Joanna Campbell Slan - Hilarious Mysteries With Just the Right Touch of Romance and Drama
Joanna is a New York Times Bestselling, USA Today Bestselling, and Amazon Bestselling author as well as a woman prone to frequent bursts of crafting frenzy, leaving her with burns from her hot glue gun and paint on her clothes. And the mess? Let's not go there! As our Author of the Day, she tells us all about her Kiki Lowenstein Cozy Mystery Books 1-6 box set.
Please give us a short introduction to what this collection is about
This box set includes Paper, Scissors, Death (Book #1 – Agatha Award Finalist); Cut, Crop & Die (Book #2); Ink, Red, Dead (Book #3), Photo, Snap, Shot (Book #4), Make, Take, Murder (Book #5), and Ready, Scrap, Shoot (Book #6). Readers can download a prequel to these by going to https://dl.bookfunnel.com/jwu6iipe1g.
This series introduces readers to a spunky young mother, Kiki Lowenstein. She’s only ever been good at two things: scrapbooking and getting pregnant. When her husband is found dead and naked in a hotel room, she’s down to one marketable skill! But Kiki is a survivor. She’s determined to keep a roof over her and her daughter’s heads, even as she seeks justice for her late spouse.
Why cozy mysteries? What drew you to the genre?
I like spunky women, probably because I’m one of three sisters and we’re all spirited. Cozies lend themselves perfectly to this sort of character as they always have an amateur sleuth at their heart. I’m a huge animal lover, and cozy fans love their fur babies. Plus, I like the fact the mysteries are “fair play.” In other words, the clues will point you to the resolution. That’s a great way to keep a reader involved!
Tell us more about Kiki Lowenstein. What makes her so special?
When the series begins, Kiki is down-trodden. She’s mistreated by her own family, she’s ignored by her husband, and she’s lonely. As the books progress, she comes into her own and stands up for herself. I think that a lot of women are taught to put everyone else first, just like Kiki does in the beginning. Yes, that’s an admirable trait, but not when it means allowing other people to run over you.
Kiki always tries to do what’s right. She doesn’t always succeed, and the reader sees her struggle. There are times she chastises herself for not being fair or kind. But…she’s a terrific friend and she gathers wonderful friends around her. She creates a “family” through her love of crafts and her appreciation of handmade items.
I try never to shy away from Kiki confronting tough issues. Sometimes this exposes parts of her personality that aren’t flattering. But like many of us, Kiki desperately wants to be a better person—and I hope that shines through.
Why do you like to incorporate humor in your stories?
Minnie Pearl was once quoted as saying, “Laughter is God’s hand on the shoulder of a weary world.” I totally agree.
When we laugh, we feel more capable and energized. As an author, I use laughter to keep a reader’s interest, to show various aspects of my characters’ personalities, to lighten up tough situations, to make my characters more relatable, and to change the emotional temperature of my work. I want readers to go on a cozy thrill ride where they experience a lot of emotions.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
I can be walking down the street and find a four-leaf clover in the grass. I'm really good at finding four-leaf clovers because I figured something out as a child. The four-leaf clover is an anomaly. Therefore, it should stick out, not blend in. Once you accept that, you can spot the oddity and find the four-leaf clover pretty easily. I’ve even taught other people how to do this.
Which book in this box set is your personal favorite and why?
I think I’m proudest of Ready, Scrap, Shot because I ignored a threat to write it. There’s a secret society in St. Louis, and they’ve effectively white-washed their history. I did my research and discovered how they’ve manipulated the past and used taxpayer money. When they heard about this book, they sent me a letter warning me to be sure to portray them in a flattering light. Or else. I portrayed them fairly, which might be more than they deserve.
What’s stupid about this is that if they took ownership of their past, they would have much more to be proud of, because they’ve changed.
Am I being cryptic as I write this? Yeppers, I am.
Tell us more about some of the pets in your books.
I memorialize pets I’ve owned and loved in my books. I also memorialize pets that family members and friends have owned and loved.
I can’t really realistically own a Great Dane right now, but I love them, so my Kiki books include a beautiful, sweet Great Dane named Gracie. I’ve promised my readers that she will never die. All of my cats that I’ve loved are characters in my books, as is Danforth, a red-eared slider turtle. My books allow me to own a menagerie that wouldn’t work in real life.
Your books also touch on deeper, social issues. Why do you take this approach?
My friend and mentor Elaine Viets uses social issues in some of her books, and I thought that was a fantastic way to raise the profile of what some might consider a trivial genre. In some cozy mysteries, people die and no one cares. It’s like this, “Tra-la-la. Dead body. Oh, dear. And I’m off to finish my crocheting or make a cake.”
That doesn’t make sense, does it?
