Tricks (and Treats!) for Writing for Young Readers, Oct. 23

Expect some treats and tricks—writing tricks, that is—as five Chicago-area mystery authors discuss writing and publishing stories for young readers in an event co-hosted by the Midwest Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America and Concordia University Chicago’s Center for Literacy Sunday, October 23, starting at 1 p.m.

The event will be held at Concordia University Chicago’s campus in River Forest, Ill., Christopher Center room 200. The event is free and open to writers and readers of all ages. Free parking is available in Lot 1, at the corner of Augusta and Monroe.

“Tricks (and Treats) for Writing for Young Readers” will feature Kate Hannigan, author of The Detective’s Assistant, winner of the 2016 Golden Kite Award for best middle-grade novel from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators; Keir Graff, executive editor of Booklist publications and author of two middle grade books, The Other Felix and, coming soon, The Matchstick Castle; Michelle Falkoff, author of the young adult titles Pushing Perfect and Playlist for the Dead; Amy Cattapan, author of the middle grade adventure Seven Riddles to Nowhere; and Natasha Tarpley, author of the best-selling picture book, I Love My Hair! and the forthcoming middle grade mystery The Harlem Charade and the co-founder of Voonderbar!, a multicultural children’s book publisher.

Signed books from each author will be available for purchase at the event. Those who want to participate in a contest to “costume” a drawing of Edgar Allan Poe (email mwamidwest at gmail dot com for the image) will be eligible for fun prizes. Light refreshments provided.

All five authors are members of the Midwest Chapter of Mystery Writers of America. Mystery Writers of America is the premier organization for mystery writers, professionals allied to the crime writing field, aspiring crime writers, and those who are devoted to the genre. MWA is dedicated to promoting higher regard for crime writing and recognition and respect for those who write within the genre. The Midwest Chapter meets in the Chicagoland area ten times a year.

The Center for Literacy at Concordia University Chicago creates access to meaningful and innovative language and literacy-related experiences in research, education, practice, service, and scholarship for the greater community and the university.

For more information, contact Lori Rader-Day at mwamidwest at gmail dot com. RSVPs requested at

2016 Holton Awards Contest announced

Unpublished crime fiction manuscript competition opens Oct. 1

Mystery Writers of America Midwest Chapter’s annual Hugh Holton Contest will have guest judges—agents from Browne & Miller Literary Associates

September 1, 2016-Chicago

The Mystery Writers of America Midwest Chapter is pleased to open submissions to its annual Hugh Holton Awards Contest—and to welcome guest judges for member submissions from Chicago’s premier literary agency, Browne & Miller Literary Associates!

Any unpublished writer, member or nonmember living in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota or Wisconsin can enter up to 25 pages of a crime/mystery/thriller/suspense story or novel manuscript to be considered for the Holton Awards Contest. Each submission must be unpublished, original, and the work of the submitting writer. Submitting writers must not have any novels commercially published (this includes self-published authors). Entrants can have short stories or other short pieces published. All entrants must live in one of the thirteen states covered by MWA Midwest Chapter membership (Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin). Only one entry per writer.

Submitted manuscripts by MWA Midwest members are judged by a team of agents at Browne & Miller Literary Associates. Manuscripts submitted by nonmembers will be judged by a panel of published authors and members of MWA Midwest.

Submissions DO NOT receive feedback within this process.

For those who submitted manuscripts to the Holton Critique Program earlier this year, there is no additional cost; you may submit your revised manuscript for consideration without the fee. For new entries not sent through the critique program this year, the cost is $25 for members, $50 for nonmembers, payable by check made out to MWA Midwest and mailed to Lori Rader-Day, PO Box 30173, Chicago, IL 60630-0173 or through Paypal to mwamidwest (at)

Submissions accepted between Oct. 1 and Nov. 1, 2016. Submit manuscript only in attached Word file or pdf to s.calkins (dot) nu (at)

Entries that went through the Holton Critique Program earlier this year are not required to have made specific changes suggested during that program.

Submissions should be no longer than 25 letter-sized, double-spaced pages with one-inch margins, with type that is 12 point Times New Roman or similar. Please number your pages; you can include the title of the piece in the header. No cover page is necessary. Do not include identifying details in the manuscript, as this is a blind competition. Include name, mailing address, phone number, and title of the piece in the body of your email.

For the winning manuscript by an unpublished MWA Midwest member, chosen by Browne & Miller, the grand prize is $250. For unpublished nonmembers, the top prize is a year’s membership in Mystery Writers of America and the Midwest Chapter (valued currently at $115). Winners will be announced December 11, 2016.

