Wednesday, May 30, 2012


I have been thinking about the Mob and Gangsters lately because I’m trying to figure out the plot of my next book in the contemporary series. Tony Accardo is a complicated guy and purported to be the Godfather of Chicago. I grew up on the Northwest Side of Chicago where the Italian mafia was notorious. Not for the fedora’s and the machine guns of the 1920’s but the drugs and explosions of the 1980’s. So this made me think about some of the dark places where gangsters meet and even place where they go to die.

The Biograph Theatre was designed by architect Samuel N. Crowen in 1914, and has many of the distinguishing characteristics of cinemas of the period, including a storefront-width lobby, recessed entrance, free-standing ticket booth, and canopy marquee. The building is finished with red pressed brick and white-glazed terra cotta. Most of the movie houses in Chicago were built in neighborhoods during this time period offered air-conditioning and live organ music that was a big draw.

The Biograph Theater on Lincoln Avenue on Chicago's North Side is the infamous site where, on July 22, 1934, after attending the film Manhattan Melodrama with brothel madam Ana Cumpănaş and Polly Hamilton, John Dillinger was shot dead outside the Biograph by FBI agents led by Melvin Purvis, when he attempted to pull a pistol and flee into the crowd after he saw them. Dillinger's whereabouts had been leaked to the FBI by Cumpănaş under the threat of deportation back to her birth place of Romania. The exterior of the Biograph was temporarily restored to its former glory for the filming of the Johnny Depp biopic Public Enemies.

In July 2004, after 90 years as a movie theater under various owners, Chicago's Victory Gardens Theater announced it had purchased the Biograph for use as a live venue. The theater has been completely renovated by architect Daniel P. Coffey. Part of the original structure, a grand staircase was restored to lead up to the building's second floor, housing a studio theater seating 135 people and an adjacent rehearsal/multiple-use space.

So gangsters aren’t just in the movies, they’re at the movies, too. This post inspired a meeting between Accardo and someone at the Biograph Theatre. The question is who is he meeting and why?

2433 N. Lincoln Avenue
Chicago, Illinois

Saturday, May 26, 2012



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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Wednesday Walking Tour: Italian Village

For this week's walking tour I'm going to take you to a location from my novel Binding Arbitration. Here's a short clip of a scene that takes place in this fabulous restaurant.

We met Libby in front of the red and white neon sign for Italian Village. Cass spun through the revolving door twice before bounding up the white limestone stairs that my parents had been climbing for more than thirty years.

Libby was too busy fidgeting with her clothes, buttoning and unbuttoning her suit jacket to notice the maitre d’s admiration as he took her coat.

I pushed her hands away from her waist and took it up myself. “You’re beautiful.” I draped her hair over her shoulder and kissed her. “I promise they won’t eat you.”

“They’ll probably want to skin me, skewer me, and roast me first,” she whispered looking over her shoulder. “They don’t eat small children, do they?”

Cass was watching the miniature model of an illuminated Ferris wheel spinning in time with ‘Moon in the Sky Like a Big Pizza Pie.’ The long narrow interior reminded me of the crowded streets of Rome, but the room opened up like a Piazza with a bubbling fountain in the center of the uneven cobbles. An Italian countryside landscape roved along the wall. Our private booth had an overhanging tile roof, almost as if we were on a secluded veranda of an Italian Villa.

My parents sat on one side of the booth, the back of which ran to the ceiling, enclosing the small room so they couldn’t stand. They both smiled shaking first Libby’s hand, then Cass’. My father smiled with his initial perusal of Libby, before he looked at me and winked.
The Italian Village website sums up the history of the restaurant this way. “Alfredo Capitanini, the Italian immigrant who never worked in any restaurant before coming to the United States, opened The Italian Village in 1927. His philosophy was uncomplicated: make good, simple food, serve it in ample portions, and offer it with warm Italian courtesy. A menu once read: “Spaghetti with Meatballs: 40 cents.”

