Sunday, March 19, 2017

Murder and Mayhem, Chicago Style

by Julie Tollefson

Great swag.
Last weekend, I had the great joy of attending the inaugural Murder and Mayhem in Chicago (MMC) conference. I had two big professional goals for the day: (1) Learn something from the terrific lineup of writers and presenters that I could apply to my own writing and (2) meet some people in real life who I’ve only known online.

I’m happy to say MMC exceeded my expectations on both counts. The organizers (with Lori Rader-Day—one of my previous online-only acquaintances, now a real-life friend—and Dana Kaye at the helm) put together panels of authors, publishers, publicists, agents, librarians, and booksellers to talk about a well-thought-out mix of crime fiction and publishing topics.

The first panel of the day, Violence in Crime Fiction, played beautifully into my first goal. Panelists Lucy Kerr, Elizabeth Buzzelli, Nic Joseph, and Michael Harvey, moderated by Lynne Raimondo, unanimously agreed that violence is not the most compelling component of crime fiction, an opinion I hold as well. The aftermath of crime, the human reactions to violence are what make crime stories gripping and relevant.
New publications from conference
organizers Dana Kaye and
Lori Rader-Day.

As I listened to the panelists, I thought about my current work in progress, in which a young woman is murdered before page one. The story follows the tendrils of consequences and devastation her death causes in her small college town, especially how her murder affects her roommate, the cops who investigate her death, and her family.

One of the panelists mentioned the classic Raymond Chandler essay, The Simple Art of Murder. I’m a bit ashamed to admit I hadn’t read it in full before, but when I rectified that oversight, I recognized this famous passage:

But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective in this kind of story must be such a man. He is the hero, he is everything…He has a range of awareness that startles you, but it belongs to him by right, because it belongs to the world he lives in. If there were enough like him, I think the world would be a very safe place to live in, and yet not too dull to be worth living in.

Of course I indulged in
Chicago-style pizza, too.

These words and the panelists’ comments have been in my thoughts this week as I work on revisions to my manuscript. Crime and punishment as presented in news stories often appear to be black and white, but the best crime fiction explores the gray areas, too. And that excellence is what I hope to achieve in my stories.

The folks who put together this first MMC are already planning the second and beyond. If you’re looking for an outstanding experience filled with fun people, I give MMC my highest recommendation.

Do you attend writer/fan conferences? If so, what’s your favorite conference, favorite brush with greatness, or favorite story?

Chicago started celebrating St. Patrick's Day early. Shout out to this terrific Irish band at The Gage, a lovely, lively venue.


  1. Sounds like a great conference! I'm headed to the Midwest Writers Workshop in July.

  2. It sounds like a great event. I recently attended Murder in the Magic City and Murder on the Menu, which were excellent and a ton of fun.

  3. Oooh, Margaret - I've heard such great things about the Midwest Writers Workshop. I hope you'll report back!

  4. Warren - Were both of those in Alabama? Sounds like a fun time.

  5. Thanks for attending and for the thumb's up, Julie, my new irl friend!

  6. I used to live in Chicago (south 49th St! I get back every once in a while. I'd love to combine a trip with a conference.

    Sounds like you had a great (and helpful) time. I've made it to Malice Domestic for the past few years, and love it. I try to add at least one other conference each year.

  7. You did a great job organizing, Lori!. I'm so glad I got to be there for the first one. Also lovely to meet other members of MWA Midwest, including my lunch mates Tina, L.D., and Sharon!

  8. KM - MMC offers a newsletter so you can keep up on plans for next year. I think there's a sign up option on their website.

  9. Julie it sounds like a good conference. I went to Love is Murder several years in Chicago, but they stopped having them a year or so ago. I've been going to Malice Domestic every year since 2007. It's a great conference.

  10. I have got to get to Malice one of these years, Gloria. I had tentative plans to attend a couple years ago, but they fell through at the last minute. Someday!