Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Nucleus of Inspiration, a Guest Blog by Camille Minichino

This is the first guest blog I've posted, but there will be some more. I'm on two panels at the Malice Domestic conference and will be posting guest blogs by many of the other panelists so readers can see what interesting writers are on these panels. This one is by Camille Minichino, a retired physicist who has multiple mystery series going right now.

Camille has 3 releases this spring: A re-issue of "The Hydrogen Murder" as an e-book; the second in the Professor Sophie Knowles Mysteries, "The Probability of Murder" (by Ada Madison, March 6); and the sixth in the Miniature Mysteries, "Mix-Up in Miniature" (by Margaret Grace, April 2).
Camille says, soon, every aspect of her life will be a mystery series.
The Nucleus of Inspiration

Many of my writer friends have been writers,or wanted to write, all their lives. My hostess today confesses to having always had a "narrative impulse" (I love that phrase).

Not true for me, though.

I spent all my time with math and physics, writing only technical papers, with stunning sentences, like, "It was determined that the 6328 line of neon would stimulate transitions in a crystal."

Then came March 28, 1979. The accident at Three Mile Island, the nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania, might have been the single most influential factor that led to my becoming a writer.

Anyone working in the commercial nuclear field at that time remembers where they were when they heard the news. It was pre-Internet, and I didn't hear about the incident until I showed up at work the next morning, March 29, thirty-three years ago today.

The facts of the accident are well documented, and the good news, we've been told, is that no negative health effects resulted.

For me, it meant immersing myself for the next few years in various aspects of power plants, from control rooms (where the TMI failure originated) to the hazardous waste generated by the plants. I visited plants, and wrote guidelines and proposals for nuclear safety and safeguards.My boss, a respected expert in the industry, and a Renaissance man, was frustrated by the proliferation of material and the lack of order to the avalanche of government and private reports on high-level waste.

"This information should all be in one place," he said. "Let's write a book."

"Sure," I said, though I had no idea what that involved.

We hired a woman with a new-fangled machine that looked like a typewriter but had narrow tape attached that somehow allowed her to correct mistakes without painting the page white. High-tech!

My boss and I sorted through boxes and boxes of raw material and finally produced a useful reference tome. The big thing: my name was on the spine, right under his.

So that's what all the fuss was about. Having your name on the spine of a book! It worked for me.

I took classes, experimented with fiction, and switched my attention to guidelines for pacing a scene, for developing character, for creating suspense.

I'm delighted to say that writing fiction is just as much fun as suiting up for a tour of duty at a nuclear plant. As for seeing my name on a book spine, it's still a thrill, after 16 published mysteries.

I love bringing all my different projects and "careers" together, so you'll find an inside look into the nuclear industry in "The Boric Acid Murder," and insight into the worldview of physicists- and mathematicians-turned-sleuth in The Periodic Table Mysteries and The Professor Sophie Knowles Mysteries.
And you'll know what I do to relax when you read the Miniature Mysteries, which are all about dollhouses—about as far as you can get from a 1-Megawatt reactor, though I haven't ruled out building one in miniature.


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Literary Mystery Novelists—Deborah Crombie

This post will take a slightly different from for this series. Since Deborah Crombie is on book tour right now, a review of her latest book, No Mark Upon Her, will replace the usual author interview.

Here's a link to buy the book.

Deborah Crombie, No Mark Upon Her (William Morrow) 375 pp. ISBN-13: 978-0230750630

Deborah Crombie’s excellent fourteenth mystery novel featuring Detective Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and Detective Inspector Gemma James offers the pleasures of authentic characters, complex plotting, and thorough exploration of little-known facets of British life—in this case, competitive rowing and canine search-and-rescue teams—that readers have learned to expect from Crombie’s books.

Rebecca Meredith, Olympic rowing hopeful and high-ranking detective with the Metropolitan Police, sets out alone to practice on the Thames one evening and never returns. As he is about to take paternity leave, Kincaid is called in when Rebecca’s body is found by a canine search-and-rescue team the next day. His superiors make it clear to Kincaid that his job is to keep a lid on the situation and prevent any embarrassment to the Met itself, but Kincaid insists on making a thorough investigation.

This throws the Kincaid-James domestic situation into crisis. James, who must return from maternity leave without Kincaid to take her place in their home with the children, including their newly adopted three-year-old, leads a different investigation into cold cases of rape that turn out to be related to Rebecca’s murder.

As a murder attempt on the search-and-rescue team member who found Rebecca’s body and had a relationship with her ratchets up the stakes, Kincaid and James risk their careers and their lives to unravel the tangle of deceit that leads deep into the heart of power within the Met.

Crombie uses her gift for lush, poetical recreation of place to good effect, especially in her descriptions of the waterways and the experiences of those who row and live on the river, demonstrating her skill with powerful, telling detail. The peace and beauty of this world that she creates stands in stark opposition to the chaotic, affectionate world of family-and-friend concerns and crises that is the very revealing and believable joint personal life of her two protagonists. As the intricate plot unfolds, even this rich personal world is threatened, making the book one of those mysteries that require the reader to stay up half the night to finish. Readers of Louise Penny and Elizabeth George will enjoy this novel.

