• “One of top 25 US speakers”

    — Sharing Ideas Magazine

  • “One of mystery’s rising stars.”

    — RT Reviews

  • Chicken Soup for the Soul Contributor

  • Endorsed by Toastmasters International

  • Silver Anvil Award Winner

  • 2009 Agatha Award Finalist

    Paper, Scissors, Death

  • 2013 Daphne du Maurier Award Winner

    Death of a Schoolgirl: Jane Eyre Chronicles

The Greatest Gift: A Kiki Lowenstein Short Story

Our blended family headed into the holiday season full of high hopes and great expectations. I’m a huge believer in traditions, especially those that occur seasonally. Traditions create memories, and memories are the glue that holds us close when tough times inevitably come. Of course, I also admit that I have an ulterior motive for loving memories. As the owner of Time in a Bottle, a scrapbook and craft store, I’ve turned making and saving memories into a business.

“What do you do with your kids’ outgrown toys, Kiki?” Vanessa Johnson asked me. She was working on a fun project, crocheting matching hats for everyone in her family. “I ask because I’m trying to figure out what to do with the toys my son has outgrown. I hate to see them thrown into the trash.”

“Don’t do that!” Clancy Whitehead, my second in command and my BFF, gave a furious shake of her head. “There are so many needy kids in this world. Think of how thrilled they’d be to get those things.”

I agreed wholeheartedly. “Last Sunday we went through all of Anya’s old things and outgrown clothes. I can’t believe how quickly her teen years are flying by. We packed up an entire box. Then I tried to get Erik to do likewise.”

“How did that go?” Clancy raised an impeccably groomed eyebrow curiously. With a tiny shrug, she added, “I know that moving here has been hard on him. He’s probably not ready to give anything up.”

Her years as a teacher have served her well, because Clancy understands children very well. As usual, she’d nailed it in one. Erik had refused to let go of anything he’d brought here, to St. Louis, from California. The prospect of saying goodbye to his belongings overwhelmed the little guy. He burst into noisy tears and threw himself onto his bed. Watching her brother cry, Anya had slipped an arm around my waist. She whispered in my ear, “This is just too much for him, isn’t it?”

I hugged my oldest child and planted a kiss on her forehead. “You’re so right, honey. I’d hoped to make space in his room so when Santa visits, there’ll be room for more presents.”

“Not working.” Anya’s smile was one of compassion.

“Sooo not working.” I sighed, taking a place next to Erik on his bed. “Come here, buddy.”

Reluctantly, he let me hold him.

Erik came to live with us after Detweiler’s first wife, Gina, died in a car crash. Because she was legally married to Detweiler when she had Erik, he’s legally Detweiler’s child. Biologically he isn’t. As the teenagers say, “It’s complicated.”

Over the past year, Erik has settled in, although the birth of Ty, our youngest, caused a bit of a regression for the five-year-old. We’ve been patient and understanding. I’ve done my best to explain why babies need so much attention, and I’ve emphasized their fragility and neediness. At the same time, I’ve explained to Erik that he’s a big brother. He likes that. He’s naturally a sweet and loving child, so taking care of the baby has become a point of honor for him.

In fact, Erik can be quite the little martinet, demanding that we change Ty’s diaper or pick him up or pay attention. From time to time, I’ll ask Erik to watch Ty, which is code for retrieving the baby’s toys and reading to him. Being in charge of someone else has given Erik a sense of pride, a certain glow.

Slowly we’ve noticed that he no longer talks like a toddler. He’s becoming increasingly independent. But, as I admitted to Anya, “He’s not ready to give up his toys.”

“Or his blankie.” Anya pointed to the ratty square of blanket that Erik has slept with as long as I’ve known him. Over time, the red plaid had faded to a dull pink. The edges of the blanket had been worn so thin that Brawny, our live-in nanny, had cut them off and trimmed blankie to a more manageable size.

“Or his blankie. That’s okay, honey.” I stroked Erik’s curls and planted a kiss on his forehead. “Even if you have to take blankie to college with you, that’s cool, sweetheart.”

Anya came over to join us. Kneeling carefully beside her younger brother, she whispered loudly, “I’m going with Mom to take my things to the Salvation Army. Why don’t you come with? That way you can see what we’re doing. Maybe she’ll even take us by Bread Co. to get pumpkin muffies for a treat.”

The old “pumpkin muffie” trick worked like a charm. Erik was willing to ride along with us in return for a “muffie,” which is the top slice of an oversized muffin. Once we arrived at the Salvation Army, he agreed to help us carry bags inside the drop-off area.

“What do they do with Anya’s things?” he asked.

Anya leaned close and explained, “People come here to shop. They don’t have much money, so they buy gifts here rather than going to other stores. Come on and I’ll show you.”

She took him by the hand, marched him out the front door, and around to the other entrance. I followed but I didn’t say a word. I wanted to see how they would handle the situation. Not surprisingly, Erik’s eyes were huge as he watched people make their selections. Anya took him for a quick tour of the place while I spoke to the manager. She helped me find several old wool sweaters that I hoped to turn into felt for future projects.

“In the car on the way home, Erik was quiet. Thoughtful even. I believe that was his first brush with poverty,” I told Clancy and Vanessa. “He’s lived a privileged existence. His step-father was incredibly wealthy.”

