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Friday, December 13, 2013

Excerpt from KIKI AND CARA MIA'S HOLIDAY CELEBRATION


Now Available for Only $3.99!

Kiki and Cara Mia’s Holiday Celebration

By Joanna Campbell Slan


Author’s Note: In Kiki Lowenstein’s life, this novella comes after Killer,Paper, Cut. In Cara Mia Delgatto’s life, this novella comes after Tear Down and Die (only 99 cents!)


Chapter 1
Monday (Hanukkah starts Wednesday at sundown)
Kiki Lowenstein’s house in Webster Groves, Missouri

~ Kiki ~

Standing on the back stoop of our tiny house, I could see that the sky was brightening up, but you couldn’t call it daylight yet. I could see my breath hanging in the air like little patches of fog. If I hadn’t been eight-months pregnant, with hormones that stoked my internal furnace to an unnaturally high temperature, I would have been shivering in my house slippers. Instead, I was actually comfortable.
                So was Bronwyn “Brawny” Macavity, our nanny. Of course, Brawny is the original Celtic warrior, a Stoic of the first order. Nothing fazes her.
                Nothing except a call from her brother that their ninety-five-year-old mother took a fall off a curb in Aberdeen, Scotland, and broke her hip. Now that got her attention.
“Do you have everything?” I asked Bronwyn Macavity, our nanny. Instead of her usual garb—a kilt, white blouse and knee socks—Brawny was wearing plaid slacks, a white blouse, and a red cashmere sweater,  an outfit reminiscent of girls attending a parochial school in St. Louis.
                “Aye, I think so. The gifts for me mum are in the big suitcase that Detective Detweiler took to the car, and my passport and papers are in my new backpack,” she said, with a pat to the black bag at her feet.
Exhaust fumes were rising from the big Impala where my fiancĂ© Detective Chad Detweiler, the father of my baby, was warming the car for Brawny. Although she couldn’t have cared less, it was a nice gesture.
The temperature had dipped last night and a light coating of frost dusted the grass like sugar on a donut. Detweiler was getting ready to drive our nanny to Lambert International, the St. Louis Airport. From there she would fly to London’s Gatwick, and from Gatwick, where one of her sisters would meet her and take her to her mother’s house.
                “You promise to let us know you’ve arrived safely?” I hated to see Brawny go. Since she’d joined our family in July, Brawny had proved herself to be a wonderful nanny and a steadfast friend.
                “Aye.”
                “Do you want me to wake the children?” I didn’t want to, but I thought I should ask.
                “No, I gave Anya a kiss and Erik an extra cuddle last night. We looked at the calendar. That was a right smart idea you had, Miss Kiki, to color in the days I’d be gone. It’ll make it much easier for him to keep track. Anya said she’d help him.”
                “He’ll be fine. Family first,” I said firmly. “Your mother needs you. Your siblings do, too. You can decide as a group what’s best for her. We can handle whatever happens here, but you’d never forgive yourself if you didn’t go home now and see what’s what.”
                We insisted that Brawny fly home when she told us about her mother’s tumble. She needed to be there when her siblings conferred about what they should do next. The fall broke their mother’s hip. It was one of those life-threatening accidents that can happen to elderly women. Since Brawny hadn’t been home in two years, her sense of worry was intensified by the realization her mother was growing not only older but more fragile.
“Me mum’s always been up and going. Here, there and yonder. Visiting with her friends, playing cards, and helping out at church,” said Brawny. “But me brother Hamish tells me she hadn’t left the house in weeks before the accident. The fact that she’d been staying to home tells me she’s not herself.”
                Yes, it was imperative that Brawny return to Scotland, although we all hated to see her go. Erik in particular would miss his nanny. She’d been with him from birth, and Brawny had provided much needed stability in the boy’s life. Five-year-old Erik had come to live with us only five months ago after his mother (Gina) and her second husband (Van Lauber) died in a car accident in California.
Brawny accompanied the boy as a “gift” to our busy family, given by Erik’s Aunt Lori (Lorraine Lauber). Lorraine had rightly surmised that Brawny’s presence would ease the boy’s transition and help us adjust to having a new family member.
“I’m sorry to be leaving you like this, in the lurch, so to speak. What with so much of the boxing up yet to be done,” Brawny said, interrupting my thoughts.
                After my landlord Leighton Haversham lost all his money to his scheming daughter, he could no longer afford to keep the huge family home he’d grown up in. We lived on the spacious grounds of that house, in a former garage that he’d converted. Since there were five of us (counting Brawny), and one on the way, we were crammed into a too-small space. He, on the other hand, was rattling around in the vast 5,000-square foot family home. So Lorraine had purchased Leighton’s property in order to rent the big house to us for a pittance. Leighton would be moving into our current home and paying her a nominal amount of rent to her as well.
At first, we’d argued with Lorraine, because this seemed like charity. The big house should have rented for a lot more money than we could afford to pay.
“How can it be charity when all parties benefit?” she asked.
She was right. After the death of her brother and sister-in-law, Lorraine had taken on the role of becoming our “fairy godmother,” and she loved it. A spinster with no family besides Erik, she relished how we’d “adopted” him—and her—with open arms, long before she started showering us with gifts. She was pleased to provide more space for Erik to romp around in. We were relieved to have found a spot that was both affordable and convenient. My daughter was thrilled that we weren’t leaving the beautiful property she’d come to love. And Leighton was happiest of all.
Because most of his family furnishings wouldn’t fit in the converted garage, we’d even decided to trade much of our furniture. He was happy that his parents’ lovely things wouldn’t be sitting around gathering dust in a storage unit. We were both thrilled that we could stay neighbors. Especially after his daughter’s scheming, Leighton had come to think of us as his real family.
With the house-swap decided, Brawny had cheerfully taken on the responsibility for packing us up and getting us ready to move. She is a wonder. In addition to caring for Erik and easing his transition into his new family, she had also assumed carpool duties, taking both Erik and my thirteen-year-old daughter, Anya, to school. She did most of our laundry and made most of our meals. If that wasn’t enough, she’d also made herself useful teaching knitting at my scrapbooking and craft store, Time in a Bottle. Of course, when my own baby came in January, she’d be an absolute godsend.
                As I watched Detweiler hold the passenger side door open for Brawny, a lump form in my throat. I would miss her. I also fought a growing sense of nervous tension. For us to move from this small house into our new, larger place, seemed like a gargantuan task! Especially since I’d hoped we could celebrate at least some of the nights of Hanukkah in the new place and then get it decorated for Christmas.
I sure wished she wasn’t leaving. But Brawny was doing the right thing.
                Family first.
Even when it’s a family you’ve cobbled together.

