Friday, September 21, 2012

What Scares You?

Do one thing every day that scares you. 
                        –  Eleanor Roosevelt

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Is that a good idea? Really? I don't think Mrs. Roosevelt meant things like--touch a spider. Or eat raw sea urchin. But if life becomes predictable and ordinary, your experiences will pale and fade away--and you just have this one life, right? (Far as we know....)

 I guess what Mrs. Roosevelt meant was--go for it.

Our guest today exemplifies going for it.  And here she shares her journey!

And we have a lovely copy of Death of A Schoolgirl for one commenter who tells us something brave they did! (I drove a stick shift in actual traffic..does that count? I went down the diamond slope skiing...but I splatted. I guess that doesn't count.)


One Thing That Scared Me
                     Joanna Campbell Slan

Last month my seventeen-year-old niece came for a visit. She’d never flown without her parents before. She’d never been in a taxi. And she’d never walked through a revolving door. As she tackled each of these new ventures, I noticed the glow of pride suffuse her face. Watching her tickled me, because each experience recalled similar moments in my life.  Moments when I felt that panic of uncertainty, that thrill of determination, that shock of the unknown, and finally that welcome relief of accomplishment.

This year I did something that scared me. Something really big. I wrote a historical mystery. Not just any historical mystery…   I borrowed the protagonist from Charlotte Brontë’s classic Jane Eyre.

The idea had been noodling around in my head for years.
Could I do it?
Could I pull it off?

Could I manage all the research—and not commit such humongous errors as to make myself a laughingstock?

Fate intervened.

At an MWA meeting, I was fortunate enough to sit next to Louis Bayard, an author whose work I’ve long admired. We’d corresponded in the past because I’d suggested Mr. Timothy to my online book club, the one I’m in with a dozen other writers. When we had questions about the novel that demanded answers, I wrote Louis. I figured, “What the heck? If he doesn’t respond, that’s fine.”

But he did. Graciously.

Now as we chatted over dinner, I reminded him of our correspondence. He was as generous in person as he’d been via email. I told him I was thinking of writing a historical mystery, but I worried about the research. Seemed to me that he’d done absolutely tons of research. It goes without saying that Louis is an erudite man. He has written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Huffington Post.

He assured me that he might not have done as much research as I thought.
Honest, he said, and he smiled.
And then I started thinking…

Maybe the biggest stumbling block wasn’t the research. It was my fear of doing something new. Something that would cause me to stretch. Something at which I might well fail. Something that could embarrass me.

So, Dear Reader, I wrote the book, my historical mystery.

Death of a Schoolgirl begins where Jane Eyre ends. Jane is happily married to her beloved Edward Rochester, when a cryptic letter arrives from his former ward Adéle. Worried about her safety, Jane hurries to London. Upon visiting the girls’ school that Adéle is attending, Jane learns that a student has died under suspicious circumstances. Taking advantage of a case of mistaken identity, Jane poses as an errant German teacher so she can track down the killer—and safeguard the lives of the children. 

And yes, Dear Reader, much of the time that I was writing, I was scared to death!
How about you? What have you done this year that scared you?


Multi-published author Joanna Campbell Slan’s newest work—Death of a Schoolgirl—has been said by Publishers Weekly to “credibly recreate Regency London and the era of the Bow Street Runners.” Kirkus Reviews has noted that the book “refashions a beloved heroine as a surprisingly canny detective.” RT Book Reviews calls it “a very entertaining, believable extension of Jane Eyre” and continues to praise Slan’s work by saying, “she has done an impressive job using rich historical details to transport readers back in time.” Visit an incredibly relieved Joanna at


  1. First, Joanna, LOVE the scarf! Gorgeous. Second, what a great idea, to continue Jane Eyre's story. Looking forward to reading the tale.

    Does learning to ride a horse at the age of 55 count? I'd never been on one before, and was utterly terrified. Since then I've learned both Western and English, and have even taken one small jump (which is plenty!).

    But I'm in the planning stages of a major "leap into the unknown". Part of it involves leaving a 34-year relationship, at age 61.