Hugh Holton was a Chicago mystery writer, a pioneer African American writer of crime fiction, and a member of MWA Midwest. He wrote eight books about Chicago Police Detective Larry Cole, all of which drew on his experiences as a Chicago cop. When Holton died in 2001, MWA Midwest launched a critique program within the chapter to remember Holton’s contribution to the writing community and to MWA Midwest.

Mystery Writers of America is the premier organization for mystery writers, professionals allied to the crime writing field, aspiring crime writers, and those who are devoted to the genre. MWA is dedicated to promoting higher regard for crime writing and recognition and respect for those who write within the genre. We provide scholarships for writers, sponsor MWA Literacy programs, sponsor symposia and conferences, present the Edgar® Awards, and conduct other activities to further a better appreciation and higher regard for crime writing. The Midwest Chapter represents members in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin. For information on joining MWA, please see the national organization’s web site at

Browne & Miller Literary Associates is led by Danielle Egan-Miller, a longtime member of Mystery Writers of America. Prior to joining the agency as Ms. Browne’s partner in 2002, Danielle held editor positions with Dearborn Trade, NTC Business Books/Contemporary Books and McGraw-Hill Trade.  She holds a BA in English from Loyola University of Chicago and is a graduate of the Radcliffe Publishing Course. She is also a member of the Association of Authors’ Representatives, Romance Writers of America, Mystery Writers of America, and The Authors Guild. Learn more about Browne & Miller’s team at


Congrats to our Printers Row Flash Fiction winner!

Congrats to Donna Thomas, who took home a bag of Mystery Writers of America prizes for her wonderful—and very quickly written!—story during our annual Printers Row Flash Fiction contest. Donna and her daughter stopped by our booth early on Saturday morning, and Donna’s daughter encouraged her to write a piece for the contest. By mid-afternoon, Donna was our winner!

MWA Midwest members Sara Paretsky and Lori Rader-Day served as judges, while Heather Ash was our moderator.

If you missed our Flash Fiction contest this year and all the other fun we have every year at Printers Row, watch for details for next year at this site.

Congrats to Donna, and thank you for letting us publish your story here!


No one tells Big Red to back down. And no one knows why he’s called Big Red – a mystery that spans well beyond the 32 years I’ve been living in my one bedroom hovel on Onion Grove. He isn’t big or red. And no one knows his age either. With Asians it’s hard to tell. His tanned skin seems wrinkle-proof and his jet black hair, slim physique and perfect posture had not changed as the decades rolled by. Meanwhile, my creaking old bones can be heard halfway down the hallway to my apartment.

Big Red never gets much mail, but once I glimpsed an envelope addressed to Mr. Sato Tanaka and it kind of jolted me – which was silly now that I think about it. I mean who would address a letter: “Dear Mr. Big Red…” but that’s what we know him by. And for some reason people around him, myself included can never say ‘no’ to the man. I don’t know what kind of Hoodoo he possesses, but I half expect he’s been living in the building rent-free. He wouldn’t tell me if I asked. But then we both have our secrets. He and I are the only current residents of the Onion Grove Apartments who were living here when JFK got shot.

Today, Big Red was in his usual spot leaning back in a rickety chair next to the back door, smoking a Camel. I pulled up a seat and we got to talking about some of the things the other tenants didn’t know about. Like the time Sal in 2E gutted his dog. Sal was a taxidermist of course, but still, he never said a word about the dog dying. One day little Kreedo was sniffing around, panting and wagging his tail. The next thing – he was stiff as a board, and Sal never batted an eyelash. He took Kreedo out for walks, only the dog had to be carried now. And once I caught a glimpse through Sal’s apartment door of fresh dog food and water in the pooch’s dog dish on the kitchen floor. Well, Sal has long since moved out.

An Indian couple with three kids moved in afterwards and they kept up a racket. Mostly we heard kids screaming and the man screaming – probably at the wife and kids.   Even though I couldn’t understand what he was saying, there were times he sounded downright homicidal. Once in the middle of the night there was a single blood-curdling scream. I shot straight up in bed and debated whether or not to dial 9-1-1. But everything was quiet after that. No bullets flew up through the floorboards, so I went back to sleep. The next day they were gone. The whole family. Packed up and left and were never heard from again.

