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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

My Malice Auction Offering

I'm not sure how well you can see this, but...this is the customized scrapbook page I created to have auctioned off at Malice this weekend. Inside the small album is room for 8 photos (4" x 6" size). The cover of the album is sewn with sequins sprinkled throughout. The papers were customized and colored just for this, and the "not everyone's cup of tea" paper was custom made. The upper right with its overlapping letters pays homage to Agatha Christie's many books. The three red drops of blood lower right are in homage to the Killer Hobbies blog in which I participate. The tea bag on the left has glitter "inside." Agatha's portrait was sewn on by hand. The name of my book--Paper, Scissors, Death--appears on the page. And the tea cup is the official emblem of Malice Domestic.

The Malice Domestic live auction benefits the John I. Gildner Regional Institute for Children and Adolescents, for the treatment of severely emotionally disturbed young people. The dollars raised each year supplements the budget for enrichment programs, such as fostering the enjoyment of reading.

I'm also offering to review three chapters of someone's manuscript.

Last week, the naming rights to a character in Book #3 of the Kiki Lowenstein Mystery Series fetched in excess of $500 (we think it was $750, but we can't confirm that yet) for the Guardian Angel group here in St. Louis.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Listening Can Yield Terrific Marketing Ideas--Here's How

We all know people get nervous when they get up to speak. Shoot, I worked as a professional speaker, and I can tell you that even the highly paid pro's get wobbly knees.

But often in our unguarded moments, truths are shared. Here's the intro I received a couple days ago--and remember, the protagonist in Paper, Scissors, Death is a scrapbooker named Kiki Lowenstein:

"I want to introduce to you Joanna Campbell Slan, our speaker. I can tell you after reading her book that I think she's KINKY."

Uh, right.

She meant to say, "Kiki," but we all had a bit of a laugh. Even she snickered when she realized what she'd said.

So I got to thinking, and I came up with these fab buttons to give away at Malice Domestic. I'd love to hear what you think of them!
The point? We need to listen. Hearing what our readers think or what tickles them or excites them is valuable stuff. Remember: They pay marketing firms BIG bucks to ask questions. We should do the same as we visit with our readers.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Thrill is Gone--Mary Buckham Explains Why Outlining Can Feel Like a Drag!

Mary Buckham was in town a couple of weeks ago. If you haven't met her, or had the pleasure and privilege of taking one of her classes, well, POOR YOU! She's just super. A giving and generous teacher who will keep working with you 'til you get what you need. (And I've taught, so I know how sometimes you want to throw up your hands and say, "Um, this just isn't going to happen!")

I asked her this question: "I've noticed that as I work on my story outline, the whole 'luster' seems to dull. Last night reading Dwight Swain's Techniques of the Selling Writer, he 'talked' about the danger of speaking your story because when it's new and fragile, it can be damaged by careless comments from others. And it seems logical to me that as I outline, that I'm sort of killing the frog--that's a reference to a comment by Mark Twain about how you could take apart a frog to see how he jumped, but you'd kill him in the process.

I do see my work more clearly, and my writing is more confident after my extensive outline. I do know that I've included twists and turns, this a normal part of the planning process? When you and Dianna plot, does some of the shine of the idea go dull?"

And here's her most excellent response:

"I think most authors enjoy a pre-writing euphoria of the 'new story' because it's like an unexplored path down a shady glen - no clue what's going to be around the next corner and that wakes up our inner child to simply have fun! Then there's the 'into the story' part of the process -- which is work and work is a four-letter word :-) Doesn't mean it can't be fun but it is the reality-adjustment part of the process - asking the hard questions and pushing the boundaries of craft in seeking options for the strongest plot possible.

"This is where I hear the word 'hard' come into play when working with writers-particularly newer writers who are used to only the end result-- a beautifully plotted and crafted book with no concept of what was involved to get a project to that point. Great news though is after the reality-check of plotting a book comes the exploratory, didn't-know-that phase that is part of the actual writing.