  2. Standing in front of the judge, in front of a room full of strangers, getting married for the third time. That was the bravest thing I've ever done. I did it for love. :-)

    (Third time was the charm, not incidentally. 34 years so far.)

  3. Hank, I remember the first time I drove a stick shift and how panicked I was to drive in traffic, but I survived! And, much to my surprise, learned to like driving a car with a standard transmission. As for going down the diamond slope skiing, I would definitely say that counts, even if you “splatted.” Much like the Cowardly Lion, there is an abundance of things that scare me, but when I recently mustered all my courage and tried something I’d never done before, I counted that as “success in the face of doing something that scares me” even when the end result was not at all what I had hoped. I think the real test comes in the willingness to take the chance rather than in a judgment based solely on the outcome of the effort.

  4. Hi, Joanna! I had the pleasure of meeting Joanna at this year's Festival of Mystery in Oakmont. I have fingers and toes crossed that this turns into your BIG book! Jane Eyre makes a perfect 'sleuth' -- she's calm, sensible, and vulnerable at the same time. And she's got a nation of built-in fans.

    Joan Emerson - your scary moment made me smile because one (sort of) scary moment for me came when I tried to teach one of my daughters to drive in our stick shift. She and I went to a supermarket parking lot, empty early on Sunday morning. I showed her how to shift, how to engage the clutch, how to accelerate. Forgot one key thing: how to brake. Needless to say, she ran the car into the Stop & Shop, fortunately not moving very fast, but enough to crease a fender. Didn't hurt the Stop & Shop one bit.

  5. Hallie:
    My husband taught me to drive a stick shift when we were first married; I had only driven for a few years and was [and still am] a reluctant driver. There was this steep hill I would regularly encounter, and I would always pray I would be the first one in the "wait for the light" line so that the car wouldn't try to slide backwards when the light changed and I took my foot off the brake . . . . Not being completely foolish, I left all of the "teach the girls to drive" business to their father. [And when one of them ran into the shed, the truck was fine, but the shed never sat quite right after that!]

  6. OH, stick shift stories! The things we could tell.. Stopping on a hill--you need threee feet, right?

    Im in NOrth Carolina on book tour--so I'll be in and out otday..but madly reading comments on my iphone --meeting lots of new people--that's brave.

  7. Oh yes that counts Karen--horses are so big and scary! Jack, that was very brave--so glad it worked out for you!

    Stick shift--yes, such a great skill. And I'm afraid it's going the way of the record player. I taught my stepdaughter--we ran the car into the marsh that day....

    Joanna, you were so clever to think of this idea! Hope they sell like mad...

    and Hank--hi to Molly Weston and Nancy Martin and everyone you see!

  8. This summer, just before my 66th birthday, I swam in a charity swim in Buzzards Bay -- even though I am 100 pounds overweight, and never swim distances (most of my swimming is done in my neighbor's pool).
    But, I figured that I would never run in a race, or probably ever even do a "walk" so when I was told about the ALS swim, I decided to try it.
    It was not very warm that August morning when my husband dropped me off (he had an errand but promised to return).
    Another "large size" lady and I found one another & became buddies.
    I ran into the salt water, took last place immediately and stayed there. The current was against me in the choppy deep water -- and I swam (well, moved forward somehow) for 1/4 mile.
    Then I walked back to the start.
    The race organizers were so supportive -- they are thinking of setting up a 1/4 mile option next time!

  9. Karen in Ohio - BIG props to you for learning to ride horses in midlife, let alone JUMPING. Egads. I've never jumped. Good for you.

    Joan - My first new car had a stick shift, even though I didn't know how to drive one. I suspect driving a car with a manual transmission is turning into a lost art.

  10. Jane Eyre as a mystery-solver! What an excellent concept.

    Welcome, Joanna. I, too adore your scarf.

    I recently lost a lot of weight and I have been attempting things that have scared me for years. The biggest one was zip-lining in the rain forest of Puerto Rico. Me, hanging from a tiny contraption between trees??? Holy ----! What a rush!

    I bought a stick-shift car before I was able to drive it and had to learn on the fly, so to speak. I drove out of my way to avoid stopping on hills. Now all my cars are standards; love 'em!

    Best of luck with the book, Joanna. I'll read it, for sure.

