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Monday, March 9, 2015

How I Write a Short Story, Part IV

To review:  

I have these elements...a time frame (St. Patrick's Day), interesting factoids (people actually DO make their own luck to some extent), a conflict (Clancy hates St. Patrick's Day), and a mystery (why? because it's the day her husband left her). 

I need some activities (Kiki's crafts--I'll have to come up with these), and a resolution (I'll think of something).

I also have a cute sidebar problem. Anya loves animals and when she hears that Laurel owns a rabbit's foot, she goes nuts! (Or course, it's a fake rabbit's foot, but Anya doesn't know that.) 

What else do I need? Well, I need a snappy opening line. Something that sets the stage for my story. It should foreshadow problems, entice my readers, and get the ball rolling.

Now, back to the resolution. I'll need a BIG ending. Remember, I've been thinking a lot about Clancy, and I have a surprise in store for her. To me, a BIG ending would mean a change of luck for Clancy. 

Okay, I've got all my ducks in a row! Again, here's my list for preplanning a short story:

* time frame -- often concurrent with a holiday
* interesting factoids -- research
* a conflict or problem to be solved
* a mystery or a secret
* a sidebar perhaps, or a link back to an earlier Kiki story or book
* activities 
* a resolution

And of course, I already have my cast of characters because it's a Kiki Lowenstein short story. Tune in tomorrow, and I'll get the story started.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

How I Write a Short Story, Part III

So Barb H. had a wonderful idea, "Perhaps St Patrick's day has always been unlucky for Clancy because that is when her father died or her husband left her or she lost a child. I am getting all these crazy ideas and am probably off base. I will be anxious to hear what you say!"

Barb thinks like I do! 

So now I have these elements...a time frame (St. Patrick's Day), interesting factoids (people actually DO make their own luck to some extent), a conflict (Clancy hates St. Patrick's Day), and a mystery (why? because it's the day her husband left her). 

I need some activities (Kiki's crafts--I'll have to come up with these), and a resolution (I'll think of something).

I also need to look back over Kiki's world and think about possible ways to tie this story into Kiki's life. One idea comes immediately to mind. In Handmade, Holiday, Homicide, we learn that Laurel has a lucky rabbit's foot--but it's fake fur. We know that Anya loves animals. She would be appalled to hear that Laurel has a rabbit's foot, especially if she didn't know it was fake! So somehow, I'd like to weave that into my story.

We're almost at the end of the planning stage...except that I'd been thinking about Clancy, a lot, and I had surprise in store for her and her life. Keep reading to see what that is!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

How I Write Short Stories, Part 2

In Part 1, I chose a theme (getting lucky) and did some research. Now I need a conflict, some sort of friction, because conflict drives action.

Since this is a short story, and not a book, I need to keep it simple. A disagreement. A problem. A minor hassle.


Okay, what about someone who complains that she is chronically unlucky bumping up against the luckiest woman on earth? These words resonate with me because right now there's a really stupid commercial on local TV where the announcer says, "I'm the luckiest woman on earth because I got to take a three day cruise to the Bahamas!" Her voice is totally annoying.

How would this work?

My readers love to "watch" Kiki teach a class, because so many of them are crafters, too. So what if I have Miss Lucky and Miss Unlucky in the same class? Certainly that could get troublesome. What if they get into a fight? A quarrel?

What if someone bets Miss Unlucky that she'll become lucky with the right lucky charm?

Okay, I like that. But it seems a bit too easy. I want to bump it up a bit. How about a lot of lucky charms? What if an entire class contributed lucky charms and loaned them to our Miss Unlucky?

Now that sounds kind of interesting to me. How about you?

Monday, March 2, 2015

Kiki Lowenstein and the Life Stories, Part !

By Joanna Campbell Slan

As the owner of Time in a Bottle, a scrapbook and craft store in St. Louis, I teach a lot of classes. Sure, it might make sense to delegate them, but teaching is one of my favorite activities. Besides the joy of putting together the projects, I learn so much about my customers, their lives, their hopes and dreams. Usually, I come away from a class feeling inspired.

