A Crime Writer’s Heaven

Rockford isn’t known for much that’s good. It’s called “Screw City” for a reason.


The Stockholm Inn is very good, and Maria’s Restaurant used to be good. The Ratskeller used to be good, too, and so was the Sweden House. The Stockholm Inn is still in business. The others aren’t.


Rockford is known for having an exceptionally high crime rate. It’s also known for having an exceptionally low literacy rate. Anyone see a connection?


Rockford used to be known as the “Second City”, second only to Chicago in size, culture, and amenities. Now Rockford has diminished to the fifth or sixth largest city in Illinois. Intelligent people abandoned the town in droves, and more leave every day. Rockford is going downhill rapidly, and no one knows how to apply the brakes.



Rockford used to support a viable community of writers, poets, artists, and musicians. Most have gone elsewhere, although Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick and poet Christine Swanberg still remain in town and only God knows why. New American Theater closed. The only live theater in town is at the local community college during summer months and at the restored Coronado Performing Arts Center when roadshows come to town. The big box Metro Center—excuse me, the renamed BMO Harris Bank Center—has become a venue for ice hockey and religious festivals and no longer includes a regular schedule of musical performance by big name artists.


The annual 3-day and 3 raucous night Labor Day “On the Waterfront” music extravaganza fizzled out and exists only in memory.


Rockford used to have one of the finest public libraries in the state. Instead of investing in maintaining the library and increasing its collections, the city chose to build golf courses and sports complexes. Soon the main public library building will be torn down while a new indoor mega-sports center appears on the opposite bank of the Rock River.



Rockford has no new bookstores other than a few Christian booksellers and one pint-sized children’s bookstore. Borders closed and Barnes and Noble moved out of town to nearby Cherry Valley. Toad Hall, one of the best record and book memorabilia shops in the country, is still on Broadway, but it has deteriorated into a ghost of what it once was. Tomorrow is Yesterday has become more of a gaming haven than a comic book emporium and changed its name to Top Cut Comics and then to Top Cut Central. There is a Half-Price Books discount outlet that opened a few years ago. But they carry only remainders and inventory acquired from bankrupted bookstores.



I left Rockford and I came back. I left the first time when I went away to the University, but I came back to attend Rockford College when John Bennett and Mary Dearing Lewis and Donald Walhout were teaching there. I left the second time to enter the army and complete my formal education. But, eventually, I came back.


Declining home values makes Rockford affordable for low-lifes like me. Rockford’s escalating crime rate provides daily inspiration for crime writers like me. Paranoia and superstition and religious fanaticism fuel the fires of horror fiction. Rockford, Illinois, is a wonderful place to observe entropy in action. In short, Rockford is the perfect place to write.


Although I miss brick-and-mortal bookstores, Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com make it easy to buy new and used books from the same computer I use to craft my own fiction. Facebook and Skype allow me to stay in touch with other writers throughout the world without leaving my computer. I can easily access library databases and do research on the internet from the comfort of my own home.


Because “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and among his own relatives and in his own household,” I do leave Rockford to make personal appearances and do book signings all over the world. My novels and stories sell well in England and in Europe and Japan and China. I can hop a commuter bus or airline in Rockford and make connections to anyplace I want to travel. Or I can drive to Chicago’s O’Hare and be there in less than two hours.


But I return to Rockford to write. No one here knows or cares that I’m a writer. There are too few venues here to bother about doing local autographings, and the local newspaper and radio and television stations prefer to report on true crime and not the imaginings of home-town boys and girls.


Crime runs rampant in Rockford. Gunshots are a daily occurrence. No one here pays any attention to the voice of one person crying in the wilderness.


Rockford is known as one of the ten worst places to live in the nation. For a crime writer, it’s one of the best.




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