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Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Fan mail!

February is indeed looking up. While I have a half of a sore throat and while Mike still doesn't feel well, the house may eventually get put back into order. Virtually all the tile work has been done, leaving carpeting three bedrooms (including displacing us from the only room we've lived in since before the trip, with EVERYTHING we need to be able to find about to be moved to somewhere else either intentionally or by default. Ooohhhh, scary!)

Still, all is well. I spoke at noon at the Clyde Women's Club where they recognized students of the month. Funny how I can stand there and talk about the subject that fascinates me (the history of women judges in Texas) and never have a bit of a problem with my throat, but as soon as I stopped it started hurting again. Hum.

My day today has also been brightened by fan mail. When we returned from the trip I had an envelope full of notes from the students I spoke to at Bowie Elementary. I hadn't actually looked at them until today, and they are delightful! For instance:
  • Thank you for all the information about the book. That was good information.
  • (Speaking about the book they had read using which I compared advances in forensics with advances in medicine:) I bet if you would have writtin Phineas Gage it probably would be as great as it is.
  • Your life style is cool.
  • I want to be a writer Just Like you! The best book I like is all of them.
  • I like how you put the finger prints on every single page.
  • I also liked what you tolded us what bullets do and how they have there own shape and leave it's own marking.
  • When you said people who are dead and investigators need a print, they put the dead person's skin on their finger then they put it on the paper! That was tight!
  • I liked it when you told us about how we learned about your life.
  • I think I could read them 20 times. The books have great describing words.
  • I like the part about the shot gun and the bullet inside.
The letters from Bowie were neat. The icing on the cake, though, was my first absolute fan mail letter. It was forwarded to me by Capstone Press, the publisher, written by Nikkia and Jalen who are students at Clarendon School in Phoenix, Arizona! They asked some thoughtful questions, which I enjoyed answering. Here's what I said:
I'm delighted you enjoyed Cause of Death. I don't think your questions are weird; in fact, they show thought and insight. I'm pleased to answer them and any others you might have.

You asked first, "Are all of the scientific things that you use in this book including the dead body in the forest real?" I could answer this truthfully with either 'yes' or 'no'! Yes, the scientific information in the book is accurate, and the procedures are those used in death investigations on a regular basis. However, the introductory paragraph--the description of hikers finding a body in the forest--is fiction as it is written. I'm sure on windy August afternoons bodies of men have been found by hikers who first saw a squirrel. However, I don't know where or when that did happen, and the facts were made up to set the background for describing steps that would have been taken in those situations.

In fact, one problem my co-author Michael Dahl and I faced in writing this book is that various actual fact situations would have changed the procedures and people involved. For instance, if the park were the property of the United States, then park rangers would be involved in the investigation. In a park owned by the government of a county, deputy sheriffs would investigate.

Second you ask, 'Can dead bodies get eaten by just any kind of bug?' No. Some bugs eat only plants and would not eat animal or human remains. Many different kinds of insects may attack a body. However, the insects most closely studied may be various kinds of flies, especially blowflies. Their young, called maggots, appear in most bodies left exposed for any period of time. The number of generations of flies can easily be determined making time calculations more exact.

You asked about the fingerprint in the corner of each page. The words of the book were written by the authors. The "layout" or how the book appears is done by staff members at the publishing company. They put the fingerprints on the corners of each page. They did this on all four books of the series. The other three books are Fingerprint Evidence, Ballistics, and Blood Evidence.
Your fourth question is "When you examine bodies do you have to cut them open?" An autopsy is the operation on a body to determine the cause and manner of death. They always involve cutting the body open. The first cut is in the shape of a Y. Sometimes, though, an autopsy is not ordered. That happens when the person is ill and a doctor believes he or she knows how and why the person died. In other situations the way the person died is sometimes clear without an autopsy.

Your last question is whether all investigators are also police officers. The answer is no. Often the investigators are scientists who are hired by police departments or other law enforcement agencies. Many colleges now offer courses in death investigation. Phoenix College offers a two-year degree in Evidence Technology.

Let me tell you a little about myself. I am neither a police officer nor a crime scene investigator. I am a judge, hearing misdemeanor, civil, and juvenile cases. I've done that for sixteen years, and before that I worked as a lawyer. I wrote an editor with Capstone Press and told him I would like to write books for Capstone. I suggested several series of books since all books published by Capstone are in a series. The one he liked best was that about criminal investigation, so we agreed that I would write the four books. Later they asked that I work along with Michael Dahl. We did our work by email and talked a few times by telephone, but he lives in Minnesota and I live in Texas. We have never met. I've written other books for children, but they have not yet been published.

Thank you for writing me! While many people I've met have said they enjoyed the books, you are the first to write me without first having met me. I really appreciate your letter. I've mentioned you in my online journal, my web log. You can look at it at Look at the entry for February 2, 2005.
So thanks, Nikkia and Jalen. Thanks, too, to the folks at Bowie Elementary and Clyde Women's Club who made today a very pleasant break from the last two weeks.

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