Shortly thereafter, we said goodbye to Vanessa. The sign in our front window read that we were closing at three on Christmas Eve. At five after, I locked the front door. Clancy and I hugged, wishing each other Merry Christmas. For me, the holiday had finally arrived.


Later that evening, after our family had dinner, we bundled up to spend time outside in the cold. Each year the church in our neighborhood hosts a Christmas pageant, a live reenactment of the birth of Christ. Although Anya is Jewish, we all enjoy seeing the nativity come to life. Part of the attraction is that the church borrows Monroe, the donkey owned by our former landlord, Leighton Haversham. When Leighton is traveling, as he often is during the holidays, we take care of Monroe. That means that walking him to and from the pageant is our responsibility. Yet another reason for us to attend and watch the pageantry.

This year Erik took Monroe by the halter. My husband, Detweiler, winked at me over the little boy’s head. Unbeknownst to Erik, Detweiler also had a grip on the donkey’s bridle. Just in case. However, Monroe adores Erik and the feeling is mutual. Last year, Erik was both beguiled and scared of Monroe. Many apples and tummy rubs later they are fast friends. I couldn’t contain the smile that bubbled up inside me as I pushed Ty’s stroller. Anya chatted happily with Brawny, who’s more a part of our family than a nanny. In the space of twelve months, we’d truly become a united front. A family, en route to see the birth of another family, one that promised peace for all mankind.

As we walked, I tried to ignore the stinging slap of cold air against my skin. The weatherman predicted a drop in the temperature, and he’d been spot on. While Erik and Detweiler delivered the donkey, Brawny, Anya, and I took our places in the crowd, using the stroller to secure a bit of real estate. Erik and Detweiler returned, and we huddled together for warmth. I pulled Ty’s blanket up around his face for extra protection. He seemed fine, but I guess the worry showed on my face.

Brawny had been watching me. She shook her head. “It’s getting colder by the minute. I best take young master home. ‘Tis too brutal for a wee tyke.”

Detweiler and I agreed. Reluctantly, I told my littlest one that we’d meet him back at the house. The ever resourceful Brawny guided the stroller through the crowd and headed for our snug home.

Thanks to the nip in the air, the pageant moved along swiftly. Detweiler hoisted Erik onto his shoulders so the boy could get a good look at the event. Erik was fascinated by the show. His bright blue coat stood out in stark contrast to the gray of the winter sky. His little face was intensely interested in every aspect of the Christmas story. We’d been reading books explaining why the couple had taken shelter in a manger. We’d talked about the shepherds and the star. We’d been pointing at angels for six weeks now. But seeing the timeless tale was different. Erik was totally focused on the unfolding drama.

In fact, he was reluctant to leave when the pageantry ended. “I want to see that baby,” he told Detweiler, as he tugged at his father’s hand. We waited until most of the crowd had cleared. Then we made our way to the crèche. Although actors had played the part of Mary, Joseph, and others, the church had wisely decided to substitute a doll for baby Jesus. I knew from experience that they would leave the toy in the manger until they took the makeshift manger scene down for the year. The people would be replaced with statues. The holy family would decorate the lawn of the church for weeks to come while we took our donkey and went home.


Christmas morning dawned bright and frigid. I awoke to the tantalizing scent of bacon and pancakes. Brawny always gets up before the rest of the household and cooks our breakfast. However, I’d expected Erik to be our alarm clock on this special day. Detweiler rolled over and hugged me. “Merry Christmas.”

I returned the greeting. “I guess the pageant tired Erik out, huh?”

“I guess.” Detweiler chuckled. “But I heard water running in Anya’s bathroom. Squeals of happiness can’t be far behind.”

However, he was wrong. We managed to pull on clothes in silence. I even ran a brush through my hair. Anya knocked politely at our door, and I opened it, expecting to give her a hug—but I froze at the look on her face.

“Erik’s gone! He’s missing. I’ve looked everywhere!”

“What?” I thought I’d heard her wrong.

“He’s probably playing with one of the toys that Santa brought.” Detweiler moved past my daughter and me. His feet galloped down the stairs. “Erik? Erik!”

I raced after him. Brawny and Anya joined us in the family room. The tree was dark. The presents hadn’t been touched. I ran back upstairs to Erik’s room. It was empty.

“He’s probably taken an apple to Monroe.” Anya suggested, breathlessly.

“I’ll go get him.” I heard the back door slam behind Detweiler. Anya and I pounded our way down the stairs.

“I’ll look in the garage,” Brawny said.

That’s when I realized our dog was missing, too. “Anya? Have you seen Gracie?”

“Huh-uh.” Her blue eyes were wet and her voice trembled. Turning away from me, she yelled, “Gracie! Here girl!”

With a sudden flash of insight, I went to the front door. It was unlocked. That meant that Erik had voluntarily left the property. I checked the wall-mounted hanger where we keep our dog’s leash. Empty.

“He must have taken Gracie for a walk. I’ll go get Detweiler. We’ll drive around the block.”

Anya’s mouth had sunken into a deep frown. “Hurry, Mom. It’s cold out there. He’s just a little guy.” With that, she wiped away a tear.

