Chicago, Gangster style.

The hosts of the Untouchable Tour: Johnny Rocco, and South Side.

Since I’m writing a 1920s Chicago gangster novel, naturally I would be all about finding out the gangster history of the city. Part of this was done via the Newberry library, and part of it was done via a tour with Untouchable Tours. For me, being in a city where I don’t drive and I’m not familiar with the area, a bus tour worked perfectly.

The tour started at quite possibly the largest McDonald’s restaurant I’ve ever seen in my life. (600 N. Clark St.) Two floors, an escalator, and a food service counter on each floor. A black-painted school bus drew up to the curb, and we piled on.

First stop was the Holy Name Cathedral, opposite which was the flower shop where Dion O’Banion (leader of the North Side gang) was murdered. Alas, the flower shop is now a handicapped parking lot, but that’s progress. The cathedral is still there, with pits in the stone from where the bullets killed Hymie Weiss, O’Banion’s successor. Then, to more stops, including the former location of Colosimo’s Cafe (now a 1920s themed dinner theatre), an old brewery, the former location of the Lexington Hotel where Al Capone used to stay (shame that was gone), and a short tour of the South Side, and Little Sicily (now near to the university campus).

Perhaps my favourite part of the tour was seeing the Biograph theatre, where Johnny Dillinger was killed by G-men. Likely that’s because I’d only recently watched the film ‘Public Enemies’ (Johnny Depp, Marion Cotillard), and thus the scene was fresh in my mind. The theatre (and I wish we could have stopped) looked like it could have come straight out of the 1930s. When I next go to Chicago, I’d like to find out what plays there, and go so I can see the interior.

The final stop on the tour was the location of the St. Valentine’s Day massacre in 1929, where Bugs Moran was nearly killed, and seven of his associates were gunned down in cold blood. As the guide pointed out, the event brought Chicago and its gangsters into the national and international news. According to him (and I’ll take his word for it), a Chicagoan traveling cannot escape the relation to this event that occurred over eighty years ago. Capone and his men went down in history.

In all, nearly two hours of gangster tales and history, and a very charming delivery by the two tour guides. Next up… the Tall Ship Windy.

Traveling is fun! Day 1 in Chicago.

I love traveling. At the moment I’m in Chicago, and it’s been delightful. Taking it easy tonight, but I’ve been here two days and it’s felt a bit non-stop. Today I went on a gangster tour, sailed the Tall Ship Windy, and then went to Gibson’s for dinner.

The front of the Newberry Library.

But, today’s post isn’t about those places. Today’s post is about the awesomeness of the research library, Newberry Library. (at 60 W. Walton Street, across from the Washington Square Park.) I spent five hours in their reading rooms. Truly, I could have spent a lot more time, but I just didn’t have that much time. My main research goals were to look at several maps, the Illinois Crime Survey (a massive tome), and part of the Bessie Barnes papers.

Ms. Barnes was a producer of nightclub entertainment in Chicago and Milwaukee, and she worked during the 1920s and 1930s, with celebrities like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The library has all her papers and production notes, and I went through a box that included theatrical photographs of some of the performers, some letters, a stack of receipts and bills for shows, and some postcards. Stuff like that is what can help bring a story alive, all those little details that can make things that much more vivid in the reader’s imagination. (It also gives me a good idea of the cost of things, what people were eating– there were several menus too –and what some of the costumes were like.)

One of my favourite items to look at was a map of gangsters’ saloons and clubs, marked on a map of Chicago that was created in 1927. All the red dots give an idea as to which neighbourhoods were the most criminally populated, and there were also notes about which ethnicities lived in which areas of the city. Perfectly handy for me to use to create my fictional spots in the Roaring Twenties Chicago landscape.

And then, going on the gangster tour, I got to see some of the places up close… but that’s another post!

Workshop: Michael Hauge’s Story Craft

On May 12th, I had the good fortune to attend a workshop put on by my local RWA chapter. We hosted Michael Hauge, a well-known story and script consultant. He often presents at the RWA Nationals (I missed him in NYC last June, alas), and after taking his seminar, I can see why.

His seminar was split into two parts: The Outer Journey, which we dealt with in the morning’s session, and The Inner Journey, our afternoon’s work. The Outer Journey was very similar to what I’ve learned in other courses (Laurie Schnebly’s ‘Plotting via Motivation’ course comes to mind), but I would say that the afternoon’s Inner Journey part of the workshop was worth the entry fee and then some.

When I write, I’ve nearly always found it easier to deal with the outer journey and motivations of my characters (Character A wants X, thus must do Y), but the inner emotional journey is much more difficult to portray. My notes for the afternoon are voluminous and as I continue with my WIP, I’ll be using them regularly. (I already know that I’ll need to go back and rewrite, but I won’t do it just yet.)

Michael used examples from several Hollywood films, including Shrek, Titanic (which I still haven’t seen), Hitch (ditto), and L.A. Confidential (seen once, not well-remembered). Already in watching some of my favourite films (Casablanca), I can pick out the structure and character arcs with greater ease, and I know that it’ll help my writing.

Naturally, it was also a great time to chat and reconnect with my fellow Calgary RWA members, and we had a drink or two afterward.

LtoR: Michelle Pierce, Susan Bohnet, Karen Uhl, me, and Jill Flanagan. (photos by Suzanne Stengl -

Fundraising Auctions for Brenda Novak’s 2012 Cure for Diabetes!

I’m happy to say that I am a part of two excellent auction items donated to help Brenda Novak’s annual fund-raising for a cure for diabetes. The first is the Bandit Creek Books group, and we’ve donated a copy of every Bandit Creek novella published so far, plus a few extra goodies. Click here to check it out and bid.

And The Authors Red Room has put together a writer’s package, including a designed cover, bookmarks, a critique by Lisa Renee Jones, and editing from the staff editors (of which I am one). Click here to check it out and bid.

Bidding ends on May 31st!

I’m guest blogging again!

Yesterday I was guest blogging over at the fantastic blog “Guys Like Romance, Too!” as a part of their May, month-long, focus on F/F romance. Check it out here:

The story is one of those that’s pretty close to my heart. Partly because it’s my first published work, but also because it’s something that hits close to home. Though I live in a city with a population over 1 million, there is still a very conservative vibe, and occurrences of gay bashing. The province was dragged kicking and screaming into having to make gay marriage legal, and sometimes it seems like there is still a lot of resistance. I like to think that writing f/f romance is one way of turning the tide.

Book Review: Tiffany Reisz’s THE SIREN

Zach Easton knew that in the offices of Royal House Publishing, he was known as the London Fog,…

For me, THE SIREN has always been about Zach Easton. And re-reading the book on its release date is like settling into the embrace of an old flame, the one I never forgot. I’ve read so many variations of the book I can’t quite remember what scenes went through to the final draft. Phrases from the book flit across my mind at odd hours of the day, synonyms for thrust, literary fiction vs. literary friction, and I’ve never been able to fully remove it from my consciousness.

But Zach… oh, Zach. I’d have adored him even if he hadn’t happened to share his physical appearance with the gorgeous Jason Isaacs. Zach has depth, agonizing and painful depths. He’s the tortured hero, but put aside your ideas of the traditional romantic hero. Zach isn’t it. Will he rescue damsels? Not exactly. He’ll go through hell and back, and Nora Sutherlin, infamous dominatrix and writer, could be the one doing the rescuing.

This isn’t just a romance novel. It’s a book that will leave you gripping the pages and staying up until the wee hours of the morning just to find out what happens to Zach, and Nora, and Wes, and the rest.