Monday, November 10, 2014

Excerpt from Handmade, Holiday, Homicide

Book #10 in the Kiki Lowenstein Mystery Series
 
by Joanna Campbell Slan
 
 
 


 
People think that being pregnant is all about your growing belly, but the truth is, it also messes with your head. It's like for every inch my waistband expands, I lose ten points of my IQ. Maybe it's because I don't get much sleep anymore. My skin itches, the baby pokes me with his feet, and the indigestion causes a burning in my throat. Don't even get me started on the hormones. Whatever the scientific reason for my brain fog, I'm just not as sharp as usual.

My fiancé Detective Chad Detweiler and I were lying in bed talking one night a couple of weeks before Christmas, when he said, "I've been thinking about baby names."

"Oh, you have?"

"Yes, in fact, I've been giving it a lot of thought. I think we ought to name our son Helmut Detweiler."

Thank goodness it was dark. I could feel my mouth flop open. I couldn't believe what he was saying. "Name our son what?"

"Helmut Englebert Detweiler. That's a good, strong German name."

I couldn't even respond; I was that stunned.

Detweiler continued, "We could call him Mutt for short."

I gasped.

"Mutt Detweiler. It has a certain ring to it," he said.

The bed started shaking.

Detweiler was laughing.

"You!" I pummeled him with my fists. "You had me going."

"Yeah," he said, chuckling. "You believed me!"

I sighed. "Wow. For a minute there, I was really worried."

Detweiler rolled over and raised himself on his elbows so he could stare down at me. "You shouldn't have been. You know I can't name our kid without your approval."

"And you guessed I wouldn't be in favor of Mutt."

"Yeah, I guessed."

I raised my head to meet his lips and kissed him. "Well, you guessed right."


Chapter 2

Wednesday, December 1

 

"My fingers are crossed," I whispered, holding up my right hand, while Ester grabbed my left. I leaned over my friend to tell her granddaughter, "Good luck, Caitlyn!"

All eyes watched the front of the room, as the representative from the St. Louis Art Museum stepped to the podium.

"Now the moment we've all been waiting for. I'm pleased to announce the winner of this year's Demski Award, including a four-year scholarship to Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana," he said, smoothing his red and navy silk tie nervously. A volunteer handed him an envelope, and I sneaked another peek at Caitlyn. Like her grandmother, Ester Field, she has a round face and vivid blue eyes. Caitlyn was biting her lower lip in anticipation, and I couldn't blame her. This scholarship meant the world to her. It also meant a pile of money, as it would trade the winner's piece of art for a four year, all expenses paid scholarship.

Caitlyn had inherited her grandmother's love of crafting. In fact, it was Ester who started the Crafting Cuties twenty years ago, two years before Caitlyn was born. Since then the number of members had dwindled to four regulars, but even so, the CC enjoyed themselves. They got together once a month to work on projects and to share craft ideas. Okay, some of their end products were corny, but many were very nice. The women offered each other a great support network. Caitlyn had grown up at her grandmother's knee, trying her hand at all sorts of crafts.

Eventually, she'd settled on sculpting.

To the left of us was Caitlyn's entry for the Demski Award, the highest honor you could achieve as an art student in the metro-St. Louis area. On a three-foot high plinth sat the sculpture of a girl walking beside a lion as her one hand rested on its mane. How Caitlyn had pulled off such a remarkable piece was beyond all my imaginings. Ester told me that her granddaughter had spent day after day at the St. Louis Zoo watching the lions, studying them, and sketching them as they moved around their enclosure. I wouldn't doubt it. A lot of student work is derivative, and frankly, it looks second generation, but Caitlyn's "Girl with a Lion" fairly vibrated with life. She had managed to capture both the majesty of the king of beasts, and the innocence of the young woman.

Rising above us on its column, the statue was truly breath-taking.  Since I'm short, I found myself staring up into the jaws of the lion, admiring the sharp teeth and the curl of his tongue. The details impressed me, from the furled edges of his lips as they bordered his mouth to the way his heels hovered over the platform. Lions are digitigrades or toewalkers, so the backs of their feet never touch the ground. Caitlyn had taken such care with his mane and the tuft of his tail that you could make out the individual strands of hair. Unthinkingly, I leaned in, trying to see her work more closely.

"Please stand back, ma'am," said a guard wearing a navy blue uniform.

"Sorry." I stepped away from the artwork and turned my full attention to the presentation. The small meeting room was packed with people, all waiting to hear who had won the scholarship. The work of six students was represented, but Caitlyn's was the only three-dimensional piece of art. That alone made it a winner in my book, but honestly, I couldn't imagine that the judges weren't impressed by her effort.