Chapter 2
Monday (Hanukkah starts Wednesday at sundown)
Cara Mia’s apartment above The Treasure Chest in Stuart, Florida

~ Cara Mia ~

I woke up to the sunlight streaming through my window. Outside I heard the cry of a seagull and the soft rustling of palm fronds. Another day in Paradise!
As quietly as possible, I got out of bed, dressed, and crept around my small apartment, trying not to wake my son, Tommy, who was sleeping in my living room on my new sofa bed. But despite my best efforts, when the toaster noisily popped up my slice of bread, Tommy sat bolt upright in his bed.
“Sorry, honey,” I said. “Didn’t mean to wake you.”
“Wassup, Mom?” He rubbed his eyes.
“Nothing, honey. My toaster seems to be jet propelled this morning. Can I make you a cup of hot chocolate?”
                In the run up to the Christmas holiday, it was a family tradition that I’d start his mornings with a cup of hot chocolate. Each day in December I would add another tiny marshmallow until twenty-five of them crowded the top of his mug. Sort of like a liquid Advent Calendar for Tommy.
This morning, he drank the hot beverage without a word besides, “Thank you.” That didn’t surprise me. He was still half-asleep. Like most college students, his body clock was all off. He’d been up until late last night, sending messages over his computer to his friends in St. Louis.
                After he finished his drink, he sat there in a tangled heap of covers and stared off into space. His right hand was busy stroking Jack, the white Chihuahua that I’d adopted. Jack usually slept with me, but once Tommy was home, I was yesterday’s news. So much for loyalty!
                I didn’t prod Tommy to talk. I could guess what he was thinking about. Yesterday, I had driven down to Coral Gables and picked him up at University of Miami for winter break. Once he had helped me navigate my way back onto Highway 95, he’d warned me he wasn’t happy with how he’d done on his tests.
“I guess I’ve been having too much fun,” he had admitted sheepishly.
                “Nothing you can do about that right now,” I’d said. “You’re done for the holidays. Try to relax and enjoy the time off. If the test grades are bad, we can talk later about what you need to do.”
He didn’t say much during the drive up the coast to Stuart.
Nor had he said anything when we climbed the stairs to our little apartment above my new business, The Treasure Chest. I’d tried to make him comfortable by buying a nice fold-out sofa bed but admittedly the accommodations were a bit cramped. However, in my humble opinion, the view of the intracoastal waterway right outside our window made up for the lack of space.  
                I’d considered the matter of his tests dealt with and done. But obviously, Tommy didn’t agree. As he sat there on the bed, he was chewing on his bottom lip, a sign that something was bugging him.     
“What’s wrong?” I said, as I retrieved the empty mug from the side table. “I can tell your mind is going a mile a minute. Are you still worried about your exams?”
                “No, I’m not thinking about my tests.”
I rinsed out the mug and waited, hoping that Tommy would hurry up and talk. Since re-opening The Treasure Chest, I’ve been busy as the proverbial bee, darting here and there, trying to revamp, revive, and re-introduce the business to the Stuart community. What had once been a successful antique and curiosity store had fallen onto hard times shortly before its owner, Essie Feldman, died. The building had been an empty eyesore when I snapped up. While my purchase seemed whimsical to outsiders, The Treasure Chest was actually a place that I knew well. Each summer until I was seventeen, my parents had rented the upstairs apartment for our vacation home.
That single living space had long since been divided into two units, mirror-images of themselves. I’d rented out the second unit to my new friend and co-worker Skye Blue.
Skye had been a great help as I had worked feverishly to re-open the doors of The Treasure Chest, just in time for the tourist season in Florida. So had MJ Austin, who’d worked at the original store, and who knew a lot about selling antiques and collectibles. First we had refurbished the interior of the building on a shoestring. Then we had to stock the place on a dime. Since all this happened so close to the holidays, coming up with enough stock to sell had been particularly challenging.
Since I hadn’t had the time to set up accounts with vendors, we’d been forced to hand make most of what we sold. Coming up with items that were unique, upcycled, recycled, and repurposed goods, really stretched our creative muscles. But so far the “snowbirds,” our temporary residents from up north, had found our wares incredibly appealing.
That created a new problem: producing enough merchandise to keep up with demand.
And with each day, that demand was growing. I had to admit, we’d not only done a good job of revitalizing The Treasure Chest. We’d done a great job!
                Even my son thought The Treasure Chest was “sick,” which is teen-speak for “awesome.”
                “If the tests aren’t bothering you, what is it? Maybe I can help,” I said to Tommy.
                “Um, doubtful.”
                I tousled his dark curls so like my own. “Why not give me a chance?”
                “Okay,” he said reluctantly. “Last night I was Skyping with my friends from St. Louis last night, and Joseph Popyck is having a party. This Friday. I’m invited. But I know I can’t go.”
                Jack looked up at Tommy and pawed my son’s arm in a show of doggy sympathy. The two had bonded immediately. Now the little dog seemed incredibly sensitive to Tommy’s moods.
                “Why can’t you go to the party?” I asked. “What’s keeping you here?”
                “You know.”
                Oh. I’d forgotten.
I could have given myself a dope slap to the forehead.
                Tommy hated air travel. Planes freaked him out. Made him sick. The only way he could handle flying was to take an Ambien before he boarded the plane so he could snooze the entire trip.
Giving a teenager Ambien was NOT my idea. My ex-husband Dominic had handed Tommy a vial of the pills. I wanted to throttle my ex when I learned what he’d done.
Worst of all, the Ambien worked. Sort of. Tommy could travel, but he couldn’t travel alone. The Ambien did a great job of knocking him out, but it had a nasty side effect. If Tommy couldn’t go immediately to sleep after popping the pill, or if he had to wake up before he got eight hours of shut-eye, he couldn’t think straight. He wandered around like a zombie and did weird stuff. Like the time our flight was delayed in Charlotte. Tommy had taken his pill too early, thinking we were ready to board the plane. While my back was turned, he shoved his entire carry-on into a trash receptacle. If I hadn’t turned around when I did, we would have lost his ID, iPad, and phone. Yes, Tommy could fly but not without a companion.
I had tried several times to convince Tommy to try something else, like Dramamine or Xanax, but he was so paranoid about flying that he wasn’t willing to take a chance on a different drug. Of course, the more I pushed him to quit taking the Ambien, the more I looked like “Mean Mom,” which was exactly what Dom probably hoped would happen.
                “I know you can’t take time off,” said Tommy, “and I hate asking you to. But there’s another reason I’m down. Dad wants me to come home. He says he misses me. He’s bought tickets for both of us so we can fly out of Miami early Wednesday. But I don’t see how you can leave the store. Not with the holidays coming.”
                He was right, and I felt awful.
                I also wanted to wring Dom’s neck.



