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Thursday, January 29, 2015

An Excerpt from Shotgun, Wedding, Bells

(Book #11 in the Kiki Lowenstein Mystery Series)


Joanna Campbell Slan


Chapter 1


Our wedding day dawned like a scene from a fairy tale. Frozen rain coated the freshly fallen snow. The glassy surface glistened like a million tiny diamonds. Icicles hanging from the eaves of our house formed natural prisms, casting rainbows across the blanket of white. Sunlight transformed the long dead banks of mums into mounds, like glittering pillows under a white duvet. The scene before us was beautiful, but treacherously slick. This overnight winter storm had paralyzed travel throughout the St. Louis area. All the salt and sand we’d tossed down on the walkways hadn’t done much good.

Our friend Detective Stan Hadcho guided me along the flagstones, by means of a good grip on my elbow. He escorted me from the back door of our house to the gazebo. As we walked, Leighton Haversham, our former landlord and dear friend, snapped photos so I could make a memory album. That’s what I do. I'm a scrapbooker and owner of a store called Time in a Bottle.

At the stairs to the gazebo, I stared up into the smiling faces of the people so dear to me: my newly adopted son, Erik; my daughter, Anya; Erik’s aunt, Lorraine Lauber; our nanny, Bronwyn Macavity; my fiancĂ©, Detective Chandler Louis Detweiler; and of course, our animal friends, my dog Gracie and Lorraine’s dog Paolo. They’d all stood there patiently in the cold, waiting for me to arrive. Detweiler reached down to take my gloved hand so I could step up and join him. His eyes were warm with emotion, and his gaze was steady. Moist clouds of exhalations floated around all our faces, forming gossamer veils of moisture. As we turned to face Lorraine, who would be conducting the ceremony, Detweiler wrapped an arm around my waist.

Correction: A small portion of my waist.

At eight-and-a-half months pregnant, I’m the size of the Goodyear Blimp. Or at least that’s how it feels.

But Detweiler loves me. I’m carrying our baby, and our other two children are happy and healthy. Even though the overnight storm was keeping much of our extended family from joining us today, our wedding would be a joyous event.

Detweiler’s shoulder brushing up against mine, so strong and solid, augured a good start to the rest of our lives. We stood side-by-side, exactly the way we intended to go through life, as friends and lovers.

          "Not too bad for a wedding thrown together in forty-eight hours," he whispered in my ear as Lorraine (aka “Aunt Lori”) opened her prayer book. There was a chuckle in his voice.

I tried not to giggle. Although I have been dreaming about marrying Detweiler ever since I met him nearly three years ago, this day was a long time coming. Even though I kept telling myself that a ceremony was only a formality, deep down I really wanted to wear a wedding band again—as long as it was his! The legalities of our relationship might not matter much to Detweiler and me, but they could matter terribly to our two kids and to the baby who was kicking imaginary field goals inside me. I’d learned the hard way that the legal system can be your best friend and your worst enemy.

          Initially I'd planned for us to get married in the gap between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Detweiler and I had even talked about flying our whole family to Las Vegas and visiting the wedding chapel inside a Denny’s. The kids would have loved that combination, wedding bells and pancakes. But my friend Clancy Whitehead reminded me, "You're eight months along. They don't allow women that pregnant on a plane."


          Who knew?

          So I'd tabled that project, and made a notation on my calendar to revisit our wedding plans after December 25th. I would have hurried through the holiday season and put the idea out of my head, except for something unsettling that happened to my son.

          My sisters, Amanda and Catherine, had asked if they could spend a Saturday baking cookies with my kids. Of course, I said yes. Anya and Erik were delighted. From the big smiles on their faces, they’d had a wonderful time.

“Look, Mama Kiki,” said Erik, as he offered up a small shopping bag. Inside were two shoeboxes and two Pringles cans filled with yummy treats.

“I’ve got one too.” Anya grinned at me. “We’ll have plenty to share with Aunt Lori and Leighton.”  After thanking my sisters profusely, I hustled my children out to the car.

          My mouth began to water as we were pulling away from the curb of the rental house my sisters share with my mother. The car’s interior smelled wonderfully of butter, sugar, and vanilla. Now and then, I caught a whiff of cinnamon.

Sometimes playing chauffeur is a drag, but there’s an undeniable magic that happens when you’re looking out the front window and your children are in the back seat. Remember Arthur Godfrey? How he said that kids say the darnedest things? Something about car rides encourages that. Especially longish car rides.

