Beyond the Silk Mills, Part 2

Debut novelist Leslie Rupley is back with more on the evolution of Beyond the Silk Mills

Recap, Part I: Last month I described how I became addicted to the research for my historical novel, Beyond the Silk Mills.

Part II:  In Which Camille Minichino Ends my Research Addiction

Finally the little voice in the far back of my brain whispered, “All right already! Enough is enough!” Why hadn’t I put fingers to the keyboard?

Perhaps I was unwittingly insecure about my ability. Okay, I was insecure. After all, my very first novel was different from ghost writing my clients’ memoirs, and I wanted to be prepared. My dear friends enabled my delay tactic beautifully. While browsing through a Berkeley used bookstore with our husbands, Barbara encouraged me to buy that book about the 1918 flu epidemic. My knitting books were beginning to feel the competition. The shelves bowed under the strain of my research. I retired some of the older knitting volumes. Salvation Army loved them.

Would there be no end to my delving? Apparently not. It went on for almost two years with cross-country visits to New York and New Jersey, the setting of my would-be novel. I was an isolated dilettante. How could I have known that too much research is a common stumbling block for new writers? After I had filled two shelves on my bookcase and visited the east coast three times, something told me to Get On With It.

“Get On With It,” I told myself. After two years of productive procrastination, I knew I needed help to get off the research binge and start writing. Is there an AA group for over-researchers? Who would give me the needed kick in the pants?

I kicked myself into action and wrote a prolonged beginning scene wherein my protagonist sat at the kitchen table and reflected on her past life. It was a proudly academic piece, but lacking in everything but an interior monologue.  My husband, kind and uncritical as he is, thought it was a bit much on the past life. He mentioned something about drawing on the five senses.

”Great,” my scared self said. Now you can read about how to write. Take a class. Go to a workshop. The second pitfall.

Fortunately, selective reading got fingers to keyboard faster than the background research had done. I chose 10 Steps to Creating Memorable Characters to learn about creating robust characters, and it got me into the real work of writing. While I made numerous character charts with headings Appearance, Mannerisms, Traits, Purpose, Endure, and Enjoy, I was also able to begin my first scene anew.

I continued to fill it with newspaper-like information about the backstory, but with more detail and descriptive phrases including the ‘five senses’. It was a dense, tell-it-all summary of everything I had read about the Jewish ghetto (Shtetl) outside of Lodz proper. I was proud. I filled pages with my knowledge. Mine was going to be some novel!

At some point I thought I was ready to bring my opus to a critical group, and I chose the Tin House summer workshop in Oregon. Oh dear. Was I damaged for life? Perhaps.

“Show, don’t tell,” they told me.

“Do you really think that your character would sit still at her breakfast table for that long inner dialog about her past?”

“Would she break it up with some action?” one person suggested.

“Try to get that backstory woven in,” another advised.

I took my dispirited self to the large sessions and panel discussions. Others seemed revitalized, excited, encouraged. They mingled. They laughed. They went to the evening soirees, while I huddled like a wallflower.

I knew that I would go home and forget this sorry effort, which is what I did, at least until I roused myself with the help of my friend Alaine who had gone to the workshop with me. Unlike me, self-flagellating, she was energized by the critique.

We read our work to each other on a regular basis, and she gave me all of the positive reinforcement I needed to move forward. Sorry to say, I didn’t really know enough to help her very much.

I decided to take a writing class (novel idea, huh?) and it was the beginning of a long-term process that kept my writing moving forward. For this I thank Camille Minichino, mentor and mystery writer extraordinaire. With her guidance, I revised and went forward with a bit more smarts and self-confidence to bring to the keyboard.

Next time I post, I’ll be able to offer a bit more about how I go about my writing these days after completing my first novel.

Aha! It’s Just Business

This week’s topic on the LadyKillers blog had me dragging out an old piece, published years ago in a baseball magazine.

So, here I am again, talking about an AHA moment in my life. A tough lesson learned early.


You know me—I’m the one who protests against organized sports. In my Utopia, science teachers are revered more than (name an athlete, any athlete) and no one is actually paid to play a game.

I’m hardly recognizable as the same woman who nearly let the tides of professional baseball determine her choice of college. But following the Boston Braves out west was my only positive thought on the gray day when the headlines announced that my team was leaving Boston and heading to Milwaukee, a city I’d never heard of.

Let me point out that all my school books were covered in newspaper photos of the Braves. Tommy Holmes, Earl Torgeson, Walker Cooper, Sam Jethroe, Bob Elliot. And don’t forget the starting pitchers, all 2 of them: Spahn, Sain, and pray for rain.

