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Monday, December 21, 2009

Book Excerpt from PHOTO, SNAP, SHOT

Book Excerpt from
Photo, Snap, Shot:
A Kiki Lowenstein Scrap-N-Craft Mystery

By Joanna Campbell Slan

Photo, Snap, Shot
is now available for pre-ordering at Release date is May 2010, so why not order it now and surprise yourself?

It’s the 3rd book in the Kiki Lowenstein Mystery Series. Paper, Scissors, Death is the 1st and Cut, Crop & Die is the 2nd.

Chapter 1

“Anya is all right now,” said my daughter’s advisor, “but you need to come pick her up…please. Immediately.”

Three phrases guaranteed to panic any mother: 1.) The babysitter called and there’s a problem. 2.) There’s something on the back of your skirt. 3.) Your child is all right now.
If Anya was all right now, what on earth had happened earlier?
“Whoa. What’s up? Is Anya okay?” I spoke as I waved my keys at my boss, Dodie Goldfader, who owns Time in a Bottle, St. Louis’s premier scrapbook store.
“Ye—es.” The advisor hesitated. “Anya’s okay. But…she found a body.”
My world came to a skidding halt. I froze in the middle of the store and yelled, “She found a WHAT?”
“A body. A corpse. Uh, someone died. Was killed. In the balcony of the Delacroix Theatre here at school. Could you come get her?”
I smacked my cell phone closed and ran, sprinted really, through our stockroom, doing high hurdle jumps over boxes of scrapbook supplies. My co-worker Bama followed me with her eyes.
I heard Dodie calling behind me, “Do you need me to drive?”
Bama yelled, “Kiki? You all right?”
Gracie, my harlequin Great Dane, jumped to her feet and yodeled as I ran past.
But I didn’t pause for a second.
My daughter needed me. Twelve-year-old girls should not be stumbling over dead bodies.

Chapter 2

Okay, I said to myself, calm down. Anya is fine now, I repeated under my breath. I flipped on the radio to hear the dulcet tones of the local NPR broadcaster announcing the next program. If they weren’t breaking in with a news bulletin, it couldn’t be a crisis. Or could it?
I had this sneaking suspicion something was rotten at CALA, Charles and Anne Lindbergh Academy, the hoity-toity private school my mother-in-law Sheila shells out big bucks for my daughter to attend. CALA is the educational stomping ground of the veddy, veddy rich here in St. Louis. I bet there was no news about a death at the school because the “powers that be” had decided to keep this quiet. You can do that—at least for a short time--when you occupy the top rung of the food chain.
Taking a corner with my ancient red BMW, I thanked the good lord for its superior handling ability. The car was too old to have Blue Book value, which was exactly why I’d hung onto it after my husband met his untimely demise and I’d been plunged into poverty. I did a couple more two-wheel screeching turns, ran a couple of orange lights (that’s when yellow turns red on you), slipped between two parked police cars, and slid into a parking spot near the portico that marked the Upper School Office of the school.
On my way in, I stepped on the school seal.
I was supposed to bend down and kiss it.
Uh, no.
My Keds gripped the marble of the hallowed halls as I barreled past the dean’s office. A tight knot of crime scene investigators carried cameras and miniature yellow cones with numbers on them. And yeah, I heard them yell at me to stop, but what did I care? I needed to find my daughter. So I ran through the open double doors of the balcony and didn’t give one moment’s thought to the crowd on my heels. Nor did I stop when I saw the yellow crime tape. Instead, I did a hurdler’s jump right over the top of the plastic barrier. Out of the corner of my eyes I noticed the expression on the nearest cop’s face. He was impressed.
As well he should be. I’d cleared the tape in one and not broken stride. I’m not naturally athletic, but because I was concerned about my child, I was super-charged. So, I came down on the other side of the barrier and didn’t miss a step. I took two long strides into the balcony and nearly stumbled over the medical examiner and an assistant. (I recognized the M.E. from pictures in the paper.) They were carefully flipping a corpse onto its back.
The expression on Sissy Gilchrist’s face was one of pure surprise. I probably looked pretty shocked myself. The difference was I’d get over it, and Sissy wouldn’t, seeing as how she was dead.
“Who are you?” The M.E. glared at me. “This is a crime scene. Get her out of here.” She gestured angrily to a cop who now had me by the forearm. His grip hurt.
“My daughter…” I sputtered. “My child found…her.” And I pointed to the dead woman on the white sheet. “The school called. I’m Kiki Lowenstein. Anya’s mother.”
The cop pulled me away. “Your daughter’s fine. We have her in an office.”
But before I turned away, I got a good look at Sissy…or her remains. The back of her head was a pulpy, bloody mess. Atop her long blonde hair sat a crown of carmine. Moving her body had created an uneven streak of red which bore a strong resemblance to Picasso paint stroke.
The cop led me toward the hallway. “Ma’am, you need to come with me.”
“Right,” I murmured. A wave of dizziness hit me suddenly, and I felt a little sick. Then came a thought: “Someone killed my husband last year. And he’s still on the loose. Are you sure my daughter’s okay?”
“She’s fine.” A familiar voice answered. I stepped away from the cop who was towing me along and stared up into the eyes of Detective Chad Detweiler.
He sighed and rubbed his chin. His Heineken bottle green eyes with their gold flecks regarded me sadly. “I got here immediately after they called. I’ve been talking with her. She’s shook up, but she’s okay.”
I nodded. Detweiler and I stood there. Motionless. Silent. Industry continued around us, with investigators marking spots, taking photos, making notes. We were two rocks in a creek, dividing the flowing water.
I hadn’t seen him in months. In fact, I’d purposely avoided him. I’d dodged his phone calls and torn up his letters. I’d fallen in love with him after he investigated my husband’s murder. He’d been a frequent visitor to my home, a friend to Anya, and very nearly something more to me. But when I discovered he was married, that was it. The end. C’est fini. Cut!
But here’s the truth: I was glad, really glad, that he’d come to my daughter’s rescue. There was no one else on earth who could have handled this situation better than he. Of that I was sure.
Now I was certain Anya was safe. At least temporarily.
“Where’s Anya?”
“She’s in the middle school nurse’s office.”
“What happened?” I asked.
He took my elbow and guided me down the halls. “Two girls—Anya and Matilda Earhart--were in the hall on their way to class. Coming back from a session in the library. They are working on a project together. They heard a scream. They ran into the balcony area and found the nurse, Thelma Selsner, bent over the deceased.”
“Sissy Gilchrist.”
“You know her?”
I gave a so-so wiggle-waggle of my hand. My fingers shook a little.
“The girls immediately went for help.”
“Why was Nurse Selsner in the balcony? Did she hear or see something?” As I spoke, my stomach flipped over. I had a delayed response to seeing a body. “Uh, excuse me,” I said and did a fast trot down the hall and around the corner to a ladies room, all the while praying I’d make it in time. Which I did.
When I returned, Detweiler acted like nothing happened. He handed me a Diet Coke. “They were out of Diet Dr Pepper.”
He’d remembered!
I sipped the spicy blend gratefully and tugged at my blouse self-consciously. Over the summer, I’d embarked on an ambitious plan to forget Detweiler. I called it my “eat my way to nirvana” scheme. The plan including eating everything and anything that wasn’t nailed down. (I did draw the line at dog yummies. Gracie, my Great Dane, had kept a worried eye on me.) I wasn’t a “Rats, I ate an entire carton of ice cream” type of girl. I was more of a “Gee, I started at the top shelf of the refrigerator and ate my way through to the chiller drawer” sort of snarfing fool.
Twice I’d made myself physically sick by overeating. Once I’d had food poisoning. But those were minor inconveniences. Mainly, I just kept chewing and swallowing. And now all my clothes were too tight. I bet I looked like a sausage ready to split its casing.
“Mrs. Selsner heard voices from the theatre. She’s the Upper School Nurse. Her office is kitty-corner from the balcony. She wondered what was up and decided to check things out.” Detweiler sighed. He wiped his face. A crease was forming between his eyes. It would be one of many.
“When the nurse screamed, the girls had just left the restroom and were in the hallway right outside the theatre. The kids ran in to see what was happening.”
That was all the police had. No one had seen Sissy go into the balcony. It was supposed to stay locked unless there was a program.
No one had seen anyone leave the balcony. There were no bloody footprints to follow—and none on the carpet. At least, not prints obvious to the naked eye. Now the crime scene folks would be busy charting, gridding, photographing and examining the area, but unlike forensic teams on television, the fruits of their work would take weeks, even months.
“The girls didn’t see much. Just Mrs. Selsner screaming and bent over someone.” Detweiler had read my mind. “Maybe some blood spatter on the carpet.”
Thank heavens for small favors.
No one suspicious had been reported by the teachers. Or the janitorial staff. Or the administration. The murderer had somehow blended into our tight St. John’s Knits community.
What would happen next? How would the school respond? What would CALA do?
“How did she die?”
He shrugged. “Too early to tell.”
I reached past him for the handle of the Middle School Nurse’s Office. “It was murder, wasn’t it?
And the killer is running loose, right?”
He nodded.
Through some superhuman effort, I managed to keep myself from falling into his arms and sobbing.
Oh, but I wanted to.
I did not need this. Anya and I had been through so much with the murder of her father, the burglarizing of our home, and the ongoing threats from the person who had master-minded my husband’s death. We’d recently moved. It had taken us all summer to “normalize.” And we’d turned our backs on Detweiler after I’d discovered he was married—a “small” fact he’d neglected to mention although he’d been a frequent visitor to our home and my fantasies.
Okay, it was good that he’d been here for Anya. But it was bad for ME that he’d shown up. I wasn’t about to let down my guard. Not when it had taken me all summer to put him out of my mind.
Right. Who was I fooling?


