Camille Minichino, a retired physicist turned writer, has published 18 mysteries in three series: The Periodic Table Mysteries, The Miniature Mysteries (as Margaret Grace) and the Professor Sophie Knowles Mysteries (as Ada Madison). She’s written articles for popular magazines and teaches writing in the San Francisco Bay Area. She works at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and teaches science at Golden Gate U., San Francisco.
Her newest Berkley book release, A Function of Murder, is available now.
Camille is also a miniaturist and well known throughout the writer community for her amazing tiny creations for dollhouses and gifts. I’m honored to have Camille (aka Margaret aka Ada) as my special guest today.
Blooming Late by Camille Minichino
Most writers I know grew up with books. If they’re mystery writers, they grew up with Nancy Drew or the boy equivalent, whose name keeps slipping my mind.
I remember when I read my first Nancy Drew. It was also my last. I was well into middle age and just didn’t get what the fuss was about. I can only guess that it was simply too late for me.
I didn’t grow up with books. My mother went to school until she was 12, my father not at all. There were no books in the house except the ones I brought home from school. I seemed to gravitate more toward numbers than words. After all, numbers were free. All you needed was a full complement of fingers and toes and the ability to build relationships with the objects around you. In my mind, I could add, subtract, multiply, and divide to my heart’s content; no special purchase needed. I still like to unwind with a little arithmetic.
When I was in high school, I had a job in our city library, and even then I didn’t understand what all those books were for. I shelved them, for about $1 an hour, but never read them. I might as well have worked in a hardware store. I had my textbooks and I knew what they were for—grades. I dutifully read Ivanhoe and The Scarlet Letter and whatever else was on the reading list. I vaguely remember enjoying the assignments but it never occurred to me to read other books, ones that weren’t homework.
The first book that I read that wasn’t for school was a biography of Marie Curie, by her daughter Eve, and I was in college. I had wandered into the campus library, probably to get warm, with a few minutes on my hands before my next class. I took the book from the shelf at random, sat down, and read it, cover to cover. Engrossed. Thrilled. Interested. Moved. I missed my class and haven’t been the same since.
Now, like Thomas Jefferson, “I cannot live without books.” I read them, I write them, I write in them. I give them for presents; I talk about them through three book clubs; I teach how to write them. I pile them up all around me. My husband trips over them when he enters my office. I read and I write some more.
Sometimes I wish I hadn’t gotten such a late start. My three-year-old grandniece has her own bookcase, full already (okay, the case and many of the books are from me); her four-week-old cousin is well on her way to a significant book collection. I see the kids’ sections in bookstores and libraries, kids who are read to at least every night at bedtime, kids’ books proliferating as franchises.
Would I be a better writer now if I’d learned about books at my mother’s knee or in an upscale pre-pre-pre-school? Will these children be better writers as a result of their early start?
Maybe, maybe not. I don’t regret my early years with numbers, my education in mathematics and physics. In a way, they’ve given me content, something to write about, a world view to explore through words.
But I wouldn’t mind a few extra years to go back and lock myself in that first library, and start with the A shelf.
Camille, I was an early reader, but I couldn’t even get through all the books in my country grade school’s mini-library, and goodness knows I tried. So many books, so little time.
Thanks for being with us today and sharing your experience. I look at your list of books and your busy schedule and wonder how I could ever complain about running out of time.