Saturday, November 30, 2013

Excerpt from TEAR DOWN & DIE

Chapter 1
Early September...
St. Louis, MO

Sometimes you need to go backwards to move forwards. Especially when you doubt yourself and don't know what to do next. All my packing was done. Boxes that would go into storage formed an untidy wall around me.
"Where you moving to?" asked one of the men from the van lines, as he flicked the butt of a Camel cigarette onto my lawn. Except it wasn't my lawn. Not anymore. So why worry?
"I haven't decided yet."
That pretty much summed up my life. I was at a crossroads, a spot on the map between emptiness and confusion—and I didn't know which way to turn. Watching the workers load up my stuff only made me feel more unsettled. I signed the paperwork for the movers, hopped in my car, the black Camry I've named Black Beauty and drove to a familiar parking lot.
"Cara Mia Delgatto! I've been expecting you." Kiki stood at the back door of her scrapbook and crafting store, Time in a Bottle. A red dog leash connected her to her rescue pup, Gracie, a harlequin Great Dane.
"Let me guess. You were on your way to take this lover dog for a potty break." I reached down and patted the floppy ears on the black and white giant.
"Uh-huh. Care to come with? You can tell me how you've been."
We hadn't gotten halfway around the block when I broke down and started crying uncontrollably. Kiki and I perched on a low concrete block restraining wall so I could sob while Gracie sniffed and peed. Kiki put her arm around me, and I wet her shoulder with tears while she patted my back and murmured, "Get it all out, Cara. You'll feel better."
When I'd cried me a river (the Mississippi, I'd guess from the muddy look of it), we started back to the shop. Once inside, Kiki put Gracie in the doggie playpen and grabbed a Diet Dr Pepper for me and a bottle of water for her.
"It's done. Everything's going into storage. I couldn't stand being in that big house night after night by myself," I said. "I don't want to see the restaurant again, either. It doesn't matter whether it's called Cara Mia's or not. That was our place, our family place. Now that Mom and Dad have passed away, and Tommy's left for school, there's nothing to keep me here in St. Louis. Besides, winter is coming and I've always hated cold weather."
"Time to make a new plan and move on down the highway." Kiki smiled at me, her curls framing her round face. One hand rested protectively on her belly.
"But I'll be leaving so much behind."
"Yes, and you have your whole life ahead of you. Come on back to the store. I have a little gift for you."
When I was seated at her work table, she handed me a gift bag filled with tissue paper. I reached inside and pulled out a memory album of my years in St. Louis.
"This is just grand." I paged through the album. "I could never have done anything like this."
"We all save our memories in different ways. You are just as sentimental as I am, Cara. Look at you! I bet those are Tommy's old jeans you're wearing, right? Your son grew out of them and now they're yours."
"That's right. At the restaurant, I always had to wear a little black dress, so in my free time, I like dressing down. My belt was once my father's, but I had it shortened to fit. These rings on my right hand are my mother's engagement and wedding rings."
"May I remind you of all the redecorating you did at the restaurant, and how you came in under budget?" Kiki grinned. "In addition, you always smell like sandalwood. Is there a memory associated with that?"
"Sandalwood brings back good memories of summers in Florida. My parents used to rent an apartment above an antique store called The Treasure Chest. The owner stocked the rental with bars of sandalwood soap."
As she had predicted, that long crying jag had been cathartic. With my gift under my arm, we walked to Kiki's car. She reached in and handed me a heavy shopping bag.
"Another gift?" I squealed.
"There's a surprise for you to enjoy on the road so you'll think of me."
"Like I could ever forget you!" I took the gift and thanked her.
With her hands on my shoulders, Kiki looked at me with moist eyes. "I expect you to stay in touch."
Nodding, but too choked up to respond, I turned and walked to my car.
I waved once more, pulled out of the parking lot and tried not to look back. The hardest part of my journey was just ahead, as I'd have to drive past the Arch, that magnificent silver rainbow in the sky. It had always been a talisman, a welcome mat.
But this time, it seemed to wave goodbye.


