Murder and Mayhem Chicago

A couple of weeks ago, I went to the first ever Murder and Mayhem Chicago event. A one day conference in the heart of Chicago, this event was phenomenal. As many know, I’ve been writing for years and years now with every intention of publishing my first book this year (2017)! So when I found out about this awesome event, I jumped at the chance to go.

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First, I have to explain how much I love Chicago. I’ve been to many cities in my life (Denver, New York City, Portland, Des Moines, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, etc.) but Chicago is by far my favorite. I know, I know, it’s riddled with crime (which makes it perfect for this event, by the way), but it’s still a wonderful city.

Anyway, back on topic…

The event was held for authors, writers, readers, librarians, etc. There was a huge list of guests that made up five different panels (minus the keynote) ranging on topics from Violence in Crime Fiction to Making a Mystery (or the publishing side of things). Obviously, some panels were better than others, but they were all very interesting and filled with helpful information.

Here are some of my takeaways by panel (forgive my terrible panel photos – I was more interested in taking notes than pictures):

Violence in Crime Fiction

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Speakers: Lucy Kerr/Erica O’RourkeNic JosephElizabeth BuzzelliMichael HarveyLynne Raimondo (moderator)

  • Crime fiction (at least most of it) depends on murder. However, the focus should be on the character, not the murder itself.
  • A little bit of violence goes a long way.
  • Elizabeth said we’ve accepted violence in novels because we are all violent, it’s born within us. (If only to protect those we love.) But instead of letting the violence out, we (hopefully) read mysteries!
  • Lucy said we’ve accepted violence in novels because it usually comes with closure whereas in real life there’s very rarely closure. There’s something reassuring about the bad guy getting caught.
  • All authors on this panel thought violence for violence sake (gratuitous violence) was wrong, but most didn’t have a specifically taboo subject (other than dogs for Elizabeth and rape for Nic) as long as it served the story.
  • Really good authors pay really close attention to the world around them.

Making a Mystery

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Speakers: Dana Kaye – Boutique PR Company (Your Book, Your Brand), Brian Wilson – Marketing and Sales for Penguin, Matt Martz – Publisher, Danielle Egan-Miller – Literary Agent, Joanna McKenzie – Agent Nelson Literary Agency in Denver (moderator)

  • Steps to Becoming Traditionally Published: Finish your novel, write a query letter, email query letter to agent, agent sends manuscript to publisher, publisher negotiates/auctions your book, you sign a contract, you edit your manuscript, work on marketing/advertising, book released.
    • Those are all dependent upon your book being something the agent likes, the publisher likes, and is sellable.
    • Process can take a long time (at least a year)
  • Agents get 200-300 queries a WEEK.
  • Sellers have around 600 books to sell a season (3 seasons a year).
  • Your agent is your representative. They don’t work for the publisher, they’re your ally. The editor works for the publisher.
  • Listen to the people you trust and let them do their jobs.
  • Treat everyone you meet as a potential reader, engage with them. Your readers are the most important people!
  • Remember why you got into this in the first place. The process of writing needs to be enjoyable. Be process oriented. Keep shooting up flares and eventually something will stick. Get a little bit better every day whether writing or in the business.
  • WRITE YOUR BOOK before even thinking about building a platform. If you don’t have a book to sell, a platform will do you no good.

Playing with the Past

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Speakers: Susanna CalkinsRJ KoretoVictoria ThompsonCheryl Honigford

  • Why write historical:
    • Susanna: You can bring readers into a different world (Susanna)
    • RJ: Problems that we think are modern have been around for years. What changes is how society addresses the problems.
    • Victoria: “The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there.” Seeing how people who lived before us dealt with issues. Doesn’t have a contemporary voice.
    • Cheryl: Loves history. Gives her an excuse to research history. Likes translating something to the reader.
  • Ways of getting information:
    • PhD
    • Primary Source Documents
    • Maps (online)
    • Google
    • Picture books (if photography was invented)
    • Read fiction from that time period
    • Listen to radio programs from that time period
    • Buy magazines off eBay