Across the hall in 2W, Mrs. Tate and her sickly husband Al must have been awfully glad to see them go. They liked things quiet. And by ‘they’ I mean her – Lucinda Tate. We only ever heard about Al Tate through her. Al was bed-ridden, you see, with a variety of ailments I could never keep track of when Mrs. Tate rattled them off in the course of showcasing her martyr-like devotion to the man. She would recite an oral catalogue of all her ministrations to poor, dear Al for anyone she could corner into listening. Near the end though, she probably did it more to keep track of her story. Or maybe she actually did continue to go through the motions after Al was gone. Maybe she loved him so much she just couldn’t let go. Or maybe it was Al’s social security check she couldn’t let go of. Turns out they weren’t legally married. I felt kind of sorry for her when they finally rolled Al’s rotting corpse out.

Throughout our discussions Big Red nodded and smiled in remembrance, and I felt a kind of a kinship as one of the only two curmudgeons in the building. I felt as if Mr. Sato Tanaka kind of owed me a little something. So I asked, “Why do people call you Big Red?” Big Red smiled and stubbed out his Camel. “I’ll tell you” he said through a lingering haze of smoke, “in another thirty two years.”

-(Copyright Donna Thomas)

Our prompts this year, from MWA Midwest members were:

After seventy years on the planet, you’d think …

Walking down the dark alley I stumbled over…

When the lights came back on…

No one tells Big Red to back down.

She did the one thing a writer never should do…

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

MWA at Printers Row June 11-12

MWA Midwest members will be out in full force at Printers Row in Chicago June 11 and 12, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. See you there!

Full schedule here.

Saturday, June 11
Author Signings

10:00 a.m.-11:30 a.m.
Joan Bard Collins, Kristen Gibson, Lou Macaluso, Sue Myers, D.M. Pirrone

11:30 a.m.-1:00 p.m.
Raymond Benson, Susanna Calkins, Libby Fischer Hellmann, Suzanne Rorhus, Bryon Quertermous, Larry D. Sweazy

1:00 p.m.-2:30 p.m.
Lynn Cahoon, Anna Lee Huber, D.E. Johnson, Sara Paretsky, Elzabeth Perona, Lori Rader-Day

2:30 p.m.-4:00 p.m.
Sparkle Abbey, Tim Chapman, Leslie Langtry, Michael Stanley

2:55 p.m.
Marcia Clark

4:00 p.m.- 5:30 p.m.
Michael A. Black, Judy Lee Burke, Betty Hechtman, Nancy Herriman, Maggie Pill, Lynne Raimondo

Tent Activities

10:30 a.m.      “Path to Publication” with Larry D. Sweazy, Raymond Benson, Judy Lee Burke, Libby Fischer Hellmann, Bryon Quertermous

11:15 a.m.      Games and prizes with Lou Macaluso

11:45 a.m.      “Path to Publication” with D.M. Pirrone, Joan Bard Collins, Kristen Gibson, Sue Myers

12:30 p.m.      “How to Write Series Mysteries” with Tim Chapman, Anna Lee Huber, Michael Stanley, Lynne Raimondo, Lynn Cahoon

1:15 p.m.        “What to Read: Light-hearted Mysteries” with Maggie Pill, Sparkle Abbey, Leslie Langtry, Betty Hechtman

1:45 p.m.        “Path to Publication with Libby Fischer Hellmann, Raymond Benson, Michael A. Black, Nancy Herriman, Larry D. Sweazy


MWA member Marcia Clark in a Q&A with Lynne Raimondo

3:00 p.m. SPECIAL EVENT at Center Stage
MWA members Sara Paretsky and Lori Rader-Day judge a Flash Fiction contest: Ask for the prompts and join in the fun—for shouting rights and prizes!

3:00 p.m.        “Meet the MWA Midwest Board” with Tony Perona, Anna Lee Huber, D.E. Johnson, Lou Macaluso, Suzanne Rorhus

4:10 p.m.        “Partners in Crime: Writing in Pairs” with Cynthia Pelayo, Sparkle Abbey, Elizabeth Perona, Michael Stanley

5:10 p.m.        Games and prizes with Sparkle Abbey

Sunday, June 12
Author Signings

10:00 a.m.-11:30 a.m.
Sparkle Abbey, D.E. Johnson, Gunter Kaesdorf, Lou Macaluso, Bryon Quertermous

11:30 a.m.-1:00 p.m.
Julia Buckley, Julia Hoffman, Anna Lee Huber, Gin Price, Patricia Skalka, Michael Stanley

1:00 p.m.-2:30 p.m.
Paul Dale Anderson, E.C. Diskin, Charlie Donlea, Sheyna Galyan, Sam Reaves

2:30 p.m.
A.J. Cattapan, Jack Fredrickson, Frances McNamara, Carlene O’Connor, Lew Stonehouse, Charlene Wexler

Tent Activities

10:30 a.m. SPECIAL EVENT in Hotel Blake/Dearborn Room
MWA Midwest member Susanna Calkins leads a how-to on how to conduct research for fiction