Now there are those who say the lives of “ordinary” women are boring. None of us have super-powers. Most of us don’t run huge companies. Very few of us make world-shaking decisions. But ordinary women bring new life into this world. Once a child has arrived, we nurture that life and the lives of everyone we come into contact with. And very often, we are there to see death when it comes to claim our friends and family members. Tell me, what’s more important than all that?

Nothing. Because life is all that matters. In the end, we hope that we’ve lived a journey worth celebrating. Scrapbooks do just that. They celebrate our lives, committing our stories to paper so we can pass them along to the next generation.

That’s exactly what I told my eight students on that blustery day in January. “Welcome to ‘My Journey,’ a class designed to help you record your lives. We’re going to meet monthly to share our stories. While this is a scrapbooking class, a lot of our focus will be on journaling. Since it’s often an undervalued part of our craft, that might seem hard at first, but I’ll be here to help.”

“We’re going to be writing?” A slight frown marred the perfectly made-up face of Leah Adagio. Of course, it wasn’t a complete frown because she couldn’t wrinkle her brow, the result of heavy Botox use. I knew Leah by reputation since she ran with my mother-in-law’s country club crowd. To say I’d been surprised to see her was an understatement.

“That’s right. Although you’ll be making a scrapbook, you’ll also be working to tell your life story in words.” At that point, I hesitated as my co-worker Clancy Whitehead slipped into an empty chair at our worktable. I raised an eyebrow to question Clancy. She caught my drift.
“I decided to join the class. I hope you don’t mind.”

As usual, she wore a classically stylish outfit—in this case gray slacks, a matching sweater, and an ivory silk blouse. Her glossy presence reminded me that I was struggling with my post-baby weight. Consequently, I was still wearing my maternity pants and large blouses. Clancy has a touch of OCD, which makes her quite the perfectionist. She’s the first to admit that she goes too far in her quest to have everything “just so.” Although we’ve known each other for three years, and despite the fact I consider her a best friend, she’s still a mystery to me. There are parts of her life that she won’t share. And now she was joining a class designed to encourage sharing. Would she really let down the barriers and let me see what she was hiding?

I couldn’t help but wonder.  Clancy guarded her privacy with all the zeal of the Fort Knox security forces.

Rather than ponder the matter further, I gave my class their first assignment. “I want you to write about a toy you had as a child, and why that particular toy mattered to you. Tell us who gave you the toy. How you played with it, and where it is today, if you know. When you come back next month, please bring photos of the toy or pictures of you as a child.”

The words were no more than out of my mouth when I glanced over to see Clancy frown. 

And unlike Leah, Clancy’s whole face creased in disapproval.

Editor’s Note: Stay tuned for part 2!

Joanna Campbell Slan is a national, bestselling and award-winning author.  She has just completed Shotgun, Wedding, Bells: Book #11 in a mystery series featuring ace scrapbooker Kiki Lowenstein. It’s available at

How I Write Short Stories--Part I

I get a lot of questions about how I write short stories, so I thought I'd take you through my process, step-by-step. Just so you know, I don't consider myself an expert. There are probably a million ways to approach a project like this. But perhaps walking through it with me will be interesting to some of you. I'm going to concentrate on how I write the Kiki Lowenstein Short Stories because I'd done so many of them.

Part I -- What's the point? Or what's the theme? What's my goal?

I like to have a purpose behind my stories. An idea or theme or goal. I think of this like the pole of a Maypole because it provides the structure for all that follows. I like to use holidays when writing the Kiki short stories. That works pretty well, because the holiday provides a natural launch date. Holidays give me an easy way to market my stories. And of course each holiday also has its own rituals, foods, celebratory activities, colors, and so on. These elements provide natural points of interest for the story.

I've decided that I want to write a story about St. Patrick's Day. I've been noodling that idea around, and I've been wondering, "What makes people lucky?"

With that in mind, I googled, "What makes people lucky?" and found several fascinating articles:

As you can see, Mr. Wiseman has identified four principles that define "lucky" people:

1. Taking advantage of chance opportunities.

2. Listening to hunches.

3. Expect good fortune.

4. Turn bad luck into good luck.

So now I have four new ideas that I can incorporate into my story. Any one of these or all of them might be useful.

I can move onto the next portion of my prep, creating conflict. To make a short story work, I need to create friction among my characters.

Any ideas on how I can do that?