Genre Conventions and Why We Break Them

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Speakers: Alverne BallSean ChercoverMarcus SakeyShaun HarrisLori Rader-DayDanny Gardner (moderator)

  • “Formula is genre without a soul.” ~Shaun Harris
  • Marcus: Structure is important, very important. But it’s not a machine, it’s a diagnostic tool.
  • Young people want to read cross-genre books.
  • Lori goes through the roof when she hears the term “transcends the genre.” When you say it it’s saying the genre is crap (that only literary fiction is good) and the genre is not crap.
  • Down & Dirty on Structure (by Marcus): First act – setting up, meeting character. Break into second act – reacting to changes in the world. 2a – characters trying to react and challenges. Midpoint – story makes a massive significant change – you realize you were reading a different book. 2b – everything goes to poop. Act 3 – figuring it out. READ: Save the Cat.

What Experts Are Reading

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Speakers: Javier Ramirez (bookstore), Patricia Ruocco (library), David Hunenberg (bookstore), Jo Hansen (library), Nancy Johnson (moderator)

  • In a library ask who to talk to about getting your book in and schedule a meeting with them. Donate your book to the library. Have your family go in and check out your books occasionally so they’ll stay in the library.
  • Keep your website up to date.
  • Get to know the staff in a bookstore before pitching your book.
  • Have the name of your book on the spine.
  • Create a program in the library that has something to do with your book.

That’s it for the panels, but to finish it all up Sara Paretsky and William Kent Krueger had a beautiful keynote conversation about so many things from a Golden Retriever (which obviously made me happy) to worst pick-up lines to fearing they’ll be forgotten. At the very end Dana and Lori presented Sara with the first ever Paretsky Award. It was beautiful.

Oh and I wouldn’t be doing the event justice without mentioning the amazing emcee talents of Eric Beetner. He was absolutely hilarious. I hope they have him back again!

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All in all, I would love to go back next year. My favorite part was meeting some amazing authors including Lucy Kerr/Erica O’Rourke, Nic Joseph, Lori Rader-Day, Michael Harvey, and Marcus Sakey. I purchased all of their books at the conference and was able to get them to sign them for me! Woo-hoo!

I also sat next to an awesome woman who is starting to write in her retirement. We had some wonderful conversation and she gave me tons of ideas to improve my writer’s group.

Oh, and how could I forget the HOODIE! I am a complete sucker for hoodies, so this was a HUGE bonus for me!

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On a side note, it was Saint Patrick’s Day in Chicago (not the real one, but the parade and river dyeing) which made it even more spectacular for me because my favorite city was brimming with Irish love. It was fantastic!

~ Thankfully Exhausted

Ireland – Day 7 (Plus a Recap, a Music Video & NYC)

Today, we leave Ireland and head back to New York City.

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The Dublin Airport is such a nice airport. We decided to purchase some last minute gifts and souvenirs while it was tax free so we didn’t have to send in another tax form to get our tax refunded. The flight was longer going this direction and by the time we arrived in New York we were SO TIRED.

We should have gone straight to our hotel and taken a nap, but instead we decided to stick it out and head out on the town. BIG MISTAKE. By the time we had eaten dinner (Bubba Gump), walked around, and had dessert (Junior’s Restaurant) we could barely keep our eyes open for the Phantom of the Opera. Which leads me to some tips on travel (with a focus on travel to Ireland):

  • Think about the time differences and add up the amount of time you’ll actually be awake. Don’t count on getting sleep on the airplane.
  • Turn on the GPS setting for your photos. You’ll be thankful to know exactly where you took the photos when you get home and have 3,000,000 pictures of castles.
  • Be flexible when sticking to your itinerary. You won’t be able to do as much as you plan to do.
  • Know your non-negotiables and don’t miss them. Forgo other things if necessary, but don’t miss out on something that you absolutely HAVE to see. You may never get to go back.
  • Wear comfortable clothes. I read that wearing sneakers in Ireland was a big no-no and that you might be asked to leave certain establishments if you wore them. For this reason, I packed several pairs of shoes and thankfully my sneakers too because they were the only thing I wore the entire trip. I didn’t even wear my rain boots as the rain wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. I also packed several pairs of identical leggings and long sleeved t-shirts with some pretty scarves to mix it up. I knew I’d be wearing my rain coat the majority of the trip, so my clothes underneath were really unimportant.
  • Take an umbrella, an electrical adapter, one guide book (though I didn’t use mine at all, I was primarily on Trip Advisor), a journal, and a small purse that can hold cash and receipts.

