Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Dustjacket art

Dust jacket art is worthy of a blog of its own, and probably, somewhere out there, someone has one up and running. Book collectors in the know learn to spot subtle differences in dust jackets that occur between editions. Some are true connoisseurs of the art itself, and shown covers of a certain era, can name the artists and illustrators of frontpieces and plates.
I love some of the dust jacket art from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Frank Krieger of Newport Vintage Books has an intriguing collection of images of dust jackets on his Web site, including these for Rafael Sabatini's novels. N.C. Wyeth (who was the father of Andrew and other famous Wyeth family artists) was among the artists who brought scenes from Sabatini's adventure tales to life.

You might have fun with these Nancy Drew dust jackets from the 1930s and 1940s, many by Russell H. Tandy.

And there is always this site, where you can see the work of Pogany and many others, and read their biographies.

For me, though, nothing beats a little time spent in the virtual art museum of Violet Books' Web site.

How do I feel about the covers on my own books? My books have been wrapped in cover art both delightful, and...umm, not so delightful. (I'm sure readers have their own nominees for the latter category.) I'm also always fascinated to see how the art changes in the editions published in other countries. I think if you look at the International editions pages on my site, you'll see some truly striking cover art, and some that will ... be nominees.

One of the challenges of crime fiction covers, I'm sure, is to come up with images that may be disquieting but which aren't repulsive. In recent years, I've been very pleased with the cover art on my books. I'm especially happy with the work Ray Lundgren has done on the U.S. editions. He's good at capturing some essential something from each of the books for which he's created covers. He manages to do that in a way that always makes me feel drawn to the book while still conveying an intriguing amount of suspense. I can only hope he's elicited the same reaction in my readers!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Update on Scary Santa: gee, thanks honey

Oh, now I see that this goes way beyond the current crop of traumatized children. Wives are sending in photos of their husbands, young boys screeching on Santa's knee back in the 1950s. Mothers are sending in photos of their (now) adult children.

Either these families have a cruel streak or a good sense of humor. Maybe both.

Scared of Santa?

The Chicago Tribune photo pages are always a fun place to browse, but the folks at the paper really outdo themselves when it comes to St. Nick. First, there is the "Scared of Santa" extravaganza, currently standing at over 140 entries. The faces of the Santas are almost as hilarious as those of the kids. And one can just imagine gleeful parents making their future teenagers squirm by reminding them that a paper with a huge circulation featured a photo of them howling in terror on Santa's lap.

Then, there's the slide show of the July convention of the Amalgamated Order of Real Bearded Santas. Which all goes to show, as the Internet proves on a 24/7 basis, there is something out there for everyone.

The photo of the Victorian (and rather shifty-eyed) Santa above isn't from the ChiTrib, though -- it's a photo by Xandert (aka Dawn Turner) who kindly made it available on

Monday, December 18, 2006

William Haglund at Left Coast Crime

Just realized I haven't posted anything here since Sunday! Ah, the holidays!
I'll warn you now, then, that new posts may be a bit thin between now and New Year's Day.
Little late, huh?

Which does not mean I'm out of exciting news. If you'll be at Left Coast Crime in Seattle in February, I'll see you there. One reason you haven't heard much from me lately is that -- in addition to a zillion other things I've been up to -- as part of my work for the Crime Lab Project, I'm helping LCC to coordinate some of the forensic science programming. This will take place on Friday, so plan to arrive in Seattle in time for Friday's events!

I think those of you who are interested in forensic science are in for a treat -- not only are people from the Washington State Patrol's Crime Lab going to be there, we've also got some terrific (and entertaining) authors lined up for panels, and I'm especially pleased that forensic anthropologist Dr. William Haglund has agreed to speak at the convention.

Dr. Haglund served as the Director of the International Forensic Program for the Physicians for Human Rights, and is now the senior forensic consultant to the program. His first mission on behalf of PHR was in 1993. He also worked as the Senior Forensic Investigator for the UN International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. For more than a decade, he has been at the forefront of investigations into genocide and war crimes which span the globe -- Cyprus, Guatemala, Honduras, Nigeria, Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Somalia, and many other countries.

Prior to leaving for full-time work on international cases, he worked as the chief medical investigator the King County Medical Examiner's Office. During his 16 years there, he did extensive work on the investigation of the Green River serial killings.

Those of you who have a copy of Bones will see his name in my acknowledgments. I've been to his presentations, and promise you that this is one of those not-to-be-missed events.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Getting Human for the Holidays

You may be aware of this site already, but if not, consider this a gift for the holidays:

Have you ever called a big company, trying to do business by phone, only to
- have to press an endless number of codes?
- have to decide between preset menu choices that don't have anything to do with your reason for calling?
- never reach a human being?

If you are crazed by the difficulty in reaching a human being when you do business by phone with big companies, try going to Get Human ( )before you make your next call. Paul English, the founder of Get Human, certainly struck a chord with other humans when he first started posting methods to bypass the computers on his blog. What he started has grown into an advocacy movement that has attracted millions of followers. The blog became a Web site with a good-sized database on it.

So, if you are in the U.S., and want to go directly to the database for Get Human, just click here.

That will take you to a list of many big companies, with instructions to help you quickly connect to a human being.

Photo above courtesy of Paul Middlewick, from

Friday, December 15, 2006

A strong-willed woman

In today's New York Times, there's an article by Andrea Elliot, "From Head Scarf to Army Cap, Making a New Life." It's about a remarkable woman named Fadwa Hamdan, and if you are willing to go through the hoops the NYT requires of those who want to read the paper online (it's free, but the sign up is something else), I think you'll find it worthwhile.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

How to Make the Grinch Seem Like He Wasn't Such a Bad Guy After All

I'm still shaking my head over a story that appeared yesterday in a Pennsylvania newspaper, the Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader.

"Former Boss of Charity Pleads Guilty," by David Weiss, tells about a woman who was in charge of the local chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, but who may be on her way to prison.

Before I tell you the story, let me say that this is a worthwhile charity that is consistently ranked as one of the best in terms of making good use of donors' money. This one woman's actions should not make anyone hesitate to give to them.

Jessica Hardy was the chair of the charity in her part of Pennsylvania.
Authorities say she made up the names of children she said were terminally ill. Then she forged doctors' signatures on fake medical documents for these fake children.

She then took more than $55,000 donated for these fictional kids to buy herself Super Bowl tickets, a Disney World vacation, a bass guitar for her son, and a few luxury items like a big screen TV.

Okay, I'm trying to picture someone gleefully enjoying the Super Bowl, knowing that this is how they bought their tickets....kicking back and watching the big screen... knowing all the while that real terminally ill kids were hoping and waiting for wishes to be granted.

Hard to imagine, isn't it?

The DA thinks she should do jail time. I hope he gets his wish.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Getting lost for the sheer pleasure of it

You may have noticed that there isn't a hell of a lot of writing advice on this blog.

That's not because I lack ideas about How It Should Be Done. However, I want to be careful about what I say to new writers, each of whom needs to discover his or her own way to tell a story. I see so many bad examples of advice for new writers.

The best kind of writing teachers seem to me to be the ones who foster the journey of other writers without placing them in harness. They suggest a variety of approaches, they work to motivate and inspire while still providing practical tools and exercises that help with skill-building. I don't mind when someone gives nuts and bolts advice on ways to find agents or shows others how to put a manuscript into a standard format.

But sometimes I read another writer's proclamations about what one must do within the text of a story, or how one must construct its framework, or how one must go about the process -- and frankly, I find myself wanting to laugh.

I'm talking about the folks who seem to believe they picked up their stone tablets at a nearby burning bush. This is how I do it, so you must do it this way. By the way, all three of my best friends in my mutual admiration society write this way, too. Hello, hubris!

