Monday, July 18, 2011

FIRST, KILL ALL THE PHYSICISTS


(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.

Here's why.

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.

25 comments:

Chris V. said...

Love the post, but no one I see is jumping to win a math-related prize, or is the math-related prize a copy of the book? :>) Sorry, Camille, I'm with Jolie. I admit it, yes, I hate math, too. (but love English and reading!) :>)

Camille Minichino said...

The math-related prize is . . . a surprise, Chris! Not a copy of the book, but a fun and useful tchotchke.

Jacqui said...

My WIP includes two scientists who don't kill anyone, too. Well, one is a SEAL-turned-scientist, so he dabbled in it in a past life. I thoroughly enjoyed this post. There aren't enough scientist-oriented novels. I'll be checking yours out.

Patricia said...

This is one of the most interesting posts I've read in a while. I loved the way you told your story of how you got to where you are today. And everything you've done up until now is what made your books so intriguing. Congratulations on your success!
Patti

Mysti said...

Would it have been any better if the character had been a guy, tom cruise no less?

Still a terrible example for young women!

I always ask people who say they hate math, and usually there's an extremely bad math teacher experience that starts them on the road to math-hate.

I still remember my calculus teacher, Dr. Ringel, with fannish admiration. He told us how he used triangulation (the math, not the emotional manipulation) to find his pocket knife in the prisoner-of-war camp. They'd line the prisoners up, the prisoners would hide their booty in the dirt, the guards would rake the yard and remove landmarks. But they couldn't move the trees/fenceposts...this is my favorite answer to "why should I learn math"?
P.S. Have my copy of the book, can't wait to read it!

Evelyne said...

This blog and this very post wouldn't exist without math!... What do you think is behind computers??? :)

As for your first book on Nuclear Reactor Literature, after Japan Nuclear Power plant events this year, you might want to re-think about having it reprinted, it's likely to become a best-seller now! ;)

Camille Minichino said...

What interesting comments.

Would love to hear more about your WIP, Jacqui. Maybe we can flood the market with science!

Thanks for the good words, Patti.

And Mysti, thanks for reminding us how important teachers are to what we accept as "easy" or "hard" for us.

Camille Minichino said...

Evelyne -- remember the show, "Numbers?" I thought they did a great job of showing how math is involved in our everyday lives. I miss it!

And maybe I will take out that nuclear literature . . .

KathyW said...

It's amazing how influential teachers are in the love/hate of various subjects. I was good in math but had two really poor math teachers in high school who discouraged any interest. Of course, my passion was history, another subject that teachers can kill.

Our older daughter went to MIT and I loved that it required all students to take calculus, no matter their major. In this time, everyone should have math and science skills, but it's sad how unimportant young people consider them now.

Camille Minichino said...

My history teacher was hired as football coach primarily, so all we did was memorize dates. No wonder I went into math and science!

Terry Shames said...

Great post! Mysti was right about math teachers. I was a ho-hum math student and somehow in high school got into a 3-year accelerated math class with a teacher who was amazing. I've loved math ever since--almost considered majoring in it in college. Calculus was my favorite. And I still love to read books about physics. P.S. My husband is a mathematician.

Evelyne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Fran Stewart said...

I love math, and I agree that young girls need role models who see the value in science. This morning I took my grandchildren to see a dead deer beside the road. "Hey, kids, do you want to see some maggots?" They think I'm a cool grannie. I even blogged about the experience: http://www.beeskneesbeekeeping.blogspot.com if anyone is interested.
And I'm at fran@franstewart.com

Evelyne said...

Yep, teachers are a HUGE influence on how we like (or not) the subject they teach.

I wasn't a great fan of math until I read a book that had math history woven with the plot.

That's what's great about books with science in the background, they are not only entertaining, they actually TEACH us in a fun way!

Camille Minichino said...

I don't know about those maggots, Fran. Physics and math are much less creepy crawly!

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Way to go, Camille! Here's hoping Angelina shows up to apologize.

I recently wrote a well-reviewed YA novel *spoiler alert* and the scientist gets the girl. *end spoiler alert*

Reviewers were mixed on that. Like scientists never get to have sex.

Mathematically, that seems improbable.

Thanks for a great post! And some cool scientists not afraid to get their hands blood-stained.

Camille Minichino said...

Love it, Rebecca! And I agree with your sex calculus.

Liz V. said...

One aspect of the periodic table series that I have enjoyed most is the lessons for school children on famous scientists. Will Sophie discourse on math heroines?

Best wishes for success with this series.

Not an entry in giveaway. Just enjoy following along and learning more.

Camille Minichino said...

Liz, you'll be glad to know Sophie and her crew host parties for the birthdays of famous mathematicians and scientists.

Coincidentally, so do I in my teaching.

Liz V. said...

T remember now your post on compiling a calendar pre-Internet but, if parties were mentioned, that slipped by me. What fun!

A middle school friend hosted an annual Beethoven birthday party, which is among the reasons he is my favorite composer.

Camille Minichino said...

It has been a lot fun visiting here today. Thanks so much for hosting me, Lois!

I'll wait until midnight Pacific time and call in my independent panel of judges to choose a prize winner!

Camille Minichino said...

I doubled the prizes since there were so many great comments.

JACQUI and MYSTI please send your addresses to camille@minichino.com

mollie bryan said...

What a great post! Just wanted to let you know that one of the main characters in my upcoming novel is a woman who is a quantum physicist. You are not alone.

Jacqui said...

Molly--I can't wait to read yours, also.

Camille Minichino said...

Mollie, title and date, please!