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.