Saturday, December 29, 2012

This and that

"Almost Midnight" by Grafixar from 

Collected end of the year notes...

I've posted over on the Crime Lab Project's blog, on the topic of forensic science as a local matter and the need to take action at that level.  I hope you'll take the time to read it.

I have some exciting news that I can't quite announce yet, but hope to give you near the start of the New Year.  Sorry for the tease.  Can't help myself.

January is dedicated to writing, although I will be getting out of the house a couple of times for literary events.  I am so honored and pleased to be returning to the Baker Street Irregulars and Friends Weekend in January in New York City.  Several of the events scheduled for this "annual gathering of the oldest Literary Society dedicated to Sherlock Holmes" are open to the public.

On Saturday, January 26, from 11 AM to 4 PM I'll be part of the "Mystery on the Menu Luncheon" at 
the Cerritos Library.  This event sells out quickly, so visit the library's site to purchase a ticket.

As some of you know, we lost our beloved Belgian Shepherd, Britches, at the beginning of November.  He was eighteen, which is very old for his breed, and every one of those years was one we are thankful for.  He was a big sweet, wonderful dog.

Jan with Britches as a pup. Photo by Steven Cvar.

Wylie, our younger dog, was lonely and mopey without him, and we believe that in general dogs are happier when they are in a household with at least one other dog.
Wylie ©2011 by Jan Burke

So we adopted a one-year-old shepherd mix we've named Jolie (you can hear it pronounced here) from the Seal Beach Animal Care Center, a wonderful facility.  She a sweet and happy soul, and we love this new addition to our family.

Jolie ©  2012 by Jan Burke.

 One last thing before I go back to work on my manuscript -- thank you.  Thank you so much for your interest in my work, for buying the books and coming to signings and events, for telling your friends about them.  I deeply appreciate it!  I hope that 2013 brings you all the best.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Baker Street Irregulars Weekend!

I'm so looking forward to a special set of events to be held in New York City next month, as the Baker Street Irregulars meet to celebrate the 159th Birthday of Sherlock Holmes.  I attended last year (and return) thanks in large part to my friend Leslie S. Klinger, whose amazing New Annotated Sherlock Holmes has provided me with many hours of pleasure and loads of new information about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes novels and stories.  I will add that these three volumes make a terrific gift for anyone who loves Sherlock Holmes.

I'll be reviewing mine over the next few weeks, happily preparing for this set of events.  Most are open to all Sherlockians.  Some, like the Baker Street Babes charity ball, are already sold out, but check out the BSI Weekend site for the full list of celebrations.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Random Advice for New Writers: Agents

A post today on Facebook by my friend and esteemed colleague James W. Hall — who has shown himself to be very generous when it comes to helping other writers — made me realize that I haven't posted advice for new writers in a while.

So I'm going to mutter random advice for as long as I can stand it, and if we're both lucky, maybe if you're struggling and confused and wandering, I won't do anything to worsen those conditions.

I'm going to talk about writing itself a little later on, but 20 years in this line of work has allowed me to see that many new writers are convinced that they write beautifully and wonderfully and in a fresh and exciting way and so really, they just want to know how to get paid a ton of money in recognition for their genius.  Or at least quit their day job. Never mind the art and craft — "Nailed it!" they say as they reread their first manuscript — they want to know about the business side of writing.

So they ask, as do those with a little less self-assurance, how do I find an agent?

As I've said before, there is no licensing body for agents.  Anyone can say, "I'm an agent," and put it on a business card or Web site.   Some unscrupulous folks figured out a long time ago that about a zillion suckers — each with no head for business and each too enamored of his or her own work — are dreaming of being published writers and famous and so on, and if you could make a buck-fifty off of each of them, you'd be wealthier than any of them will ever be.

Which is my windy way of saying you don't need an agent -- you need the right agent. 

You would not go into the business of selling bicycles without understanding that they have two wheels.  Or stay in that business if you didn't understand much, much more about it.  So if you had a burning desire to sell bikes, you'd study up.  So if you want to be published, and don't want to strictly rely on dumb luck and all the prayers your mother said for you, study up on the business side of writing, too.

This idea may make you feel afraid.  Afraid is the natural state of many writers, so don't let that paralyze you.  Just move ahead in whatever increments you can manage.

So, where to start?

I can't say this often enough:  read SFWA's Writer Beware Website.  Twice.  Don't get hung up on the fact that you may not be writing in SFWA's genres -- seriously, this site is a major public service for all writers.

You can also learn a lot about agents from the best known professional organization for literary agents, AAR, whose members agree to abide by the AAR Canon of Ethics.  Members of AAR agree not to charge fees for reading manuscripts.  They have a section of their site that accurately and succinctly describes how the process of finding an agent usually works:  FAQ about agents -- and answers.

