Most readers know Joanna Campbell Slan for her spunky heroine, Kiki Lowenstein, a St. Louis mom who spends most of her time with her foot in her mouth, running from murderers, and shopping at Goodwill. Kiki is a scrapbooker, so Slan’s mysteries fall into that subgenre called “craft cozies,” where they’ve done well. In fact, she’s just finished the sixth book in the series in addition to ongoing short stories available for Kindle. But recently, Joanna surprised us all. She developed a whole new shtick. She’s written a historical mystery based on Charlotte Brontë’s classic Jane Eyre. The first in that series, Death of a Schoolgirl, will be released August 7 by Berkley. Killer Fiction set out to discover what caused Slan to try something so challenging!
Q: Kirkus Reviews liked Death of a Schoolgirl. Like it a lot in fact. They called it a “radical departure.” How did you feel about that?
A: Quite good actually. I wanted to write something different. There are readers out there who wouldn’t try a book featuring a scrapbooker. (Although when they did, they would write me and gush about how much they liked Kiki.) So I set out to prove I could write “above my station.” I mean, just because initially I entered the world of fiction writing about a scrapbooker didn’t mean that was the only story line I had in me.
Q: But when you wrote about a scrapbooker, you knew that world. You had written six books on scrapbooking, right? Wasn’t it different to write about England in 1820?
A: Seven “how to” books on scrapbooking and more articles than I can count. Yes, it was a challenge. But here’s a secret: I love to write. Absolutely, totally adore writing. I would rather be writing than anything else on earth. And next to writing, I love researching. I come from a family with a fabulous, interesting history, so I grew up learning about English history and royalty and so on. So it wasn’t as big of a stretch as it might seem.
Q: There are those who think of Jane Eyre as one of the greatest love stories ever written. How do you portray Jane’s relationship with her husband Edward Rochester?
A: Believe me, it was a challenge to get that right. As all of us know, the relationship between a man and woman changes when they marry. Love becomes more secure and three-dimensional. So I set out to write about a marriage of equals in a time when most marriages were very lopsided. I was thrilled when Charlene Cruz in her Bookish Whimsey blog said, “I think the tenor of their married life in this book is perfect, and as loving and romantic as the original novel.”
Q: You fashion Jane as an amateur sleuth. What made you think she’d fit that role? Weren’t you taking liberties with her character?
A: Actually, it’s sort of surprising that no one thought of casting her in that role before. She fits the mold. She calls herself “insignificant,” so she doesn’t draw attention. Jane has always been observant, curious, and cerebral. We know she’s courageous and that she doesn’t back away from a fight. And of course, she’s highly moral with a keen sense of justice.
Q: But Kiki is funny! So darn funny! How did you write something so solemn?
A: Oh, there’s humor in Death of a Schoolgirl. A schoolgirl tells Jane that her parents like her baby brother best because he has hair. Of course, the child means he is an “heir,” but Jane doesn’t lecture the girl about homonyms. Instead, she comforts the little girl who has been obviously cast aside now that her mother has produced a son. It’s not as overt as Kiki setting a pair of her panties on fire as she tries to dry them on a light bulb --see “Kiki Lowenstein and the Lilac Festival”, a short story—but hey, I’m still a big fan of inserting a laugh or two. Books are entertainment. I want my readers to enjoy every second of reading what I write!
Death of a Schoolgirl by Joanna Campbell Slan (Berkley/Aug. 7) is the first book in The Jane Eyre Chronicles. Mystery Guild has chosen it as a Featured Alternate Selection. Slan also writes the Kiki Lowenstein Mystery Series and the Kiki Lowenstein Short Stories (available on Kindle). Visit her at www.JoannaSlan.com