Deborah Crombie Bio

Deborah Crombie was born in Dallas and grew up in Richardson, Texas, a suburb north of Dallas, second child of Charlie and Mary Darden. A rather solitary childhood (brother Steve is ten years older) was blessed by her maternal grandmother, Lillian Dozier, a retired teacher who taught her to read very early. After a rather checkered educational career, which included dropping out of high school at sixteen, she graduated from Austin College in Sherman, Texas, with a degree in biology.
She then worked in advertising and newspapers, and attended the Rice University Publishing Program. A post-university trip to England, however, cemented a life-long passion for Britain, and she later immigrated to the UK with her first husband, Peter Crombie, a Scot, living first in Edinburgh, Scotland, and then in Chester, England.

After returning to Dallas and working for several years in her family business (manufacturer’s reps for theatre concessions) while raising her daughter Kayti, she wrote her first Detective Superintendent Duncan Kincaid/Sergeant Gemma James novel. A Share in Death [Scribner, 1993], was subsequently given Agatha and Macavity nominations for Best First Novel of 1993. The fifth novel, Dreaming of the Bones (Scribner 1997), a New York Times Notable Book for 1997, was short-listed by Mystery Writers of America for the 1997 Edgar Award for Best Novel, won the Macavity award for Best Novel, and was voted by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association as one of the hundred best mysteries of the century. Her subsequent novels have been received with critical acclaim and are widely read internationally, particularly in Germany.

In 2009, Where Memories Lie won the Macavity Award for Best Novel.  In 2010, Necessary as Blood received a Macavity nomination for Best Novel.

Crombie's novels are published in North America, Japan, Germany, Italy, France, Norway, the Netherlands, Czechoslovakia, Spain, Romania, Greece, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and numerous other countries.

Although she travels to England several times a year, Crombie now lives in McKinney, Texas, an historic town north of Dallas, sharing a 1905 house with her husband, Rick Wilson, two German shepherds (Hallie and Neela), and three cats. She is currently working on her fifteenth Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James novel, as yet untitled.

Next week's Literary Mystery Novelists post will deal with Tony Hillerman, one of the great writers whose highly individual works have become classics.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Books of Interest by Writers of Color—Fred Arroyo

This review is later than planned due to illness and computer problems, but this is a book and an author well worth waiting for.
Fred Arroyo, Western Avenue and Other Fictions Camino del Sol: A Latina and Latino Literary Series (University of Arizona Press) 120 pp. ISBN: 978-0-8165-0233-2

Fred Arroyo’s impeccably crafted collection of short fiction, Western Avenue and Other Fictions, brings to life a set of characters locked into the dead-end squirrel cage of immigrant workers. Some of these characters will be familiar to readers of Arroyo’s brilliant debut novel, The Region of Lost Names, also published by the University of Arizona Press. This is not one of the trendy novels-in-stories, which so frequently dot the current literary landscape, but the collection does form a narrative, circling back through time and the perspectives of different characters within the narrative.

Each story is introduced by a short flash fiction/prose poem focused on the landscapes and people of the larger narrative, though not necessarily of the stories touching it on either side. The line is thin between the forms of flash fiction and prose poetry, and these bridge pieces tend to fall to the prose-poetry side with their lyrical evocations of just one moment in time. Set-pieces redolent of other times and worlds, they connect the stories into a powerful chain of narrative.

Arroyo offers the reader a loving view of even the less savory or likable characters, showing how the world of grinding poverty, racism, and classism in which they live has twisted them into the people they have become, destructive to themselves and others. There are no easy villains here, even in the stories where women and children are deserted or abused.

Perhaps the most haunting story in the collection is the one which contains none of the recurring characters, “Someday You’ll See.” It is bound to the rest of the collection through the concerns of love and family amid a world where fathers are destroyed and driven away while a whole population struggles with survival amid poverty and the capricious dangers of a system that may swoop down and rip families apart with impunity or send thugs to beat a son to death for daring to live in the white part of town.

In “A Case of Consolation,” one of the characters, who is a destructive force in other stories, is shown being “slowly transformed into a man without likes or dislikes, without a strong sense of desire or remorse, a shell alone on an empty beach without the inner, passionate song of the sea found in that place where shell, ear, and sea meet in the radiance of music.” Boogaloo, who has left a string of damage behind him before becoming sober, loses a new chance of intimacy, relationship, and love, perhaps through an immigrations sweep but almost certainly through his own fear of himself.

“First Love,” “In the Fields of Memory,” and “Western Avenue” take the boy, Ernesto, from childhood, trying in loving innocence to understand and care for a broken father who beats and adores Ernesto’s mother, to a fifteen-year-old, struggling to keep that father sane and alive as they descend into migrant-worker hell after his mother leaves, to a young man seriously injured in a tragedy at a factory where he works, who takes his convalescence time to get a GED and go to college while watching his friend sink unsalvaged into the desperate, dehumanizing life Ernesto is determined to escape.

