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April 2019
Inside This Issue
The Crime Scene
Margin Call
Question of the Month
Member News
The Crime Scene
April 23, 2019
Chicago Police Department Academy Field Trip

9am to 12pm
1300 W. Jackson Blvd.
Chicago, IL
Golden opportunity for crime writers to tour a state-of-the-art CPD facility, talk to cops and recruits, and see how police officers are trained before they hit the mean streets. Come with plenty of questionsthis is a great chance to get them answered by those who know what’s what. Only 20 spaces. RSVP by April 17 at

April 28, 2019
Chapter Meeting: "Them's Fightin' Words"

1pm to 3pm
Elmhurst Martial Arts
681 N. York St., Elmhurst, IL
Write better fight scenes with demonstrations of different martial arts and self-defense techniques. Free and open to the public.

May 5, 2019
Chapter Meeting: "The Bieber Bandit"

1pm - 3pm
Hilltop Branch - Columbus Public Library, Columbus, OH
Retired FBI Special Agent Harry Trombitas discusses his three decades with the bureau, including some unique bank robbers.

May 11-12, 2019
The Loft's Wordplay Book Party
Minneapolis, MN
See below for some special MWA benefits.

November 8-10, 2019
Kauai Writers Conference
Kauai, HI
MWA members receive a 20% discount on this year’s conference. Enter code wg789 at checkout.


MWA Midwest is sponsoring a booth at Minnesota’s 2019 Wordplay Book Party,
May 10 and 11 in Minneapolis, where members can sell and sign books.

To get on the schedule, please fill out this Google form.
Applications must be received by 11:59pm on Monday, April 15.

The schedule will be released no later than Sunday, April 21.
  • Booth hours are 9am - 5pm each day. Length of time slots will be determined after applications received
  • Participating authors will need to purchase a $10 pass to the festival, which is good all weekend
  • Authors will sell and sign their own books in the booth
  • We hope to accommodate all requests, but due to limited space, priority will be given to Minnesota members, then the surrounding states (Iowa, North & South Dakota, Wisconsin)
  • If you live outside of the surrounding states, apply anyway! What if we have spots left over and you didn't ask for one? Get in there!


MWA Members-Only Get-Together on May 10

We're planning an evening event so that
everyone can join in the fun. Details TBA.

MWA Midwest hosts the panel “Mysterious Minnesota” on May 11 at 3pm

With members Allen Eskens, David Housewright, Mindy Mejia, and C.M. Surrisi. Moderated by MWA Midwest president Heather E. Ash, the panel will take place on The Loft pop-up stage. 

The festival runs 9am - 5pm May 10 and 11. More information on the line-up here.
Margin Call: Writing Accurate Muslim Characters

A recurring column with tips and resources for accurately portraying people from marginalized communities.

As a reader, when you come across a character in a book who’s like you, it probably feels nice and engaging to see familiarity on the page. As a Muslim woman, there are times when I rejoice at the familiarity when I come across Muslim characters in literature. There are other times, well, when I feel like I’ve been relegated to the role of Jasmine in Disney’s Aladdin. Jasmine’s American accent, “come-hither” kohl-rimmed eyes, and gossamer veils may make her character more acceptable to American audiences, but good grief! As if such stereotypes represent Muslim women.
As writers, we create worlds and characters from imagination. This is a wondrous thing. It also comes with a caveat that we carry a responsibility for the weight of our words. When we write about marginalized groups, we need to do justice to them.
What’s the catch? Well, if you’re going to write about Muslim characters, or any foreign or minority group, don’t consign these roles to caricatures. To do so is to fall prey to a type of negligent discrimination and, either purposefully or not, setting up an “us” versus “them” narrative. Any writer of worth should know to avoid adopting mainstream media portrayals.
So how does one avoid this trap? The best method is to do your research, as you would with any project. Read works by Muslim authors. Watch movies made by Muslims. (However, beware that Hollywood is notorious for its predilection for historical amnesia and political pandering, especially when it comes to stories about the Muslim world.) Go visit Muslim friends or even a mosque. I assure you, you will be welcomed. 
In literature, read Khaled Hosseini, who has done much to bring Muslim characters to light, in all their humanity which includes good and evil. Despite writing about a period in Afghanistan’s political upheaval in The Kite Runner, Hosseini focuses the attention of his story on the characters and their humanity, telling a story about childhood, betrayal, and redemption. In other words, his literary work was universal and spoke across the divides of race and religion while leaving the political aspect ambiguously to the side. The Book Seller of Kabul and Reading Lolita in Tehran also showcase similar narratives exposing the West to a native and Muslim cultural world. Ausma Zehanat Khan’s crime novel The Unquiet Dead features Detective Esa Khattak of the Toronto’s Community Policing Section, a contemporary first in terms of Muslim mysteries.      
Young adult and children’s genres also seem to have gotten the correct game plan in portraying Muslim characters. What makes these writers successful is that they’ve consigned the hijab, Muslim names, and cultural references to the sidelines while putting forth the human element that is universal.  S.K. Ali’s award-winning Saints and Misfits delves into topics that are common in YA literature: isolation, sexual assault, identity, cultural and religious assimilation, all the while creating characters that are mirrors of the intended readers whether they are Muslim or not. Hena Khan’s Amina’s Voice is a novel that resonates with every young middle school girl who has felt that awkwardness of fitting in and surfing the waves of friendships.
These two authors are Muslim, but non-Muslim YA and children authors fare also are writing universal Muslim characters. Svetlana Chmakova’s graphic novel Brave is a wonderful example of well-written Muslim characters with middle schooler Akila and teacher Mrs. Rashad. Akila is a smart girl who dreams of becoming the first Muslim reporter for the New York Times. Mrs. Rashad is physically fit, beating the social studies teacher in push-ups. They are allowed to be themselves on the page unapologetically, while breaking stereotypes. There is no deliberate mention of their hijab or religion. These characters mesh with the plot seamlessly which is a delight. Rick Riordan, too, wrote a Muslim character in his “Magnus Chase” series, a character imbued with all the magic and quirkiness of any YA and children’s literature, the only difference being she happens to be Muslim.
Chmakova and Riordan show that writing about Muslim characters without being Muslim is not only possible, but essential to breaking stereotypes, particularly for the most vulnerable in our society, our youth.
Art in its every form carries responsibility for humanity; its message must be universal. As writers, we must do justice to our readers, for our readers, and mostly to ourselves by holding ourselves to a higher standard in writing characters that mirror a marginalized narrative as true as possible.