The idea of combining authentic dishes with great value marked the beginning of the Capitanini family’s tradition of culinary excellence that continues to this day, and makes Italian Village the oldest (and most unique) Italian eatery in Chicago.”

If you plan a visit to Chicago I recommend a visit to the oldest, and in my opinion best Italian restaurant. Make sure you order the Spaghetti with meatballs.

71 West Monroe
Chicago, Illinois 60603

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


Grant Park is a sprawling Chicago park separating the skyscrapers of the Loop with the scenic beauty of Lake Michigan. During the spring and summer this recreational area has plenty of open green space and is a great place to relax on a park bench to read a book or people watch. Numerous paths dot the landscape for walking, biking, and running. During the winter it has a huge outdoor ice skating rink.

Grant Park was originally called Lake Park and constructed in 1847; it maintained that name until 1901 when it was renamed in honor of Ulysses S. Grant. The highlights of the park include Buckingham fountain, Millennium Park, The Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum Campus consisting of the Shedd Aquarium, and the Field Museum of Natural History and Adler Planetarium.

The photo above is of the Beaux Arts Garden on Michigan Avenue near 8th Street located at the south end of the park and is reminiscent of the influential Ecole des Beaux-Arts period in Paris’ architectural history. Near Michigan Avenue, a series of bridges cross the railway tracks which are divided in geometric designs with lawns. Tall American Elms planted in allées create tree-lined promenades, and beautifully arranged flowerbeds and monuments, most notably a statue of Abraham Lincoln and Dove Girl Fountain, round out the parks plan.

The Petrillo Music Shell is also located in the park and brings all sorts of diverse outdoor concerts to the city, including Blues, Gospel, Jazz, Country and Classical. Grant Park is also home of Chicago's annual Taste of Chicago, held each summer.

Chicago’s Grant Park hosted one of the most historic moments in American history, providing the grounds for President Barack Obama's Election Day victory speech on Nov. 4, 2008. Chicago’s Grant Park also hosted Pope John Paul II for an outdoor mass in the 1970's and was the scene for a number of victory celebrations for Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.
It is going to be a beautiful weekend in Chicago, get outside and enjoy.

Monday, May 14, 2012


Mayhem is coming. Every Monday morning I can count on him like clockwork. The definition of mayhem is the random or deliberate violence or damage. Mayhem is the guy we see in TV commercial wreaking havoc in any way he can. But mayhem isn’t just the spokesperson for accident insurance or a heavy metal band full of angst and blood; it’s the little nagging apprehension crowding the edges of our clear head. It whispers to us every Monday morning even before we get out of bed. The phenomenon is so real songs have been written about it. Do you remember the lyrics for Manic Monday?

Six o'clock already
I was just in the middle of a dream
I was kissin' Valentino
By a crystal blue Italian stream
But I can't be late
'Cause then I guess I just won't get paid
These are the days
When you wish your bed was already made

It's just another manic Monday
I wish it was Sunday
'Cause that's my funday
My I don't have to runday
It's just another manic Monday

Early Monday morning I start making a list of what I’d like to accomplish during the week and this is where the second definition of mayhem comes into play: a state of rowdy disorder.  Indie authors have so many tasks to do ourselves it’s easy to let them overwhelm us. We always have writing or editing or responding to interview questions. There’s research and marketing and Tweeting and Facebooking and trying to keep out fingers pounding away on those keyboards. With so many responsibilities many of us lose track of why we became writers, in all the commotion of trying to reach our audience sometimes we lose sight of our ultimate goal of being great story tellers and creating books that both entertain and touch other people’s lives.

I deal with my Monday morning mayhem by making lists, creating a plan and doing my best to check off items one at a time. But, I also give myself little latitude, as a matter of fact, a latte and a little latitude is just the way to deal with the chaos of Monday. And kissin’ Valentino by a crystal blue Italian stream might work too!