As if the universe of creating literature could be distilled into a set of Rules that Work For Everyone. What boring places libraries would be if that was true. Thank God the proclaimers get ignored.

Would we ever think of trying to convince painters or musicians that they must do x, y, or z to create true art? I don't doubt that those artists also have the "EZ Way to Paint a Portrait" or the "EZ Way to Play the Piano" folks in their lives, but it seems to me that uninitiated writers are inundated with advice that consists of oversimplified rules that simply do not hold true for everyone.

Here's my own simple advice to you new writers, so laugh if you will: one of the hardest parts of this endeavor of writing a book is finding your own path and having the courage to stay on it, while still staying open to the possibility that there may be another, better way to get where you're going. How will you know which way is best for you? Keep writing.

Explore. You may end up lost, or you may make fascinating, unexpected discoveries. Personally, I will take being lost (revision allows this to be a relative term, after all) over treading only on the well-worn, previously mapped grid, but you may find the grid is the best way to get where you want to go. Whatever works -- just start stepping.

'S all good....

Photo above, " Stream on the trail of Swift Camp Creek area" by Don Corbin, used with his kind permission, from

Friday, December 08, 2006

Blog recommendation of the day

If you've read my short story "Call It Macaroni" in Murder Most Crafty, you probably have a sense of how skilled I am in the sewing and crafts departments.

On a scale of zero to one-hundred-and-seventeen, that would be 0.01. (For example, I can sew a button back on, but no guarantee that the button and buttonhole will match up again.)

Which is undoubtedly one of the reasons I adore Threadbared. If you need a laugh, Mary Watkins and Kimbrely Wrenn will...okay, have you in stitches. I'm warning you, do not have liquids in your mouth when you go to this site, or you'll end up having to use up one of your hand-crocheted screen cleaners.

Do not fail to view this one.

I'd write more about this blog, but I've just read the Ho Ho No entry. I'm going to go to work on the ovenmitt candleholders now.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Julie Smith is teaching writing

I've just learned that while I was touring, my friend Julie Smith started a new kind of distance-learning writing course. It's called Writers Track, and it combines an online course with a set of conference calls that allow students to have personal contact with the instructor.

Julie has been writing for 25 years and is an Edgar-winning author. In fact, when she won the award for best novel in 1991, she broke a long dry spell for American women writers -- no American woman had won the Edgar for Best Novel since 1956. She's a novelist, short story writer, and former reporter -- her journalism career includes long stints on the New Orleans Times-Picayune and San Francisco Chronicle. At the Chronicle, she was the first woman to work in the newsroom since World War II.

So groundbreaking is a kind of habit with Julie, and I'm betting that her courses will be a refreshing change from the run-of-the-mill writing class. She's also someone who works conscientiously and has genuine concern for others, so that will be to your benefit.

No one course will work for everyone, but if you're an aspiring novelist, you may want to take a look to see if this sounds like one that would work for you.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Gar's Web site

The link for Gar's name in the last post was to an interview. Here's a link to the actual site:

The man can write, so if you haven't read his books yet, consider this to be one the best tips you received this month. Even if the month is only a few days old.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

I'll never forget old what's-her-name...

Okay, back to the titles stories....

Three Kind of Lies
Remember Me, Irene

I had a new editor about halfway into the process of revising Dear Irene,. For a time, I believed I had talked her into dropping the name Irene from the titles. Don't get me wrong -- I like Irene's name. It's great for her, the character. But as a title, linked with imperatives....well, I believe it was Gar Anthony Haywood (aka Ray Shannon) who predicted that one day I'd write a book entitled Go to the Refrigerator and Get Me a Beer, Irene.

There was also a series about Irene Adler, "the woman" to those familiar with Sherlock Holmes, written by Carole Nelson Douglas. Carole's publisher wanted the name "Irene" in all of her titles too. You can imagine the confusion this caused our readers. For starters, her Irene Adler books take place about 100 years earlier than the Irene Kelly series.

So I was excited that my new editor was listening to ideas for new titles, and I had picked out what I still consider one of my best working titles for the fourth book in the series. New editor, new contract, everything was looking good for the fourth book to be Three Kinds of Lies. Then a single bookseller talked my editor out of it. (Yes, I know who you are, and I, um, can't thank you enough.)

Ironically, when I ask longtime fans to name the books with Irene in the title, they can rattle off the first three, then they stall out on number four. The title Remember Me, Irene is apparently difficult to remember. They'll recall the book and what it's about, but not the title.
C'est ma vie.

Where did the title I wanted originate? In another century.
Benjamin Disraeli, British prime minister in the mid-19th century, said these famous words:

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.

Those of you who have read Remember Me, Irene will know about the connection of statistics to the story.

I didn't get my way on the title, but I did get the best cover I'd had up until then. And the new editor began to patiently teach me a few things I really needed to learn at that point. Which is why, I think, that Hocus marks a change in the series.

Friday, December 01, 2006

World Aids Day

Support World AIDS Day

I've lost several friends to AIDS.

I hope you'll never have to write that same sentence.

But I also hope that even if you don't know anyone who is HIV positive, you'll contribute to the fight against AIDS, that you'll become informed about this deadly but preventable disease, and that you'll take prevention measures seriously.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

More Background

This is all going to take longer than I thought it would, but what the heck...

Fall From Olympus aka Dear Irene,

Greek mythology is part of the plot for Dear Irene,. I had unsuccessfully lobbied to keep Irene's name out of the title for the second book, but I had started this manuscript before Goodnight, Irene was published, so I didn't foresee the title struggle. By the time I actually turned it in, I didn't use this title on the manuscript my then-editor received.

Under Deep Sky

Thinking of this working title brings a fond memory to mind.

The amateur astronomers' phrase "deep sky object" appealed to me when I came across it while doing research for Hocus. The idea of the sky having depth kept my mind occupied for a time.

So where did I hear about deep sky objects?

Let me tell you about the Szals.

I met Regina Szal at a library fundraiser. She won an auction item I offered -- to have a character in one of my books named after the highest bidder. The next book was Hocus, although I wasn't calling it that yet. Regina invited me to visit her to talk about the character.

She's a delightful woman, a generous, kind, and vivacious person. Saying all the good things I could say about Regina would take a long time. It was so easy to talk to her. To my good fortune, she was also an experienced speech therapist. I had been researching selective mutism (then called elective mutism) for the book, and this was a subject she knew well.

She arranged for me to come to the house in the evening to talk to her about her character, because it would also allow me to view the sky through a telescope in their home. Her husband, Greg Szal, is an amateur astronomer, and he used the term "deep sky object" when talking to me about Messier objects.

Messier objects could take up a whole post. Another day...

Anyway, above you'll see a photograph of one of the Messier objects I saw that night through Greg Szal's telescope, the Sombrero Galaxy, aka M104. According to NASA, it is "the equivalent of 800 billion suns." The photo above was taken by the Hubble space telescope.* You can learn more about this big galaxy and the photo here.

Those of you who have read Hocus may recall that at one point in the book, Irene visits a couple in Bakersfield — the Szals — who help her unravel more of the mystery surrounding those who have taken Frank hostage. I liked the real life Szals as much — or more — than she liked the fictional ones. (And, after posting this, I will make a note to call these folks, who honored me with their friendship.)

Alas, as enamored as I became with the phrase "under deep sky," it didn't have much to do with the rest of the book, while the word "hocus," not to be confused with the incantation "hocus-pocus," has two meanings, both of which fit the plot perfectly.

