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.