My bedroom walls were covered with baseball–the official chart of National League logos, autographed programs, and laminated ticket stubs. My father, an unskilled laborer, had lost a thumb to an electric saw one day, and filled the lost time in construction by working the concessions at Braves Field and Fenway Park. I got to see both the ‘46 and ‘48 World Series!

Until the Braves left, no team had moved from one city to another, at least not in my teen lifetime. For several months, between the announcement and the actual move, I was in denial. So what if Lou Perini was losing money and Tom Yawkey (the stinkin’ Red Sox owner) wouldn’t share Fenway Park. Baseball is a sport, a game; no one has to make money on it, I cried.

Okay, I can hear your LOLs, but I was a kid, and not nearly as in-the-know as kids are today.

I’d used the Braves to direct the rest of my life, too. I was too shy to talk much in school, but I had all the confidence in the world opening with, “Did you see that third inning catch last night?” or “Who does that umpire think he is, calling a walk?” In other words: Don’t think I expect you to notice me or acknowledge me. I’m just here as a messenger for the Braves. How could I face life without the Braves? Without a way to talk to other kids?

“I guess now you’ll have to be a Red Sox fan.” This from classmates who didn’t understand that existence is not like a baserunner, sprinting from one anchored sack to the next, around to home; it’s like a whisper of wind under a fastball, waiting to be named by the umpire.

“They ain’t nothing ’til I calls them,” says the umpire.

The only remnants of Pre-Aha days: a signed photo of Warren Spahn and a Braves cap.

Eventually, I let the Braves go west. I did even more than that—I let all of baseball go west and never followed it again.

From time to time through the years, I’ve watched baseball games out of the corner of my eye and sometimes allowed the cheers of the crowd and the crack of the bat to carry me back to the old Philco. When friends hear the story of “my life as a Braves fan” they mistakenly think it would take little to turn me into a twenty-first century fan.

But you can never undo an AHA moment: Baseball is a business, not a sport. It’s for themselves—the owners, the managers, the players—it’s their business. It’s not for me.

Besides, I found I can speak for myself now.

Beyond the Silk Mills

With great pleasure, I welcome my friend and new novelist, Leslie Rupley to share her journey to publication.

This blog is in honor of Camille Minichino who kicked me out of Research Addiction and started me on the path to publication on October 1, 2014 of my debut novel, Beyond the Silk Mills, a historical saga of family discord, obsessive ambition, and regret. Trade Paperback and eBook are available on Amazon. Kobo and Nook carry the eBook. Libraries and Indie Book Stores may order from Ingram.

How Not to Write Historical Fiction, Part I

“Great news!” I told my husband. “I have the makings of my first novel. I’m going to write about an immigrant wife’s aspirations for wealth and power and about her husband who doesn’t care about having money.”

The historian in him jumped to attention. He was full of questions. When? What was life like for immigrants?

“I have the story outlined. Emma starts…”

“Yes, but what was going on in the country when Emma tried her hand at money-making?” My helpful husband guided me to his office ‘library’ stocked on all sides with floor to ceiling bookshelves, including all manner of history books. Aside from math, history is his love. He pulled out a stack of books from his history section about societal issues in the early twentieth century.”

Whose book is this? His or mine? I felt heat rising to my cheeks, and as usual when faced with conflict or a daunting project, I started to sweat.

Oblivious to my stress, and with that well-known greedy-for-books look on his wild-eyed face, he made his way to the computer said, “Let’s get on line and find some more books.”

The first book that came up was New York Year by Year. Before I could react, he had clicked the Amazon ‘Buy Now with One Click’ order button.

I retreated to my own office with its meager bookcase of knitting and travel books. I picked up my needles and began to knit-purl at a rapid pace. Click, click. The needles worked out my anxiety, and I picked up the top book on the pile that he had so graciously plopped on my desk, A History of the Jews in America.

After flipping through it, I called up the stairs, “Can I write notes in your book margins?”


I got my sticky pad and pen and went to work notating pages of interest that I might include in my opus. At dinnertime I was stunned to see Bill at my office door. “You’ve been reading for almost three hours. Are you planning any food?”

I shook myself out of the past and thought about the mundane.

Seeing my expression, he said, “Let’s go out to eat.”

A week later I had been reading and note-taking non-stop when he approached me with a new source he had read about. This time I followed him without hesitation to the computer where he pulled up the book called The Brothers Ashkenazi, copyright 1936.  It was an out-of-print novel about the Jewish ghetto in Lodz, Poland, and the collectible copy cost $112.

