Livermore Lab women share passion for writing intrigue

Former residents to give talk on newest works at San Leandro Main Library

By Martin Ricard, STAFF WRITER

Mystery novelists Ann Parker, (left) of Livermore, and Camille Minichino, of Castro Valley, with their latest books on Thursday, Mar. 29, 2007, in Castro Valley, Calif. They are longtime friends and both worked at the Lawrence Livermore Lab. (Jane Tyska/The Daily Review)

When Camille Minichino and Ann Parker first began working at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, they shared the same office but for years remained a mystery to each other.

 What they didn't anticipate, however, was that their shared passion for writing and the secret sleuth that lay within one day would make them close friends — and unveil another mystery not even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle could have predicted.

 "Neither one of us thought we'd be mystery writers," Minichino said.

 On Saturday, Minichino and Parker, former San Leandro residents, will return to the San Leandro Main Library to discuss their latest mystery novels and sign copies of their books. Hailey Lind, another local author, will join them to discuss her latest art mystery, "Shooting Gallery."

While it won't be the main topic of discussion, the connection between Minichino and Parker's journey to science and mystery is much too conspicuous to be included in one of their acclaimed novels.

 They first met in 1978 when Parker had just returned from a long vacation to find Minichino working at her desk.

 At first, both thought they had nothing in common. Parker, 54, who grew up in San Leandro but whose family is from Leadville, Colo., loved the great outdoors, while Minichino, 69, originally from Revere, Mass., still yearned for the big city atmosphere of the East Coast.

 They soon realized they had much in common: Their San Leandro homes had only been a few blocks apart; they found the same passion for — of all things — See's chocolates; and they both enjoyed books.

"It was really great to have the same interests," Minichino said as the two sat in her Castro Valley home. "If I had a book, I knew I could always talk to Ann about it."

 Sharing their desires to become mystery writersfurther deepened their kinship, Parker said. They have been friends for over 30 years.

 "All these odd things," Parker said. "It's the kind of thing that never can be put into fiction."

In many ways, the characters they create in their novels reflect their vision, shedding light on the accomplishments of women in a male-dominated society.

 Inez Stannert, the heroine in Parker's second Silver Rush mystery, "Iron Ties," owns the Silver Queen Saloon in Leadville during the 1879 silver boom. When a friend witnesses a shooting and explosion along the rail lines, it's up to Inez and her business partner Abe Jackson to discover the truth.

 Minichino's witty, wisecracking character Gloria Lamerino is a middle-aged physicist who, like her creator, is torn between two coasts in "The Oxygen Murder," Minichino's eighth chemistry-themed mystery.

 While the science world is still dominated by men, Parker and Minichino said, both authors use their novels, and careers, to show that women have always been a part of the mix. But in no way, they say, are they trying to wave the flag of feminism.

"I try to make it the norm," Minichino said of her character. "I pose the idea (that) here's a woman and, by the way, she's a physicist."

As they sit in Minichino's home and reminisce about how their paths have crossed over the years — from San Leandro to Livermore Lab to mystery writing — it doesn't take rocket science to discover how the two women have formed such an unbreakable bond.

 They talk about their families, their hometowns, how they've been able to perfect their crafts. But they agree their friendship and passion for writing always lead them back to their first encounter at the lab and their one true passion: science.