Tag Archives: Barbara D’Amato

Lit Fest: D’Amato, Hellmann, Keller shine at Grace Place

Grace Episcopal Church in Chicago’s South Loop is an amazing place… beautiful, unusual architecture that leads to a feeling of community and contemplation.  In short, an amazing place for Lit Fest’s session where the Tribune’s Julia Keller interviewed Barbara D’Amato and Libby Fischer Hellmann.  Of course, the photo here – from the church website – features more sacred use of that place!

Barbara D'Amato

Both Barb and Libby have been president of the national organization Sisters in Crime, founded by Sara Paretsky and others to bring attention to the clear preference among publishers, reviewers, and others for male authors.   The movement began with a letter from novelist Phyllis Whitney to the Mystery Writers of America re: sex discrimination in the awarding of the Edgar Awards.  At that time, in 41 years, only seven women had received Edgars.

Libby Fischer Hellmann

Asked by Keller about Sisters in Crime, the panelists shared that the organization still monitors reviews, reporting that a full 70% of books reviewed have a male author.  By pointing out the lack of balance directly to the reviewers, some progress had been made (60/40), but backsliding has definitely occurred.  SINC looks at published reviews, and everyone agreed that although these are highly visible and very important, the growth in reviews on the internet, through blogs, Amazon, and the like, has become a big factor in recent years, and this is more egalitarian.

I’m a member of both the Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime and support them both.  But it is interesting to see the trajectory of various authors, and there does seem to be a “pecking order” that places thrillers above police procedurals above cozies, for example.

But there’s no doubt Barb D’Amato and Libby Fischer Hellmann are masters of the craft, and they shared some pearls with the audience, many of whom were aspiring authors:

  • Libby makes sure to put a clue in the first few pages; she likes to “play fair” with the readers and thinks that withholding all the clues until late in the book is not doing so.
  • Barb uses a couple of sheets from a legal pad to plot out all the “surprises” in the book… mostly “to keep them all from showing up in chapter 3.”
  • Both women have experienced “pauses” – it hasn’t all been success and roses.  Barb had two books published, then six fallow years.  Libby said her first book sold was actually the fourth book written.  She didn’t want to revisit, though she has cannibalized characters!
  • Although both Barb and Libby are almost constantly writing, they agree that “the book you’re not writing yet is the best one.”  Julia commented that Iris Murdoch said that “every book is the wreck of a perfect idea.”
  • What authors do these authors enjoy reading?  Agatha Christie, Val McDermid, Peter Robinson, Marcus Sakey, Kent Krueger, Sean Chercover, Declan Hughes, and Dennis Lehane were all mentioned.

The conversation was very ably moderated by Julia Keller, who writes for the Tribune and is a published author herself, with two previous books and her first mystery coming out in the coming months.  She’s articulate and insightful, and listening to her in conversation is as pleasurable as reading her work in print.  

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Fest fun commemorated in pictures!

The Printers Row Lit Fest is at the half-way mark, but I’ve had way more than 50% fun.  With just one disappointment (good friend had to cancel… freelancers have little control over their own schedules!) and a few raindrops, the rest was all excellent.

It was a busy day, and I’ll write more tomorrow.  In the meantime, here are some pics to commemorate the day’s wanderings.

First, there were some really cool city dogs wandering about.  Here’s one cute one.  Also, I bought a bunch of books and a T-shirt (from literary threads).   There was  also cool typesetting stuff.  I looked for a big “K” but only found a little bitty one, so didn’t make a purchase here.  I would have liked to do so.  They also had some pre-made artwork… generally not up to my coolness standard.   They did have one that spelled Woof! backwards, but I was offended that the exclamation point was not in the right place. So no purchase there.  Libby Fischer Hellmann is lovely as always at the Mystery Writers of America tent… her session in the AM with Barb D’Amato and Julia Keller was super.  Big Sleep Books:  Noir-y.  Columbia College’s tent had live music!  Sandmeyer’s Bookstore is small but super-engaging, and always there, even when Lit Fest is NOT going on.

This year’s Lit Fest: Plan ahead!

The 2009 Printers’ Row Lit Fest was the topic for the first-ever Literary Lunchbox blog post… and here we are, two years 140 posts later, about to head to Lit Fest again.  After last year’s rainy Fest, this year’s weather forecast leads me to plan my 2011 Printers’ Row Lit Fest trip for Saturday, June 4.  It’ll be hot and sunny and before the expected storms on Sunday.

Saturday does look like a good day.  There are numerous mystery-themed events on stage, starting out with Murder Most Cozy at 10 a.m. at the Harold Washington Library.  Moderated by FB friend Julie Hyzy, it should be good even though I’m not personally acquainted with panelists Betty Hechtman, Ellery Adams, and Joelle Charbonneau.   I have  few days and a Kindle.