Photo, Snap, Shot (release May 2010) is now available for pre-ordering from Amazon. Go to:

Photo, Snap, Shot: A Kiki Lowenstein Scrap-N-Craft Mystery
by Joanna Campbell Slan © 2009. Midnight Ink, an imprint of Llewellyn Publications, 2143 Wooddale Drive, Woodbury, MN 55125. Used with permission and the best wishes of the publisher.

Gooey Butter Cake

Dawn Blankenship shares her Grandmother Ormsby's recipe for Gooey Butter Cake, a St. Louis specialty:

Set oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 13x9 inch pan.

Combine: 1 stick melted butter or oleo
1 egg
1 box yellow cake mix

Press this mixture in the pan until it covers the bottom and sides well.

Combine: 1 lb. powdered sugar
1 8 oz cream cheese (no light)
2 eggs

Beat this mixture well then pour on the first mixture in the pan.

Bake for 30-40 minutes. It should be light brown. It may be served while warm or cold. It may be baked and stored in the freezer for use later.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Why the Women Are All Strong...What's the Alternative?

My friend Victoria sent this to me:

I get emails from "Prairie Home Companion" regularly and it's some of my favorite reading and listening. This is an email response to a reader's question about the closing of the Lake Woebegon story each week. I thought his response was so insightful.


Post to the Host Two Weeks In A Row!

Your Lake Wobegon ending is "where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average." Do you think it is more important for a woman to be strong or good-looking?

Lena H.
Anniston, AL



Women are not decorative objects, my sweet, they are living, talking, thinking action figures who are on missions, some of them secret, driven by powerful inner forces, just as we men are. Because they are so crucial to the human endeavor, it's more important for them to be strong. The breakdown of a woman is a terrible thing. Families may be broken, lives skid into the ditch, when the mother falls apart. Men are not so crucial and that is why they earn more and are more prominent and successful and gaudy and write songs and novels and travel around giving speeches — their children don't need them so much. They need to be strong sometimes but they also need to be attractive, funny, kind, charming, sweet-tempered, and most of us fall short. I don't find grumpiness in men attractive or admirable.

The quote, though, is descriptive of the Wobegonians, not a prescription for you or me, and that's all. The name Lena is a great name, strong and lyrical at the same time. And rare. Up here in Minnesota, we tell Ole & Lena jokes and that's why we wouldn't name a girl Lena, but it's a wonderful name nonetheless.


Joanna's Comments:

While I'm not sure I like the part about how men "write songs and novels and travel around giving speeches," I will admit that I often wonder if my most of my male colleagues also do the holiday shopping, make the stupid meatloaf, buy the Hanukkah candles, write the yearly brag letter, change the sheets, buy new towels and detergent, wash dishes, suffer visits from in-laws, and take the dogs to the vet, etc. I notice that about the time my husband goes to bed, I start cleaning the kitchen, putting in that last load of laundry, fold the clothes, and so on. Which is not to say my husband doesn't do a lot. He does, but he also certainly knows how to relax and how to stop work. And I clearly don't.

Maybe it's just the holiday stress and the snow getting to me...but Keillor has a point. We women have to stay strong, and sometimes it's a bit much. Of course, what's the alternative? I remember when my dear friend O's husband was dying of cancer. I remarked how strong she was, and O said, "And my choices are?"

I know that I'm caught between wanting to be more selfish and being grateful that the women I know aren't selfish, that we give, give, give. But like I said, I do wonder...when do we claim time for ourselves? When do we get permission to let things slide? Maybe that's what I really need for Christmas: A Permission Slip!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Kirkus to Close?

This just in at the PW website:

As part of the sale of its business to business publications, Nielsen Business Media has announced that it is closing its book review publication Kirkus Reviews as well as Editor & Publisher. No details on the closing have been released yet. Nielsen is selling its major publications, including The Hollywood Reporter and Adweek to e5 Global Media Holdings.

Wow. I wonder what that means?

Who will be the reviewers of tomorrow?

Or will it matter?

I was talking with a major non-fiction author the other day, who is also a journalist by trade. He said, "I decided I would never write a book review until I myself had a published book. I didn't think it fair to comment until I had gone through the process."

Interesting. Very interesting.

I know that my readers seem to really appreciate Amazon reviews. The reviewers are readers just like they are, so the reviews seem to be more in line with their own personal tastes.

What a watershed moment this is in the publishing industry.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Rain, Rain Go Away

When you move to a new place, you don't know what to expect. I had looked up DC weather before we came, and I thought, "Gee, this is pretty much what I'm accustomed to here in St. Louis."

Now I've discovered they are calling Fall 2009, "A season of soakers." Yes, it's evidentally the 15th wettest October on record. Downpours continued and made this the wettest November since 2004. And December is 2 inches ahead of last year. I'm not sure if that takes into account the snow we've had and the snow that's predicted.

What gives?

I walked the dogs an hour ago and stared at the heavy clouds.


Our yard is so wet that I'm thinking, "This would be a great place to try water lilies."

The dogs' paws get so muddy, that I keep washing them off in the laundry sink, and the pups are even getting used to this Marine bath situation. (By the way, what is a Marine bath? My mom used to call quick slooshes in the sink by that name.)

It's a good time for writing. I mean...I have to force myself to get up and get out, but it's also a hard time for writing because the incessant drum-drum-drumming of rain on the roof at night keeps me awake.


I hope it dries up soon.

Monday, December 7, 2009

What's New in My Life?

It's certainly been a year to remember. In May, Paper, Scissors, Death was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel. The list of novelists over the years who have been nominated include Mary Higgins Clarke, Jan Burke, and Janet Evanovich. I mean, really, how could you be in better company?

Cut, Crop & Die was released in June 2009, but the release was quickly overshadowed by word that my mother had terminal cancer.
My mom died in July. She was in a coma for eight days, but my sisters and I were there to care for her. I've never admired anyone as much as I admire Jane and Margaret. Our dear Aunt Shirley was with us, and Mom, until the end, too. It was a horrible time, and our friend at hospice Sally Lippert said she's seen thousands of deaths, but that Mom's suffering was unique. The morphine didn't help her pain. Afterwards, we learned that was probably because liquid morphine is absorbed through the saliva glands, and Mom's had been compromised by radiation when she had cancer of the larynx. Who knew? I thank God for hospice, and I highly recommend the service to you.

In August, we moved our son to college for his sophomore year. I signed a contract for Books #3 and #4 in the Kiki Lowenstein Mystery Series. Number 3 will be called Photo, Snap, Shot and the release date is May 1, 2010. I'm at 66,000 words of an 85,000 word Book #4. I'm calling it Make & Take, Murder, but that's always subject to change by the publisher! I'm still futzing around with the punctuation on it. Tell me. Do you like "Make & Take, Murder" or "Make, Take, Murder" or "Make and Take Murder" best?

Paper, Scissors, Death and Cut, Crop & Die are both out in large print versions and Paper, Scissors, Death is now available on Kindle.
On September 1, we moved to the metro Washington DC area so my husband David could become the official Steinway piano dealer for DC and surrounds.

Later in September, the house we built, the one where we raised our son, sold. I know it's a blessing to sell a house in this economy. We had great help. Kristi and her son J.T. Monschien made it happen. They were super. But sometimes I still miss my old home and my neighbors Kathy and John.
Last month I signed with a new agent. That's exciting. In today's market, I think it's important to have someone who is in New York most of the time. The publishing world is at a cross-roads, and every choice is difficult. Having a representative who rubs elbows with editors all the time is a huge advantage.

I've been offered the chance to write Book #5 in the Kiki Lowenstein series. I love Kiki. Her world is an escape for me. Tell me...what would you like to see in an upcoming Kiki book? You know I really do listen to you. Some of the stray comments I've heard at signings come back to me as I write. Knowing what you like helps me make better decisions!

