How I Write a Short Story, Part IV

To review:  

I have these elements…a time frame (St. Patrick’s Day), interesting factoids (people actually DO make their own luck to some extent), a conflict (Clancy hates St. Patrick’s Day), and a mystery (why? because it’s the day her husband left her). 

I need some activities (Kiki’s crafts–I’ll have to come up with these), and a resolution (I’ll think of something).

I also have a cute sidebar problem. Anya loves animals and when she hears that Laurel owns a rabbit’s foot, she goes nuts! (Or course, it’s a fake rabbit’s foot, but Anya doesn’t know that.) 

What else do I need? Well, I need a snappy opening line. Something that sets the stage for my story. It should foreshadow problems, entice my readers, and get the ball rolling.

Now, back to the resolution. I’ll need a BIG ending. Remember, I’ve been thinking a lot about Clancy, and I have a surprise in store for her. To me, a BIG ending would mean a change of luck for Clancy. 

Okay, I’ve got all my ducks in a row! Again, here’s my list for preplanning a short story:

* time frame — often concurrent with a holiday
* interesting factoids — research
* a conflict or problem to be solved
* a mystery or a secret
* a sidebar perhaps, or a link back to an earlier Kiki story or book
* activities 
* a resolution

And of course, I already have my cast of characters because it’s a Kiki Lowenstein short story. Tune in tomorrow, and I’ll get the story started.

How I Write a Short Story, Part III

So Barb H. had a wonderful idea, “Perhaps St Patrick’s day has always been unlucky for Clancy because that is when her father died or her husband left her or she lost a child. I am getting all these crazy ideas and am probably off base. I will be anxious to hear what you say!”

Barb thinks like I do! 

So now I have these elements…a time frame (St. Patrick’s Day), interesting factoids (people actually DO make their own luck to some extent), a conflict (Clancy hates St. Patrick’s Day), and a mystery (why? because it’s the day her husband left her). 

I need some activities (Kiki’s crafts–I’ll have to come up with these), and a resolution (I’ll think of something).

I also need to look back over Kiki’s world and think about possible ways to tie this story into Kiki’s life. One idea comes immediately to mind. In Handmade, Holiday, Homicide, we learn that Laurel has a lucky rabbit’s foot–but it’s fake fur. We know that Anya loves animals. She would be appalled to hear that Laurel has a rabbit’s foot, especially if she didn’t know it was fake! So somehow, I’d like to weave that into my story.

We’re almost at the end of the planning stage…except that I’d been thinking about Clancy, a lot, and I had surprise in store for her and her life. Keep reading to see what that is!

Kiki Lowenstein and the Life Stories, Part !

By Joanna Campbell Slan
the owner of Time in a Bottle, a scrapbook and craft store in St. Louis, I
teach a lot of classes. Sure, it might make sense to delegate them, but
teaching is one of my favorite activities. Besides the joy of putting together
the projects, I learn so much about my customers, their lives, their hopes and
dreams. Usually, I come away from a class feeling inspired.

there are those who say the lives of “ordinary” women are boring. None of us
have super-powers. Most of us don’t run huge companies. Very few of us make
world-shaking decisions. But ordinary women bring new life into this world.
Once a child has arrived, we nurture that life and the lives of everyone we
come into contact with. And very often, we are there to see death when it comes
to claim our friends and family members. Tell me, what’s more important than
all that?