I also find that for me, as an author, adding social issues adds a challenge (because there’s always controversy) and makes my job more interesting. As I write this, I’m thinking of a certain cozy author who told me she was bored with her series. How can I get bored when there are so many social issues yet to explore? I can’t.
In addition, I get letters from readers who say, “I might not agree with you or Kiki, but you did open my eyes to a new way of thinking.” Wow. That means I’ve gone beyond entertainment and caused someone, somewhere to think! Isn’t that wonderful?
Readers say your characters are very relatable. Are they inspired by any people you know?
Some are. Most are composites. I’ll take a little from this person and a little from that. Many of the situations in my books are spin-offs from real life. For example, in Make, Take, Murder, a wealthy man abuses his wife. Because of his connections, she can’t find a way out of their marriage. He knows too many cops, lawyers, and judges. I based portions of this book on a story I was told by a friend. He was at a country club gathering when a wealthy developer reached over, grabbed his wife by the crotch, and announced, “This is mine. I bought it and paid for it.”
However, I think my characters are relatable because they are flawed. Our flaws make us human, not our strong points.
Which of your characters was the most challenging to create?
I have trouble (sometimes) with villains who kill. To my way of thinking, there’s very little worth killing someone over except a direct threat to those I love. With just about everything else, I would shrug and turn my back. Walk away. Start over. Get over it. Move on. But kill someone? Seriously. That’s too much trouble and you’ll wind up with a mess on the floor. Ugh.
Are you a plotter or a pantser? Do you plan out your stories before you start writing?
I do some of both. I like to call myself a “pantsy-plotter.” Lately I’ve done more plotting, because I can get more written, faster. Typically, about 1/3 of the way through, I stop and reassess. Often at that point, I’ll revise my plot.
Do you have any interesting writing habits? What is an average writing day like for you?
I write every day, usually for at least six hours and often eight. I try not to write on weekends. That way I’m eager to start writing on Mondays! (I make an exception when I’m editing. Then I work straight through the weekends otherwise I lose track of the details.)
I get up around seven, walk the dog, eat, and do a little housework. I’m at my computer by 9 or 9:30 a.m. I work until noon, take off a half an hour, and then write until 6.
I’m addicted to LaCroix LimonCello Sparkling Water, and I have to have a cold can of it to drink. After wearing the letters off of three keyboards, and suffering from severe carpal tunnel, I started using an ergonomic keyboard and ergonomic mouse. I also dictate, using Ottr. That helps me get a lot of words down fast.
When I am stuck, I change gears. I mind-map the book, looking for plot holes. Or I use the torn-paper method, where I use small slips of paper and write a word or phrase on each slip, arrange the pieces chronologically, and then form a narrative.
At night I do Zentangle®, a meditative art form created by Rick Roberts and Maria Thomas. I also take classes in Zentangle, and I’m certified to teach it. While I’m tangling, I listen to books on tape and podcasts. Or I make miniatures. The point is that my hands are busy and my mind is doing mental gymnastics.
What are you working on right now?
When Amazon announced Vella, their new serialized reading experience, I decided to finish a book I began more than 30 years ago. It’s called The Friday Night Mystery Club. Set in 1986, it’s about Cragan Collins, a young divorcee who is an ad rep for a newspaper in Decatur, Illinois. Her best friend is murdered, her ex-husband is bribing her to leave town, her grandmother is attacked, and the window of her apartment is shot out. And that’s just the beginning. Cragan’s world is crashing down around her. She has a choice to make: Get smart or get gone.
Do you have any helpers? Staff members?
Yes, I do. I used to do everything myself. One day my husband said, “You’re killing yourself. Wouldn’t it be better to get help and do what you’re good at?” He was so right!
Stacey Ducker is my primary assistant. She co-ordinates everything, takes care of getting my books loaded on Amazon, works with the cover artist and the formatter, does ads, proofreaders, makes spreadsheets, and keeps me sane. She’s increased my productivity immensely because she frees me up to write.
Christina Higgins is also an assistant. Her specialty is social media. She helps with my Facebook page and my Facebook parties.
Silvia Dan Mihalcea is my formatter. She lives in Hungary, and she’s fantastic.
Dar Dixon is my cover artist. I love her work! She’s wonderful!
Amy Vansant does my website and much of my promotions.
Chelsea Edwards Slan is my daughter-in-law and she handles my Facebook ads.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
Or they can message/meet me through Joanna’s Readers (https://www.facebook.com/groups/1602372550058785) which is where we hang out, have parties, bring author friends, and give away books.
Or they can find all of my links here: https://linktr.ee/JCSlan
That last link will take people to my YouTube where I teach Zentangle, and my website, and Pinterest, and on and on.