Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Giving Birth to a Dancing Star

Welcome guest Joanna Campbell Slan

Two weeks ago I finished the scrapbook page I donated to the Malice Domestic auction. That’s a photo of my workspace. Um, some of it. That’s all the mess I could fit in the viewfinder. Trust me. The mess extends to the left and right of the photo.

You’d think I’d have a tidy process for creating. You can probably see the wipe board in the background. It has the entire day-by-day plan for Book #4 in the Kiki Lowenstein Mystery Series. I turned that book in last month. I just haven’t gotten around to erasing my notes.

The wipe board makes it seem as if my book planning process is orderly.
It isn’t.

Sometimes I start with an idea or an obscure fact that niggles at me. In Photo, Snap, Shot, my protagonist, Kiki Lowenstein, explores a 132-year-old St. Louis society called The Veiled Prophet. Oddly enough, I first learned about this secretive group when I was visiting a museum in Memphis, Tennessee. They had a display that referenced King Cotton parades and noted that similar events were held in a variety of cities, including St. Louis. Businessmen banded together after the Civil War to participate in civic pride demonstrations, often modeled after Mardi Gras festivities in New Orleans. From this common zeitgeist came the King Cotton Parade in Memphis and The Veiled Prophet Parade in St. Louis.

Sometimes my books start with a challenge. Joe Konrath, Linda Hengerer, Kathryn Lilley and I were chatting at SleuthFest several years back when Joe challenged each of us to come up with a great opening line for a book. Here’s mine: “I was in the trash dumpster searching for my lost paycheck, when I reached down and grabbed Cindy Gambrowski’s severed leg.”

That became the first line of Book #4, tentatively called Make, Take, Murder. It will be out Spring 2011.
I’ll admit that I have NO idea where that image of the severed leg came from, but I’m glad it did!

Sometimes my books begin with an experience. I was invited to a May Day celebration at a private prep school in St. Louis. In an elaborate outdoor ceremony on the grounds of the headmaster’s house, girls danced around a May Pole, wrapping it ‘round and ‘round with colorful ribbons. After the younger girls took their turns and sat down, a change of music announced the seniors. These young women were dressed in white bridal gowns. Marching two-by-two, they made a formal procession in front of a large seated crowd. When their stately march brought them face to face with the headmaster, who was sitting in a chair on a platform above the grounds, the maidens stopped and curtsied.

Seemed to me like a perfect setting for a sniper attack.

Hey, that’s just the way my mind works. To paraphrase Castle, the TV program, only two types of people spend their time dreaming up ways to do other people in: serial killers and mystery writers.

The sniper attack is the opening scene in Book #5 of the Kiki Lowenstein Mystery Series, tentatively called Ink, Red, Dead. (You know, the reason this is all so tentative is that the publisher has the final word on titles.)

Nietzsche once said, “One must feel chaos within to give birth to a dancing star.”

I think he’s right. Out of the confusion of everyday living, out of the messiness that is my life, ideas bubble up. They aren’t orderly. They aren’t fully formed. They nag at me, attach themselves to me, and refuse to go away. There’s a mess in my head, but I’ve come to believe, that for a writer, messiness is a very good thing indeed.
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Joanna Campbell Slan is the author of the Kiki Lowenstein Scrap-N-Craft Mystery Series. (She defies you to say that fast, three times!) Paper, Scissors, Death was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel. Photo, Snap, Shot is out just this month, and it’s the third book in the series.
Visit Joanna at www.JoannaSlan.com
or at http://www.JoannaSlan.blogspot.com
Joanna blogs every Monday at http://KillerHobbies.blogspot.com

26 comments:

Shel said...

Wow, what a first line! Now I can't wait for the book! If messiness is what it takes for you to keep bringing us lovely books, I'm all for it!

Dru said...

oooh, I love that first line and can't wait to get my hands on this book.

tonya kappes said...

Thanks for sharing your funny story! You do have a really killer first line.

Angie319 said...

Joanna, you are one of the BEST authors around. As I've told you over and over, I absolutely loved your first two books. Thanks for giving us insight to books #4 and 5. But, what about books #6, 7 and 8??? You MUST keep writing this series. Kiki and the gang are awesome!!

