Curtain Call

Well, that's about it for this blog: my experience at the "Love is Murder" mystery writer's conference, sponsored by the Drury University Honors Program, was one of the greatest, most enjoyable, and life-changing experiences of my life.

I learned an encyclopedia's worth of knowledge in just a few short days, from writing and publishing to networking and the writer's life. Added to that, I got to explore one of the coolest cities in the world, Chicago, before returning home. But lastly, and arguably most importantly, I made a number of friends that I will treasure for life.

I feel better about my choice of career and more confident in my ability to succeed in the world of editing and publishing. And that is priceless. So much for the fifth act of my story: I'm more than ready for the sixth!

"One should always be a little improbable." - Oscar Wilde

Friendly Faces

There's a lot to learn and do at any conference you go to, but one of the things you'll treasure the most is the number of friends you'll make along the way. This first picture is of my friend Scott and I. He generously offered to pick me up a the airport when I arrived, thus saving me an awful cab fare, and this gave me a friend to meet up with and eat meals with before I even got to the conference itself. Scott had been to the conference many times before (in fact, "Love is Murder" was the first conference he ever attended), so he had a lot of good advice for me. My experience would have been completely different without him, but I'm glad I never had to figure out what that would have been like!

These ladies - Lydia, Helen, and Sandra from left to right - were easily the comic relief of the conference. Hearing them talk about murder, sex, and the best literary tools for each was a treat. They were great meal partners, and I met them through Scott. Never a dull moment with them.

Here are Nicole and I at the hotel bar - we closed it down. She and I had a lot in common, and it was great to find someone closer to my age and in the same stage of writing as myself. We talked about our processes for composing and our lives at length, and if I'm ever in St. Petersburg, Florida, then I know I have a place to stay.

I walked away with business cards for all these characters and many more so we could stay in contact via e-mail and help each other as needed through the trials and joys of a writer's existence in the world today. I feel so much more comfortable going out into the market knowing that I have a safety net and support group like this one for encouragement and advice.

"Friendship is far more tragic than love. It lasts longer." - Oscar Wilde


Some Hands-On Research

Since this conference took place in Chicago, I thought it would be a good idea to do some exploring around town. The novel I'm writing is set in Chicago, so obviously a bit of research would do the piece some good. You know, give it that realistic feel and gritty flavor of the city. My first cool experience was riding the Elevated Train into the heart of town. I loved being able to see, as you can in this first picture, into the belly of the city. Making it a point to stand the entire trip, I got my train-riding skills up to the par set by the locals pretty fast. Feet apart, toes splayed out, rocking with the side-to-side and forward-to-backward motions - it was educational!
This second shot is also from the train. If you've ever seen Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window, then you'll know what it felt like to watch people climb their back stoops with groceries, chill out after work with a beer, or fight bitterly for a parking space on the ground below. Ah, the daily grind.
Here, I'm standing just outside Union Station (it's the building with columns to the right) watching traffic and pedestrians. The cabs are all different colors in Chicago, unlike other cities I've been to with only yellow, black, or white cabs. There's a separate lane for bicycles - another cool thing that sets Chicago apart. It's very biker-friendly, except at rush hours. Then it's every man for himself and woe to anyone who drifts out of their lane. I also noticed the people walk different here, too. In New York, it felt more natural in my experience there to walk bent forward, shouldering people out of the way to get by. Not so in the Windy City. Here, I found people walking with a kind of shuffle/kick, throwing their legs out in wide circles in front of them, as if sweeping the ground to clear away any objects or people. Weird, huh? I'm glad one guy I followed for a few blocks, copying his movements to learn the walk, didn't notice me. Imagine trying to explain that one: "Sorry, sir, I'm doing research for my book..."
I took the time to peer through a fenced-in construction area in the middle of the city to see what they were dong in there. You can see the beginnings of a foundation for a new building surrounded by four skyscrapers. As a mystery fan, I found this an ideal spot for a murder. It's funny, the different things that excite different people.
This is the Chicago River, a lovely shade of green and covered in broken ice. On the other side of this bridge is the Magnificent Mile portion of Michigan Avenue, a great area for shopping. And a great place to learn the ins and outs of the Emerald City.

I felt Chicago to be a great setting for my novel, and I loved getting to know her and her residents a little better. I can't wait to go back and learn more!

"It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors." - Oscar Wilde