Monday, February 05, 2007

Windy City Predators

I'm a sense-of-place writer, and so far, my fiction has been set in places I've lived (Kansas, Oklahoma, Illinois, Texas) or visited regularly (Colorado).

My current WIP, E, is a YA gothic fantasy set in Austin, Dallas, and Chicago. I've lived in all three cities, but it's been some seven-and-a-half years or so since I felt the Windy City's chill for myself (though I have visited at other times of the year).

As I was reading my draft, it was clear that the Chicago scenes of the story weren't sufficiently grounded yet. That's a particular problem in a fantasy set in the real world where such foundation is essential for the leap of faith.

With that in mind, GLS and I made reservations for four nights at the Hilton and Towers. At this point, a certain amount of groveling, apology, and explanation to my much beloved Chicago pals is in order as I had zero time for socializing on this trip. I actually spent most meals ignoring my husband as I scribbled in my notebook, so I'm not sure how great of company I would've been anyway. But next time, I'm all yours, I promise!

It was an otherwise excellent writing weekend.

Last Thursday, we flew Delta through Atlanta, and I enjoyed reading Ebony, Newsweek, Time, and Monk: The Blue Flu by Lee Goldberg (Penguin, 2007), which was hilarious, on the plane.

We got in at about 3 p.m. and took a cab to Italian Village where I gobbled down the chicken marsala with a side of spaghetti marinara and an outstanding calamari appetizer. Then we went back to the hotel where I slept from 7:30 p.m. Thursday to 7:30 a.m. on Friday--probably as a result of exhaustion, my wicked cold, jet lag, the Dramamine, the Advil Cold meds, and the antihistamine.

On the upside, I felt a thousand times better that Friday morning than I had in weeks. By then, I'd also taken notes on the cab, Lake Michigan, and downtown. After a buffet breakfast (decent omlette) at the hotel, we took a cab to the Field Museum (see Sue the T. rex above) where I jotted down some sixteen pages of notes. We also spied Jane Yolen and Mark Teague's How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? (Blue Sky, 2000) and How Do Dinosaurs Get Well Soon? (Blue Sky, 2003) in one of the gift shops.

Afterward, we had lunch at The Big Downtown Chicago (the restaurant at the Palmer House), at a bar-height table looking out on El tracks and Wabash. I recommend the turkey panini.

Our next stop was the Hancock Building and then Bloomingdale's, where GLS picked up a pair of earmuffs. Did I mention that half of the reason for the trip was to remember what real cold felt like? The temperature had graciously fluctuated between 20 and 8 degrees, so by now I had all the reminder I needed. Pages of notes on my frozen nose hairs.

We also stopped into the Border's on Michigan Ave where face-out titles included: A Great and Terrible Beauty (Delacorte, 2003) and Rebel Angels (Delacorte, 2005), both by Libba Bray (author interview); The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen (Viking, 2004)(author interview); TTYL by Lauren Myracle (Abrams, 2004)(author interview); Pretties by Scott Westerfeld (Simon Pulse, 2005)(author interview); and Looking for Alaska by John Green (Dutton)(author interview).

We also swung by Children in Paradise where we spotted face-out: Walter the Giant Storyteller's Giant Book of Giant Stories by Walter M. Mayes, illustrated by Kevin O'Malley (Walker, 2005)(author-illustrator interview); Valiant by Holly Black (Simon & Schuster, 2002)(author interview); Liftoff: A Photobiography of John Glenn by Don Mitchell (National Geographic, 2006)(author interview); and Cracker! The Best Dog in Vietnam by Cynthia Kadohata (Atheneum, 2007)(author interview).

At this point, we ducked into the Four Seasons for cocoa (me) and Irish coffee (GLS) and spent some time just chatting and warming up. Afterward, we continued onto Stetson's Chop House for dinner, where I had a wedge salad, followed by twin lobsters and a side of mushrooms.

On Saturday morning, we arrived at the Chicago History Museum for ever more notetaking. From there, we continued to Cantonesia (wonton soup and chicken chow mein with pan-fried noodles) for lunch in Chinatown and then to Navy Pier for--you guessed it--even more research. Whew.

We finished out the trip with one of my favorite meals ever--a traditional price fix menu from the Parthenon Restaurant in Greek Town (think: "My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding"--only the real deal). Absolutely fantastic! I'll definitely be back.

And then it was over! Whoosh! On Sunday, I enjoyed Dead and Dateless by Kimberly Raye (Random House, 2007)(a light, humorous gothic fantasy for the grown-up market) on the plane, and now, I'm back in sunny Austin--70 degrees and emerging tulips--with 41 pages of scribbled notes. Hm, best snap to it! Revision calls! You know, loudly.