Rural View said...

I'm off to find this series, but first must tell you at Monticello College in Alton in the 50s they did a May Pole dance very similar to this. I was a lowly prep so I didn't participate. The juxtaposition of the grace and beauty with a murder is perfect - my mind works like yours.

Mare F said...

I've always loved the way you think. LOL

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

I've been trying for an hour to comment. Let's see if this will work.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

SUCCESS!!!!

Shel, I just finished a page for University of Pittsburgh that I'll post on my personal blog http://joannaslan.blogspot.com You wouldn't believe the mess I made of my desk!

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Dru, Book #4 is in the hands of the editors. By the way, it has super recipes in it!

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Angie, readers have really, really loved this book. They tell me it's the best so far. I do hope there will be a 6, 7, and 8. It's all up to you, my readers.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Rural View, yeah, I wanted to kill someone on the spot. I mean, it was so...pagan! So, ritualistic and anachronistic. Gosh, good thing I don't live in St. Louis anymore. They won't welcome me back after taking aim on so many of their cherished institutions.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Mare, sometimes I find that the tired-er I am, the wilder my writing is. I did a post last night for May 24 on Killer Hobbies (I'll be on the road, so I was hoping to pre-load the post), and now I'm wondering...did I step over a big line here? It's about "writing what sells." A very weird subject!

signlady217 said...

I've got the first two books and had #3 on pre-order, just have to go pick it up when I get back home (I'm at my mom's this week helping her with some projects). Can't wait for the rest of them! Books like this always make me wish the people were real, because they remind me of my actual real friends in so many ways (except for the finding dead bodies part!)

Keep up the good work!

Kate Collins said...

I've found that if my desk is a mess, I can't think! There's so much going on inside my head -- all those characters chatting, bickering, AACK! So when I see clean space around me, I feel much more organized, even if I'm not. I love the idea of a dry erase board. Maybe that will make me believe I've really got a plan!
Nice blog!

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Sign Lady, thank you for pre-ordering. That's a great way to support any author. When the publisher sees pre-orders, they increase the print run (sometimes, at least), and that's a good.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Kate, you are right. I try to keep a clear space where I'm writing. Sometimes just the act of clearing a space also cleanses the brain. Mainly, I get the most clarity from doing what I call "twilight" thinking. When I'm half-awake, I visualize my scenes. It really helps with sensory detail and solidifies the characters. Try it!

Lover of Books said...

So creative! I love that first line. I have seen your books before now I am really curious but may have to wait till after I move. :)
Krista

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Krista, I understand. When we went to move from St. Louis to DC, the company wanted $13,000--mainly because I had so many books. So I gave boxes and boxes away to the local library.

Luckily for both of us, my books (1 & 2) are available on Kindle. I'm sure Photo, Snap, Shot will be soon, too.

Helen Kiker said...

Taking a challenge for you upcoming book is a new concept in writing. I look forward to reading some of your books.

Helen Kiker

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Thanks, Helen! Let me know what you think,

jbstanley said...

I think you're messy in a totally creative way. You see things and order that no one else can see and what does that mean? It means that lucky readers everywhere get to experience your unique and fabulous books!

Anonymous said...

Joanna, well this definitely has made me add your books to my Must Read list. Another Great Cozy author.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

JB, you are a sweetheart. I do think that the ability to see things differently is one of the unsung skills that authors must have.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Nancy, I sincerely hope you'll give my books a try. You can read an excerpt of them at www.YouPublish.com/joannaslan Click on the area that says "Publications" to the right, and you'll see free art, plus two excerpts, and a dinner theatre mystery play that I wrote. Everything is free but the play!

Chèli said...

I'm headed to the bookstore this weekend, I'll have to keep an eye out for these.

Chèli
Cheli's Shelves

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Cheli, since we're almost neighbors, you can pick up a signed copy at the Barnes & Noble in Reston VA, or from Scrapbooks Plus! in Chantilly VA. Mystery Loves Company (Oxford MD) has some. Often you'll have to order in my books. I hope you won't mind doing that! And I hope I'll meet you in person some day.