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Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Halloween Close Call--A Kiki Lowenstein Novella

Need a Kiki fix? For less than a cup of coffee, you can read the most recent adventure of Kiki Lowenstein, “A Halloween Close Call.” Kiki Lowenstein is invited to a Halloween Party at Detective Chad Detweiler's parents' farm. But mysterious happenings around St. Louis have everyone on edge--and Kiki has a close encounter that leaves a surprising clue behind! This entertaining 10,000+ word novella is only $1.99 and available at A Close Call.

Here's a sample:

Chapter 1
“If it’s spooky or scary, count me out.”
Detective Chad Detweiler grinned at me. “Even if I’m there to hold your hand?”
“Sorry. I don’t do scary. I love Halloween but I draw the line at being frightened out of my mind. I get enough crummy surprises in my daily life, thank you,” and to underscore how adamant I was, I crossed my arms over my chest. But I couldn’t look stern for long. Not when I was around my friends, so I spoiled the impact by smiling. I know I did.
See, my name is Kiki Lowenstein, and I’m the original Mrs. Nice Guy. I like butterflies and rainbows, puppies and kittens, sugar and spice, and brightly colored flowers. I always make sure to get my daily quota of cute. You can never have too much cute in your life. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
“So the woman who stared down her husband’s murderer is a big ‘fraidy cat.” Johnny Chambers winked at me. Johnny has Bad Boy written all over him, whereas anyone can see that Detweiler is a Knight in Shining Armor.
I shrugged and stared off into the metal shelves where we kept excess merchandise for the scrapbook store where I work, Time in a Bottle. My friends and I were holding an impromptu get-together here, in the stockroom of the store, to discuss our plans for celebrating Halloween. But walking through a “haunted house,” one of those converted warehouses complete with “zombies” and “ghosts” and “monsters” did not appeal to me one bit. “I did what I had to do to survive. This is different. You all are talking about getting your wits scared out of you as a form of recreation. If that’s your idea of a good time, have at it, go ahead, love you to bits, but I’m taking a pass.”
I know I sounded a bit whiny. I couldn’t help it. Years ago, I learned the hard way that I have a very poor tolerance for spooky stuff. I’d gone with my late husband to a screening of Carrie, the movie made of the Stephen King book by the same name. That last scene where Carrie’s hand shoots up out of the grave had me so terrified I almost went into shock. My teeth chattered and I shook like the leaves on a maple sapling before a tornado hits. It took me weeks to calm down.
I was not interested in submitting myself to being jumped at, touched, or grabbed in the dark by people I didn’t know. Especially if they’re dressed like Frankenstein or the Mummy or even Count Dracula. Ugh.
No sirree. I’m not interest in paying to be shocked and surprised.
Detweiler laughed and pulled me close. “Come here, you.” He hugged me. I relaxed into his arms, a place where I always felt safe. Listening to the soft lub-lub-lub of his big heart reminded me that I wasn’t alone in this world. “If you don’t want to visit a haunted house, we’ll find another way to have fun on Halloween. No problem.”
I stayed in Detweiler’s arms, but rotated slightly so I could see my friends. Clancy and Johnny were joined by Laurel Wilkins and her fiancĂ© Pastor Joe Riley. What a cute couple those two are. Joe and Laurel both are in their late twenties. When they walk by, people turn and stare because they are two exceptionally good-looking people. I mean, you feel like you’re in the company of Hollywood stars when you’re with the two of them. And nice? Shoot. You couldn’t find two sweeter people.
Clancy and Johnny aren’t really a couple, but they are pals, so they occasionally accompany each other rather than sit home alone. It’s an arrangement that suits both of them very well. Clancy could easily be mistaken for Jacqueline Kennedy, she’s got those dramatic, classy looks. And Johnny, well, Johnny is a scamp. There’s a roguish side to his personality that comes through with every move he makes.
I hated disappointing all of them. They had their hearts set on celebrating this Halloween by all of us doing something special.
The question was, what?
Now that I’d put the kibosh on going through one of the many “haunted houses” that regularly sprang up this time of year all over the metro-St. Louis area, what would we do for fun?
