(Lois Winston is taking a break today and welcoming mystery author Camille Minichino to guest blog in her place.)
In Henry VI, it was the lawyers who got short shrift:
"The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers."
But in this blog, the lawyers are safe. I'm going after physicists. Chemists and mathematicians, too, it turns out. I never wanted to kill scientists, but it was necessary.
I was surprised when my first book "Nuclear Waste Management Abstracts," didn't hit the bestseller charts. How come no one was turned on by that title? It's out of print and I probably won't be bringing it back soon as an e-book.
In fact, most of the work I did as a physicist, starting in spectroscopy and ending in nuclear power plant safety, was newsworthy to only a small fraction of the reading public. In fact, to only a small fraction of physicists.
When I retired from physics, I thought I'd try a slightly more popular genre than Nuclear Reactor Literature. I'd write a mystery series, with a physicist sleuth, based on the periodic table. That would give me 109 (at the time) books, far more than that famous 26-book series. Maybe it would sell four times more books.
But the murdering part was harder than I thought it would be. How could I kill a physicist? Or even a chemist? And I couldn't make them killers themselves. Scientists as bad guys? Never.
But if I wrote whodunits and the scientist suspects were never guilty—well, so much for suspense. I imagined readers making up their suspect lists and then crossing out all the scientists, saying, "It's Minichino again. I guess the hairdresser did it."
Finally I realized that what I wanted most, besides telling a good story, was to portray scientists in general and physicists in particular as normal people who behaved like anyone else.
In mystery novels, that behavior would sometimes include murder.
So, I set to work to kill physicists and to frame others for murder.
And what do you know? Suddenly my science creds soared. I was invited to speak at college science departments and even got an interview in the magazine Physics Today, where usually only the "name" physicists get column inches.
By killing a few physicists, I went from a "midlist" scientist to top level.
(Hmmm. I could have skipped right over those 5 years of hard work in graduate school and created my own fictional lab from the beginning!)
Now I'm at again with my new series. Writing as Ada Madison, I serve up a math teacher, Professor Sophie Knowles. I haven't killed a mathematician yet, but I did do away with a campus chemist in the first book, The Square Root of Murder.
Truthfully, the whole math prof series is a direct response to Angelina Jolie.
Remember that great action scene near the start of Salt? Evelyn Salt (Jolie) is on the run from the bad guys. She's crawling along the side of a building, several stories up, managing to keep her foothold on window ledges. (Never mind that her center of mass would keep shifting due to the adorable little dog in her backpack.) She slips, she recovers, and finally enters through a window and crashes into a room where a little girl is doing her homework. She asks the little girl to take care of her dog.
How sweet! The little girl is in awe of both Salt and the dog. Salt has only a few moments to chat since the bad guys are on her tail. The girl tells Salt that she's having trouble with her math homework, then looks at the tall, beautiful action heroine adoringly, waiting for a word. We know the child fan will remember the next words for the rest of her life. What an opportunity for Salt.
So what message will Salt leave with the little girl? I hold my own breath, waiting.
"I hate math," Salt says.
I bang my forehead. How could you, Angelina? You have clout. You can say whatever you want.
After 14 mysteries, scientists and mathematicians are still on my list of Hardest To Kill. Action heroes who blow priceless opportunities to foster science and math literacy top the list of Easiest To Kill.
To show how much fun math can be, I'm offering a math-related prize to a 7 Criminal Minds reader. Make a comment and your name will be entered into the drawing. (Note from Lois: Please include your email in your comment so Camille has a way of getting in touch with you if you’re the winner.)
[If Angelina Jolie finds this blog and comments with an apology and a make-up proposal, she'll be an extra, automatic winner.]
Camille Minichino is the author of three mystery series, beginning with her Periodic Table Mysteries. Her akas are Margaret Grace (The Miniature Mysteries) and Ada Madison (The Professor Sophie Knowles Mysteries). The first chapter of "The Square Root of Murder," (a July 5, 2011 release) is on her website: http://www.minichino.com.