Our trip was so amazing. We would definitely recommend going the Groupon route to get a reasonably priced vacation! Here are some of our final stats and our MUSIC VIDEO!

  • 2,211 km (1,374 mi) driven
  • 107,731 steps (50.91 miles) walked
  • 418 floors climbed
  • 60 hours slept

Ireland – Day 6

Today we are heading back toward Dublin!


Day 6 Itinerary for Thursday, February 25, 2016:

  • 6:45 AM: Leave Hotel
  • Traveling To:
    • Leap Castle
    • Glendalough
    • Phoenix Park
    • Newgrange
  • Hotel: Dunboyne Castle Hotel

This is how the day ACTUALLY unfolded:

We left the hotel very early (thankfully the valet agreed to leave our car out front so we could simply leave in the morning rather than getting someone to fetch it from the illusive valet parking lot) and there was frost and fog covering everything. Because Leap Castle is privately owned, we decided to forgo it and head straight to Glendalough. It turned out to be a great decision! On our way, we stopped at a petrol station to fuel up and get some coffee at Costa Coffee. The coffee was pretty good and the chocolate fingers were very good too. We also had a very low tire so we filled it up with air while we were there!

Glendalough was breathtaking. The lake was like glass reflecting the huge mountains and we didn’t even really encounter people until we reached the monastic site.

After exploring Glendalough, we headed into the mountains on our way to Newgrange (we decided against going to Phoenix Park because we had already visited it twice on our bus tour the first day). We stopped at the Glencree Center for lunch. The food wasn’t great but the coffee was good.

From there we went to Newgrange and did the tour. Our bus diver was an absolute crack up telling us about all the funny things tourists ask such as, “Where are the other undiscovered ruins?” or, “Why did they build this so far from the airport?” HA! Newgrange was surprisingly (for me) awesome. I didn’t have high hopes for it and didn’t even think we’d make it to the site with everything else we had planned, but I’m sure glad we did. Our tour guide was so interesting and even did a bit of the tour in Irish.

On our way to our hotel, we got stuck in serious rush hour traffic, so by the time we got to our hotel we were famished. Some of the locals at the pharmacy told us about a restaurant called La Bucca and it was absolutely lovely!

Our final stop was to a local grocery store where we spent around $100 on chocolate and candy for the kids (and us). Have I mentioned how delicious the chocolate from Ireland is? It’s DELICIOUS!

This hotel was much different from the others as it didn’t have the castle feel to it. It was nice, though, and comfortable.


Tomorrow we leave on a jet plane, saying goodbye to Ireland.

~Thankfully Exhausted

Ireland – Day 5

Today we are heading south and west toward the Cliffs of Moher!


Day 5 Itinerary for Wednesday, February 24, 2016:

  • 5:30 AM: Leave hotel
  • 8:30 AM: Visit Adare
    • Desmond Castle
    • St. Nicholas Chapel
    • Adare Manor Hotel
    • St. Nicholas Old Graveyard
    • George Stacpoole Books
  • 12:30 PM: Dingle/Dolphin Boat Tour
  • 3:30 PM: Cliffs of Moher/O’Brien’s Tower
  • Hotel: Dromoland Castle Hotel

This is how the day ACTUALLY unfolded:

It was super cold when we left our hotel around 5:45 AM. We even had frost on the windows that Nolan scraped off with our room key! From our hotel we drove for quite some time to get to Adare. I had Adare built up in my mind to be a couldn’t miss town full of thatched cottages, old buildings, and tons of history. Though it didn’t meet my expectations, it was still a fun town to visit. We had breakfast at a little cafe where a sweet group of women met and chatted at the table next to ours. Very quaint. The food wasn’t terribly impressive, nor was the coffee, but the atmosphere was nice.

