Chicago Trip June 2016

June 19, 2016

I returned to Chicago for the Chicago Tribune Printer’s Row LitFest last week. First Emily Victorson of Allium Press of Chicago had arranged for a panel at the Volumes Bookcafe in Wicker Park.


Don Evans of Chicago Literary Hall of Fame moderated while D.M. Pirrone, Mary Burnes and I discussed writing fiction “Inspired by the Past.” My books include real historical figures in addition to my fictional characters. Diane’s series is set in Chicago right after the Fire, and she said most of her characters are fictional although she has a well known corrupt police captain in an ongoing role. Mary’s book set in a few very momentous days of 1919 has only fictional characters but against the backdrop of the race riots, the blimp crash and the murder of a child. But all of the books have Chicago as a character. The motto for Allium is “rescuing Chicago from Capone one book at a time” and all of the books are fiction with a Chicago connection although not all are historicals.

The Chicago connection is what makes the Printers Row LitFest so successful for Allium every year. The marketing experts tell you to know your readers and know how to reach them. A lot of our readers attend the LitFest and find Allium Press by going there. Certainly the covers of the Allium books are a big draw. Emily Victorson does a great job making them attractive. But I think it’s also the Chicago setting and the strong women characters that find an audience in the book lovers who stroll around the streets of Printer’s Row lapping up all the great feast of books that is offered.

I was thrilled to meet several people who have read all of my Emily Cabot mysteries and who were looking for the newest. We were excited to be able to tell them that DEATH AT THE PARIS EXPOSITION is just going out for review and will be generally available in September. So, of course, I asked, say, how did you originally find the series? And several people, like Lisa from Indiana in the picture below, found the series by coming to the Printers Row book fair. Here’s Lisa,


That’s Emily Victorson helping her and author Joan Naper in the foreground.

So it was good to attract more new readers at the book fair, figuring when they try one they’ll be interested in the other books in the series, and also the other books and series that Allium publishes. As Emily told people, if you like that, you’ll probably like the other books in the very nice catalog (you can get the PDF on┬áTHIS PAGE

I’ve read all the books, and I have enjoyed being drawn into a world that is different from the present, where I learn a few things as well as following the specific story. And it always makes you think, what was it really like to be there at that time? So D.M. Pirrone’s series set right after the fire gives you a feel for a city starting to rebuild where immigrants of various ethnicities were pouring in and learning to get along. And of course, when you walk around the city of Chicago after that, you can see the past superimposed on the modern features of the city.

I think that’s why I was drawn to write about the city in the 1890’s. I think when you go to Chicago now the imprint of the people who lived at that time is still there to be seen in Grant Park, and the Art Institute and the University of Chicago. I do like cities. Like people they have very distinct personalities. I love Boston, too. And Rome, Athens, and London are so different and so rich. So I really loved writing a book set in Paris this time. And to take someone as prominent in Chicago society as Bertha Palmer and see her in Paris conquering that city as she conquered Chicago was fun research.

I will be taking her back to Chicago in the next book which I’m still researching. And we had such a good time going back to Chicago (where I lived for over 25 years) for the book fair, it will have to be an annual thing. After all, as it turns out that is where I meet a lot of my readers and there’s nothing so satisfying to an author as meeting someone who has read and enjoyed the books. Now, that is a thrill.

Best Book Death at Chinatown

December 31, 2015

Chicago Book Review’s best books 2015

Thanks to Chicago Book Review for listing DEATH AT CHINATOWN as a best book for 2015. Great way to start 2016 when I hope DEATH AT THE PARIS EXPOSITION will be out!

New England Crime Bake 2015

November 10, 2015

Last year, when I knew I would be moving back to Boston in 2015, I attended New England Crime Bake, an annual mystery writers conference, for the first time. This past weekend, I attended again, but this time as a resident of New England as I moved back here in October. Two prominent figures on the schedule were Hallie Ephron and Hank Phillippi Ryan. Hallie taught a seminar at Cape Cod Writers Center Conference a few years ago when I was writing DEATH AT PULLMAN. The first chapter was reviewed in that seminar and her suggestions were helpful. I had the opportunity to interview Hank Phillippi Ryan for Sisters in Crime Chicagoland at the annual Love is Murder conference a few years ago. Always gracious she was an easy subject to talk to despite the fact that one might be a bit intimidated to interview a professional news reporter. It was a very interesting and entertaining session. So I was happy to see both of them on the program.

I also greatly enjoyed panels on writing historicals, keeping a series fresh and the session Kate Flora, Gerry Boyle, Peter Abrams and Lucy Burdette did on “sustaining a career”. It was helpful for long time writers to describe ups and downs, curve balls and home runs in the course of their careers.

The noontime interview with Elizabeth George, the guest of honor was very interesting, as the one last year with Craig Johnson also was. Elizabeth George talked about her writing process. I had just sent out my next book DEATH AT THE PARIS EXPOSITION to some readers, and she said that at a certain point in her process she sends a draft to her “cold reader” who is a reader, not a writer. She includes one list of questions to think about while reading and a second list in an envelope only to be opened after the mss is read. She also talked about how important place is as a starting point for each novel and the research trip she does near the beginning of each book. She also pointed out the we are lucky in the U.S. to have conferences like Crime Bake where writers share information about the craft of writing. She had found out that this is unheard of in Germany where they think writing is some mysterious condition that could never be taught. She is a former high school English teacher who loves language. She also told us that she had to write on vacations when she was working because that is a 16 hour a day job. Sounds right from what I have heard from working teachers. They don’t get enough credit.

Elizabeth George and the other writers were very generous and thoughtful in what they shared of their own experience. I enjoyed hearing Donna Andrews talk about “bringing in a cult” to the town in her series to keep it fresh. In the category of “cult” she listed Re-enactors, and Rose growers. It’s true, we all have our fanaticisms and they make for good stories. She also mentioned “blocking” the action of a novel the way stage directors block a play. That reminds me at one point Hallie Ephron suggested taking an acting class as a useful thing for a writer, that was a different panel. Talking about series Barbara Ross mentioned that she forces herself to make a list of 25 reasons why a characters does a specific action, as a way to break through when stuck.

I not only met a possible writing group member in my area, I also ran into Nikki Flionis my college roommate and her two sisters. At least one of them is writing mysteries. I talked to agents John Talbot and Victoria Skurnick as well. So I will plan to go again next year and I have lots of food for thought from the experience.

Now back to the writing…