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March 2019
Inside This Issue
The Crime Scene
Margin Call
Tax Planning for Writers
Question of the Month
Our MWA History
Member News
The Crime Scene
March 23, 2019
Murder and Mayhem in Chicago
9am - 5pm
Chicago, IL

March 24, 2019
11am - 2:30pm
Concordia College-Chicago
River Forest, IL
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 by March 8 to guarantee lunch.
Register Now

March 28-31, 2019
Left Coast Crime
Vancouver, Canada

Friday, March 29, 2019
MWA-MW Happy Half Hour
6pm - 6:30pm
Grain / Hyatt Regency
Vancouver, Canada
Members RSVP to

April 23, 2019
Police Academy Field Trip

Morning Start Time TBA
Chicago, IL
See what police recruits go through before they hit the street! Two hours, members only (max 20). RSVP by April 4 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.

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.

May 11-12, 2019
The Loft's Wordplay Book Party
Minneapolis, MN
Watch your inboxes for a special invitation to sell and sign your books in the MWA Midwest Chapter booth at the Festival!

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.

Last Chance to Register For MWA-U

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 by March 8 to guarantee lunch.

Register Now
Margin Call: MWA-U Preview

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

This month's conversation is an excerpt from an interview between Chapter V.P. Kristen Lepionka and our MWA-U Guest Speaker Cheryl A. Head that recently appeared in Mystery Tribune. We thought it was a great introduction to both Cheryl and some of the challenges the MWA-U workshop will address on March 24. We hope you'll join us!
KRISTEN LEPIONKA: You write a series about queer, black private investigator Charlie Mack. What made you decide to write PI fiction? Is creating a character like this in a sub-genre seriously lacking in diversity important to you?

CHERYL HEAD: Yes. It’s very important to me to see a character like myself in the P.I. space. I’ve always held the conceit that African-American women are born to be investigators. LOL. I’m a huge fan of the mainstream P.I. genre. I love the archetype of the intentional private investigator–the loner, intellectually curious, code of honor, protector of the underdog.

Those things resonate with me.  I’ve read the amazing classic series with female investigators: Warshawski, Millhone, Precious Ramotswe. I’m also reading a lot of the new female P.I. series like yours, Tracy Clark’s, Aimee Hix's.  What can I say, I love a smart, capable, fearless, woman sleuth. Flaws and all.

KL: The flaws are the best part! So, your series is set in Detroit (where you’re from). How does location inform your writing? Are there unique challenges to writing an LGBTQ+ protagonist in a Midwestern city?

CH: Location is very, very important to me. I believe Detroit is one of America’s bellwether cities. Its past is certainly steeped in the success of American manufacturing and in the United State’s reputation as a superpower.  One need only look at the role Detroit played in World War II’s so-called Arsenal of Democracy.

Then there’s Detroit’s preeminence in American music with the influence of Motown Records. The ingenuity of Henry Ford (racist though he may have been) in conceiving of the assembly line.  The creativity of the city from Lily Tomlin to Eminem to Berry Gordy to Elmore Leonard (just to bring this back to crime writing).  Can you tell I’m a Detroit booster?

My Charlie Mack Motown Mystery series is set in the mid-2000’s, one of Detroit’s low pointspolitically, culturally, financially.  It is great fodder for crime plots. And although Detroit is not particularly known for a large and robust LGBTQ community, that fact shows up in my protagonist’s conflict with her sexuality.

KL: Tell me about your journey to being published.

CH: I think my path is a bit unusual.  I wrote a first novel–not a mystery–about a handful of black soldiers surviving a segregated Army experience in Arizona during World War II. It was a labor of love.  I needed to portray the life I’d heard of while doing oral histories with black men, and women, who had served during WWII. These were not the ‘glory in battle’ stories we see so often in film.

But there was the quiet, courageous, tenacity in serving faithfully and with pride, while being treated as second-class soldiers. I think it’s an important, rarely-told story. I went about the agent query process to get the novel published, and I didn’t get a bite. Although, I did get a few encouraging ‘no’ letters.