David's new job is opening all sorts of doors for us. We were privileged to attend the National Christmas Tree Lighting (that's the photo above) and the Opening Gala for the National Symphony Orchestra. Stay tuned! I'll try to share all the excitement with you!

So now it's nearly Christmas. It's going to be a difficult one for my family. My sister Margaret came up with a crackerjack idea. We're going to Disney World for Christmas. It was a bit unexpected, but you know, it is the happiest place on earth. And anywhere my family is...well...that's a very good place to be.
May God Bless and Keep All of You and Yours in the Coming Year.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Empty Chairs

In every life, at every holiday, there are empty chairs, reserved for the people we love who are no longer with us.
This year I will look for my mother. I will expect to see her smiling over the funny trinkets in the aisles at Walmart. I will expect to hear her laugh when that stuffed snowman at the plastic piano sings, "Have a holly, jolly Christmas." I will go on thinking how I need to get a gift for her, and then I will remember, she has everything she needs.
A couple nights ago, I walked the dogs in the mist, in the long shadows of bare tree limbs, and the falling temps. The moon was full, and the last of the crickets sang a dirge to the fall. It has long been my custom to stare up at the moon and say, "I see the moon and the moon sees me," and to remember that everyone I love is exactly where they should be, and just as close and as constant as the moon.
But that rhyme rings hollow these days.
My mother's chair is empty.

Cranberry Squares

These should come with a warning. We nearly had a fight at the Thanksgiving table because everyone wanted to gobble all these down. Even my husband, aka The Original Picky Eater, loved them. In fact, he's talked me into making a batch for the people at his store. That's such a shocker, I still get faint thinking about it.

Read it again: He wants me to cook for other people? People he likes?

Seriously, these are some sort of miracle chow.

CRANBERRY SQUARES (as per Camille Minichino's cousin)

2 eggs
1 C. sugar
1 C. flour
1/3 C. melted butter
1 1/4 C. fresh whole cranberries (pick out the soft, yucky ones and toss 'em)
1/2 C. chopped walnuts

Mix everything together. Batter will be sticky. Spread in greased baking dish of 8 or 9 inches. (Do a good job with the greasing 'cause this likes to stay stuck and you won't want to wrestle the dish from people.) Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes or until golden brown. Tester should come out clean.

Weight Watchers Points--4 per serving if you cut into 9 squares.

No Money, No Time--No Problem! Last Minute Gifts

Here are three thrifty and simple last minute gift ideas.
1. A Holiday Recipe Book-- I used a cute holiday card from the $1 section of Michaels for this. I added the words "Recipes for a" to the front of the card. I slipped the card into a one quart sized plastic ziplock bag. I trimmed the back of the back and taped it shut (envelope style) with a sticker on the reverse side. I punched holes in the left side of the card. I added pages of cardstock with holes punched in them. Slice through 2 plastic curtain rings (Buy them in packages at Walmart. They are really cheap!) with a craft knife. Slip the card and pages onto the ring.
2. Candy Jar-- I saved this jelly jar from the recycling bin. I glued a ribbon around the top and tied on a sprig of ivy (silk plant from Michaels) and a sprig of berries (same source). Isn't it cute?
3. Personalized Gift Tags--If you are like me, you give gifts to the same people every year. Why not take a few minutes to make beautiful personalized gift tags? Or make a set for someone special?

One Template Makes Lots of Cool Layouts

People often tell me they aren't crafty or creative. "I just can't come up with ideas!" they'll moan. Here's the truth: Every craft idea is built upon another idea you glean from somewhere else. My favorite crafting these days is to take one layout, one design, and recycle the stuffing out of it.

For example, I posted this original page design from Spotted Canary back in September:

And here are all the "variations" I've created on that same theme, using the template they provided. (By the way, I've loaded that template onto so you can download it and use it, too. Many thanks to everyone at Spotted Canary for their generosity!)

#1. Cheer

The bird is obviously a cardinal, and I did slightly modify his tail to be larger. I also used the beak as a pattern to add the black crest. The eye is a jewel pasted onto a flower. The snowflakes are pre-made embellishments that I added to the page with pearl dressmaker pins. I also thinned out the branch a bit for a better proportion. The snow is a fabric textured paper from Paper Adventures. (I've held onto EVERY scrap of that paper now for years!) I covered the chipboard letters shown on the original page with paper--I even added a black rubber-stamped pattern to the letter "R." The red flower is multiple punched layers stacked on each other.

#2. Never More

The moon is a circle cut by using a mug as a pattern. I covered it with duct tape. (You should see how silvery and cool it is!) The background of the caption is bits of newspaper stuck together, as is the word "NEVER." (I cut letters from a headline.) I flipped over the black velvet paper to create the underside of the raven's wing. The silver circle embellishment is a common washer from a hardware store with a shiny brad stuck through the center.

#3. Boo

Clouds made from self-adhesive vellum add to the spooky theme. The bats are punched with an ultra-cool border punch from the Paper Shapers family of flat punches from EK Success. The witch is a punch. The branch was cut from a cardboard box. I drew and hand-colored the owl with markers.

#4. Who Loves You?

I explained how I created this owl from various punches a month or so ago. The lettering is from the K & Company set of Die-Cut Cardstock pieces by Carolyn Gavin. There are 284 pieces in that set, and it's just entirely too cool for words.

Before Christmas I hope to do one more variation. I want to make a partridge in a pear tree!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Shake Your Booty--NOT

Every day I open my copy of the Washington Post to another story about Michaele and Taraq Salahi, the couple who famously (or infamously, depending on your view of these things) crashed the Obamas' first state dinner. Taraq seems to be getting his fair share of the drubbing, but his Barbie-doll wife, Michaele(aka Missy Holt) seems to be generating anger at approximately the same level as a nuclear meltdown.

I don't know what the world is coming to, but in the case of the Salahi couple, I can safely say the gravy train has left the station...without them. In fact, I'm pretty sure their Diner's Card has been derailed.

Here's the deal: You can mess with a lot of people and get away with it, but one day your chickens will come home to roost. And if you've irritated an entire flock, you're going to get a heaping helping of bird poop raining down on you. So the next time you decide to feather your nest at someone else's expense, better chicken out before someone calls, "Fowl," and serves you up on a platter with cranberry sauce.

I must admit, all this endless stream of problems makes for amazing reading. I can barely wait to grab my paper each morning, sip on my latte, and see what happens next.

My favorite story, so far, has been about Michaele passing herself off as a Washington Redkins cheerleader during a Sept. 18 rehearsal. (Full disclosure: I once was a Griffith High School Pantherette, so I feel a special kinship with girls who prance about the stadium at half-time. It might seem glamorous and oh-so-much fun from the sidelines, but to shake your booty in the right place at the right time, you have to put in a lot of practice.)

But of course, earning one's way into the spotlight was not part of the Salahi gameplan. Not ever. And gee, how hard could all that faffing about be? Um, harder than it looks. Michaela first tipped her hand when she couldn't perform one of the group's most basic cheers. (Who knew any memorization was required? Drat, drat, double-drat.)

Of course, there were other big red flags on the field. Michaele was the only cheerleader who brought her own film crew when she crashed the pompom party. And of course, the crew was mainly interested in getting photos of her good side. (Which is ... where?)

In fact the camera crew actually asked to have the other team members to shuffled off to Buffalo so they could get a better view of Michaele. Fortunately, the team choreographer put her foot down. (That's what's known as a stomp, kids.)

Not only was Michaele too tall to be in the front row, according to the team spokeswoman, "She can't dance."

Yeah, that really does matter. Trust me, it does.

Another cheerleader put it this way: "I'm so resentful... For her to get out there and think she can just shake her pompoms is upsetting."

Hear that, Michaele? Siss, boo, bah!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Photos from the National Christmas Tree Ceremony 2009

Our seats were directly between the White House and the Washington Monument. From that vantage point, we could see the motorcade leave the front of the White House. At that moment, a cheer went up from the crowd.

I can't imagine a bigger thrill than hearing "Hail to the Chief," and seeing our 44th President walk onto the stage. His children were darling. He introduced his wife, the girls, and his mother-in-law, whom he called "Mamma Robinson." Michelle read "The Night Before Christmas." He was thoughtful of those who serve our country, and he said that this season has come to transcendent all religions as being a time when we join together to hope for peace.
From the left is Mamma Robinson, Our First Lady Michelle Obama, Malia Obama, The President, Sasha Obama, Common, Jordin Sparks and Randy Jackson (behind Randy is an unnamed musician).

Jordin Sparks was warmth and adorable, Randy Jackson personable--and he kept the production moving along. Sheryl Crow, was, well--she's Sheryl Crow and she's fabulous.

The President admitted that he is technically challenged, so he asked all of us to count along to help him push the button. The girls helped, which officially made it a family tree!

Here's my sweet husband and me in front of our National Christmas Tree. Our noses were nipped with the cold, and our toes were numb, but we were also pinching ourselves with our good fortune to be in attendance!