“Look, I don’t want to be a party pooper. You all should go without me. I’ll be fine passing out candy at my house.” Of course, I didn’t mean a word of that. I would hate to be left out, but it did seem like giving everyone else permission to carry on was the gracious thing to do.
“Mo-om,” moaned Anya, my thirteen-year-old daughter, who had just joined us. “I’m too big to trick or treat. Sitting home on Halloween will be, like, totally boring. Geez.”
“I didn’t quit trick or treating until I was sixteen,” said Laurel. “But I understand what you mean, Anya. Don’t worry. We’ll think of something fun to do.”
. “Kiki, we wouldn’t enjoy ourselves if you don’t come,” Clancy Whitehead patted me on the back as I pulled free from the big detective’s embrace. “And Anya’s right. Sitting at home would be a drag. So, we’ll make another plan. I’ve never been overly fond of haunted houses either. Some of them are okay, but I was in one where this hand reached out and--”
“La-la-la-la-la,” I stuck both fingers in my ears and sang. “Don’t want to hear it!”
“Geez, Mom,” said Anya. “You are being such a baby about all this.”
“Anya-Banana, it’s okay. Your mom is just being honest with us. We’re all friends here. That’s the way good friends operate. They take each others’ wishes into account,” said Detweiler. He was the only adult officially authorized to call my darling daughter by her old nickname. The hunky detective and my daughter had a wonderful relationship. He was very careful to be totally respectful and clear about boundaries with her, and he was teaching her that sticking up for her rights and feelings was important. He’d seen too many teens talked into stupid stunts by their peers. And worse, he’d handled a grisly abuse case where the stepfather was molesting his stepdaughter. Detweiler, Anya and I had even discussed the situation over the dinner table one night, with him emphasizing that she should never hesitate to tell the authorities if someone acted inappropriately toward her or her friends. No matter how powerful the perpetrator seemed to be.
I could see that he was supporting me in nixing the haunted house to help Anya realize that friends don’t push friends into uncomfortable situations.
I have to admit, my heart was overflowing with love for my daughter and my new beau. I’d heard a lot of horror stories about women with kids getting involved and bad outcomes. But so far, the three of us had been able to discuss frankly any hiccups along the way to becoming a family.
One of those hiccups was melding with Detweiler’s parents, Louis and Thelma, as well as his sisters, Ginny and Patty. Since Detweiler and his wife Brenda were only officially separated, and not yet divorced, I wasn’t sure how the Detweiler family would feel about me. I thought I remembered hearing that Patty and Brenda were good friends. But I was afraid to ask.
Maybe Johnny was right. I can be a ‘fraidy cat. I know I sure do stick my head in the sand sometimes, so maybe I’m more like an ostrich.
“Don’t worry, Kiki. I’ll come up with something fun for us all to do on Halloween,” said Detweiler, giving my hand a gentle squeeze. “That includes you, Anya. My niece Emily has been asking about you. She wants to hear how your kitten is doing.”
Anya’s face broke into a huge smile. “Seymour is getting big. Wait ‘til I tell her about how Gracie picks him up and carries him around.”
Hearing her name, my wonderful harlequin Great Dane started to thump her tail happily. Gracie is totally besotted with Detweiler. She had managed to lean her entire body weight against his leg while we were all talking. Now she was looking up at him with moony brown eyes.
Yeah, no doubt about it. My life was full of love and happiness. This wonderful support system of friends gave me all sorts of self-confidence. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that I’ve never been more happy or secure.
But I still wasn’t willing to visit a haunted house.
Huh uh.
No way.


Hungry for more? Upload the whole novella in seconds at A Close Call.


Copyright 2010, Joanna Campbell Slan

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

I'm a Researchaholic: An Interview with Joe Finder

Joe Finder will be appearing at the Love Is Murder Conference in Chicago, Feb. 4-6, 2011. For more information go to

1.Unlike most action oriented books, your settings are not exotic. Often the scariest scenes occur in office buildings. Many authors rely on dramatic settings. How do you manage to make such commonplace settings still seem frightening?