*Note re the photo, from the Hubble site: The Hubble Heritage Team took these observations in May-June 2003 with the space telescope's Advanced Camera for Surveys. Images were taken in three filters (red, green, and blue) to yield a natural-color image. The team took six pictures of the galaxy and then stitched them together to create the final composite image.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Title "quiz" answers

Not really a quiz per se, but here are the final titles for the working title list I posted last week:

1. Fall From Olympus
Dear Irene,
2. Under Deep Sky
3. Harm
4. Three Kind of Lies
Remember Me, Irene

5. Season of the Witch
Sweet Dreams, Irene
6. Imperfect
7. O'Connor's Tale

I just remembered that Harm was a title suggested for a time by an editor who left Simon & Schuster before the book was published, so I didn't come up with that one.

As Elizabeth Foxwell noted last week, it isn't hard to figure out where the title for #7 came from.

The others? Today has become a little jammed up, but tomorrow I'll post more about those.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Listen in -- and watch, too

If you're online at 9 PM Pacific Time (GMT-8) tonight (11/26), you might want to wander over to the livestream for the bands playing at BB King's Live -- that is, if you aren't actually going down to BB King's at the Universal City Walk. One of the bands my husband, Tim Burke, is in will be playing there tonight -- the band is Downtight, and they'll be on right after Lisa Tucker, who was an American Idol finalist.

Friday, November 24, 2006

And how long was this supposed to go unnoticed?

"Suspected Forgery In Death Penalty Case Documents," a November 18th report on CBS5 in San Francisco, tells of a search carried out by the State Attorney General's Office. The warrant allowed them to look through the apartment of a defense investigator, Kathleen Culhane, who has been working on behalf of a death row inmate, Michael Morales.

Last February, prosecutors in San Joaquin County alleged that she had submitted fabricated documents, declarations asking for clemency for Morales, that supposedly came from five jurors — all five deny they signed the statements. This ultimately lead to 23 documents being investigated as questionable in four death row cases.

No charges have been filed or arrests made.

For more on this, see "State widens probe of investigator accused of faking legal statements" in the 11/17/06 issue of the San Jose Mercury News.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Shopping for the kiddies?

Why not help them set up their own tattoo parlor?

This one is pain-free, so no need to have the kids get plastered before getting inked.

Be sure to read the customer comments if you visit the site.

(Thanks to Timbrely for sending this one to me, under the subject line "tats for tots")

Monday, November 20, 2006

Can You Guess the Titles?

Every now and then, someone asks me why I changed my mind about putting Irene's name in the title of my books. The short answer is, I never planned to put her name on more than one title -- Goodnight, Irene. My publisher eventually agreed with me that putting her name in every title was not for the best.

That is not to say that I am good at coming up with titles. I'm horrible at it! I am so glad I never had to name children. I'm quite grateful that Simon & Schuster has talked me out some of my seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time titles. In fact, Goodnight, Irene is one of the few books I've written that kept the same title from the day I started writing it.

When some of you who met me on tour asked about this matter of, I said I was going to list some of my working titles, so that you could try to guess what final titles replaced them. Some were "placeholder" titles that I knew I'd never use, others -- let's just say I was talked out of them. Here you go!

1. Fall From Olympus
2. Under Deep Sky
3. Harm
4. Three Kind of Lies
5. Season of the Witch
6. Imperfect
7. O'Connor's Tale

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Why I Keep Bugging You About the Crime Lab Project

Blake was ten years old when he was brutally murdered in July.
His stepmother, Chynna, was also killed. She was 26.
They lived in a suburb in Indiana.
The police found lots of evidence.
It hasn't been tested.
The state police lab is backlogged by over 2600 cases -- the wait for processing evidence averages nine months.

You can read more about them and the wait for evidence here.

You can make a difference. We can help labs so that families don't have to wait.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Guest editorial

If you pick up the latest issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, you will find a guest editorial I wrote -- about the Crime Lab Project.

It will give you an overview of the CLP's work. It includes examples of problems labs are having, taken from recent news stories.

The publishers of AHMM also made a generous donation to the CLP.

Monday, November 13, 2006

You missed it -- thank goodness

Yesterday my neighbors were treated to a fabulous rendition of "Mad Woman Dancing." This took place on my front lawn. The steps are:

1) get into truck
2) leap wildly out of truck
3) run crazily in circles while bent over and flipping at hair with hands. Make weird sound of distress, something akin to the Warner Bros cartoon characters' "nyah-nyah!" noise -- the one they make when they realize something big is about to chase them.

I forgot to mention the key prop and my inspiration -- a jumbo buzzing bee flew into my hair and got tangled up in the vicinity of my right eye just as I got into the truck. We both survived the experience. I may switch shampoos.

If you want to see a much cooler dance than the one I performed, check out this link, sent to me by Timbrely. The people performing the dance are deaf.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Thanks, veterans!

It's Veteran's Day here in the U.S.

Thank you, to those who served in the past and those who are serving now, and to your family members. For those of you in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other parts of the world, here's to your safe return home.

If you know someone in the service who would like a book, please contact me through my Web site. Others who are doing this too -- a few days ago, while I was in New York, I stopped by Mysterious Bookshop, and Otto Penzler told me that he and his wife have been giving books to local veterans' hospitals. I hope my readers will consider doing the same -- donating books to their own nearby veterans' hospitals -- or will consider other "ways to help" those who have served or who are in the service now.


The girl slept on, motionless, in that curled-up looseness achieved by some women and all cats.
from "I'll Be Waiting," by Raymond Chandler,
first published in The Saturday Evening Post, October 14, 1939

In the anticipation of the publication of a new book, I always forget how exhausting book tours are.

The list of signings on the schedule page of my Web site never tells the whole story.
On the schedule, it will say "Store X at 7 PM." It doesn't talk about a day that often begins at 4 or 5 AM and ends at 11 PM. Ends that early if one can get to sleep in strange places that have sounds, temperatures, lighting and bedding that are not even like those in the last place one slept, and are missing key elements found at home (one's husband sleeping at one's side, the sound one's oldest dog makes when he snores, the sound one's younger dog makes when he runs in his dreams, etc.).

I'm not complaining -- as I said earlier, I enjoy meeting readers and booksellers. And I met some fascinating folks this time around.

But all my fantasies about blogging regularly with from the road went the way of most of my sleep. Sorry not to have been in touch more often.

I have a lot of thank you notes to write, paperwork to complete, and lots of other things to catch up on, but the first thing I'll be catching up on is sleep.

Oh -- among the thanks -- thanks to Donna Andrews for asking a question that tweaked some memories of favorite Chandler stories, including the one I quote above.

Photo credit: "Cat Nap" by mindexpansi0n on

Thursday, November 09, 2006

A Voting Story

A few weeks ago, I realized that the book tour for Kidnapped might interfere with my plans to vote in the November 7, 2006 elections.

I knew I'd be traveling on election day and had planned to vote by absentee ballot. Then I realized that I wouldn't be home when the absentee ballot arrived, so that Tim would have to Fed Ex it to me, and I'd then have to come up with time on the tour to vote and send it back. Anyone who has dealt with overnight shipments to hotels knows how imperfect that system can be -- you can easily wait a second day while the package works its way through the hotel's shipping and receiving department. By then, I'd be off to another state.

My friend Margery Nelson works to keep me informed on a number of issues, and as a result of what she's sent to me about electronic voting machines, I mistrust them. But in this case, it seemed to me that my only choice was to vote electronically before election day. I went to the county library, documents in hand, not sure what to expect but willing to give this a try.

The staff outnumbered the voters by about 7 to 1, but this was only about the second or third day of early voting. I had brought my sample ballot with my voter identification information on it, my drivers license, etc. I signed in. A gentleman took me over to a video machine and asked me to be seated. I watched the video on how to vote with the machines while other staff busied themselves preparing my Voter Access Card. (The ballot choices on the video demonstration did provide some laughs, although I was dismayed that the imaginary voter selected Tom Jones over Orville Wright, Amelia Earhart, and Neil Armstrong for "Commissioner of Transportation." Other candidates in other races indicated that the folks who put this demo together are readers -- how else does Lillian Hellman end up on the ticket?)