In less than a minute, my husband and I were in his police cruiser with the windows down. He pulled cautiously out of the driveway, doing his best to control his panic. I swallowed my own fears. How could this have happened? We should be opening gifts and celebrating! What if this turned out to be the worst day of our lives? Had someone taken Erik? Had he gone with a stranger? If so, how hand someone convinced him to leave on this particular day when wrapped gifts had such a magnetic pull? I sniffled.

Detweiler took my hand. “Stay calm. We need to think this through. Let’s not freak out.”

But I was freaking out. I was scared spitless. Detweiler cranked up the defroster. The weather outside was viciously cold. Where was our little boy? My husband drove slowly up the block. He stopped at the corner. Looked left and right. Decided to go straight. “I figure we should start where we were last night.”

That made sense to me, although I was too upset to really focus.

“Is that Gracie?” Detweiler spotted the black and white giant dog first. I leaned forward, sticking my head out my window so I could see better.

“I think so.” But my response was slower than Detweiler’s reflexes. He’d already pulled into the circular drive in front of the church. Throwing the police cruiser into park, he bolted out of the door. I was fast on his heels.

Gracie barked a greeting at us, but we looked past her. A small figure in a blue coat was hunched over the manger.

“Erik? Honey?” Detweiler dropped to his knees beside our son. Slowly, the little boy turned. His chocolate brown eyes were wide with surprise.

“Are you okay?” I joined Detweiler on the cold earth. I had to see Erik for myself.


“Buddy, what are you doing here?” Detweiler snatched up the boy, hugging him tightly. “We were worried about you. You know you shouldn’t leave the house without telling us.”

“I was worried about that baby.” Erik pointed a mitten finger at the Jesus doll. “He was cold. I didn’t want him to be cold. See?”

Following his direction, I bent closer to the manger. Neatly tucked around the statue of the baby was a tattered piece of cloth. Erik’s blankie.

~The End~


Note: I hope you’ve enjoyed this short story, and I hope you’ll take time to share a little Kiki with a friend. Right now, you can send a pal a copy of “Kiki and Cara Mia’s Christmas Collection” for only 99 cents. That’s cheaper than you can send a greeting card! Go to https://www.amazon.com/Kiki-Christmas-Collection-Lowenstein-Mystery-ebook/dp/B01MFC9THX/  On the right is a button that allows you to give as a gift. How easy is that? Ho-ho-ho, and Happy Holidays from your friend — Joanna

PS: Here are all the Kiki books in order with links:

  1. Love, Die, Neighbor (The Prequel) – http://bit.ly/LoveDieN
  2. Paper, Scissors, Death — http://bit.ly/PSDKL1
  3. Cut, Crop & Die — http://bit.ly/CutCropD
  4. Ink, Red, Dead — http://bit.ly/IRDead3
  5. Photo, Snap, Shot — http://bit.ly/PSSKL4
  6. Make, Take, Murder — http://bit.ly/MTMKikiL5
  7. Ready, Scrap, Shoot — http://bit.ly/RSSBook6
  8. Picture, Perfect, Corpse — http://bit.ly/PPCorpse7
  9. Group, Photo, Grave — http://bit.ly/GPGrave8
  10. Killer, Paper, Cut — http://bit.ly/KillPC9
  11. Handmade, Holiday, Homicide — http://bit.ly/KikiHHH10
  12. Shotgun, Wedding, Bells — http://bit.ly/SWBKiki11
  13. Glue, Baby, Gone — http://bit.ly/GBG12
  14. Fatal, Family, Album — http://bit.ly/KLFFA13

Meet Larissa Reinhart

Note from Joanna: Once or twice a month, I want to introduce you to my author friends. I hope you enjoy learning about them. I also learn something, even when I’ve known them a long, long time!

Comment on Larissa’s visit and you could win a digital copy of 15 MINUTES. I’ll chose a winner next Friday, Oct. 20, 2017.

Name: Larissa Reinhart

Website: www.larissareinhart.com

Facebook info: Official Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/RisWrites

Friend Me Here: https://www.facebook.com/larissareinhartwriter

Name of Your Series: Maizie Albright Star Detective (My other series is the Cherry Tucker Mysteries)

One Line That Describes Your Series: A former star of a hit teen detective show, Maizie Albright, returns to Georgia (by judge’s orders) to pursue her dream of becoming a private detective and finds Hollywood has followed her to Georgia.

Name of Most Recent Book: 15 MINUTES (but 16 MILLIMETERS launches 10/17 which is why 15 MINUTES is on sale!)

Buy links: Kindle | Nook | Kobo | iBooks


  1. What Gave You the Idea For This Series?  I live in Peachtree City, Georgia. Four miles from my house is Senoia, where The Walking Dead film. Six miles in the other direction is Pinewood Studios where major movies (like the Marvel series) are now made. This area is quaint, so movies like Fried Green Tomatoes have been filmed here, but the TV and movie industry has grown like gangbusters in the last five years. It’s all pretty weird for we locals. My friend saw Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones in a restaurant the other night. The most famous person we might’ve hoped to see when I moved here 18 years ago was Alan Jackson, because he’s from nearby Newnan. But I’ve never seen him. I haven’t seen anybody famous!
  2. Which character is most like you? I’d like to say Maizie Albright because she’s optimistic, earnest, and beautiful. She’s also young (26) and I’m not and I have teenagers… So I’m more like Lamar who owns the donut shop below Nash Security Solutions. He’s tired and likes to sit with his feet up on a La-Z-Boy while he listens to Nash and Maizie talk about their case. But Lamar is much wiser than me. And he doesn’t eat donuts, whereas I’d have a hard time controlling myself. But I guess when you own a donut shop, you’d get tired of donuts.
  3. What’s the hardest part of writing? I have the attention of a Jack Russell Terrier (probably why they’re in the books). Getting myself to sit and focus is difficult. Once I do, I’m okay but I tend to bounce around (not literally) before I can get settled back into the story.
  4. What inspires you to keep writing? My readers who ask for more stories. How can I refuse? Also I have constant story ideas popping in my head (part of my Jack Russell qualities). I’ve got to get them down. I’m not sure why but I just have to do it.
  5. What would you say to other would-be writers who have yet to get published? Keep writing and submitting!

