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.