Opportunities to improve your craft and meet fellow writers
The Crime Scene
Chapter Meeting Stories From University Police January 26, 1:30 to 3 p.m. EST Grandview Heights Public Library 1685 W 1st Ave., Columbus, OH An officer from the Ohio State University Police Department will be our guest
Chapter Meeting February 29, 2 to 3 p.m. CST Milwaukee Public Library Tippecanoe Branch 3912 S Howell Ave., Milwaukee, WI
Left Coast Crime March 12–15 San Diego, CA leftcoastcrime.org
Murder & Mayhem in Chicago March 21, 9 to 5 p.m. CST Chicago, IL murdermayhemchicago.com MWA Midwest is a co-sponsor
Chapter Meeting March 22 Time and location TBA Chicago, IL
March 26-29 Deerfield Beach, FL sleuthfest.com Discounted registration for MWA members
Edgar Awards Banquet April 30 Grand Hyatt Hotel New York, NY theedgars.com
Malice Domestic May 1-3 Bethesda, MD malicedomestic.org
Wordplay Lit Fest May 9 Minneapolis, MN malicedomestic.org MWA Midwest will host author signings for members in partnership with Once Upon a Crime bookstore. We’ll also host a chapter meeting that weekend. Details in early 2020!
Letter from the President
Goodbye, and Thank You!
It’s the end of another decade, and already I’ve seen plenty of “looking back” posts and articles about the changes in the world since 2009.
For this last letter as MWA Midwest President, I only need to go back seven years, to early 2013. I walked into my local independent bookstore for my first meeting of this organization called “Mystery Writers of America.” I wasn’t sure I belonged there–I was a (mostly) sci-fi screenwriter who’d left a career and a close-knit cadre of fellow writing professionals back in Los Angeles. With two young children and a full-time teaching career, finding a creative community in Chicago had been elusive. Sitting down in one of those white plastic lawn chairs, I looked at the other faces and wondered if there was a place for me in this mystery world.
My sci-fi writer self imagines Now-Me going back to give Then-Me a heads up:
You’re going to meet a ton of mystery writers–many of them well-known and beloved in the genre–and you’re going to interview them on panels and introduce them at major events like the Edgar Awards. Some will become close friends.
You’re going to be president of this chapter in a few years, and part of the national board. It will require all of your knowledge and all of your skills (including some you don’t know about yet), but you’ll be working with a team of dedicated and talented members to share the load. And the chocolate.
You’re gonna need a bigger bookshelf.
Oh, and I know this sounds bananacrackers: You’re going to run a 5K. On purpose. FYI.
Thank you to this year’s outgoing board members: Tim Chapman, Adam Henkels, Shelley Kubitz-Mahannah, Mia P. Manansala, and Andrew Welsh-Huggins. With their help, MWA Midwest has developed a multi-state infrastructure so that more members have the opportunity to attend events in-person and find their local creative community.
Thank you also to this year’s many Margin Call contributors for helping educate us on how to be more thoughtful and considerate in our writing … and how to be more thoughtful and considerate as humans.
Thank you to the members for allowing me to serve as a chapter officer for the last six years. Kristen Lepionka now assumes The Big Chair with the rest of the board–new and returning–at the helm. I’m excited to see how the chapter will change and grow under their leadership.
I’ll be watching from the audience. The kids are older, the teaching is part-time, and I get notes back on the book outline this week. But I won’t disappear completely.
This is my creative community. I’m not letting it go.
Your 2020 MWA Midwest Board
Kristen Lepionka (OH)
Tracy Clark (IL)
Mindy Mejia (MN)
Libby Kirsch (IL)
Meredith Doench (OH)
Shaun Harris (WI)
Steve Goble (OH)
M.A. Monnin (MO)
Alexia Gordon (IL)
Erica Ruth Neubauer (WI)
2019 Holton Award Winners
Kristine Larsen Spanier
"The Exchange Principle"
Honorable Mention (Member)
Honorable Mention (Non-Member)
"The Tonganoxie Split"
A huge thank you to
Terri Bischoff for judging our member category for the second year in a row! Thank you also to Shelley Kubitz-Mahannah and Andrew Welsh-Huggins for coordinating the Holton program this year, and to Shelley, Tracy Clark, and Libby Kirsch for judging our non-member category. Member Kristine Spanier wins $250, and non-member winner Don Logan will receive an MWA membership ($115 value).
Accurately portraying people from marginalized communities
"Rules" For Writing LGBT Characters
By Jeffrey Marks
The year is 2019. LGBT characters are routinely shown on TV and movies. So why am I continuing to see the same tired old tropes in fiction? I just stopped reading a recent best seller for exactly these reasons, and while I wish that book were an outlier, it’s not.
