her daughter’s happiness. When George’s mistress is murdered, Kiki becomes the prime suspect.

The book is funny like Janet Evanovich, romantic like Nora Roberts, and full of the joy of women’s friendships like Debbie Macomber.

I’ve been involved with crafts my whole life, but I started scrapbooking seriously in 1997 before the publication of my first non-fiction, “how to” book on the subject, Scrapbook Storytelling. I’ve written six other books on the subject since then.

M&M: Who gave you the best writing advice you ever received and what was that advice?

Gosh, so many people have influenced me. Early on, Elaine Viets read something I wrote for a critique session at SleuthFest. She told me my characters were unusually well-developed and not to give up. That meant a lot to me. It’s not always the advice; sometimes it’s the timing. Elaine encouraged me at a critical time. Decades ago, Marilyn Moats Kennedy, the career strategist, and I were talking at a conference. Marilyn said, “You think like a writer.” That was the first time anyone had noticed how I process information. These small affirmations keep you going when you feel overwhelmed.

M&M: What is your favorite movie, dessert, meal, and place to travel?

My favorite movies (can’t pick one) are Starman and Michael. My favorite dessert is tiramisu. My favorite meal…hmmm…if it slows down, I’ll eat it, so that’s pretty difficult to say. As far as travel goes, I’m game to head anywhere, anytime. I have lots of stamps in my passport, and I hope to get lots more. I’ve been to Egypt , China , Korea , Japan , Australia , Austria , Germany , Italy , Spain , Wales , Scotland , Ireland , England (lived there for a year), Canada , Belize , Mexico , Aruba, St. Thomas , St. Croix, and Bermuda . Next Christmas, we’re planning to go to Africa with a woman who raised lion cubs. How cool is that?

M&M: What are some of the books you like to read?

My favorite books are Jane Eyre, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn , and Rebecca. I love reading mysteries, but I also enjoy other genres.

M&M: Are you part of a blog and if so where can we read it?

I blog at on Mondays, at my own blog several times a week. You can also follow me on Twitter at

M&M: Tell us about book signings and the life of a mystery author.

I like to roam around the bookstore and greet people. I tell them about my book. I ask them what they are reading. It’s a super way to meet folks and learn about their tastes. As for the life of a mystery author, it’s like having a wonderful magic wand. I can “kill” anyone who irritates me…on paper. I can name characters for people I love. I can have another dog, Gracie the Great Dane, on paper. It’s just a perfect existence.

M&M: What advice do you have for the novice mystery writer?

Be willing to re-write. Learn to step back and see your work as a whole. Some folks only edit for punctuation or grammar, and that isn’t good enough. You need to watch for saggy middles. (Don’t we all?) You also need to make sure your characters are properly motivated. And you need to mix it up. The reader should get tons of surprises. Any scene that doesn’t change up the action is probably unnecessary.

Also, speak your dialogue out loud and you’ll know if it sounds realistic or not. That works amazingly well.

M&M: Tell us what you are currently writing.

If I told you, I’d have to kill you. Whooo-ha-ha! Let’s just say, I’m having fun doing the research. I recently turned in Book #3 and the synopsis for Book #4 in the Kiki Lowenstein series. So I’m trying my hand at other ideas. Stay tuned.

M&M: How do you destress and relax ?

I take yoga classes. They are hard for me, because I chipped a bone in my hand chasing one of my dogs down the hill behind my house. (Now I just lie to the dogs and say, “Want to go for a ride?” I feel a little guilty, so after I lie, I put them in the car and we drive around the block. That satisfies my conscience, and they feel good, too. I can tell.) Still, yoga bring me a sense of connectedness and stillness that I haven’t found anywhere else. I also like coloring. One study found that people’s blood pressure dropped when they colored with crayons. I don’t necessarily use crayons, but I do find coloring with pencils and markers relaxing. Maybe it’s from sniffing the fumes. Who knows?

M&M: Lastly but never least...leave us with some writing words of wisdom.

If you don’t love your characters, no one else will. You have to be willing to put 100% of yourself on every page. You can’t lie. You can’t “phone this in.” You have to live and breathe through the words you write. There can’t be a veil between you and your reader. Your voice is clear when you are authentic.

How do you learn to do this? By writing a lot. By writing all sorts of things. By being willing to erase what you’ve done and start over at every turn. And if you are lucky enough to get published, you have to be willing to work hard to sell your own books. That’s your job, not the publisher’s. Your name is on the cover. Being an author is an incredible privilege. I work hard every day, and I mean every day, to be worthy of my readers.

Thank you, Pamela, for the opportunity to share.

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