10:30 a.m.      “Path to Publication: Historical Mysteries” with Anna Lee Huber, Nancy Herriman, D.E. Johnson, D.M. Pirrone

11:15 a.m.      “Path to Publication” with Nancy E. Johnson, Sheyna Galyan, John Fortunato, Maggie Pill, Sam Reaves

12:05 p.m.      Games and prizes with D.M. Pirrone

12:35 p.m.      “Ask the Law” with Lynne Raimondo and Adam Henkels

1:15 p.m.        “Path to Publication” with Susanna Calkins, Julia Buckley, A.J. Cattapan, Carlene O’Connor, Gin Price


Debut author Shaun Harris interviewed by Bryon Quertermous. FREE Advanced Reader Copies of “The Hemingway Thief” to the first 50 attendees

2:15 p.m.        Readings by Paul Dale Anderson, Jack Fredrickson, Patricia Skalka, Charlene Wexler, E.C. Diskin, Sam Reaves

3:00 p.m.        “The Dark Corners of Mystery” with E.C. Diskin, Paul Dale Anderson, Sam Reaves

4:10 p.m.        “How to Write Great Mystery Characters” with Patricia Skalka, Charlie Donlea, Julia Hoffman, Lew Stonehouse


Storyteller gives advice on reading creative work aloud


Dana Norris of STORY CLUB: How & Why To Read Out Loud

by Heather E. Ash

Most writers are great at getting our words out… as long as it’s in a room, alone, and working with paper. But storyteller Dana Norris argues that it’s equally important for writers to get their words out in spoken form. People attend readings to make connections with authors. Showcase your personality without putting on a show, and you’ll have people leaving with a copy of your book and a happy feeling about their time… especially if you avoid many of the common mistakes that she’s seen as founder and producer of the live lit series STORYCLUB.

Preparing to read out loud

You have about thirty seconds to grab your audience, and you easiest way to do that is to appeal to their emotions. Choose a selection heavy on dialogue and action, not description. Norris recommends producing an edited version of your passage to read out loud that aims for maximum excitement – and even an introductory sentence or words that will help listeners understand context. No one’s going to be upset when they read the book if it’s not exactly what they heard you read. They’re going to be excited to learn what happens next, because you left them wanting to know more. “Be ruthless with cliffhangers,” Norris advises.

Time is also a factor. Err on the side of short – ten minutes is too long to sustain momentum with the audience. Remember that the purpose of reading is to give the audience a taste of your writing style, not a book report. You will want to work on your timing and pacing well in advance. The average reading rate is 164 words per minute, so five minute of reading time is approximately 800 words. It sounds longer than it is. Read slightly slower than you speak.

You know your characters better than anyone, their voices and their physicality, and it is absolutely fine to use that in your reading. This is especially helpful with dialogue-heavy passages, but do not overdo it – sometimes turning your head to indicate perspective is enough. If you’re a man reading female characters, a minor alteration in your voice’s pitch or raising your eyebrows will go a long way… never do falsetto! And if your character has an accent, unless you can sustain it believably, best not to attempt it.

If your work has profanity, consider the venue. Barnes & Noble in the afternoon is not the place, but a bar at night is fine for adult content. When in doubt, ask the producer.

As you prepare your passage, make notes on the paper for yourself. Places to breathe. Reminders to look up at the audience (at least twice per page). Notes on voices and pacing. There are no requirements for font or format, because no one is going to see this paper – and yes, you should use paper, because it’s too easy to lose your place reading off an electronic device. Your paper will go into a binder. Why?

The actual reading out loud

You’re going to be nervous, and that’s okay. Embrace the feeling, and remind yourself that the audience is selfish. They want to be entertained, they want you to succeed, they want to not work hard. If you establish yourself as the leader in charge of the ship, you’ll be fine. This is why you have the binder. If you didn’t, everyone would know that you are nervous, because the thin paper would be shaking. Already, success!

When you get up to the stage, “plant your feet in one spot, curl your toes, and do not move.” This is easier if there is a microphone: position yourself to “eat the mic” – close enough to lick it (but don’t), speaking directly into or above it, not to the side. If there is no microphone, then project your voice to the back row. It is okay to ask if people can hear you.

Then say your name, and start reading the passage. Do not give your bio, do not explain what you are about to read, and for heaven’s sake, do not apologize for what you’re about to read. Just read. If you make a mistake while you’re reading, go on. Probably no one will notice. If you do pause for dramatic effect, make sure you look up at the audience so that you don’t appear lost. Silence is powerful, and can underscore a tense moment in your narrative. If you do have a complete nervous breakdown, try to make it entertaining. And if your audience does laugh – either because of your breakdown or because you’re funny – then stop reading. The laughter will come in a wave, and you should resume reading once it crests the peak.