I’m listing a few “rules” for writing LGBT characters that should be heeded.
Call Me by My Name
In 1985, Dire Straits released a song that included the word f****t in it. Most stations cut the entire verse or bleeped it for eternity. They tried to explain that the character spoke that way, but the listening public demanded it be removed. If it wasn’t a good idea 34 years ago, it’s not a good idea now.
You don’t get to use the word f*****. Ever. If you have a homophobic character, show us that he or she is homophobic. Don’t have him/her call another character f***** as your shorthand for homophobic. Use all the rules of characterization; show how they react when they see a gay man. Use their dialogue when they can’t imagine two women marrying. Don’t resort to name calling. Same goes for derogatory names for lesbians, bisexual people, and all other sexual minorities.
However, not all names have stayed the same. The word “queer,” which was once used as an insult, is now an umbrella term for all sexual minorities and includes gender diversity as well. The word has been reclaimed and is often the preferred term.
“Preference” is still not used. The only person who would use that word is a hater. Use the word “orientation.” Preference implies a choice; orientation does not. Your characters will know this. You should too. While the exact origins of orientation are not known, there seems to be a biological element, which means it’s not a choice.
You should know your characters’ pronouns. Unless the story is to be told in first-person, the LGBTQ characters will be addressed in third-person and each character will have their own set of pronouns based on how they perceive themselves. Just as in real life, where you should ask people how they prefer to be addressed, ask your characters too.
Tropes are for Dopes
The gay as victim plotline has been done to death. #buryyourgays is at times a legitimately trending hashtag on Twitter, as is “dead lesbian syndrome.” It refers to the fact that in almost all fiction, the LGBT characters don’t make it to the end. It goes back at least 90 years, which means there’s nothing new to do with that scenario. Patricia Highsmith was considered revolutionary for letting her two main characters live in
The Price of Salt.
And since we’re doing away with the gay as victim, let’s get rid of the gay as villain for ridiculous motives too. LGBT people do not murder people to stay in the closet. Trust me, I’ve done research. So the motive is not realistic. Actors Chad Allen and Neil Patrick Harris were forced out of the closet. Former Senator Larry Craig, despite being outed, continues to deny his orientation. None of them have ever killed to keep a secret.
Use stereotypes with care. Gay does not equal weak. I have a black belt in tae kwon do. While stereotypes typically have a grain of truth in them, the fact is that for every gay man who doesn’t know sports, there’s a Michael Sam, former college football standout. There is no one-size-fits-all character that can be used. Make your LGBT character as well developed as any other character in the book.
Don’t use a stereotype as a clue to the solution of the mystery. The sleuth should never say, “Only a man who knew the words to
Funny Girl could have killed Ms. X, which means that our gay character is the killer.” Don’t give us a list of over-the-top clues to the orientation of a character to allow us to “solve” the mystery of the character’s orientation. “Abigail could fix a flat tire, so she must be the killer!” It was outdated in 1970. It’s ridiculous today.
Introduce transgender characters with dignity. Learn the differences between cross-dressers, drag king/queen, and transgender, and don’t mix characteristics of each into a single character. It’s not realistic. Use the pronouns that your characters would want used about them. If you can’t determine those pronouns, then you’re not ready to write this character.
Terms To Know
Bi-erasure: the inclination to ignore the bisexuality of a person or character in history, present day events, and fiction.
BuryYourGays (along with Dead Lesbian Syndrome): the trope that sexuality minorities must suffer a terrible end in fiction and in film.
Cisgender: a person whose birth sex corresponds with their personal identity and gender.
Transgender: a person whose birth sex does not correspond with their personal identity and gender.
Pronouns: the part of speech that replaces the proper noun of the person’s name. In this case, the pronouns are the words that the person wishes to use instead of a given name. (e.g. he/him, she/her, they/them, shi/hir, and others.)
Queer: while once a pejorative, it is now an umbrella term, often used instead of LGBTQIA+.
Gender Non-conforming: a person who does not fit the traditional gender roles associated with their birth sex.
How to Fix These Issues
If you don’t know, use Google. Don’t assume that you know the LGBT experience because you watched
Dynasty in the 1980s. Things have changed — for the better.
If you still have questions or things are not clear, ask someone who is LGBT. Even if you don’t think you do, you know more than one LGBT person. Chances are they’ll be happy to answer your questions. I just finished reading a short story for a MWA member, and I’m about to start reading a novel with LGBTQ characters. I’d much rather read a novel by someone who cares enough to ask than to read another book by an author who hasn’t done the research. If you can find the time to ask a coroner to read your autopsy chapter and a police officer to peruse your procedure, then it’s no big deal to ask a LGBTQ person if you got the character right too.