Thank you so much for introducing me to your readers, Joanna! It’s such a treat for me, since I’m a fan of yours!

P. S. Joanna’s note: Okay, maybe I shouldn’t have shared this…but it made my day! Don’t forget to comment!

Kiki Lowenstein and the Watermelon Festival, Part IV

Part I- Recap: In an attempt to repair their friendship, Kiki and Mert decide to take a road trip. But hurt feelings don’t mend easily, and the two women get off to a rocky road start. http://joannacampbellslan.com/kiki-lowenstein-and-the-watermelon-festival/

Part II – Recap: The sight of the Arch in the rear view window changes their moods for the better, but it’s a long ride. Will the two friends be able to paper over their problems and move on? http://joannacampbellslan.com/kiki-lowenstein-and-the-watermelon-festival-part-ii/

Part III – Recap: After an hour and a half of being awkward with each other, Kiki and Mert stop at a Walmart. Mert buys a lot of staples to give to her friend Corva. Kiki learns that Corva is down on her luck and raising a grandchild. http://joannacampbellslan.com/kiki-lowenstein-and-the-watermelon-festival-part-iii/

We both seemed more at ease when we got back into Mert’s truck after our shopping spree at Walmart. Hoping to build on the good feelings, I asked my friend, “How did you meet Corva?”

“She and I were in foster care together. I guess you could say we bonded. She’s older than I am, so she looked out after me.” Mert paused.

I glanced over and saw her swallowing furiously. Tears had gathered along her lower lashes. Mert doesn’t often get choked up, but she was definitely on the verge of crying. I could hear it in her voice as she continued, “Matter of fact, I don’t think I’d be here today if it wasn’t for Corva. She took a beating that’d been meant for me, and she did it because she knew it would have broken my spirit. I couldn’t have survived it. That whooping nearly killed her, and she’s a tough cookie. Our foster dad, Elmer Dolby, finally manned up and called an ambulance to come and tend to Corva, or she wouldn’t be alive today. See, his wife Alma Gene got her jollies by smacking us with whatever came to hand and then locking us in an old outhouse for days at a time. Corva was bleeding internally after Alma Gene got done with her. Old Elmer went out to the shed to get a tool from his toolbox and he spotted a trail of fresh blood on the grass. He followed it to the old outhouse. Alma Gene had locked it by sticking a two-by-four through the wrought iron door handle. Something made Elmer stop and look around, close like. He realized the blood was actually flowing out from under the walls of the outhouse. His curiosity got the better of him, and he opened the door, and…and…”

She stopped. I opened a bottle of water and handed it to her.

“When he done opened up that door, and Corva tumbled out onto the ground. She was white as a piece of toilet paper and just about as limp. If she hadn’t kept groaning, he wouldn’t have been sure she was alive.”

“But he called 911 and she lived,” I said, trying to find a positive spin.

“She did. They had to remove her spleen and one of her kidneys, but Corva made it.” Mert gulped half the bottle and jammed it between her thighs to keep it steady as she drove. “I wouldn’t have made it. She always says I would have, but I wouldn’t have, and we both know it. I was thinking seriously about tying a rope around my neck and ending it all. Another beating would have made hanging myself like the easy way out, for sure.”

“Wow. That’s some story.”

“Yeah, it is. Them groceries and all that stuff I bought? It ain’t nothing compared to what I owe her.”

“I know what it feels like to owe somebody,” I said, and I reached over and grabbed Mert’s hand on the steering wheel.

She gave my fingers a quick squeeze, let them go, and sent me a weak smile. “So do I.”

Using the back of her hand, she wiped her nose. “Okay, now. Let me tell you a little bit about Vincennes.”

~To Be Continued~

Part V

Mert tells Kiki about Vincennes, and especially about the watermelon festival. Of course, a visit with Corva is in order, and Mert tells Kiki what to expect.


Meet Maria Grazia Swan–and win one of her books!

Note: Once a month, I’ll introduce you to one of my author friends, and we’ll give away one digital copy of the author’s books. This month’s guest is Maria Grazia Swan.

Website: www.mariagraziaswan.com

Facebook info: https://www.facebook.com/MariaGraziaSwan/

Name of your series: Mina’s Adventures

One line that describes your series:

Name of most recent book: Sniffing Out Murder  — and we’re giving away one copy to a lucky commenter. You have until Monday, Sept. 18 to comment.