Because life is all that matters. In the end, we hope that we’ve lived a
journey worth celebrating. Scrapbooks do just that. They celebrate our lives,
committing our stories to paper so we can pass them along to the next

exactly what I told my eight students on that blustery day in January. “Welcome
to ‘My Journey,’ a class designed to help you record your lives. We’re going to
meet monthly to share our stories. While this is a scrapbooking class, a lot of
our focus will be on journaling. Since it’s often an undervalued part of our
craft, that might seem hard at first, but I’ll be here to help.”

going to be writing?” A slight frown marred the perfectly made-up face of Leah
Adagio. Of course, it wasn’t a complete frown because she couldn’t wrinkle her
brow, the result of heavy Botox use. I knew Leah by reputation since she ran
with my mother-in-law’s country club crowd. To say I’d been surprised to see
her was an understatement.

right. Although you’ll be making a scrapbook, you’ll also be working to tell
your life story in words.” At that point, I hesitated as my co-worker Clancy
Whitehead slipped into an empty chair at our worktable. I raised an eyebrow to
question Clancy. She caught my drift.
decided to join the class. I hope you don’t mind.”

usual, she wore a classically stylish outfit—in this case gray slacks, a
matching sweater, and an ivory silk blouse. Her glossy presence reminded me
that I was struggling with my post-baby weight. Consequently, I was still
wearing my maternity pants and large blouses. Clancy has a touch of OCD, which
makes her quite the perfectionist. She’s the first to admit that she goes too
far in her quest to have everything “just so.” Although we’ve known each other
for three years, and despite the fact I consider her a best friend, she’s still
a mystery to me. There are parts of her life that she won’t share. And now she
was joining a class designed to encourage sharing. Would she really let down
the barriers and let me see what she was hiding?

couldn’t help but wonder.  Clancy guarded
her privacy with all the zeal of the Fort Knox security forces.

than ponder the matter further, I gave my class their first assignment. “I want
you to write about a toy you had as a child, and why that particular toy
mattered to you. Tell us who gave you the toy. How you played with it, and
where it is today, if you know. When you come back next month, please bring
photos of the toy or pictures of you as a child.”

words were no more than out of my mouth when I glanced over to see Clancy

And unlike Leah, Clancy’s whole face creased in disapproval.

tuned for part 2!

Joanna Campbell Slan is a national,
bestselling and award-winning author. 
She has just completed Shotgun, Wedding, Bells: Book #11 in a mystery series featuring ace scrapbooker Kiki
Lowenstein. It’s available at

How I Write Short Stories–Part I

I get a lot of questions about how I write short stories, so I thought I’d take you through my process, step-by-step. Just so you know, I don’t consider myself an expert. There are probably a million ways to approach a project like this. But perhaps walking through it with me will be interesting to some of you. I’m going to concentrate on how I write the Kiki Lowenstein Short Stories because I’d done so many of them.

Part I — What’s the point? Or what’s the theme? What’s my goal?

I like to have a purpose behind my stories. An idea or theme or goal. I think of this like the pole of a Maypole because it provides the structure for all that follows. I like to use holidays when writing the Kiki short stories. That works pretty well, because the holiday provides a natural launch date. Holidays give me an easy way to market my stories. And of course each holiday also has its own rituals, foods, celebratory activities, colors, and so on. These elements provide natural points of interest for the story.

I’ve decided that I want to write a story about St. Patrick’s Day. I’ve been noodling that idea around, and I’ve been wondering, “What makes people lucky?”

With that in mind, I googled, “What makes people lucky?” and found several fascinating articles:

As you can see, Mr. Wiseman has identified four principles that define “lucky” people:

1. Taking advantage of chance opportunities.

2. Listening to hunches.

3. Expect good fortune.

4. Turn bad luck into good luck.

So now I have four new ideas that I can incorporate into my story. Any one of these or all of them might be useful.

I can move onto the next portion of my prep, creating conflict. To make a short story work, I need to create friction among my characters.

Any ideas on how I can do that?

Part 4–The Conclusion of Kiki Lowenstein and the Penny Pincher

By Joanna Campbell Slan
Editor’s Note: In Parts 1, 2, and 3,
Kiki Lowenstein, owner of Time in a Bottle, has been teaching a two-session
class called “The Double-Dip.” This week, her customers brought in one of their
favorite dessert recipes to use in an 8- by 8-inch cookbook album. There’s a
bit of friction in the group because Iona Lippman and Lisa Ferguson both claim
to make an outstanding red velvet cake—and now Iona’s prized family recipe has
gone missing! The arrival of Kiki’s husband, Detective Chad Detweiler, has
temporarily shifted attention away from the missing index card. Can he help
Kiki find the keepsake that Iona holds so dear?