  11. Marianne, ziplining is on my bucket list! Scared of heights, so that would be a really big one.

    I also bought a manual transmission car, in the 1970's, without knowing how to drive it. I picked up my boyfriend on the way to swap my old car for the new one. He drove it to a high school parking lot, then taught me for 45 minutes, and then I was on my own. The first time I had to stop at a light on a hill was fun. I could not get it going through three stoplights, and finally got through the intersection and into the parking lot where I was going. The guy in the next car followed me, as he also had an appointment in the same place. I apologized, saying it was a new car. He said "I think you got a lemon", but I had to admit that I was the lemon in that case!

  12. Hi, Joanna! We met at Malice this year. I can't wait to read this book. I've always been a Charlotte Bronte fan.

    Hank, the diamond slope counts, even if you went splat. You did it despite the fear.

    Karen, best of luck on your new "leap into the unknown." xoxo

    Denise Ann, major props to you, girl! As someone else who's overweight, I know how hard it can be to try physical challenges in public because so many people feel free to disrespect and shame fat people, especially fat women. For many of us, it keeps us from efforts like your charity swim. That took real guts!

    And Jack, yours is probably my favorite! Very close to my own. A year and a half after leaving my first husband of 18 years (who's sadly no longer with us), I met this smart, handsome guy 13 years younger than me, who got it into his head that he wanted to have a romantic relationship with me. I wouldn't date him for a long time, and then even after we were together, I wouldn't marry him, in part because I was determined never to marry again and in part because he was younger. After five years of living together, I finally agreed to marry him, and he wanted a big wedding. A cruel "friend" told me everyone would be thinking, "I give it six months." So that was the biggest jump for me. (We'll be married 20 years this Dec. and just celebrated our 25th anniversary of living together.)

  13. Joanna - Hey, you - So fun to see you here! (I covet the scarf you're wearing).

    I have your book and it's on top of my TBR stack - and I'm excited about it. And I'm very excited for you!

    I'm sorry to have not gotten it read by now, but I am way way WAY behind in my reading. I'm behind 'cause for the past two years I've been involved in something that has, and still is, been the scariest thing I've ever done. Writing my first novel. gulp.

  14. Linda - your comment about your cruel friend touched a nerve. those types of people are deserving of their own circle of hell. I've had a few experiences with those types of people - one very recently, actually. I'm still steaming. Good for you for following your heart, and it's a lovely story to read. Made me happy.

  15. Forgot to say, before I got distracted and hit Send earlier, congratulations, Joanna, on your Jane Eyre book. What a great concept! I'm psyched you thought of it. With all the Jane Austen mashups out there, I'm ever so happy to know that YOU got Jane Eyre detecting. =:-D You've been very busy since I met you back at the Sisters in Crime Forensics University. Rock on!

  16. Thank you, Linda. It's pretty scary.

    But love your story, and am so happy for your happiness. I agree with Kaye on those negative twits; they deserve to have their own wishes come back to them.

  17. Joanna, congratulations! And yes, that is a stunning scarf -- but then, you always look great!

    Scary things? You mean besides getting out of bed in the morning? The current top candidate is agreeing to be a featured speaker and teacher at the local Authors of the Flathead writers conference in two weeks. Yikes! A jury of my peers! (Scarier than any courtroom!)

  18. Joanna, your book sounds fabulous! And props to you for striking out on a new adventure!

    Scary things? Driving alone in the UK. (I do it but I hate it...) Going down the tallest escalator in the London Underground... I bought a bike almost two years ago and have ridden it maybe a half dozen times. Very wobbly. Determined to get back on the bike (rather than the horse) this fall.

    Oh, and writing every new book, even after fifteen of them, is absolutely terrifying.

  19. Thanks, Kaye and Karen! And Kaye, just let us know if you need some protection against those nasty "friends." We've got your back. Reds forever!

  20. Do Debs,
    Are you saying that you actually DRIVE, behind the wheel? the wrong way in Engiand?? THat would scare me to death - literally - as I'd break all the time and definitely skid into oncoming traffic.

    The scary thing I'm doing is writing a historal that is NOT a mystery. It's very scary to work without a mystery plot.