"This is where a plot keeps you centered and grounded while the words on the page suck you into the the experiences and emotions of the point of view character and unleash the fun again. There's nothing like getting lost in telling a story while knowing your pages can be kept because they are not willy-nilly exercises in writing but building blocks to creating a great story. So the short answer is yes -- sometimes the gleam of a story can fade but the cool thing is beneath that gleam can be gold if you're willing to keep polishing and polishing. I think what Swain referred to more was when we talk our ideas or share without thought to who we're sharing with. At that stage a story can wither under the nay-sayers or lack of enthusiasm and that's very sad. There is a very fine, but very clear line between criticism and critique and both can kill an idea at the bud stage."

LJ Sellers also tackled the "should I try an outline or not" topic here

It's tough work to write a book, and following an outline takes discipline. I asked Stuart Kaminski once what he thought about the whole outlining versus not-outlining process. He said that he would never have been so prolific if he didn't outline. The gist was...non-outliners start in a flurry, but frequently find they don't know where to go, or that they've written themselves into a corner. Amen to that!

If you've ever tried to tear apart a book to rewrite it, you know how horrid that feels. It reminds me of trying to get your car out of a rut. No matter how hard you twist the wheel, you keep going back into the same hole in the ground.

For now, I'll stick with outlining. How about you?

A Promotion with a Local Library That Really Worked!

I loved all the responses to Chester Campbell's blog post. Thanks to all of you who participated. There was a common thread: How do we know what works?

Well, I've got a goodie for you. A proven promotional idea, and one that will do well for you. I know because we just tried it this weekend.

We called it "Mystery Go Round" and pitched the idea to a local library. Jim Moses of the Buder Branch thought it a good idea. Here's how he publicized it:

Mystery Go Round

Join us for a Special Breakfast with Mystery Authors. Meet some old favorites and some new faces in local mystery authors at this special program. You'll hear about their books and have the chance to ask questions of five different authors at one event! Space is limited, so call to sign up!

Jim graciously promoted this through his library channels, supplied the room, and the treats. He also moderated the presentations.

We authors spent ten minutes at each table, chatting and answering questions. Vicki Erwin of Main Street Books was kind enough to come sell books--and she moved books!

The attendees were incredibly enthusiastic. They loved being able to talk with us in an intimate setting. We all brought bookmarks. (Unfortunately two of our scheduled authors weren't able to attend, but Julie Earhardt, Angie Fox, Shirl Henke and I had a blast!)

Have you tried anything like this with your local library? I'd love to hear your results.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


I’m welcoming another Campbell to my blog today—Chester Campbell. Contrary to rumor, Chester Campbell was not a passenger on Noah's Ark, but he didn't get off the boat yesterday, either. With a writing career that has spanned sixty years, he has a new mystery novel just published titled The Surest Poison. In it, three seemingly unrelated murders crop up during the investigation of a toxic chemical dump that plagues a rural community west of Nashville. PI Sid Chance is hired to find the party responsible for the pollution behind a small plant whose current owner is being harassed by the state. Sid is tailed, threatened, and shot at before encountering some nasty guys from his past. (And yeah, I thought "green" was eerily appropriate when writing about poison!)

One of the earliest eye-openers I experienced as a mystery writer occurred when my first book came out in 2002. I quickly discovered that marketing and promotion take as much time as writing the novel. It’s like learning to walk, then realizing you have to climb steps, too. Fortunately, I had started attending conferences, primarily SleuthFest, put on by the Florida Chapter of Mystery Writers of America. I picked up some great tips there on getting ready for your book to come out.

“Coming out” is a good term to describe a book’s publication, since it denotes a debut and, in Southern social circles, a debutante’s introduction at a ball. Too bad my books don’t get that level of fanfare.

However, I followed most of the advice for getting ready. I set up a website, primitive though it was. I created a mailing list of publications to inform and people who might be interested in buying the book. There were no Advance Review Copies, so I had to wait for the book to be printed before I could send it out for review. I got a friend who ran the color lab for the local newspaper to make a head shot to use for publicity. And I started calling bookstores to set up signings.

I found it all took lots of time and slowed my writing efforts. Being published by a small press, though, I knew the book wouldn’t sell unless I let people know about me and what I had written.