Buy link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0741Q35CH?ref_=pe_870760_118561140

  1. What gave you the idea for this series? My divorce. It was a long and messy divorce. I couldn’t sleep and was taking Creative Writing at Saddleback College, (O.C, California) so I made good use of my sleepless nights and the anger brewing inside. I cannot describe the satisfaction of killing off on paper a few of the real life main culprits.
  2. Which character is most like you? Mina a little. Paola a lot. I could have been a Mina, but I was born too early. Different lifestyle.
  3. What’s the hardest part of writing? In my case is the language. At time I’m talking Italian in my head. Other times I know the word, but not sure about the spelling.
  4. What inspires you to keep writing? It’s in my blood. I won my first literary award at the age of fourteen. The old fourteen, before computers, cell phones and social media. Heck, we didn’t even had television until I was seventeen. And when I write I forget all my troubles. And in the morning, no hangover.
  5. What would you say to other would-be writers who have yet to get published? Never give up. Slow and steady will get you there.


Get an enhanced version of PAPER, SCISSORS, DEATH for only 99 cents on 8/23/2017 (Wed.) and 8/24/2017 (Thurs.) only!  https://www.amazon.com/Paper-Scissors-Death-Lowenstein-M…/…/

And here’s a short version: http://bit.ly/PSDKL1  Why not “gift” a copy to a friend? Don’t you know someone who could use a little Kiki in her life?

You like paper? We’ve got paper for you! Go to https://www.createspace.com/6922517  Use this code: H2WRCAFM and get $3 off


by Joanna Campbell Slan

Author’s Note: Kiki and her daughter Anya were at an event to teach kids how to scrapbook when a policeman arrives and asks Kiki to come with him to the police station. When she arrives, she’s greeted by this horrifying news.

“My husband is dead? Are you sure? Sure it’s George? I mean, you could have made a mistake. Right?” I couldn’t believe what I’d just heard.

Detective Chad Detweiler of the St. Louis County Police Department shook his head solemnly. “No, Mrs. Lowenstein. I’m sorry. There’s no mistake. A housekeeper found his body in a room at the Regal Chalet. We’re sure it is — was — your husband. His clothes were hanging over a chair, and his wallet was in his pants pocket.”

I swallowed hard. I’d managed to keep calm on the ride to the police station. I kept reassuring my daughter there must have been a misunderstanding. Now I felt like I was coming apart at the seams. I couldn’t focus. I kept repeating, “Dead? My husband is dead? There must be some mistake.”

“I sincerely doubt it.”

The room swam and turned flips. I tried to process what the detective told me. In my struggle, I focused on the trivial. It seemed more manageable than the big picture. “I, uh, don’t understand. Why were his clothes over a chair? You mean he … he didn’t have them on? Did he … uh … have on any of his clothes?”

The detective shook his head, his eyes never leaving my face. He seemed to be taking my measure, sizing me up.

The large mirror on the adjacent wall of the interview room bounced my image back to me. My hair was always curly, but today it had turned into ringlets. My skin looked blotchy from the cold. And I’d chewed my lips until I could taste the blood in my mouth.

I took tiny sips from the glass of water the detective had offered and swallowed repeatedly to dislodge the lump in my throat. I tried to focus on a far-off object, as I blinked back tears. There were so many questions. Part of me didn’t want to ask, didn’t want to know. But a voice inside reasoned it was better to hear the worst of it here, from an impartial officer of the law, than in a public place from a “friend.” I thought about the mothers I’d left at the scrapbook store and shuddered.

Detweiler sat across from me patiently, silently.

Obviously, someone had made a mistake. That was all there was to it. This man couldn’t be talking about George. Not my George.

“How can you be so sure? I mean … don’t you need someone to identify the body? You probably just think it’s George. As soon as he answers my call, we’ll get this straightened out.” I reached for my cell phone and punched in his number one more time.

The phone rang and rang.

Suddenly, my whole body grew heavy, and I was incredibly tired. All I wanted was to go home and sleep for a million years.

Maybe this had all been a bad dream.

Detweiler sighed. “We got hold of your husband’s business partner, Mr. Ballard. I was there when he made the ID. If you’d like to see the body …”

I shook my head vehemently.

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Lowenstein.” He didn’t press the issue. He could tell I was queasy. Or maybe he worried I’d make a scene.

Poor Bill. A part of me felt guilty that I hadn’t been the one to take on this intimate and final task of marital life. It seemed, in some way, the least I could have done for George. And Bill had done it for him. For me. For us. It seemed wrong. It felt like one more failure. I put a hand to my stomach and pressed hard to control the revolt within.

A strand of chestnut hair fell over Detweiler’s eyebrow, a dark accent mark to his unwavering gaze. “There’ll have to be an autopsy. The law requires one in these circumstances.” Detweiler took a sip of his coffee and set the mug down gently on the battered Formica tabletop. A circle of brown indicated the depleted level of the liquid. It reminded me of George’s wedding ring.

I fingered my own gold band. I was trying desperately to take in what the detective was saying. George. Was. Dead. What was I going to tell Sheila, my mother-in-law?

“Does George’s mother know?”

I did not want to be the one to tell Sheila her son was dead.

“Mr. Lowenstein’s mother has been notified.” The detective cleared his throat. “Evidently our police chief is an old friend.”

Thank God, I thought. She didn’t have to hear the news from a stranger.

