Tag Archives: Lit Fest

Lit Fest Yet Again: the Dynamic Duo of Sakey and Chercover

Printers Row Lit Fest 2011 closed for me with Sean Chercover and Marcus Sakey in conversation… a fun event without a doubt.  And I’d like to include a photo from the program… but no!  For some unknown reason, every panel I went to began with an introduction that basically said “Don’t even THINK about taking pictures.”

So I don’t have a picture that shows Marcus and Sean sitting side by side, both with curly dark hair, both wearing dark jeans and a black, button-up-the-front shirt.  It was like the DoubleMint twins, only not so peppy.

Instead we’ll have to make do with photos “stolen” off the world wide web.  Sean’s hair is now as curly as Marcus’ – perhaps he has let his naturally curly hair grow out.



The guys have been buddies for five years now, since 2006, when they were introduced by Jon Jordan of CrimeSpree.  They went on a book tour together in 2007, and told their program attendees about the worst book-signing ever.  In Kokomo.  Where not too many people showed up, they had four hours to kill, and they were under the full-bore gaze and alarming stories of a serial killer aficionado.  (That John Wayne Gacy!  Now he was a murderer!  And what do you guys think of Richard Speck!  Awful, huh?)

I’ve recently reviewed by works by Sean and Marcus on this blog.  Sean is the author of books about Chicago PI Ray Dudgeon and has a new work coming out – but not a Dudgeon book – soon.  (Can’t be soon enough for me.)  It features a preacher, the charismatic type, who starts out a charlatan.  But what does he end up?

And Lit Fest was actually the occasion of Marcus’ new book, The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes. Yes, I bought it at Lit Fest.  In hardcover.  At full price.  (But I got a ticket for a free beer at the launch party, thus adding to the value.)  I am not done yet, but I will say that there is a point in the book where I actually gasped out loud in shock.  Then I closed the book and marveled at how he managed to completely fool me.  But fairly.  Good work so far, Marcus.

The Sakey star seems to be rising, with two books optioned by big-name movie stars (Ben Affleck, Tobey Maguire) , although self-deprecating Marcus said that was because someone in their respective entourages read it and liked it.  He’s also doing a TV show on the Travel Channel.  Several fun stories about that… Evidently as cooperative as people are with fiction writers (and they are), they are gaga over TV.  Hidden City looks at cities through the lens of famous crimes, and the cops couldn’t be more cooperative.  (Would Mr. Sakey like to go up in the helicopter?  Yes, Mr. Sakey would.)

So that’s it for this year’s Lit Fest.  It was fun and inspirational.  See you all next year.

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.  

Murder Most Cozy: Lit Fest Learning

Lit Fest got off to a fun start yesterday with Murder Most Cozy, a panel moderated by Julie Hyzy and including cozy authors Betty Hechtman, Ellery Adams and Joelle Charbonneau.  It was held on the lower level of the Harold Washington library (notable for gargoyles).

Except for Joelle, who is just getting her first book published, these “cozy” writers each have several series with a continuing character and a theme.  For example, Julie’s done very well with her White House Chef series, ever since the publication of the first one, State of the Onion.  (Get it?)  She also writes a Manor House series, about a historical mansion-slash-tourist destination, with a main character who is young, single, in-charge, and a recent cat-owner.

Betty’s books feature crocheting, and although my notes are small and scrabbly, I remember that she has a second series starting.  Ellery Adams writes the Books by the Bay series, J.B. Stanley (also her) writes the Supper Club mysteries, and Jennifer Stanley (likely the name her mother gave her) writes the Hope Street Church mysteries.

The ladies were hilariously forthcoming about their books, the writing process, what caused them to begin writing and why it’s so rewarding.  Some pearls:

  • Cozy readers actually read everything, not just cozies
  • Cozies generally have minimal sex and the murder happens “off stage”
  • As Betty said, “There are dead bodies, but everybody has a good time.”
  • Quirky characters abound
  • Julie has a “ghost chef” to look at her recipes for accuracy
  • Betty has a crochet-mad friend who makes the patterns in her books to make sure they are really do-able
  • Ellery has a roller-skating dwarf that Joelle may steal (Joelle’s hook is a women’s roller-derby team)
  • Mistakes happen – one author had a book wherein a character put a motorcycle in reverse (this is generally not a feature of motorcycles, although my husband told me this morning that there are two models that have a reverse gear!).  Another put a photograph in an antique desk, long before photography was invented.  And there is no Washington Memorial in Washington, D.C.  It’s the Washington Monument.
  • Typically, cozy writers must deliver multiple books per year – and that goes double if you’ve got two series.
  • Cats!  Cats!  Cats!
  • Minimal control over cover art.  If your book doesn’t have a cat in it, the publisher may put a cat on the cover anyway.  You may as well put a cat in there, and that way you can simply complain that the cat doesn’t accurately reflect the cat in the book.

Most heart-warming was Ellery’s story of her sixth grade teacher, John Bowden, who encourage and nourished her creative writing, and sent her a warmly congratulatory email upon the occasion of her first book publication.  She plans to thank him as well as others who inspired and supported her in the acknowledgements section of a future book.

For my own writing:

  • I’m not really a cozy writer, but my target market definitely includes cozy readers.
  • Perhaps a pet would not be a bad idea (I’m inclined to pug or terrier but I could be swayed to cat).
  • I should go ahead and be a little more hard-edged throughout… don’t make what violence there is unbelievable by having it come out of left field.
  • And definitely, make sure my quirky characters are not so quirky as to be cardboard cut-outs or only in there for the “hook.”  Also, not too many quirky characters.  Mental note:  no dwarves unless crucial.