Responding to James W Hall's question, the fabulous Jeff Abbott recommended the blog of former literary agent Nathan Bransford, now a successful author.  I've just taken a quick look at this, but it seems to be well-designed and has accessible and meaningful advice from someone who has been on both sides of the equation.  An A-Z of publishing.  Go to the left sidebar on his home page and look through Publishing Essentials.

And although Miss Snark hasn't posted anything to her blog since 2007, there is still a lot to be learned from her snarky, tough love blog.  Look at the categories on the right.  The crapometer is a teaching tool, ladies and gentlemen.

You can also find an agent at a reputable conference, and I'll talk more about that and other agent info in another post.  But you have some reading to do.  Take a look at the four sites above.  And read books by James W. Hall and Jeff Abbott.  They've been good to you today.  And you can learn to write better novels by studying what they do.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Trick rider

When I was about 8 or 9, my parents gave me a camera.  This is from one of the first rolls of film, which at that time, really was a roll.  So I think I'll have some fun posting a few of my early experiments.

This one was probably taken by my mother or father.

Yes -- pay no attention to the kickstand.  But this does give a little insight into the kind of kid I was.

Maybe that should be past tense.

As for news -- Marcia Clark, Chris Rice, and I are going to try a new method of hold a chat, since our last one -- fun as it was -- had a few technical hitches.  To gain access to the chat, like my Facebook page.

So "like" it before October 11th, the date of the chat!

And I'll see some of you at Bouchercon very soon!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Hello from the worst blogger ever

Well, okay, not ever.  And I suppose other criteria for worst would leave me far out of the running.

But I have been terrible about keeping up here.

So here's a little news!

1) There's a new trade paperback of Bones available now.

2) I have a fan page on Facebook!  Yes, finally!  And since it will be a little easier to update than the Website or blog, news will probably be there first.  You can "like" it if you are on Facebook at

3) Those of you on Facebook are invited to participate in a chat with Marcia Clark, Christopher Rice, and me on Thursday, August 30th at 3 PM Pacific, 4 PM Mountain, 5 PM Central, 6 PM Eastern time in the U.S., 11 PM GMT.  Marcia's hosting the first one, so just "like" her Facebook page -- if you have trouble with the link, then just search for "thatMarciaClark," which is also her Twitter handle.
She's already got some great questions in mind, so hope to see you there.

4) I will be at Bouchercon in Cleveland!
This event -- fewer than 80 days away -- is nearly sold out, so if you want to attend, now is the time to sign up.

5) Other schedule updates can be found on my Website.  The schedule page is at

6) For those who may not know, I'm also on Twitter.  Follow me at Jan_Burke --

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

A Visit to the Flight 93 National Memorial

On the Sunday evening after Malice Domestic, I met with two friends and their spouses for dinner.  In addition to being friends, Paul Sledzik and Marilyn London are forensic anthropologists who have helped me a great deal with research.  Without their help and that of others in their profession, Bones could not have been written.  That aside, they are among my favorite people on the planet.

They asked me about my itinerary now that Malice was over.  I told them that I would be getting up early the next morning and driving to the Pittsburgh area, meeting a cousin for lunch, and then going on to a set of events for the Festival of Mystery in Oakmont, PA, sponsored by the Mystery Lovers Bookshop.  Early the next morning, I would head back to the Washington, D.C. area, to catch an afternoon flight from Dulles.

"Oh, you'll be going near the Flight 93 Memorial," Paul said.

From others, these might have been casually spoken words.  But Paul and Marilyn were on the D-MORT team sent to Stonycreek Township, near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.  As clearly as any of us remember that time, few of us think of it as they do.  I know they and other responders were deeply affected by their work.  I also know that as they worked, those at the site of the crash of Flight 93 carried an awareness of the heroism of the passengers and crew.

United Airlines Flight 93 was one of the four planes hijacked by terrorists on September 11, 2001.  It is believed that the plan of the terrorists was to crash it into the U.S. Capitol, where Congress was in session.

Because of heavy traffic, the flight's takeoff was delayed about 25 minutes.  By 9:28 AM -- the probable time the terrorists incapacitated Captain Jason M. Dahl and First Officer Leroy Homer and took over the plane -- the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon had already taken place.  When the passengers on the flight called their loved ones, they learned of those events, and determined to do all they could to regain control of the plane.  We know from their conversations with their loved ones that they took a vote and rushed the cockpit.  In the ensuing struggle, the plane crashed at 10:03 AM into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, killing everyone aboard.  Because of their courageous actions, countless other lives were spared.

