Mystery author Joanna Campbell Slan shares what she has in common with her cozy series heroine, Kiki Lowenstein.
Once upon a time, a writing coach gave my critique group this sterling piece of advice: “Never, ever use your own life as the basis for a protagonist. Trust me. You’re just not that interesting.”
Since she was the expert and I was the beginner, I did the logical thing. I ignored her. I created Kiki Lowenstein, a spunky and good-hearted woman who regularly finds trouble stuck to the bottom of her shoes.
You see, I think most of us actually DO have interesting lives. And so I use my personal foibles regularly for material that (with a little tweaking) perfectly illustrates Kiki’s lack of pretensiousness.
For example, one day while on carpool duty, I drove away from a gas pump with the hose still attached. (Yeah, it was a real parenting low point. Or highpoint, depending on your sense of humor.) One of my son’s friends in the back seat tapped me on the shoulder and stuttered, “Uh…Mrs. Slan? Uh…there’s a…a hose hooked up to the car.”
“Whose car?” I asked.
For as long as I can remember, my life has been an ongoing gag joke. Maybe it only SEEMS that way because I’m willing to admit how quirky I am. Instead of forgetting the wacky situations I get into, I cherish them and use them in my books.
As far as I know, I haven’t noticed any other authors posting pictures on Facebook of a dead armadillo. I fought off turkey vultures to scrape the animal’s carcass off the road. Then I turned the shell into a stunning vase that fetched $200 at an auction to benefit a local library. So you can imagine my concern when I read this Thursday, April 28, 2011, headline in the New York Times: Armadillos Can Transmit Leprosy to Humans, Federal Researchers Confirm.
Here I thought that itchy spot on my finger was a bug bite.
Kiki has been accused of using her outdoor voice for her indoor thoughts. Speaking for both of us, mea culpa. Neither of us realize it when we’ve stepped on people’s sensibilities, at least not until someone yells “Ouch.” Both of us are shocked—just horrified!—at some of the mistakes we’ve made. And trust me, we’ve made some doozies.
Years ago when I worked for a newspaper, management decided to hold a team-building exercise in the guise of a touch football game, pitting the newsroom against the ad department. I didn’t attend, but I overheard two people saying that the game ended just short of a brawl. I was eager to learn more when I spotted the new guy, a cute reporter about my age. We hadn’t met, so I hurried over to make small talk while we watched the vending machine splatter coffee all over the outside of a paper cup.
“Gee, that must have been some game last weekend.” I gave him my most winning smile.
He looked at me blankly.
I pointed to the empty sleeve pinned to his shoulder, and I added, “They must have played really rough for you to have messed up your arm like that.”
And he said, “It’s called a birth defect. I was born this way.”