Coming soon! Okay, it WAS supposed to be done by now, but life got in the way. That ever happen to you?

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Excerpt from A HALLOWEEN CLOSE CALL...


A Halloween Close Call

A Kiki Lowenstein Novella

By Joanna Campbell Slan
 
The entire novella will be free from Oct. 29 through Oct. 31 (Tuesday through Thursday). On those days ONLY, you'll be able to "purchase" the novella at no cost. You can get your copy FREE on those days only by going to http://tinyurl.com/HalloweenCC

 

Author's Note: In the timeline of Kiki Lowenstein's life, this comes after Group, Photo, Grave (Book #8) and immediately before Killer, Paper, Cut (Book #9).

 

Chapter 1

Two and a half weeks before Halloween…

A suburb of St. Louis MO

 

"If it’s spooky or scary, count me out," I said, shaking my head no for emphasis.

Detective Chad Detweiler grinned at me before planting a quick kiss on my lips. "Even if I’m there to hold your hand?"

My honey and I were meeting with our friends, Clancy Whitehead and Johnny Chambers, to discuss how we would celebrate Halloween.

"But I thought Halloween was your favorite holiday!" Clancy shook her head at me. She's one of my favorite people, my co-worker at Time in a Bottle, the scrapbook and craft store that I now own.

"It is my fave holiday. I love the colors. Orange. Purple. Neon green. Black. And all the darling images."

"And the candy," said Detweiler, laughingly.
"There's that, too," I admitted. "But the scary stuff? Not so much."

What an interesting picture we must have made. All four of us were very different. Leaning against the doorsill in my office was the oh-so-classic Clancy, a dead-ringer for Jackie Kennedy, right down to the dark auburn bob. Sitting on the corner of my big desk was Johnny, who has Bad Boy written all over him, with that sort of Cool Hand Luke. And then there was my wonderful Knight in Shining Armor, Detective Chad Detweiler, with his long legs and amazing green-gold eyes. And me? Well, I look like a demented beach ball because I'm seven months pregnant with a head full of curly, dishwater blond hair. I was sitting at my desk in the big black leather chair, and Detweiler was standing next to me.

To underscore how adamant I was, I crossed my arms. Or tried to. I couldn't exactly fit my arms over my baby bump. Right now, Alfred Hitchcock and I were sharing a profile. "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."

No matter how hard I try—even when issuing a warning about scary stuff—I can’t look stern for long. Especially not when I'm around my friends.

"Wooo, tough talk from the little lady." Johnny winked at me, and I giggled

"Kiki, when you draw a line, it's usually to start a new craft project," said Clancy, with a chuckle. "How about if I give you a giant eraser and you start over? Don't be so negative, girlfriend. It wouldn't be Halloween if we didn't do something at least mildly woo-woo."

"She's right, Kiki. Clancy and I want to have a little fun this Halloween," added Johnny. "And we'd like to do something fun with the two of you."

"How about we sit at home and carve pumpkins?" I asked. “I need to get my jack-o-lanterns done.”

"That's so…you." Detweiler took my hand and kissed my fingers. I turned and stared into those amazing Heineken bottle green eyes of his.

My name is Kiki Lowenstein, and I’m the original Mrs. Nice Guy. I like butterflies and rainbows, puppies and kittens, sugar and spice, sweet smelling flowers, chocolate, and paper. Lots and lots of paper.

Vitamin C, otherwise known as “cute,” is a life enhancing supplement. All of us need our daily quota. You can never have too much “cute” in your life.

Well, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

"So the woman who stared down a murderer is a great big ‘fraidy cat." Johnny smirked at me.

"Ah, but remember, dear friend, cats have nine lives," I said. "There's a reason for that, Johnny. Cats know when to run away and when to fight another day."

"No fighting," said Detweiler. "Just loving. Come here, you."

He pulled me to my feet and hugged me. Safe in the shelter of his arms, I relaxed by listening to the soft lub-lub-lub of his heart. All was well in our world.

Our baby was due on January 15th. My daughter Anya was thirteen going on thirty and so excited about Halloween she couldn't talk about anything else. And our family had been enlarged by the addition of Erik, a child from Detweiler's first marriage (sort of), and Brawny, the nanny who came along with the boy. (It's a long story. Trust me!)

Life was good. Really good, as life always is when you're surrounded by family and friends.