After we ate, we walked around a bit through the town looking for the places listed above. Come to find out, it was much harder than I anticipated seeing as how there weren’t sidewalks that went everywhere and the bookstore didn’t even exist! A nice local man instructed us to head to Limmerick to find a bookstore, so we jumped back in the car and headed that way.

Though there were many bookstores in Limerick, there was also a great deal of traffic and the parking was a bit far from any of them. We knew that we had so much more to do that day so we decided to just head toward the Cliffs of Moher.

The Cliffs are very beautiful, very large, and very majestic. Both Harry Potter and the Princess Bride had scenes filmed there so my husband and I were equally intrigued. The only problem was we got there too early in the day and though it was beautiful and sunny, this made the pictures of the cliffs very dark. I would recommend going around 3:00 if possible in order to actually get a good view and photo. The gift shop at the Cliffs is really fantastic. We ended up getting the rest of our souvenirs here and we even were able to mail our kids postcards!

We then left the Cliffs and drove around the Burren which was fascinating. I found it intriguing at how vast the change was in the landscape and I was very glad we decided to do this rather than drive several hours to go on the dolphin tour (though I do hear the dolphin is rather fun).

We ate dinner at a restaurant in Ennistymon which was okay, the view, however, was spectacular. I was able to take some photos of a waterfall that was right outside our window.

Our last stop of the day was our hotel which was CRAZY POSH. The Dromoland Castle Hotel is one of the nicest places I’ve ever stayed. It’s one of those, mandatory valet, I’ll take your bags, robe and fuzzy slippers kind of places and we thoroughly enjoyed it. We ordered a beautiful piece of chocolate cake and ice cream (that cost more than our dinner, mind you) and enjoyed every last bite in our robes and slippers while watching a movie on television.

Tomorrow we head back toward Dublin and see some beautiful sites!

~Thankfully Exhausted

Ireland – Day 4

Join us for our “Free Day” where we had absolutely no plans whatsoever!


Day 4 Itinerary for Tuesday, February 23, 2016:

  • Free Day!
    • Spa?
    • Afternoon Tea?
    • Explore?
  • Hotel: Kilronan Castle Hotel

This is how the day ACTUALLY unfolded:

I am a planner and I like things to have a plan, so this day was primarily for my husband so that we didn’t have every single minute of every single day accounted for by some activity. I have to admit, however, I thoroughly enjoyed our unplanned day and will definitely be adding an unplanned day into all of our itineraries going forward!

We slept in and woke up a bit grouchy and in need of coffee. The problem is we didn’t know where we were headed! So we decided to try to find Nolan’s Castle (because my husband’s name is Nolan). On Trip Advisor it says it’s near Sligo but it definitely is not where the map says it is. So we were even grumpier because we couldn’t find the castle AND we still needed coffee. Thankfully we found a nice little place in Ballisadare called the Village that advertised breakfast all day! Hooray!

At this little cafe, we had the most delicious lattes and breakfast and we met some people who knew where to find Nolan’s Castle (aka Enniscrone Castle). They also told us where to go to find sheep in the road! Apparently this is one of the more annoying parts of driving in Ireland for the locals, but it was on my bucket list to see sheep in the road!

After we finished our lattes and breakfast, we drove around for quite some time in search of anything and everything! On our roundabout way to Enniscrone, we saw some breathtakingly beautiful views, talked to a local driving a tractor whose land we were actually trespassing on (he was super nice though and told us we could park and take a walk around – we didn’t because it was quite muddy and there was a mean looking dog), a stream with waterfalls, a bog and peat drying, and… SHEEP IN THE ROAD!!!

