Murder and Mayhem in Muskego

Barbara Vey -- November 18th, 2011



Michelle is one of our wonderful WW Ladies, a bookseller at Barnes and Noble and just attended Murder and Mayhem in Muskego as our Cub Reporter.

This was another successful event, full of aspiring authors, fans and our beloved story tellers.  The day was filled with thoughtful insight, dialogue and humor about the craft.

Karen Kolasa, a sensitive, is a Paranormal Investigator in Milwaukee.  She presented on the topic of Psychic Awareness and Psychic Detectives and broke down the variations between psychics.  Clairsentients can feel energy or emotion like when someone is near you and you haven’t heard them approach, or they can perceive the energy in a room they enter.   Clairvoyants see images, actions or events that are not theirs (the third eye chakra of all seeing). Clairaudients can hear thoughts or perceptions from external influences that often come quicker to them than their own thoughts.  There is an operant theory that everyone is born psychic.  Children tend to be more sensitive to the spirit world than adults are.  Adults can regain their psychic ability through meditation and practice.  In popular media we see psychics working with police but in reality no psychic is 100% accurate.  The abilities that have helped police solve crimes are Post Cognition which is to have a perception of the past you get a feeling as to what’s going on.  Psychometry is getting images, feelings or impressions from holding objects.  Some psychics can do Remote Viewing which is to send their spirit to a different location and sense what may be going on there.  Some psychics can communicate with the dead.

Tom Schreck, Gar Anthony Haywood, Markus Sakey, Jess Lourey, and Dana Cameron

Tom Schreck, Gar Anthony Haywood, Markus Sakey, Jess Lourey, and Dana Cameron

The panel discussion titled Won’t Get Fooled Again – Playing Fair with the Reader was a lively conversation with Joelle Charbonneau talking about needing to find something believable to identify with when building a character.  “You want your character to grow and change throughout a story line, but not changing the essence of who they are.”  Alison Gaylin, A thespian, stated that “for a book to be successful, it needs to end logically, factually and psychologically.  We need to make sense out of the senseless, like picking up a rock and seeing the dark side of life.”  Andrew Grant imagines that he’s telling a story and that the reader sees everything through the characters eyes so the decisions the characters make need to make sense.  Alison Janssen talked of character motivation and that the victim, detective and perpetrator are all connected like a triangle.  Gar Anthony Haywood creates a sketch of each character and loves learning new things about the characters he is writing.

Stefanie Pintoff and Kelli Stanley

Stefanie Pintoff and Kelli Stanley

My Generation – Mysteries in the Past this was a panel of four authors who write historical fiction and they shared the tricks of the trade and how to write within the framework of their time period.  Jeri Westerson writes medieval noir, and she uses history as her timeline which allows the sensibilities of the time period to come out in her writing.  Kelli Stanley writes two hardboiled noir series from 1940’s San Francisco and Roman Briton from the 1st century A.D.  She seeks to entertain and educate and approaches history from a basic humanistic approach showing that the people of the past were people too.  Reed Farrel Coleman was called a Hardboiled Poet by NPR.  His series is set in the mid 1970’s New York.  He shared his philosophical approach of “how long does the present last?  Now is the past.”  We need to be rooted in the assumption that people are people.  We all have similar feelings as well as those of our characters.  Andrew Grant shared a quote from L.P. Hartley, “The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there.”

The discussion moved on to Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere – Writing without Borders and was moderated by Jen Forbus from  For fun the panel was also asked to identify a theme song for themselves.  Megan Abbott writes hardboiled noir, which has mostly been a male dominated in the realm of characters so she writes female characters taking on a lead role.  She admitted there are things she “can’t bare to put on the page because I think of my mother reading it.”  Her theme song is “You Can’t Always Get What you Want.”  Sean Chercover tends to be a solitary writer and will use social media as a way to feel connected to his “Tribe” which he deems as the community of writers and avid readers.  One of his theme songs is Dance Like a Monkey.”  Hilary Davidson shared how whatever is going on in the book she’s writing somehow presents itself in her own life.  She sees the Kill Bill Soundtrack as a theme for her life.  Martyn Waites whose theme song is Boy Child, came from the UK especially for this conference, starts out writing from the point of view of wanting to know his topic better.


jennifer jordan, Stefanie Pintoff, Duane Swierczynski, Gary Phillips and F. Paul Wilson

jennifer jordan, Stefanie Pintoff, Duane Swierczynski, Gary Phillips and F. Paul Wilson