Shabnam Mahmood coaches middle schoolers in a literary competition called Battle of the Books. She lives in Chicago with her husband, two kids, and a fish named Rumi.

Critique Program Readers Needed
Are you a published author who wants to give back to the mystery-writing community? Can you make time to provide constructive criticism on the opening pages of a manuscript?

If yes, we want to hear from you! MWA Midwest’s popular Critique Program runs May 1 to July 15, and we need published authors for the critiquing. Readers will have three weeks to provide feedback on 25 pages of an unpublished manuscript.
Email us to learn more, and please include what subgenres you prefer.

Question of the Month: What's the Best Advice You've Received From Another Writer?

Carlene O'Connor

Setting: Playwriting class. Seattle, Washington, 1999. Around the table, aspiring playwrights with scripts. I was very in love with my opening pages. A family drama/comedy. In my opening scene, a father and daughters engage in witty dialogue. I was sure the teacher would praise it. Praise me.

Toward the very end of the scene, maybe ten pages in, the mother storms downstairs, suitcase in hand, and announces she's leaving. I waited for the praise. The teacher glanced at my pages, then at me. "Your story doesn't start until the mother enters and announces she's leaving." That was it. I was stunned. Confused. What about the snappy dialogue? Why does my story not start until the mother's announcement?
Unfortunately, I didn't realize this was good advice at the time. Namely because she either didn't explain why, or I was so traumatized that I didn't hear it. My story didn't start until the mother came down and announced she was leaving because that was the first moment anybody wanted anything.
Man is a wanting animal. A driving want carries a story. An initial want starts the story. Until that want appears, there's no story.
She went on to tell everyone another valuable piece of advice: "You finished your first draft. Celebrate. Go out to dinner. Drink champagne!" She paused, pounded the table. "Do. Not. Buy. Stamps." (Translation: Do not submit first drafts, they're not ready yet).

Carlene O'Connor is the USA Today bestselling author of The Irish Village Mysteries, including Murder in an Irish Village, Murder at an Irish Wedding, Murder in an Irish Churchyard, Murder at an Irish Pub and, in February, Murder in Galway, as well as the holiday anthology: Christmas Cocoa Murder.

Bryan Gruley

The best advice I’ve received in 50-odd years of writing boils down to a Three Stooges episode. I might not be remembering this correctly, but it goes something like this. Moe, Larry, and Curly were tiptoeing along a steel girder high above the ground. “Slowly we go,” they said in unison. “Step by step, inch by inch."

I thought of that when a fellow scribe years ago offered the counsel that has proven so valuable to me both as a writer of novels and of long-form journalism. Alas, I can’t remember which of two writers it was who gave me this advice. It was either Joel Swerdlow, author of wonderful, sprawling pieces for National Geographic, whom I met while on a research fellowship. Or it was Doron Levin, a longtime pal who wrote for The Wall Street Journal and the Detroit Free Press.