We finally made it to Enniscrone Castle and we hiked up to see it. Nolan was super excited to see “his” castle so we took lots of photos! Enniscrone is also right on the water so we headed down to the beach to take some photos there as well.

On our way back to the hotel, we stopped into two different pubs that each didn’t serve food so we ended up getting some snacks from a convenience store and then stopping to get some fast food at a place called Hot Rods. I have to say, Americans definitely do fast food burgers better than the Irish.

On Day 5 we are heading toward the Cliffs of Moher! Don’t miss it!

~Thankfully Exhausted

Ireland – Day 3

On our third day in Ireland we headed north to Belfast and Northern Ireland!


Day 3 Itinerary for Monday, February 22, 2016:

  • 7:00 AM:  Leave Hotel
  • 9:00 AM: Explore Belfast
    • Belfast Castle
    • Crown Bar
    • Titanic Museum
  • 10:00 AM: Crumlin Road Gaol Tour
  • 11:30 AM: Coastal Route to Giant’s Causeway
  • 2:30 PM: Giant’s Causeway
  • 3:30 PM: Bushmills Distillery
  • 4:30 PM: Dunluce Castle/Mermaid Cave
  • Hotel: Kilronan Castle Hotel

This is how the day ACTUALLY unfolded:

We woke up early again and headed north toward Belfast. We were super excited that we would be going into a different country and to see how Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland differed. We took a toll tunnel out of Dublin that was pretty neat to go through though it was relatively pricey. There are tolls in various places throughout Ireland. Make sure to have some cash handy to pay these tolls. Also there’s a license plate toll on the M50 but only parts of it. You have to make sure you keep track of them and pay them online, otherwise the rental car company will take the payment and any late fees off your credit card.

The trip to Belfast took much longer than we anticipated because we were hungry and got off the highway in search of food. So by the time we reached the city, we didn’t have time to go sightseeing. We did, however, make sure to take the Crumlin Road Gaol (Jail) tour and it was MAGNIFICENT. We had a tour guide named Gavin and he was incredibly knowledgeable, though slightly hard to understand. He also had a hard time understanding us, which we found to be the norm for most people in Northern Ireland. Our tour lasted about an hour and a half and was very intriguing. Though we couldn’t take video, we were allowed to take still photos!

Once we were finished here, we took the windy coastal route up to the Giant’s Causeway. It took a bit longer to take the coastal route but it was absolutely stunning. The weather changed several times on our way but once we reached the causeway, we were greeted with sunshine!

When we researched the Giant’s Causeway I had it in my head that it was a huge area of these hexagonal stones. While it was a wonderful site and something you definitely shouldn’t miss, I think you’ll be surprised, as we were, to see that it’s not as huge as was anticipated. We loved it nonetheless!

Next up, we went to the Bushmills Distillery which was very close to the causeway. Though the tour was fun and interesting, I was rather bummed that I couldn’t take any pictures during. I did find it interesting how they have various types of whiskey that are aged different lengths of time in various barrels in order to give each a distinct flavor. Though we were given a sample of the 10 and 12 year flavors, we only had a sip of each before we were on our way to go see the Dunluce Castle and Mermaid’s Cave. The bartender must have thought we were crazy returning our nearly full glasses but we didn’t want to have alcohol in our systems when we were driving plus we didn’t have much time before the castle would close!

I am so happy that we decided to go to the Dunluce Castle and Mermaid’s Cave. It is a beautiful castle but beyond that, the views off the side of the cliff that the castle is perched on are stunning. The Mermaid’s Cave is below the castle and if you are willing to walk down and back up approximately 120 stairs, you’ll find yourself in for a treat!

From here we had a LONG drive back to our hotel, so we found a nice little place to eat called Granny Annies and WOW the food was AMAZING especially the chocolate cake and ice cream. My mouth is watering just thinking about it right now! Yum!

The trip home was curvy and dark and rainy and the posted speed limits are for crazy people, like my husband, who like to race tiny cars around crazy mountain passes when there’s only enough room for maybe a car and a half to fit between the hedges or rock walls that line the roads. Needless to say, I was happy to be at our hotel! (Don’t get me wrong, my husband is a phenomenal driver. I’m just a worrier.)

