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February 2019
Inside This Issue
The Crime Scene
Margin Call
Is Hybrid Publishing For You?
Our MWA History
Question of the Month
Member News
The Crime Scene
February 9, 2019
Chapter Meeting
1pm - 3pm
Highland Park Public Library
St. Paul, MN
Mindy Mejia, who is both an author and a CPA, discusses a broad range of tax questions geared specifically toward self-employed and freelance writers.

March 23, 2019
Murder and Mayhem in Chicago
9am - 5pm
Chicago, IL

March 24, 2019
11am - 2:30pm
Concordia College-Chicago
River Forest, IL
Join us for an interactive, no-bad-questions, we’re-all-in-this-together, practicum on how to write about people who are different from us–and why it matters.
Register Now


March 28-31, 2019
Left Coast Crime
Vancouver, Canada
MWA Midwest will host a Happy Half-Hour for members!

May 5, 2019
Chapter Meeting

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

May 11-12, 2019
The Loft's Wordplay Book Party
Minneapolis, MN
MWA-MW will have a table for members to sign and sell books

Chapter Meeting Beyond Chicago!
The February 9 chapter meeting is
MWA Midwest's FIRST outside of Chicagoland

If you're in the St. Paul area, please join us in person. If you're not, please watch for the video on the members-only section of the website.

Margin Call: Spice Up Your Story with Transgender Characters

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

by Renee James

If you want to spice up a scene or a plot line, try converting one of your secondary characters into a transgender man or woman and allow your hero and villain to respond to the new character. There are unique benefits to working with trans characters, and if you cast them in secondary roles you don't have to do a deep dive into transgender psychographics to come up with a credible character.

To get started, cast aside the ugly old Hollywood stereotypes of transgender people as women who are either prostitutes or buffoons. The truth is, trans people collectively offer the same range of personalities, intellects, achievements and emotional characteristics as straight society. But there are things that make transgender people different and interesting to work with as characters in fiction, starting with the fact that many of us live a substantial portion of our lives in both genders—identifying with one and being cast as the other. For example, when my heroine Bobbi Logan faces danger or intimidation, her first instinct is often to take violent, physical action, but her second thoughts tend to be more along the lines of, What would a woman do?

Appearance is the most obvious issue in dealing with transgender characters, and you can do a lot with it as long as you're respectful. There are three basic realities to work with here:
▪  What a person looks like doesn't reflect who they actually are. This is true of all people, but people engaged in gender transition present a dramatization of that fact.
▪  How a primary character responds to the appearance of a transgender character can define them in dramatic and interesting ways.
▪  You have an opportunity to show a dramatic character arc by having your primary character's understanding of a trans character change in the course of the story.

There are also deeper issues you can explore by introducing your primary characters to transgender people. For example, what can your hero or heroine learn about femininity by discovering admirable qualities in a transgender woman whose proportions are well off the cheerleader scale and whose voice isn't quite "right,"
but whose values might be the very definition of the stereotypical nurturing, idealized woman? How much more would we learn about your heroine if, while she was solving a murder, she was fraught with guilt about leaving her child with a transgender babysitter? Even better, what if the babysitter has some brittle edges because of years of rejection and condemnation?

One other thing to keep in mind when casting transgender people is that gender identity and sexual preference are completely different dynamics and, contrary to the beliefs of some, one doesn't drive the other: a man doesn't identify as a woman to justify his attraction to men, for example. So in your story, the transgender person next door may prefer intimacy with men or with women or with both or with neither.

There are many resources for you to learn more about trans people. Among the best: local LGBTQ organizations, many of which will help legitimate researchers make contact with leaders in the transgender community. GLAAD is the authoritative voice on LGBTQ issues and terminology. Consult their website here for current vocabulary do's and don'ts and for general information about progress and challenges. And is a website where you can locate interview sources if you strike out with local LGBTQ groups.

Renee James is the transgender author of the Bobbi Logan thrillers, including the award-winning Transition to Murder (2014; first published as Coming Out Can Be Murder), A Kind of Justice (2016), and Seven Suspects (2017).
Is Hybrid Publishing For You?

By Jen Collins Moore

How can a traditionally published author take advantage of the opportunities for self-publishing? Four MWA Midwest members shared their perspectives on how authors can take a hybrid approach, publishing some books traditionally and managing others themselves.

Why Do It

For Marshall Thornton, the two-time Lamda award-winning author of the Boystown Mysteries and the Pinx Video Mysteries, the entry into the world of self-publishing was about growing his income.
“For many years I had a great survival job, so it didn’t really matter how much I made from my writing. But then that job disappeared and I found myself in a situation where I had to live on my royalties."
Marshall got the rights back to almost all of his books and re-launched them. He tripled his income in the first year, and says it’s grown each year since.
For other authors, the appeal is the flexibility that comes with self-publishing. Libby Fischer Hellmann, author of fifteen novels and twenty-five short stories, says time to market is an important factor when she's deciding whether to take a book to a traditional publisher or to publish it herself.
"I wrote a novel after the 2016 election that I wanted to get out as quickly as possible. I knew it would be another year and a half if I went traditional, so I published it myself.”

