Signing up for Noir at the Bar April 13, and Printers Row information coming soon!
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Clare O'Donohue is the president of MWA Midwest Chapter and the author of the Someday Quilt and Kate Conway mystery series.


The Crime Scene

Noir at the Bar
Hidden Shamrock, 2723 N Halsted, Chicago,
April 13, 2 pm-?
Email to secure a spot to read a three-minute piece of your work.

Malice Domestic, Bethesda, MA, May 2-4, 2014

MWAMW Chapter Meeting, Sunday, May 18, 1 p.m., Centuries and Sleuths Bookstore, 7419 Madison St, Forest Park, IL

Book Expo America, New York, NY, May 29-31, 2014

Printers Row Lit Fest, Chicago, IL, June 7-8, 2014
The MWA Midwest will host events, author signings and interviews, readings, contests, and lots more at our tent this year. Watch your email for a call for interested participants with available time slots for book signings and volunteer roles. We'll also be hosting a casual get-together on Saturday night for all members.

Fresh blood

Janet Cole, of Frankfort, IL, Affiliate
Meg Dobson, Ames, IA, Active

Adam Henkels, Chicago, IL Affiliate
Christa Selnick, Tiffin, OH, Affiliate
Gillian Flynn, Chicago IL, Active


The Line-up

A member's name was mistakenly left off the list of Love Is Murder Lovey Award nominees. Gunter Kaesdorf's Buried Truth was nominated for best first novel.

Patricia Skalka will host her the launch of her new title (and a new series) at Centuries and Sleuths Bookstore on Friday, May 16, 7-9 p.m.. The book is Death Stalks Door County (University of Wisconsin Press). All are welcome!

Letter from the President

Want to party with other MWA Midwest members??? 

On April 13th, MWA Midwest will host Noir at the Bar, an informal gathering of members and non-members who’ll read short passages from their work, enjoy a drink, and meet up with other mystery writers. It’ll be a fun event and I wish every member of the chapter could be there. But I know that’s not a realistic option.
So, I’d like to bring events to our members living outside the Chicago area. I’m looking for volunteers willing to organize an MWA Midwest event for their city or state (or part of a state, or two states… this is really flexible). It can be pretty much anything – an evening at a bar, an expert speaker at a local library or bookstore, a Starbucks meet and greet… You tell me what you want to do, and MWA Midwest will offer financial support to kick it off. (Within reason, so cancel plans to rent private planes or hire the cast of Breaking Bad.)
Once we have a list of volunteers and the area they cover, we’ll publish it in a chapter-wide email, and move forward with the first round of what I hope will become a regular thing for MWA Midwest.
Don’t wait for someone else to do it. Be the person to reach out for your area members. Contact me at to volunteer and/or get additional details!
Also we will be hosting a happy hour at Malice Domestic for MWA Midwest members. If you’re going to Malice, and/or would like to see additional happy hours at upcoming conferences, give a shout on our Facebook page, Mystery Writers of America Midwest Chapter. 

March meeting features former public defender Julius Kole

The March chapter meeting featured guest speaker Julius Kole. Kole is a Buffalo Grove attorney and has practiced as a public defender since 1978. He grew up in Rogers Park, and his experience being raised by his parents was firm limits and the occasional swat, like any kid. But when he started working in the Cook County Public Defender’s office right out of law school, his eyes were opened to the realities of the world.  Part of his job was defending parents who were accused of abuse and/or neglect. “It’s unbelievable what parents do to their kids,” he said, going into detail about families who would force their children to perform sexual acts, or who would punish their children by burning or scalding them. “I was twenty-five years old and thought I knew everything about the world,” he said. “This knocked me sideways.”
Kole spent two years in that job before switching to delinquency cases – stealing, drugs, sexual assault, and gangs made up the bulk of that work. He continues to represent juveniles as part of his current practice in Buffalo Grove, and says that families who moved from the city to the suburbs to find a better life for their kids are instead finding that the gangs are out there too. He says the saddest thing he sees is when juveniles are released from jail, but nobody comes to pick them up. Yet he would rather handle young people, because fifty percent of the time, the young offender uses the incident as a wake-up call and turns his life around.  That’s the reward. The other fifty percent are what Kole calls his “graduate students” – juvenile clients who return to him as adults for legal assistance.
Once he had children of his own, Kole made the move to adult court. He says the hardest thing about being a defense attorney is when clients won’t tell him the truth. His job is to protect their rights in the legal system, but if their story changes on the stand, people get mad at Kole – the judge gets mad because Kole doesn’t have the right story, and the client gets mad when Kole loses the case! 
He also deals with a lot of domestic violence cases in the suburbs. Inside the city of Chicago, 95% of abuse cases will be dismissed because the victims (most often women) won’t testify. In the suburbs, judges will threaten a victim with contempt of court if they refuse to testify against an abuser who is not their spouse. “Nobody deserves to be battered,” he said.
Sometimes he has hard cases where a crime was committed, but the offender is not a traditional criminal, but someone who has made a serious mistake. He also does a lot of real estate closings (which, he said, can be just as crazy as dealing with criminals) and wills. Everyone should have one, and writers should think about using theirs to designate an heir to the copyrights of their material.
Kole said he gets along with everyone in court, even the prosecuting attorneys, the police, and the judges. He sees it as “we all try to help people” and they’re all in the same boat.  When he wins a case, he feels good (unless it was a “totally heinous” case) and when he loses, then that person probably is guilty. Cole says, “As long as I did a good job, it’s all I can ask.”
--Heather E. Ash is secretary of the MWA Midwest Chapter. She's a writer of TV, film, and short stories.