I didn’t query a lot—fewer than twenty lettersbut I was impatient. So, I self-published the book Long Way Home, A World War II Novel, on Amazon’s Kindle and CreateSpace platforms in 2014. I was honored to receive finalist status from the Next Generation Indie Book Awards in two categories: African-American literature, and Historical Fiction.  The research and writing for that first book took so much out of me, I wanted next to write something fun.

So, I quickly completed the manuscript of my first mystery, and again self-published. The principal of my current publisher, Bywater Books, read that mystery. We met, and talked, at a book reading during a women’s festival, and she signed me on to add new content, and re-issue the novel as the first in the Charlie Mack Motown Mystery series.

KL: Next month you’re teaching a workshop in Chicago about writing diverse characters. Let’s talk about why this is important in an industry full of poorly-written characters from marginalized identities (and of writers who talk about feeling persecuted for not being “allowed” to write people from different backgrounds).

CH: Here’s the way I see it.  Writers can write whatever they want.  But, if I write something I’m not familiar with, I research the hell out of it.  I knew about what the average person knows about WWII when I started writing my first novel.

But I spent hours with Library of Congress archives; interviewed first-person sources; read the letters of soldiers; looked at War Department films; studied maps; read books. I did my homework, because I wanted to do honor to the story. When writing about people who aren’t like you (which is the subject of my upcoming workshop for the MWA Midwest Chapter) please do the homework.

At the workshop, I’ll lead a discussion on the concept of building cultural competence. It requires humility in wanting to understand the nuances of culture and experience and language and history of a group.  It is a process, and not an end to itself. Readers will know, eventually, if you’ve been lazy in this part of the work of the writer.

Today’s diverse audiences expect to see themselves and expect accurate depictions.  I give credit, for instance, to award-winning mystery writer Tony Hillerman, who developed his cultural competence to write stories set in Navajo country that were well-received by those he was writing about.

Finally, let me say this, we need more diverse writers in the mystery writing community.  We already have a slew of them, writing really good work in the genre, including a strong slate of LGBTQ writers.  If we want the mystery/crime genre to continue to grow and thrive, we have to welcome the #ownvoices writers who do, and want to, excel in this writing.

I want to excel at it. I also know a whole lot of diverse writers who want to ‘do right’ by the genre and the community. Simultaneously, they want to elevate the genre with new ideas, and plotlines, and characters who will expand our readership.

KL: What advice would you give to new LGBTQ+ writers who are hoping to publish a mystery someday?

CH: Read mysteries like you drink water. There are so many good mystery writers. The genre has exploded.  Then start working on your individual work. Bring your authentic voice to the work. Write and read. I am learning every single day.

I know the only way to innovate in any discipline is to first really know the discipline. You can’t break the rules for the improvement of the work, until you really know the rules. It’s like jazz. You have to master the notes, before you can improvise.

Excerpted with permission from "Do The Homework: Conversation on LGBTQ+ Mysteries With Cheryl A. Head" by Kristen Lepionka on Mystery Tribune

Cheryl A. Head is the Lammy-nominated author of the Charlie Mack Motown Mystery series. Originally from Detroit, Cheryl now lives on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., where she has navigated a successful career as a writer, television producer, filmmaker, broadcast executive, and media funder.

Kristen Lepionka is the author of the Roxane Weary mystery series. Her debut,
The Last Place You Look, won the Shamus Award for Best First P.I. novel and was also nominated for Anthony and Macavity Awards. Her writing has been selected for McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Grift, and Black Elephant. She lives in Columbus, Ohio, with her partner and two cats.
Your Writing Income: Business or Hobby?

