with Joanna Campbell Slan
We are delighted to welcome mystery author Joanna Campbell Slan to Omnimystery News today, courtesy of Cozy Mystery Books Tours, which is coordinating her current book tour. We encourage you to visit all of the participating host sites; you can find her schedule here.
Joanna's latest series features the classic literary character Jane Eyre, the second book of which is Death of a Dowager (Berkley, April 2013 trade paperback and ebook formats).
We recently had the opportunity to chat with Joanna about her books.
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Omnimystery News: Give us some of the backstory to this new series.
Photo provided courtesy of
Joanna Campbell Slan
Joanna Campbell Slan: I chose to follow up Charlotte Brontë's classic Jane Eyre by recasting Jane as an amateur sleuth in "The Jane Eyre Chronicles". Since Jane is such a fascinating character, it made sense for her to be the recurring character in her own mystery series. As much as possible, I've tried to stay true to Brontë's vision of Jane. However, she does change and grow in the original, and she is only nineteen when Jane Eyre concludes. Therefore, it seemed sensible that she would grow and change in my series.
OMN: How would you describe the subgenre into which this series might be placed?
JCS: The Jane Eyre Chronicles are historical suspense with a touch of romance. The advantage of marketing them as such is that readers have a pretty good idea of what to expect. The disadvantage is that I risk having my books pigeon-holed. For example, some readers might call Death of a Dowager a "Regency". Yes, it is set during the Regency era. However, most readers of Regencies expect a comedy of manners, and my work is more gritty than that. So labels can be both helpful and unhelpful.
OMN: Tell us something about the book that isn't mentioned in the synopsis.
JCS: Death of a Dowager includes vivid and captivating scenes of London in the year 1820. I enjoyed sending Jane and her husband Edward Rochester to the Italian Opera House. Who knew that a night at the opera would begin in the late afternoon and last until the next morning? Or that the most coveted boxes were on the fifth level? And I would have never guessed that patrons on the floor were treated to candle wax dripping on them from the chandeliers.
OMN: Though the time frame of the book is in the early 1800s, did you incorporate any of your own present-day experiences into the storyline?
JCS: More than you might guess. I lived outside of London for a year — and I have visited many times before and after. I loved poking around in the city, in the little villages, and in the countryside. Seeing the pomp and pageantry of the Royal Garter Ceremony offered me a firsthand glimpse of the royal family. Also, I totally understand Jane. I, too, am a bit of a loner. I am small and plain and easily underestimated. I live on an almost deserted island, and I can happily go for days without seeing people.
OMN: Describe your writing process for us.
JCS: It really depends on the book. Of course, Brontë had already created the characters of Jane and her beloved Edward Rochester, so I didn't need to write out their biographies. But I did need to go back and double-check what was written. I work from an outline but often I find my books taking a new direction as I write. (Sometimes I'll stumble across an interesting bit of research that I can't resist. Or a character will misbehave.)
OMN: Did researching the background for the books in this series present any challenges for you.
JCS: I love, love, love doing research. I have consulted with experts, visited museums, and I use the Internet. The most challenging topic so far has been the legal system of the 1820s. My books are set before Robert Peel and the Bobbies came on the scene. At that time, the people of England feared that an organized policing force would be used against the common folk, so they resisted it. A system of parish watchmen and the Bow Street Runners were used to apprehend criminals, but not to stop crime before/as it happened.
OMN: The original Jane Eyre has a memorable, atmospheric setting. Have you tried to recreate that in your series?
JCS: I have a personal rule when it comes to setting. If the book could be moved from one setting to another, I haven't done my job. Setting should be as strong and as individualized as any character. I haven't taken any liberties that I am aware of. I even looked up the stage coach route from Yorkshire to London, and all of the stops. I have a book of wildflowers and birds of England. I do everything I can to be as accurate as possible. That said, I did joke around a bit with my readers because I located a house in London at the same address as the U.S. Embassy currently occupies!
OMN: What is the best advice you've received as an author?