Toasting Poe, again and again

By Cynthia Pelayo

In 2010, I flew to Baltimore, and before midnight on a frigid January 18th I positioned myself at the black, metal entrance gates of the Westminster Hall and Burying Ground. I waited until after five o’clock in the morning for a mysterious man who did not arrive. It was the first time since 1949 that Edgar Allan Poe’s toaster did not show on the author’s birthday to pay him tribute.

The next morning I returned to the cemetery and, following in the toaster’s tradition, took a sip of cognac and set the bottle down followed by three red roses. No one knows the true significance of the cognac, seeing as how the liquor does not appear in any of Poe’s works. The three roses are thought to represent Poe, his wife Virginia, and aunt and mother-in-law Maria Clemm. Jeff Jerome, the Curator of the Baltimore Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum, who had been officiating the toaster’s arrival since the 1960s, admitted his disappointment of the toaster not showing. He expressed that perhaps the toaster was ill or caught in traffic. We didn’t know then what would follow in years to come. 

The next year I was again at those black gates, hoping for a man in a black suit and hat, with a white scarf obscuring his face, and a cane in hand to stroll into the cemetery grounds. Instead, a parade of “faux” toasters appeared. Many received points for theatrics, one even arriving in a white Hummer stretch limousine. Many looked the part but none of them gave Jerome the secret toaster signal that Jerome says will go with him to his own grave. 

Poe was buried in an unmarked grave in 1849 after being discovered in a delirious state from which he would never recover. His body was eventually moved to the front of the church, beneath an impressive white marble and granite monument beside his wife and mother-in-law. Traditionally, the toaster sets his tributes at Poe’s original burial spot at the rear of the cemetery. In 1993, a cryptic note was left by the toaster stating that the “torch will be passed.” In 1999, another note stated that the original toaster had died. It’s thought then that the tradition was taken over by the original toaster’s two sons who shared the obligation.

I returned to Baltimore again in 2012, and again the toaster did not arrive. It was then that Jerome officially declared the tradition ended. I did not go to Baltimore in 2013, afraid of traveling while pregnant. So, this past January 2014, I wanted my seven-month-old son to share in a tradition that his mother had been following, and so we went to Baltimore for Poe’s 205th birthday.

This year, Jerome invited me to participate in the vigil inside, sitting in Westminster Hall. I was positioned at the rear, with a view of Poe’s original burial spot. After midnight we saw one man in appropriate toaster-like dress scale the seven-foot brick wall and fall onto the cemetery floor. He stumbled to Poe’s grave, paid tribute and exited the same way he entered. After an hour, another impos-toaster entered and paid tribute, leaving behind a crypotgram. After 3 a.m., on our exit from the hall and from the cemetery, a third toaster appeared. Yet, again, no secret signal was given, and again Jerome confirmed the true toaster was a no show. Before leaving, I turned around and carried my son to Poe’s original burial spot. We set down a dozen roses we had purchased earlier in the day and a bottle cognac, as well as a note I wrote that read simply “The mystery remains.”

Poe’s littlest toaster and I came back the next morning. We found a collection of roses, cognac bottles, notes, and poems. Many people know Poe’s toaster no longer shows, and each year the mass of roses and bottles has grown. I’m not sure if I will continue to go to Poe’s grave awaiting a Poe Toaster who I know deep down inside died in 1999. His sons who continued on the tradition for a short time did so probably because they wanted to honor their father’s memory, which is beautiful, but they did not have the same sense of duty their father had in honoring Poe.

We will never know how or why Poe died. We do know that millions have been inspired by his works, and for whatever reason, one man dedicated one night of the year, for decades of his life, to make a simple, but profound tribute to an author we all still honor. I thank you dear toaster and may you and Edgar Allan Poe rest in peace.

Storytelling in 120 pages

The first in a series of articles on screenwriting by Heather E. Ash

“My book would make a great movie!”
If you feel that way, and would like to adapt your book into screenplay form, there are some resources to help you. But first, I advise getting into the right frame of mind, because screenplays have requirements that are quite different from the prose form.
First is length. While the average novel is 80,000 words, yours can hit a wide range on either side of that depending on the demands of your story. But a feature film script can not be longer than 120 pages, and often clocks in between 100-110 pages. This is because the screenplay format is tied with production, and one page of a script equals one minute of screen time. It is such a reliable formula that producers lay out shooting schedules based on eighths of script time.
120 pages might still seem like a lot, but because of production, there is a specific format for each type of story element:
HEATHER types at her computer. LEGO constructs amidst the books and folders.
                                             HEATHER (V.O.)
                  All scripts are written in 12-point Courier
                  because other fonts can throw off page
                  length by as much as five pages!
                                             HEATHER (V.O.)
                  And while 120 pages seems like a lot,
                  scripts have a lot of white space on the
                  page. Descriptions are kept to a minimum.
                  If it can’t be seen or heard, it’s left out.
Luckily, there are software programs that do the heavy lifting of formatting so that writers can focus on their stories, which tend to also follow a page-specific structure of major story events occurring at pages 10 (Inciting Incident), 30, 60 and 90.
This may sound rigid and not much fun, but just as a Shelley sonnet is recognizably different from a Shakespearean one, the voice of a screenwriter will come through on the page.  The script is not a mere “blueprint” for a director (not a good director, at least), nor is it an inferior form to the novel.  A good screenplay will transport its reader as would a good story in any medium.
Luckily, screenplays are easy to find these days.  You can start by browsing the websites below for a favorite film, or do a web search for “MOVIE TITLE +script.”  Make sure it’s in script format (see above), and not a “transcript” where a viewer transcribes dialogue in stage play format.
Print out the .pdf, or download it to your e-reader, and read along as you watch the movie. Find another script and do it again. The more familiar you become with the parameters of script format, the easier it will be to visualize your story on the page.

More screenwriting tips to come in future issues of Clues.
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