“Go ahead. Spend the money,” he said. Once again his over-active thumb pressed ‘Buy Now with One Click.’  This is how I became addicted to research. Stay tuned….

Fermi Problems

I think of September as Enrico Fermi’s month. His birthday is 9/29/1901. It’s a little early to sing, but I thought I’d introduce my own favorite aspect of Fermi’s contribution to science—his problem solving technique.

The problem:

How many piano tuners are there in Chicago?

This is the legendary problem presented to his classes by the Nobel Prize winning Italian-American physicist. It’s the original of a category of problems called “Fermi problems,” meant to be solved by putting together reasonable estimates for each step of the solution.

At first glance, Fermi problems seem to be impossible to solve without research. The technique is to break them down into manageable parts, and answer each part with logic and common sense, rather than reference books or, these days, the Internet. By doing this systematically, we arrive at an answer that comes remarkably close to the exact answer. By the end of this calculation, we also see what advantages it has over looking up the answer on Google.

Here’s the way Fermi taught his students to solve the piano tuner problem:

1) Assume that Chicago doesn’t have more piano tuners than it can keep busy tuning pianos.

2) Estimate the total population of Chicago.

At that time, there were about 3,000,000 people in Chicago.

3) Estimate how many families that population represents.

The average family consisted of four members, so the number of families was approximately 750,000.

4) Assume that about one third of all families owns a piano.

That gives us 250,000 pianos in Chicago.

5) Assume that each piano should be tuned about every 10 years.

That gives us about 25,000 tunings per year in the city.

6) Assume that each piano tuner can service four pianos per day, and works about 250 days a year.

Each piano tuner would perform 1,000 tunings per year.

Summary: In any given year, pianos in Chicago need 25,000 tunings; each tuner can do 1,000 tunings, therefore we need 25 piano tuners.

The answer was within a few of being the number in the yellow pages of the time.

Why not just count the listings in the yellow pages in the first place? A good idea, until we remember that “solving a problem” is an exciting, challenging word to people like Fermi and to scientists in general. Difficult problems are even better opportunities to test their minds and their ability to calculate.

Another of Fermi’s motivations in giving this problem was to illustrate properties of statistics and the law of probabilities. He used the lesson to teach something about errors made in estimating, and how they tend to cancel each other out.

If you assumed that pianos are tuned every five years, for example, you might also have assumed that every sixth family owns a piano instead of every third. Your errors would then balance and cancel each other out. It’s statistically improbable that all your errors would be in the same direction (either all overestimates or all underestimates), so the final results will always lean towards the right number.

Fermi, present at the time, was able to get a preliminary estimate of the amount of energy released by the atomic bomb—he sprinkled small pieces of paper in the air and observed what happened when the shock wave reached them.

A whole cult has been built up around “Fermi questions:”

• how much popcorn would it take to fill your family room?

• how many pencils would you use up if you drew a line around the earth at the equator?

• how many rejection letters would it take to wallpaper a writer’s office? (oops, too personal?)

For Fermi, there was great reward in independent discoveries and inventions.

Many contemporary scientists and engineers respond the same way. Looking up an answer or letting someone else find it impoverishes them, robbing them of a creative experience that boosts self-confidence and enhances their mental life.

Could this also be why they don’t ask for directions when they’re lost?

The SinC Blog Hop

With this blog, I’m happy to join the Sisters in Crime September Blog hop!

Among the suggested topics: Which authors have inspired you?

My answer: Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888) and Eve Curie (1904-2007), two authors who may seem to have nothing in common, but have inspired me in ways none have since.

Louisa May Alcott

Little Women was the first and only book I read that wasn’t a schoolbook, until I was in college. Reading was discouraged in my home environment unless it was to ensure a good grade. I’m not even sure how I happened upon a copy.

Whatever critics or scholars have said is the theme/message/quest of Little Women, Alcott taught me that words and stories could move the reader to emotion as surely as a real-life drama.

I’m sure I wasn’t the first to dissolve into tears at Beth’s death, or to root for Jo as if she were my real-life friend. It’s strange to me now that I didn’t learn from that experience, that other books might be similarly rewarding.

Eve Curie's bio of Marie, open to a random page

Several years later, I was in college and came across a biography of Marie Curie in the science library. It was written by her younger daughter, Eve (the daughter who was not a radiation scientist, and lived to 103!). Eve’s book became the second book I read that wasn’t a schoolbook.