I'll Be Attending the National Tree Lighting Ceremony Tonight

I have to admit, I'm having a blast living here in DC. Tonight I'll be in the reserved seats at the lighting of the National Christmas Tree. I'll wear a red cap and scarf, so maybe you can spot me on tv!

Hint: Look for the blonde curls, a black coat with a twin poinsettia pin on the upper left shoulder. The "pin" is actually two enamel earrings from my Grandmother Marge, who passed away years ago. I'm wearing the "pin" so that my recently deceased mother and grandmother can attend "in spirit." There will be only 2,500+ of us in the reserved seating area. After the recent gate-crashing, I'm anticipating heavy security.

I'm proud that our National's Capital agrees that as the centerpiece of our country, no other piano besides a STEINWAY will do! That'll be our Steinway on the stage. It won't be the first time we've provided a piano for Sheryl Crow, nor is it likely to be the last!

Here's the lowdown on the ceremony:

Enjoy the sounds of the holiday season against the backdrop of the National Christmas Tree
and the smaller trees representing all fifty states, the District of Columbia and the
five U.S. Territories, model trains as well as the warmth of the yule log.

For 85 years, the American tradition of lighting a national Christmas Tree has continued, interrupted only briefly in its history during moments of great national travail.

In 1923, President Calvin Coolidge lit a “Community Christmas Tree” on behalf of “all Americans.” A Senator from Vermont, Coolidge’s home state,arranged for a cut fir tree from
Middlebury College to be erected in President’s Park (The Ellipse) for lighting. President Coolidge declined to speak at the ceremony, but he did push a button switch to light a 60-foot tree. Later that evening, the Marine Band performed in concert near the tree.

Sir Winston Churchill appeared on the South Porch with President Roosevelt for the lighting ceremony in 1941. Both men delivered Christmas messages to the gathered throng before sharing the official lighting duties. By the next year, Washington was under a war-imposed blackout. Lights were placed on the tree in 1942 but never lit, and the tree remained ‘dark’ from 1942 through 1944. In 1954, the lighting ceremony was named “The Christmas Pageant of Peace,” and a “Pathway of Peace” was established featuring smaller, decorated trees – one for each state and territory.

In 1963, the tree was not lit until December 22, after a service at the Lincoln Memorial, concluding a 30-day period of national mourning that followedthe assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

The beautiful Colorado blue spruce that serves as the current National Christmas Tree was planted on the Ellipse in the fall of 1978. Brought to Washington, DC by the National Park Service from a York, Pennsylvania farm, this 40-foot tree has proven to be a hardy specimen. In 2003, the tree celebrated a quarter century of service as the National Christmas Tree.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Great Post on Writers and Their Finances

Check it out at

I have to say I hear a lot of writers who are shocked at the costs associated with the job. I guess most people dream of having a book published, and a part of that fantasy is a windfall like Stephenie Meyer or J. K. Rawling enjoy. Frankly, you're more likely to get hit by lightning than to hit the jackpot as they did.

Instead, it's much more realistic to view writing as a sort of entrepreneurship. We are small business owners. The start up costs include bookmarks, conferences, association memberships, setting up websites and travel expenses--just for starters. And the money takes a while to find its way to our doors because royalty statements come after publication and publishers subtract returned books.

So if you want to make this your career, be a smart cookie. Do your due diligence. Know what the costs are and how you'll be paid.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

More Links to Murder and Mayhem in Muskego

Murder and Mayhem in Muskego - Beyond Her Book - Blog on ...The afternoon began with a non-stop comedic affair with Joanna Slan Campbell, Denise Swanson, Shirley Dammsgaard, Julie Hyzy and Deb Baker as they discussed who they like to kill, where and how. Kudos to Tom Schreck for facillitating ...Publishers Weekly - Beyond Her Book -

Jen's Book Thoughts: Murder and Mayhem in Muskego VBy Jen Forbus And Tom's humor matched up with the wits of Joanna Slan Campbell, Denise Swanson, Shirley Dammsgard, Julie Hyzy and Deb Baker, literally stole the day. The audience was constantly laughing. It was a hit. I have to say that I especially ...Jen's Book Thoughts -

And of course, all of you, my dear readers, know my name is Joanna Campbell Slan. I was a Campbell for years before I became a Slan!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Mayhem and Murder in Muskego!

Here I am (below) with "my posse." These lovely ladies are my fans! I have to say, there's no better feeling than being at a large conference and knowing there's a group of people who came just to see YOU. In fact, one lady drove eight hours. I think these women are pretty special. And on those days when I think, "Okay, time to revise...AGAIN," I'll pull up my image of their shining faces and remind myself, "These wonderful people are my readers. I need to give them my best!"

Below is the photo we had taken of our panel. We roped Tom Schreck of the Duffy Dumbrowski series into being a moderator. (If you haven't read him, you'll fall in love with Duffy and his basset hound.) Tom was such a great sport. We really had the audience laughing. From left, Julie Hyzy, me, Tom, Deb Baker, my pal Shirley Damsgaard, and Denise Swanson.

I stayed at the Ironhorse Inn. Now, I've been in hotels around the world. A lot of five-star joints, but this is my favorite place so far. I'm serious. I loved the decor. It took full advantage of the remodeled warehouse. But most of all I loved the view.

What Does a Publicist Do?

I was reading my emails the other day. The writer suggested that I tell my publicist to do more publicity on the other side of the pond.

That was incredibly thoughtful...and lovely.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A Beautiful Thought About Books...

I don't think people should burn books, ban books or throw books away but I do think they are meant to be used in a way that best suits the reader. I have books from university, graduate school especially, which are filled with my notes, thoughts, on related and even unrelated topics that come to mind.

My Norton Anthologies, Oxford and Penguin Complete Works, Histories of Art all have my scribbles in the margins along with arrows, highlights, underlines and circles, all precious memories.

There are the Dr. Seuss books from childhood filled with scribbles and an added face to the ones in the crowd and years later, my children added their own handiwork.

There is my Jane Austen with the bright orange fingertips across the back cover from the day Emma engrossed me much to my three-year-old' s irritation, I dated it a wrote his name underneath.

Some of my grad school books even have the forever outline of a tiny apple juice or squash covered hand, right across part of a picture of a Degas ballerina or a Caravaggio painting.

My Penguin anthology is stained green and red from a fresh rose I pressed between the covers one day, the rose long ago crumbled but I'll never forget it was once there. In my favorite history of art anthology, I have notes in the margins not only from the lectures but also from thoughts about being 20, married and an undergraduate, then about being 22, pregnant for the first time and a graduate student. The books are precious, the memories are precious and every stain, every dog-eared page, every crease, every written word added to a once pristine page tells a story from my life, and I like them that way. I like a lived in feel even in my books.

The books I won't keep I keep pristine because they aren't for me to imprint, they aren't for me to add a piece of my life but the books lining my shelves are well-loved and sometimes well loved things lose and eye or gain a stain but they are still perfect in their seeming imperfection.

(Alison is one of the many members of Cozy First Mysteries. Isn't this great?)

Cut, Crop & Die Approved by Tigger the Cat

This wonderful email came the other day:
"Hi Joanna,
I have read both your books and love them. Keep them coming. I am an avid scrapbooker. I just wanted to share a photo of my cat with you. Her name is Tigger and she fully endorses your book and even reads it by osmosis.
Cheryl Nakayama"
So it's official! Tigger approves. +

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Does Pre-Ordering a Book Matter?

Great question popped up on one of the lists. The person asked, "Does pre-ordering a book help the author? Is pre-ordering more important than buying a book within the first 3 weeks it comes out?"

Here's my answer:

As I understand it, pre-ordering helps a lot. The publisher looks to pre-orders to determine print run--and early indications of popularity. The higher the print run, the more a publisher has invested in a book, and therefore, the more a publisher might "get behind" a book. That's incredibly important. Publishers allocate scarce resources based on which books they think will do well. So...if there are plenty of pre-orders, the publisher MIGHT instruct publicity to send out more ARCs (Advance Reading Copies) or to buy an ad somewhere or any number of activities that will help. And the publisher benefits when they publish more because each additional book costs less. The higher the print run, the more the cost of producing a book is spread out. (Cost of publishing includes advance to author, if any, as well as editing, pagination, cover design, and so on.)

Here's another way pre-orders help: I've known other authors who had contracts for Books #2, #3, whatever--and the publisher cancelled publication because sales were low. So, if the publisher looked to pre-orders, he/she might re-think cancelling a series. One friend got a cancellation notice, and then when her agent prompted the publisher for numbers, the publisher took a second look and said, "Whew, um, that book's doing better than we thought. Rescind that cancellation."

Any book purchase helps.

Every book purchase helps.

