Category Archives: Literary Event

Edgar starts NOW!

edgarEvery year, I read, review, and rank the MWA Edgar finalists in 2-3 categories, and overall, about half the time the Literary Lunchbox pick for the Edgar and the actual winner line up.  Some years, I miss them all.  One year, I batted .1000.  But given that there are 5-6 entries in each category, I do okay.  It helps that I’m not trying to forecast the winner, I’m just telling you who would win if LL was in charge of the award program.  So I can always think that MWA got it wrong!

This year, I’m going to start with the Best Paperback Original category, because that’s where I found my favorite Edgar book from last year, Lou Berney’s Long and Faraway Gone.  It won.  (Also the Macavity, Anthony and Barry awards!)


Here’s this year’s line up!

  • Shot in Detroit – Patricia Abbott
  • Come Twilight – Tyler Dilts
  • The 7th Canon – Robert Dugoni
  • Rain Dogs – Adrian McKinty
  • A Brilliant Death – Robin Yocum
  • Heart of Stone – James W. Siskin

Only Robert Dugoni and Adrian McKinty are familiar to me, and frankly, McKinty’s book is the one to beat from my perspective.  He’s a seasoned author, Rain Dogs is an entry in a popular series featuring Irish detective Sean Duffy, and as it happens, I already read it and loved it.  But I try to wipe that all from my mind and read for more than sheer enjoyment during Edgar time.

Once Best Original Paperback is done, I expect to go through Best First Novel by an American Author and finish up with Best Novel.  This year’s banquet is on April 27, so that gives me three months to get through them all.  Generally I manage to squeak by, time-wise.

My good friend and writing buddy Addy Whitehouse will also be reviewing this year – you can find her here.  She uses a different system – a 1-10 rating – so theoretically she could end up with a tie!  Occasionally I love something she hates, and vice versa.  Thus proving there is something out there for everyone…

So embarrassed…


I was a wonder-blogger as we led up to the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Awards banquet.  This year, I read, reviewed, and ranked in three categories.  My calls:

And then I totally flaked out once the winners were announced.  And I haven’t reviewed a dang thing since then.   Life!  Go figure.

But for those who were anxiously awaiting, the alignment this year was less than perfect:  MWA and I agreed on just one out of three.

  • Best Novel went to Lori Roy’s fabulous Let Me Die in His Footsteps, which I ranked third.
  • Best First Novel went to The Sympathizer, by Viet Than Nguyen, which I ranked #2.
  • And it was “winner winner chicken dinner” because the actual judges gave the totally deserving Lou Berney the Edgar for The Long and Faraway Gone.

Berney’s book was the one that really resonated with me out of all the nominees this year. I ended up buying it several times, because I gave the darn thing as a gift to friends and relatives out of sheer enthusiasm.   My dad loved it but argued with the ending.  Here’s where you can get all the info on this year‘s nominees and winners.

I’ve been reviewing Edgar nominees since 2010.  That year was stellar:  I had 100% agreement, as both Literary Lunchbox and the MWA gave John Hart’s The Last Child and Stefanie Pintoff’s In the Shadow of Gotham awards.   In 2011, I sank to the depths at 0% (but I still think my calls were better).  In 2012, it was 50%.   MWA and Lunchbox agreed on Mo Hayder’s Gone, but I gave All Cry Chaos by Leonard Rosen the edge over Lori Roy’s winner, Bent Road.  2013 was tough, at another 0%… but I think everyone expected Gone Girl to triumph over Dennis Lehane’s Live by Night.  And Chris Pavone’s debut, The Ex-Pats, was awfully good.  In 2014, it was another 50% and I defer to MWA, Red Sparrow deserved its win, but we agreed with William Kent Krueger’s Ordinary Grace.  And last year I totally called it with Tom Bouman’s Dry Bones in the Valley as the best debut, although I figured Mo Hayder for a second win with Wolf, and Stephen King took the Edgar home for Mr. Mercedes.

At any rate, before I returned to the world of reading and reviewing, I felt that closure was necessary, Edgars-wise.  Thanks for reading.

Writing on the Red Cedar

“They’re just not serious about writing,” was my super-judgmental and not-very-insightful perspective on people who talked about writing, maybe even went to writing-related events, but didn’t actually, you know, write.  No new short stories.  No energy for reworking stuff in the hopper.  How hard can it be to churn out 500 words a day?  If you watch one TV show a night, you should be able to write something every day.

I should be writing here!

I should be writing here!

Oh, but now the shoe’s on the other foot.  Because in 2014, here are the number of words I wrote, fiction-wise:  Zero.  And here are the number of times I took my current work-in-progress out of the drawer:  Zero.   And here are ALL the things I did to set myself up for writing:  One.  Yep, one.  I registered for Write on the Red Cedar.