    Congats on the new book Joanna. I always wondered what happened to Jane Eyre next.

  21. Joanna, congratulations on the new book. I'm hearing lots of good buzz about it and it's on my TBR list.

    Zooming down a zip line through the trees is the scariest thing I've done recently. It turned out to be so much fun I want to go again.

  22. I'm typing in the back seat of a along..outside Smithfield NOrth Carolina!

    Is that brave?? xox Molly Weston driving.. :-)

  23. Hi Joanna,

    Your book sounds fabulous -- love Jane Eyre, the book, the character, the latest BBC production, everything. Adele was always an interesting character to me...I look forward to seeing how she turned out in your novel!

    Driving stick shift! I still haven't learned it. I've tried three times, and now I'm too scared...

    I recently signed on for my first public reading (later this fall). Yikes, bearing my novelistic soul in public! You-all are old hands at this, I know, but public speaking practically breaks me out in hives. I've avoided it my whole life, but I have to get over it for my fiction's sake. (Wish me luck!)

  24. Joanna, love the sound of this book! Fantastic idea. Scares me? Attending Crime Bake 2011 by myself (was awesome), submitting my writing for the first time (I'm in Level Best Book's Blood Moon this year), and signing up for my first author pitch session (we'll see how that goes). Ah, fear is a funny thing!

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  27. Great idea, Joanna.You constantly amaze me!

    It's been a while, but one brave thing I did was to adopt a pit bull puppy. I haven't regretted it!

    Morgan Mandel

  28. You're all so brave! (and you know everything always turns out for the best!)

  29. Had to go back and check out that scarf. Yes, I agree. It's gorgeous.
    I went sky diving when I was 66. Not scary until they put a legal release and a pen in my hand.
    I grew up on stick shift. It's automatics that scare me. The transmission is in control, not me.
    A friend recently did something that took a special kind of bravery. For many years, she has been party to a nasty, negative friendship in which both women are determined to put each other down. My friend recently dared to admit that the dress the other woman was wearing was beautiful. She has yet to tell her so, but just telling herself took courage. She let a wall protecting her identity be breached by opening herself up to the possibility she could be wrong about her nemesis.
    Best wishes, Karen, in your upcoming adventure.

  30. Had to go back and check out that scarf. Yes, I agree. It's gorgeous.
    I went sky diving when I was 66. Not scary until they put a legal release and a pen in my hand.
    I grew up on stick shift. It's automatics that scare me. The transmission is in control, not me.
    A friend recently did something that took a special kind of bravery. For many years, she has been party to a nasty, negative friendship in which both women are determined to put each other down. My friend recently dared to admit that the dress the other woman was wearing was beautiful. She has yet to tell her so, but just telling herself took courage. She let a wall protecting her identity be breached by opening herself up to the possibility she could be wrong about her nemesis.
    Best wishes, Karen, in your upcoming adventure.

  31. When I went with my grandchildren to Gator Land, I had my picture taken with them and a snake which was around my neck and I was holding a baby gator. What we do for love!

  32. BTW, Hank, I'm in love with Jake Brogan!

  33. Marianne! Thank you..that is the nicest thing... He's very real to me, so it's marvelous to think somone else thinks so, too..!

    xxo Hank

  34. Hank--learned to drive stick at 16, dad made me take my driver's license test in one. Took me 3 times to pass the test.

    Joanna--it IS a gorgeous scarf, and congrats to you!

    Scary things I've done--packed up our small family and moved to Orlando FL from Reading, PA when I was 6 months pregnant with our second child; oldest was an 18 month-old hell raiser...we did not know a soul, but hubby had a new job, so we loaded up the truck and we moved to Beverly.

    Then I drove myself to the hospital to have my second child by myself cause hubby was in a meeting...which isn't exactly the same as wrestling with a gator but I was petrified...

    Now at 45, having made it through a breast cancer scare, chemo, radiation and reconstructive surgery... I'm thinking of getting my Masters in Library Science so I can teach instead of just assisting in the library where I work...but Libraries are changing so much that it has been suggested that I may need a IT degree to go along with that teaching degree... learn computers? At my age? Scary!