Especially for those of us launching a career. Lorraine Bartlett says that the first 3 weeks are critical for making the NYT list, and that's a whole 'nother story as I understand it. There was a recent article in RWR, the house publication for Romance Writers of America, about this. There's a lot involved in "the lists," and they're not exactly representative the way most consumers think. If Lorraine says 3 weeks, I'd believe her. She's a really smart cookie.

I ended my response with this--and it comes from the heart:

Thank you a zillion times over for considering my book, for reading my book, and for sharing it. I appreciate your faith im me and I'll continue to work hard to earn it.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Dealing with Depression

I thought I was handling my mom's death pretty well, until the other day. My sister sent me a photo of my mom's gravestone. I had asked her to, but somehow, seeing that stone with Mom's name and date of death, sort of sent me over the edge.

Of course, this came at a bad time. A lot of my professional life is up in the air. I'm living in a rental house, and it doesn't always work for me. My husband is working a lot of hours. None of my family or friends are nearby.

There's this general feeling of emptiness that invades every cell. It's so hard to fill all those losses up.

I'm trying to stay positive, really I am. So I thought I'd do something positive: I'll write about how to help a friend or loved one with depression. Here goes a few caveats:

This is not intended to replace professional treatment or help. No way! In fact, here's step 1 and 2:

1. Of course, if they aren't on medication or they haven't had their medication checked, do so immediately.

2. Take any suicidal comments seriously. Never, ever dismiss a suggestion that the person wants to hurt him/herself, and do encourage them to share these thoughts with you.

Okay, let's assume you have all this in place. Now what can you do?

1. Monitor the person's medication. Depression saps energy and distorts thinking. Check to see that the person is taking his/her medication and taking it properly.

2. Discourage or help them avoid natural depressants such as alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs. I find that antihistamines make my depression worse.

3. Help them get a good 8 hours sleep. This can really make a difference, so adjust your sleeping schedule if possible.

4. Make sure they are eating healthy food at regular hours. Help them avoid sugar. It makes the highs higher and the lows lower.

5. Don't run away from them. Oh, yeah, I know. You are thinking, "I can't do anything." So you disappear or go off and do your own thing. Wrong, wrong, wrong. You can. And when you disappear the message you send is, "I like you when you are healthy but not when you are sad." That's really destructive.

Here's what's most important about all of this: A depressed person can NOT do for himself/herself the way they usually would. Depression deprives you of energy. You don't think clearly. You don't have the resources to care for yourself, and your natural inclinations (like grabbing a candy bar or not eating) may actually make your depression worse. So having a loving person spend a little of his/her energy looking after you means the world.

This is a great video--one that brought me to tears because of her honesty--

PS If that darned guy who is trimming our bushes doesn't stop soon, no one will have to worry about my depression. I'll be in jail for murder. ARgh.

Friday, October 30, 2009

I'm Too Old for Mall Hours

I woke up around 4 am this morning to the sound of Rafferty yelping. Turns out our little boy dog was thirsty. This often oftens after he gulps down his dry kibble late in the day. He's just fine for a couple of hours, even three or four, then suddenly he HAS to have water RIGHT now. So I was stumbling around in the dark, more asleep than awake thanks to the 1/2 of an Ambien tablet I took, and trying to get his leash on so he won't get hit by a car--and he's prancing like one of Santa's reindeer, making it nearly impossible to snap on the leash. Once I get him all rigged up, I turn to his little "sister", our girl dog Victoria, who is also thinking this is a grand lark: "Mommy's up! It's dark outside! Oh, boy! What joy!Can't wait! Let's go!"

I finally get the two of them clipped, but I can't make it to the water or the door or anywhere because they've now run circles around my legs. Effectively tying me up like a hostage in a bank heist. So I do this sort of mincing around while ducking under the leashes and stepping out of loops and knots. Fortunately, the leashes are long enough that the two of them can get to their water while I'm still fumbling about. They slurp it up.

Explanation: We don't leave water in their crate because a good pal who is a dog trainer suggested this was just begging (haunches down, paws waving in the air) for accidents. Lord knows, we have enough of those without putting a dish in the crate. Besides, they have access to all the water they want six or seven times a day--and of course, whenever they decide it's a grand time to howl at me.

From the water dish, we move to the front door and out onto the front stoop which is some sort of stone. Limestone, I think. Or shale. Here my body shakes with fear. Three nights ago, I stepped off one of our front steps because David and I came home late during a power outage. Our house was pitch black. I was leading the way, in a long skirt and boots and carrying most of our belongings. Then I went flying through the air, hit the wet grass and rolled.

David was so tired he sort of whooped, "You okay?" and once he got me back on my feet, he added, "Nice roll there. You hit the ground rather gracefully."

Uh, thanks, I think.

He opened our front door and toddled past me into the bedroom. With nary a "can I get you an Advil?" Or a "do you think it's broken?" He fell irrevocably asleep. On his back. With his mouth open.

This is a consequence of two entirely different sleep schedules which we've embarked on since he opened his new store--Steinway Piano Gallery--at Tysons Corner in McLean. He's zonked by 11 p.m. and up at 5 a.m. I'm usually not asleep until midnight or thereafter, and if I take an Ambien, I'm out until at least 8 a.m. So basically, it was Mr. Zombie Man and ME , and ME was hobbling about with a rapidly swelling foot. Gnashing my teeth and swearing under my breath.

So last night this whole ugly scenario came back to me as I froze on the stoop. An instant replay of my nose-dive into the wet grass replayed in my brain. I shivered and stopped right outside our front door. The dogs didn't care. They'd had their water. They wanted to water the grass. If they tugged hard enough, I'd have to come along for the walkies.

And I did.

Which is a very long way of saying: I need a different schedule. My fingers barely function this morning and my eyes are sagging at half-mast. My husband's mall hours are killing me. We're too old for this. Okay...I am. Maybe he's not, but I am. I need to ditch the Ambien, start going to sleep earlier, get the dogs on a schedule or something.

But what that something is, I'm just not sure.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Brown Bag Lunch at Hagerstown (MD) Library

Brown Bag Lunch at Hagerstown Library features Author Joanna Campbell Slan

Join international scrap-booking celebrity Joanna Campbell Slan for a brown bag lunch and fun craft-making session on Nov. 18, 2009 at 12:15 pm at the Central Library located at 100 S. Potomac St., Hagerstown. Come prepared to "get crafty" as we'll be making small folding albums. Joanna will provide all materials needed for the craft. Seating is limited to the first 25 to register. Please call 301-739-3250 ext 136 and let us know you will be attending. Bring your lunch. The library will provide dessert and beverages.

Joanna is the author of the acclaimed Kiki Lowenstein Scrap-N-Craft Mystery series. Joanna will speak about her books and the writing experience during the lunch session. The first book in the series--Paper, Scissors, Death--was nominated for the prestigious Agatha Award. Joanna will be bringing along her books to sell and sign. (They make a terrific holiday gift!) To learn more about Joanna, go to her website

The Library strives to make all programs accessible. Please inform us of special needs two weeks prior to the program.

Contact person:

Patricia Wishard
Public Relations & Adult Program Librarian
Washington County Free Library
100 S. Potomac Street
Hagerstown, MD. 21740
301-739-3250 ext. 186

Monday, October 26, 2009

Most Structural Problems Can Be Fixed...

This is from an interview featured in Shelf Awareness. Go to to learn more. It's about a new book called "Alice I Have Been." The subject matter is a bit tough to take for me at least--the overtones of a grown man's obsession with a child creep me out. This book centers on the relationship between Lewis Carroll and Alice Liddell, the girl who inspired him to write "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland." The book's author is Melanie Benjamin. Here the article discusses what made Kate Burke Miciak, v-p and executive editor, the Bantam Dell Publishing Group, snap the book up--despite the fact Miciak thought the subject matter had been covered before:

"What grabbed her? The voice, Miciak said. After years of editing suspense, she knows that most structural problems can be fixed so long as the voice is true."

Very interesting, and something we authors should take to heart.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

How to Make a Contest Judge Very, Very Grumpy

The organizers of the contest I was judging sent an urgent email saying that a few of the judges had opted out at the last minute. Would I review two more entries?

Of course, I said, "Yes."

One of those is still upsetting me.

You see, this particular entry featured a charming and highly original story idea. To my mind, it was "high concept." It was a big idea that causes people to smile and say, 'Ahhhh!"

But the writer didn't proof her work. The 30 pages were riddled with extra spaces between words, lack of indentation for paragraphs, missing spaces between words, extra periods at the end of sentences, misspellings, verb tense mistakes ("lead" for "led"), and a total disregard for common usage of commas. At first, I simply marked these using the yellow highlight function. Toward the end of the piece, I started to get hacked off. Really annoyed.

You see, a contest entry or a query for an agent should represent your BEST work. You are consciously, and by definition, trying to set your best foot forward. To ask anyone to read your work when you haven't gone through it and polished it to perfection is like asking a guest to come over for Thanksgiving dinner to a dirty, messy house. A house festooned with wet towels, cans overrun with garbage, dirty toilets, and a grubby floor.

