Interview with National Bestselling Author Joanna Slan
Get to know Joanna…
I am the author of the Kiki Lowenstein Mystery Series, The Jane Eyre Chronicles, and the upcoming Southern Beauty Shop mysteries. For more info, check out my website and blog.
Let the conversation begin!
Describe your writing journey, from aspiring writer to published author.
I grew up in a dysfunctional home with an alcoholic father, so I learned early that books were a great way to escape. In particular, I thought of Jane Eyre as a road map to a better life, because Jane’s education allows her to make her way in the world and eventually meet a man who respects her.
So I managed to get into college, where I worked full-time until I graduated with a degree in journalism. I learned to write, but not how to write books. I also didn’t know anything about the business of book publishing. Two decades after I left Ball State University, I answered a request for proposals and that resulted in the opportunity to write my first book, Using Stories and Humor: Grab Your Audience, a college textbook for people who want to captivate their audiences.
About that time, I also had a variety of essays published in the Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Each step along the way to publication taught me more about the book business. When my son got his driver’s license, and I was freed from carpool duty, I was able to return to my love of storytelling—and I found the courage to try my hand at fiction. Drawing from my own life and my work in the crafts field, I imagined a young mother whose comfortable life is turned upside-down by the mysterious death of her husband. With no other options, she takes a job in a scrapbook store. That’s how I came to write about Kiki Lowenstein.
Outliner or Seat-of-the-pantser?
A bit of both. I feel very strongly that I need to set the tone in the first three chapters, so I really work hard to get the book started. Along the way, I make notes, I do exercises, I fill in worksheets, I make diagrams, I write scene ideas and plot points on sticky notes that I paste to a chart divided into three acts, and I start doing my research. At some point, when I can’t go any further, I sit down and work up a synopsis. Not really an outline, because that’s too linear. Instead, I sort of gather the bits and pieces into a chronological flow as if I were telling someone else the story. I paste this synopsis into the document with my three chapters. As I add onto those first chapters, I also add onto the synopsis. All the while I am developing a notebook with ideas, problems, character sketches, research notes, maps, floor plans, flow charts and so on. So I’m simultaneously moving forward from those beginning chapters and working on the heart of the book. Sounds complicated, but my goal is to capture good ideas while allowing the book to develop—and not to slow down during the process.
If you could choose anyone, who would you pick as your mentor?
Pat Conroy. I’ve met him, and he’s lovely. I even named my protagonist “Lowenstein” in homage to his book The Prince of Tides. I think he would help me take my writing to the next level.
When you have 30 minutes of free-time, how do you pass the time?
I am addicted to Zentangle®. I also love walking on the beach and doing Zumba. It goes without saying that I love to read. But when I’m writing against a deadline, I don’t let myself read for pleasure. I try to restrict most of my reading to research.
The best part of waking up is?
Looking forward to another day of writing. I am the luckiest girl in the WORLD! I get to do what I’ve always wanted to do. Yipppeee!!!
What advice would you give to new writers?
Invest in your career. Take classes. Buy books. Go to conferences. Join writers’ associations. Network. Pay to have your work edited. And put your writing first. If you don’t, you’ll never succeed.
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