Whether it was Doron or Joel—hell, maybe it was both—he told me this about writing books: Don’t ever stop to ponder the enormity of the project before you, the months of work, the hundreds of pages, the thousands upon thousands of words. Instead, focus simply on the task immediately at hand: the scene you’re writing that morning, that particular handful of pages, that sequence of words. Contemplating everything beyond risks paralysis. But if you stick to what you have to do today, then the next day, then the next, pretty soon the project won’t be nearly as big and daunting as it once was.

That’s what Joel or Doron said. Or—wait-—maybe it was Shemp: Slowly we go, step by step...

Bryan Gruley is a novelist whose first book was an Edgar finalist and a journalist who shared in the Wall Street Journal's Pulitzer Prize for coverage of 9/11. His latest book is Bleak Harbor. A sequel, Purgatory Bay, is coming early next year. He lives in Chicago with his wife, Pam.

Karen Harper
In February of 1996, I had the good fortune to attend two workshops and a dinner with famed British author P.D. James. I remember thinking, If I can just breathe this woman's air, it will help me! How well I recall (and still have my notes with) her advice.
James said she always began to build a book with a particular setting in mind, rather than a plot or character coming first. 
This surprised me, since her police procedurals present character and plot so well.  At that point, that was exactly what I had been agonizing over, because I always started with a place and built around that.  She assured me thenand I treasure her confidence boostthat however an author creates a story is right for them. 
I know setting-first puts me in the minority of how suspense authors write, but I remember her words:  "If the place seems real to the reader, everything else should, too."  P.D James died in 2014, but her advice lives on with me.
Karen Harper is a New York Times bestselling author who has been publishing books since 1982. She currently writes romantic suspense and historical novels. A former university (Ohio State) and high school English teacher, Harper now writes full time.  She and her husband live in Columbus, Ohio.

Next Month's Question: What's the most important thing you've done to improve your craft? Email us to submit an answer.
New from Mystery Writers of America Presents

Unlikely pairs join forces to crack intriguing cases in a new MWA anthology edited by NYT bestselling author Anne Perry, featuring original stories by top MWA members. Perry herself is joined by writers like Jeffery Deaver, William Kent Krueger and Charles Todd.

Odd Partners, edited by Anne Perry, is out April 23 from Ballantine Books and Mystery Writers of America. Available here.
Member News
Murder & Mayhem 2019
Jess Lourey and Heather E. Ash (left) and the The "Kindler, Gentler Murder" panel with MWA Midwest members Mia P. Manansala, Susanna Calkins, Carlene O’Connor, and Cheryl Head (photos: John Thomas Bychowski)
Bryan Gruley and Tracy Clark speaking on the "Killer Instinct" panel (left) and Mindy Mejia on the "Crime: Next Generation" panel (photos: John Thomas Bychowski)
Lori Rader-Day, Julie Hyzy, and Tracy Clark (left) and Jamie Freveletti and Emily Victorson speaking on the New World of Publishing panel (photos: John Thomas Bychowski)

MWA-U 2019:Characters, Not Caricatures
MWA-U presenters Mia P. Manansala and Cheryl Head (photo: Tracy Clark)
Look for a recap in next month's CLUES!


Ellen Hart's A Whisper of Bones: A Jane Lawless Mystery was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award for Best Lesbian Mystery.

Marcie Rendon's short story "Tonight Was Not Her Night To Die" is included in the anthology Down to the River.

Marshall Thornton's Boystown 11: Heart’s Desire was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award for Best Gay Mystery.

New Releases

Connie Berry A Dream of Death (Crooked Lane Books)

Julia Buckley – Death Waits in the Dark (Berkley)

Lynn Calhoon – Mother’s Day Mayhem (Lyrical Underground)

Lu Clifton – Seeking Grace in Beulah Land (Two Shadows)

Anna Lee Huber – An Artless Demise (Berkley)

Michael Beres – The Girl with 39 Graves (BookBaby)

Share your new releases with us

If you have a new book coming out, send your jpg cover file to:

Include your publisher, release date, and your website's url so we can link the image to your page. Please also include a single line from your book - you may see it on our website! Please allow at least two weeks for information to be processed.
Fresh Blood

Michael Thomas Ford - OH

Anne Marie Finley - WI

Your MWA Midwest Board

President: Heather E. Ash (IL)
Vice President: Kristen Lepionka (OH)

Board Members
Tim Chapman (IL)
Tracy Clark (IL)
Shaun Harris (WI)

Secretary: Mia P. Manansala (IL)
Treasurer: Adam Henkels (IL)

Libby Kirsch (MI)
Shelley Kubitz Mahannah (MN)
Andrew Welsh-Huggins (OH)
Pardon Our Digital Dust

We’re creating a brand-new, user-friendly experience at Don’t worry, there will still be members-only content, including forums and workshop videos! 
Look for the Raven in its new home in early May. Thank you for your patience during the transition!
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