Jeffrey Marks is the Anthony Award-winning author of Who Was That Lady? , a biography of Craig Rice, and the biography of Anthony Boucher. He lives in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Chapter meeting takeaways
Inside the Public Defender's Office
By Jennifer DeVries
Wisconsin Assistant State Public Defenders Erin Nagy and Guy Cardamone shared their expertise with MWA Midwest members in Madison on November 9.
Attorneys in the public defender’s office are assigned their cases after the initial arraignment; oftentimes they don’t meet their client for the first time until five or more days after the initial arrest. Time with their clients is usually short, forcing them to get very good at getting to know their clients and their circumstances very quickly.
Erin and Guy say that the first obstacle they typically encounter when meeting new clients is mistrust. They say that public defenders are referred to as the “great pretenders,” as if they are somehow less than private attorneys because clients do not pay them for their services. Books and TV shows don’t help this perception; oftentimes public defenders are portrayed as disheveled, disorganized, and bumbling. The reality is, they say, you’ll never meet more dedicated or tenacious attorneys who truly believe in the mission of their office:
to zealously represent clients, protect constitutional rights, and advocate for an effective and fair criminal justice system. Our commitment is to treat our clients with dignity and compassion.
And that is what Erin and Guy do; they understand that their clients are human beings, and they work hard on their behalf. In fact, they say that public defenders have good working relationships with the police because they have something in common: they see and work with people who are at the lowest points in their lives, and who need help the most. Clients are without adequate financial resources; in Wisconsin, a person’s income must be at or below 125% of the federal poverty line in order to qualify. Substance abuse — illicit drugs and alcohol — are prevalent.
Erin and Guy’s caseloads are heavy; in 2018 the State Public Defender’s Office appointed counsel in 140,520 cases; 60% of those were assigned across 374 staff attorneys. That averages out to nearly 225 cases per attorney. Most cases end in plea bargains in order to avoid a trial; only 3-5% of cases end up in front of a judge or jury. The criminal process is a long one; case resolution can — and usually does — take upward of 180 days, depending on the severity and complexity of the crime. Erin and Guy — and their colleagues — spend their time burning a path between the courthouse for hearings, the jail meeting with their clients, and their office preparing for upcoming conferences and hearings.
If you’re writing a story with elements of crime and a public defender, resist the urge to depict a green, overwhelmed, and bumbling lawyer. Remember the reality: these dedicated men and women work hard to overcome objections, build trust, and help people who need it the most.
Charlie's Mirror Jennifer DeVries lives just outside Minneapolis with her two busy kids, two cats, two fish, and probably a partridge in a pear tree. She is currently shopping her first novel, , and drafting her second.
What are your top tips for finding readers once your books are out in the world?
Question of the Month
BookBub is my go-to for discoverability. When BookBub began, I ran featured deals that skyrocketed sales. Over the years, as featured deals went from free to $1K and the probability of getting accepted plummeted to only 20%, authors gave up, overlooking the other opportunities there. I think that's a mistake.
If you have a BookBub Partners account, when your book launches, a
free New Release Alert goes out to your followers. Anyone who has ever clicked on one of your book’s ads or featured deal are included among your ‘followers.’
How do you build followers on BookBub? A few years ago, I had a contest to increase followers by using a graphic that resembled BookBub’s look. The contest lasted two weeks but within a three months my followers quadrupled and continue increasing. (I went from 1K then to almost 33K today.)
BookBub Ads, which allow you to target other authors’ followers, are another way to get your book in front of new readers. I use Book Brush and recommend David Gaughran’s excellent BookBub Ads Expert: A Marketing Guide to Author Discovery: Through BookBub, each and every one of my followers receives a free email about my newest book on its launch day. There are few methods out there that can compete with those results.
Leslie Langtry is the USA Today Bestselling Author of Cozy Comedies including the Merry Wrath Mysteries and the Aloha Lagoon Ukulele Mysteries, and the Greatest Hits dark comedy series. She lives in western Illinois with her husband in their newly empty nest that seems to have replenished itself with a horde of unruly animals.
As Dr. Samuel Johnson claimed, “No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.”
Well, yes and no. I’d like to make money from my writing, but money isn't the principal motivation, especially since the hourly earnings of writers tend to be lower than the federal minimum wage. I’m a lawyer by day and a writer at night. I’ve published a dozen novels and several short stories but never made enough to quit my day job. That’s okay. Fortune and fame would be nice, but meanwhile I’m having a good time writing.