I received my card. I touched the screen. I voted.

Or so I thought.

On the tour, mentioned how easy it was, and I joked that my vote had probably already been electronically discarded. When calls from candidates came in on few the days when I was home, I could smugly say that I had already voted.

That's what I believed.

In my hotel room on election night, I saw the Hacking Democracy special on HBO. (It will be on several other times in November and December -- you can see the schedule here.) The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports that Diebold asked HBO to pull the documentary, which Diebold says is inaccurate. However, at least in the story in the P-I, Diebold didn't counter some of the most unnerving accusations.

When I returned home the day after elections, Tim said, "I forgot to tell you what happened when I tried to vote."


"Yes. They said I had already voted. They recorded your touchscreen vote as mine. So they would only allow me to cast a provisional ballot."

Despite the fact that I don't look like your average Timothy, that I had documents with the name Jan Burke on them, and signed in as Jan Burke, I voted as Timothy.

This would seem to be human error on the part of the pollworkers, rather than a problem of the machine, but one wonders exactly what went wrong with this process -- and what else could go wrong.

In the meantime, apparently my electronic vote and Tim's provisional ballot are held in limbo.

No more early touchscreen voting for me.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

C'est bon Atlanta

Hi there. Did you think I fell off the planet? No, just still on tour. I had a great time at the Texas Festival of Books, and in Birmingham, although my plane was late getting in to the Magic City. I hope to write more about those places in the near future.

I am now in Atlanta, about to leave for Jacksonville, FL tomorrow morning.

Last night I spoke at the Georgia Center for the Book. I hope any of you who are writers have a chance to do the same. My thanks to the readers who came out on Halloween!

If you're in the Atlanta area, head on over to DeKalb and check out the GBC. It's one of the most active Centers for the Book in the country.

And don't forget to take advantage of the "Louvre in Atlanta" exhibitions at the High Museum. This is a fabulous program that will extend over the next three years -- the Louvre has partnered with the Atlanta museum to exhibit works here that you'd usually have to go to France to see -- or which are in its collections but have never before been exhibited anywhere. I had a wonderful afternoon there, and hope to see each of the three sets of exhibits that will be here between now and 2009. Art lovers, book a flight to Atlanta.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Continuing saga

One of these days maybe I'll go ahead and post the entry about my car that I started a few days ago, but for now I'll just let you know that between the tour, real life, the CLP, and writing, I have been short on time for blogging.

Life, as a friend of mine used to say, is what happens to you while you're making other plans.

Do want to say that I am really enjoying meeting folks (and seeing long-time supporters!) at the signings. Thank you all for your support, you've made Kidnapped a bestseller.

And now to pack and do laundry before the Texas trip begins.....

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Yikes! Important Schedule Changes

Just back home from Arizona, and I do have more to tell you about the past week, but for now -- important changes to tell you about!

Oline Cogdill of the Sun-Sentinel verified information about a signing and saw that my Web site was wrong. Here's the correct info:

Books & Books
265 Aragon Avenue
Coral Gables, FL
(305) 442-4408

Thanks for that catch, Oline!

And just added:

Tuesday, October 24 7 PM
695 E Colorado Blvd
Pasadena CA 91101
(626) 449-5320

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

If I do say so myself: brilliant idea #897

From my list of beauty and fashion ideas for the not-quite-put-together woman of today --

A new lipstick color: dried toothpaste.

Our staff is working on a sexier name for it.

Note to self -- may need two shades: white and light blue.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Denver 33, Kidnapped 34

33 wouldn't be bad for a Broncos score, but it's the forecast for the temperature (just above zero for you who use Celsius) of the place when I'm there in a few days. The big coat is out -- neither Texas nor California prepared me to withstand anything below 55 without referring to it as "freezing."

34 is Kidnapped's number on today's New York Times bestseller list -- and that is thanks to you! I can't express how much I appreciate the support of my readers!

As for being unplugged, I didn't mean to fall off the face of the earth...and I didn't. Honestly! I've been having trouble with posting but I'm hoping that's worked out now. The biggest obstacle, though, has been a time shortage. I had signings in Thousand Oaks and Westwood yesterday, fun events at Mysteries to Die For and the Mystery Bookstore. (Tom and Sue, thank you for the wine!)

Nothing like seeing Don Winslow on your way in and Mike Connelly on your way out -- and lots of terrific fans and booksellers in each store. Thanks for coming by.

I'm packing for the next round -- and look at what's listed here, you'll probably understand why posting here may be a bit sporadic over the next few days. I hope to see some of you in these places:

Monday, October 16, Noon
Seattle, WA
Seattle Mystery Bookshop
117 Cherry St
Seattle, WA
(206) 587-5737

Monday, October 16, 7:00 PM
Lake Forest, WA
Third Place Books
17171 Bothell Way, NE
Lake Forest, WA
(206) 366-3333

Tuesday, October 17, (TBA- stock signing)
Portland, OR
Annie Bloom's Books
7834 SW Capitol Hwy
Portland, OR 97219
(503) 246-0053

Tuesday, October 17, 7:00 PM
Beaverton, OR
2605 SW Cedar Hills Blvd (at SW Walker Rd)
Beaverton, OR 97005
(503) 644-6164

Wednesday, October 18, 7:30 PM
Denver, CO
Tattered Cover Book Store
Colfax Avenue
2526 E. Colfax Avenue
Denver, CO 80202
(303) 322-7727

Thursday, October 19, 5:00 PM
Denver, CO
Murder by the Book
1574 South Pearl St.
Denver, CO 80210
(800) 300-2595 toll free
(303) 871-9401 in Colorado

Thursday, October 19, 7:30 PM
Boulder, CO
High Crimes Mystery Bookstore
946 Pearl St, Boulder, CO
(303) 443-8346
800-356-5586 (orders only, please)

Friday, October 20, 7:00 PM
Scottsdale, AZ
Poisoned Pen
4014 N Goldwater Blvd. Suite 101
(1 block south of Indian School Rd on Goldwater Blvd.)
Scottsdale, AZ 85251
(888) 560-9919 toll free
(480) 947-2974

Saturday, October 21, 11:30 AM
Scottsdale, AZ
Benefit Luncheon for the National Alliance on Mental Illness - Arizona
(books sold by Poisoned Pen)
Jan Burke, David Morrell, and F. Paul Wilson
Kierland Westin Resort
6902 E Greenway Parkway
Scottsdale, AZ 85254
Tickets: $85; Seated with an Author, $125
(800) 626-5022 toll free
(602) 244-8166

"Snowman" photo above by Scott Liddell from

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

24-hours unplugged -- for the most part

A few years ago, on a book tour, I traveled to 19 cities in 21 days with nothing more than carry-on luggage. (Key to this pre-9/11 trip was a set of colorful silk blouses, black almost everything else, and praying that certain hotel dry cleaning services would actually return my clothing before I had to check out.) It wasn't uncommon to travel that way on a book tour then -- I remember one escort being unable to hide her irritation when I traveled with checked baggage the next year.

Why was she irritated? Because many times on a tour, you hit the ground running -- the plane lands at an airport that may bear a certain city's name, but is actually in an area remote from the downtown buildings where your first interviews will be held. So the escort is seeing the margin between your arrival at the airport and the next place you must be rapidly diminishing.

Since 9/11, timing for certain aspects of tours have had to be adapted to changes in air travel, but even before that, my publisher was planning tours that allowed an author a breather now and then.