These stories are about people who do unthinkable damage to each other and make inconceivable sacrifices for each other. Arroyo’s gifted command of language, adept characterizations, and lush, poetic realization of place through a sharp eye for the telling detail make Western Avenue and Other Fictions a treat for the reader--to be savored slowly and reread often.

Fred Arroyo is currently the Andrew Mellon  Postdoctoral Fellow in English  at Whittier College. His novel, The Region of Lost Names, was a finalist for the 2008 Premio Aztlan Prize, and Arroyo was named one of the Top Ten New Latino Authors to Watch (and Read) in 2009 by


Friday, March 9, 2012

AWP Recap—Part Two

Thursday night at AWP in Chicago, I was a co-host of Ragdale @ AWP, a reception for Ragdale alumni. This was held in the penthouse (22nd floor) of the Cliff Dwellers, on Michigan Avenue facing the lake. Here are some photos of the spectacular view out the windows and from the huge terrace outside the penthouse. Thanks to Mario Duarte and Miguel Morales for these photos.


One of my dear friends, José Faus, stands on the terrace outside the penthouse to enjoy the view. I was fortunate to be able to invite a number of friends who are fine writers to meet the wonderful Ragdale staff. I hope all of them will apply for a Ragdale residency. I know most of them will. And I had the added pleasure of introducing people I love to one another. This was a joyous occasion, bringing people I love together with Ragdale, which I love.

 Another of my beloved organizations, Macondo, had a fantastic session featuring the incredible Dagoberto Gilb (pictured here) and Luis J. Rodriguez in a creative dialogue moderated by John Santos.

Since Luis and I were the only ones to staff our table, I had to remain in the book fair so that he could make this great session. We've decided that, at the next AWP, we will ask some other people to make commitments to help us with the book fair.

We had book signings all afternoon beginning with Michael Warr and ending with Gloria Vando. Unfortunately, I don't have photos of those. They were quite popular, and we sold books, which is the purpose of such things. Our authors had a lot of fun with them, too.

Right after the book fair closed, I hurried down Michigan Avenue to Columbia College to give a joint Latino Writers Collective-Proyecto Latina reading. Here is Diana Pando, one of the Proyecto Latina masterminds, reading with the rest of the readers in the background.

We had a receptive audience of approximately 30 men and women, which surprised me since we were competing with dozens of other AWP offsite readings. The audience was illustrious with
Francisco Alarçon, Odilia Gálván Rodríguez, Diana Garcia, Carlos Cúmpian, and many other powerful writers. The material read, poetry and fiction, was strong, humorous, and dramatic, and afterward everyone enjoyed visiting with friends not seen for a long time.

Saturday morning, Ben and I had breakfast with Francisco Aragón and Luis before Ben left for the BkMk table and Luis and I headed back to the Tia Chucha/Scapegoat table.

On Saturday, the general public is allowed into the book fair, and it became truly hectic. By this time, I was losing my voice, and I had a panel coming up at 3:00 with other members of the Latino Writers Collective to discuss our writing workshops with the children of migrant workers. I'd been sucking on cough drops earlier, but Saturday I survived on herbal cough drops.

Here is part of our panel, right to left, José Faus, Miguel Morales, and me. Not shown in this photo, Gabriela N. Lemmons.

This panel is concerned with a central project that the LWC is involved with. The work we've done with these children of migrant workers has been emotional, draining, and satisfying since our first session with them. During our meeting back in Kansas City to prepare for the panel, we swore to each other that we wouldn't cry at the AWP, even though the stories and memories always throw us into tears. As we explained the program and the impact it had on these kids, as well as their great need, we each at one time or another broke our promise, but the audience cried also.

It was the next to the last session on a day when many attendees have already left, so it was a small audience--but such a passionate and involved audience! We felt grateful to be able to have a discussion with such attentive people.

I had to apologize since my voice was mostly gone--from three solid days of speaking to thousands of people a day in the book fair, I thought. This panel brought one more reward for me. Joy Castro and I have been communicating on Twitter and by email but had never met in person. Joy had shown up at the book fair on Friday, and we met. Now, she came to our panel, and Mario Duarte caught a photo of us together.

And that's an appropriate place to end. We left after the panel, and the great joy of AWP, as always, was seeing so many dear friends, most of whom were not photographed. Deborah Miranda, Ahimsa Timoteo Bodhran, Susan Deer Cloud, Ruth Behar, Allison Hedge Coke, Travis Hedge Coke, Susan Page Tillett, Regin Igloria, Eduardo Corral, Richard Blanco, Sherwin Bitsui, Maria Melendez, Alice Friman, Marilyn Kallett, Robin Becker, Judith Podell, Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich, Charles Rice-Gonzalez, Ching-In Chen, and many others. For some of us, far-flung across the states, AWP is the one time we get together. And it's what I always look forward to the most. My one regret this time was not having a chance to attend anyone's panels. Next year, we'll fix that, though. So good-bye , my friends, it's email, Facebook, and Twitter until we meet at the next AWP again. Next year in Boston!