 The presenter jammed his finger under the flap of the envelope. No one made a sound. Even Eudora, Ester's sister, was quiet for once. That's really saying something, because Eudora needs to be the center of attention. When I tried to teach the Crafting Cuties about Zentangle, Eudora had refused to shut up. I had to talk over her to give my instructions.

But that had been the least of the problems that Eudora had caused. When I asked her to be careful and move away from the display table, Eudora laughed. Two seconds later, she dumped a large plastic cup of cola all over my work, carelessly pouring her favorite beverage over my pen and ink drawings.

I glanced over to see what Eudora was up to. She sat perfectly still in her motorized scooter on the outskirts of the crowd. When the gentleman stepped to the podium, the group had taken two steps forward, closer to the front of the room. Everyone wanted to hear what he had to say, and even with a microphone in front of them, sometimes people forget to talk into it.

I studied Eudora for a minute and noted the surly tilt of her chin. Given how nasty she was, it was hard to believe that Ester and Caitlyn were part of the same family. Like her sister and her grand-niece, Eudora had a round face, but her eyes were a cross between green and blue. But none of Eudora's features could be thought of as kind, because as far as I could tell, she didn't have a kind bone in her body. Thinking back, I couldn't remember hearing her say one kind word to anybody.

Fortunately, Eudora seemed to have realized this was Caitlyn's time to shine, because for once, her lips were sealed. She sat there pouting on the padded seat of her motorized scooter and stared straight ahead.

The ripping of paper took my attention back to the man on the podium. He'd jammed his finger under the flap of the envelope. Now he extracted a notecard and scanned the message. Clearing his throat, the presenter said, "I'm pleased to announce that this year's Demski Art Scholarship goes to—"

I squeezed Ester's hand.

"Caitlyn Robinson!"

"Oh! Oh! Oh!" Caitlyn threw her hand over her mouth. Tears sprang from her eyes as she turned to Ester. "Bubbie, can you believe it? Thank you, thank you for encouraging me. I would have never tried for this without you!"

The two women, old and young, grabbed each other in a happy embrace.

Over the hubbub of the crowd, I heard a motor rev.

What idiot chose to vacuum the carpet? I wondered.

"Congratulations, Caitlyn," said another young artist, a young woman coming up from behind to give Caitlyn a hug.

The motor revved again. This time louder.

"Way to go, Caitlyn!" said a spotty-faced boy as he clapped the winner on the back.

Caitlyn blushed a deep crimson. "Thanks, Eitan."

"Stop it, ma'am," said a deep voice behind us.

I didn't care to turn around and look at the mischief maker. Instead, all my energy was focused on Caitlyn as she graciously accepted one congratulations after another. To my joy, the losers all seemed happy for the girl. Most of them even admitted that she was by far the most worthy candidate for the Demski.

"Can you believe it?" Ester wiped her eyes with a shaking hand. "My grandbaby's work will be here in the art museum for everyone to see and enjoy. Best of all, she'll be able to go away to college. She's been wanting to go to U of I ever since I took her down to Brown County to see all the artists. I hate to have her so far away, but she'll get a good education there. Maybe even be able to make a living doing what she loves."

"It's unbelievable," I agreed, thinking back and remembering the beautiful album Ester had made of the trip she and her granddaughter had taken together. "That statue is fantastic. I took a few good photos of it. I can't wait to show my fri—"

But my sentence was interrupted by a loud crash.

All of us turned toward the noise.

"Ahh!" screamed a woman.

The crowd parted.

On the floor, in a million pieces, was Caitlyn's statue.

Right beside the mess sat Eudora Field. She had both hands on the steering wheel of her scooter, and she wore a great big grin on her face.
 
< > < > < >
 
Pre-order your copy today! Go to http://www.tinyurl.com/HandmadeHH for a December 15, 2014 release.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Excerpt from Kicked to the Curb (Book #2 in the Cara Mia Delgatto Mystery Series)


By Joanna Campbell Slan






From the press packet —
The Treasure Chest Philosophy: Even the humblest items (aka “trash”), despite their origins or their prior usage, have value.

Chapter 1
Mid-January
7:45 a.m. on Thursday
The Treasure Chest in downtown Stuart, Florida
~Cara~