Yesterday I didn't have a thing scheduled. And baby, did I take advantage of that. I had about six zillion items on my to do list, and didn't touch more than one or two of them. I just unplugged for the day. I'm thinking it was a good idea.

Now I'm going see what Tarzan is up to (although the previous adventure, when he somehow survived being guided underwater while unconscious, will be hard to beat), then go back to work on the manuscript in progress.

I do want to take a quick moment before I do that to say how much I love the photos of Jane M. Sawyer, aka "Cohdra" on She took the one above of the unplugged plug. It seems that she's often captured just what I'm looking for to illustrate this blog or my site. As you can see from photo credits on my Web site, two of the four photos currently shown near the title on this page and the site are hers. (The middle photos are Mary Thorton's photo of raindrops and Annika's of the tree and clouds.)

When you see that desert road, it may remind you, as it did me, of a scene in Kidnapped. Finding photos of deserts is not all that hard. But not all deserts are alike, as you learn if you spend any time in them. I'm glad Jane Sawyer captured this view of something I had been seeing in a combination of imagination and memory.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Quick notes

I've had two good signing events here in So Cal this week.

I was at Book Carnival in Orange this weekend. In late 1992, a few months before Goodnight, Irene was published, Ed Thomas called me up and spoke kindly of the book, and invited me to sign there. So in 1993, when my book was out, my first signing was held at the Book Carnival. I signed boxloads of books and was misled into thinking this signing business was going to be a snap. Little did I realize that I was experiencing lEd Thomas Powerlat work. You see, Ed's customers listen to his recommendations. With good reason -- for example, two years before I stepped into his store, he told them that a young guy by the name of Connelly was going to win an Edgar for Best First Novel for Black Echo.

So by now I think of Ed and his wife, Pat, as family. Signing at Book Carnival gives me a chance to see old friends and meet new ones. I was also very pleasantly surprised by a visit by some close friends who traveled quite a distance to be there, including Bob (the Retail Doctor).

This evening I was at the Barnes & Noble in Encino. Kris and Jeannie were fab hosts, and I also had a good time talking with readers I met for the first time tonight. Two friends I met when I ran the Dublin marathon in 1999 were also there — I appreciate the effort! Those of you who live in the San Fernando Valley are lucky to have this store in your neighborhood!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Anger management

If there were fewer idiots on this planet, how would the rest of us know that we have tempers?

Today's episode:

I write a check at a local warehouse store. Because I have given into impulse and put far more than the dog biscuits I came in for into my cart (so who's the real idiot in this story?) the check requires the approval of a supervisor.

She looks at the check and says, "Would you write the word 'dollars' here?"

For a second, I want to ask her if she's afraid I'm trying to pay in simoleons or ToonTown jellybeans.

Then I realize that she means that on the line where the amount is spelled out, she wants me to write 'dollars' between the words and the fraction. I point out that the word 'dollars' is already printed on the check. "See? XXX and xx/100 Dollars."

"Oh," she says, pondering this wonder. I think we're done.

No, she insists I write the word 'dollars' after the XXX amount. "It's just a thing I have," she tells me.

WTF? I know what the 'thing' she has is. It's the pettiness of someone with less than one dollar's worth of power, but determined on exercising it to the full. She has improved, apparently, on the way we all write out negotiable instruments. And she has a clipboard. And a supervisor's vest. All bow down.

I look back at the people patiently -- so far -- waiting behind me in line. For their sake, I give in, and hand it back.

"Oh, now I need you to initial where you added the word 'dollars,'" she says, handing it back to me.

I have a nearly irresistible urge to tear the effing check in half and walkout, leaving her to restock my purchases. I don't do it. I initial the check and grit my teeth.

But I don't think I'll be back at this store any time soon.

That would be to risk losing my temper, and I'm saving my next tantrum for a better occasion.

Probably Election Day.

Photo above, "Mad As A Hornet," by P. Winberg from Photo © P. Winberg.


Okay, here's a confession: I love touring.

Yes, it's hard to be away from home -- I miss Tim and the dogs more than I can say.
Yes, it is exhausting.
Yes, some aspects of it are so repetitive, it does feel like "déjà vu all over again."
No, I don't love it as much as I love writing.
And no, it's not the extended vacation or giant ego-boost some think it will be. (I don't know anyone who has been on much of a tour who has failed to have either a moment of utter humiliation or an encounter with someone who has no social graces whatsoever.)

All of that said, the greatest parts of a tour come in glimpses, brief moments of connection and wonder. Seeing friends, readers, favorite booksellers, all for a few moments at a time. Short interviews with knowledgeable reporters. The view of a different landscape from a car window, rainfall when I've lived with dry weather too long at home, the taste of something savory at an eatery I've never visited before.

I'm not the first writer to say this, but essentially, a writer writes half the book. The other half is provided by the reader, when whatever what the writer has created interacts with the reader's imagination, experiences, prejudices, tolerances. When we meet in bookstores, I'm always happy when a reader buys a book, but the real joy is hearing your thoughts, learning how your half of the books are experienced.

The days in San Francisco were hectic. I didn't get a lot of sleep the night before I flew up there, and the moment after I gathered my luggage, my escort, Naomi Epel began the day's work — I was on my way to sign stock at lovely independent stores like Diesel in Oakland, and at a couple of large chain stores where — contrary to the stereotype — I found staffers who cared about books. I got to the hotel where the ASCLD meeting was being held just in time for lunch with folks who were on the afternoon panel on advocacy.

As soon as the panel was over, I hurried back to my room, set down my materials from the meeting and gathered up what I'd need for the evening. Naomi picked me up, and off we went again for more stock signing. It was raining — although I had walked through a light drizzle at Bouchercon, it had been awhile since I had been out in real rain. It was good.

We made our way to San Mateo, and M is for Mystery. I love this store, and it was great to see Ed Kaufman and friends there.

I got back in time for a late dinner. Early the next morning, I was on another ASCLD panel. I'll just say that I am honored to be working with these crime lab directors. Their dedication leaves me in awe.

I won't give you all the details of the rest of the day, which was managed with the help of Catherine, another fine escort, except to say that visits to three excellent independent bookstores — Book Passage, Bay Book & Tobacco, and Capitola Book Café were among the highlights of my day. It was Fleet Week, and seeing the Blue Angels fly over the San Francisco Bay on the way to Book Passage was another.

I was a little early, on the other hand, for the Pumpkin Festival in Half Moon Bay, but the straw castle was already built on the Arata Farm. On a drive along the stunningly beautiful coast between Half Moon Bay and Capitola, here and there I saw a field of pumpkins, a swath of bright orange on green, something like what you can see in the photo above. (Although Kevin Connor's photo was not, as far as I know, taken at one of these farms.)

We took the recommendation of Jeff at Bay Book & Tobacco and turned inland a bit, past marshland and into Pescadero. We stopped at Duarte's Tavern, where the food was superb — the pumpkin pie there was the best I have ever eaten. I do mean ever.

We made the drive back to an Francisco after the evening event at Capitola Book Café, and after packing, I got about three hours of sleep before meeting Susan, the next driver, downstairs at 4:30 AM. Back to the airport, back to Southern California, back to Tim and Cappy and Britches.

And sleep. Which I plan to indulge in again as soon as I send off this post. But I will fall asleep thinking of rows of pumpkins, kind hosts, a story a reporter told me, and glimpses I caught of friends along the way.

Photo above by Kevin Connors, from

Friday, October 06, 2006

What happened?

I said I'd post more that evening. A crazy thing to say.
I forgot to look at my schedule. I had something going on the next day from 8 AM until midnight, and had to be packed up and ready for my ride to the airport by 4:30 AM.
Today, I caught up on sleep. But I do have lots to tell you!

In the meantime, I will not make promises about when I'll post -- I'll just try to get back here more often.