As great as our grief is for those lost on that horrible day, as hard as it is to think of what they must have endured, we can only imagine the chaos and further pain caused if the plans of the terrorists aboard Flight 93 had succeeded.  The U.S. Capitol is only eighteen flight minutes away from the crash site.  They were -- we all were -- eighteen minutes from what would have undoubtedly been an act of mass murder on an even larger scale.  These passengers and flight attendants made their decisions and fought back and sacrificed their lives all within about thirty minutes.  In that much time, they changed the way the story of Flight 93 ended.

So after talking about it with Paul and Marilyn,  I decided to visit the memorial.  On Tuesday, as I drove from Pittsburgh toward Virginia, I exited the turnpike and let the GPS take me most of the way, enjoying the scenery until I lost faith in satellite guidance, and followed signs to the entrance.

For those who have never visited the Western Pennsylvania countryside, let me tell you that it is incredibly beautiful.  Rolling green hills, mountains, sunlit valleys, woodlands filled with tall trees of every shade of green.  There are rivers and creeks and covered bridges, small towns and big wooden barns.  Good and helpful people.  Its history until recently had been most closely tied to the founding of the country, not the confounding of modern terrorists.  It is a place of serenity.

So is the memorial.

The development of the memorial is still underway, and I found myself glad to visit it in its current phase.  In some ways it matches the wound — not quite raw, not fully healed.  A straightforward, stark place of honor and remembrance.

Beyond the black wings of a low-walled pathway is a field that stretches toward a stand of hemlocks.

There is a boulder there, by which small flags -- the type you might see in a cemetery on Memorial Day -- have been placed.

It is a cemetery -- the remains of the crew and passengers still lie in this field.

There are a few places along the pathway where niches are cut and memorial items are left by visitors.

 A butterfly rested near one of these while I was visiting the site.

The pathway leads to the white marble Wall of Names.

Here are the names, each name carved on one stone (clicking on the names below will take you to brief articles about each person, published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2001):

The crew:
Captain Jason M. Dahl
First Officer Leroy Homer
Flight Attendant Lorraine G. Bay
Flight Attendant Sandy Waugh Bradshaw
Flight Attendant Wanda Anita Green
Flight Attendant CeeCee Ross Lyles
Flight Attendant Deborah Jacobs Welsh

The passengers:
Christian Adams
Todd M. Beamer
Alan Anthony Beaven
Mark Bingham
Deora Frances Bodley
Marion R. Britton
Thomas E. Burnett, Jr.
William Joseph Cashman
Georgine Rose Corrigan
Patricia Cushing
Joseph DeLuca
Patrick Joseph Driscoll
Edward Porter Felt
Jane C. Folger
Colleen L. Fraser
Andrew (Sonny) Garcia
Jeremy Logan Glick
Kristin Osterholm White Gould
Lauren Catuzzi Grandcolas and Unborn Child
Donald Freeman Greene
Linda Gronlund
Richard Guadagno
Toshiya Kuge
Hilda Marcin
Waleska Martinez
Nicole Carol Miller
Louis J. Nacke II
Donald Arthur Peterson
Jean Hoadley Peterson
Mark David Rothenberg
Christine Ann Snyder
John Talignani
Honor Elizabeth Wainio

They came from as far away as Japan and Germany, as near as New Hope, Pennsylvania.  They were moderate, liberal, and conservative.  They were gay and straight.  They were young and old and somewhere in between.  They were headed home and beginning new adventures.  They were returning from funerals, coming home to newborns, and going to retrieve the remains of a recently killed loved one.  They loved their children, wives, family members, friends, and lovers.  They had hobbies, interests, plans, goals and dreams.  They wrote poems and books and created cartoons.  They did good in the world long before they boarded Flight 93.

As they halted whatever the terrorists planned, their own plans came to a halt.  We move on as they no longer do, but we remember them in a field in Pennsylvania.

I urge you to visit the memorial if you can.  It is a lovely place of green grass, trees, and water. A place of wind and birdsong.  I recorded the sounds, and you can listen to a snippet of that at the link below.  I hope it brings a little of this field of remembrance to you.

Sounds of wind and birdsong from the Flight 93 Memorial

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Remembering John Pagliano

I have lots to tell you about Malice Domestic, the Festival of Mystery, and my visit to the Flight 93 National Memorial.  But first, please allow me to talk about Dr. John Pagliano, someone who made a difference in my life.

When I come home from a week of traveling, there is always a pile of newspapers to be sorted through.  As you might guess, I love newspapers, and consider our subscriptions to the Long Beach Press-Telegram and the Los Angeles Times to be very low-cost watchdog fees.  The one lying on top of the pile was LATExtra, the AA section of the Times for Friday, April 27.  Eventually I worked my way to the obits.

I seldom read the obituary section, but when it catches my eye, I become completely engrossed.  I love reading the tributes to loved ones, seeing what is said when entire lives are summed up in a few lines.  Do the families choose photos that were taken recently, or long ago?

