Monday, February 26, 2007

The Magical Mystery Tour is waiting to take you away...

Okay, a bus from Vroman's Bookstore with yours truly aboard is waiting to take you to Westwood...hop aboard with me and you'll miss all the traffic and parking hassles at the LA Times Festival of Books!

Here's the deal:

I'm going to be at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books on April 28th, and I'm getting there and back in a really fun way -- even if I do have to be alert at 8:30 AM!

Vroman's, the fabulous independent bookstore in Pasadena, California (which you should check out online, even if you are nowhere near this state) has kindly invited me to be one of the authors for its 6th Annual Book Bus Ride to the L.A. Times Festival of Books. As their site says:
Join us Saturday, April 28 for a day that begins with a bagel & juice breakfast before our 8:30 a.m. departure, a Vroman's Book Bus hat, a bag full of books & goodies, games and prizes, milk & cookies for the ride home, and a 20% off coupon good April 28 - May 4 at our main store.
Tickets are $45+tax per person, and they sell out every year -- so sign up early to reserve your seat! If you want to be on the bus I'm on, be sure to tell them your preference when you make reservations.

For reservations, please call Vroman's Customer Service at (626) 449-5320.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Back home -- kind of

I'm back from the road, but tomorrow I'll be in San Clemente, California for their sold-out Friends of the San Clemente Library event. You have to love a community that shows that much support for its library!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

On my way to the Alamo

The American Academy of Forensic Sciences meetings are in San Antonio this week, so I'm off to Texas for a few days.

I love these meetings, although due to my obligations for the Crime Lab Project, I participate in them a little differently than I did a few years ago. And because I'm trying to finish a book and have a speaking engagement here in California next weekend, I won't be able to stay for the entire meeting.

But while I can, I'll enjoy the company of some of the most dedicated men and women I have the honor to know. I hope you'll continue to ask your legislatures to give them better funding for their work.

I'll catch up with you here whenever I can!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Learning Anatomy the Hard Way

This story on a late 18th/early 19th English surgeon who reputedly benefited from a team of grave robbers caught my eye and made me think again of how dangerous it was to study anatomy before anyone had a good notion of germ theory or antibiotics on hand.

But doctors weren't the only ones risking their health to study anatomy. Veterinarians and artists who made studies of animal anatomy often did so at their peril. If you've read the most recent issue of Bark Magazine, which has several great articles in it, you may have also seen the one about artist George Stubbs (1724-1806), whose paintings (like the one above) of animals broke new ground in part because he was an avid student of human and animal anatomy — he taught at a school of medicine at one point, and published works on anatomy.

If you are anywhere near the Frick in New York, take the opportunity to see a special exhibit of his work. It's only there between now and May 27, and this is its only stop in the U.S..

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Forensic University

I'm excited about a new event, one that Sisters in Crime is sponsoring. It's a four-day event on forensic science, called Forensic University of St. Louis, "50 Ways to Catch a Killer."

I'll be blogging about it here.

But don't worry -- I'll be back with thoughts on all kinds of things that have come to mind lately.

Right, as if you worried....

Here's the missing photo from the Buffalo post

This guy is much warmer than the city at the moment.
The photo is used courtesy of dayleemojo, from

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Off to Buffalo

I probably won't post for a few days -- I'm on my way to Buffalo, New York.
Yes, I know it's February, and what happens there in February.
Don't worry 'bout this Californian.
Writing while snowbound is actually rather wonderful.
At least, it is when you get to decide that you've had enough of snow.

Had another photo I wanted to use here, but when it comes to images, Blogger and I are apparently not working together well these past few days. Keep getting error messages.

[Update: Addded irritation now that I finally have Internet access again -- this post, from Thursday, didn't make it to the blog. So, greetings from JFK airport, and I'll hope to overcome all these blogstacles!!!]

Wednesday, February 07, 2007


In 2005, when a television reporter in Madison Wisconsin walked into a Beliot radio station and acted strangely — pulled out a gun, reportedly made threatening comments to a DJ, said something about being an undercover CIA agent — he was arrested. He underwent psychological evaluation, was ultimately found not guilty by reason of "mental disease or defect," and was placed in a treatment plan. I'm glad no one was hurt. I also think it's good that no one got too carried away in analyzing the event, or went too wild blowing it out of proportion.

You may wonder why I bring this up. I want to point out that no one at the time suggested that everyone at the television station he worked for needed re-evaluation, that the station should lose advertising dollars, or that being a television reporter held inherent risks to one's mental health. (Whatever people may think privately about the latter.)

And yet, over the past few days, I've heard comments along these lines following the arrest of a member of the space program.

The trauma of the victim in the case in the news should not be minimized. My heart goes out to her.

I don't know enough about the accused or what happened to want to try a case on my blog. I'll leave that to the justice system. I just want to say that those who are making loosey-goosey statements about how the astronaut's alleged actions reflect on the space program should step back a minute and get some perspective.

Take any profession that has been around for more than an afternoon, and you will very likely find someone in it who has behaved less than rationally. Among those who've endangered the lives of others when perhaps not in their right minds: doctors, Members of Congress, Vice Presidents (I'm thinking Aaron Burr, ladies and gentlemen -- my story and I'm sticking to it), pilots get the picture. You probably get the big picture.