When your time is up, simply say, “Thank you” and walk away. It is also acceptable to ask people to take out their smart phones and subscribe to your Twitter feed or other social media account. But leave only the stage. Always, always stay and listen to the other authors. Do not be That Guy who reads and disappears. No one likes That Guy, and you won’t be invited back.

How do I get invited to read out loud? has a calendar of live lit events around Chicago, though most tend to be nonfiction. For fiction writers, Norris recommends Fictlicious ( and Tuesday Funk ( Others mentioned The Tamale Hut in Broadview (, and Sunday Salon (

Attend at least one of the readings as an audience member, and if it seems like a good fit, introduce yourself to the show’s producer. Norris generally invites anyone who’s interested, but a shocking number of writers never follow up their initial introduction with an email. If the producer asks you to send an email, send the email. Now is not the time for self-doubt. With Norris’ tips in hand, you already have a huge advantage over most writers who read their work out loud.


See MWA Midwest authors reading their work live at Murder at the Mic, April 17, 1pm at 57th Street Books, 1301 E 57th St, Chicago, IL. Hear new (and work-in-progress) from Sara Paretsky, Julie Hyzy, Robert Goldsborough, Susanna Calkins, Lori Rader-Day, Sam Reaves, Tim Chapman, Kate Hannigan, Cynthia Pelayo, Renee James, Bo Thunboe, Nancy Johnson, Julia Lightbody, Bridgette Alexander, and Hailey Ardell.


Hugh Holton Critique Program opens

The Hugh Holton Critique Program, created in 2010 by the MWA Midwest chapter, was established to help aspiring mystery writers* develop and improve a manuscript related to crime fiction. Writers will be paired with MWA Midwest authors (published authors of crime fiction) who will provide critique and insights on a specific work-in-progress (up to 25 pages). Through their participation in the program, authors requesting a critique will:

  • Receive constructive and written feedback related to their manuscript
  • Be encouraged to reflect critically on their own writing, focusing on areas to improve and develop
  • Be eligible for the annual MWA Midwest writing competition for unpublished writers at no additional cost

To request a critique, interested authors must submit:

  • A completed cover letter (see details below)
  • 25 typed manuscript pages, adhering to style guidelines (see details)
  • Payment ($25.00 MWA Midwest members; $50.00 non-members)

Requests for critiques will be processed and authors will be matched as quickly as possible. We are taking submissions from April 1 to July 15. Cover letter and manuscript must be submitted to Susanna Calkins  by email to (at) gmail (dot) com. with the subject header: Holton Critique Program/your last name.

Payment may be made via Pay Pal to mwamidwest (at) gmail (dot) com or by check made payable to MWA Midwest (email the address above for the mailing address). Please note: Requests will only be processed upon receipt of payment.

Payments AND manuscripts must be submitted by July 15, 2016.

*Depending on availability, published authors may submit a manuscript they wish to be critiqued, but are not eligible for the Hugh Holton Award later this summer (details at thee end of this post). Unpublished authors will be prioritized over published authors.

Body of Email

Please include your contact information and manuscript title (please something other than “working title”). Let us know, too, (1) whether you would prefer your manuscript to remain anonymous to the critiquing author, and (2) how you have rendered your payment (paypal or check).

Hugh Holton Cover Letter

  1. What is the title of this work-in-progress?
  1. How would you characterize the sub-genre(s) of your manuscript? (e.g. cozy, thriller, noir, historical, traditional, young adult, paranormal etc).
  1. Please provide a one- or two-paragraph description of your story, offering some information about the major story arc and the point-of-view characters. This will help situate your reader.
  1. Do you have any specific questions for the author critiquing your manuscript?
  1. Manuscript formatting checklist:

____    Typed, Double-Spaced in 12 point Times New Roman

____    Page numbers in top right-hand corner

____    Proof-read for minor typos, spell-checked


Hugh Holton Award for Unpublished Writers

Unpublished authors who have participated in the Critique Program will have the opportunity to submit their revised manuscript to our annual writing competition in October. Two winners will be announced in December: one MWA Midwest member and one nonmember. The winner of the member category will be awarded a $250 prize. The winner of the non-member category will receive a one-year paid membership in MWA (worth $115).

Manuscripts for the Award portion of this program must be unpublished. Only unpublished writers can win the awards.

For additional questions, contact mwamidwest (at) gmail (dot) com.