You can  Part 1 by read by clicking on the word and number or by going to ;  Part 2 by going to  and Part 3 by going to 

Even though he rarely wears his uniform (that’s one of the perks of
being a detective), my husband still looks like a cop. Iona took him in with a
long, thoughtful glare. Then she lifted her chin defiantly. “It’s about
time someone from the law enforcement community showed up. You came about the
theft, I presume?”
Chad Detweiler has the most amazing Heineken bottle green eyes. These
he turned on Iona with a calm, appraising stare. “Ma’am? I don’t know
anything about a theft. I came by to say hello to my wife.”
With that, he gave me a quick—but promising—smooch.
I could feel my face turn red as I explained, “This is my husband,
ladies. Detective Chad Detweiler.”
“Oooh,” said Avery, fluttering her lashes. “I’ve heard
so much about you.”
The other women greeted him with similar approval. Detweiler is, in my
humble opinion, gorgeous. I’m a very lucky woman. My customers evidently
thought so, too. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Lisa Ferguson touching
up her lipstick.
“What seems to be the problem?” he asked, keeping one hand on
the small of my back. A subtle reminder, but a message nonetheless: “I’ve
got your back.” I felt a lot of the tension drain from my body.
Everyone started talking at once. You couldn’t hear over the chatter.
Finally, My friend Clancy broke up the hubbub with an ear-splitting whisper for
attention. “Quiet!”
When my customers piped down, Clancy explained about the missing recipe
“I see,” said Detweiler. “The card was here a little
while ago, but it’s gone now. Is that right?”
They nodded vigorously.
“Ladies, with your permission, I’d like to ask my husband to help
us figure out where the card went. Is that okay with you?”
“He can pat me down any day!” Avery’s offer was bit too
enthusiastic for my taste, but it was a step in the right direction.
“How about this,” I said. “We still have a lot of
dessert leftover. Why don’t we have a second helping with some fresh coffee
while Detective Detweiler looks for the missing recipe?”
The scrapbookers seemed willing, so we took a break. As they got up
from their chairs, I noticed that Lisa Ferguson hesitated.

Could she be hiding something?
But that didn’t make sense.
She had her own red velvet cake recipe. Why would she take Iona’s?
While the women crowded around the food table, I motioned my husband
over to Lisa’s things.Trying to act casual, I said, “We’ve been working
on a recipe album. Lisa? You don’t mind if I show Detweiler yours, do

She froze like a deer when your headlights hit it.
“Uh…no.” Her words didn’t match her body language.
I opened the album and went through it page by page. When I got to the
red velvet cake recipe, I withdrew it and studied it. That’s when I realized
what was wrong.
“Lisa? I think you accidentally glued your recipe card to Iona’s
card,” I said, peeling the two apart. “Iona? Here’s your missing
Detweiler winked at me. “Good work.”
To my horror, Lisa started crying. “I did it for your
daughter-in-law Bethany. She and I have been friends for years. It’s all your
fault, Iona! Why couldn’t you do the decent thing and share your recipe with
her? Your son Mason is leaving Texas and going off to Afghanistan. All Bethany
wanted was to make him one of his mother’s famous red velvet cakes before he
goes. But would you share the recipe with her? No. You’re mean!”
All my scrapbookers turned on Iona.
“Is that true?” asked Avery. “You wouldn’t let your own
daughter-in-law have a copy of your recipe?”
Iona sniffed. “It’s for the women in my family only!”
“Iona!” said one of the other scrapbookers. “How could
A fat tear dripped down the woman’s cheek. “Now that I see how all
of you feel, I realize…I was wrong. That silly recipe doesn’t matter that much,
does it?”
We looked at her and shook our heads no.
“Kiki? Would you make copies of it for everybody?” Iona
shoved the card into my hand.
“I’ll be glad to.”
“Since she’s in such a generous mood, see if you can bring a
couple of slices home with you tonight. I’m thinking I’d like to sit down with
my wife after dinner and have a dessert,” said Detweiler, and then he
kissed my neck and added, “or two.”
~ The End ~
You can get your copy of Iona’s Red Velvet Cake Recipe by
sending an email to