The first one was for a gentleman named William George Armbruster.  At one point the writer of the obituary said, "Well Bill, you finally made the 'Irish Sports page' as you called the obituary columns."  I think I would have liked Bill Armbruster.

The obits are in alphabetical order, so it was a while before I had the shock of seeing a familiar name.  John W. Pagliano.  "Sports podiatrist, world class runner, lecturer, father, husband, brother, uncle, passed away Friday, April 20, 2012."

I don't want to give the impression that Dr. Pagliano was a close friend, although he was someone I would have been honored to know better.  I saw him only a few times, as a patient of his practice of podiatry.  He was an excellent doctor, someone who took time with his patients and treated them kindly.  He didn't just hurry in, prescribe, and dismiss.  He explained the problem, treated it, and told you what to do to prevent its return.

He was an internationally recognized specialist in sports medicine and injury prevention, and a well-known runner.  In high school, inspired by Roger Bannister's 1954 world record run -- the first mile under four minutes, a feat some said would never be accomplished -- John Pagliano began running.  It became a lifelong love.  He is in Occidental College's Track and Field Hall of Fame as an ultra long distance runner from the class of 1962.  He continued running -- this 2009 article in Running Times mentions that he was then routinely covering 45 miles a week.  I recently learned that he had been diagnosed with lymphoma in 2005 -- so that adds a little more perspective.  He ran over 100 marathons and ultra-marathons.

His practice of sports podiatry in Long Beach spanned over forty years.  His patients included many of the rock stars of running and other sports.  His articles and professional publications on the subject of injury prevention and treatment made him an icon in the field.  He taught others as well, serving as a clinical instructor at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center and elsewhere.

Once I went to see him was when I had been injured while training for a marathon.  I was not a gazelle.  I did not and do not resemble the lithe figures you picture when you say "runner."  I was in that group known in running circles as a "Clydesdale."  Big and slow.  At the starting line, we stay back, let the racers go first, then begin our version of a marathon.  It's all good.   I had an excellent coach, John Loeschhorn.  I could write a lot about the experience, but for now, I'll just say that I knew that running the marathon was an all-day event.  My goal was to finish, not to break any records.  Ideally, to finish before the course closed.  I trained for months, determined to cross that line 26.2 miles from where I started.

Then came the injury.  While the injury itself was painful, more overwhelming were my fears that I wouldn't be able to participate in the event.  Not only did Dr. Pagliano reassure me that I'd be able to do so, he gave me good advice for staying healthy while I continued to train.   When I went to see him in a follow-up visit, I confessed to him that I had a typical first-marathoner's fear that I wouldn't be able to go the distance.  He asked me to tell him the farthest distance I had run in training.  When I did so, he again reassured me.  I can't put this into words, really -- but there was something so calm and certain in that reassurance -- he looked me right in the eye and said with a sincerity I could not doubt, "You'll do it.  You'll make it."

It gave me faith that long outlasted my recovery from the injury.  Many times during my training and that marathon, I thought of Dr. Pagliano.  Although most of his patients were people who would have been able to run the race more than twice as fast as I did, he had never treated me as a lesser being.  I was runner.  I would be all right.

There are so many of us, whether Clydesdales, gazelles, athletes, or couch potatoes, who know we will be all right because of John Pagliano.  I will think of him with gratitude over the distance.

Donations in his memory may be made to:
Dr. John W. Pagliano Memorial Fund
Occidental College
1600 Campus Road
M-11 Tiger Club
Los Angeles, CA 90041
Please contact Dana Valk with questions: 323-259-2678

To learn more about Dr. Pagliano, please visit:
Advanced Foot and Ankle Center, "Dr. John Pagliano, DPM."
Club Ed Running, "A Huge Loss for Runners Everywhere."

Friday, April 13, 2012

Malice Domestic Will Be Here Soon!

I'm so excited about Malice Domestic!

I'm the Guest of Honor this year, but I'm also excited because Simon Brett, whom I greatly admire, will be given the Lifetime Achievement Award.  Elizabeth Peters, Dana Cameron, Lee Goldberg, and fan Ruth Sickafus are among those who will be honored, and there will be a special remembrance of the late Tony Hillerman.

Malice Domestic will be held in Bethesda, Maryland, April 27-29, 2012.  Click here for more information:

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Left Coast Crime!

I'm excited about Left Coast Crime, which will be held in Sacramento next week, March 29-April 1, 2012.  I hope to see you there!

The convention attendees have honored Disturbance with a nomination for the Golden Nugget, an award given for best mystery novel set in California -- many thanks!

The registration fee for the full convention ($225) includes a banquet/awards ceremony, reception, and breakfast. This year's program includes a writing workshop on Thursday, available for an additional charge.  Day passes are also available.

To learn more or to register, please visit