Monday, December 8, 2008

Interview with Author Joanna Campbell Slan

Joanna Campbell Slan
Fall 2008, Midnight Ink

Hello and welcome to MURDER BY 4, Joanna. Let's start by asking you to tell us who is Joanna Campbell Slan?

A: I am a small-town girl who discovered Jane Eyre at an early age and thought, “Wow. Even plain, poor girls have a chance at a better life if they get a good education.” Heck, I didn’t know it was fiction. It looked like a wise plan to me—and it was.

Q: Please tell us about your journey, where you¢ve been and how you got here.

A: I started winning awards for writing when I was in junior high. I worked my way through college and majored in journalism at Ball State University , Muncie , IN. I wrote for the campus publications and for the local newspaper. I’m the author of ten non-fiction books, including a college textbook on using personal anecdotes when giving speeches. Seven of the non-fiction books were on scrapbooking. One sold 85,000 copies. I used to work as a motivational speaker. I received a Silver Anvil from Public Relations Society of America for my work on FarmAid. I’m doing exactly what I always hoped to do with my life.

Q: What wonderful things can you tell us about PAPER, SCISSORS, DEATH?

A: It’s the first in the Kiki Lowenstein Scrap-N-Craft Mystery series. Jon Jordan of Crimespree Magazine called it “a wonderful read.” Reviewers are noticing that it’s a bit more exciting than the average cozy. For example, Pat Elliott at BookLoons Reviews said, “Slan’s sleuth Kiki Lowenstein is smart and crafty. Her hair-raising brushes with life and death will keep you rooting for her every step of the way.” The book includes scrapbooking tips and in the back is a code for 50 Free Digital Prints courtesy of Snapfish.

Q: What prompted you to write this book?

A: My son got his driver’s license! Seriously, I finally had the necessary blocks of time to think and plan. I always wanted to write fiction. I realized there might be a niche in the market where my knowledge of a craft could be an asset. I love telling myself stories—and Kiki is just so much fun!

Q: What makes your book stand out among other books in this genre?

A: I believe that a cozy can be a thrill ride. I think we can slowly reveal information. We can do a strip-tease on paper that keeps the reader breathless. And cozy authors can create compelling, realistic characters—plus engaging plots. I did not want people to read my book solely because they liked scrapbooking. In fact, I was very careful to craft a read that even non-hobbyists could enjoy.

Q: What marketing/promotional strategies have worked best for you and why?

A: Also, we launched the book at Archivers’ Scrapfest, the largest gathering of scrapbookers in the country. More than 15,000 scrappers were there at Mall of America. We sold 400 copies in two-and-a-half days. Getting an initial OOMPH was very helpful in building word-of-mouth.

Q: What do you feel is has been your greatest strengths as a writer?

A: My willingness to keep learning and improving. I am constantly trying to do better.

Q: In what way do you or don’t you see yourself in your main character, Kiki?

A: A lot of us scrapbookers are like Kiki. We put our families first. We put ourselves last. We’re often underestimated and overlooked. We are hard on ourselves. We write love letters to life in our scrapbook pages, but we’re very down-to-earth and practical.

Q: Please tell us about the setting for your book and why you chose it.

A: I love St. Louis. It’s quirky, full of history and mystery, and I felt it was underutilized as a setting. This city is so important to the book that I treat it like another character. Which it is.

Q: What has been your greatest challenging in writing this book or writing in general?

A: Setting priorities. You have so many other “chores” besides writing that often writing takes the backseat. When I don’t get to write, I feel grumpy because writing is my passion and my release.

Q: Every author has at least one turning point in their career. That moment when they know the path they must take and accept the challenge. Please tell us about yours.

A: I was in college. We were going around and telling the teacher who we were and what we wanted to do after we graduated. I said, “I’m a writer.” One of the other students said, “No, you only hope you’ll be a writer.” And I knew he was dead wrong. That’s who and what I was—and I am.

Q: When you’re not writing, what are you doing?

A: I spend a lot of time promoting and marketing. I also create scrapbook pages and other pieces of paper art. I send out an electronic magazine bimonthly at least, and I need to keep coming up with new projects and ideas for that. Folks can view some of these by going to I get a lot of response from these. I usually offer a free downloadable piece of art. Readers need to send me an email (which allows me to capture new emails because they tell their friends), and I’ll send them the file. Last issue we had 120 or so requests.

Q: What has been the most valuable advice you’ve received along the way? How has it shaped your path?

A: Gosh, I’ve learned so much. My friend Shirley Damsgaard has four things that every line must do: 1.) drive the plot forward 2.) mess with the reader’s head 3.) add something to a character and 4.) ground the reader in a sense of place.

Q: What writing or marketing advice/experiences would you like to share with other authors?

A: I believe in “win-win” and “value-added.” I was able to partner with a paper manufacturer that needed to off-load some old stock. (Paper gets “old” after 3 months in the scrapbooking world.) I paid the shipping, and they gave me cool stuff to give away at signings. Now you might think, “Oh, but that’s scrapbooking,” but here’s the thing: we all have something to share. The trick is to find someone who needs what you have to offer—and who has something of value to you. It’s a mind-set.

Q: What message, if any, does your book offer the reader?

A: Being poor stinks. Friends help you grow up. You can run, but you can only hide from bad news for a short while. Never underestimate anybody.