In Madame Curie, Eve Curie gave us her mother’s story, in words, without equations, and I found it fascinating. So what if she included only the most flattering, romantic picture of her parents and their life in the laboratory. There would be many other biographies to give a more complete picture.

This second “unrequired reading” set me on the path, finally, to seek other stories.

Louisa May Alcott and Eve Curie taught me that books could provide information, interesting stories, and valuable emotional connections.

Only a few decades later, I decided to try writing my own.

Tagging: Ann Parker to join the hop!

Remembering 9/11

Galileo and Bach

There’s nothing like a little physics and music combination to start the month. Click on the caption for an amazing rendition of Bach on an inclined plane.

(to view this, you need a Google account)

The SKYPE’s the Limit

How to go everywhere without getting dressed up: SKYPE – my new favorite mode of transportation.

Thanks to Skype (and my resident Cable Guy), last week I visited a library across the country in Gainesville, Florida, while seated comfortably in my home office in Castro Valley, California.

The wonderful organizer there set up a meeting in a room with a computer and I’m told I was bigger than life on a projection screen (that might be the only downside). I was sent a list of topics and questions ahead of time, and when the day came and we logged on, we were ready to go with our discussion. The craft of writing, our favorite authors, the great amazon vs. the world debate—we took them on!

The photo above is of an earlier Skype session where I “visited” a book club in San Francisco. All that was necessary was a laptop in the hostess’s home.


If you’re a member of a book club, or a library patron, or simply enjoy gathering a group together to talk about books and writing, I’d love to join you.

If you’re interested, let me know by commenting here, or by sending an email to: Camille (at) minichino (dot) com

I’ll send a book or two that you can raffle off and a pen for everyone!

A Cave of My Own

Recently I attended a gathering at the home of a writer friend who lives in Marin County, California.

Her house overlooks San Rafael Bay. The guests oohed and aahed over her workspace, which has a full wall of window facing the water. There were ducks and other creatures within feeding distance. Everything was bright and sunny. If we weren’t talking, the air was filled with silence and the occasional sound of a nonhuman species.


I’d never survive in such a space, let alone do anything productive. I’d be too nervous, thinking maybe the world had ended for humans, or wondering if an ocean mutant might break through the glass and land on my lap. The space was too open, held too much wildlife. The only “buildings” in view were a few other houses around the edge of the Bay. Nothing over two stories.

I prefer caves.

My office is small and dark. I keep it that way by having my blinds closed during the day. The only things in my field of view are my 26″ computer, a TV, 2 printers, scanner, DVD player, and books, of course. Nothing scary, like a duck or a bird, or long weeds full of insects, or the blinding sun.

I’m sure this preference comes from childhood. My bedroom window for the first 21 years of my life was about one yard away from the jukebox in the pizza parlor next door. The only sounds I heard were human (recorded or otherwise, and sometimes accompanied by sirens); the only vista a brick wall on one side, a fire escape on the other.

The pizza parlor that was an extension of my bedroom.

I spent the next 20 years shuffling from one big city to another. Boston; Hartford, Connecticut; The Bronx; Washington, DC. Not exactly prairie land.

The combination of buildings, subway tunnels, and city noises is still comforting to me, and the place I work best.

Am I in the minority here?

Guest: Ellen Kirschman: A Doctor in Turnouts

My guest today is one of those people whose amazing success in a professional field has made her only more willing to share what she knows with others. Dr. Ellen Kirschman’s I Love a Cop and I Love a Fireman are among my first go-to books for help as I write characters she knows better than I do! Thanks for joining us today, Ellen.

How did I get here?: Years ago, Camille invited me to talk to a gathering of mystery writers.  She told me that she used a “dog eared copy” of my first book, I Love a Cop: What Police Families Need to Know as a reference for her own writing. Neither of us knew that twenty plus years later she would be “blurbing” my first ever novel, Burying Ben: A Dot Meyerhoff mystery and inviting me to be a guest on her blog. You’ve been a role model and a pal. Thanks Camille.

How and why I went from writing non-fiction to fiction:

After writing two more non-fiction books about public safety psychology, I began to think it would be easier to make things up. Boy, was I delusional! Readers can put a non-fiction book down and pick it up without losing the thread. But a good mystery should have the reader baring her teeth at anyone or anything that interrupts her before she finishes the story.

I started writing when I was a child and never stopped. I used to be a probation officer. Once a supervisor told me that a report I had submitted was the best piece of writing he had ever received. The only problem was that he didn’t think it had anything to do with the person I was investigating. I guess that would be the first time I began turning my real work into fiction.