More places to meet:

Saturday, October 7, 1:00 PM
Book Carnival
348 S Tustin Ave
Orange, CA

Tuesday, October 10, 7:30 PM
Barnes & Noble
16461 Ventura Blvd (at Havenhurst)
Encino, CA 91436
(818) 380-1636

Thursday, October 05, 2006

A quick note

I had a lovely time at M is for Mystery last night!

I will be writing more about that event later today -- at the moment, I'm about to rush downstairs to take on the day's tour activites....

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Mysterious Galaxy and beyond

(For some odd reason, this didn't end up on the blog on Tuesday...sigh....)

Many thanks to all of you who turned up at Mysterious Galaxy tonight! I'm especially indebted to Greg Thompson, Director of Forensic Services for the San Diego County Sheriff's Department, who was interviewed with me at KPBS and spoke to the crowd at MG about the local lab and its work and new programs.

If you didn't get my latest newsletter, sent yesterday, be sure to sign up for the next one by clicking here and submitting the form.

Now I'm packing for San Francisco and the American Society of Crime Lab Directors meeting. You can see me at these places:

Wednesday, October 4, 7:00 PM
M is for Mystery
86 East Third Avenue
San Mateo, CA 94401
(650) 401-8077
(888) 405-8077 (toll free outside the Bay Area)

Thursday, October 5, 1:00 PM
Book Passage
51 Tamal Vista Blvd.
Corte Madera, CA 94925
(415) 927-0960
(800) 999-7909

Thursday October 5, 7:30 PM
Capitola Book Café
1475 41st Avenue
Capitola, CA 95010

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Congratulations, Louise!

Congratulations to Louise Ure, whom some of you know from her posts here -- she won the Private Eye Writer Writers of America Shamus Award for Best First Novel for Forcing Amaryllis!

Go Louise, go!

Friday, September 29, 2006

Bouchercon and week one of the upcoming tour

A convention before a tour might seem like a nutty idea. Big (by mystery standards) fan conventions, like Bouchercon, can be exhausting.

But they can also be energizing -- and so far, that's what I'm experiencing here. I've met some lovely folks, made new friends, seen old friends, and generally had a great time. I even got to hear some good news today from Robert Pepin, here from France and one of my favorite people to catch up with at Bouchercons -- who tells me the French edition of Bloodlines will be published soon.

Laura Lippman and Meg Chittenden were stellar on the Crime Lab Project panel.

David Corbett moderated, or rather, encouraged bad behavior on the part Laurie R. King, Chris Grabenstein, John Connolly and yours truly on a panel that was a blast.

Unexpected bonus: Madison is about 20-30 degrees cooler than Los Angeles is right now, so I'm loving this weather...

After this weekend, the tour really gets into gear. Some of you know that I'm working on behalf of forensic science advocacy through the Crime Lab Project -- a portion of sales at these events will go toward the CLP. Most of the stores I'll be visiting will ship books to any part of the U.S., and some also ship internationally.

On Tuesday, October 3, I'll be back in California and beginning the tour for Kidnapped. That kicks off in San Diego at Mysterious Galaxy bookstore at 7:00PM. At this event, I'll be joined by Greg Thompson, Director of Forensic Services for the San Diego Sheriff's Department. Greg will talk about what's going on at the San Diego Sheriff's Regional Crime Lab.

After the event in San Diego, I'll be heading north to speak at the annual meeting of the American Society of Crime Lab Directors, in being held this year in San Francisco. On Wednesday, October 4, I'll be at M is for Mystery bookstore in San Mateo at 7:00 PM.

On Thursday, October 5, I'll be at the Book Passage in Corte Madera at 1:00 PM. Then at 7:30 PM, I'll be at the Capitola Book Café.

On Saturday, October 7, I'll sign at the Book Carnival in Orange at 1:00 PM.

I'd better get some sleep, huh?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

See you at Bouchercon...

Or so I hope!

I'm going to do my level best to post here from Bouchercon, but if I don't get a chance to do so, you probably won't hear from me until Monday.

The tour is about to begin, so I'm subject to the infamous pre-tour jitters. It's a special kind of madness that is partially alleviated by doing laundry at three in the morning -- although somehow I doubt many of the guy-writers try this cure. It is sort of like stubbing your toe to get rid of a headache, so I can't say that I blame them.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Thank you & something very cool

Many thanks to those of you who showed up at the opening reception on Sunday! Sandy's show is in the gallery until Thursday evening.

Okay, on the CLP Forum today, I mention something that I think is just one of the coolest, most interesting things ever offered to people who use the Internet.

I was made aware of this by Scott Raun.

I love history and science-for-people-who-weren't-science-majors, but I may have convinced some of you that I am either an incurable geek or much smarter than I really am. The bad news is that I'm not smart enough to be a true geek. The good news is that many of these papers are more accessible that you might imagine. Especially if you read the ones from the nineteeth century, when what looks like an "f" to most of us now was finally printed as an "s."

Try reading the snakebite case history and you'll see what I mean.

And you'll be really glad that you didn't win the Being Born Lottery two hundred years ago, and that we know a little more about snakes, toxins, and wounds than people did in 1809 -- a distance we would not have come without those in the Royal Society and academies like it.

Friday, September 22, 2006

This Sunday

If you are in the Long Beach area this Sunday, September 24, I hope you'll stop by California State University, Long Beach. Visit the Dr. Maxine Merlino Gallery between 5-7 PM and I'll give you a cupcake. With an animal cracker on it -- umm, I guess I'd better add that the offer is good while supply lasts.

"Explain yourself!" you say. (But if you have read this blog very often, you probably don't have the kind of high expections that would lead to such a demand.)

My sister Sandra Cvar, whose artwork I have mentioned in a previous post, will be one of the student artists whose works are exhibited in the gallery this week. Sandy is a printmaking major, and this is her Bachelor of Fine Arts show. It's called Animalia, and features prints made from her drawings and photographs of animals, using a variety of printmaking techniques.

To support starving artists and hungry viewers of artwork (as well as all the folks from the campus dorms, who have figured out that going to these openings is a fun thing to do -- and that there is free food available), I'm helping her by supplying some of the refreshments. I'll be there, and I hope you will be, too!

More about the schedule

Please note the time and place correction to the Tattered Cover event --

Wednesday, October 18, 7:30 PM
Tattered Cover Book Store
Colfax Avenue Store 2526 E. Colfax Avenue
Denver, CO 80202
(303) 322-7727

And I've just learned that I'll also be in San Mateo!

Wednesday, October 4, 7:00 PM
San Mateo, CA
M is for Mystery
86 East Third Avenue
San Mateo, CA 94401
(650) 401-8077
(888) 405-8077 (toll free outside the Bay Area)

Also --

On Thursday, November 9 7:00 PM Pacific, 8:00 PM Mountain; 9:00 PM Central; 10:00 PM Eastern
Murder Thursday Live Phone-In/E-mail Chat and Interview
I'll be joining David Skibbins for a fun phone-in interview! You can call in and hear the interview live. On the day/time of the interview, just call 646-519-5800 (no extra charges other than your usual long distance toll charges) and when prompted, dial in code number: 3867#
You can e-mail your questions for me to david @ (delete spaces before using!) before or during the interview. And you can listen to the show after it has occurred.

"Abstract" -- Photo above by Clarita, from

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

A modest proposal

When I am on my deathbed, I believe I will ask God to please give me back the time I spent in my life looking for my keys.

If you hear reports of a miraculous recovery, you will know what happened.

Monday, September 18, 2006

DNA Awareness Month

This month is DNA Awareness Month here in California, and what most of us are becoming more aware of is that a hell of a lot more cases might be solved if there wasn't such a big logjam in the vicinity of Richmond, courtesy of Sacramento and a few stingy counties. Before I lose those of you don't live in California, let me point out that this problem could easily be the obstacle to solving crimes in any state in the U.S., so if you live in the U.S., this could affect you.