“A woman at your house,” he turned to a page in his steno pad, “Mert Chambers told us where to find you.”

A thought flittered across the tickertape of my mind and fell on the floor in a pile of other ideas. How could we have Thanksgiving? George always carved the turkey. And what about Hanukkah? He loved shopping for his daughter. How would Anya learn about her Jewish heritage? Who would teach her golf? Take her to Cardinal baseball games? Help her cheer on the Rams on Monday Night Football?

An endless stream of problems presented themselves.

“You brought us here? Rather than talking to me at home? Why?”

“We have a few questions.”

I was afraid to guess what that might mean. Time stood still. I was at the top of the roller coaster looking down, suspended, waiting.

In my peripheral vision, I saw Detweiler rub his mouth. He was struggling, trying to decide what to say. I did not look up. I was bracing myself for what was to come.

But I got it wrong.

“Mrs. Lowenstein, did your husband’s partner tell you money was missing from the business?”

My head snapped up. “What?” Stars danced in my field of vision.

Saliva flooded my mouth. I struggled not to bolt from my seat. I looked around desperately for the nearest trash can. Any second now, I’d heave my guts all over the floor. Where was the ladies’ restroom? I swallowed hard.

“Money? Missing? How much?”

“A half a million dollars.”

I jumped up and ran, praying I’d make it to the john.


Remember: The 99 cent price is good for two days only, Aug. 23 (Wed.) and Aug. 24 (Thurs.) 

Kiki Lowenstein and the Watermelon Festival, Part III

Part II – Recap: In an attempt to repair their friendship, Kiki and Mert decide to take a road trip. But hurt feelings don’t mend easily, and the two women get off to a rocky road start. The sight of the Arch in the rearview window changes their moods for the better, but it’s a long ride. Will the two friends be able to paper over their problems and move on?

Instead of taking Highway 64, we took Route 50, the back roads, to Vincennes. When we got to Carlyle, Illinois, we both needed a potty break. As we pulled into town, the number of cars towing boats surprised me. Then I saw a sign for Carlyle’s beaches.

“How could that be?” I wondered out loud.

“It’s Lake Carlyle they’re talking about. It’s Illinois’ largest man-make lake. A spillover from the Kaskaskia River,” Mert explained. “Makes it a prime spot for bald eagles to nest. Keep your eyes on the trees. Look for a white baseball up there. That’s the eagle’s white head.”

I forget sometimes how educated she is and how much she knows about the world. When you’re friends a long time, details fade. Maybe this trip was exactly what we needed to get back to admiring each other. I hoped so.

Walmart’s iconic blue sign beckoned and soon we were inside, grabbing carts. Cruising up and down the aisles brought back another dose of harmony. I tarried in the craft section, seeing what yarns and scrapbook papers were available. Mert disappeared. I thought nothing of that. After all, we weren’t joined at the hip. I found the restroom at the back of the store, then I wandered around, found socks on sale, and pushed my cart toward the food section. A bottle of Ménage À Trois wine was on my list, as was a variety of cheeses, crackers, grapes, carrots, hummus, GrapeNuts, cashews, almonds, and a bag of trail mix. By the time I finished, I had enough food to feed an Artic expedition. Next I went to the bathing suits. There I found a half-price suit in a style that I hoped would be flattering. I also admired the large, bright flowers on a white background. With any luck, I wouldn’t look like a whale who had rolled in wallpaper.

I still didn’t see Mert, but I spotted the checkout lanes and tooled over toward them. The clerk solemnly rang up the goods, never smiling once, no matter how cheerful I was or how much I tried to engage her in conversation. The purple streaks in her hair brought out the red rims of her eyes. Probably the poor child hadn’t gotten enough sleep the night before. I played my “Benefit of the Doubt” game, offering her the benefit of the doubt and conjuring up all sorts of reasons she was in a grumpy mood. About the time I handed over my credit card, Mert guided her cart up to the conveyor belt.

I did a double-take. Her cart was filled to overflowing with diapers, shampoo, baby toys, baby food, canned goods, cereal, popcorn, dried milk, baby powder, deodorant, kitchen cleansers, laundry detergent, fabric softener, and three books for babies. My mouth probably dropped open, but I quickly recovered and helped her unload her haul onto the moving belt. The total on the purchase astonished me. Mert didn’t seem fazed. She handed over her credit card and went to work tying the tops of plastic bags shut to prevent spillage. Without commenting, I helped the clerk load the filled bags back into Mert’s cart.

Blinking away the bright sun, we strolled outside, pushing our carts to her truck. I’d forgotten she had a storage deck that locked. Once opened, there was plenty of room for all our purchases. Mert even set my perishables and hers inside a small cooler that held ice. At that point, I retrieved my small overnight bag. “Can I put this in the locker?” I asked. “I’d like to get it out from under my feet.”


Once finished, we climbed back into the cab of the truck. Mert pointed us toward a gas station. “There’s sandwiches here, or we can go through Mickey D’s drive-up.”

Inside the gas station was a cooler stocked with food. I found an egg salad on whole wheat that looked delicious. Mert got a roast beef with Swiss cheese. We both grabbed a bag of Sunchips and bottles of water. Back on the road again, we munched happily, although my curiosity finally got the better of me. “Why all the supplies? You certainly bought a lot of stuff.”