"Tell me," said Johnny. "What's got your tail feathers in such a twist, little birdie?"

"It's that crop," said Clancy, shaking her head. "That's all Kiki's been thinking about."

"What's so special about this one? You do one of them, crop-thingies, two times a week, don't you? It's like a quilting party, but y'all work on your scrapbooks, right?" Johnny scratched his head.

"Sort of," I said. "But this one's a really big deal. It's a special pre-Halloween crop to raise money for diabetes."

"That's good," said Johnny. "Really good. What a purely awful disease."

"Right," said Detweiler, "but she's driving herself crazy working and working too hard. That's why I suggested that we do something fun."

I nodded. “But I'm not interested in 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."

"But dressing in a costume has a certain appeal," said Clancy.

"Some," I admitted.

"Just think," said Johnny. "You could dress up like Annie Oakley. Especially since you're such an expert with a gun."

I don’t like being teased, especially about the fact that I shot my husband's murderer in the head. It hadn't been pretty. It hadn't been empowering. I didn’t get a rush like I did when I heard Dirty Harry say, "Make my day." No, all I felt was sad.

To get through the experience, I reminded myself that it had been necessary. Otherwise Johnny and I wouldn’t be standing here today. I didn't like thinking about it, and Johnny was getting on my nerves.

Detweiler sensed this and put one hand on my shoulder in solidarity.

"I did what I had to do so we could survive," I said, trying to keep the irritation out of my voice. "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."

"Down girl! Don't get all het up," said Johnny.

"It's the stress talking," said Clancy. "She's been working like a fiend on that charity crop."

"True," I said.

"All the more reason to plan something fun," said Johnny.

"Also true."

"As much as I hate to cut this short, I also need to get to work," said Detweiler. "Kiki, if you don’t want to visit a haunted house, we’ll find another way to have enjoy the holiday. No problem, babe."

Yeah, but it would be a problem. I was being a real party pooper, and I knew it.

 

Chapter 2

 

Clancy was right. The Halloween Crafting Spook-tacular, our charity crop for diabetes, was driving me nuts.

With off-site crops, there were a lot of moving parts that have to align for us to have a good time. Since this was a fundraiser, the moving parts had to thought out carefully. We couldn’t afford to waste a cent. The event had to make a splash, or people wouldn't shell out their coins to come. It had to appeal to scrapbookers, cardmarkers, and papercrafters of all ilk. The location had to be a "wow." The entertainment doubly so. The "make and take" portion—the actual crafts we'd be teaching our guests—had to be unique, simple to do, but cool enough that they wouldn't bore our regular store clientele to tears. And last, but definitely not least…we had to have food. Really, really good food.

After considering all our options, there was really only one place worthy of kicking off our big event, and that was the Lemp Mansion. The mansion has a history of misery second to none.

          In 1876, beer baron William J. Lemp and his wife Julia moved in, turning the thirty-three room house into a showplace. Lemp also decided to use his home as his office, taking advantage of a tunnel extending from the house to the caves under St. Louis. These naturally occurring storage shelters provided the refrigeration so vitally important to the brewing process.

Thanks to a series of shrewd business decisions made by William, the Falstaff brand expanded from a local brew to a label enjoyed around the world. Although the Lemps were thriving financially, unbeknownst to William and Julia, their fourth son, Frederick, had significant health problems. When Frederick died from complications, William shot himself in despair.

William J. Lemp, Jr. ("Billy") took over the family business. He and his wife Lillian, nicknamed the "Lavender Lady," moved into the Lemp Mansion. An acrimonious divorce followed. Billy was granted only visitation rights to see his son, William III. Two years later, Prohibition dealt a harsh blow to the business, and Billy was forced to sell first the trademark name, and then the brewery.

Meanwhile, after suffering her own marital problems, Billy's sister shot herself. Two years later, Billy shot himself in his office inside the mansion. And two decades later, the last Lemp to live in the mansion, Charles, shot his dog and then himself in the head.

In 1980, Life magazine named the Lemp Mansion one of the nine most haunted houses in the country. Since then both the Discovery and the Travel Channel have given the Lemp Mansion a nod for being terrifying.

Since I'm such a Chicken Little, I decided that we'd visit the Lemp Mansion while it was still daylight, walk one block to The Old Social Hall, an event space that had once been exactly as its name implied. There we would have an actress, Faye Edorra, pose as the Lavender Lady herself and entertain us with ghost stories.

          You can't have a crop without food. It's simply not done. Although my dear friend Cara Mia Delgatto had moved to Florida, I still relied on her family restaurant for most of our catering needs. Recently a young woman named Angela Orsini had been promoted to the post of catering manager. Angela and I had worked up a fun menu for the charity crop. The Old Social Hall had a kitchen, so we were good to go. We would crop in one room and then adjourn to a second room to eat. That would keep food and drink away from paper products, preventing the predictable problems of spillage.

          Once those details were in place, I turned my attention to the crafting portion of our crop. Here at Time in a Bottle, we've garnered a bit of a reputation for coming up with unique, totally superb "make-and-take" sessions. The name evolved from the idea that you could "make" something and "take" it home with you after the event. But we took the concept one step further. All of our make-and-take sessions also taught our customers a new skill or technique. And all of them were original. After attending one of our crops, people actually talked about our sessions for weeks, making them one of our best marketing tools.

After our impromptu "how do you solve a problem like Halloween?" meeting broke up, and I went back to planning the creative portion of the event.