DNA 101 -- it's not enough to find DNA evidence at a crime scene. To be of use, that evidence, once processed, creates a profile that has to be matched to a suspect's DNA profile. If no suspect is known, then there is only one place where a match may be found: in a DNA database. The FBI's national database is known as CODIS. You can see some fairly recent statistics on it here.

CODIS has two indexes. The Forensic Index is made up of DNA profiles from crime scene evidence. The Offender Index is made up of DNA profiles from samples taken from known individuals, mostly individuals who were in custody for violent crimes.

So a DNA Offender profile from a man in prison for a breaking and entering case in California might match the Forensic profile for a rape and murder case in Maine. In fact, this kind of thing is happening all over the U.S. -- cases from one state find a match to an offender being held in another. In July of this year, over 144,000 cases waited for a match in the FBI database.
Needless to say, you'd like to get a match before the offender is released, before the statute of limitations runs out on the crime, before you mistakenly hold an innocent person in custody for the crime, and before the offender harms new victims. (Sadly, mostly due to backlogs, what happens is that the word "after" has too often replaced the word "before.")

Each state has its own laws about Offender DNA collection -- whose DNA must be collected. Some require it only of violent sexual offenders, others collect only from those held for certain felonies. Some take samples from all felons. And as I've mentioned previously, many states can't keep up with the workload when it comes to DNA sample collection or evidence processing. Hell, some aren't even fingerprinting all arrestees.

But sample collection isn't a problem in California.

Processing the samples is. In this, California is not unlike other states, except as a matter of degree.

Some other day maybe I'll go wild on the civics lesson and talk about California's ballot proposition system, but for now, I'll just say that we passed a law that has greatly increased the number of convicts who must submit samples of their DNA for inclusion in the database, and eventually (in 2009, if it isn't shot down in court) it will require all felony arrestees to do so. Counties are supposed to help pay for this by forking over $1 of every $10 collected in misdemeanor fines. Not all of the counties are cooperating, so there's a huge shortfall.

Richmond is where the California Department of Justice's Bureau of Forensic Services is located. This is where the processing of Offender DNA samples (basically, taking the swabs, processing them by certain protocols, and creating DNA profiles which are then loaded into the FBI's database) takes place.

According to a recent article by Henry Weinstein in the Los Angeles Times, "the starting salary at the Richmond lab is $3,100, compared with $4,600 a month at the Los Angeles Police Department laboratory and $4,200 a month at the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department." And in a story on this backlog in the Riverside Press-Enterprise, Paul DeCarlo reports, "Their counterparts at the San Bernardino County sheriff's scientific investigations division, who enter DNA profiles of most Riverside County cases as well, earn about $8,667 per month."

You don't have to be taking calculus to do the math. Few analysts stay in the Richmond lab for long. Higher salaries are offered by cities and counties in the San Francisco Bay area, too.

And without the monies from the misdemeanor fines, the samples can't be sent out to private labs.

Since Prop 69 passed, over 2600 cases have been solved. That's victims and families with answers they've long awaited. That's suspects taken into custody and off of the streets. Law enforcement and prosecutors believe the number of "hits" could be greatly increased, if our nearly 300,000 sample backlog was diminished.

Some of our government officials get the picture. Others don't.

If you live in California -- or anywhere else in the U.S. -- before you vote for any candidate, ask where he or she stands on issues like these. Ask candidates how they plan to demonstrate their support for forensic science.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Added event

I have lots to tell you about the event I attended today, but it will have to wait while I finish some work. Meanwhile, this event is added to the tour!

Thursday, October 19 7:30 PM
Boulder, CO
High Crimes Mystery Bookstore
946 Pearl St, Boulder, CO
(303) 443-8346
800-356-5586 (orders only, please)

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Tour Schedule

Here's the schedule for my KIDNAPPED tour after Bouchercon, with changes and additions possible, so stay tuned.

Help the Crime Lab Project:
For each of these events below -- for every hardcover sold at these stores at the event or preordered for the event, I'll donate $2 toward the Crime Lab Project, and for every paperback, sold at the event or preordered for the event, I'll donate $1.

Even if you can't attend in person, many of these stores will ship books anywhere. So check their Web sites for details. Most will be happy to hold a book if you call or e-mail ahead of the date I'll be there, or order a book online, and tell them you want a signed book. If you want it personalized (for example "To Spooky, Happy Halloween!") let them know.

Tuesday, October 3, 7:00 PM
San Diego, CA
Mysterious Galaxy
7051 Clairemont Mesa Blvd, Suite 302
San Diego, CA

At Mysterious Galaxy, I'll be joined by Greg Thompson, Director of Forensic Services for the San Diego Sheriff's Department. He'll talk about what's going on at
the San Diego Sheriff's Regional Crime Lab.

Wednesday-Thursday October 4-5
San Francisco, CA
American Society of Crime Lab Directors Annual Meeting

Thursday, October 5, 1:00 PM
Corte Madera, CA
Book Passage
51 Tamal Vista Blvd.
Corte Madera, CA 94925
(415) 927-0960
(800) 999-7909

Thursday October 5, 7:30 PM
Capitola, CA
Capitola Book Café
1475 41st Avenue
Capitola, CA 95010

Saturday, October 7, 1:00 PM
Orange, CA
Book Carnival
348 S Tustin Ave
Orange, CA

Tuesday, October 10, 7:30 PM
Encino, CA
Barnes & Noble
16461 Ventura Blvd (at Havenhurst)
Encino, CA 91436
(818) 380-1636

Saturday, October 14, 1:00 PM
Thousand Oaks, CA
Mysteries to Die For
2940 Thousand Oaks Blvd.
Thousand Oaks, CA

Saturday, October 14, 3:30 PM
Los Angeles, CA
Mystery Bookstore
1036-C Broxton
Los Angeles, CA

Monday, October 16, Noon
Seattle, WA
Seattle Mystery Bookshop
117 Cherry St
Seattle, WA
(206) 587-5737

Monday, October 16, 7:00 PM
Lake Forest, WA
Third Place Books
17171 Bothell Way, NE
Lake Forest, WA
(206) 366-3333

Tuesday, October 17, (TBA- stock signing)
Portland, OR
Annie Bloom's Books
7834 SW Capitol Hwy
Portland, OR 97219
(503) 246-0053

Tuesday, October 17, 7:00 PM
Beaverton, OR
2605 SW Cedar Hills Blvd (at SW Walker Rd)
Beaverton, OR 97005
(503) 644-6164

Wednesday, October 18, 7:00 PM
Denver, CO
Tattered Cover Book Store
Historic LoDo
1628 16th Street
Denver, CO 80202
(303) 436-1070

Thursday, October 19, 5:00 PM
Denver, CO
Murder by the Book
1574 South Pearl St.
Denver, CO 80210
(800) 300-2595 toll free
(303) 871-9401 in Colorado

Friday, October 20, 7:00 PM
Scottsdale, AZ
Poisoned Pen
4014 N Goldwater Blvd. Suite 101
(1 block south of Indian School Rd on Goldwater Blvd.)
Scottsdale, AZ 85251
(888) 560-9919 toll free
(480) 947-2974

Saturday, October 21, 11:30 AM
Scottsdale, AZ
Benefit Luncheon for the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill - Arizona
(books sold by Poisoned Pen)
Jan Burke, David Morrell, and F. Paul Wilson
Kierland Westin Resort
6902 E Greenway Parkway
Scottsdale, AZ 85254
Tickets: $85; Seated with an Author, $125
(800) 626-5022 toll free
(602) 244-8166

Sunday, October 29
Austin, TX
Texas Book Festival
(More details soon!)