New York Times bestselling author Julie Hyzy said self-publishing was a chance to publish a book that traditional publishers weren't buying. Julie had a string of successful traditionally published books, but she couldn’t find a publisher for a book that was different from the rest of her list, so she decided to publish it herself. “It was a lot of work, but it got the book out there, and it did well.”

Re-Energize Your Backlist

If you have a backlist of traditionally published books that aren’t selling, you may have an opportunity to revive them with new covers, new content, and dedicated marketing.

Jessica Lourey, the bestselling Agatha, Anthony, and Lefty-nominated author of the critically-acclaimed Mira James mysteries, negotiated the reversion of rights to her first ten books and revamped them before releasing them. 

“I eliminated all the scenes and words that the younger-me didn’t know were filler, and I tightened what remained,” she explained. “Then I added a series-long secret to book one that gets resolved in book ten. My goal was to increase series read-through.”

Jessica also stays flexible. "I repackaged my Murder by Month Mysteries as the Mira James Mysteries: Hot and Hilarious. When they didn’t sell as well as I would have liked, I swapped out Hot and Hilarious for Humor and Hijinks. The sales immediately shot up. Being your own publisher means you can be more responsive. This is a good thing."

Treat It Like a Business
Libby approaches self publishing the same way her traditional publishers do: she hires developmental editors, copy editors, professional graphic designers, and everything else required to have a professional end product.
“It’s an investment, maybe $5,000, to get it right. But I wouldn’t want my name on anything that’s not as professional as I can make it.”
Jessica agrees. “Successfully publishing a book is a hundred times harder than I’d imagined. It’s a financial and emotional investment, but the end product needed to be professional.”

Embrace Marketing

Helping readers find your books falls rests entirely with a self-published author. Libby comes from a marketing background, but says selling books is different than marketing for national brands. 

“It’s much more personal, just one reader at a time. And there is no definitive way to figure out what is getting you the best value for your dollar.” But Libby does it, measuring her success on how many books she sells.
There is a lot of information out there on how to promote your books, and Jess recommends consuming it all, then diving in. “When I started this indie publishing process, the thought of marketing gave me huge hives. I’ve since acquired a mountain of information. Now, the thought of marketing only gives me small hives.”
Be Realistic

Self-publishing requires a tremendous investment of time and money, and authors should ask themselves if they want to learn how to do it all, or if they would rather be writing.

“Look at what a publisher actually brings to the table,” Marshall says. “Then look at what you can do for yourself. Can you design a cover? How much money do you have to launch a career? Are you a self-starter? Be really, really honest. Know what you can do and what you can’t.”

For Julie, the answer was that she’d rather be writing. “I managed my backlist and my 100% self-published novel on my own for a while, until it became so much work that I wasn't writing as much new stuff as I wanted to.”

She turned the management of her ebooks over to a group that specializes in digitizing the back lists of established authors and says it was a great decision for her.

Marshall encourages authors to take the long view. "For most of us, it takes many, many books to make a living, and that takes years. Success comes one step at a time. Don’t give up.”

Jen Collins Moore is an entrepreneur living in Chicago. She is the editor of CLUES and her short fiction has appeared in Mystery Weekly.  She's hard at work on her first novel.

MWA Midwest Member T-Shirts
We have a handful of MWA Midwest Member t-shirts!
This is your FINAL chance to get a t-shirt before they’re gone.

Shirts are $25 + $6 for shipping. Send an email to with T-SHIRT and [SIZE] in the subject line.

Orders will be taken first-come, first-served. You’ll get an email in reply with a confirmation and details on how to pay. Please do not send money before you hear from us - your size may no longer be available.
 We have the following sizes available:
1 small - grey
1 small - white
1 large - grey
3 XL - grey
1 XXL - grey

Get yours now!

Question of the Month: What's the Most Important Decision You've Made In Your Writing Career?

Libby Kirsch

The most important decision I’ve made so far was when I started to treat writing like a business, not just a hobby. With three little kids at home, that required some juggling for me and my husband to make sure I got the time I needed for writing every day. For many years, it meant waking up to write from 5-7 in the morning to make sure I got at least a couple of hours in before the chaos of the day. But these days, writing is just the beginning.