Next on the agenda was We’re Not Going to Take it – Breaking out of the Traditional where the authors talked more about building a believable character and how to get accurate information.  F. Paul Wilson in regards to researching history posed that “the closer it is to the contemporary the harder it is.”  Luckily with technology we have some tricks on how to verify some of the information for landscape accuracy.  Stefanie Pintoff who has a history in forensics, talked about attending events sponsored by the Citizens Academy which runs courses for people who want to know what the FBI does like finger printing, surveillance equipment, etc…  Within our writing, Jennifer Jordan admitted that “the bad guy doesn’t always know he’s the bad guy.”  When building his characters, Gary Phillips feels it’s important to establish “what is it for that person for them to act the way they do?  What is that one thing that keeps them going?  Some piece of humanity.”  Duane Swierczynski adds that most stories “dictate themselves” and that “your first book is the index for future novels”, which he references from John Connolly.

The last panel, Who Are You? – Characters Can Make or Break a Story had a spirited and humorous banter starting with our esteemed host moderator, Tom Schreck the author whose beloved character in the Duffy Dombrowski novels is a flatulent basset hound.  Gar Anthony Haywood talked of how heroes are well intentioned and he built his character on what de didn’t want him to be.  Marcus Sakey discovered the character as he discovered himself.  He also talked of how everyone in the book, reader included needs to be uncomfortable.  Marcus is also launching a new show on the Travel Channel called Hidden City which airs 12/6/11.  Jess Lourey commented that flaws are more important than the virtues of the character.  Having a little bit of a backstory can keep the momentum of the book going  if you write in a bad guy to your story that is based on a real life baddy, the more accurately you describe them the less likely they will recognizes themselves in the novel.

Michelle and John Connolly

Michelle and John Connolly

The day wrapped up with an interview with John Connolly by Ruth Jordan, author and co-publisher of Crime Scene Magazine.  John is the author of the Charlie Parker series, crime fiction short stories, ghost stories and the acclaimed Book of Lost Things which he recommends to anyone who wants to read.  It is written for adults about children, and is filled with regret.  John started as a journalist in Ireland and attributes his literary inspiration to the works of Ross MacDonald and Raymond Chandler.  John expressed that his “books became a chance for me to look at the world.”  He revisits ideas that interest him.  He views mysteries as a “journey through a psychological landscape that goes through a physical landscape.”  He encourages writers to “find things that trouble you, you’re passionate about or that are strange.”  He commented that “those of us who do anything, we do it to prove a point to someone else.”  He also feels that “you bring your life experience to the way you read a book.  A book changes you.”  He jokingly admitted that Michael Connelly is the son his mother never had.

John went on to say that “ebooks and printed books are not the same thing.  You don’t own an ebook, you have paid for the right to access it.  Books have a feeling of nostalgia.  They are markers for your life.   We hold on to them, they say something about the life you’ve lived.”

The opportunity I have had for the past three years in covering this event has allowed me to meet amazing people, talk books and get an inside look into the great minds of the many people whose books I enjoy.  Thanks again to the Friends of Muskego Public Library for sponsoring such a wonderful event.

Bottom Line:  For the book lover out there this is a must attend conference so keep Muskego in mind next November.

44 thoughts on “Murder and Mayhem in Muskego

  1. Chris Edison

    My husband and I have attended this event a few times, and it’s always been a wonderful experience. The authors are very accessible, the panels are always interesting, and the price is very reasonable, especially since lunch is included. Muskego is near Milwaukee or a 2-hour drive from Chicago.

    The list of authors is impressive too — here are just a few of the many authors we’ve seen there besides the ones discussed above: Laura Lippman, Cara Black, Greg Rucka, Blake Crouch, Megan Abbott, Dennis Lehane, Robert Crais and the writing team of Charles Todd. One standout presentation involved two police officers talking about real crime scene procedures and what the TV shows get wrong. We’ve met some great people and found out about a lot of cool mysteries. Highly recommended.

  2. Colleen Collins

    Wonderful write-up of the conference, thank you. Being a writer as well as a private investigator, I was interested reading the comments by Karen Kolasa, the paranormal investigator.

    And although I understand the gist of John Connolly’s comment that one can’t “own” eBooks but rather pays for the right to access them, I feel I own my eBooks. I carry several dozen on my iPad, and I’m always reading…in fact, I find I read more fiction now thanks to the ease of reading eBooks.

    This conference is on my calendar for next year.

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