Joanna Campbell Slan is the author of the Kiki Lowenstein Mystery Series, featuring a
scrapbooking mom. To see a list of all of Joanna’s books and short stories, go
to Follow her on Facebook for more great
crafting ideas at


Kiki Lowenstein and the Penny Pincher (Part 3)

By Joanna Campbell Slan

Editor’s Note: In Parts 1 and 2, Kiki Lowenstein, owner of Time in a Bottle, has been teaching a two-session class called “The Double-Dip.” This week, her customers brought in one of their favorite dessert recipes, a photo of the dessert, and the recipe to use in an 8- by 8-inch cookbook album. There’s a bit of friction in the group because Iona Lippman and Lisa Ferguson both claim to make an outstanding red velvet cake—and now Iona’s recipe has gone missing! To make matters worse, Kiki’s customers have also challenged her come up with thrifty ways to scrapbook. Kiki has her hands full with this group. You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here

Iona threw up her hands and kept screaming. “Where’s my red velvet cake recipe? Who took it? Someone stole it from me!”

“Calm down,” I said, making placating motions with my hands. “It has to be around here somewhere, Iona. You know how things get covered up by papers. Or they get swept off the table inadvertently. Let’s not go accusing anyone of mischief.”

With that bold pronouncement of my faith in human beings, and scrapbookers in particular, I put myself in a ticklish spot. The burden of finding her recipe card now rested squarely on my shoulders.
For the next 30 minutes, we tore the class area apart. All of the classmates participated in the treasure hunt. We went through piles of paper, one sheet at time. We looked in the copier. We opened the paper bags I had taped to each cropper’s work space. I even got down on my hands and knees and crawled around on the floor. When the recipe card didn’t show up, I expanded our search area. When I bought Time in a Bottle, we didn’t have enough space for our classes. The display shelves took up all the available room. To make enough space for our sessions, I’d put those same display shelves on wheels so they could be rolled to one side. Now, I rolled the shelves this way and that, scouring the store for the missing 3- by 5-inch card.

“You don’t understand,” said Iona, with a hitch in her voice. “That recipe has been in my family for generations. We’ve passed it down from mother to daughter. I can’t go home without it. I just can’t!”
She started howling with misery, while her friend Avery Ailes patted her consolingly on the shoulder.
Clancy sidled over to me and whispered in my ear, “You can’t win. You realize that, don’t you? If you search each of our customers for the card, you’re admitting someone probably took it. If you don’t, you’re letting someone walk away with Iona’s recipe. Either way, people are going to be mad at you. They’ll talk about this, and they’ll take it out on the store.”

My friend was right. And I had no idea what to do next.

“How about if I share a few thrifty ideas for albums?” I said, in an overly perky voice. “Let’s give ourselves time to think. Maybe the recipe will show up. In fact, I’ll even offer a sweetener. The person who finds the recipe will get a $50 gift certificate to the store.”

Yes, it was a lot of money, but I was desperate to save my store’s reputation. The potential bribe worked. The women all took their seats and listened intently.

“We all know how expensive albums can be,” I said. “And normally I’d be the last person discouraging you from buying a pricey album to showcase your prized family photos.”
At that, my customers chuckled.

