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Monday, January 11, 2010

Author Interview: Camille Minichino

Joining us today is Camille Minichino who wrote the Periodic Tables Mysteries and is currently authoring the Minature Mysteries under the name Margaret Grace.  You may read my review of her book The Oxygen Murder on this site.  She received her Ph.D. in physics from Fordham University, New York City. Her new series, The Miniature Mysteries, is based on her lifelong miniatures hobby. She has had a long career in research, teaching, and writing. She is currently on the faculty of Golden Gate University, San Francisco and on the staff of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Camille is on the Board of the California Writers Club and NorCal Sisters in Crime.

- Do you start your next mystery with the killer, the victim or a plot idea?

When I'm starting a new series, I start with the protagonist. I know who she is and who her friends are -- then, where's the potential for murder?

- Do you outline the plot or some variation of that (a little/a lot of detail, a strict 3 act structure etc) before sitting down and writing?

Every time I get stuck in the middle of a book, I promise myself I'll outline the next one. I'm now working on my 14th book ... still no outlining! I do keep track of things through an Excel spreadsheet, so I know, for example, when I'm 1/3 through my word count and therefore need a particular kind of plot point. Other than that and keeping to my contracted word count, I just write.

- I loved Gloria Lamerino in the Periodic Table Mysteries (and Gerry Porter in your current Miniature Mysteries), what is your process for developing a character? Do you use pictures, a worksheet or just let the character tell you about him/herself as you write?

Thanks! The main characters are always clear to me, as if they come to me with a story to tell if I'll just listen. For secondary characters, even walk-ons, I associate them with a particular person in real life (mostly for physical attributes) or a celebrity, just to guarantee continuity.

- How do you find time for writing, what works for you - and do you have anything special you do before writing, particular music or a special room/location that helps you get in the zone and write??

I have several "day jobs" -- teaching and editing. I've learned to use time in small increments when that's all that's available to me. If I have only 10 minutes before I have to leave the house, I'll do something on my novel -- a bit of research, a little tweak here or there. It keeps the work at the front of my mind. If I waited for a long stretch of quiet, I'd never accomplish anything. As for space, I have a well-equipped, cluttered office and a chair that's comfortable for hours. It now has duct tape on the back, but I don't dare get a new chair!

- What is your work schedule like when you're writing and how long does it take you to write a book?

When I'm on a tight deadline, I might spend 12 or more hours a day on the book. In general, a book takes about 10 weeks to write (meeting regularly with a critique group), then I send it off to beta readers.

- How much research goes into your work and do you complete that up front or "just enough" as you go?

I research as I go, especially now that the great research tool, the Internet, is in front of me all the time. For the first books, 12 or so years ago, I have large binders of research material. Now I have bookmarks on my toolbar!

- I particularly enjoy how you create a sense of place. Setting seems as important as the characters in your mysteries, any tips on conveying a sense of place well?

My favorite topic! Setting is more than "where." I try to make every metaphor or simile recall the setting. Revere is on the Atlantic Ocean. I don't just say that once, but I use ocean type words all through the book, describing something as wavy, for example, or mentioning a salt breeze, or using grains of sand to describe a texture. The idea is for the reader to be reminded constantly of where we are, what the ambience is, how all the senses are impacted by the place. For Lincoln Point, California, my fictional "miniature" town, I gave the town character by making its citizens Lincoln-o-philes, with Lincoln quotes on public buildings, a reenactment of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, and so on. Again, I use metaphors that recall Lincoln, or California. California smells different from Revere!

- Can you recommend a fiction book that provides a great example of the writing craft to dissect and learn from?

Joseph Kanon's "Stardust," or any Joseph Kanon. He's the master of dialogue, for one thing, and for being able to surround a simple mystery story line with rich characters and setting. Study any page from one of his books and it's a crafts class.

- What are you currently reading?

The Best Mystery American Mystery Stories, 2009, ed. by Jeffrey Deaver. I'm studying them also as I write short stories, especially to bring back the periodic table mysteries.

- What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?

That I write cozies, but I read DARK: Dexter, Thomas H. Cook, Martin Cruz Smith. I don't like any of the hallmarks of cozy mysteries: pets, kids, plants, really happy endings ...

- How did you get your first break towards getting published? Was it sending in a query or meeting an agent at a writing conference etc?

I sent a cold query to all the A's and B's in Writers Market. My plan was to continue through the alphabet, but I got a taker at A -- Avalon Books. Once I had 2 books with Avalon, a small press, I was able to get an agent.

- Do you participate in a critique group (or have you in the past?) What are the pros and cons of critique groups?

I couldn't do without one! I'm very lucky to have a wonderful core group of critiquers: Peggy Lucke, Jonnie Jacobs, and Rita Lakin. When I have a complete draft (probably fifth or sixth!) I send to about a dozen other readers, some writers, some not, and I pay attention to every bit of feedback. No cons, except it is hard to find the right group, one that's at once supportive and critical, AND not wanting to rewrite your book.

- Tell us about your upcoming book, Monster in Miniature due out April 2010. What aspect of the new book did you particularly enjoy?

Monster in Miniature was such fun because 1) by the fifth book in a series, I really know my characters and can let them go on adventures with some confidence, and 2) the Halloween theme was a natural for a mystery! Without spoiling anything, I'll tell you that a Halloween decoration comes to life, and then death!

THANK YOU Ms. Minichino for such a wonderful interview.  I find it interesting that you enjoy reading dark material yet write cozies.  What I really find fascinating is how she is a physicist, very fact and left brain oriented and yet she does wonderful fiction that is right brain oriented.  I have to agree about finding a really good critique group and thank you for the Joseph Kanon tip.  I had not read any of his but I have him slated in my TBR books now.  So dear readers, what did you find interesting in the interview?
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camille minichino said...

There's nothing like a really beautiful web design to make my words sound good!
Thanks so much for letting me share with your readers ...

A.F. Heart said...


Thank you so very much for the interview. It was a pleasure interviewing you and please let me know anytime you wish to guest blog or do a blog book tour.

AF Heart

Camille Minichino said...

You had great questions!

I'd love to come back in April when the next book is out and I may also be able to talk about a brand new, third series!


Anonymous said...

Great interview. She was lucky to find a taker in the A's. Thinks of how much time and stress that saved. Good for her :)

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