The familiar is what we identify with most, and we need to identify with a situation before we can be frightened. Alfred Hitchock understood this. He was the master of taking the ordinary man in the commonplace setting, and turning it into something tense and unexpected. That tension, that fear happens when something disrupts the familiar: the thing under the bed, the noise on the stairs. That’s what I’m interested in.

2.Your hero/ine is often a sort of “every man” or “every woman” who is discounted by others. Why does this type of character appeal to you? It would seem that the pitfall would be a character who is too bland or boring to hold the reader’s attention, and yet your characters are compelling…even if they are slackers. Please comment. Also, you seem to include male characters who are amazed that they’re loved by smart and attractive women. This goes contrary to many male fantasies of being irresistible. Tell us about that.

I think the “everyman” is the ideal protagonist for a thriller, again because of this question of identifying with the hero. I also love the idea of the underdog, the person the reader wants to root for because everyone else seems to underestimate them. Nick Heller can be beaten, and because we know that, the stakes are higher. It’s much more exciting for the reader when he overcomes those obstacles.

Men might pretend to think they’re irresistible, but I’ll let you in on a secret: most of us know that’s a fantasy. Most men have no idea why any woman would find us attractive. Life’s not an Axe commercial. I think both men and women appreciate a more realistic approach.

3. Your books are full of tension and suspense, but it comes from events most of us might imagine ourselves in, such as snooping around in an office where we don’t belong. Or getting caught in a lie. You are a master at upping the stakes and amplifying the threat. How do you do that?

All of my anxieties feed my twisted imagination, or maybe it’s the other way around. I imagine myself in a given situation and ask, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” Then I play out the scenario in ways that will challenge the reader’s expectations. If a reader thinks, “Oh, I know where this is going,” but something completely different happens, that’s exciting, that’s thrilling.

You have to start with a character the reader cares about, and then put them through a sequence of events that escalate, with moments of real tension — cliffhangers — in between.

4.You write with great precision about technical situations, such as how cargo planes are managed, how corporate secrets are stored, how stock issues and buyouts happen. You list a lot of experts as resources. Please talk about how you do your research. Do you do it all upfront? Or in stages? Do you interview people or ask questions as you go along? Have you ever be headed down the wrong path and then discovered, because of your research, that you needed to rewrite a chunk?

Research my favorite part of the process. I love research. I’d go so far as to call myself a researchaholic. I need to keep myself from overdoing it, because the easiest thing in the world is to put off writing while I check one last fact or interview one more source. Usually I’ll start with a general idea of setting and plot, but the research will shape the setting, and also provide plot ideas; I’ll ask someone, “What could go wrong? And what would you do then? And how could that go wrong?” The big research happens at the beginning of the process, and I’ll gather enough information to get the engines going.

Once I start writing, though, questions about details inevitably come up. I’ll keep track of them as I go, and call or email my sources during breaks in the writing to get answers. So far, I haven’t had to go back to correct something because I learn it’s not feasible. I’ve usually done enough research in advance to give me a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn’t.

5.What’s your process? How do you come up with your concepts? Do you outline? You have a lot of twists and turns, and you manage to end many chapters with cliffhangers. Do you plan these in advance?

Everything starts with the “what if?” question. What if my new neighbors were actually spies? What if someone started taking those “business is war” books a little too seriously? What if the entire leadership structure of a shaky company were taken hostage?

From there, I start populating my scenario with characters. Who’s my hero? Where does he or she come from? What does he or she want? Who and what are the obstacles to this desire?

Then I brainstorm the major “beats” of the story, creating a beat sheet that lays out the major plot points of my story. I don’t get too detailed, because I need to figure a lot of it out along the way. If my outline’s too detailed, I’m bored before I even begin.