Q: Thanks so much for giving us a glimpse into your life and writing. Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

A: I blog every Monday at and I blog frequently about being a debut author at
* * *
Joanna Campbell Slan is the author of PAPER, SCISSORS, DEATH: A Kiki Lowenstein Scrap-N-Craft Mystery, the first in a series featuring an amateur sleuth. Kirkus Reviews noted it a “well-turned cozy,” while Crimespree Magazine called PAPER, SCISSORS, DEATH “a wonderful read.” Reader to Reader Reviews notes “Joanna Campbell Slan proves herself to be a top-notch mystery author with this very entertaining and intriguing debut.”

Slan is a motivational speaker and author of ten non-fiction books. Her college textbook, USING STORIES AND HUMOR: GRAB YOUR AUDIENCE (Allyn & Bacon), has been praised by former Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speechwriter. Five of her personal essays have appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Her seminal book on the art of scrapbooking, Scrapbook Storytelling, has sold more than 85,000 copies. She’s the author of countless magazine and newspaper articles on a variety of subjects.

Slan has partnered with ScrapBook inspirations Magazine, a UK publication, to run an annual contest called “The Best of British Scrapbooking.” Slan is also the co-founder of Forensic University of St. Louis.

A journalism graduate of Ball State University, Slan currently teaches for Writers Online Workshops and Lewis and Clark Community College. Formerly, she taught public relations at Illinois State University. She is the recipient of a Silver Anvil, Public Relations Society of America’s “Emmy,” for her work on FarmAid.

Visit her at or read her blogs at and


Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Marta, thanks for having me!

s.w. vaughn said...

Hi, Joanna. Wow - scrapbooking and mystery! Sounds like an intriguing combination. I love your cover!

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Isn't the cover great? Kevin Brown of Midnight Ink is the artist. He really did his homework because the image depicts what's hot in modern scrapbooking.

Kim Smith said...

Hi Joanna! Your book sounds excellent and as a fellow cozy-ish author, cannot wait to grab this one! Thank you for being with us on MB4 today!
Kim Smith
Avenging Angel, RRP
Coming 12/18/08

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

You guys are so sweet. I received the BEST interview over the weekend. Beth at Gumshoes Review said mine was the best cozy she'd ever read. Boy, did that make my week!

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

What a unique twist, Joanna. The book sounds fascinating.

As you said, "cozy" characters can be deep and intriguing, the book can be high in suspense, with page turning qualities, and more. I'm glad to see you addressing this up front! Thanks for visiting us today and best of luck with your newest project(s).

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Aaron Paul, I believe we "owe" our readers a thrill ride--even if we dance around the gory parts. And complex characters are more fun to write.

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

The book sounds intriguing. Great interview, Marta. Joanna is on my list.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Yes, Joylene, Marta did a great job, didn't she?

I was so shocked. Yesterday when I went to sign books at a local Barnes & Noble, the community service rep asked, "Where are your other books?"

I hesitated. Did she mean my backlist of non-fiction?

No, she had already gotten requests from readers demanding the NEXT books in the series.

Okay, how cool is that? Just a sort of "pinch me" moment in my life.

Marta Stephens said...

Joanna, I thoroughly enjoyed talking with you the other day and am so thrilled you agreed to this interview.

Isn't it great to get those "pinch me" moments? I got one at a book signing last week too. Didn't have the heart to tell them they'd have to wait a few months more.

All the best with "Paper, Scissors, Death" (Such a cool title!)

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Thanks, Marta. Oh, and if there are any scrapbookers reading this, don't forget I have a free electronic magazine that you can sign up for at my website

We offer all sorts of freebies. This month, we're offering a file of hand-drawn downloadable art: a cornucopia, some lettering, a turkey, and acorn leaves. We've already had 50 requests and the ezine went out yesterday!

Beryl Singleton Bissell said...

Here's proof that I live in the woods. I had no idea what a "Cozy" was and am still not quite sure but think it involves craft and story. I worked for Milkweed Editions and 10 years or so ago they published a childrens' book called The Boy With Paper Wings ... a story with patterns for paper airplanes. Is there a particular age group that your book addresses?

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Good question, Beryl. A "cozy" is a mystery without graphic violence, and it usually features an amateur sleuth. The setting is often a village or a social circle, and the answer to the mystery comes from examining the relationships these people have to each other. Think of Jessica Fletcher. Or Agatha Christy. Usually a cozy is a fair-play mystery which means the reader might be able to figure out "who dunnit." A craft cozy is a subset, a cozy that might revolve around a craft, or where the protagonist is a crafter. The general weakness, I believe, of cozies is that often they are overly reliant on the craft. They can shortchange the reader by not offering a satisfying read to noncrafters. That was what I wanted to prevent--I wanted any reader to be able to enjoy my book. The age group is probably adult, dipping to include older teens.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Oops. Agatha Christie. My bad.

Cheryl said...

Sounds like an excellent book. Love the cover.

Best of luck!


Anonymous said...

Thank you, Cheryl. I love the cover, too. And the interior layout and quality is superb. You tend to NOT notice such things until you buy a book that's cheaply made, and think, "Yuck."

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Cheryl. I love the cover, too. And the interior layout and quality is superb. You tend to NOT notice such things until you buy a book that's cheaply made, and think, "Yuck."