I now have four books out in that first series, the Greg McKenzie Mysteries, but the marketing and promotion effort remains essential. Some things have changed, however. The reason I’m here today is because I have another debut to talk about. The Surest Poison is the first book in a new series featuring a Nashville PI named Sid Chance. I’ve just started a Blog Book Tour for it, something unheard of back in 2002.

From now through the first of May, I’ll be doing daily interviews and a variety of articles about the book, its characters, the setting, the origin of the story, writing issues and such. Again, it’s promotion, and it’s a lot of work. But it’s fun, too. I have posted the schedule on my website of where I’ll be blogging each day. Join me, if you’d like, and make a comment. I’ll be doing drawings from those who leave comments, giving away several books as prizes.

With the Internet becoming more important as a means of communication, I’m concentrating more of my marketing efforts there. It takes a lot of effort, but, heck, you don’t have to dress up or even get out of your chair. I’ve recently established a presence on Facebook and Twitter, two of the most popular social networks. I belong to several others that deal with books, such as Goodreads and Crimespace, but haven’t been as active on those.

One of the most important aspects of Internet promotion is the author website. I do a makeover on mine every couple of years. If all goes well, I’ll have the revised version up by the time you read this, but there’s still a lot of work to do. Joanna has a great website with lots to see and benefit from. That’s the secret to a successful website. Give visitors lots of goodies and they’ll keep coming back for more.

The final act of “coming out” is the Book Launch Party. I’m having this one at my church, City Road Chapel United Methodist Church, in Madison, the Nashville suburb where I live. It’s also where my protagonist lives and has his office. We’re throwing the party Sunday afternoon, April 19. I thought about serving green punch in glasses marked with a skull and crossbones, but I’m not sure how that would go over. We’ll have a cake with green icing, though.

I can’t leave without telling you a bit about the people who populate The Surest Poison. The story is a little grittier than my first series, which some said bordered on the cozy. One reviewer wrote that the new book was “the kind of fiction writing that those with a penchant for Lawrence Block can enjoy.” Sid Chance is a big guy (six-foot-six, 230 pounds) who was a Green Beret in Vietnam, spent eighteen years as a National Park Service ranger, and ten years as police chief in the small town of Lewisville, southwest of Nashville. He left that job after being falsely accused of bribing a drug dealer.

His part-time helper is Jasmine LeMieux, whom DorothyL’s Kaye Barley called “a character I LOVE; Jaz LeMieux, wealthy ex-cop who has done a little bit of everything in her life, and done it with flair.” Her Southern Belle mother disowned Jaz when she dropped out of college and joined the Air Force. Making matters worse, she then became a champion woman boxer before joining the police force to pay her bills. After her mother died, Jaz’s father, a French Canadian entrepreneur, took her back in and left her controlling interest in a lucrative chain of truck stops.

Now you know just enough to be dangerous. Or maybe want to read the book. Or maybe you have some other good ideas for promotion? Joanna says she’ll mail a bag of benne seed wafers (a very Southern cookie a lot like peanut brittle) to some lucky person who comments with a good idea.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

What Writers Do...

Just overheard as I was letting the dogs out, getting ready for an appointment, stepping away from my email for a bit:

Neal Conan was talking about "thinking" he was a writer when he was in college, but watching his roommate and having this revelation:

"You've got to put your butt in the chair every single day: writers write!"

Yes, Neal. Which explains why I'm feeling frustrated even though I did a couple of pages today. Seems like lately, I've been distracted and doing everything BUT writing. (Even though I'm a third of a way into a 90,000 word novel, I still feel that sense of unease. It just isn't happening fast enough!)

I think of all the folks who've said to me, "Someday I want to write a book."

I hope they do. I mean, if that's what they want, and if there's a story inside, I hope they put it on paper. But...I know that this discipline, this alone-ness, this duet of me and the empty screen is my dance to do every day. I fight and I struggle and somedays, the words are missing in action.

But...I'm a writer. My butt's in the chair. My hands are on the keys. When the battery on the keyboard goes dead (which it did last week) or the doorbell rings or the dog nudges me to go outside, I am torn away from this world I want so badly to create.

Writers write.

How's it going for YOU?

Monday, April 13, 2009

What Type Is Your Blog?