So here’s what I suggest: create a presence on social media. You need to find a way to get your name and your book out there now that the good old days of book reviews and author profiles in big and small newspapers around the country are gone. The best way to create that presence is through your own blog. Make yourself post something interesting at least once or twice a month. It can be about your writings — or anything else you find interesting. Anything. My topics have included lessons I’ve learned from my dog and my Baby Boomer delusions of hipness. Of course, “interesting” definitely includes anything about your latest book — from its cover to its release date to your research to how you chose your dedication.
The blog is Step 1. Step 2: create an author’s page on Amazon and Goodreads, and include a link there to your blog so that every post gets re-posted on those sites. And every once in a while, link to one of those posts on Facebook or Twitter or even LinkedIn.
The result? The bigger your social media presence, the more likely people will find you and find your writings.
Michael A. Kahn is an award-winning author whose novels Publishers Weekly praised for their “intelligent, breezy dialogue and clever plotting.” A trial lawyer by day, Mike wrote his first novel on a dare from his wife Margi.
Once your book has been published, my best tip would be to have a presence on Facebook and Instagram every day. I’ve gotten many followers by posting a laugh for the day every morning. I stay away from anything controversial.
My second tip is to run a contest, giving away signed copies of your book. I usually ask for readers who would like to leave a review and then choose from those who enter.
Another tip is to make a video sharing something with readers to run on your website and advertise it on Facebook and Instagram. I made a humorous video of writing tips that sent a huge number of people to my website, where they got to see all the covers of my books and a preview of the latest. And I still get at least two people a day wanting to friend me just from the comics I post.
Kate Collins is a New York Times bestselling mystery author of thirty novels along with novellas and children’s stories. Three books from her best-selling Flower Shop Mystery series can be seen on the Hallmark Movie and Mystery Channel.
MWA Midwest Suports Skillen Elementary
MWA Midwest again collected books at Magna cum Murder for Skillen Elementary of Indianapolis Public Schools. Thanks to everyone who participated and to Tony Perona for organizing. (Photo: Tony Perona)
Reasons to celebrate
Lori Rader-Day’s Under a Dark Sky won the Anthony award for Best Paperback Original.
Kristen Lepionka’s What You Want to See won the Shamus award for Best Private Eye Novel.
It was great to see so many MWA Midwesterners at the Bouchercon Happy Half Hour organized by Shelley Kubitz Mahannah and Tracy Clark. More than fifteen writers joined to share stories and get to know each other better.
Writing as A.W. Hart: Killer's Choice (Wolfpack Publishing)
Writing as Don Pendleton: Cold Fury (Harper Collins)
A Very Mummy Holiday (Kensington)
Memories and Murder (Kensington)
Have a Deadly New Year (Kensington)
Once Upon a Trailer Park (Gwendolyn Books)
Share your news! Email us if you have a new book coming out, were nominated for an award, have a short story coming up or some other reason to celebrate. For new releases, include a jpg cover file, the name of your book, publisher, release date, and your website's url. Newsletter deadlines are the 20th of each month, and materials may take two weeks to be posted on the website.
We extend a 98.6-degree welcome to our newest members
S.L. (Sonia) Coney, MO
S. L. Coney writes at the intersection of literary and genre fiction. Their work has appeared in
St. Louis Noir, Best American Mystery Stories 2017, and Gamut Magazine.
Layne Fargo, IL
Layne Fargo is a Chicago-based thriller author whose critically acclaimed debut novel
Temper launched in July.
Linda M. Koeniguer, KY
Linda Koeniguer is a retired contract writer living in Independence, KY, who just completed her first manuscript, a traditional mystery called
See Them Dead.
Tracy Forgie Koppel, IL
Tracy Koppel lives in Chicago and is currently writing a contemporary romantic suspense novel set in the Midwest.
Susan Richards, MN
Susan C. Richards lives in Duluth, Minnesota, and is recently retired from her day job. Her first book in the Jessica Kallan cozy mystery series,
Write to Die, will be released by Coffeetown Press in 2020. Susan is currently working on book two in the series while trying to find a home for The Edge of the Moon, a novel of suspense.
The people who got it done
Your 2019 MWA Midwest Board
President: Heather E. Ash (IL)
Vice President: Kristen Lepionka (OH)
Secretary: Mia P. Manansala (IL) Treasurer: Adam Henkels (IL)
Tim Chapman (IL)
Tracy Clark (IL) Shaun Harris (WI)
Libby Kirsch (IL) Shelley Kubitz Mahannah (MN) Andrew Welsh-Huggins (OH)