Saturday, June 13, 2015

California Crime Writers Conference: Day 1 (afternoon)

Today's keynote speaker was Charlaine Harris, who was utterly charming and gave a wonderful, Southern-accented speech about, "Everything I know about writing." In this speech, she became the third person today to advise, "If not now, when?" Message received.

Charlaine Harris addresses the troops.

"Miss Marple's Rules: Traditional Mysteries Today"
Susan Goldstein (moderator), Jill Amadio, Susan Shea, Carole Sojka, Gay Degani

Goldstein on the definition of traditional mystery: 1) A criminal problem solved by a professional or amateur; 2) It's not about crime, but about relationships - what fractured the relationships?

On the changes modern times have changed the definition of traditional mystery:

Shea: Basic rules don't change - there's still a puzzle to be solved. Difference now is that the characters can move beyond a small town or their existing social circle.

Sojka: Social issues have changed and are now included more than in the Agatha Christie/Dorothy Sayers era. Her protagonist is an alcoholic and that plays into the story. Plus the modern technology.

On the subject of amateur sleuth:

Shea: Amateurs have skills from their day jobs that they can bring to sleuthing.

Goldstein: Amateurs can be teamed up with pros/law enforcement to give them access to information they wouldn't normally have.

Degani: Her protagonist was originally a suspect, which propels her to start researching and investigating her case.

"Forensic Investigation From Beginning to End"
Professional Donald Johnson, California State University, Los Angeles

Dr. Johnson seems like he would be a great instructor to have. His affability made the chasm between his personality and the horrific subject matter all that much more jarring. But if I was murdered, I'd want him on my case.

We were warned in advance that some of the photos would be graphic. It took a while to get to those, so I think we were kind of lulled into a false sense of security as to what we were going to see. They were from a real crime scene and one of the victims was a young girl. I won't even describe them, but as tough as it was to see the pictures, it also increased my admiration for people who work these cases and bring the killers to justice (which they did).

Some points about forensics:

  • Rigor is variable and therefore not necessarily a reliable indicator of time of death. Unlike on television, in real life they do not make a TOD determination at the scene of a crime. Same thing with digestion - too many variables.
  • Autopsies are usually done in order of receipt (yes, he used that expression).
  • It's assumed that first responders may unintentionally alter the scene.
  • Luminol is used to search for blood that is not visible to the human eye. It can detect blood diluted 1 million times, but can also react to paint and rust.
  • Stabbing: A lot of bleeding occurs internally and can actually leave very little blood at the scene.
During the Q&A (and after the graphic photos), Dr. Johnson was asked how he and others in the field cope with the horrible stuff they see. He responded that he does view it as a mission, but also as a scientific issue. He also said it helps to have a cast-iron stomach.

Oh, and by the way, have I mentioned that this is part of the silent auction:

It's a replica, but WANT.

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