Years later, as a police psychologist, I wondered how I would react if a client of mine committed suicide. Cops are two, perhaps three, times as likely to kill themselves as they are to be killed in the line of duty. Fortunately, the only time I had to deal with this was when I wrote   Burying Ben and created Dr. Dot Meyerhoff, using my mother’s first name and my maternal grandmother’s maiden name.

People ask me if Burying Ben is autobiographical. Not really. I’m not nearly as gutsy, young or thin as Dot and I certainly never did the things she does to bring the right people to justice; impersonating a public official, breaking and entering, and assault with a deadly weapon. Dot’s father was a student activist at Berkeley in the 60’s who was beaten by the police and injured for life. His legacy puts Dot in perpetual conflict with the officers she’s been hired to help. My father was a Republican. On the other hand, Dot and I do have some things in common. We’re both divorced and we’ve both had an uphill battle trying to get officers to trust us because we’re civilians, women, and “shrinks.” I spent 25 years consulting at one agency and the day I left there were still some cops who believed I had a video camera in my office that connected directly to the Chief’s desk.

Some things that really happened  have found their way into the book, mostly scenes having to do with stories I heard or things that happened when I was riding with the cops. I’ve always had an ear for how cops talk and for years I’ve been keeping a record of the funny, off-the-wall things they say. Officer Eddie Rimbauer, is a composite of many people, but he sounds so real, there was an on-line pool of cops trying to guess his real identity.

Some readers want to know if Dot’s first post-miserable-divorce new love interest, Frank, is really modeled after my husband. He is.  My husband wants to know if Frank will get lucky in the sequel. I’m not telling. He’ll have to read the book.

Burying Ben went through some eighteen revisions.  I was teaching myself a new craft. Writing a mystery was a puzzle to be solved, one that challenged all my weak points – an abhorrence for details and a non-linear mind. My big “aha” moment came when I changed from third person point of view to first person. Once I put my psychologist hat back on, I was in familiar territory. My next challenge was to stop telling myself that whatever was happening in the book wouldn’t really happen this way in the real world. Faithfully adhering to reality is what drives non-fiction. But reality can be boring and is not the stuff that keeps a reader reading.

Promotion and marketing:

Few of my friends had read my other books, which were aimed at specific readers.  But they’re all reading Burying Ben. That would include my hair stylist, my dentist, my dentist’s receptionist, my doctor, my neighbors, and some strangers I met in the airport. Other people carry photos of their kids and grandkids. I carry postcards of my mystery and I’m not shy about handing them out. Not something I did, or needed to do, with my non-fiction work. Especially since psychologists are prohibited from promoting themselves, other than to provide general information that is neither misleading nor deceptive and does not offer discounts or inducements.

Doing research:

I did most of my research in the back of a patrol car or in my consulting room. But if you’re writing about cops and you don’t have the kind of access I was fortunate to have, you might consider attending a citizens police academy at your local PD or the Writers Police Academy ( Both will give you hands-on experience. Go on a ride-along. After all these years I still learn something new every time I do. Learn about guns. Practice on the range. Try your hand at a firearms training simulator (FATS). If you’re qualified and have the time to invest, consider becoming a reserve officer or putting yourself through a police academy. I went through a condensed fire academy designed for journalists when I wrote I Love a Fire Fighter. Whatever you do, don’t watch cop shows on television. Join the Public Safety Writers Association ( You’ll meet a lot of active and retired public safety professionals who are also writers. I Love a Cop, I Love a Fire Fighter and Counseling Cops all contain real-life scenarios that, as Camille says, can enhance your stories and deepen your characters.

Is there a doctor in that suit?

Bio: Ellen Kirschman has been a police and public safety psychologist for over 30 years. She is the winner of the California Psychological Association’s 2014 Award for Distinguished Contribution to Psychology. Her work with first responders has taken her to four countries and 22 states. She is the author of four books. I Love a Cop: What Police Families Need to Know, has sold more than 100,000 copies.  I Love a Fire Fighter: What the Family Needs to Know was penned after the tragic events of 9/11. Her third non-fiction book is Counseling Cops: What Clinicians Need to Know. Burying BenA Dot Meyerhoff Mystery (2013) is her first foray into fiction and the first in a series.  Ellen spends her time writing, teaching, and volunteering as a clinician at the West Coast Post Trauma Retreat ( for first responders. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, a photographer and a retired remodeling contractor. Ellen loves to hear from readers. You can contact her at  You can order her books from Guilford Press, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and more of your favorite vendors, in print or as e-books.