I follow the basic formula of “surprise, reverse, reveal.” We start with situation A, which suddenly becomes situation B — except it’s actually C, which turns out to be D. It’s like peeling the layers of an onion, and sometimes — actually, often — I surprise myself. I don’t always know where the cliffhangers turn up, and the ultimate resolution often doesn’t reveal itself to me until I’m writing it.

6. Your book “High Crimes” was made into a movie. You were able to make a cameo appearance and spend time on the set. Talk about the difference between a movie and a book. (You did this eloquently in the interview during the movie trailer, so if you could repeat that here, that would be great.)

My big discovery, in watching HIGH CRIMES become a movie, was how much more scope I had as an author than screenwriters or even directors do. I can develop characters and storylines in a 500-page novel that filmmakers can’t hope to convey in 120 minutes. They just don’t have the time or the space to create the kind of world I try to build in each book. Authors can form relationships not only with their fictional characters, but also with their readers, because of the time it takes to read a book. Even a fast-paced thriller is going to take at least a day to read. At the end of that time, the reader feels a connection to me that I think it’s hard to feel with the director of a film.

Beyond that, I had a new appreciation for the absolute control I have, as an author, over my plot and my characters. Filmmaking and television producing are collaborations, and those collaborations create marvelous things. I can feel the excitement and the attraction of being part of that kind of collaboration, but they’re no substitute for the thrill of being able to sit at a desk alone and create my own stories from thin air, with no one to answer to but the reader.

That said, I think authors can learn a lot from the movies: the importance of having your reader identify with the main character, the need to start as late in the action as possible, the deadly effects of over-narration. I want my books to feel like great movies, but deeper, and more nuanced.

7.Your first book at age 24 was a nonfiction account of the ties that Armand Hammer had with the Soviets. For that, he threatened to sue you. How did you cope with the stress of that? What lessons did you take away?

I loved doing the research, making those discoveries, and putting it all on paper. I didn’t love the controversy. What I learned was that I could still do the research, still make those discoveries, still put it all on paper — but I could do that and actually make the story up, rather than being constrained by the facts.

The research I did for RED CARPET became the foundation of my first novel, THE MOSCOW CLUB. I discovered that I could use even more of my research, in a way that was more creatively interesting, if I turned it into fiction. It was a revelation.

8.Talk about the time in your career when your agent suggested you might have to write under another name to “redeem” yourself. What kept you going? What did you do? What did you learn?

Almost every author I know has had times when something went wrong in the publishing process, where sometimes external issues created obstacles an author had no control over. I didn’t want to write under a different name. Instead, I took a break and did other things, and I took a broader look at the genre I was working in.

I saw what John Grisham was doing, setting his stories in law firms, and noticed that no one was setting thrillers in the everyday working world, the place most people live. I saw that the old 1970s conspiracy stories could be played out in today’s business world — in an office environment that looked ordinary to an outsider, but might have secrets buried within.

So I came up with a new “what if”: what if all those old spy techniques — the moles, the leaks, the theft of secrets, the double agents — were being used in today’s high-tech corporations? And what if an ordinary guy — the Hitchcock hero, someone the reader could identify with — got pulled into one of these operations?

The result was PARANOIA. It took me a couple of years to research and write, and when I was finished I felt that it was something truly new, and something I’d be proud to put my name on.

9.Your agent also told you that humor was incompatible with suspense, and you’ve obviously ignored that. Your humor contributes to your characters and gives the reader a nice change of pace. Tell us why you didn’t take your agent’s advice on dumping the humor.

This was another piece of advice I decided to ignore when I wrote PARANOIA. At that point, I felt I had nothing to lose by letting my own voice come through — and that voice, often as not, is the voice of a smartass.

But again, the humor is part of how my protagonist stands in for the reader. When I first started researching PARANOIA, I walked into Cisco Systems and it was like visiting a foreign country. All this jargon was flying through the air, words I’d never heard before, like “bandwidth” and “pushback” and “escalation.” Humor was a natural reaction to that kind of information overload, not only for Adam but for me, and for the reader. Especially when you’ve dropped a character into a strange and complicated situation, humor is a way to reassure the reader that the characters are taking it all in stride, and they should, too.