Write on the Red Cedar is sponsored by the Capital City Writers Association (of which I am a member but have done, wait for it… zero!).  It kicks off with a cocktail party on Friday night and then Saturday is dedicated to education that accomplishes two goals:  1. Helps writers improve their writing and 2. Gets them motivated!

“This,” I told myself, “this will ensure that I get my act together.”  Surely I will regain my focus, with January 16, 2015 looming.

And loom it did!  And now the day is today and dang it, I’m excited.  My good friend Addy Whitehouse is driving up from Skokie to spend the weekend and hit the conference with me.  She has, I assure you, written thousands and thousands of words this year.  She is kicking butt.

Don Maass

Don Maass

We also signed up for the four-hour post-conference hands-on workshop with uber-agent Donald Maass, author of Writing the Breakout Novel, and other helpful writing books.  I will share that I am petrified, petrified, of Don Maass.  He read my first mystery eons ago and passed, although he did say some sorta nice things.  But I will put on my big girl pants and go because the chance to learn something fabulous is, well, fabulous.  Did I say I was petrified?

A Little Lit Fest featuring Pitchapalooza

festI made it to Lit Fest!  Given my work schedule and the threatening thunderstorms, it was not a sure thing.   I missed several readings/panels/ workshops that I had on my to-do list, but I got there just in time for Pitchapalooza, which was surprisingly educational.

Pitchapalooza’s premise:  Authors sign up to do a 90-second pitch at the microphone in front of Book Doctors Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry.   They critique your pitch.  About 20 people did this Sunday, and one lucky pitcher got an intro to an agent.

First things first:  According to Eckstut and Sterry, not one of the pitchers had a bad premise or an unpromising story.   So, everybody’s got talent.

Second:  Listening to pitches really helps you craft your own pitch.  I heard several people make the mistake of giving the whole backstory.  I want to do that – my main character is fascinating!  Others gave the names of all the characters in the book.  Clearly not necessary for pitching purposes.   Plus, don’t give away the whole plot in the pitch.  (But the ending is the reason why my book has the title it does!  I have to explain it!  No, I don’t.)

Third:  The world – or at least Chicago – is full of people who think their own life story is totally worth reading about.  One woman overcame breast cancer and a bad boyfriend.  Another was falsely accused of a crime. (Or was he guilty?  not sure.)  Someone else was homeless and now she lives in an awesome apartment on Lakeshore Drive.  But I have to admit:  all three of these stories could be interesting, if they were written well.

guideLast:  The Book Doctors are in it for the cash.  Buy their book, you get an  appointment to consult with them.  At which time, you will probably be offered the opportunity to become a Book Doctor client.  On the other hand, the book actually looked pretty helpful.  So I bought it.  At full price.  You, on the other hand, can get it at Amazon at a discount.

While at the Fest, I took the opportunity to while away an hour at Sandmeyer’s Bookstore, where I did my part to support the indies by spending $63.47.  Among my purchases:  Julia Keller’s debut mystery A Killing in the Hills, Janet Groth’s memoir The Receptionist, and Seth Godin’s Watcha Gonna Do With That Duck?   So more good stuff to come.

Lovin’ Litfest

chi-printers-row-lit-fest-2013-20130520Get out there, people!  Printers Row Lit Fest is about to start, the sun is shining, and there are ridiculously many opportunities to connect with authors you love and learn more about those you could love.  Readings, interviews, signings… there are so many things to do.  Tickets are required for some events (free!), but it’s not too late to get them and a quick check of several reveals that they’re not all sold out.  (Joe Meno, I’m talking about you!)  Click here for today’s schedule.

Plus, there are dozens of booths, including publishers, booksellers, and literary organizations (Yay, Mystery Writers of America!).  Bring your backpack because you’ll be hauling home all your summer reading material.

Lit Fest is a bit of a Literary Lunchbox tradition; in fact, my very first blog post was about the 2009 Lit Fest.   If you’ve never been, you can get a feel for what it’s like by clicking here – I posted a bunch of photos from the 2011 Fest.

Sadly, I cannot revel the whole weekend – daily duties for dentists summon me – but I want to prioritize participation in the sessions focused on the craft of writing.   (Perhaps I’ll learn not to use phrases such as “prioritize participation.”)

They’re easy to find because they are classified as “interactive” or “workshop.”  Art of the Novel at 10:15 Sunday:  I’m there.   You might like the Memoir Writing Workshop at 11:30 tomorrow.  And for those authors with a finished manuscript and the nerve to pitch it, there’s Pitchapalooza at 12:30.  “It’s like American Idol for books!”  

The Fest attracts over 125,000 booklovers annually.  You should be one of them! Like them on Facebook to keep up in touch throughout the year.

