From the Booking Desk:
BOLOBooks is pleased to welcome Joanna Campbell Slan to the blog today. Read on to see what an eclectic writing career Joanna has had. Then head out to your favorite book store and pick up some of her titles. You won’t be sorry.
BOLOBooks: You first came to the attention of the mystery community with your debut novel, Paper Scissors Death, which is part of the Kiki Lowenstein scrapbook series. Tell me, what were your first impressions of the community and were your impressions accurate looking back after your years in the genre.
Joanna Campbell Slan: Prepare for my rant! I had no idea that the community was so stratified, and that writing a craft cozy would put me at the bottom of the literary food chain, seemingly forever. Mystery authors have been (with one notable exception) wonderful to me, even before I was published. People who kill people (on paper at least) are the luckiest people in the world. But there’s a tendency to pigeonhole and rank authors by genre rather than to judge a work by more intelligent markers such as: Will it endure? Does it have something important to say about the human condition? Does it edify and entertain? Does it reflect an aspect of our society worth illuminating? Does it touch our hearts?
Genre is a marketing decision more than an esthetic one. I believe that genre should be a launching pad not a straight jacket.
BOLOBooks: Kiki Lowenstein shares her surname with the psychiatrist character from Pat Conroy’s The Prince of Tides. Since we are both such fans of Conroy, I know that you did this to pay tribute to him. What is it about his writing that connects with you?
Joanna Campbell Slan: That scene in The Prince of Tides where Nick Nolte drives across the Cooper-River Bridge is etched on my brain. I understand why he owes his life to a therapist! (I do, too!) In addition, my mother’s family came from Charleston, a place where I’ve spent a lot of time, so the Low Country is very dear to me. More importantly, Conroy’s skills and his humanity touch my heart—and make me realize how much more I need to learn about this craft. And in person, he’s a lovely, lovely man.
BOLOBooks: In 2012, you started The Jane Eyre Chronicles, a series of historical mysteries with Jane as the central sleuth. Why did you decide to take this approach rather than creating a new character to put in a historical setting?
Joanna Campbell Slan: Like all fans, I hated it when Jane Eyre came to an end. For years I wondered, “What happened next?” So it made more sense to revisit a beloved character than to try to play coy with readers and create a pale shadow of an enduring heroine.
BOLOBooks: Wave Good-Bye is part of the Southern Beauty Shop mystery series. The pseudonym Lila Dare was used for this series, however, you only took over with book 4. How did that come about?
Joanna Campbell Slan: The name “Lila Dare” and the concept are owned by Berkley. When the original author of the first three books decided she was ready to make a change, they went looking for a new author. I thought it would be an interesting way to expand my skills, so I agreed to do it and had a blast!
BOLOBooks: I just have to ask, with so many different series’, and more on the way, how do you manage to keep everything organized? Do you only work on one at a time?
Joanna Campbell Slan: I only actively write one book at a time although I might be doing research, taking notes, gathering information, and outlining one or two more. I put the writing first, and then do all my other work on marketing and promoting. People often ask how I keep the characters straight in my head, but you don’t confuse your friends with each other, do you? That said, I keep notebooks on each series. That helps a lot.
BOLOBooks: Each of your books addresses societal issues while also entertaining the reader. Did you plan this from the start, or did that evolve as you expanded your list of works? Are there any topics you haven’t yet touched on that you are particularly hoping to address in future books?
Joanna Campbell Slan: It evolved. I read a snarky comment by a literary star who said she couldn’t imagine spending a year of her life writing about knitting. Well, hello? No one writes a novel about knitting. Novels are about people. Their hopes, their dreams, and their disappointments. But her comment got me thinking: I can do so much more! The social commentary grew out of that. Sadly, there are many topics I hope to address in the future. I say “sadly” because new problems and old never seem to go away.
BOLOBooks: You have written many Kiki Lowenstein short stories as digital-only offerings for fans of the series. How has that experience been?