The sound relaxed me just a little, and I continued, “Sometimes you aren’t scrapbooking to create an heirloom. In the immortal words of that wise woman Cyndi Lauper, ‘Girls just want to have fun,’ right? Having fun doesn’t necessarily mean you need an expensive binder for your layouts.”

“There are a lot of other ways you can collect and display your photos.” I described and displayed many examples. “A child’s board book—use sandpaper to scuff up the shiny pages. That’ll make gluing new paper over them much easier. Catalogs and magazines—glue together 4 or 5 thin pages, cover these with nice paper, and decorate them. Paper bags—stack four lunch bags on top of each other, alternating the open side. Fold them in half. Open them up to reveal the fold line. Stitch them together at the fold line. Fabric—Cut pieces of pre-washed cotton fabric in a 12- by 12-inch size or larger. Stack them and sew them together down one of the edges. Cover that edge with bias binding. Glue your photos directly onto the material. Toilet paper roll cones—flatten them, stack them, and punch holes in one of the short ends. Thread them together with ribbon or a metal ring clip. Each cone can act as a page or a pocket. Ring binders—buy a package of 8- by 11-inch page protectors and treat the ring binders like you would any other album. Drink coasters—punch a hole in them and attach them to each other pearl necklace-style with twine, or ribbon or metal rings. Either cover the coasters with paper or paint them with gesso.”

I paused to see how my ideas were going over. My customers were frantically taking notes. The samples I’d put together were being examined with great enthusiasm. Maybe the entire evening wasn’t going to be a bust after all.

But how was I going to find that missing recipe? Right then, the front door swung open.

“Don’t look now, but the cavalry has finally arrived,” said Clancy, and in walked my fiancé, Detective Chad Detweiler.

Editor’s note: Be sure to check out the final installment of this short story in the winter issue of Chicagoland Scrapbooker and on this blog. Can Detective Detweiler figure out who swiped Iona’s family recipe? And can he do it without making all the scrapbookers mad at Kiki? What makes that recipe so fabulous anyway? We have a fabulous red velvet cake recipe to share with you!

Joanna Campbell Slan is the author of the Kiki Lowenstein Mystery Series, featuring a scrapbooking mom. To see a list of all of Joanna’s books and short stories, go to Follow her on Facebook for more great crafting ideas at

Kiki Lowenstein and the Penny Pincher, Part I


Lowenstein and Penny Pincher: Part I


Joanna Campbell Slan




Editor’s Note: The
Kiki Lowenstein Mystery Series features a scrapbooking mom whose creativity
isn’t limited to papercrafts. Part I of Kiki Lowenstein and the Penny Pincher first appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of Chicagoland Scrapbooker. Now we’re sharing it with you!

saw this online and bought it for the store. I thought it appropriate,” said my
friend Clancy Whitehead, as she handed me a wrapped present. In her tailored
brown slacks, ivory silk blouse, and camel-colored cardigan, Clancy was the
picture of elegance.

I’m still wearing my maternity pants with the elastic panels. Although I tell
myself that eventually the weight will come off, it’ll probably take forever.
I’ve been a little down lately, feeling a touch of the post-partum blues. That’s
probably one reason that Clancy bought me a gift.


low mood is silly, because I have so much to be thankful for. My name is Kiki
Lowenstein, and I own Time in a Bottle, a scrapbooking and crafts store in St.
Louis. I’m the mother of three adorable kids, including three-week-old Tyler
George, whom we call “Ty.” And my other half is a hunky cop, Detective Chad


is good, mainly.


starts the first of our Double-Dip Classes. Like the old Doublemint Gum
commercials, we’re offering not one but two fantastic learning experiences. I’m
excited about the projects I have planned for our scrapbookers. But I’m also a
tad worried, because Iona Lippman has signed up for both classes, since she can
be a bit rough around the edges.


on,” prompted Clancy. “Open the gift.”


my fingers carefully pried apart the pink polka dot tissue paper, I discovered
an adorable sign nestled inside: “All our guests please us. Some by their
coming, and some by their going.”


