November 6, 2013

In Praise of Total Immersion (Or Why Authors Need to Submerse Themselves in Their Work)

By Joanna Campbell Slan

My house is a disaster, the laundry is piled high, my dark roots are showing, the message light on my phone is blinking, my refrigerator is empty, and frankly, I don’t care. Yesterday I put final touches on the first book in my new Trash to Treasures series, Tear Down or Die, featuring Cara Mia Delgatto. When I’m tap-tap-tapping away toward the finish line, the world could fall apart around me. My work-in-progress becomes a great black hole, sucking me into an alternate universe.

My husband calls on the landline to ask me how our beach is doing after a spate of storms. He’s in an airport, somewhere. I don’t exactly remember where. I tell him that I don’t know the condition of the local beaches. Ditto with our lawn. Mega ditto with the flowers we planted. I don’t know and I don’t care. I haven’t left our house for six days.

A friend sends a panicked email, “Are you all right? I’ve been calling your cell phone. ” I lie and say the charger is lost. The truth is I didn’t want interruptions.

When I am in the white-hot heat of writing, I speak aloud the dialogue. I act out the gestures. I cry along with the characters. I laugh with them, too. And it gets worse. Last night I dreamed I owned a Chihuahua, because I wrote one into my new book. This morning I woke up and wondered how I was going to justify a new dog to my husband. My real life Bichon Frise companions, Victoria and Rafferty, tried to nuzzle me awake. But I kept patting the covers rather than stroking them. I wondered where the Chihuahua had gone. Had he fallen off the bed?

All of this can be explained away because it occurs in the present tense. But when I write a book my new series The Jane Eyre Chronicles, things tend to get a bit dicey. As I pick up where Charlotte Brontë left off, I am transported to the year 1820. At real life social events I have nothing to say about leaks in the White House, but I’ll discourse for hours about how King George IV was bullied by his mistresses. Recently someone asked my husband if dementia ran in my family. He shrugged cheerfully and said, “My wife has always had an active imagination. The dividing line between fantasy and reality is a chalk smudge to her.”

Of this I am convinced: The more I believe in my creations and the more real they are to me, then the more vivid they will seem to my readers. Just as a long bath in hot water changes a raw egg into hard-boiled, so does immersion take my insubstantial ideas and turn them into solid images on the page.
Award-winning and national bestselling author Joanna Campbell Slan is the creator of the Kiki Lowenstein Mysteries (an Agatha Award Finalist) and won the Daphne du Maurier 2013 Award for Death of a Schoolgirl book in her Jane Eyre Chronicles series. A native of Florida, Joanna is the author of twenty-one books, eleven of which are non-fiction. She also writes two other mystery series. In her past life, Joanna was a television talk show host, an adjunct professor of public relations, a sought-after motivational speaker, and a corporate speechwriter. She is the mother of Michael Slan, a professional poker player, and is married to David Slan, CEO of Steinway Piano Gallery-DC. The Slans and their two dogs make their home on Jupiter Island, Florida.  An indepth interview with Joanna can be found in the November/ December issue of Southern Writers Magazine. Visit her at Facebook:

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