Camille Minichino, a retired physicist turned writer, is the author of twenty-five mystery novels in four series. She currently serves on the board of NorCal Mystery Writers of America. She's on the faculty of Golden Gate U. in SF, and teaches writing in the San Francisco Bay Area. Learn more about Camille and her books at her website.
My husband catches me on the Internet again, at about three in the morning. Usually, I hear him coming, and I'm able to move my cursor quickly to the little x in the corner, and close my screen. But I'm engrossed, and don't respond in time.
"What are you doing looking at a map of New Hampshire?" he asks, standing in his pjs in our California house.
"I was just—"
The light dawns, he screws up his mouth, and accuses me.
"You're doing research, aren't you?"
We have this conversation about once a book. There have been twenty-five of them, plus about a dozen short stories, so that's a lot of rehashing.
"It's fiction," he says every time. "Who cares how many miles long New Hampshire is?"
"It has the shortest coastline of any state," I tell him. "Eighteen miles. I need that fact for my story."
"As if," he says, and shuffles back to bed.
I'm convinced that I'm right—that readers do care. What if a book club in Manchester-by-the-Sea chooses my book for discussion. Do I want some conscientious fact checker to announce that I have my details wrong, that I've sent my character on a trip to Augusta, Maine and back in under an hour?
I remember a movie where a guy is sitting in a bar in Oakland, California at 11:50 PM and realizes he can save a man from execution in Sacramento (82 miles away) at midnight. He rushes up there and makes it just in time. That's a 2-hour trip in 10 minutes. No wonder that's all I remember about the movie.
Even as I wrote the Periodic Table Mysteries, a topic I know a lot about, I checked my information and made sure a couple of beta readers were scientists with a different specialty from mine.
I have the most fun when I'm writing about what I don't know. I've called on experts in fields as far from my academic wheelhouse as the Lincoln-Douglas debates and veterinary medicine; as foreign to me as ice-climbing and tap-dancing; as diverse as hotel management and waste water treatment (I don't recommend this tour without a personal supply of oxygen).
I'm on speaking terms with a police investigator, an airplane parts factory owner, a documentary film producer, a small town postmistress, and a freelance embalmer (my cousin once-removed, who says I'm the only one who asks for details about his work). I've read blogs by bail bondsmen and New York City doormen.
I've found that most people are willing to talk to me well beyond my specific needs for one paragraph of a novel. They give me unsolicited books, magazines, and video links to back up their information.
All of this is by way of respecting my characters and story enough to let them shine, and not be dulled or shunned because I have facts or details wrong.
Of course, now and then something slips through. My most well documented slip-through is in The Hydrogen Murder, my first novel. My protagonist, a retired physicist and inveterate East Coaster refers to Cinco de Mayo as Mexican Independence Day. Oops, I heard from as far away as Mexico City on that one.
I'm so glad I had a chance to clear things up in the edition of The Hydrogen Murder that appears in Sleuthing Women – a nice segue to a thank you to Lois Winston, who masterminds that project.
Now I'm off to do another search—researching the best way to poison someone, mimicking a heart attack.
Addressed to Kill, Book 3 of the Postmistress Mysteries
Love is in the air for postmaster Cassie Miller and the residents of North Ashcot, Massachusetts. Valentine's Day is right around the corner, and the town is gearing up for a special dinner dance at the senior center. With the local musical group performing at the dance displaced from their regular practice location, Cassie is all too happy to host them during off-hours at the post office.
But not everything is coming up roses. When one of the musicians, Dennis Somerville, is found shot in his home, rumors swirl over who might have wanted him dead. Cassie must determine if there is a link between a string of recent break-ins and Dennis's murder before another victim winds up with more than a broken heart.