In fact, I was hunched over a project at my worktable when a finger tapped me on the shoulder. The gesture so startled me so much that I nearly fell off my stool.

"A little jumpy? Good thing I didn't yell, 'Boo!'" Laurel Wilkins, another co-worker and friend, pulled up a stool so she could join me. "Are you doing anything special for Halloween? Besides our Halloween Crafting Spook-tacular? Something that involves costumes?"

"Um, we were just talking about that earlier," I said. "Why?"

"Well," she looked down at the tabletop and drew a circle with the tip of her finger. "I actually have a guy I've been wanting all of you to meet."

This was big news. Usually Laurel is very quiet about her personal life. In fact, Clancy and I have discussed the fact that we know very little about her. I mean, she's sweet and wonderful, and she looks like a movie star, but Laurel never talks about her history or what she does outside of work.

I glanced around and saw Clancy standing by a display unit taking inventory. A slight tilt of her head told me that she was listening in to our conversation. This was an opportunity not to be missed to know Laurel better.

"We talked about visiting a haunted house. There are so many of them popping up." Now that Laurel wanted to join us, I had to agree to do something. Anything! So I floated the idea, although I suggested it reluctantly.

"Who's we?" Laurel's ears perked up.

"Detweiler, Clancy, Johnny, and me. But I have to be honest. I hate being scared half out of my wits. Besides, I'd like to do something that would include Anya and Erik," I said. "Although since he’s only five, I'm not sure how he'd feel about something so spooky. I suppose I could leave him home with Brawny, but that doesn't seem right."

Bronwyn Macavity is the nanny who came to us with Erik. Her salary is taken care of by Erik's aunt. She's been a real godsend because she drives the kids around and cooks for us, as well as serving as a 24/7 babysitter. But she's also part of the family. At least, that's the way Detweiler and I see it. We like to include her as much as possible.

Laurel nodded. "I wouldn’t want to exclude Erik or Brawny. So it has to be something sort of family oriented. I know you are trying hard to make Erik feel comfortable. He’s been through so much already."

"Look, I don’t want to be a party pooper. You all could go to a haunted house. Take Anya along with. I’ll stay home with Erik and Brawny."

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 go without me was the gracious thing to do.

"I understand how you feel, Kiki," said Laurel, patting me on the shoulder. "I like costumes, but I don't like things that are too gruesome. Don’t worry. We’ll think of something fun to do. I just hate to let the holiday go by without having a little Halloween-type get together."

Clancy came over from her spot by the display unit. "Look, Kiki, we wouldn’t enjoy ourselves if you didn’t come with us. We've all been working hard. Too hard. 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 grabbed—"
 
A Halloween Close Call: A Kiki Lowenstein Novella © 2010 by Joanna Campbell Slan. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever, including Internet usage, without written permission from the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

 **


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s vivid imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
 
 

Friday, October 25, 2013

A Collage for My Beloved Beta Babes

 
 
This ZIA (Zentangle Inspired Art) was inspired by a new book, The Beauty of Zentangle, where a sister CZT, Kate Lamontagne, did a piece called "Under the Sea." Kate was in the same CZT class with me.

To create it, I started by making a blue-green watercolor background. I sprinkled rock salt on the paper to lift the color in areas. When it was dry, I photocopied it so I could try several tangles. Also, the photocopy paper is slicker than watercolor paper, so it provided a surface that would bleed less.

The waves and shells were done with sparkly ink pens. I colored in my waves with pencils, then applied acetone to smooth out the color. I did the same on the sea shells.

The green plant was made by layering green leaves that I cut by hand.

I drew the beta and its fins. You can't really see how glittery the image is, but the sequins and glitter do add a bit of pop.

Any thoughts?

Monday, October 21, 2013

How to Edit Your Work

The ability to edit your own work is incredibly important. For obvious reasons, editors prefer authors who can turn in clean copy. Beyond lightening an editor's workload, there are other reasons that you need to be good at editing--it's your name on the book!

Over the years I've picked up great ideas for editing. Here's the best summary of what you should be doing--

Edit your work in passes.

 In other words, don't go over it once and consider it done. Read it several times, for several different reasons. Read it first for pacing and continuity. Read it again for logic. Finally read it to proofread for grammar, spelling, etc.

Let's break that down:

1. Read it for pacing and continuity. Does it drag? Does every scene contribute and move the plot along? If you delete a scene does it matter? (If the answer is, "No," then the scene is going to drag the plot down.) Can you up the tension in the scene? Can you use a chapter break to create a mini-cliffhanger? Are the characters consistent in their behavior?

2. Read it for logic. Are the sequences of the sentences appropriate? Do they build on each other? Do they happen in a logical order? Are there any questions left unanswered? Does your premise and the premise of your characters make sense? Do you maintain an internal logic? And finally, if someone walks into a room, where do they go? What happens to them? Did you maintain a logic to their arrival and departure?

3. Read it for grammatical errors, spelling errors, and consistency of style.

It takes forever to edit a book this way. Unfortunately, a poorly edited book is a book that won't be enjoyed by your reader, so make the time!

Monday, October 14, 2013

A Crafty Treat for Dogs

I love owning Bichons. My groomer, Pam, says that Bichons are the only breed capable of real love. (Don't throw things at me! I'm quoting her!)
 
But Bichons are also prone to a variety of problems, and poor teeth are right up there at the top of the list. They are also very emotionally sensitive. Leaving them behind really makes them upset.
 
