Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Who Knew Where All This Cutting and Pasting Would Lead Me?

We have a guest today! Please welcome Joanna Campbell Slan. Paper, Scissors, Death has been nominated for an Agatha award. You don't have to be a scrapbooker to love this story. Deb

Okay, I admit it. I’m a scrapbooker. But I’m as surprised by that admission as anyone. See, my first crop was NOT a successful outing. Sitting there in the basement of a church in Kirkwood MO, I watched all the other scrapbookers carefully following the rules. They used officially sanctioned products. They glued archivally safe paper and specially made embellishments to their pages. They wrote on their layouts with archivally safe, waterproof ink.

I chaffed at these restrictions. I sat there and did nothing for about 30 minutes. Then, suddenly, I thought, “Shoot. I’m a grown up. I spent my own money to come here. I can do what I want! I don’t care if this lasts a million years. I just want it to look pretty!” Needless to say, I was the object of piteous glances and many whispers.

I wasn’t invited back.

But…I did go on to write seven technique books on the subject, numerous magazine articles, an online class, and now a mystery series starring a scrapbooker named Kiki Lowenstein. So I guess you could say that even though I had a rocky beginning…it took. I became, um, “involved” with the craft. It’s sort of like this: You can’t be a little bit pregnant. I’m not sure you can do a little bit of scrapbooking, either. (Feel free to prove me wrong. That happens a lot in my life. I’m a mom. Sometimes entire gangs of teenagers prove me wrong. Sometimes my husband joins in. I’m used to it.)

Since that first “close encounter” in the church basement, I’ve developed my own set of rules about scrapping. Buckle your seatbelts, ‘cause here they come:
1. There is NO right way to scrapbook. You can use photos or not. (Yep, you can even make layouts without a photo. Imagine that.) You can use archivally safe products or not.
2. There are no scrapbooking police. No one is going to come to your house and arrest you for doing stuff your own way. (As I type this, I hear a siren. Uh-oh. Could I have been wrong? Stay tuned!)
3. There’s no need to buy fancy supplies or equipment. Lately I’ve been making cheap scrapbooks out of cereal boxes. (Empty ones, of course. I cut the boxes down to 7 by 7 inches, sandpaper down the printed sides so they aren’t so slick, and cover those 7 x 7 inch “pages” with scrapbook paper. Then I punch holes in the “pages”, thread ribbon through the holes, and tie the whole shooting match together. Very cool.)
4. There’s no need to go to crops--unless you want to party or socialize. Although I didn’t get asked back to the church basement, I’ve been to a lot of other scrapbooking events since. Trust me: I never get anything done at crops besides yakking. Do I need to mention that at the last crop I attended, I was offered a healthy glass of schnapps? Peach-flavored. The bottle was half-empty. I had to drive home so I passed. (Drat.)

Naturally when I thought about writing a mystery, I decided I’d write about a scrapbooker. I figured, why not? After all, I’ve heard a lot of interesting stories from people showing me their memory albums. Behind the most unassuming exteriors are some pretty courageous women. Like the woman who told me about her miscarriage and the scrapbook she dedicated to the baby she didn’t get to hold. And the woman who researched her family history only to discover her mother had been shot by her father. Or the woman who didn’t have any photos because her ex-husband destroyed every family picture she had, just to spite her. Then there’s the album I helped create with a group of scrapbookers. We sent it to the family of a little girl who’d been run over and killed by her school bus. (Only the organizer knew the family. The rest of us just pitched in to help.) Or the scrapbooker I correspond with in Israel who sent me a page of her daughters being fitted for gas masks. (This happens every year when school starts. They get their new notebooks, new ink pens, new backpacks, and new gas masks.)

Remarkable stuff. Stuff I never conceived of that evening I sat there in the church basement. Who knew where all that cutting and pasting would lead me?

I sure didn’t.


Joanna Campbell Slan is the author of Paper, Scissors, Death, an Agatha Award Finalist for Best First Novel. Visit her at
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