Wow, you are thinking, Joanna, you've really gone off the edge on this.

Maybe. But then again, maybe not.

You see, writing is my profession. I worked 40-hours a week in college to put myself through school. I went into massive amounts of debt to buy an education. Despite my full-time job, I still graduated cum laude, and it would have been summa cum laude had I not gotten tripped up in a statistics class. I take my work very seriously. I believe that publication is an honor. A privilege. I take my readers very seriously. Their attention is an honor. Their time--and mine--is a nonrefundable resource that is precious.

Even today, I struggle to improve my writing. Recently I asked an English teacher for clarification on "which" and "that" usage. I'm still working to perfect my skills with those words! And even in this article, I will stop and look up spellings and meanings of words as I go along. Every piece I write is edited many times over. That's just part of the job.

So when someone submits a piece for evaluation, I give that piece hours of attention. Yes, you read that right: HOURS. I was told to expect to spend 45 minutes judging each piece. I spent 2 and 3 hours per piece. I did not give them a cursory look and then assign numbers to the heuristic grid. I highlighted comments as I went along. I line-edited the submissions, and used the strike-through function to show wordiness. I noted missing commas, missplaced modifiers, faults of logic, and sequencing errors. Such editing in the marketplace is valued at $5 a page, on the low end of the professional editing scale. Each contest piece was 30 pages long. So I offered each contestant $150 worth of my time.

Which in this case was wasted. I say "wasted" because this particular entrant obviously didn't take the contest seriously. Didn't spend the time necessary to master the basics of our craft. Didn't put in the baseline effort needed to prepare a story for a contest, much less for publication.

In short, I guess I'm miffed because I was willing to "waste" my valuable time...but the person submitting that particular entry wasn't equally willing to spend his/hers!

Here's the shame of it: He/She had a wonderfully creative idea for a story. He/She was gifted with a delightful imagination. These are God-given talents. All this editing stuff can be learned! But those talents are gifts.

Then there's the underlying premise of any competition: The entrant promised me his/her best work in exchange for my time and attention.

And I was cheated.

What a shame.

Is it any wonder that I'm still sort of grumpy about that particular entry?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Kiki Lowenstein World Tour--Will I Visit YOU?

I'm starting to plan my Kiki Lowenstein World Tour (May 2010)--and so far I have a lot of nice invitations to consider. After all, I'll be celebrating the release of Photo, Snap, Shot (Book #3 in the Kiki Lowenstein Mystery Series) and National Scrapbook Month.

My goal is to start out from my new home in the Washington DC area and drive west. Once I get as far west as I can go, I'll fly home. I'm thinking of traveling through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and Kansas. At least, that's the plan so far!

Of course, I'd love to meet YOU and your friends.

What will determine where I stop? If I can find a library to visit, a bookstore to host a signing, a scrapbook store to stop by, or a cropping group that's meeting, I'll do my best to show up. I can't promise, of course, until I see what my options are.

Would you like me to stop by? Send me an email at Put "World Tour" in the Subject Line. Tell me the name of a local scrapbook store, library, and/or bookstore. Tell me how we can get a number of people together who might want to buy my books or have me teach a class. In other words, help me plan my tour.

I look forward to hearing from you!

Speaker Net News

A wise man once said there's no such thing as genius, only good ideas transferred from one discipline to another.

That's why I've added a link to Speaker Net News.

It's a lonely world being an author or even a scrapbook designer. You need great ideas to help you sell yourself. And Speaker Net News has them.

I first started reading it years ago when I became a member of National Speakers Association. Now, I often hear authors say, "It's so hard to sell my books," but if you think THAT is hard, try selling nothing but the words you speak. People can touch a book. They can't touch your speech. So professional speakers are probably the BEST marketers in the world--and Speaker Net News is the premier resource for those speakers.

I urge you to go to the link, click on it, and give Speaker Net News a try. I own many of their podcasts, which I consider to be money well spent, because these are insightful interviews with the top marketers in the world.

Give it a whirl. I'd love to hear what you think!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Julie Hyzy's Apple Tart--And A Chance to Win One of Her Books!

Julie Hyzy is the author of Hail to the Chef and State of the Onion. Here she shares a perfect recipe for this time of year--Apple Tart. In her books, Mercel is a pastry chef at the White House, and Ollie, her protagonist, is the chef in charge of the kitchen. If you like knowing the inside scoop (pun intended!) about life in the executive mansion, this rollicking, fun series is for you!

If you'd like to win one of Julie's books, send me an email at with your name and postal address. Put "Julie" in the Subject Line. On November 10, I'll draw two names, and Julie will mail you an autographed copy of one of her two books.

Julie's books have won both a Barry and an Anthony award. Visit her at

Apple Tart

1 pie crust (Marcel makes it from scratch at the White House, but when I make this at home, I cheat and buy the rolled, refrigerated ones)

Roughly 2 pounds of tart, sweet apples; Granny Smith or McIntosh, generally about 5 or 6, depending on size

1/2 C. sugar
2 T. fresh lemon rind, grated
Juice of 1 lemon
3 T. sweet butter, cut into small pieces
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 C. clear apple jelly

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Place pie crust in a 10 inch pie or tart shell with a removable bottom.

Peel the apples and cut them into quarters. Cut away and discard the cores. Slice thinly.
Place apple slices in a bowl, add lemon juice, toss until the apple slices are coated (this will keep them from browning).

Arrange the apple slices on the tart pan in a pattern like fish scales, in overlapping layers. Continue until all apples are used.

Sprinkle the apple slices with the sugar and lemon rind. Dot with butter. Sprinkle with cinnamon.
Place on a baking sheet in the preheated oven and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven heat to 375 degrees F. Bake 25 minutes longer. Keep an eye on the tart for the last fifteen minutes of baking. If necessary, cover with foil to keep from browning too much.

While tart is finishing baking, melt the apple jelly over low heat, stirring until liquid.

Gently brush the top of the hot tart with the melted jelly.

Serve hot or cold, as preferred.


Julie Hyzy is the author of Hail to the Chef and State of the Onion, which feature a White House chef named Ollie. Have I told you Julie's a sweetheart? Well, she is. You meet some really nice people in the mystery business, and she definitely qualifies for that honor.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Almost Seems Like Home

Yesterday I drove to the grocery store and back without thinking. Not a big deal to you. But it was to me. You see, I'm feeling at home.

This has been a year of tumult. In January, my mother's exam found spots in her lungs. However, the spots didn't light up, so the doctors were convinced it wasn't cancer. "Probably scar tissue," they told us. By June we knew the truth: She had terminal lung cancer.

Still, Mom clung to hope. After all, last time she had cancer, the chemo and radiation zapped it. She'd had two, almost three good years in between. "I just need to get through this treatment," she told a friend. "I think I have five more years. Okay, maybe two." But she never gave up hope.

When the doctor scoped her, he didn't tell my sisters how advanced the cancer was. Mom insisted on taking her chemo. Despite the fact it made her sick.

When I visited her on Mother's Day, I was shocked at how frail she'd become. Even before we were told the cancer was terminal, she lost fine motor control. She dropped things repeatedly. Her legs had become extremely bowed. When we drove places, she read the signs as though she were trying to ground herself in the here and now. Her conversations were erratic. She forgot things. She wasn't herself. Now I know...even then, she was dying. Even before the diagnosis, she was slipping away.

My sisters and I worked out a plan. I flew down in July to have a turn taking care of her. My plane landed late on a Saturday in Miami, so I was going to drive up to Stuart on Sunday. My son and husband were already there--my son needed a place to live for college. The guys planned to make a father-son weekend of it. Somehow their plans got confused. They visited Mom on Saturday night. She was barely lucid. They said their goodbyes. My husband David didn't think he'd ever see her again.

He was right.

By the time I arrived on Sunday, she was in a coma. For the next eight days, my sisters and I cared for her. We called upon hospice. I shall forever be grateful to them for all they did. Sally Lippert was an absolute angel. Connie, the other hospice worker, was kind, helpful and thoughtful.

But it was an ugly, painful way for Mom to go. The morphine didn't completely assuage her pain.

I won't think about that now...but I will say that at the end, we were happy for her release. These earthly bonds no longer served my mother's spirit. And when she died, the lights in that room strobed on and off, on and off, on and off, until Sally got up and turned them off at the switch. She's seen thousands of deaths, but never seen anything like that.

I came home and tried to pack to move to the Washington DC area. Actually, I wandered around my home in St. Louis like a ghost. I tried. I really tried. But I was lost. I was exhausted. I would pick up things, look at them, put them back where I found them and wander around some more. In between, real estate agents would call asking if they could show the house. That's their job, after all. So, I'd scoot everything into some semblance of order, grab the dogs, toss them in the car, and go drive around for an hour or two. I was a mess.