To combat both problems, I've come up with this treat. Using Easy Cheese (otherwise know as Cheese Whiz), I squirt a little of the cheesy goo into a Kong, a rubber treat that's red and reminds me of the Michelin Man.

 
 
 
 
After I've filled all my Kongs (I keep four of them on hand), I pop them into a zipper top plastic bag. These go into the freezer.
 

Why are these such a great idea? First of all, gnawing on the Kong helps remove dental plaque. Second, because the treat is frozen inside, it takes a long time for Rafferty to get to the good stuff. And third, there's a small amount of treat per Kong, so it doesn't upset his tummy or add inches to his svelte waist line. Best of all, I can give one to Raffi when I leave the house so he's busy and happy while I'm gone.

I love the convenience of reaching into the bag, grabbing a cold Kong, and sharing it with my pet. Let me know if your dog enjoys this, too!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Where Are the Paper Versions of the Kiki Books?


Last April, my longstanding publisher Midnight Ink decided to discontinue the Kiki Lowenstein Mystery Series.

So I am now self-publishing the Kiki Lowenstein Mystery Series. I had self-published other books years ago, so this is will be fine…eventually…although there have been many changes since I founded “Spot On Publishing.”

I had already mastered the mechanism for putting short stories up on Amazon. They’ve made it very, very easy, bless them! The folks at Amazon have been simply terrific to work with. And financially, it’s been an absolute godsend.

I now have an assistant, Sally, and she’s working to get the books printed on paper. We hope to announce that we’ve conquered this new technology very shortly!

However, as you might imagine, you can’t give away a book on paper for FREE. There are costs involved—paper, ink, printing, shipping, storage, and mail, not to include insurance, bookkeeping, boxing up, and fulfillment. So to keep the series alive, to keep readers interested while we work out the details of print publication, I’m releasing new books as epublications. Frankly, we’re also hoping that by releasing the epublications and giving them away for free, we can actually grow the number of Kiki fans!

In the long run, I think I’ll be able to satisfy my readers and their interest in Kiki. Since I’ll be in charge of my own covers, my editing, pricing, and release dates, I can do as I wish. Since I’m a bit of a control freak, I like that!

But as my assistant reminds me, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

This year I’ve written countless short stories and four books. (Yes, you read that right--FOUR.) Most authors write one a year. So, we’re working hard…

But evidently, not hard – or fast!—enough.

Please bear with us!

j

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

What to Do When You Get Stuck While Writing Your Book

By Joanna Campbell Slan


When folks complain of "writer's block," they're often complaining that they've gotten stuck. Or that they just don't know what to write next.

That can happen to any of us.

Maybe you know how your book will begin. You might also know how it ends. But what will you do to fill three hundred pages in the middle? Ah, that's the rub. Suddenly, you are stuck.

When I get stuck, here are some ways I get "un-stuck" --

Change It Up--
  1. Change of scenery -- I revisit my protagonist's world and move her/him to another spot. I find this useful for signaling a plot point or a change of heart.
  2. Change of mind -- Most of us don't move smoothly from Point A to Point B. We zig and zag. We have conflicting emotions. Sometimes we encounter new information. Or we mull over a problem and reconsider what we know. Someone will tell us something we didn't know. A change of mind gives your protagonist a new course to explore.
  3. Change of cast -- You have to be careful not to introduce people willy-nilly, but once in a while, you need someone new to enter the fray. This newbie can tell your protagonist something he or she doesn't know.

Doing What Comes Naturally--

I've found that blocks come when I try to force my characters to twist into unnatural positions. If the action springs naturally, if the sequence is logical, it's easier to write about it.

Brainstorm Twenty Ways to Proceed--

My friend and mentor Emilie Richards told me that a friend of hers suggested brainstorming a list of twenty things that could happen. Your first five will be predictable. The next five a little less so. The next five might be outlandish. But the final five will really tax your brain. Stretching is good exercise. One of your twenty ways to proceed will probably work. Maybe even two or three of them will. Choose the option that's right for your book.

Check on a Secondary Character--

Remember the phrase, "Meanwhile, back at the ranch"? That's a nifty segue, a change to revisit a secondary character, and peek in on what he/she's doing.

Whatever You Do--

Don't give up. It's far too easy to toss your work-in-progress into the trash and start over. The process of working through your stumbling blocks is valuable. Quitting isn't!

How do you handle getting stuck?

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Monday's the Last Day to Get INK, RED, DEAD Absolutely Free!

An excerpt from Ink, Red, Dead, newly revised and expanded, by Joanna Campbell Slan. (Grab it before the price goes up to $9.99! Go to http://tinyurl.com/inkred )

 
“You need a Diet Dr Pepper?” asked Dodie as she set one at my elbow.

          “You read my mind,” I said.

          “Whatever it is that’s bothering you, Sunshine, you’ll feel better about it when you’ve gotten more rest. Things always look their worst when you’re tired.” Her large hand patted my shoulder as she scooted a cold aluminum can my way. I took the cold Diet Dr Pepper and then realized, this behavior was totally out of character for Dodie.

          “Sheila called you.”

          “Yes, she did.” My boss didn’t even have the good grace to look embarrassed.

          “That’s not fair!”

          “She was worried about you.”

          “I bet.”

          “You ran over her neighbor’s mailbox,” said Dodie. “And you kept on going.”

          “I wondered what that bumpity-bump-bump-bump noise was.”

          “Now you know. That was the sound of a once sturdy four-by-four being dragged along a city street. In Ladue.”