Happy Monday, reading and writing. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Wednesday Walking Tour: BEST Hot Dog Stand in the World

For this week’s Wednesday Walking Tour I promised a hidden gem, but the quality of gems is usually measured by the eye of the beholder. This hot dog stand holds a special place in my heart. Chicago is as notorious for their gangsters and fedoras as their hot dogs. Vienna pure beef hot dogs are our claim to fame and no one builds them better than Gene and Jude’s. They are the largest purveyor of the “original” Chicago style dog. You can order a single or double dog on a poppy-less bun, dressed with mustard, onion and piccalilli relish. For those more adventurous you can add sweet or spicy peppers. The fresh cut fries are Idaho potatoes thrust through a machine that coverts the spuds into perfect sized French fries  and they’re tossed into bubbling vats of oil and loaded right on the dog and wrapped in wax paper. Tamales round out the menu. But whatever you do, do not ask for ketchup. As with most Chicago hot dog stands Gene and Jude’s doesn’t contain a single packet of ketchup and they will probably ask you to vacate the premises. And trust me they might, the counter help is known for their hurried and surly dispositions.

Gene and Jude’s is located just outside the City limits in the suburb of River Grove, which sits beyond O’hare airport and near a huge Forest Preserve.  Gene and Jude’s was founded in 1946 by friends and Chicago city workers Gene Mormino and Jude DeSantis and it hasn’t changed much since the fifties. This hot dog stand is a small place with harsh fluorescent lights and a line out the door and onto the large blacktop parking lot. The sparse interior has no tables and chairs, only a chest high counter that circles the parameter. Gene and Jude’s has won Best Hot Dog in America and it has consistently been in the top ten for Chicago’s best quick eats.  

The greatest hot dog stand in the world is a throwback to a time when a little joint could keep their buns steamed just right, and their red hots, hot and crisp. A single bite of a Gene and Jude’s hot dog snaps you back to summer nights during high school when you and a friend sat on the hood of her old car and ate under the stars. So the quality of this hidden gem might just be in the memories.

Gene and Jude’s
2720 River Road
Grove, IL 60171-1325

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Wednesday Walking Tour: Buckingham Fountain

I thought since I’m a Windy City writer I’d start a Wednesday walking tour. Each week I’ll do my best to show you a Chicago landmark or maybe some hidden gem that only those of us lucky enough to call Chicago home would know about.

This week I’ll start with a place that draws many tourists, it’s located in Grant Park and only one of the many open spaces along Lake Michigan. Many people don’t know that after the great fire in 1871 and the 1893 World’s Columbia Exposition, Chicago was a planned city. The Burham Plan was enacted in 1909 that allowed for wider streets, new railways, harbor facilities and civic buildings and because of the success of the world’s fair many ideas were presented for improving and preserving Chicago's lakefront.

Buckingham Fountain is a Chicago landmark at the edge of Grant Park. Dedicated in 1927, it is one of the largest fountains in the world. Built in a rococo wedding cake style and inspired by the Latona Fountain at the Palace of Versailles, it is meant to allegorically represent Lake Michigan. The fountain itself represents Lake Michigan, with each sea horse symbolizing the states of Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana, that border the lake.

The fountain was designed by beaux arts architect Edward H. Bennett. The statues were created by the French sculptor Marcel F. Loyau. The fountain was donated to the city by Kate Buckingham in memory of her brother, Clarence Buckingham and its official name is the Clarence Buckingham Memorial Fountain.

It operates from April to October, with regular water shows and evening color-light shows. During the winter, the fountain is decorated with festival lights. I’ve seen Latona Fountain and Buckingham is more beautiful probably because of the Georgia pink marble that really stands out in the sunshine against the blue skyline and water. If you visit make sure you check out the water show, every hour on the hour from now to the middle of October.

You can check out another picture of it on my new FB Timeline banner: