Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Rhys interviews Edgar-winner Jan Burke

Rhys here interviewing one of the grande dames of our genre, and my good friend, Jan Burke. Jan is known for her Irene Kelly mystery series as well as her stand-alone suspense titles and an outstanding collection of short stories. Her suspense novel Bones won the Edgar award for best novel (one of the very few women to do so in recent years!). In addition Jan has served on the board of Mystery Writers of America and is passionately involved in the Crime Lab project, campaigning for increased funding for crime labs.

I should say before we start that I have two fabulous pictures of Jan, with her luxuriously long hair but Blogger is being temperamental and not letting me upload anything. I'll keep trying and hope to add them to the post. Until then picture Rapunzel...

Jan, welcome to Jungle Red Writers and thank you for taking the time to drop in at this busy time of year.
So let's get to the questions:

Rhys: Your new book, The Messenger, is quite different from all your other books. I know you as a writer of tense, noir mysteries and thrillers--notedfor their realism. . The Messenger is described as "a chilling tale of thesupernatural". Tell us a little about it and why you chose to branch out inthis way.

Jan: The Messenger is Tyler Hawthorne. In 1815, at the age of twenty-four, he lay dying on the muddy battlefield after Waterloo. Approached by a large black dog and the mysterious Adrian Varre, Tyler accepts a memento mori ring and a bargain. He becomes a Messenger — never aging and nearly immortal, he will live a nomadic and solitary life, his only companion Shade, the cemetery dog who guards him. In return, given the power to hear the final thoughts of the dying, Tyler must convey these messages to their loved ones.
In present-day Los Angeles, he finds himself drawn to Amanda Clarke, who has secrets of her own. But will Adrian’s return put an end to any hope they have of being together?
As for why I chose to branch out, the idea for the story came to me and wouldn’t let go.

Rhys: Have you always been interested in the supernatural or is this book away to challenge yourself in a new direction? Do you actually believe inthe supernatural?It was once suggested by my publisher that I try my hand at horror. I toldhim that I believed too much of this stuff and would terrify myself tooeasily.

Jan: I’ve always enjoyed a well-told supernatural tale. I often read outside of crime fiction, so the supernatural is just one of the areas I like to venture into as a reader. One of the great gifts of fiction is the opportunity it allows us to consider questions that are important to us —while at the same time enjoying ourselves and entering into imaginary worlds to explore answers to those questions.
One thing I have discovered to be different about writing about the supernatural -- I’m a bit bemused by the “do you believe” questions. As a writer of crime fiction, I’ve never been asked if I believe justice prevails as often as it does in books, or if I believe newspaper reporters solve homicide cases as regularly as Irene Kelly does. But that has no bearing on how important I think crime fiction is, or diminishes the belief I have in the mirror fiction gives us, or the ways in which it can get to the truth.
I don’t believe there is a young man who’s twenty-four forever living in the hills above Los Angeles. Tyler is wholly my creation. And yet I feel strongly attached to him, and Shade, and Amanda. I learned a great deal by entering into Tyler’s world with him. He made me think about aging, frailty, and mortality in ways I hadn’t before, and I’m grateful to him for that.
As for my beliefs — beyond my personal faith — when it comes to things that go bump in the night, I’m mostly a skeptic. But I also have an open mind, and am very far from believing I understand everything there is to know about the universe.

Rhys:Where did you come up with arch villain Adrian Varre?
For a thriller, much of the power of a book comes from its villain. It’s quite useless to leave one’s hero unmatched. If he doesn’t present a challenge, and if he doesn’t have some traits that reveal him to be the antithesis of the hero, I haven’t done my job. What really separates Adrian from Tyler isn’t a difference of power — it’s that Adrian is extremely self-centered. In his mind, he is all that matters. Tyler couldn’t be less like him.

Jan: I will admit that the basement scenes sometimes made it hard to go to sleep after that night’s writing, but no use coming up with a villain who was supposed to be a threat to Tyler if he didn’t scare me.

Rhys Do you have a big booktour planned? Where can we find out about youritinerary? Do you actually enjoy the publicity side of writing?

Jan:The current plan is that I will be on tour from January 5 to January 25. I’ll be in LA, San Diego, Orange County, San Francisco, Phoenix, Houston, St. Louis, Kansas City, Lexington, Dayton, and Cincinnati.
The tour schedule is on my blog and on Web site – you can see it at either link:

Rhys: Do you have a blog or are you visiting any other blogs during yourpromotion of The Messenger?

Jan:I have a blog at
You can also reach it through my Web site.I will be visiting other blogs. I’ve got something coming up in January on Lipstick Chronicles. And I’ll post things to Facebook and Twitter. I’m Jan_Burke on Twitter.

