Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Q&A with Author Joanna Campbell Slan

I placed the names of everyone who entered the contest (both via blog comments and my email) for a copy of Paper, Scissors, Death into Ellie's purple butterfly rain boot. Congratulations to . . . Laura! And, if memory serves, this is actually the second prize you've won from this blog, though the first one was years ago and certainly doesn't disqualify you. Wasn't it it a box of novelty band-aids? This is better.

Now on to a Q&A with the author, Joanna Campbell Slan!

Writer questions:
1) How long did it take you to write Paper, Scissors, Death?

My friend Terri Thayer, author of Wild Goose Chase, once answered this by giving her age, so in my case it took 55 years. The book is the sum of all the work I've put into the craft over my lifetime. Now, the first draft took me 28 days. I sat down the first day in February--wearing my pajamas--and worked all month, devoting my attention exclusively to the book. Then, over the next two years, I re-wrote and re-wrote even though the book had been sold. My publisher, Midnight Ink, suggests a few small changes, but my skills had grown, so I cleaned up the book in a lot of ways. I probably reworked the whole manuscript four times.

2) Is this Kiki Lowenstein's first adventure, or had you worked with her before, in "practice novels" or short stories?

No, she was a completely new character.

3) How many words was your completed manuscript?

Around 85,000.

4) Did you have a hard time finding an agent?

The second agent I pitched at SleuthFest took me on. The first looked at me, scratched his head and said, "Why on earth would anyone be interested in reading about a scrapbooker?"

5) Working with a smaller press, did you get a lot of hands-on editorial assistance?

It's possible there is, but for this book, I didn't need that. Midnight Ink wanted a few changes, but not many. I think what was more valuable to me was the access to decision makers. The important part for me was being able to generate ideas and have them heard. I spoke with one of the owners yesterday, and she told me how much they valued working with authors who are willing to work hard to promote their books. In return, I value at least having them open to my ideas such as putting a coupon in the back for 50 free digital prints.

Reader questions:
1) Is CALA based on a real school? (Is it MICDS?)

It's a combination of several local private schools. But since my son went to MICDS, it had a strong influence on me. Like Kiki, I went to a podunk public school. MICDS was culture shock for me. My son got an excellent education there, and I got plenty of ideas for stories.

2) What's your favorite local scrapbooking shop?

Oh, gosh, there are so many. I love Archivers because they have a great selection, and I was just up at ScrapFest, so I met the buyers. I'm a big believer in face-to-face interaction. It changes everything. I also love Rock, Paper, Scissors in St. Charles, Red Lead on Manchester Road in St. Louis, Scrappy Ann's in Weldon Spring, The Scrapbook Garden in O' Fallon (IL), and The Inkspot of Natalie in Kirkwood. What's fascinating is how every store has its own personality. Each has its strong points, and so each continues to amaze me.

3) When can we expect to see Kiki next?

Cut, Crop & Die is scheduled for early summer, 2009.

4) I love how many things in this novel are not simple black-and-white, like Kiki and George's unusual marriage and the way many of the "bad" guys are nuanced rather than evil through and through. What did you start with when you were creating this book? Was it Kiki herself, the mystery, the marriage, or something else entirely?

It was definitely Kiki. She was very clear to me. Then Mert, her best friend, materialized and her voice was unique. Next I imagined a situation which would compel Kiki's life to change. A situation which would demand that she snoop around. For that to happen, someone near to her had to die--and her daughter had to be somewhat at risk. (And that was a fine line because I knew I couldn't stand a book where a child was in danger, so the risk had to be something else.) After I had those essentials, the pieces more or less came together. I'm a big fan of complex characters. People aren't usually all good or all bad. We struggle with our decisions, we fight to get our needs met, and on occasion we panic and make really bad choices.

5) Where do you write? Do you write full-time or do you have another job?

I have a large office in our basement. It's not as gloomy as it sounds because the lower level of our home is a walk-out, so one wall is lovely windows which look out into a forest. Writing is my full-time job now that my son is off to college.

Thank you, Joanna! Best of luck to you and Kiki.


  1. Woo-hoo! I'm always excited to find a new author to love.

    Yes, I was the 20,001 visitor to your blog, and I still have some of those lip-shaped adhesive bandages! Used only on special occasions when the boo-boo needs a kiss to make it better.

  2. A kiss always makes things better. Congratulations! : )

  3. Congrats! I hope you love the book!