“Corva’s fallen on hard times. She’s taking care of her grandbaby, Jillian, who ain’t but six months old. Since she lives on social security, making ends meet is hard. Iff’n it weren’t for government assistance with her healthcare, she’d have to do without her meds.”

My heart ached. “Poor woman. That’s very kind of you to help her out.”

“I got everything in the world going for me. My son’s in school. My daughter is married. I got a good paying job. Corva was married to the world’s biggest butthole. He was a farmer who owned most of the acreage you see as we drive by. However, he liked to load up his Harvestore with grain and not sell it. That’s common among farmers, you know? They get sorta personally attached to the grain. Clint did. Corva nagged and nagged him to sell, but he kept passing up opportunities. Then the market had a downturn. Clint lost a ton of money. He had a heart attack while he was out in the field. When he died, Corva found out he owed money everywhere. She lost the farm, which meant she lost her house and car. She’s been squeaking by ever since.”

I knew what it felt like to worry about money. I also knew how it felt to learn your husband hadn’t been honest with you about your finances.

“That’s awful,” I said.

“Yup. Then their daughter got addicted to painkillers. Didn’t quit when she was pregnant. Had the baby. And guess who’s left to pick up all the pieces? Corva.”

~To Be Continued ~

Meet Diane Weiner

This is the second in a new newsletter series. I’ll be introducing you to my author friends. Want to win one of Diane’s books? Be sure to comment. On 8/22 (next Tuesday), I’ll use the random number generator to choose one lucky commenter to win one of Diane’s books. 

Diane Weiner writes the Susan Wiles Schoolhouse Mysteries in which a retired teacher turns amateur sleuth. You can learn more about Diane by going to her website DianeWeinerAuthor.com.

  1. How did you come up with the idea for your series? At the school where I worked, one of the teachers, an aspiring administrator, was always trying to brown nose the principal by bringing her home baked goods. One day I wondered “what if he poisoned that cupcake he’s bringing her so he can take over her job?”
  2. Which character is most like you? In my series, Susan Wiles is the character I want to be: a retired teacher, and a grandmother! She’s much more gutsy and outspoken than I am. I am pretty shy and cautious as a person. Our similarities are that we are both educators, and we both have close families. Our husbands and children are the center of our worlds.
  3. What’s the hardest part of writing? The hardest part of writing is having limited time during the school year, as I am still working full time. I often write in the mornings before school and have to stop right in the middle of what I’m doing to get in the shower and get to work on time!
  4. What inspires you to keep writing? I am inspired to keep writing because my characters and the town of Westbrook are alive to me and I want to be in that world. I also value the joy reading brings to me and there’s nothing more satisfying than reading a review or hearing from a reader that they enjoyed my book and can’t wait to read the next one. It’s like I’m passing on the joy reading brings.
  5. What advice would you give to an aspiring author? To a would-be writer, I’d say to just write. Brainstorm ideas—don’t get caught up in trying to make things perfect from the get go. If you love to write, write. Go to writing conferences if you can, read about writing, and try a critique group. Reading your work to others can give you the confidence to keep going.

Diane’s latest book, Murder is Homework, is now available, and we’ll be giving away a digital copy. It is book 9 in the series. She is currently working on the second book in her Sugarbury Falls series. A Deadly Course, set in Vermont with a married couple as the amateur sleuths, is available on Amazon.

Now tell me the name of a favorite teacher–and I’ll choose one of you to win a copy of Murder is Homework, next Tuesday, Aug. 22.


I’m not finished with my coloring page…and that’s OK

Today is Monday, August 14, the day we’re supposed to share our coloring pages. Only I’m not finished. That’s important. Let me tell you why…

Yesterday at noon, I realized I hadn’t finished my coloring page. I panicked. I was in the middle of working on my dollhouse. I was enjoying every minute. Then I thought, “Gosh, I need to quit this and go hurry and finish up my coloring page.”

Nerves kicked in. My heart raced. My back ached with tension. I felt light-headed.

And it came to me how silly I was being.

You see, I’ve totally enjoyed working on this coloring page. A couple of times when life hasn’t gone my way, I’ve taken out the page and lost myself working on it. I’ve delighted in mixing colors and in blending the shades. I’ve kept the page tacked up on the side of my file cabinet where I can look at it often.

Yet here I was on Sunday, trying to turn a fun project into an obligation, a relaxation effort into a stressor, and playtime into work.

I decided I was not going to do that to myself. In fact, I hope I’ll also give each of YOU permission to not finish your work.

We live in a culture where importance is defined by how busy we are. We race around to prove we’re important. We stress ourselves out.

But coloring is a way to de-stress. Let’s not turn it into a chore. Are you with me on this?

By the way, I also need to change how I’ll send out coloring books. I don’t want to judge any of you or your work. I’d rather have a totally random process. I’ve set up a contest page. Enter (starting tomorrow) and I’ll choose a winner monthly to send a coloring book.

If you win once, you can’t win again for a year. Here’s the link: http://gvwy.io/neeu0s3

I hope you’ll agree with me that none of us need more stress in our lives.

