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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

You Could Be a Guest at Sheila's Wedding!

I'm knee-deep in the edits to Group, Photo, Grave, the seventh book in the Kiki Lowenstein Mystery Series (Release date: Fall 2013). Every book has its hard parts and its easier components. I've found that I've really enjoyed describing Sheila's wedding. Here's a taste of it--and remember--you can become a guest at her wedding by entering the Rafflecopter contest! 
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My mother-in-law Sheila’s wedding wasn’t totally ruined by the discovery of a corpse in the catering tent. After all, the ceremony itself had been lovely.
Despite her broken collarbone, Sheila had beamed with happiness as she and Robbie Holmes repeated their wedding vows, while standing before a rabbi and a priest. The day was beastly hot, but the sun was bright in a cornflower blue sky, and a light breeze carried the scent of roses in the air. All in all, a wonderful omen for the new couple. I hoped the photographer, who went by just one name—“Vincent”-- was taking lots of pictures because the scene was glorious. Sheila’s attention to detail had paid off handsomely. The dresses of the bridesmaids were a lovely visual counterpoint to the vibrant pinks, deep reds, rich magentas, and royal purples of the garden owned by my landlord, Leighton Haversham.
My thirteen-year-old daughter Anya and I were Sheila’s maid and matron of honor, respectively, so we wore dresses in shades of soft pink with navy trim.  The rest of the bridesmaids, Sheila’s best friends, wore plum-colored silk. Ester Frommer from Los Angeles, Toby Pearlman from Palm Beach, and Leah Ginsberg from Chicago had pinned narrow navy ribbons to their chests in remembrance of a fourth friend, Miriam, who had recently died. Sheila had a ribbon, too, but hers was more discretely tucked into her bouquet so as not to ruin the lines of her dress. The quintet had been best friends since their years at the Charles and Anne Lindbergh Academy, known locally as CALA, the same school my daughter now attends.
On the groom’s side, we had Sheila’s new husband, St. Louis Police Chief Robbie Holmes; his best man and my husband-to-be Detective Chad Detweiler; Detweiler’s partner Detective Stan Hadcho; Lieutenant Milton Lesher; Sergeant Donald Tomatillo; and Captain Prescott Gallaway. Prescott was a nebbish that nobody liked, but as I understood it, he and Robbie were somehow related. The man was also Robbie’s second-in-command at the police station, so an invitation had been mandatory. I knew that Sheila didn’t like him, but she wasn’t in a position to complain, because Robbie’s side of the invitation list was embarrassingly short. It seemed that his kids had decided not to attend their father’s second wedding. Since Robbie’s first wife, Nadine, had died ten years ago, I found their behavior puzzling to say the least. I mean, come on! At fifty-nine, didn’t the man deserve another chance at happiness? I thought he did.  
His face reflected that with or without his adult children’s blessings, Robbie Holmes was a happy man. When he and Sheila turned to face the crowd as for the first time as man and wife, I thought his grin would split his face in half. Sheila looked radiant as joyful applause drowned out the music of the string quartet playing Pachabel’s Canon in D. The bride and groom made a handsome couple as they started arm-in-arm down the flagstone path. My mother-in-law’s denim blue eyes and silver-white hair were set off by her periwinkle gown. The navy blue sling that kept her broken collarbone in place contrasted nicely with her dress. Robbie looked especially dashing in a newly designed navy blue uniform that signified his position as Chief of Police for the City of St. Louis.
The newlyweds’ expressions were priceless. But when I looked around, I didn’t see Vincent and his camera. I couldn’t whip out my own point-and-shoot and start snapping shots, because I was part of the wedding party. But I could start daydreaming about the wonderful wedding album I planned to create for my mother-in-law.
My name is Kiki Lowenstein and I’m a scrapbooker. It’s my hobby, my passion, and soon it’ll be my business because I’m finalizing the arrangements to buy Time in a Bottle, a scrapbook store where I’ve been working. I’m Anya’s mother, Sheila’s daughter-in-law through my marriage to her late son George, and I’m also expecting Detweiler’s baby. So while my mother-in-law and her new husband took their first stroll as man and wife, I started daydreaming about my own upcoming marriage to Detweiler
As per our rehearsal instructions, my honey and I waited until the happy couple reached a half-way point on the flagstone path before we linked arms and stepped forward together. Next Anya and Hadcho stepped off with Gracie, our harlequin Great Dane, trotting along between them. Around my dog’s neck was a wreath of silk flowers, matching our bouquets of white Shasta daisies, pink Gerber daisies, sprigs of lavender, and pink roses. Two-by-two, the rest of the wedding party processed away from the chuppah, the ceremonial canopy that’s a standard feature of Jewish weddings.
As we moved past the seated guests and spilled onto Leighton’s lawn, I caught a glimpse of my friend Cara Mia Delgatto, who was catering the wedding banquet. She’d been waiting for this moment. Now she raced off to tell her servers to start circulating with flutes of champagne and bubbling non-alcoholic white grape juice. Other members of her staff would add the finishing touches to our food before setting it out buffet-style.

Yes, everything was going according to Sheila’s plans. Even though she’d been immobilized in a recliner with her broken collarbone, Sheila had polished every bit of the ceremony to a high gloss of perfection. From the handmade invitations I’d created and assembled to the wisteria and roses running up the poles of the chuppah, she’d taken care so that the colors, sounds, and fragrances would evoke a wonderfully romantic ambiance. 
More to come...


Just go to to read all the rules!

Be sure to tell me what YOU'd bring Sheila for a wedding gift!

Copyright 2013 Joanna Campbell Slan/All rights reserved.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

How to Get Started Writing Your Book

Recently a friend wrote to me with this question: I want to write a novel, but where do I begin? Do I start with an outline? With a character list? Or do I just plunge in and start writing?

That's a great question, and one that I struggled with for years.

The answer has to do with a scene from The Wizard of Oz...

Remember? Dorothy is on her way to Oz when she comes to a fork in the road. The scarecrow tells her that either route will work. Or in this case, any of the three routes would work.

Here's what I do--and have done for twenty-plus novels:

  1. Start with the first three chapters, drafting a narrative. I get these down fast on my computer. This allows me to nail down the voice and get an idea of who the main character is. I learn as I write, so as I'm writing I get to know my characters. This also helps me figure out how strong the urge to write this particular story is.
  2. Stop and switch to writing by hand. I work up a list of characters and generally take notes about ideas. I like to do this by hand because it un-links the process started at the computer. That's important. Sometimes you want to continue at the computer, but other times, if you don't un-link, you can't get clarity. TIP: At the top of the list of character names, I put an alphabet. As I name characters, I mark off the first letters of their names on the alphabet. Otherwise I'd duplicate first letters in names, and that's annoying to readers. 
  3. Go back to the computer and add to my first three chapters, because now I'm feeling more sure of what I'm writing. (Again, if the urge to write fails, that means this might not be the right time for that particular book. Or I might just need more chocolate. Or a deadline.)
  4. Move to Scrivener or to index cards. As fast as possible, I put down all the scenes I can imagine/think of. When I'm done, I arrange these in order. I look for holes. I fill in the holes. These become my outline.
  5. Print out my outline.
  6. Keep writing and adding to the chapters, using the outline as a reference.

Okay, in my next post, I'll talk about how I manage my manuscript. It's rather an art to keep it under control. I think that's where a lot of beginning authors go wrong, actually.

Until then,

Write on!


PS Any questions? Let me know...