Have you ever taken a "personality" test? Was it accurate? The Myers-Briggs tests and the Personal Styles quiz were developed after WWII when people all over the world, reeling from the horror of the Nazi regime, wondered, "What kind of person can do such things?" Various scientists and sociologists scrambled for answers.

Now Myers-Briggs offers a new twist--they are analyzing blogs at

As I understand it, this is a project dedicated to the research about how the language reflects our psychological type, and thus our motivations and interests. The fundamental idea is that everyone of us use different personas or social roles at different moments. The major research aim of this project is to find and describe patterns in what interests different personas in terms of opinions, brands, media content etc.

So I decided to run the various blogs I'm part of through the gaunlet. Here's what I found:


Joanna Campbell Slan (My "personal" blog which is geared to writing, marketing and promotion tips.)

ISTP - The Mechanics

The independent and problem-solving type. They are especially attuned to the demands of the moment and are highly skilled at seeing and fixing what needs to be fixed. They generally prefer to think things out for themselves and often avoid inter-personal conflicts. The Mechanics enjoy working together with other independent and highly skilled people and often like seek fun and action both in their work and personal life. They enjoy adventure and risk such as in driving race cars or working as policemen and firefighters.


Killer Hobbies Blog (The blog I started with Deb Baker and now share with five other mystery writers--Camille Minichino/Margaret Grace, Monica Ferris, Linda O. Johnston, Terri Thayer, and Betty Hechtman--who focus on hobbies and pastimes.)

ESFP - The Performers

The entertaining and friendly type. They are especially attuned to pleasure and beauty and like to fill their surroundings with soft fabrics, bright colors and sweet smells. They live in the present moment and don´t like to plan ahead - they are always in risk of exhausting themselves. The enjoy work that makes them able to help other people in a concrete and visible way. They tend to avoid conflicts and rarely initiate confrontation - qualities that can make it hard for them in management positions.


Inkspot (The blog shared by Midnight Ink authors.)

ESTP - The Doers

The active and playful type. They are especially attuned to people and things around them and often full of energy, talking, joking and engaging in physical out-door activities. The Doers are happiest with action-filled work which craves their full attention and focus. They might be very impulsive and more keen on starting something new than following it through. They might have a problem with sitting still or remaining inactive for any period of time.

** Okay, don't be shy! Run your blog through the analyzer and tell me--what's your Type? Does your online persona or blog truly reflect who you are? If you comment and include your blog address, I'll list you in my blog links at

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

What You and I Can Learn from Classical Music's Hottest Act

The hottest, hippest act in Classical Music today, the group that has folks literally dancing in the aisles is a group of Steinway piano playing siblings from Utah, The 5 Browns. Desirae, Deondra, Gregory, Melody and Ryan not only play together professionally right now, they have the distinction of being the only family to attend Julliard simultaneously. Last weekend visited my husband's store (Steinway Piano Gallery of St. Louis), played a mini-concert, and then on Saturday gave a concert at Powell Hall. Above is a photo of them at Ted Drewes Custard because NO trip to St. Louis is complete without going to Ted Drewes. (And yes, that is Ted Drewes, not Nancy Drew's.)

How exciting are these kids? Well, an estimated one-third of their audience at any given concert has seldom if ever attended a classical music concert, and another one-third is college-age or younger.

In short, they are a phenomena. And anytime in life you get to observe ONE superstar--much less five of them at once--I think you should take notes. So here's what I learned, and do me a favor, don't dismiss this stuff as self-evident. The road to success is littered with waylaid travelers who confused self-evident with REALLY important.

The 5 Browns' Rules for Success (as observed by Joanna Campbell Slan, close up and personal):

1. Live with enthusiasm. Imbue all you do with energy. These five are thrilled about being able to do what they love for a living--and they'll gladly tell you so. Are you happy? Do you show it? All of us authors are living the dream. So we need to stop moaning and act like it!

2. Show interest in other people. Ever notice how some authors talk only about themselves and their books? Hmm? These five sensations were on a book signing tour, yet they peppered me with questions about my work. Earlier this year I sat between two men at dinner during a writers conference. They went on and on about their books, and never once asked me about mine. (Note to the man who sat on my right at that fateful repast: Sir, the acquisition of an English accent does NOT entitle a person to wantonly disregard commonly recognized table manners. Either your mother was raised in a barn--as you obviously were--or she's rolling around in her grave in shame!) Making other people feel important is not only good manners, it's also very smart business.