The always-excellent Julia Keller is moderating a panel, A Killer History, at 12:30 pm at Grace Place.  It features personal faves Libby Fischer Hellmann and Barbara D’Amato, with Graham Moore.  (Not that he isn’t deserving of fave status.  I’m sure after seeing him, he’ll be one.)

1:45 will be a tough, tough time slot.  At the University Center, Tasha Alexander is moderating The Future of the Mystery Novel, with David Heinzmann, Andrew Grant, Sharon Fiffer and the lovely-and-popular Luisa Buehler.   At the same time at the Hotel Blake, Victoria Lautman is interviewing Ann Packer, who wrote The Dive From Clausen’s Pier (one of my all-time favorites) and her new and well-reviewed work, Swim Back to Me.  How to decide? It’d be tough, but The Future panel is already sold out (limited seating in this venue requires tickets).  So it’s Ann Packer for me.

3:30 is dreamboat time (you know you agree with me) with the pair-up of Marcus Sakey and Sean Chercover at the Harold Washington Library.  Great authors, enthralling books, and members of the Chicagoland literary-and-articulate-yet-ever-so-slightly-dangerous-mystery-author set.  It’s a small group, but if you’re in, you know who you are.

This is followed by a Pitchapalooza at Center Stage with David Henry Sterry and Arielle Eckstut, coauthors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published.  I’m not sure what this entails, but hope to find out before Saturday.  I’ll have my 60-second pitch ready, just in case.

This is a pretty heavy schedule which leaves me little time for wandering through the stalls, looking at books, snapping iPhone photos of the city dogs of various sizes that trail behind their wandering masters, stopping off for coffee, and whatnot.  Plus if memory serves, there’s an awesome bookstore right there (sort of a coals-to-Newcastle kind of thing).  I foresee a lot of frantic dashing hither and yon.

Note to those attending:  events happening at the Harold Washington Library or the University Center require tickets… plan ahead!

Elizabeth Berg, famous author/cooking school student

I got a big thrill yesterday when my husband and I were at Flavour Cooking School for the Intimate Vegetarian Dinner cooking class.  We were perched on our stools at the big table, watching the other students filter in, when an extremely familiar-looking woman sat down across from me.  It was Elizabeth Berg, best-selling author of many books, including one of my very favorites, Joy School.  Her most recent book, Home Safe, is on my “to read soon” list.  And she was actually one of the subjects of my very first blog post, because I saw her be interviewed Mary Schmich at the Printers Row Lit Fest.

So, how did I behave?  I tried to be cool.  I wrote a note to my husband and slipped it over to him.  He scanned the class and then nodded seriously, acknowledging the depth of my experience.  Through the course of the evening, I beamed benevolence her way, and took pains to be particularly witty with my few, but well-placed comments.   I noticed that she took notes and asked good questions.  Also, she ate sparingly of the bread pudding with maple syrup, although it appeared that she enjoyed it.  (I, on the other hand, managed only with great restraint to not actually lick the little ramekin it came in.)   At the end of the class, we were alone together in the coat room.  I thought about saying, “I love your books!”  or “You’re my neighbor, want to be my friend?”  But instead, I just said, “Have a good night,” and left her in peace.   I imagined that sometimes famous people want to do what they are doing in that moment, not deal with fans.

However, empathy did not keep me from telling everybody about it at work today (or from blogging about it, obviously).   It reminds me of being totally bowled over when I first met Barbara D’Amato at an Midwest Mystery Writers of America chapter meeting… I am such a huge fan and here I was meeting her in a social setting where she actually talked to me as a fellow author.  That was a positive experience – not embarrassing at all.

I also remember encountering Huey Lewis (of Huey Lewis and the News) at a hotel in Baltimore.  I was there for a conference; he asked me where the business office was.  I walked him over there, with the nagging feeling I should know him.  I actually thought that he was a dentist that I wasn’t placing.  The end result?   I made the poor man tell me who he was.  (“I’m Huey Lewis.  My band’s playing a concert here tonight.”)  Duh!  Even worse, my response once he introduced himself was to say, “Oh, I loved you in Back to the Future!”  Double duh.  But I do have his greatest hits on my iPod and I did love him in the movie, so perhaps I am forgiven.

It’s funny how everyone has their story about the famous person they’ve met.  My friend Tracy shared french fries with Oprah once.  My husband saw the guy who played Trapper John on M*A*S*H at a bike race in Denver.  My whole family saw John Mahoney (who keeps a condo in Oak Park and hangs out here when in Chicago) having breakfast at a diner here in town.  He smiled and nodded when we grinned at him.  The bar at the Ritz is well-known for athletes, actors, and other celebrities, and some dentists I know rubbed elbows with Michael Jordan there.  My friend Debbie saw Beck at Mity Nice, and I saw Jerry Springer lunching there.  And, of course, at this time of the year, there are numerous Santa Claus sightings.