Finally I told David, "You'll have to pick out a house for us. I can't do it. I don't have the time to fly to DC. I trust you."

So he did.

We had a memorial service for Mom, and we moved Michael into his new condo. He loves it. David flew back to DC, leaving Michael and me to buy towels, furniture, cleaning supplies. I'm not sure he's used the latter yet! Oh, well. He's happy--and I think I've never been happier than pushing a grocery cart with him by my side and loading it with food for my boy.

Two weeks later, the packers came. I tried, really tried to organize our belongings, but I couldn't. The two women who did most of the packing were enormously kind. One took my husband aside and told him to tell me not to work so hard. Bless her. I remember wandering (again with the wandering!) from room to room, thinking, "This is the house where I raised my son. Where my mother came to visit. Where we had friends stay the night. Where we celebrated the holidays. Where my dog Kevin lived. Where I wrote my first book. How can I say, 'Goodbye'?" But I did.

We drove for two days. My dogs--Vicky and Rafferty--sat beside me in the passenger's seat. They were very, very good. Almost as if they knew I needed them.

We arrived in the DC area at 8 at night. I drove, for the first time, on the notorious Beltway, aka Highway from Hell, with its uneven lanes. I was sooo tired. At one point, my wheels bumped the uneven asphalt, and my car careened back and forth in the lane. But I made it. We drove to this house.

It's a good house.

I can live here.

And now I can go to the grocery store, all by myself. Without the help of GPS.

It's going to be all right.

Photo, Snap, Shot

Now available for pre-ordering at Amazon! Book #3 in the Kiki Lowenstein Mystery Series will be out this May (2010) in time for National Scrapbooking Month!

Go to

Monday, October 19, 2009

More Things That'll Keep You Unpublished

Today I finished judging the romance contest entries.

I hope the writers who submitted their work learn half as much from my comments as I have learned from reading their pieces. Here are some more reflections:

1. You have to have a sympathetic protagonist. Sorry, but a perfect woman will not make me want to keep reading. Want to hear the single biggest compliment readers send me about Kiki Lowenstein? Stand back...

They like her.

They like that she's slightly overweight. They like that her mother-in-law doesn't like her. They like that she's struggling with self-esteem. They really, really like the jams she gets into.

You can't have a likable heroine who is physically flawless, who drives a fancy car, and who cares about nothing but her job. Sorry! I just won't care about HER.

Instead, humanize her. Let her have trouble parallel parking. Give her a bad hair day. Make her a sucker for candy like Brenda is on The Closer. Make her a klutz like Bella is in Twilight. Or a self-centered brat like Scarlett O'Hara. But don't make her perfect.

2. You can't dump a lot of people in the story all at once. Unless you plan on writing a Russian novel, spare me. Also, go easy with the nicknames. In one entry, the lead was called by three different names! Argh. Especially at the start, give the poor reader a break.

3. You can't tell me all your backstory in one fell swoop. Three anecdotes about the male lead are two too many. Especially if it's written in expository form. Instead, let a part of the backstory come out in dialogue. Make the character tell a story to another character. Here's an example...

Ron's boss didn't want him to take time off for the funeral.

"She wasn't blood kin," grumbled Police Chief Dickens. "Just some old lady from your neighborhood."

A twitch began along Ron's jawline. He fought to stay calm. Dickens was right, technically. But Miss Lena had been more to him than a neighbor. She'd been his personal angel, the woman who taught him right from wrong after his mother died and his father hit the sauce, big time. Ron forced himself to count to ten in Latin--after all, Miss Lena was a devout Catholic--and said slowly, "Call it a vacation day. I've got two months racked up."

Police Chief Dickens rocked back in his leather desk chair. "Tell you what. You explain how come she matters to you, and I'll consider it. Tell me why a tough guy like you is all broken up about an old neighbor. Why I saw you staring off into space yesterday like your pet dog died." With that, the chief gestured to the chair across his wide polished oak desk.

Ron folded himself into the small chair, which he suspected was uncomfortable for a reason. Dickens didn't want anyone to hang around his office too long. Not that Ron wanted to hang around. He wanted to get on the road. He checked the weather forecast: Not good. If he was going to make it to the services on time, he needed to hop a plane.

Well, he'd make this short and sweet, "She fed me. She...she...bailed me out of jail when my own dad wouldn't even make the trip downtown to see what I'd done."

Dickens gave a low whistle. "Tell me more..."

And Ron did.

See? You learn a lot about Ron, our male protagonist, and a whole lot more about Miss Lena, don't you?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Mourning the Passing of Stuart Kaminsky

I was so sad to hear of the passing of Stuart Kaminsky. He had written many, many mystery books and was honored numerous times by the Mystery Writers of America. He was a gentleman, a brilliant writer, and a generous colleague to all in our profession.
We met at Sleuthfest, oh, three years ago? He stepped in to fill a short story class after Elaine Viets had her stroke. I asked him after the session what he thought about outlines. He told me that he could never have been so prolific if he didn't outline first. I took that to heart.
He also mentioned that he regularly writes letters to his granddaughter, as a matter of course, and as an ongoing part of their relationship. So, in his own way, Stuart was a scrapbooker of the highest order!
His wife Enid is a lovely and gracious woman, and a delightful person in her own right. I very much enjoyed meeting her at the conference. She was kind enough to remember me the next time we met, and that means a lot.
My condolences to his entire family.

Here is a link of his obit from the Sarasota Herald-Tribune in Florida where he had lived for more than twenty years before moving to St. Louis earlier this year while hoping for a life-saving liver transplant.

Rev. Mike

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Things That'll Keep You Unpublished

Probably the LAST thing I should be doing with my time today is writing a blog post. Nevertheless, I am compelled to share what I'm learning.

See, I'm judging a contest for writers, new and hopeful authors. There's a wonderful set of criteria which guides me. Very helpful. Very insightful. But mainly, I'm calling upon what I've learned over the past five years.

And I'm using up far too much time doing comes at an important juncture in my own career. I have two novels under my belt, and my third has been accepted but for the final edits. So reading these submissions, I can certainly see how my own skills have improved.

Here's what I'm seeing in these entries, problems that I believe will keep the books from seeing publication unless they are corrected:

1. Lack of specificity. Instead of having your protagonist say, "I went to college with her," tell me which college. MIT is very different from University of Illinois. A tiny specific tells the reader LOTS about your protagonist.

2. Simple grammatical mistakes. Common on, people. Learn to use a comma. All right, I still have trouble with "that" versus "which," but I keep looking up the difference and trying to get it right. And it's a subtle difference, one that may even go the way of "who" versus "whom," because proper usage almost becomes, uh, snotty. BUT...the major rules for comma usage are golden. Check this out, if you are unclear:

3. Tighten up. I'm going to wear out my strike-through function. Here's an example of a sentence that needs to go on a diet: "I thought the words to myself." Uh, we only think to ourselves unless we are suffering from multiple personality disorder. Here's another: "Unexpectedly, I threw up my hands because I was startled by the surprise." ARRRGHHH. (I can't even start to fix that one!)

4. Delete the word "was" and write cleaner, clearer sentences. "I was tired, lonely from the long drive, and feeling sleepy as I pulled into town." How about "Tired, lonely, and sleepy from the 13-hour drive, I pulled into town." What I'm discovering is a real need for people to improve their technical ability, their basic repertoire of sentence structures. (Yes, "was" can be used perfectly. When you want to show that the subject was acted upon, then "was" does a brilliant job.)

5. Simple spelling and usage errors. I just looked up the spelling of "repertoire." That's part of my job. I always look up "lay" and "lie" because they are confusing. That's also part of the job. See, it's not just about writing--it's about knowing what my faults are as a writer and working to improve.

Okay, back to the judging.

PS I've re-read this and corrected it twice since originally writing it. That's another problem with beginning writers: They think their job is done once they have a first draft. (Sad to say, I'll probably find other corrections to make once this goes up. Still, the point is that you can't knock it out fast and walk away!)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Craft Room Spots Still Available at Bouchercon!


55-minute sessions

So many of today’s cozy mysteries involve a craft such as scrapbooking, knitting, candle-making, etc. Register for a session in the craft room (Vision Room, 3rd floor) as authors demonstrate their craft and introduce themselves and their books. You'll have hands-on experience making your own craft, too!

This idea comes from author Joanna Campbell Slan, author of a scrapbooking mystery series.