3. Make your work accessible. The Browns introduced each piece they played with a bit about the composer and how that particular composition influenced what we hear today. If you're an author, why not tell your readers about YOUR influences, be they other authors or popular culture? Spread a little credit around and educate your audiences. Let them feel like they just got "the inside scoop." That's why we read gossip magazines, right?

4. Talk to the small fry. Desirae, Melody, Gregory, Deondra and Ryan purposefully stopped to take questions, both at our store and at Powell, taking care to call on the kids who raised their hands. When one little girl pipped, "Were you ever in your school's talent contest?" All five burst out laughing in remembrance as they assured her that indeed they had!

5. Dress up, but don't be overdressed. The Browns wear cocktail attire the first half of their performance and casual wear the second. "We want to seem approachable," said Desirae. And they do. We've never had a performer wear Converse high-tops in our store before. Trust me, Gregory's footwear spoke volumes to the kids who came to see the Browns. It said, "Yep, you can be YOU and still make music." They were nicely groomed, trendy without being crass, and flat out adorable.

6. Sign anything for anyone. From the stage, the Browns offered to sign "any stuff you have." I've seen authors who'll only sign books purchased that day at that event. Is that you? How do you suppose that makes you look? What does it say about you? When that person goes home and talks about you, what will she say? (If you can't answer that affirmatively, better check a copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People out of the library.)

7. Tell people you WANT to come back. It's flattering to THEM, and it lodges a little reminder in their brains: Must have these folks back. When? Hmm. Be sure to tell the bookseller or conference director you'd like to return.

8. Laugh. Be joyous. Gregory ( the oldest brother) introduced Prokofiev's Toccata, op. 11 which he described as sounding like the chase scene from The French Connection. As if on cue, a siren blared in the distance. He got the giggles as did most of the 2400 audience members in Powell Hall. Stage performers know the importance of "jumping the footlights," bridging that gap between those on stage and those in the seats. It's an intimacy all audiences crave. How can YOU jump the footlights and get emotionally close to your readers?

9. Give 'em your phone number. And then be response. We've already heard from Greg, telling us how much fun they had and asking for copies of photos we took. He gave us his email, but we also have all their phone numbers.

Look, I don't know if I'll ever get to be on Martha Stewart's show or Jay Leno's or even watch Zac Posen's fashion show, much less be an important personage there. All of which The 5 Browns have done. Yet to hear them talk about it, they are still marveling at their good fortune. And that's exactly the way I want to act. I want to give my best, to love what I do, and keep marveling at my good fortune. I have the feeling it's the secret to success. From the other side of the pianos, it sure looks it.

10. Put energy in all you do. Here, enjoy this--
PS Are you a regular reader? I'll add your blog title to my blog role if you leave a comment with your blog address!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Agatha Award for Short Stories

I'm reprinting a post here because I think it's important, and because I don't want anyone to miss out.

Cue: Drumroll...

Malice Domestic is coming soon, and if you're going, then don't miss this opportunity to read the Agatha-nominated short stories--for free-- so you can cast an educated vote. All five of the stories are still up on the web for your reading pleasure.
Of course, even if you aren't going to Malice, we won't mind if you take a peek.
Five award-nominated short stories for free! How can you pass that up?
The links are...

"The Night Things Changed" by Dana Cameron, Wolfsbane & Mistletoe (Penguin Group)

"Killing Time" by Jane Cleland, Alfred Hitchock Mystery Magazine -
November 2008

"Dangerous Crossing" by Carla Coupe, Chesapeake Crimes 3 (Wildside

"Skull and Cross-Examinations" by Toni L.P. Kelner, Ellery Queen
Mystery Magazine - February 2008

"A Nice Old Guy" by Nancy Pickard, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine -
August 2008

Don't put it off! After the Agathas are announced, they'll be coming down.

Toni L.P. Kelner

Friday, April 3, 2009

Dreaming of Harlan Coben--and My Own Stupidity

Grrr. I'm in a ba-ad mood. It started with a bad dream about...are you ready? Meeting Harlan Coben.

