Do Our Books Really Make a Difference? Welcome Guest Joanna Campbell Slan

In July I was on a panel with Joanna. We’d never met before and I just happened to sit by her. She’s smart, funny, and prolific. Our meeting was serendipitous in so many ways. Please join me in welcoming Joanna to The Wickeds.

On a recent trip to Savannah, I was surrounded by reminders of John Berendt’s famous book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Shops sold the book in hard and soft cover, the audio version, the DVD of the movie, and trinkets galore. During a tour ride on a trolley, the guide mentioned the book over and over again. Although Savannah’s recorded history begins in 1733, Berendt’s bestseller wasn’t published until 1994, so it’s not like Savannah didn’t exist until John Berendt found it. I visited the city fifty-plus years ago as a child. Back then, we clamored to see the Juliette Gordon Lowe house. During this visit, Juliette’s name was mentioned exactly twice.


I think it’s because John didn’t put Juliette in his book.

We authors create immortality and popularity both when we write. We elevate the mundane, expose the quirky, and publicize the little known. Through the power of story, we change the world. One word at a time.

Sometimes this happens on a personal level. Growing up in a chaotic, alcohol-fueled home, I took solace in reading Jane Eyre. Jane’s quest to get an education and her subsequent success in life inspired me to find a way to go through college without the support of my parents. It’s fair to say that Jane Eyre changed my life. I have a hunch I’m not alone.

Charlotte Brontë’s classic changed my life for a second time when I won the Daphne du Maurier Award for Literary Excellence with my mystery Death of a Schoolgirl, a continuation of Jane Eyre’s story.

As a matter of fact, I bet that every book ever written has changed someone’s life. Maybe the work served as a happy escape from boredom. Maybe it inspired the reader to look up a new fact. Maybe the author’s viewpoint gave people a new point of view. At the very least, we can be sure the book changed the author’s life, because time spent writing could have been used some other way.

My new book Grand, Death, Auto (Book #14 in the Kiki Lowenstein Mystery Series) was inspired when one of my reader-friends told me about a rash of teen suicides in her community. I chose to write about teen suicide for many reasons. Some personal and some not. In particular, I wanted to remind parents that to teenagers, suicide seems very romantic. The victims get a lot of attention—usually positive–although they aren’t around to enjoy it. People wish they would have treated the dead friend more kindly. There’s a lot of weeping and wailing involved. If you’re a fan of high drama (and what teen isn’t), a funeral is pretty darn cool stuff.

I once met the mother of a young man who’d killed himself. She made it her life’s mission to go to high schools and tell the students how disgusting his body looked after he died. “These kids romanticize death. I want them to know the facts.”

Not surprisingly, she saved a lot of lives.

I hold no illusions that Grand, Death, Auto will save lives. I’m not that egotistical. I do hope it will spark discussion. I expect that some mystery readers will *ding* me on Amazon for even attempting such a dark subject. That’s okay. I really want my work to make a difference. And I’m willing to settle for just a small one.

Readers: How about you? Do you consider making a difference when you write?

Bio: Joanna Campbell Slan is a USA Today and Amazon Bestselling author. Her work has appeared in five New York Times Bestselling Chicken Soup for the Soul books. As the author of three mystery series and numerous non-fiction books (nearly 40 in total to date), she is practically super-glued to her keyboard, except for when she is forced by her Havanese puppy, Jax, to pay attention to him.

18 Thoughts

  1. So happy to see another of my favorite authors in a group of so many! Most of your books make a difference; you never let the reader get off too lightly (I am too sleepy to analyze light/lightly), but they bring entertainment even for those looking for escape. Both of your series touch me and I love that.

  2. Long time no see, Joanna! I have no single “life-saving” book, but I hope to show in mot of my books that people can make choices and succeed, even if they start out doubting themselves.

    1. Liz, I once got an email from a reader who had picked up one of my books on her way to the Mayo Clinic for chemotherapy. She said the book made the trip fly by and gave her a break from thinking about the pain to come. So, yes, I think “a few hours of pleasure” qualifies.

  3. Golly, Miss Sherry. You’re making my head swell. And don’t your WICKED friends get up early? I’m the lucky one who sat next to YOU.

  4. Hi, Joanna. I do believe writers are in a unique position to help readers open their eyes to an issue or cope with something difficult. Thanks for taking on such an important and difficult issue in Grand, Death, Auto. All the best!

  5. Hey, J.C. — we share the same initials! Woohoo! I try to show my readers various sides of an issue or humanize it. Thanks for your kind wishes.

  6. Welcome to the Wickeds, Joanna. I don’t know that my books have changed anyone’s life except in small ways–inspiring them to take a vacation in Maine, for example, or providing comfort as they sat by the bed of a sick parent or child. Those emails I do get and I am grateful for them.

  7. The Trixie Belden mystery series changed my life. I am part of an on line community for the books, and I’ve made many friends because of it. I’ve even taken trips to meet up with them and go places I wouldn’t have gone other wise. Not bad for a kid’s mystery series.

    I do hope your new book changes some lives. That is an extremely important subject.

  8. Thanks so much, Mark. I hope my book generates discussion between parents and kids. Fingers crossed. (And I used to read Trixie Belden!) For us authors, our online friendships are every bit as impactful as our face-to-face ones. Although I must admit that meeting Sherry in person was a great benefit to me. Especially because we were able to follow up with a long, intense, giggly, and information-packed lunch. There’s something about meeting someone in the flesh that is more lasting, more satisfying, than just online.

  9. Welcome, Joanna! I write more for escape than to make a difference, but at times I include themes that are important to me. I once had a coworker whose daughter killed herself. It was a very sad situation. Kudos to you for addressing this difficult but important topic.

    1. Marla, I suspect that all of us authors are escape artists! I also build dollhouses. I suppose you could say I like to create my own little worlds where I’m totally in control. As for the themes, I remember visiting a museum and hearing a docent explain that sometimes painters returned to the same subject matter again and again. I think that’s part of what drives us. We crave a certain order in the world, or perhaps we want to tame the world, or even understand it, so we go back to certain themes over and over.

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