The Craft Room

Participating Authors and their Crafts:
Maggie Sefton--knit a simple scarf
Cricket McRae--make an oatmeal milk bath salts/fizzing bath salts
Betty Hechtman--crochet a "Molly Pin Dishcloth"
Penny Warner--create a Nancy Drew Sleuth Kit with secret compartments OR make a "Killer Party Pop-Up invitation/memory book/favor"
Beth Groundwater--mystery-oriented designer gift baskets
Camille Minichino (Margaret Grace)--miniature flowers in a vase made from flower soft product
Joanna Campbell Slan--scrapbooking page craft
Sally Goldenbaum--"Knit a Square" Squares will be assembled into quilts and shawls and donated to needy children and mothers in Africa.
Mary Monica Pulver (Monica Ferris)--hand stitched simple bookmark designed in black and orange colors


10:30 - 11:25 Monica Ferris - cross stitched bookmark
1:30 - 2:25 Margaret Grace - miniature flowers
3:00 - 3:55 Betty Hechtman - crocheted dishcloth

9:00 - 9:55 Maggie Sefton - simple scarf
10:30 - 11:25 Penny Warner - Nancy Drew sleuth kit
3:00 - 3:55 Penny Warner - party invitation

9:00 - 9:55 Sally Goldenbaum - quilting project
10:30 - 11:25 Beth Groundwater - gift basket
1:00 - 1:55 Joanna Campbell Slan - scrapbooking page
2:30 - 3:25 Cricket McRae - oatmeal silk/bath salts

Location: Hyatt Regency Indianapolis, Vision Room, 3rd Floor

Cost: Free Ticketed Event

How to register:
Go to RegOnline at Add the event when you register for Bouchercon. If you've already registered for Bouchercon, select the "Existing" option and type in your e-mail address. RegOnline will ask for your password. If you've forgotten it, click "Forgot your password?" and it will be sent to you in about five minutes.

After keying in your password, under the Registration List, find your name and click on "Agenda (Fees)" and you can add any auxiliary events that are available.

You must be registered for Bouchercon to attend.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

I'm So Behind, I Look Like I'm Out Front...

Sigh. Today I slept until 3pm. Yes, 3 in the afternoon. Which I think is some indication of how incredibly tired I've been. The move, my mom's death, all the running around to New York City and to Minneapolis, and back finally caught up with me. Of course, maybe there's also the new trick I've learned. See, I've learned to sleep through the sound of acorns pelting our house. Yeah, at first, David and I thought a neighborhood kid was shooting our house with B-Bs or tossing a softball against our siding. We looked at the house from the front and couldn't see any branches scratching. We looked from the back and nada.

But what we couldn't see was the oak tree at the side of the house, strategically positioned between the windows at the side of the house. That was the problem. Plus, our bedroom has a vaulted ceiling, so the sound in our room versus the other rooms on that side of the house was different.

So, maybe I've just learned on some deep psychological level to ignore the acorns.

Or maybe it was the half-a-pill of Ambien that I finally broke down and took before bed.

Who cares? Whatever it was, it worked.


Here's my schedule for Bouchercon in Indianapolis as of today, October 5. If you plan to attend, let's meet up and say, "Howdy!"

Thursday, Oct. 15

Killer Hobbies Panel—Five crafty authors discuss the hobbies that drove them to murder. Moderator with Sally Goldenbaum, Margaret Grace, Beth Groundwater, and Betty Hechtman.

Librarian’s Tea: SinC into a Great Mystery


Friday, Oct. 16

SinC breakfast at Hyatt Regency

MWA Hot Ticket Author Carolyn Hart

Featured authors: Joanna Campbell Slan and Beverle Graves Myers

Indiana Authors Reception
Central Library
40 East St. Clair Street
Indianapolis IN


Saturday, Oct. 17

Craft Room—“Scrapbook Page”
With gifts, prizes, and a wonderful exclusive customized scrapbook page by EK Success.


Sunday, Oct. 18

Book Bazaar

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Contest on Spotted Canary

It's up! You'll want to learn all about the new Spotted Canary Contest. You could win naming rights for a character in Book #3 of the Kiki Lowenstein Scrap-N-Craft Mystery Series. Go to...

And while you're there, check out what a super site this is for crafters. You'll find everything you need to put FUN back into your hobby world. Here's the site:

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

News and Appearances

MINNEAPOLIS VISIT--Sept. 18-20, 2009

Joanna will be appearing at Scrapfest at Mall of America in Minneapolis to sign copies of PAPER, SCISSORS, DEATH (Book #1) and CUT, CROP & DIE (Book #2). Be sure to stop by the Archivers store at Mall of America, and visit me on Friday (September 18) from 9am to 1pm, and Saturday (September 19) from 9am to 1pm, on Sunday (September 20) from 11am to 3pm. On Friday after 2pm, she'll be signing at the Barnes & Noble store there at MOA. That evening at 6pm, she’ll stop by Uncle Edgar’s Mystery Bookstore in Minneapolis to sign books. In the evening on Saturday, she'll stop at a crop at Scrapbooks Too, 10518 France Ave S, Bloomington, Minnesota.

ONLINE AT SPOTTED CANARY--Sept. 17, 2009, and every Monday for six consecutive weeks.

Join Joanna every Monday at 8am EST, starting on September 21, at in "The Cat That Ate the Canary" Forum. She'll be dispensing clues that may win you prizes or a chance at IMMORTALITY. Yes, you could win the chance to be a character in Book #3 of the Kiki Lowenstein Scrap-N-Craft Mystery Series.

FREDRICK, MD--Oct. 3, 2009

On October 3, Joanna will visit "In the Streets" at the Frederick, Maryland city-wide festival--details will be in our blog, but she's planning to team up with Queenie D, who runs Queenie D's Book Club Blog. There will be prizes!

INDIANAPOLIS, IN--Oct. 15-18, 2009

Meet the Killer Hobbies Blog Sisters at Bouchercon, October 15-18 in Indianapolis IN. (Go to for registration details.) On Thursday, Oct. 15 at 9am, Joanna Campbell Slan will moderate a panel featuring Margaret Grace and Betty Hechtman from our blog ! Then join us and learn the crafts we love so much: Visit the Bouchercon Craft Room on Thurs./Oct. 15 from 10:30am to 11:25am, Monica Ferris will teach "How to Make a Cross Stitched Bookmark"; 1:30pm to 2:25 p.m. Margaret Grace will teach "How to Make Miniature Flowers"; 3pm to 3:55pm Betty Hechtman will teach "How to Make a Crocheted Molly Pink Dishcloth." On Sat./ Oct.17, Joanna Campbell Slan will teach "How to Make a Scrapbook Page." Join us on Sunday, October 18 for the Book Bazaar--Joanna will be giving away copies of one of her Kiki Lowenstein Scrap-N-Craft Mysteries.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

To Plot or Not to Plot

I'm 10,000+ words into Book #4 of the Kiki Lowenstein Scrap-n-Craft series. Now's the time to stop and plot.


I've already written a synopsis, I know who died, how my victim died, and what's up. But in order to do my best work, this is the point where I drag out trusty pencil and paper and start making charts. Yep. Good old fashioned charts.

I'll chart out what's happening in Kiki's life, in Sheila's life, in Mert's life, in Dodie's life, in Anya's life, in Detweiler's life, in Gracie's get the picture. I see myself as an orchestra conductor trying to get all those instruments playing together in harmony. Of course, Kiki is sitting at the Steinway grand. She's the spotlighted soloist. But all the others have their part to play.

I'll also consider all the comments I've collected about the series. What readers like. What they want more of. What they THINK will happen. What they WANT to happen. How they'd like to see my characters evolve. Of course, it' s my job to keep throwing curve balls. And I will. Still, I really appreciate everyone's feedback. I'm not so hidebound or so egotistical that I think I have to come up with all the answers myself. I'll very willing to listen.

In the end, it has to be my creation. But along the way, only a fool would ignore what other invested people have to say about characters they love.

So...goodbye whizzing along and typing on the computer. Hello, eraser and pencil. Odd to think that sometimes by slowing down, you can actually go faster, but it's true!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Queenie D's Review of Cut, Crop & Die

It's not often you get reviewed by royalty. Queenie D gives her take on Cut, Crop & Die here

Here's an interview we did together:

I must admit, I shared a lot more about my characters with Queenie than I have in the past. I'm curious to hear what my fans think about my future plans.

After we corresponded by email, I learned she and I are almost neighbors! So I'm planning to visit with her and her friends at the "In the Streets" celebration in Frederick MD on September 26. Stay tuned for details.

On Thursday at 8 a.m. EST, check out the forum at I'll be announcing details of a new contest where the winner gets to name a character in Book #4 of the Kiki Lowenstein Scrap-n-Craft Mystery series.

I'm heading out this Thursday for Scrapfest at Mall of America, Minneapolis. I'll be signing up at the Archivers store on Thursday, Sept. 18, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m, on Friday, Sept. 19, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m, and on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. I'll also be stopping in at Scrapbooks Too for the evening crop Saturday night, as well as dropping by Uncle Edgar's to sign books. For details, visit and put in my name.

Meanwhile, I'll try to get my Fall 2009 newsletter out to all of you. Be sure to sign up at my website a great fall!