Kiki Lowenstein and the Watermelon Festival, Part II

Part I Recap: In an attempt to repair their friendship, Kiki and Mert decide to take a road trip. But hurt feelings don’t mend easily, and the two women get off to a rocky road start. Here’s the link to Part I

Mert insisted on taking her truck. This made absolutely no sense at all, because I could have easily borrowed Sheila’s white Mercedes sedan, which is a dream of a car for highway driving. Since Sheila’s still in Texas for rehab, her car has been sitting in her garage, coming to life only when Detweiler goes there to turn over the engine. Also, Mert’s truck doesn’t have a back seat, which meant that I could only take a small overnight bag, and it shared the space with my feet. I’m short, but I still needed room for my legs. I thought about complaining, but it seemed pointless. As far as I could tell, Mert had no luggage at all. I couldn’t figure out what she planned to do for clothes, but I climbed in and waved to my family, doing my best to keep a cheerful look on my face.

We drove two miles in total silence. I considered saying, “So this is how it’s going to be? A long weekend and hard feelings?” Instead, I told myself to be nice. I asked, “How’s life, Mert?”

“Fair to middling.”

“Remind me who we’ll be visiting and how this person is related to you?” I focused on the pretty flowers on porches, window boxes, hanging baskets, and lining sidewalks. St. Louis loves to spruce up with the changing seasons, and Webster Groves is (to my mind at least) the prettiest town in the metro area. I particularly like how joyous the geraniums are this time of year. They have a very patriotic look to them as they burst with color right as we come up on the Fourth of July. Even now, four weeks later, the heads were still full of color.

“We gonna see Corva. She ain’t a relative.”

“Oh.” I wasn’t sure how to follow up on that. Ask open-ended questions, I reminded myself. “How do you know her?”

“We was pen-pals as kids. Stayed in touch all these years. When we could, we’d visit each other. Whoever had the money or the time would do the traveling.”

“Wow. Pen-pals. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of people staying in touch as long as you two have.”


The sun glinted off the chrome of Mert’s candy-apple red truck. That gave me the perfect excuse to put on my sunglasses. The dark lenses allowed me to study my friend without her knowing it. Mert had aged in the past six months. The crinkles at the edges of her eyes fanned out like spiderwebs. The grooves on either side of her mouth had deepened. She owns a tanning bed and uses it year round because she claims it makes her look younger. I’ve argued it also ages your skin. She disagrees, but the proof was on her face with its leathery surface. I moved my gaze down to her hands. She wears Playtex gloves when she cleans, but for the first time, I noticed how knotted her knuckles were.

Mert was getting old. A lump formed in my throat. I remembered how she had reached out to me when we first met. How she had stood by me when George died. She had been loyal as the day was long until she thought I’d disrespected her brother, Johnny. Sadness crept up on me the way a cat hunts down a sparrow, and when it pounced, I couldn’t breathe.

“Asthma getting to you?” She stared straight ahead. We sat at a stoplight, getting ready to pull onto Highway 40, which is really 64-40 but no one calls it that. The road is the east-west artery that pumps the lifeblood of traffic in and out of St. Louis, only pausing for heart attacks like major wrecks once or twice a month.

“I guess.”

“That time of year, ain’t it?”

“I’ve been thinking about getting allergy shots.”

“Probably should.”

“Where are we staying?”

“Holiday Inn. It’s on the outskirts of town. Probably the nicest place. Got a pool. Did you bring a suit?”


“We can stop at a Walmart on the way, and you can pick one up.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

Okay, it wasn’t exactly a heart-to-heart conversation, but we were making progress. The temperature had changed from chilly to lukewarm. I figured I’d take another stab at learning about Corva. I waited until Mert had smoothly merged into traffic heading east. But before I could speak, my friend glanced up at her rearview mirror. “Look at that, will you? Behind us.”

I twisted in my seat, turning as far as I could despite the tightening of my seatbelt. Out of the left corner of the back window the Arch gleamed like a silver band embracing the cornflower blue sky.

“It’s so, so beautiful!” My heart squeezed tightly in my chest.

“I know. Ain’t it? I guess it’s purely corny, but I always get teary-eyed when I see it. You’d think it would get old—”

“But it never does.”


There it stood, majestic and proud, a symbol that only our city could claim. An iconic shape, the arch is an example of a weighted catenary, the idealized curve made when you hold a weighted chain or cable upside down, supporting it at each end. The outside consists of 900 tons of stainless steel that the designer, Eero Saarinen intended to catch and reflect the ambient light. Indeed it does, in such a way that the arch also reflects the changing world around it.

“Did you know you can see that there monument for 30 miles?” Mert asked. “But I think this is the best view of all.”

“I do, too,” I said.

And oddly enough, our shared love of the Arch went a long way—30 miles maybe—toward repairing our friendship.

~To be continued~

In Part III, we’ll visit Vincennes, Indiana, vicariously. A heat wave is the least of the problems that the two women face. Somehow they get involved in a crime. (Or did you guess that might happen?)

Contest Winners

THE WINNER of the colored pencil set is…”Diane said…”

So if that’s you, Diane, please email me at jcslan@joannaslan.com

I used a random number generator to pull Diane’s name. (Just so you know!)

THE WINNER of the stuffed polar bear is…

I still haven’t heard from Cheryl Nichols., who won the stuffed polar bear. Cheryl Nichols, please email me!


I found a smarter way for us to share. I’ve started a Coloring Club on Facebook. Check it out–


We’re all coloring an adorable page full of cats! I’m having a blast.

That’s it for now–


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