10.You grew up as a “third culture” kid, a child who spent several years as an expat. Research has shown that “third culture” kids are more curious, more adventuresome, and more accepting of diversity. They tend to get bored easily. Given that many Americans don’t even own a passport, what could you say to encourage Americans to travel and experience other cultures?

This is a really interesting question. What I would say to Americans is that the world is a mansion, and we live in only one room. There are many ways to open the doors to that room, and travel is only one of them.

When you move a lot, you get used to paying attention to new situations. It teaches you to be an observer, to ask questions, to figure out what you need to know. Those are essential skills for a writer.

I’d certainly encourage Americans to travel, but I realize that it’s not always possible, given time and money constraints. That’s one of the great things about books: they let you experience cultures and identify with people whose values might differ. As many places as I’ve been, one of the best trips I ever took was Eleanor Cameron’s The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet, which I read as a kid. That was the book that first made me want to be a writer, and I might have found it even if I’d never traveled anywhere.

Monday, October 25, 2010

How to Make a Book Safe and More from Angela

Angela Daniels wrote a neat post about her visit to Bouchercon. You can read it here. And that's a picture Angela took of one of the book safes she made in her second session.

You can go directly to this LINK, and see her how to info. Isn't this just the cutest thing?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Blast at Bouchercon

I had such a great time at Bouchercon and visiting San Francisco in general. My dear friend Camille Minichino was in charge of the craft rooms at Bouchercon, and she just did a bang up job.

For those of you who aren't familiar with Bouchercon, it's the conference named for Anthony Boucher, and it's the largest mystery conference in the world. The setting rotates from town to town, and since I'd never been to San Francisco, I was happy to have a great excuse to visit.

Another friend, the adorable Angela Daniels from Fiskars, presented two crafts at the conference. Gosh, Fiskars was so incredibly generous! They sent along scissors, tape runners, supplies and bright orange bags.

Angela's first project was covering a composition notebook. I took photos of the results. I'm always amazed at how given the same materials, people put their own creative spin on projects. Aren' t these wonderful?

Her second craft was to make a "secret safe" out of a paperback book. I wasn't able to hang around for all of that because the date coincided with my 28th wedding anniversary, and I wanted to have dinner with my husband.

But I must admit, I'm eager to try that project now. Everyone can use a good safe!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Bouchercon by the Bay

I'll be appearing at the Midnight Ink Booth from 12:30 to 1:30 on Saturday, and in the craft rooms with my friend Angela Daniels from Fiskars at 11:30 and 4:30. On Friday night, I'll be doing a signing at the crop at Scrapbook Territories in Berkeley, CA.

If you've never been to a large conference before, or even if you have, these are great tips from Sunny Frazier.


Wear comfortable shoes, clothes that travel, and layer clothes.

Be ready to exchange business cards and have plenty handy.

Ask people to attend your panel as you chat them up. They will love the fact you've asked them to come! You get to sign books afterward.

Plant a few copies of your book in the give-away section. This assures you of a few people in your signing line.

Bring a camera, take lots of photos for your website. Pose with the big names. When people ask to pose with you for their website, comply.

Don't try to hit a panel every hour. You will exhaust yourself and you'll hurt from sitting so much.

Get to the humor panel early. It fills up fast. Same with the bar.

Don't spend all your time bonding with the guys. Women are the ones who buy books.

Always be on your best behavior--especially in the elevator.

Stare at people's chest and read their nametags. It's the only time this practice is acceptable.

Rest. It will seem like the longest long weekend of your life. Slip upstairs and crash for a bit during the day. Stay hydrated.

Bring something "nice" to wear to the banquet. Most of the time dress is casual. This is California, but it IS San Francisco.

Find the hospitality room immediately. See what they have up there to munch on. Sometimes this is the only time you get to eat.

