Monthly Archives: January 2010

First Reviews of 212! So far, so good…

Even when I’m finished writing a book, it doesn’t immediately feel “real.” The story has a beginning, middle, and that all-important end, but I’ve lived with the ideas and characters so long in my head that those pages still feel like they belong only to me. Even as the edits are made, the title is finalized, and blurbs are landed, the book is like a house still under construction – exciting, full of potential, but still a figment of the imagination.

But then something wonderful happens. Other people — human beings who aren’t related to me or work for my publisher — read it, and the book finally becomes real by creating a story in the minds of readers. And those first readers, for better or worse, are called reviewers.

I’m pleased to say that the early reviews of 212 have been fantastic:

“The latest installment of … Burke’s Ellie Hatcher series is a fast-paced thriller featuring an appealingly current angle, dynamic characters, and a spiderweb of possibilities she manages to leave tied up neatly. Strongly recommended.” – Library Journal

“Burke skillfully portrays her protagonist’s relationships—with victims’ families and persons of interest; with her partner; with her female boss, Liuetentant Robin Tucker; and, especially with ADA Max Donovan…. Up-to-the-minute, action-packed crime fiction.” – Booklist

“212 is one heck of a thrill ride… An intense story that will keep you reading way past your bedtime. And when it’s over, it will leave you begging for more.” — Lori’s Reading Corner.

Many of you have been supporting me and my work for years by reading and even spreading the word to your friends and family. I’m so thankful for your continued interest in my books, but, piggie that I am, I have the nerve to ask you to help Team Alafair once again. If you will be purchasing 212 (and I hope you will), please pre-order from your preferred bookseller. Pre-orders are a sign of reader interest: The more pre-orders, the higher the “buzz.” It’s rough out there, folks. Your support means the world to me.

You can pre-order 212 at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Borders, or your favorite indie. As always, if you order through one of the bookstores on the 212 tour, I look forward to inscribing and signing your books personally. Lean more about 212 here.

Author Bios: What’s Missing from the Back Inside Flap?

I promise this next sentence is an honest intro to today’s post, not just BSP: This weekend I officially joined the board of directors of Mystery Writers of America and became President of the New York chapter. (Pause for applause.)

In preparation for the annual MWA board funfest (aka orientation day), the unparalleled Margery Flax requested a biography to distribute to fellow board members. I sent her the usual jacket copy:

A formal deputy district attorney in Portland, Oregon, Alafair Burke now teaches criminal law at Hofstra Law School and lives in New York City. A graduate of Stanford Law School, she is the author of the Samantha Kincaid series, which includes the novels Judgment Calls, Missing Justice, and Close Case. Most recently, she published Angel’s Tip, her second thriller featuring Ellie Hatcher.

Her response was polite, quick, and resoundingly clear, something like, “Are you sure that’s all you want to include? This is usually a longer fun one, only for internal board distribution.”

In other words, Yawn, Snore, Zzzz….

I can take a hint, so I gave it another try. Borrowing in part from my website, I allowed myself thirty minutes to hammer out something that would give those who hadn’t met me yet some sense of who I am and where I’ve been. Margery’s assurance that this was purely internal was freeing.

After I submitted my specially-designated “MWA board bio,” I couldn’t stop thinking about the sterileness of those book jacket author bios, scrubbed clean of all personality. As writers, we’re committed to exploring the human stories that lurk beneath the superficial, but when asked to describe ourselves: Yawn, snore, zzzz…..

I’ve spoken a few times during author appearances about a hypothetical world in which books (like the law school exams I grade as a professor) would be published anonymously, their authors known only by a randomly assigned number that readers could use to “identify” the authors they consistently enjoyed. After all, what separates reading from television and film is the active role of our mind’s eye. To read books without knowing an author’s age, gender, race, religion, region, education, attractiveness, or work experience might truly unleash our imaginations.

Despite my musings about a utopia of anonymous publishing, I’ve come to realize why publishers emphasize (and readers desire) personal information about authors. The most delightful unexpected benefit of writing has been meeting some of my favorite authors. I already read these folks religiously before I met them, but I’ll admit that I read them differently — and more richly — now. I recognize the wry winks in Laura Lippman’s most leisurely paragraphs. I hear Michael Connelly’s quiet voice in Bosch. I think I really know what Lisa Unger means when she writes on Ridley Jones’s behalf that she’s a “dork.” And those short, little, maddeningly frustrating sentences from Lee Child are now sexy as hell.

But I didn’t get any of that from the book jackets.

As the traditional print media and personal appearance opportunities for authors to introduce themselves to readers continue to dry up, many of us have taken to the Web. We do that not only to get our names out there, but also because we recognize that readers are more likely to experience our written work as intended if they come to it with a sense of who we are. (For example, an online reviewer once dissed a line of Ellie Hatcher’s, something like “kicking it old school.” The fact that it’s corny to talk that way is of course precisely why she’d say such a thing. And if the reader “got” Ellie or anything about my work, he’d know that’s — ahem — just how we roll.)

So as we’re knocking ourselves out to convey our souls to readers, maybe we should take another look at book jacket bios. The publishers are going to type something beneath that favorite photo: It may as well be interesting. And so, even though Margery promised to keep this unsanitized bio a secret, I’ve decided to blast it out to the world:

Alafair Burke is the author of six novels in two series, one featuring NYPD Detective Ellie Hatcher, the other with Portland prosecutor Samantha Kincaid. Although reviewers have described both characters as “feisty,” Alafair might accidentally spill a drink on anyone who invokes that word to describe her or anyone she cares about.