I know! I can imagine what you are thinking: "Joanna, have you lost it?"

Um, Coben's coming to St. Louis on Monday, and he'll be appearing at the Mad Art Gallery from 7 to 9 p.m. (Go to for details.) Which you would THINK would make a long time HC fan like me really happy. (Ask me how much I loved Myron Bolitar. Go ahead, ask!) Exceedingly happy. But you see, I have this problem when I meet folks I really admire. I get stupid. Criminally stupid.

Years ago, I met Garrison Keillor. He gave a presentation, during which he recited the sonnet by Shakespeare which begins, "Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments."

True confessions: I only know ONE sonnet by heart and that's it.

So in a fit of trying to prove myself worthy, I waited to have my book signed and then, with stuttering voice, I recited the whole poem. Except, I guess I got part of it wrong because he only stared at me sadly and said, "Almost."

And I nearly died. Of embarrassment. Of shame. Instead, of dying, however, I merely slunk off the stage where he continued signing, probably wondering what they put in the water here in St. Louis.

So in my dreams last night I met Harlan Coben...and I think I recited that same stupid sonnet.

Some people never learn.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

It Could be Raining...(My BIG Plotting Secret)

Celebrating my fun interview with Jean Henry-- --and my dinner tonight with my pal Mary Buckham, who is doing a book plotting weekend here in The Lou, I have decided to post my BIG plotting secret.

Are you ready?

It can always get worse.

Yeah. See...that's how life goes and that's what can happen in a book. No matter how dark it is, no matter how horrible the situation, there's always a moment when you think, "Things can't get worse." Or in my family, we call it the "It could be raining" moment. We'll be in a crisis, and my dear husband David will look at me, and we'll say in tandem: "Could be worse. Could be raining." (And usually it we both start to laugh."

We also like the "it went about as badly as anything could go barring loss of life and limb" phrase.

So if you are plotting (or plodding as it sometimes seems) along today, and if you are suffering from the dreaded "saggy middle" just pretend you are Lee Child, who is fabulous for creating situations where you think, "Jack Reacher will NEVER get out of this." Or Jeff Deaver who is the ultimate trickster, leading you to think "Okay, that character is su-unk." Or even those bright sparks who write "24," and give us fine moments where we're forced to admit "our entire way of life is DOOMED." That is, be a gloomy thinker. Decide what the worst is and let it rip.

Hint, hint: It doesn't have to be the WORST for your protag. It could be the WORST for someone your protag loves.

Tip: Ask yourself, "What would really upset the status quo."

And while I'm at it, I hope you don't read the Kirkus Reviews for Cut, Crop & Die (Book #2 in the Kiki Lowenstein Mystery Series which will be released in June). I hope you don't because although Kirkus called the book "a nicely crafted cozy full of amusing moments, real-life insecurities and scrapbooking tips," they also gave away a really bleak time in Kiki's life. (Why, oh, why did they have to post a spoiler?)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Cozy Chicks Visit

Pop over to Cozy Chicks to see where all that cutting and pasting led me!

And yeah, I think I misspelled "chafed" in the article. Drat.

I'd Rather Be Eating Kibble...Or Why Some Books Are Hard to Take

Every day the Universe conspires to teach me lessons I don't wanna learn. As they say in the movies, "Resistance is FUTILE." And yet, I still struggle.

Today, my dog was the teaching assistant. Rafferty decided he didn't want to eat his food. Being a good dog mom, I coaxed. "Ah, come on, Raffie." Then I threatened. "Eat your food." And finally, I resorted to unfair tactics. I poured beef boullion over the kibble.

To no available. He licked off the beef and sat down to stare at me.

His desire to eat has not overcome whatever resistance he's feeling. And yet...and's spring and I have hope.

It's like that with books, too. I keep trying to read Bleak House by Dickens. At first, I tried because I own an old copy, and there's a deep seated part of me that believes old books are to be venerated. Then I tried because I read a reference to the characters. And finally, I've taken a third stab at Bleak (was there ever a book so aptly named?) because I'm doing research on the justice system in Victorian times.

Personally, I'd rather be eating kibble.