Scope out the entire conference set up ahead of time. Study the conference book and try to memorize faces in the book and a bit about each author. I start weeks ahead using the names listed online.

Smile until your cheeks hurt. You'll feel like you're running for Miss America.

Most of all, enjoy the experience. It's the BIG one!

See you there,
Sunny Frazier

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Fall Wall Hanging

The colors of fall inspire me! I love my photos of fall scenes, and I didn't want to hide them away in an album. So I started collecting twigs, and then I came up with this idea.

Here's how I made my fall wall hanging:

1. Tear a piece of cream muslin 6 1/2 x 15 inches.
2. Using a cross-stitch and embroidery floss, stitch on the three twigs.
3. Add a colorful ribbon tied in a bow. Attach the ends of the ribbon to the hanging with buttons.
4. Matt two photos. Glue these to the fabric.
5. Punch lots of leaves in a variety of shapes and colors. Glue the leaves along the sides of the hanging, taking care to overlap the leave shapes. See the detail photo (below) for ideas.

6. Add buttons.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Whazzup? Thoughts about Words and a Link

At first I resisted text-ese and slang, but I started thinking about Shakespeare and how he created so many words we use daily, and I changed my mind. I think some of the new words floating about--LOL, Whazzup?, whodunit, chillaxing--are pretty cool.

How inventive was Shakespeare? One site lists 1,700 words that Shakespeare first used in his works. These include:

* accommodation
* amazement
* courtship
* countless
* frugal
* fitful
* lonely
* majestic
* suspicious

He also coined many phrases that we use today, including:

* dog will have its day
* eat out of house and home
* all that gilters
* break the ice
* kill with kindness
* it's Greek to me

The English language grows every year. One reason is technology. We add new words to accommodate (thanks, Will!) new ideas. I was working with a computer tech the other day, a man young enough to be my son, and we discussed how computers of old took up entire floors. How they had to be shut down to cool off. How all the programming was on punch cards. Think of all the changes! It's now commonplace to talk about:

* Mac
* PC
* Microsoft
* Windows (with a capital "W")
* hard drive
* laptop
* Internet
* thumbdrive

And of course, words that once had meanings have changed, so that when we talk about "wireless" we're not discussing a radio.

Another way that words are added is by adopting foreign words, such as jihad, shirah and anime. Since the world is a smaller place (theoretically), we have more contact with other cultures, so we're adopting more words than ever.

Then, we have the zeitgeist words, the words that come out of our culture. These wouldn't make sense to someone who lived in another time, but they are au courant and useful now.

* "tea party"
* mortgage backed securities
* Madoff
* September 11

And words from the world of science, commerce and medicine, such as:

* Viagra
* supernova
* blood diamonds
* botox

It's interesting how the newest words seem to come with the most baggage. That makes sense when you realize that words spring from political situations or cultural icons/changes.

Some words are only regional. Yesterday I was working on Ink, Red, Dead, which is the tentative title for Book #5 in the Kiki Lowenstein series. I described one of the new characters as having grown up in the "boot heel." Now, if you are from St. Louis, you would understand that this is the southwestern corner of the state of Missouri, and that anyone coming from the "boot heel" is probaby considered a hillbilly by the swanky folks in Ladue.

It's weird how a word can be so loaded. Kiki would never think twice about someone coming from the boot heel, but other people in the book definitely look down upon this woman's background.

Another word I'm using is "scrubby Dutch." Okay, really that's two words. It describes the houseproud German immigrants to St. Louis. "Dutch" is a mispronunciation of "deustch." At first I felt pretty squeamish about this phrase, because I didn't want to be offensive. But a lovely group of my fans met me at a Barnes and Noble in Fenton. They actually asked me to create a "scrubby Dutch" character.

So I did.

Which leads us to another word: EASY.

Yeah, that's what I am. I'm sort of a pushover where my fans are involved.


Here's a link to a new review of Photo, Snap, Shot. I was delighted that P.J. liked the book, because she's a real expert on mysteries. I was hoping I could grow enough as an author to please her!