JCS: The best advice? Joe Konrath told me a long time ago that there would always be people who were doing better than I, and those who weren't doing as well. So he pointed out that comparing yourself to other authors is a waste of time and energy. It's non-productive. Joe was right; as he often is. Instead, I concentrate on getting better with every single book I write.
OMN: What kind of feedback to you get from readers?
JCS: I am thrilled when a reader tells me that my book transported him or her to another time and place. Books are my personal drug of choice, so I am pleased when a reader uses my work to escape. I am also tickled pink when a reader recognizes the social consciousness I bring to my work. Everything I write has a theme, and that theme is as relevant today as well as it was in 1820. In Death of a Schoolgirl, the question was, "How much do we owe other people's children?" And the book came out just as Jerry Sandusky was sentenced to prison. In Death of a Dowager, the question is, "If you can't marry the person you want to marry, what do you do with your life? How do you handle that?" And this book dovetails with the trial of Jodi Arias, who killed her boyfriend because he rejected her.
OMN: Who would you cast in the principal roles if your series were adapted for film or television?
JCS: I would love to see Keira Knightley as Jane Eyre and Jeremy Northam as Rochester.
OMN: What kinds of books did you read as a child?
JCS: Jane Eyre was and continues to be my favorite book of all time. I am so blessed to be able to continue the story.
OMN: And what do you read today?
JCS: I read anything and everything from biographies to mysteries to literary fiction to history to how-to books. Honestly, if I can get my hands on it, I'll read it. I also read magazines, online and traditional. Sometimes I think my brain is this big funnel with a colander on the end. Some of the stuff I read sloshes through the holes, but some doesn't. What drips down is incorporated into my books.
OMN: What keeps you busy when you're not writing?
JCS: I love history, so I am always up for a visit to a museum or historical site. I have traveled to China, Australia, Korea, Japan, Egypt, South America, Central America, Canada, and most of Europe. And I adore turning trash into treasures, as my Facebook friends well know. I post pictures of my projects there and on Pinterest. Lately, I've been turning cardboard boxes into keepsakes boxes. When I get stuck in my writing, I either turn to Zentangle or I walk the beach. Oh, and I am a real animal lover.
OMN: Create a Top 5 list on any topic.
JCS: The top 5 Things to Do in London:
1. Take a Big Red Bus tour. It's the best way to get a good overview of the town. Pay particular attention to the extant Roman walls, London Bridge, and Big Ben.
2. Have tea at Brown's Hotel. The food and the service are spectacular, but it's the setting that makes the experience priceless. Rudyard Kipling liked the place so much that he wrote his books here!
3. Visit the Tower of London. You'll get a new appreciation for modern criminal justice. When you see the Crown Jewels, you'll better understand the grandeur of the monarchy.
4. Shop at Fortnum & Mason. They've been around for 307 years. Why not buy one of their picnic hampers and have a lunch in The Regent's Park?
5. Wander around in Covent Garden. Close your eyes and you'll be able to imagine it teaming with flower girls selling posies.
Oh, and because I couldn't resist adding one more item to this list, my absolutely favorite place to have lunch is the Crypt Café in St. Martin of the Fields. The price is low, the food is great, and you can't beat the crypt for atmosphere.
OMN: What's next for you?
JCS: I'm working on a new series set in Florida and featuring a trio of women who run a "trash to treasures" type of shop. It will combine history (of Florida) with mystery, with a dash of fun and recipes.
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Joanna Campbell Slan was born in Jacksonville, Florida, but she grew up in a small town in Indiana. After graduating from Ball State University with a degree in journalism, she worked as a newspaper reporter, a newspaper ad salesperson, a television talk show host, a college teacher, a public relations professional, and a motivational speaker.
When her son, Michael, got his driver's license, Joanna was freed from carpool duty and finally able to pursue her dream of writing full time. She has since written eighteen books, eleven non-fiction and seven fiction.
For more information about the author please visit her website at Joanna-Campbell-Slan.com or find her on Facebook and Twitter.
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Death of a Dowager
Joanna Campbell Slan
The Jane Eyre Chronicles (2nd in series)