Oh, I do SO want to go to the MWA Edgar Symposium and Banquet

inviteMy invite to the Mystery Writers of America Banquet and Awards Ceremony, plus all the details about the Edgar Symposium, came in the mail today.  I am an MWA member (albeit not an active member, I have not yet met the requirements).

I finagled my way to NYC once before at Edgar time, and it was simply marvelous.  Daytime events are held at Lighthouse International on 59th Street, which was a wonderful location.  I was just getting started with writing mysteries, and it was a thrill to be so close to so many authors.  Can you say starstruck?  Plus in addition to rubbing elbows with the not-known-to-me NY agents, I had a great conversation with with a big-name agent, who was encouraging.

Several years have passed.  Every year, I don’t go, but I get the lovely program book in the mail and read all the speeches and the congratulatory ads from publishers, imagining my name instead of say, Laura Lippman’s.  This year:  I really want to go!

Reasons as follows:

  1. The editors and agents cocktail party.  This event is teeming with New York agents, and I have a book to pitch.  It’s free to me as an MWA member, even if I don’t go to anything else!
  2. The symposium is a full day of useful information on topics including the inside scoop on agents, creating monsters, and more.
  3. Plus, symposium panels are comprised of Edgar nominees and winners.  Can you say big names?  Creme de la creme?
  4. There will be many speeches from smart people and perhaps the banquet food will be adequate.
  5. Finally, it’s in New. York.  City.  In May.  Where there are nice hotels, numerous bookstores, and Broadway shows.  Sigh.


Printers Row membership pays off with Michael Connelly – update!

You guys remember this post, right?  Where I kvetched about being a chump for joining Printers Row and paying extra for something that I thought should be a regular part of the Chicago Tribune?  Even worse was seeing that the price went down, down, down for people who just subscribed to the journal, rather than paid for membership… the perks of which I never took advantage of.

Until now.  Yes, I went as a VIP to the Printers Row Live event where Julia Keller, whom I adore, interviewed Michael Connelly.  Third row.  Great view.  Then, thanks to my purple member wristband, I was third in line to get my book signed. He smiled.  He wasn’t tired yet.  Awesome.

Want more pics of Connelly and the event?  Check out Trib Nation’s Facebook page.

It was a great event.  Michael Connelly is a wonderful crime novelist.  His main character is LA homicide detective Hieronymus Bosch (Harry), who is motivated by his mother’s murder to solve crimes.  The new Harry Bosch book is The Black Box, wherein Harry revisits a cold case to solve the 1992 murder of a Danish photojournalist during the LA riots following the Rodney King verdict.  (I can’t believe this was 20 years ago.)  I am on page 106.   Review to come.

In the meantime, here are 10 things I learned about Michael Connelly at tonight’s event:

  1. Connelly was influenced by reading the work of James Lee Burke – and when he saw that Burke actually dedicated a book to his agent, he submitted his first novel to that agent, figuring he must be a darn good agent.  Amazingly, that agent is now Connelly’s agent.  Who is that agent?  He didn’t say, but it looks like Philip Spitzer.
  2. First memorable book read:  To Kill a Mockingbird, foisted upon him by a librarian.  He went into the library to get out of the Florida summer heat, but was required to read.  He saw it as a crime novel.
  3. He doesn’t expect the Bosch series to end with Harry’s death.  “Ten years ago, maybe.  Now I think he deserves better than being killed off.”
  4. There’s a TV series featuring Harry Bosch in the works, and evidently Connelly may have some say in who is cast.  He’d like it to be someone fabulous, but currently unknown, like Hugh Laurie was before House.  Julia Keller thinks Ed Harris (but not today’s Ed Harris, Harris when he was younger).
  5. Connelly always wanted to be a crime writer.  He’s not a journalist who turned to fiction; he’s an author who deliberately went after the crime beat in order to get closer to cops.
  6. The spark for a book almost always comes from a story.  “Cops are great storytellers,” he says.  They spin the story and the way they tell it informs the plot and the dialogue. Thus, the authentic voice.
  7. He deliberately picked 1950 as the Harry’s birth year because the cops he knew all had a similar background, similar perspective of having served in Viet Nam, and he wanted that point of view for his main character.  The books are always set in the year they are originally published and Harry ages through the series.  In the new book, Bosch is 62.
  8. The upcoming book in the works is a Mickey Haller (Lincoln Lawyer) book.  Harry Bosch is in it, as is his daughter Maddie.
  9. When he writes a book, Connelly knows the start and the end, but the middle is the “dream fugue state.”  He doesn’t outline, but because of his experience in journalism, he’s ruthless about cutting, and the books get shorter as he edits the first draft.  “I dump stuff all the time.”
  10. What book did he read recently that he really liked?  There’s one coming out in April 2013 called Amity & Sorrow by Peggy Riley.  He doesn’t read much crime fiction these days, more nonfiction.