By Jessica Laine

“Is this the real life, is this just fantasy?” – Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen (1975)
Recently, several MWA-Midwest members braved bone-chilling temperatures and terrifyingly slick roads to attend the "Death and Taxes: A Writer’s Guide to Tax Planning" workshop led by author and CPA Mindy Mejia at the February Chapter Meeting in St. Paul, MN.
In general, an activity like writing is considered profit-seeking if it shows a profit in at least three of the previous five tax years. If your writing doesn’t meet the criteria, don’t despair: the IRS will use nine factors to determine whether your writing is a profit-seeking venture:
  1. Is the activity (writing) conducted in a business-like manner? All writers should have a written business plan with forecasts. Mindy has a sample plan posted on her website.
  2. What is the expertise of the taxpayers (writers) or their advisors? Have you taken or taught writing classes? Won awards for your writing? Received favorable reviews for your writing? Do you have an agent or a writing contract? Do you work with an accountant or have you attended tax seminars? If so, keep a record of these activities.
  3. What is the time and effort expended? Keep track of the actual number of hours you write as well as any hours expended towards marketing/promotion, networking, and administrative work.
  4. Will the assets (writing) appreciate in value? Mindy admits this may be a hard one to prove as writers may be paid different amounts by different sources for similar work.
  5. Success in conducting similar activities? Have you worked as a writer, journalist, writing instructor, marketing communications person, etc., in the past? Do you have business/entrepreneurial experience?
  6. What is the history of income or losses from the activity?
  7. What is the amount of occasional profits?
  8. What is the financial status of the taxpayer/other income sources? You can have more than one source of income, but the IRS does not want you to use your losses from one source (writing) as a shield from paying income tax. As Mindy said, “Tax planning is tax avoidance, but it is not tax evasion, which is illegal.”
  9. Are there elements of personal pleasure or recreation in writing? Mindy told us this factor was irrelevant. One judge famously said, “Suffering has never been a prerequisite to deductibility.” And, as any writer who has worked under a tight deadline knows, writing isn’t always a barrel of laughs.
With her closing remarks, Mindy told us she is working on a mystery involving an accountant so that “people will learn how thrilling accounting can be.” If anyone can write an amazing accounting thriller, it’s Mindy.

For more information and resources, visit Mindy's website and the #TaxAdviceforWriters blog series.

Jessica Laine is the winner of the 2017 Sisters in Crime Eleanor Taylor Bland award. Her story, “Lust to Love,” will be published in the mystery anthology, MURDER-A-GO-GO’S, on March 25.

Question of the Month: How Do You Achieve Work-Life Balance?

Susanna Calkins

I have a demanding full-time job and I teach one or two graduate classes a year (all unrelated to my writing career). I also teach short writing courses and sessions, do promotional stuff for my writing, and, oh yes, write a novel a year. I also have two kids. This means I have lots of balls in the air. In general, I adhere to four principles:

1) I keep track of all projects and tasks (work, teaching, writing, publicity, writing-adjacent stuff) with lists, spreadsheets and calendars, and I mentally break down all tasks into immediate, short-term and long-term components, with approximate deadlines.  Every day I make sure that I work on tasks related to each category.

2) I am mindful of “easy” tasks that can be done in short doses or which can be done with minimal concentration. So if I have an unexpected 20 minutes, or my kids are watching TV, I can usually knock off some easy tasks, instead of allowing them to accumulate and keep me awake at night.

3) I work on what I want, when I want to. I’ve spent enough time studying motivation for my day job to know how important this is. In the evenings and on weekends, I recognize that there are certain moments when I may be more in the mood to do research, create a workshop or to write. So I will just look over my list and think about what I need—and want—to do.

4) I remember that this is fun.  Related to point three. I make sure I build in social time... after all, it’s FUN to connect with other writers and readers. It is FUN to build a story. Remembering why I do this keeps me motivated and balanced... for the most part.

Susanna Calkins is the award-winning author of the Lucy Campion Historical Mysteries and the forth-coming Speakeasy Murders.

J. D. Trafford
Let me, at the outset, proclaim to the world that I have not in any way achieved a work-life balance. There are times when it gets really ugly. Like a lot of writers, I have a day job. So, it’s not just balancing work and life. It is balancing the “writing work” with “work-work” and then family, kids, general personal hygiene, and everything else. With that big disclaimer, I think that there are three things that have helped me keep most of the balls in the air most of the time.
First, I don’t keep my foot on the gas 365 days a year. Something has to give because all of these demands are in tension with one another. I go through really intense periods of writing, then I slow down, and then I ramp it back up. This change in pace allows me to energize the other parts of my life that may have been neglected. I accept the fact that I am not going to write every single dayeven when I want tobecause some days I just need to be a father or a husband.