We were merging onto the heavy traffic on Highway 40 when Erik explained to me that because Detweiler and I weren't married, our new baby would be a "littermate."

          "A littermate?" I adjusted my rearview mirror so I could look at him. My son’s solemn face stared back at me. His chocolate brown eyes, his mocha-colored skin, and his red hair testified to his biracial heritage. He might not be the child of my womb, but he's certainly the child of my heart. From the moment I set eyes on him, I fell in love with that little boy.

          "A littermate? I don't understand what you mean, sweetie.”

          Anya rolled her eyes and explained, "He means i-l-l-e-g-i-t-i-m-a-t-e."

          It took me a while to put those letters into a word. When I did, I nearly drove off the road. "Uh, Erik, honey? Who was talking to you about the baby being a ...littermate?"

          "Grandma Collins," he said.

          My mother. That paragon of parenthood.

          I gritted my teeth. “That figures.” Although she didn’t know it, my Mom had just moved one step closer to an apartment in assisted living. Mom didn’t know it, but the rental house was going up for sale. My sisters and I had several meetings, trying to decide how to cope with our aging parent. In the end, we decided to wait until after the holidays were over.

          Calling my child "illegitimate" marked a new low, even for her.

          I told myself to shrug it off. To consider the source. But Anya turned her denim blue eyes on me and said, "She's right, Mom."

          "Don't worry," I said. "Detweiler and I still have plenty of time to tie the knot."

          Two hours later, the contractions started.
<< To Be Continued >>
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Thursday, January 8, 2015

A Year of Daring Greatly Starts Now!

I’ve been reading Daring Greatly by Brene Brown and as a result, I’ve decided to dedicate this year to reaching out to other people. That means putting myself in a vulnerable position, because they might “shut me down” or reject me. It involves taking a risk, doesn’t it? That’s exactly what Brown means by “daring greatly.”
Well, so far, the venture has been worthwhile. On a whim, I emailed Alice Zinn, a renowned miniature artist, who lives just up the road, and invited her to lunch. 

I’ll let Alice tell you what happened next: I did a little research on Joanna, including getting in touch with my pal author Camille Minichino. (Margaret Grace to those of us who read her "M" in Miniature murder mystery series.) Camille assured me I would have a good time.

We agreed to meet at Riverwalk CafĂ© in Stuart, because it’s halfway between us. Right as I pulled up in a parking space and opened my door, a lady two cars over sang out, “Are you Joanna?”

And so I met the lovely and vivacious Alice. From then on, we could hardly keep up with each other. We had so much to share. Not only does she know Camille, but she’s also a friend to Chris Verstraete ( And of course, she’s familiar with Fay Zerbolio, the curator of the Miniature Museum of Greater St. Louis. When it comes to mystery writers and to miniaturists, it’s a small world—pun intended.

Here’s Alice’s take on our meeting: We had a lovely two-hour lunch and visit. Joanna knows the owner, Pam, who came by to say hi. I don't think there was a moment of silence!

When Alice asked if I brought any photos of my work, I considered lying. After all, showing my work to a real, live artist seemed pretty silly. Okay, that would certainly be taking a risk, but why not? She knows I’m just a hobbyist. So I went to the camera roll on my phone.

Alice says: Although she had several pictures I liked, there was one piece I really LOVED, a fireplace that looks like a gargoyle’s mouth!

On our way back to our cars, we talked non-stop, but we did pause to admire a Schnoodle (a designer dog, Schnauzer and Poodle mix). I showed Alice a photo of Jax, and she gave me a business card printed with images of her miniature dogs. One of them looks a lot like my pup! (Guess what I want next? An Alice Zinn original of Jax. Wouldn’t that look splendid in one of my mini-homes?)

Alice says: I think the most fascinating parts of our conversation, however, had to do with the similarities of our professions, working in a solitary environment, and what fame on a (no pun intended) small scale is like. We talked about being a self-starter, and she was so sweet about understanding that I'd had to carve out some time for this meeting just a week before I'm doing a show. There was a lot of talk about various forms of creativity, and the differences between doing something creative as a job as opposed to a hobby.

So this week my Daring Greatly gamble was a success. I’ll let you know what happens as I continue to “stick my neck out!”

All best from your friend,