“Crafty” can be defined as “clever.” It can also refer to a person who is skilled in creative activities. For Florida native Joanna Campbell Slan, both definitions apply. In her Kiki Lowenstein Mysteries, Slan combines her two passions – writing and crafting – to create a series of clever mysteries interspersed with creative tips. Her newest novel, Death of a Schoolgirl, casts Charlotte Bronte’s classic character, Jane Eyre, in the role of amatuer sleuth. Slan describes her books as “funny like Janet Evanovich, romantic like Nora Roberts, and centered on women’s friendships like Debbie Macomber.” With the release of Death of a Schoolgirl, she’s forced to add another comparison: “British like Rhys Bowen.”
Slan has been a book lover for as long as she can remember. As the child of an alcoholic father, she escaped into the pages of her favorite books. According to Slan, “Books saved my life and gave me hope that I could escape my beginnings.” They also instilled in her an intense desire to write. “Even as a child, I wanted to write something that would give people hope and possibly change their lives” she recalls.
After graduating magna cum laude from Ball State University, Slan used her journalism degree to pursue a career in public relations. In addition to print journalism, she did some corporate speechwriting, worked in television and radio, and was involved in the first Farm Aid concert in 1985. Eventually, she started her own PR firm.
Since all of her jobs involved writing, she decided to branch out into writing non-fiction. She authored 13 books including several on scrapbooking techniques. But it wasn’t until her son was older that she had the time to attempt a work of fiction. In 2008, after four rewrites, Slan completed her first novel – Paper, Scissors, Death. “That book took 50 years to write,” she says. “It took me that long to believe I could do it.” And those 50 years paid off. Paper, Scissors, Death was named a 2008 Agatha Award finalist for Best First Novel.
Paper, Scissors, Death introduces Kiki Lowenstein, a young mom whose world centers around her daughter and scrapbooking. Kiki’s comfortable little world is turned upside-down when her husband is found naked and dead in a hotel room. “Kiki is someone I like and admire,” Slan says. “She gets knocked down, but you can’t keep her down for long.” Paper, Scissors, Death was the first of a six-book series. Slan describes herself as a believer in series fiction, saying “I love knowing that once I find something that’s satisfying and enjoyable, I can go back to the bookstore and find more.”
Between Book #4 and Book #5, Slan decided to write a series of short stories featuring Kiki. “My fans told me that a year between books was too long for them,” she says. “They needed their ‘Kiki fix.’ So I did. The stories are available on Amazon, and the response to them has been simply amazing.”
Slan’s latest offering, Death of a Schoolgirl, is the first in a new mystery series, The Jane Eyre Chronicles. Based on Charlotte Brontë’s classic Jane Eyre, Death of a Schoolgirl was released by Berkley Trade on August 7. “Jane Eyre has long been my favorite book,” Slan says. “Like most readers, when they find a work they love, I hated to see it end. After the success of my Kiki Lowenstein Mystery Series, I was casting about for another project. It occurred to me that Jane Eyre had all the hallmarks of a great mystery—and better yet, Jane has all the characteristics of a great amateur sleuth.”
Death of a Schoolgirl explores the responsibility we have to other people’s children. Slan presented the first hot-off-the-press copy of the book to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a ceremony at the State Department.“Secretary Clinton wrote that it takes a village to raise a child. Today more than ever, we need to reach out past the boundaries of our homeland and care for the children of the world,” explains Slan. “In my book, Jane refuses to turn her back on a group of schoolchildren even though she herself is at risk.”
Critics have warmed to Slan’s message. Kirkus Reviews noted,” Slan refashions a beloved heroine as a surprisingly canny detective. Her stylistic imitation of Charlotte Brontë is seasoned with a dash of social commentary and plenty of suspects to mull over.” Publishers Weekly noted that Slan’s new book “credibly recreates Regency London and the era of the Bow Street Runners.” That compliment causes the author to laugh. “Such is the power of imagination,” she says. “I wrote about bad air quality, cold rain, and murky weather while looking out the window onto the beach at Jupiter Island. In fact, I actually did wrap an oilcloth around me and walk on the beach during one storm in January to get the feel for the driving rain so common in England. Maybe it helped!”
While Slan’s mysteries are fun to read, they each have a social issue at the core: class differences, deception, prejudice, domestic violence, and caring for aging parents or endangered children. Like the Kiki Lowenstein books, the Jane Eyre series will have its own social agenda. “I hope to put my readers in touch with something they may not have thought about before,” Slan says. “To do something I love and maybe even help someone – can it get any better than that? I don’t think so!”
For more about Joanna Campbell Slan, visit her website at www.JoannaSlan.com
Next: Rhonda Pollero - F.A.T. and Funny
Next: Rhonda Pollero - F.A.T. and Funny