Second, I have specific goals that I want to achieve with either my writing and/or the marketing of my writing every year. This specificity forces me to be realistic and purposeful.

Third, I write first thing in the morning before anybody else is awake. It feels wonderful, because then I can go through the rest of the day knowing that I inched ever closer to completing that next book.
J.D. Trafford is the author of
Little Boy Lost, which has now sold over 100,000 copies, as well as Good Intentions and the No Time series featuring Michael Collins. His new legal thriller, Without Precedent, will be published in March 2019.

C. M. Surrisi
To put it in context, I practiced law full time while I was married and raised kids, had a home, pets, autos, bills, friends, clubs, crafts, parents, PTA, sports… and I wrote. It was like a game of octopus frisbee. The way I found worked for me was to let the things that needed immediate attention have the attention and not fight it. I also learned to try and manage things out of the way before they became pressing. And I compartmentalized things so they didn’t compound with others and seem bigger than they were.
That said, sometimes work took more time than life by necessity, and sometime life got more time. I tried not to stress over it. Mind you, this was possible for me for two reasons: I had a supportive spouse and no financial strains. About seven years ago, I retired from law, went back to get my MFA in Writing, and now I write full-time. The kids are grown. Most balance problems solved. But it obviously took a good while to get to this point. A supportive partner goes a long, long, long way.
C. M. Surrisi has a BFA, a JD, and an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Along with her husband and two dogs, she lives in St. Paul, MN.

Next Month's Question: What's the best advice you've gotten from another writer?  Email us to submit an answer.
Our MWA Midwest History:
Florence Deppe Holmgren

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

By Jeffrey Marks
Florence Marietta Deppe was born in La Grange, Missouri, in 1908. She was the daughter of Charles and Pearl Deppe. At the age of 21, she graduated from Franklin College, just outside of Indianapolis. She would later marry Eric Holmgren, and her later works would appear under the name Florence Deppe Holmgren.
The couple had one child, a daughter. Florence Holmgren worked with War Manpower Commission, a war-time government agency that tried to balance the needs of the military with the personnel needed to run American farms and businesses. She rose to the position of a social worker for the government until the war was over. This led to Holmgren starting her own personnel service, and she later worked at the Lincoln Life Insurance Company as an assistant personnel director.

Holmgren always had a passion for writing of all kinds. While living in Indianapolis, she became the women’s editor for the Indianapolis News, the city’s evening paper. While at Lincoln Life, her job duties included preparation of the insurance manuals for the company. She also served as the editor for the Administrative Management Society’s newsletter, a Washington DC-based organization that focuses on improving productivity and lowering the costs of the processes.

Sadly, Holmgren wrote only one novel, The Mystery of Bent Cove, which came out in hardcover from Avalon in 1966. Holmgren passed away two years later.
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.

New Mystery Tribune Apps

Mystery Tribune has introduced two apps offering a daily dose of
flash fiction, reviews and essays. Enjoy the work of other
MWA members for free and submit work yourself.

Learn More
Member News
Penny DeBernardis, writing as Sasha Dawn, was nominated for an Edgar in the Young Adult category for Blink.

Sara Paretsky and Victoria Thompson were nominated for the inaugural Sue Grafton Memorial Award, which will be presented for the first time at the 73rd Annual Edgar Awards in April.

New Releases
J.D. Trafford – Without Precedent (Thomas & Mercer)
Lynn Cahoon – One Potato, Two Potato, Dead (Lyrical Underground)

E.C. Diskin – Desperate Paths (Thomas & Mercer)

Todd Allen – The Children of Loki:
A Hardboiled Magic Adventure
(Indignant Media)

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

Penny DeBernardis, IL
Kate Hannigan, IL (Reinstated)
K. Marie (Kathryn) Carr, KS

Mark Bello, MI

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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