          “Argh,” I groaned and rested my forehead on my arms again. “That’ll be an expensive fix.”

          “Not really. Robbie and the neighbor discussed the damage. Seems that the neighbor has wanted to put up a brick mailbox stand for years. Robbie offered to help. You’re in the clear, Sunshine.”

          “Argh,” I groaned again, but the Diet Dr Pepper was definitely lifting my spirits. “Dodie, do you think there’s only one person in the world for each of us? A soul mate? Just one?”

          She fiddled with her Coke can. “That’s what I tell Horace. That he’s my one and only.”

          “So you do believe it.”

          “No, but I’m a good liar. Especially when it counts. There’s no reason for Horace to think he’s replaceable. He’s not. And I’m not about to go looking. But do I really believe there’s only one person for each of us? No. There are millions upon millions of people in this world. I think you could love and live with at least a handful.”

          I wiped my eyes and took a big drink of my Dr Pepper. “A handful.”

          “At least. Now get to work. I’m not paying you to sit around and wax philosophical.”

          She’d almost made it back to the stock room when I called out, “Dodie? Thank you.”

          “It’s okay, Sunshine. My therapist’s license never came through. The advice I gave you is worth exactly what you paid for it.”

         

Friday, October 4, 2013

Ink, Red, Dead Will Be Free for Three Days!

You can download Ink, Red, Dead for FREE from Oct. 5 thru 7 (Saturday through Monday) by going to http://tinyurl.com/inkred  Here's the deal: As long as you keep spread the word and tell your friends about my free offers, I'll continue making my books available for FREE for a limited time!
 
 
An Excerpt from
 
Note: The new revision is book length with craft "how to" information and recipes!
 

By Joanna Campbell Slan
Copyright 2013
 
 
 Note: The new revision is book length with craft "how to" information and recipes!

~

In the chronology of Kiki's life this book is now Book #3 in the series, falling between Cut, Crop and Die; and Photo, Snap, Shot. Kiki is assisting her friend Mert in cleaning out a hoarder's house. Because the place is so gross, Kiki is wearing a Tyvek suit and headgear, despite the fact that the heat outside is beastly!
~
 
 
I was rubbing at my skin fiercely when something landed on the top of my head.

I whooped with fear, batting at my hood with both hands.

No one heard me because everyone else was busy in other corners of the house. Trudy in the back bedroom. Johnny in the garage. Mert in the kitchen.

          The thing on my head slipped to one side. Tiny pinpricks stabbed through the Tyvek and into my scalp. A tiny yellow paw appeared through the lenses of my goggles. I held perfectly still. Was it possible that a cat had landed on me? Had one been overlooked?

          But this…this thing on my head was far too light to be a cat.

 I froze, strained my ears, and was rewarded by the tiniest “meow” ever, in a voice so hoarse I nearly missed it. Slowly I moved my hand upwards. Finally, I plucked from my head a palm-sized yellow tabby. He stared at me with lime-green eyes and tried to “meow” again but nothing came out.

          “You poor little tyke. They rounded up everyone else, didn’t they? Let’s see what we can do for you.”

          I carried the kitten over to Mert, who’d been working in Marla’s bedroom. We walked outside. She pulled off her hood, glanced down at the kitten, and gave me a glum look. “He’ll probably die.”

          “What?” I cradled the cat to my chest. “What do you mean, die? He’ll be okay. Has to!”

          She sighed. “Most of Marla’s cats were sick. If this one don’t have feline distemper, it’s a miracle. You can’t take him home because he’ll only kick the kitty litter bag over on you—and that would break your heart.”

          “He’ll make it. You can tell he’s a fighter. His name is Martin.” I said without thinking. I don’t know why I called him “Martin,” but it fit.

          “Martin, huh? Oh, boy. Change outta your biohazard suit and drive him over to the shelter. See what they say, then get right back here.”

          Handing him to Mrs. Gershin, the shelter volunteer, nearly did me in. Martin clung to me. On the ride over, he’d curled up in my lap and purred. Now he cried out hoarsely, as the volunteer tried to disentangle him from my clothes. He gripped me with his claws and seemed to beg me not to walk away.

          Mrs. Gershin wrinkled her nose behind big trifocal glasses that magnified her eyes to comic proportions. “Yours? You giving him up?”

          “Gosh, no.” I explained who I was and how I found him.

          “Sad day. We’ve put twenty-two cats to sleep already.” She held up Martin with one hand and examined him carefully. “Very young. I’d guess he’s two weeks old. See how his ears are still folded over? This one will need to be hand-fed.”

          “I’ll do it. I’ll hand feed him.”

          “You want to get up every four hours?”

          I swallowed hard. “Uh, no. But I will.”

“Hey there, little boy,” cooed Mrs. Gershin.

 “His name is Martin.”

          A flicker of a smile started on Mrs. Gershin’s face and blossomed into a big grin. “You’re sunk. Once you name them, you claim them.”

          I figured as much. “I have to get back to work.”

          “We close at five. Come back then. I’ll give you instructions for feeding Martin. We’ll have the vet check him. You do know you’ll have to encourage his bowels to move, don’t you?”

          “I’ve probably encouraged bowel movements in the past. But not on purpose.”

          She grinned. “Let’s see if we can perfect your technique.”

**
Remember: This is a limited time offer. The book is FREE on three days only--Saturday, October 5; Sunday, October 6; and Monday, October 7. After that it will go back to full retail price of $9.99.  Get your copy today at http://tinyurl.com/inkred