Of course there are concerns that someone who might be suffering a mental illness could endanger lives. (Every day, supposedly perfectly rational people probably cause far more deaths than the mentally ill, but let's not quibble.)

From all I've heard from interviewed psychologists offering opinions about her case from afar, it's unlikely that most screening processes would have identified this woman as having a problem. And unlikely that she would have identified herself in this way. I don't know.

What I do know is that it's a sad story, all the way around.

And one that has nothing to do with the importance of the space program.

Let's not get carried away.

Let's keep reaching for the stars.

[Update on photo: as you can see, the problem seems to be worked out.]

Image credit: NASA, ESA, and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
"This image from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope shows the diverse collection of galaxies 450 million light-years away in cluster Abell S0740 near the constellation Centaurus."

Another Fun Discovery - Thanks to Timbrely!

Okay, I am going to have to spend lots more time on this site and looking at the T-shirts, but I think I'm already in love with Jessica Hagy's Indexed. Today's "We're All Going to Hell" is just one example of her fascinating ability to say it all on an index card with one graphic.

Take a look at "Sometimes Average is Good."

Or, "There Must Be A Catch."

And if you read the Irene Kelly short story "Call It Macaroni," then you can understand why I like "Nourishing."

Timbrely, thanks again!

Monday, February 05, 2007

On Detectives Not Detecting

I promised Mary-Frances I'd say more about this, so here goes ...

A couple of years ago, I interviewed editors and agents for a column I used to write for a mystery writers publication. Almost all of them said that one of the biggest problems they find in manuscripts by new mystery writers is that the detective does little or no detecting. "Detective" is used here in an informal sense -- the protagonist of the mystery, whether or not he or she is with law enforcement or is a private eye.

Now, to readers, this might seem like a problem that should be obvious to a writer, but it is easy to let it creep up on you when you are the person creating the work word by word, line by line, page by page.

It's especially easy to turn your detective into what I call the Serial Interviewer — the Serial Interviewer is nearly as common in crime fiction as the serial killer, and to my mind, just as deadly when it comes to reader interest. This is a detective who never really solves anything or puts two and two together. Throughout the book, he spends most of his time visiting other characters and talking to them. Bit by bit, they tell him everything. Eventually, someone tells him who committed the murder. Quite often, it's the murderer himself, confessing — holding a gun on the hero, no doubt. He'll be foiled at the last moment, but not before he supplies all the answers for the idiot in his gun sights.

You should try to come up with something a little better than the Serial Interviewer.

By no means am I suggesting that your detective shouldn't question witnesses and others. She can meet intriguing (and possibly guilty) characters, and you can increase tension in the book through these encounters. We can see her act as an observer of persons and their habits.

There's a fine old tradition of this sort of thing in the mystery novel, and some of the best humor in them has come from such encounters. Alas, it often seems as if the people who love the witty observations and repartee of Chandler's Marlowe and Hammett's Continental Op have failed to notice that both characters also solve crimes. They do talk to lots of folks, skewer some, and snap out comebacks -- but they also do some real thinking.

A detective needs to notice things other characters aren't seeing — and at the end of the day, we shouldn't be wondering if all the other characters have missed clues because they are walking while comatose. A detective has to draw conclusions others might reasonably fail to make. He or she should be actively involved in solving the crime -- not passively collecting solutions. Even an armchair detective like Nero Wolfe is more active than passive -- he uses his mind, has the ability to sift through information to arrive at a logical conclusion. Ideally, the reader has also had the opportunity to observe and gather information at the detective's side, but hasn't necessarily recognized the significance of important clues.

(If you're writing a book of suspense or a thriller, some of your tasks may be different than those of writers of detective fiction. That doesn't mean your hero should be passive, though.)

This business of the detecting detective is also one of several reasons why learning about forensic science is a starting point rather than an ending point for writing a mystery novel. Simply having an unusual idea about how someone might be killed or having an idea for a single clue or piece of evidence is nowhere near what you need to write a novel. Among many other obligations to your reader, you have to figure out how the detective will find the key to the meaning of the evidence. You also have to make it clear how the detective arrived at an answer when others didn't.

So look through that manuscript before you send it off, and ask yourself if your detective is carrying the story forward, or simply being swept along on a tide of readily available information. If you work to make the hero more active, you'll increase the possibility of selling your book.

Just my opinion on the matter — in the end, you get to try it your way.

Photo above courtesy of Clarita, who kindly made it available on

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Back again

Briefly, anyway.

Just returned from LCC 2007. Andi and all the other volunteers (I'm not forgetting you, Stu!) did a fabulous job of running this convention. As usual, I didn't get enough time with all the people I wanted to see. Seattle is a great place to hold a meeting -- lots to see and do and plenty of wonderful eateries, too. I made my usual pilgrimage to Wild Ginger.

The forensic panels went very well -- many thanks to those who came to hear those sessions. I also enjoyed doing the LCC 101 panel with Janet Rudolph of Mystery Readers International.

I now return you to your regularly scheduled Internet -- I'm off to do some laundry!

Above: This lovely photo of Seattle, taken from the Bainbridge Ferry, is used courtesy of Carrie Hosfeldt, who has my thanks for making it available on