Monday, November 12, 2007

Making Mystery History…with Forensics University

On November 1, 2007, Sisters in Crime made mystery history with Forensics University of St. Louis. For the first time ever, writers were able to attend a conference solely focused on one purpose: education about crime. Not book promotion. Not schmoozing with fans. Not the art of writing.

No, Forensic U was different. Here in St. Louis, we put the CRIME back into crime fiction.
At this conference, multi-published writers, newbies, fans, and readers sat side-by-side to learn from law enforcement and forensic professionals. For two-and-a-half days, these experts shared a constant stream of knowledge. They spoke honestly and without censor knowing they weren't being recorded. As a result, we saw unspeakable and graphic images, heard horrifying tales of human cruelty, and reveled in uplifting stories of bravery.

But, the honesty of our experts was, in part, a testament to the professionalism of our attendees. Time after time, our experts stopped me to say they loved speaking to our group. They enjoyed our interest, our passion and our intelligent questions. To them we were a delight, a refreshing change—a group too fascinated by subject matter to get grossed out. Think about it: We scheduled lectures on Interpretation of Blood Spatter and Medicolegal Death Investigation right before lunch and no one complained!

Of course, part of the draw was our fabulous headliners, Jan Burke, Eileen Dreyer, Lee Lofland and Dr. D. P. Lyle. Dr. Lyle has since been named "Dean of Forensic U."

How successful was ForU? Let's consider a variety of indicators:

1. Publicity—The conference was widely touted in advance on List-Serves and industry publications, picked up by a blog run by forensic scientists in England, covered by a local magazine and by local television. Fliers were distributed at most major conferences the nine months before. And our post-event publicity buzz is astonishing. Meg Chittenden wrote a lovely piece about the conference that appeared on DorothyL. And the bloggers have been generous with their praise. Check out these links and comments:

2. Budgetary concerns—Michelle Becker, my co-chair, and I worked with the fabulous Tony Hooper, a local member and former CEO. We were very conscious of being stewards of SinC's money. I'm pleased to say it looks like we came in under our budget for the event.
3. Membership—We have 35 new members as a direct result of the conference.
4. Number of attendees—114
5. Number of presenters--13
6. Outreach—A nice group of our local Romance Writers of America attended. Folks came from all across the nation. This was clearly a NATIONAL conference.
7. Evaluations—Still going through them, but overwhelmingly positive. Folks are asking, "When's the next Forensic U?"
8. Charity—We raised nearly $4000 for the Crime Lab Project Foundation9. Number of women who can now claim they shot a gun… Uh, priceless!

On behalf of my co-chair Michelle Becker, I want to thank the National Board of Sisters in Crime for having faith in us.

Posted by Joanna Slan

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