The Kilronan Castle Hotel was another beautiful place to stay. It had the real castle feel complete with suits of armor and thrones, while still being very posh and cozy. This was probably my favorite place we stayed while on this trip.

Don’t wait to see what we do on Day 4, our “free” day!

~Thankfully Exhausted

Ireland – Day 2

If you think our first day was fun, wait until you hear about Day 2!


Day 2 Itinerary for Sunday, February 21, 2016:

  • 6:00 AM: Breakfast at Hotel
  • 7:00 AM: Leave Hotel
  • 9:00 AM: Visit Rock of Cashel Castle
  • 10:30 AM: Visit Cahir Castle
  • 1:00 PM: Visit Blarney Castle & Blarney Woolen Mills
  • 4:00 PM: Kilkenny
    • Black Abbey
    • St. Canice’s Cathedral
    • Roth House
    • Nicholas Mosse
    • Kilkenny Castle
    • Medieval Kilkenny
  • Hotel: Fitzpatrick Castle Hotel

This is how the day ACTUALLY unfolded:

We woke up after the most amazing sleep ever! Okay, maybe it wasn’t the most amazing sleep, but after being awake for so long, sleep was very welcome! Breakfast at the hotel was lovely, a wonderful assortment of familiar and unfamiliar (puddings) foods awaited our salivating mouths.


We left the hotel right on schedule in order to get to the Rock of Cashel as close to opening time as possible. The Rock of Cashel was absolutely beautiful! It seemed to be having some updates so there was a bit of scaffolding around it, but that really didn’t take away from the majesty of the castle. This particular castle is situated at the top of a very steep hill that you must walk up in order to visit. On this particular day it was relatively cold as well as VERY windy, so we made our way up the hill slowly while holding onto our hats!

Our next stop was Cahir Castle which was wonderful as well! Where the Rock of Cashel had no roof and was very weathered, Cahir Castle had beautiful white washed walls and the roof still firmly attached. One of my favorite parts of Cahir Castle was the light up display that told you the story of a battle by pressing various buttons showing you how they were invaded. It was fun going back outside and picturing how it all happened.

On our way to our next destination, Blarney Castle, we ate some sandwiches in the car. I got a kick out of the open tab on the ham that says “Release the Ham” and though the ham, cheese, and bread had a bit of a different taste than we’re used to in America, it was a great meal! We even had enough to eat the next day too! This was a very cost-effective way to eat while staying within budget. Oh and I must mention the chocolate, Ireland has the BEST. CHOCOLATE. EVER! It is so creamy and delicious!

Onto the Blarney Castle…


The Blarney Castle was AMAZING! I wish I would have known how much there is to see besides the Blarney Stone. The complex is gigantic with gardens and houses and caves and so much more! We didn’t get to explore as much as I had hoped we would since we had so many other things we wanted to see that day, but we did get to kiss the Blarney Stone and receive the gift of gab!

After this we decided to forgo going to the Woolen Mills and head straight to Kilkenny in hopes to get to see at least a couple of the attractions. What we hadn’t learned yet is that in Ireland everything closes really early. Like 5:00 early. So when we got to Kilkenny almost everything was closed. We did happen to find a Carol’s gift shop where we proceeded to spend a crazy amount of money on gifts for our family.

The other thing we learned quickly is that not all of the Pubs serve food in Ireland. So if you want to eat, you should definitely make plans to eat early or at your hotel! On our way back to our hotel we searched and searched for a place on Trip Advisor to eat (we got the in-car WiFi which was AMAZING and absolutely worth its weight in gold) and we finally found a place not too far from our hotel called McLoughlin’s Bar. It was an Irish Pub that did serve food, hooray, and good food at that!

And that’s the end of Day 2! Stay tuned for Day 3 as we head north to Belfast and Northern Ireland!

~Thankfully Exhausted