Monday, October 30, 7:00 PM
Birmingham, AL
757 Brookwood Village
Birmingham, AL 35209

Tuesday, October 31, 7:15 PM
Decatur, GA
Georgia Center for the Book
Decatur Public Library (DeKalb County Public Library)
215 Sycamore St.
Decatur, GA 30033
404-370-8450 X2225

Thursday, November 2, 7:00 PM
Jacksonville, FL
738 Marsh Landing Parkway
Jacksonville Beach, FL 32250

Friday, November 3, 8:00 PM
Miami Beach, FL
Books & Books
933 Lincoln Road
Miami Beach
(305) 532-3222

Saturday, November 4
Sarasota, FL
Sarasota Reading Festival
Five Points Park - Downtown, Sarasota
(More details soon!)

Monday, September 11, 2006

You clean house like I do if

1) this only occurs on any kind of rigorous level because someone who doesn't live in the house is expected to enter it

2) you have at some time changed the color of your clothing by leaning against something with bleach or cleanser on it

3) in a rush to prepare for the folks mentioned in item #1, you have placed something very important in a "safe" place. And will be unlikely to find it again for at least a year.

I'd say more, but we're expecting company.

Photo above by Jane M. Sawyer.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Banned Books Week September 23-30

When the actual week arrives, I'll be at Bouchercon, so just in case I don't get to post about this as much as I'd like then, I'll start early!

If you don't know about the American Booksellers for Freedom of Expression, visit their site and read up. Spend some time looking through their free handbook.

I was shocked to learn how many books are banned in this country. I thought that belonged to another time, a different place. I was wrong. Well, I thought, maybe it's just erotic works or books that have all my favorite swear words in them. Wrong again.

Take a look at this year's list to see what I mean. Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird is just one example of a book someone thought you should be forbidden to read.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Is it just my inability to embrace the idea of faces on my food...

... or is this one of the freakier things out there in the kitchen tools department?

My niece Timbrely sent me that link. I am not entirely convinced that Mr. Cucumber is meant for the table. It says it might encourage your kids to eat vegetables, but I'm sure that if my mother had put these faces on my veggies, I would have become a lifelong lachanophobe.

(That fab word comes from this great list of phobias, which could provide fodder for several posts and a dozen Scrabble games.)

Okay, I now return you to our regularly scheduled program. Don't forget to e-mail your member of the House of Representatives to tell him or her to fund the Coverdell National Forensic Science Act.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

A thank you note/A request

The thank you note first:

I had a wonderful evening at the Skokie Library tonight. Many thanks to Chicago mystery writer Michael Allen Dymmoch and to Jan Girten, Deputy Director of the Chicago Division of the Illinois State Crime Laboratory, who joined me on our panel there, and especially to librarian extraordinaire Ricki Nordmeyer, who made all the arrangements for the event and served as our moderator, and to Simon & Schuster, who helped me to get there.

The request:

Please read this post: CLP Forum: Important: Please Call or Email Congress Now

and make a phone call or send an e-mail. It's the difference between $18 million and zero dollars in Coverdell Grant funds for forensic science.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Imagine what would happen

if in every election in every state in the U.S., crime lab backlogs were a major issue.

They are a big issue -- at least, the DNA backlogs are -- in Wisconsin's Attorney General's race.

But what if you asked any candidate for your local city council, or anyone who sought election to a post as a county supervisor or state legislator, "How committed are you to insuring that forensic science is fully supported in our community?"

By that, you would explain, you mean specifically that your local police department would have what it needed in the way of equipment and training to process a crime scene and collect, preserve, and store evidence. A way to accurately investigate everything from traffic accidents to homicides. That dusting for fingerprints would be done at every burglary scene, unidentified suspects' latent prints entered into the state and national database, as well as those of all arrestees, and your local law enforcement able to access the FBI database through IAFIS. You would say that you mean that rape victims would be treated with sensitivity, and rape kits processed immediately. Your lab would be given adequate facilities, would be fully staffed, and well-equipped. Your local or regional death investigators fully qualified, and given all they needed to do their jobs. Death certificates issued within 30 days in all but the rarest cases. Lab turnaround the same. And that if your community lacked the resources, that your representatives would raise a hue and cry for state and federal funding for these needs.

What if every member of the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate had to tell you, the voter, that he or she supported full funding of the Coverdell Act and other forensic science legislation?

You need not only imagine what would happen. Give it a try.

Monday, September 04, 2006

This is beginning to be funny

My friend Twist Phelan has noticed something that we here at the Burke household have been shaking our heads over.

Three television shows:
The Nine

Three novels listed to your right:

I'm the most popular author on television! Or not on television!

Yes, yes, it is just coincidence, but -- if some show is named Remember Me, Irene in the near future, I'm going to really wonder....

Sunday, September 03, 2006

The redesigned site is online

Okay, it is online now -- my newly redesigned Web site. Your feedback is appreciated -- so if you find any problems with it or have any comments, let me know. After all, it's supposed to help you get information. I already know too much about myself.

The Schedule page has the first two weeks of the tour on it. Next four or five weeks will be added soon.

Progress/Tour Info

I've been posting a little less frequently here than usual, but I've had a productive few days, so I'm not quite as overwhelmed as I was when I wrote the "I'll get there eventually" post.

Yesterday I completed "The Empty Casket," a ghost story/short play for a benefit for the California Riverside Ballet, an event called Ghostwalk, attended by thousands of people each year. Ghostwalk takes place near Halloween. It will be held on the weekend of October 27-28 this year, when volunteers will conduct small tour groups around old "haunted" buildings in downtown Riverside. In each building, the groups will hear a ghost story, and there will be music and a short dance performance as well. The Ghostwalk is a family event, not designed to horrify the little ones so much as to provide a few chills and smiles for everyone -- it's fun way to support a great cause. Last year, I contributed a piece for the first time, and really enjoyed seeing my work come to life as it was acted out by a talented cast.

And I finished a guest editorial about the Crime Lab Project for Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. That should appear early next year, and I'll let you know more details soon. I'm very grateful to AHMM for the opportunity.

More information about my tour for Kidnapped is up at Simon & Schuster's Web site. This is just a partial list, I'll have more news for you about upcoming appearances soon. (If you missed the early posts about Kidnapped, they start with this one.)

And I've put in some work on the current manuscript, too.

I'm excited about the new look for my Web site. Heidi put lots of work into it. I think you'll like it.

Hope your own weekend is going as well as mine!

Photo above, "Ghosts," is by Michael S. Richter.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Like the new look?

Heidi Mack, my fantastic Webmaven, has worked long and hard on revamping my Website, and you're getting a sneak peek at the new look here.

More soon!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Is it possible that someone is awake about this issue?

Take a look at "Crime Lab Backlogs Extend Beyond DNA" a Kansas City Info Zine article, picked up from

Although much of the article still talks about DNA backlogs, it seems at least one reporter has noticed that DNA isn't the only problem area.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Having a rough day?

Or should I say, a ruff day?

Try a dose of Bark magazine's smiling dogs to cheer you up.

Just go to the magazine's Web site at and click on the link for Smiling Dogs. Who can resist smiling back at these pooches? I like the exuberant Ashley, coy Blenko, candid Candy (both of them), Fergus, Cisco....oh, why bother denying that I could look at dog photos all day?

Alas, I have a ton of work to do, so I'll leave you with that, and a strong recommendation to read Bark, which is by no means a mere pet magazine. As Esquire has said, it's the "coolest dog magazine ever."

Full disclosure here: I was once interviewed for an article in the magazine -- for a story on dogs portrayed in mystery novels. They sent me a year's subscription as a courtesy, and I quickly became hooked.