is definitely a ‘goer,’” said Clancy. “You can’t please her, Kiki. She’ll
always find something to complain about. That’s who she is. So just relax about
the classes tonight and try to have fun. Don’t let her ruin the evening.”


you,” I told my friend, “for everything.”


got all your prep done?” she asked. “Anything I can do?”


fine,” I said. “First we’re doing the Keepsake Recipe Album. The assignment was
for each scrapbooker to bring in a recipe that her family enjoys. A main dish.
She should also have a photo of the food. Of course, if that’s not possible,
we’ll work with just the recipe and leave a place on the scrapbook page for the
photo. I assume all of them have been in to choose their albums?”


Iona came in Friday. She doesn’t like the 8- by 8-inch size. She also didn’t
like the color of the album cover.” Clancy pulled up a chair across from my big
desk. Resting her face on her hands, she shrugged. “I told her you might have
suggestions for customizing the cover.”




the second class?” asked Clancy.


called Tips from Interior Designers,” I said, withdrawing my handout from the
bottom desk drawer. “Many interior designers use a 60-30-10 rule when working
with colors. The dominant shade should cover 60 percent of the page, then two
other colors would be 30 and 10 percent. I’m also showing the scrapbookers how
they can ‘translate’ a photo of an interior design into a scrapbook page


idea,” said Clancy. “I’m glad I’m staying for the evening.”


am too,” I said.


it happened, Clancy was a lifesaver. Two hours later, after listening to Iona
complain non-stop about her album, I was happy to have someone there with a
positive attitude.


only do I hate everything about this album,” she said, “I don’t want a recipe
book full of main courses. My specialty is dessert.”


gritted my teeth. “Good. Since Valentine’s Day is next week, your assignment is
to bring your favorite dessert and its recipe.”


bring red velvet cake,” said Lisa Ferguson.


way!” shouted Iona. “I have my great-great-grandmother’s special red velvet
cake recipe. It’s been passed down from the oldest daughter to oldest daughter.
No one outside the family has ever seen it.”


I spread my hands in what I hope was a placating gesture. “You can both bring
your red velvet recipes. Since these are your personal cookbooks, duplication
won’t be a problem.”


won’t be any duplication,” sniffed Iona, as she tugged her sleeves over her
hands. Her fingers were chaffed and red from the cold. “My family recipe is
simply the best. It’s never been copied. Not even close.”


yourself,” said Lisa, as she adjusted her cowl neck sweater. The weather had
been unseasonably bitter. Most of my customers wore boots and gloves. Lisa was
no exception. She’d arrived bundled up in a parka.


contrast, Iona had worn a lightweight wool coat and kept her bare hands shoved
deeply into her pockets.


two women couldn’t have been more different. Iona bragged about every aspect of
her life from her husband’s upcoming retirement plans to her own free time for
crafting. Lisa had said nearly nothing. I knew she’d come straight from work,
and she kept checking the time because her babysitter had to leave promptly at nine.


that we have the matter of next week’s recipes settled,” I said, “Let’s turn
our attention to Part Two of our Double-Dip. If you’d open your page kits,
you’ll see I’ve already chosen your embellishments and paper for this cute
scrapbook page. Clancy is passing around a copy of HGTV Magazine with a picture
of the room that inspired this page.”


does it,” snarled Iona. “Kiki, every layout you do involves expensive


right,” added another customer, Avery Ailes. “I love scrapbooking but, gosh,
it’s so expensive. I’ve priced these embellishments. They aren’t cheap.”


shot me a look over the heads of our customers. I could read my friend’s
thoughts as easily as if she’d spoken to me: “Great…now what?”


Part II will appear in the Summer 2014 issue of Chicagoland Scrapbooker. Later this summer, we’ll also post it here on this blog, so be sure to become a “follower” of the blog. To find out where to pick up your copy go to Chicagoland Scrapbooker  (