“We’ve got a problem,” said Detective Lou Murray, of the Stuart Police Department. His bulk filled the threshold of the back door to my store, The Treasure Chest. With the bright sun behind him, I couldn’t see his expression, but the tone of his voice was ominous.
             “What’s up, Lou?”
The big cop has gotten into the habit of dropping by most mornings. He claims this is part of an initiative to make police presence more visual in our picturesque downtown.
But I know better.
Lou is head over heels in love with Skye Blue, my friend and part-time employee. She’s also my tenant, renting one of the two apartments upstairs, while I live in the other, its mirror-image twin. I glanced over to see that Skye was busy in the sink, bonking around a couple of mugs and the water carafe for the coffee maker.
Drying her hands, Skye hugged me. “How’d you sleep?”
            I did a so-so motion with my fingers.
            “Cara? I need ten minutes of your time,” said Lou. As he spoke, he only glanced at me. He kept looking out the window of my back door.
“Right now? My dog needs to go outside, and I haven’t had my morning jolt of java. I am not fully human until I have my coffee.”
“Right now,” said Lou, firmly. “I need you to look at a car parked behind your grandfather’s gas station.”
“Let me guess. Today’s the day they start jackhammering that old pavement around the Gas E Bait, right? And the car is in the way? Just tow it,” I said. “That’ll teach the owner a lesson.”
“Not that simple.” Lou frowned as he ran a hand through his cropped hair.

Chapter 2
~Cara~

“I’ll take Jack,” said Skye, reaching for my rescue pup and tucking the white Chihuahua under her arm. She, Lou, and I had made it to the back stoop when MJ Austin pulled up in her pink Cadillac.
            “Morning,” said MJ. She is a full-time employee of The Treasure Chest, a real find because she used to work for the previous owner.
 “Good morning,” I said to her. “Lou wants me to take a gander at the car parked behind Poppy’s gas station.”
“Shouldn’t be there,” said MJ.
“Right,” Lou muttered.
We had just crossed the alley that separates the parking spaces behind my store from the parking spaces behind the gas station when a truck pulled up, a black Ford F150. A tall man in an orange tee shirt stepped out of it. Sunlight glinted gold on his hair, a long surfer cut that brushed his collar. His eyes were a mystery behind his Wayfarer sunglasses. He glanced at us and then toward the parked Toyota.
 “And you are?” Lou asked the newcomer.
“Jason Robbins. Project manager for Fill Up and Go corporate.”
 “Detective Lou Murray and this is Cara Mia Delgatto,” said Lou, flashing his badge. Skye and MJ hung back a few paces.
 “You’re exactly as your grandfather described you,” Jason said to me. He smelled of sandalwood and soap as he shook my hand.
“Cara, have you ever seen this car before?” Lou asked, as he used his hand to shade his eyes against the morning sun. “Take your time looking it over. But don’t touch it.”
I stared at a rusty Toyota with balding tires.
“Why don’t you just run the plates?” I wondered.
“Answer my question, please,” said Lou.
The vehicle looked familiar. I took two steps to the left, blinked in the glare of the sunlight, and looked closer. The giveaway was a dog-earred paper sign sitting in the back window. It said SHORELINE NEWS.
“I’m pretty sure that car belongs to Kathy Simmons. She’s a reporter for the Shoreline News. Her roommate has been calling the store for three days. She says Kathy’s been missing. Is that true?”
 Lou didn’t answer my question. Instead, he frowned. “Anything else that helps you identify the owner?”
I moved even with the rear passenger door. A rotten breeze had kicked up from the ocean. A lot of dead fish must have rolled up with the tide.
Cupping my hands over my face to block out the bright light, I stared inside the car. A plastic food storage container rested on the back passenger seat. Next to it was a white shopping bag.
"That's definitely one of my new shopping bags," I called over my shoulder to Lou. Skye and MJ stood a few feet away from him. MJ had her arms crossed over her chest. Skye was shuffling her feet. Neither looked happy.
I continued, "Kathy bought a picture from me the night of our media event. I put her purchase inside a bag like that one. MJ packed up leftovers for Kathy to take home. The container looked like the one on the seat. It was late at night and raining when I walked Kathy to her car, so I didn’t get a really good look, but I’m almost positive this is her vehicle.”
“Let me make sure I’ve got this straight,” said Lou, and his frown deepened. “Four days ago, Kathy Simmons attended your media event.”
“Right. We invited all members of the local media to come and preview our Old Florida Photo Gallery exhibit. Served them food. Gave them press packets. Let them wander around the store. Answered their questions. Kathy Simmons came on behalf of the Shoreline News. Her editor came too, but he left early.”
“Had you ever met her before?”
“No.”
“Tell me about the event,” said Lou.
“It started at seven in the evening and ended at eight. A dozen reporters came. I gave a little spiel about our mission to recycle things and be creative with found objects. I showed them old black and white photos we’d framed and mounted in refurbished frames. The three of us—MJ, Skye, and I—played hostess.”
“What was Kathy Simmons wearing?”
That was easy. “A weird vinyl raincoat printed like newspapers. Oh, and a headscarf. Before we went outside, she pulled the scarf out of her pocket to cover her hair. It was raining on Monday night.”
“What else can you tell me?” he asked in a serious tone. “What happened immediately before you two walked to her car?”
“What do you mean?” I couldn’t hide my surprise.
“Is it true there was an altercation?”
“W-w-what?  How do you know that?” My mouth went dry.
Skye was studying the pavement. Her shoulders slumped in defeat.
“Let me summarize,” said Lou. “You had an event for reporters. Kathy Simmons came. You two had words. You walked her to her car—and now she’s been missing for three days. Is that right? Today her car shows up in a space behind your grandfather’s gas station.”
 “U-u-uh,” I stuttered, trying to think of what to say.
Skye shook her head sadly. She mouthed one word at me, “Sorry.”
MJ rolled her eyes. “Cara, quit answering his questions and call a lawyer.”
 “Y-y-you can’t seriously be suggesting that I had anything to do with Kathy’s disappearance!” I looked from Lou to the Toyota and back to him. “You’ve found her car. She has to be around here somewhere.”
“Maybe,” said Lou.
 Jason crossed his arms over his chest and studied me solemnly.
“Ladies, go back to your store,” said Lou. “Cara, I’ll talk to you later.”
“Why? First you drag me out here. Then you accuse me. Now you want me to go inside and wait? I am not your puppet, Lou.”
There it was, the terrible temper that’s gotten me in trouble my whole life. I should have turned around and left Lou to it. But after the grilling he’d given me, the last thing I wanted was to follow his suggestion.
Lou reached inside the pocket of his navy blue blazer for a pair of latex gloves. “Have it your way.”
The detective moved closer to the trunk. The top was slightly ajar; the locking mechanism hadn’t caught.
Pulling an ink pen from his pocket, Lou tucked it under the hood of the trunk and lifted. It opened with a squeal of surrender. A foul stench rolled out.   
Involuntarily, Lou took a step backwards. When he moved, I could see inside the trunk.
Kathy Simmons stared at me with dull, dead eyes.