Joanna Campbell Slan: It has been life-changing. My readers are my peeps. We have a mutual admiration society. They give me great feedback on my work. They are invested in the characters. I think of them as co-authors, after the fact. What a blessing they are to my life! The short stories in digital form allowed us to build a relationship, a bond, because I had to sprint to get the writing done and I needed instant feedback. Also, writing is such a solitary business. When I’m having a bad day, or when my dog goes in for surgery, or someone is mean to me, I turn to my Facebook peeps, and they cheer me up. No more stumbling into deep, dark wells of depression.
BOLOBooks: You have been an ambassador of sorts for the Zentangle® “craft,” becoming a certified teacher and giving classes at mystery conventions. How does Zentangle® help you with your writing?
Joanna Campbell Slan: They call Zentangle® “yoga for the brain.” It helps me unwind. It also encourages my creativity. Almost all of my short story covers are examples of Zentangle® Inspired Art (ZIA). That has allowed me to make the short stories available at a very reasonable price. If I’d been paying to have covers made, I couldn’t have been so flexible.
BOLOBooks: If forced to choose only one format for all your future reading, which would you choose: Hardback, trade paperback, mass-market paperback, or e-book? And why?
Joanna Campbell Slan: E-books, for many reasons. I think the price point will continue to come down, the turn-around time is significant, the author’s control over the projects is phenomenal, the barrier to publication is lower, the distribution is exciting, and the availability is a game-changer. So here I am, on my little island in Florida, and with a tap of the finger, I can access a book in seconds. How cool is that? I can make the font size larger. I can have it read aloud to me. I can see color images or link to Internet sites. I can enjoy a book that would never gain a mass market, but that’s exactly right for me.
And as an author, I’m paid more for my digital work.
All of that matters, doesn’t it? It does to me!
Paper will never, ever be replaced. It’s an incredible artifact. I own a two volume set of Bewick’s Birds from 1816, just like Jane was reading at the start of Jane Eyre. When I touch those pages, I am transported back in time. But—in my ereader, I have nearly four hundred titles. So, which is my constant companion? Which opens the doors to more lives and worlds? Which can transport me to more places? Books that are inaccessible have no value. Remember, once upon a time, most holy books were accessible only to a chosen few. That’s an elitism we can do without. The more information people can access, the more likely it is that we can understand each other.
So here’s what I tell my traditional book loving friends: Read your e-reader and stroke the pages of a paper book with your free hand.
Kris, thanks so much for the thought-provoking questions!
It was my pleasure Joanna. See you at Malice and Festival of Mystery!
First time here — didn’t realize there was a math test to comment. I’ve just discovered Joanna and am about 50 pages into Paper, Scissors, Death and I’m loving it. I’m a strong supporter of books, be they paper or digital–I have both and love both. I hate pigeonholes, or “either or.” Looking forward to devouring more of Kiki’s stories.
Thanks for stopping by Terry. You will love the Kiki books. They just keep getting better. Check out her Jane Eyre Chronicles series as well.
(As for the math test, it’s just the best of the options I think, as those wonky word puzzles are hard on the eyes. 😉 Glad you succeeded in the comment test)
That is HILARIOUS! I very nearly commented on the “math test” aspect. I kinda love it.
This is embarrassing to admit, but I flunked this math quiz the first time around. Somehow I decided that nine times nine was eighteen. Sheez. Good thing I’m married to a math whiz. Glad to see you here, Terry, and thanks for giving PSD a try. I love Kiki Lowenstein, and I’m gratified that many women see themselves in her.
Don’t worry, you are not the first to have this problem. But when I do those captcha comments, where I have to type the words I see, I usually end up having to do it 3-4 times before I can actually see the words I need to type. So, one wrong math equation isn’t so bad.
More invaluable insights…Your interviews are great fodder for aspiring writers!
Thanks Cy. I only ask the questions, it’s the authors that provide the real insight. Without a doubt, mystery authors are the most generous group of writers, giving freely of their time.