Alafair grew up in Wichita, Kansas, whose greatest contribution to her childhood was a serial killer called BTK. Nothing warps a young mind quite like daily reports involving the word, bind, torture, and kill.

From Kansas, Alafair dreamed of fleeing west. Fearing their daughter might fall prey to a 1980’s version of the Manson Family (um, Nelson?), her parents prohibited her from attending school in California. Ironically, she ended up at Reed College, where the bookstore sold shirts that read “Atheism, Communism, Free Love,” and Alafair found herself (lovingly) nicknamed Nancy Reagan and The Cheerleader.

From Reed, Alafair went to the decidedly less hippy-ish Stanford Law School. Although she went with dreams of becoming an entertainment lawyer so she could make deals at the Palm and score seats at the Oscars, she eventually realized she had watched “The Player” one too many times, and instead decided to pursue criminal law because she was obsessed with the Unabomber.

Most of Alafair’s legal practice was as a prosecutor in Portland, Oregon, where she infamously managed to tally up a net loss on prison time imposed during her prosecutorial career. (Help spring two exonerated people from prison to put a guy called the Happy Face Killer behind bars, and it really ruins your numbers.) As hard as it is for her to believe, she is now a professor at Hofstra Law School.

When Alafair is not teaching classes or writing, she enjoys rotting her brain. She runs to an iPod playlist with three continuous hours of spaz music (think “It Takes Two” by DJ Rob Bass, “Smooth Criminal” by Alien Art Farm, and “Planet Claire” by the B-52’s). She insists that Duran Duran, the Psychedelic Furs, and the Cure hold up just as well as the so-called classics. She watches way too much television, usually on cable. She wants Tina Fey to be her BFF. She likes to drink wine and cook.

She discloses TMI on the Interwebs, blogging regularly at Murderati and logging teenage-territory hours on Facebook. She will golf at the drop of a hat even though she’s bad at it.

Most importantly, Alafair loves her husband, Sean, and their French bulldog, The Duffer. She also loves her parents, but if you ask her about them, she’ll ask you about yours.

What do you think? Should all authors let loose on their jacket flaps? Would it affect that crucial decision of whether to purchase? Would it change how we read? If you’re a writer, what should your author bio REALLY say? And if you’re a reader, what would you like to know about some of your favorite writers?

Edgar Award Nominations

This week the Mystery Writers of America will announce the nominations for this year’s Edgar Awards, the Oscars of the crime fiction world. This weekend, I had the pleasure of joining the board of MWA. I took the opportunity to ask incoming, outgoing, and recurring members of the Board to recognize the works they would most like to see nominated for an Edgar Award this year. What do you think? What novels, debuts, paperback originals, short stories, true crime books, plays, TV shows, or movies would you like to see recognized this year?

Update: The nominations are posted here. I had no new works out in 2009, so for once I can simply celebrate the nominees without a milligram of resentful pouting. Congratulations!

Recurring Dreams

I just woke up in my New Orleans hotel room from a dream in which another writer told me that I was horrible on the book tour circuit and had alienated a bookseller so much that he’d taken to the Internet to spread the word about my awfulness. Instead of heeding the other writer’s warning, I proceeded to argue with her. My editor finally had to step in to say I was ruining her party. When I looked online, it turned out the warning had been true. The manager of a Borders in Michigan had filled the interwebs with his anti-Alafair rants.

Now, to be clear: the writer in my dream was not anyone I know. I made her up. Ditto with the bookstore manager. Same with the gorgeous house that served as backdrop to the party. And yet it was all so vivid. I can picture the writer. Still feel my seething hatred as she gloated at my promotional failures. The negative postings about me were fully formed sentences that my subconscious apparently wrote before I read them on that computer screen in my dream.

So I woke up thinking about dreams.

I have friends who insist they don’t dream, but apparently sleep researchers say we all dream. Some of us just don’t remember. I’m not one of those people. In my dreams, I live entire days and months that feel in some ways more real to me than my waking life. I wake up, like today, angry or hurt about things that never happened. I’ll confess that I’ve felt love in dreams only to wake up and realize the people I loved don’t even exist. I’ve had dreams that I’ve finished writing a kickass novel, then open my eyes to reflect on what was really just a bunch of nonsense.

And sometimes I believe these dreams have to mean something.

I mentioned I’m in New Orleans. What I didn’t tell you is that, two hours from now, I’m presenting an academic paper in front of a large conference of law professors. Or that last night at the bar a professor friend shared some concerns about an essay I’m currently writing. Is it pure coincidence that I dreamed my work was scorned and ridiculed? As Harry Bosch says, “There are no coincidences.”

Carl Jung would agree. How, other than through a collective unconscious, can we all share so many of the same dream images? In my post-dream online perusing this morning, I came not across anti-Alafair rantings from a Borders manager (thank God!), but a blog post purporting to compile the ten most common dreams.

I searched for mine and found them all: chases, paralysis (those two often go together), being late or lost (often I’ve started school again but didn’t prepare), and, the worst and most common of all, the falling out of the teeth.

Supposedly these are all signs of stress, indications that we feel we’ve lost control of something in our lives. The link is a little too literal for my preferences. Wouldn’t it be terrific if a sense of insecurity or chaos made us dream we were eating a room full of french fries or sipping wine at a villa in Tuscany? Much more fun than broken teeth and unplanned public nudity.

So how do you dream? Do you remember your dreams? Do your dreams feel real or fantastical? What are your most frequent recurring dreams and what do you think they mean?