The business of writing books also requires deep diving into marketing, learning how to automate a newsletter, deciding where and when to spend time on social media, and becoming reasonably proficient with photo editing software for promotions. This ain’t your grandmother’s mystery career. As authors, we must chat with readers on Facebook and Twitter, answer emails, send emails with valuable, new content that readers are excited to getnot just “buy me, buy me” promotional notes (although we must send those, too!). And let’s not forgetnetworking with other authors who write in our sub-genre, promoting each other when we have new releases, and sharing our love of reading around the clock.
These are things anyone in business must make time to dobut many of us hate the thought of mixing the muse with anything else. For me, making changes in how I saw myself (businesswoman and author!) made all the difference.

Libby Kirsch writes the Stella Reynolds and Janet Black Mystery Series, and was also recognized as reporter of the year by the Society of Professional Journalists, was nominated for an Edward R Murrow Award, and won an Emmy during her years as a television journalist. She is a newly elected board member for the Mystery Writers of America Midwest Chapter.

Karen Harper
The best decision I made was to start publishing all of my books under one name. I write in two genres, contemporary romantic suspense and historical novels.  All the advice I read urged writers with two genres to use two names. I followed this advice and used a pen name for three books in 1990s. Then I started picking up hints from readers and bookstores that they had not connected my pen name with earlier books they had liked.
Romantic suspense and historical fiction can seem far apart, but readers have broad tastes and are willing to follow writers they like. I get crossover readers thanks to my decision, and it makes promoting easier, too. Women's fiction has fewer boundaries than I thought.
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: How do you achieve work-life balance Email us to submit an answer.
Our MWA Midwest History: Charles Remsberg

The twenty-sixth in a series of short biographies of early MWA Midwest members written especially for CLUES

By Jeffrey Marks
Charles Remsberg was born in 1936 in Hutchinson, Kansas. Remsberg began his college work while he was still in high school. While attending college, he made a name for himself by reporting about a case of racial discrimination in fraternity pledges, where an Asian student had been disinvited to pledge a campus fraternity.
The case received national attention, in large part due to his reporting. Remsberg became the editor-in-chief of the Daily Northwestern, the campus newspaper, the next year. After graduating with his undergraduate degree in 1958 and master’s degree the following year from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern, he worked for the Chicago Sun-Times before trying his hand as a full-time freelance author.

During his time as a freelance author, Remsberg wrote over 800 articles on a variety of subjects. His works appeared in national newspapers and magazines including the New York Times. His work has garnered awards for his wide-ranging articles, mainly on topics of social justice.

Remsberg co-founded Calibre Press, a small niche publishing company that focuses on training materials for police officers. He has written several books on police tactics for various types of situations, and his books have been lauded by law enforcement groups around the nation. He joined the website PoliceOne, where he serves as senior correspondent, contributing pieces to the site on various police topics.
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.

Authors Wanted
Indiana’s Middlebury Community Public Library is seeking authors to participate in the Middlebury Literary Carousel on June 1.

The festival focuses on encouraging reading and promoting literacy
and is seeking authors to participate in a panel discussion and/or read from their books. Contact Victoria Gutschenritter directly at if you are interested in participating. 
(MWA is not a co-sponsor of this event.)
Member News
Susanna Calkins’s "A Postcard for the Dead" was nominated for an Agatha for Best Short Story

Tracy Clark’s Broken Places was nominated for a Lefty for Best Debut Mystery Novel

Allen Eskens’s The Shadows We Hide was nominated for a Barry for Best Novel and is a finalist in the Genre Fiction category for the 2019 Minnesota Book Awards

Brian Freeman’s The Voice Inside is a finalist in the Genre Fiction category for the 2019 Minnesota Book Awards
John Lutz's "Paranoid Enough for Two" was nominated for an Edgar for Best Short Story

Mindy Mejia’s Leave No Trace was nominated for a Barry for Best Novel and is a finalist in the Genre Fiction category for the 2019 Minnesota Book Awards
Nick Petrie’s Light It Up was nominated for a Barry for Best Thriller

Lori Rader-Day’s Under a Dark Sky was nominated for an Edgar for Best Paperback original and a Lefty for Best Mystery Novel

C.M. Surrisi’s A Side of Sabotage was nominated for an Agatha for Best Young Adult Mystery

Vicki Thompson’s Murder on Union Square was nominated for an Agatha for Best Historical Novel

Jane Ann Turzillo’s Wicked Women of Ohio was nominated for an Agatha for Best Nonfiction

Emily Victorson will be a "Meet the Small Presses" panelist at the March 16 and 17 “Let's Just Write: An Uncommon Writer's Conference” at the Chicago Warwick Allerton (

New Releases
John Lutz - The Havana Game (Kensington)
Lynn Cahoon – Corned Beef and Causalities (Lyrical Underground)

Molly MacRae – Crewel & Unusual
(Pegasus Books)

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 the link to your website 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

Meredith Doench, OH
Marcie R. Rendon, MN
Deborah L. Woodworth, MN (Reinstated)

Michele LeNoir, KY
David Wieleberg, MN
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)
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