I would call our trip to Chicago for ALA a success. Some things happened.

Everybody talks about how Chicagoans are rude; or at least, that is what people specifically told me (perhaps they tell other people different things?) but everyone was super friendly and helpful. Was it because we arrived the day before the big Blackhawks parade, celebrating the Stanley Cup Victory? Or is everyone just like that? For example, we asked a janitor at the train station a question and not only did he help, some bystanders gave us info too. I actually found people to be friendlier than in southern California.

Anyway, this is the highly complicated Chicago airport toilet, which fascinated me. There are 3 steps: wave your hand over the sensor; the new seat winds around; use the toilet. I don’t know if it gives you a brand new piece of plastic each time, or if it sanitizes (hopefully) the other piece of plastic. Other public toilets had no paper covers or anything, but I guess they want to make sure the airport is clean.

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The hotel was downtown, in the middle of nightclubs. The architecture is just beautiful. And, I figured out how to tell natives from tourists: natives walk fast. Tourists walk slow and take photos every two feet, which makes them even slower.

We visited the Art Institute on Friday, which was the day of the big parade. 2 million people in the park around the Institute. The concierge told us to walk in after the parade and it’d had time to clear, but when we did, the police officer told us we weren’t allowed into the park and the museum was closed until they cleared everyone from the parade out of the area. There were in fact two other entrances to the museum, but we did not know about them.

Then Cadillac said we could hit Navy Pier, which he said was, “Just around the corner.”

Now, I guess I didn’t know this before, but when my husband says something is, “Just around the corner,” he actually means like two miles. I suppose every other place we’ve been to, we’ve rented a car or took a bus or something. It was hot and humid and I had to go to the bathroom (having planned on the museum) and no cabs were coming our way because of the street closures.

So I went into a private condo and prevailed upon the guard to let me use the restroom. At first he said no, but then he relented. See? Chicago=friendly.

We finally walked to the Navy Pier, which involved going under a freeway and lots of me complaining. So Cadillac bought me an Italian ice and we went on the ferris wheel (image below).

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But we made it to the Art Institute later in the afternoon, and saw lots of famous works. You’re allowed to take photos at most of the exhibits, so I took lots. I love landscapes.

Below is a lion statue with a Blackhawks helmet on it, outside the museum.

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The ALA panel went really well. I had breakfast with Laura Lippman (bestselling mystery novelist) and Naomi Novik (bestselling fantasy novelist) before our panel, BEYOND GENRE. Laura writes smart, literate mystery novels with female protagonists that have many hallmarks of “women’s fiction,” i.e. women living their lives and dealing with their domestic problems (only they always have to deal with, you know, a dead body). I read I’D KNOW YOU ANYWHERE and not only was it entertaining, it is so well-written that it is definitely one of those novels whose reading of it will improve my writing (did that sentence make sense?). Naomi writes about dragons and seafaring and Napoleonic history, described as Anne McCaffery meets Patrick O’Brian; her work has been optioned by Peter Jackson. Yeah. NO BIG DEAL. Let me just calmly sip my coffee and eat my waffle and…HOW DID I EVEN GET ON THIS PANEL? Luckily, they were really nice and normal (at least, as far as I could tell, but you know how writers are), and I tried to appear somewhat normal also.

On the panel, I spoke about how when I first set out to write a novel, I had no idea which genre it fit into. My first book (never published) was called chick-lit. I wasn’t aware of chick-lit. Then I was told I was “women’s fiction,” and “women’s fiction” is supposed to have certain tropes, not of all which I follow quite perfectly. Mostly because there is not actually an Official Book of Genre, so I just fumble around and tell the story sort of the way I think it should be told. Thus, I am some sort of weird zombie hybrid writer. In fact, most of my first rejections said something like, “She writes in a fresh combination of literary and commercial styles– but we don’t think she fits our list.”

So many people had signed up to attend the session, that they had to reassign us to a bigger auditorium– like 690 when I last looked. I think around half that attended. This picture is when it was filling up. NOBODY would sit in the front row. Maybe because they didn’t want to strain the necks, but maybe also because it was marked SPLASH ZONE. Also, I apologize for not having a panel picture. I am sure somebody took one. You probably don’t even believe me. Yup, I just ran up on stage and took this photo and then ran away.

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Later that night, we decided to go to the hotdog stand where they curse at you. I know. Mild-mannered women’s fiction writer Margaret Dilloway visits foul-mouthed hot dog stand, just because she saw it on Food Network, and thought, Cursing? Hot dogs? Fun!  Maybe it’s because Cadillac was in the Army. My mother in law tells me that females are the Standard Upholders, so actually I am supposed to cluck disapprovingly when someone suggests visiting such a place instead of suggesting it myself; but I think one of the things my husband liked about me was my particular liking of this kind of humor.  We went there and there was a bachelorette party ahead of us and they ordered a Chocolate Shake, which is not a chocolate shake at all, but yeah, I totally saw that show.

On the way back, happily full of char-dog and with my ears and eyes not overly scarred, our cab got rear-ended while we sat at a red-light, thrusting us into the car ahead of us. An acky-dacky-dookie, as my husband calls it (sidenote: I have to do a post about all the words my family has made up. I’m sure every family makes up words).

Interesting: all of us yelled, “AAAHHHH!” in a deep, bellowing, primeva, surprisedl way. The cab’s rear bumper got crushed against the wheel. We got out and saw a young blonde woman trying to drive away. The cabbie told her he had to call the cops, that he had her plates, and that it’d do her no good to leave. She tried to offer him money. I got the impression she was drunk. The cabbie said he wouldn’t charge us (duh) and said he’d called another cab, but it was raining and I was in shock and wanted to throw up, so I said I wanted to walk. Luckily, I’d worn athletic shoes.

This time, Cadillac checked his map and said the walk home was kind of far– actually 1.6 miles, which was closer than the Navy Pier, BTW— but the fresh rainy air felt good. Also, I was afraid I’d be sick in a cab and then I’d have to pay a $50 clean-up fee on top of everything else. So he put his arm around my waist and we walked to the hotel, pushing through throngs of stiletto-platform-heeled women waiting outside of nightclubs (sidenote: people in stripper heels are VERY easy to push aside).

And another reason writers are weird: I was in shock, but I was also thinking, “Well, that’s what it’s like to have been in an accident; my teeth rattled; I feel like I’m out of my body and I feel sick;” and totally cataloged it for writing later. I also thought: “I don’t think I ever need to ride a roller coaster again,” because I didn’t like the shaken-up feeling.

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Waterworks building
Waterworks building
hot dog stand we went to right before we got smooshed
hot dog stand we went to right before we got smooshed
delicious churro at Xoco
delicious churro at Xoco