To buy your copy of Kicked to the Curb, go to http://tinyurl.com/kttcurb  Or visit Joanna's page on Amazon http://tinyurl.com/JoannaSlan

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Ten Things I've Learned about Glue and Making Miniatures



  1. The glue gun is not my friend. When it comes to miniatures, the glue is too thick and too lumpy. It can make a real mess.
  2. A glue stick is perfect for gluing down fabric. I would have never guessed this!
  3. You can use superglue on wood. Who knew? I always thought it was for gluing plastic and metal. Okay, it can soak in quickly, so you might have to put on more than you'd expect, but it works pretty well.
  4. By adding a little water to superglue, it will "grab" right away. I use a small syringe, fill it with water, and squirt a drop on one of the two surfaces. The superglue goes on the other surface.
  5. But water turns superglue white. So you need to be careful about how and where you use it.
  6. Tacky glue doesn't dry rigid. White glue or wood glue does. 
  7. You can mix tacky glue and white glue for a hold that's fast and more secure.
  8. Wood glue is actually stronger than wood when it dries.
  9. You can't stain over glue, so you should stain your pieces first, and then glue them together.
  10. If you superglue your fingers together, don't panic and rip them apart. You'll tear off a patch of skin. 

Yup, that's my list. As every crafter knows, you have to own a lot of different glues to get the job done. I hope this list will help you make the right decision, one you can stick with!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Giving in to my Inner Scrounger

My Beta Babes and I went out to eat at Pasta House in St. Louis.

I tried to behave, really I did. We had a great lunch and fun talking with each other.

But I started lusting after the plastic butter tubs. And the margarine containers. I kept imagining ways I could use them.

Then I said to myself, "What will they think of me if I start collecting trash?"

I decided, "I don't care. That's who I am. That's what I do. Either they like me for myself or not."

So I asked the person next to me for her empty margarine containers. She kindly handed them over. Soon everyone was handing me empty plastic containers. I filled my purse with them. One of the husbands tried to give me the rest of the full tubs in front of his place. (Bless his heart. He was so sweet. I had to explain that the butter wasn't the point.)

I carefully cleaned them in my hotel room, packed them in a box, and had them mailed to me with a bunch of other supplies.

Last night I began putting together a kitchen cabinet from a kit. As usual, I modified the kit a lot. The way they were constructing the sink was silly. It wouldn't look good!

Then I remembered my margarine containers.

One of them worked perfectly.



I am so glad I gave in to my inner creative scrounger. Yes, I was a bit embarrassed by my greed for garbage. But if I hadn't have asked, I wouldn't have had the butter tubs for my project. I also wouldn't have saved those tubs from the recycling bin.

And I wouldn't have been true to myself. I would have pretended to be someone I'm not. I'm not too proud to ask for what I need.

How about you? What crafting supply do you find impossible to resist? When have you embarrassed yourself for the sake of a craft?