Rhys: Tell us about your life in Southern California...and how you have themost amazing hair in the world (absolute envy from one who has always hadfine, short hair)

Jan: I live with my husband Tim and two dogs, Cappy and Britches. I spend time writing and running a nonprofit that tries to raise awareness about the need to better support public forensic science – The Crime Lab Project. []
The hair hasn’t been cut for a long time, other than trimming to even it out. I’ve tried very short hair at various times in my life. Some people look really cute with short hair – like you! As for me, who knows what I’ll do with my own in the future, but I’ll admit that the thought of hair appointments is not one that fills me with longing. I guess after a certain point, I ignored the memo about the mandatory neckline cut for women over 19. As you’ll see below, I don’t always follow directions.

Rhys: Finally the famous Jungle Red Questions:

Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple?
The Continental Op.

Sex or Chocolate?

Daniel Craig or Pierce Brosnan?
Tim Burke.

Katharine or Audrey Hepburn?
Katherine. Bringing Up Baby is my Prozac.

Making dinner or making reservations?
Cooking over a campfire.

Three true things about you and one lie; we'll guess which.

I was a paid history researcher.
I have never attended an autopsy.
I’m ten hours away from being a licensed pilot.
I brought caterpillars in from recess in the second grade.

Rhys: Thank you for taking the time during this busy season, Jan. I'll beinterviewing Jan in person at Poisoned Pen mystery bookstore in ScottsdaleArizona on January 7th. (And I think I'm going to guess that she never attended an autopsy--just because she's so intimately involved with that kind of thing! What do you think, fellow JRRs?)


  1. Yeah--I finally beat Blogger into submission and got Jan's picture posted! Hooray.
    Welcome Jan.

  2. Great post, Rhys and Jan! What a good point about the question "do you really believe ..."

    Looking forward to the new book!

    Camille Minichino

  3. I'm so looking forward to your new book. What a great interview.

    Marilyn from Springville

  4. Hey Jan!

    Welcome to Jungle Red! We're so thrilled to ring in the new year with you!

    A propos of nothing--I'm so glad Rhys managed to wrangle blogger into doing her will. That's just not how I pictured you would look. SO interesting!

    Do you like doing book tours? Look forward to it? (I guess when someone says they love your books--that's about the best possible thing...) Sorry you aren't coming to Boston!

    I love Bringing Up Baby, too! Whe the back of her skirt comes off? Hilarious.

  5. Jan. As always, I'm looking forward to your book.

    I have to tell everyone something else about Jan. She has a heart as big as our planet. I have a friend who is a huge, I mean huge, Jan Burke fan. She also suffers from Lupus.

    When Jan heard about my friend and her condition she drove to a nearby book store (we were at a writers conference) and purchased one of her own books to sign and send to my friend.

    That's the real Jan Burke. I'll never forget that. Never.

    Hey, Jan. We need to do another event/panel together, soon.

    Happy New Year, everyone!

  6. Wow, what gorgeous hair. She could even use it to strangle someone - in a book of course.

    Morgan Mandel

  7. Great interview, Rhys.

    Jan, looking forward to your new book. Quite a departure, but oh, what an interesting direction you've chosen!!!

  8. What a fun interview, Rhys and Jan. I can't wait to pick up The Messenger--I can see how it's a story that demanded to be written. It seems like a natural for future books, too!

    I'll be signing at both Jo-Beth Cinti and Books&Co later that week. Wish I could get there sooner--Jan will be a VERY tough act to follow!

  9. Hey, Jan - welcome to JRW.

    The first book of yours I read was BONES and it chilled me right down to my...bones. Doesn't seem like such a huge leap to supernatural. Tess Gerritsen did a great job going into the same terrain with The Mephisto Club. And Carolyn Harte's latest, "Ghost at Work," is a cozier shade of supernatural. About two years ago at a conference, an agent said "supernatural" was the latest trend, but she didn't expect it to last. Ha!

  10. Hi Jan,
    welcome to JungleRed. I'm sure you don't remember this, but we met and had lunch together a long time ago when you were Special guest at Deadly Ink (Northern New Jersey conference, I think that's the name...) I was a brand new writer with my first book out and you were incredibly gracious. I also remember your terrific hair. (the cut is only manditory if you have thin hair, mine is up to my chin now!)
    Anyway, your new book sounds right up my alley with the combination of history and supernatural. I'll definitely check it out!!

  11. Thank you all for the warm welcome!

    Hank, I think my favorite part is the "I was born on the side of a hill..." segment. She's wonderfully manic in that film.

    Lee -- who is very generous himself -- has made me blush. I also owe you a blog piece, don't I? Let's talk soon!

    Other Jan -- nice to hear from you again!


  12. Hank, sorry to take so long to reply -- being on the road is hazardous to my ability to keep up...

    Nowhere near having a pilot's license.

    Thanks again, Rhys & Jungle Red!


  13. Oh! I totally believed that one!

    Congratulations on all the great buzz on The Messenger! Can't wait to read it..