Archive for April, 2017

Travels with Camille

Revere Beach, where it all began

If scheduling works out, I’ll be in Bethesda, MD when you’re reading this. Maryland is on my short list of places I’m willing to travel to.

I’ve never been a traveler. I was nearly 40 years old when I first traveled west of the Hudson River. I’ve never wanted to go somewhere just to go there, or just to see something different. I’m one of those Yankees who believes everything anyone needs by way of art, science, and culture is on the Eastern seaboard, in the triumvirate of Boston-NYC-Washington DC. Maybe a little side trip to Philadelphia. That’s enough concentrated diversity, not to mention weather, to satisfy me.

But eventually work and other issues sent me traveling around the country.

And who doesn’t have this kind of travel story: sleeping on the linoleum at Chicago’s O’Hare in the middle of a blizzard; being stuck in the smoking section (years ago) as if there really is a difference between yes- and no- when you’re all in a cabin 30000+ feet up; inspecting a nuclear power plant in a town where “good restaurant” means a choice of vending machines in the lobby of a motel with a number in its name, the kind of establishment where you sleep with your clothes on and your purse under your pillow.

Luggage lost, luggage stolen. (Picture hand across brow here): I’ve seen it all.

I wonder why I’ve never given any of my characters a bad travel experience—except for one fender bender in New York City. Maybe because I think every reader would be able to say: I’ve been there, and I can top that.

In fact, my characters have hardly traveled at all—another one of the ways authors insert themselves into characters without being aware of it.

It took four books to get Gloria Lamerino of the Periodic Table series out of Revere, Massachusetts. It took eight books for Geraldine Porter of the Miniature Mysteries to leave fictional Lincoln Point, California. Sophie Knowles of the Professor Sophie Knowles mysteries stayed put in Massachusetts through all four books, as does Cassie Miller of the Postmistress series. (Jaunts to New Hampshire hardly count as travel.)

In theory, it would be very interesting to put a character in a different locale from their original setting. We’d get a chance to see what happens to her in a new environment, how she reacts to things she’s not used to: unfamiliar weather and culture, the idiosyncrasies of regional language.

Come to think of it, I’d love to see how the coastal Gloria would fare in Montana, how Geraldine would do in Nebraska, how Sophie would adapt to Texas, how Cassie might enjoy the US Postal Museum in Washington DC.

I’m talking myself into a whirlwind tour with my protagonists. What kind of luggage will they have, how will they dress?

It will work, as long as I don’t have to go with them.

“It’s a Puzzlement,” Yul Brynner, c. 1956

A favorite piece of costume jewelry

Yes, another puzzle blog. This time with droodles.

Here are a couple of my favorites, so you may have seen them on my other blogs.

An easy one: ORSEMAN

And a little more tricky one: GESG, GSEG, GGES

And really tricky: O ER T O

I’ve been a puzzler (some say, I’ve been “puzzling,” and that may also be true) all my life. It started with math, where every day’s homework was a puzzle. For algebra: If one train leaves a station in Chicago going 30 miles an hour, and another train . . . For geometry or trig: Given two sides of a triangle …

I loved those problems, which to me were just games and puzzles. And I wrote a series in which the protagonist creates puzzles for a magazine.

We often hear that mysteries are like jigsaw puzzles, that writers and readers enjoy putting the pieces together, ending up with a satisfying solution, much like turning 1500 jagged pieces into a reproduction of Monet’s Water Lilies.

In a way. But mysteries have to be more challenging than that. It’s too easy when all the pieces are piled up with one brisk dump from the box, and what’s required is simply to sort them and fit them together to match the picture on the cover of the box.

In a good “whodunit” mystery, there are many sets of clues that unfold: some are hidden in plain sight, some are subtly presented, some not; some are within the character profiles and arcs, the setting, or the plot. These mysteries are solved not by simply putting a given number of known pieces together, but by first sorting out the pieces that matter from the ones that don’t. Maybe there are a couple of red herrings; maybe there are no herrings of any color.

I’ve seen jigsaw puzzles where the manufacturer has deliberately included extra pieces that don’t belong in the scene. Similarly, there are the crossword puzzles that are diagramless. No black squares give us the word length; we have to figure that out ourselves.

Those puzzles are more like the great mysteries, where the clue is that the dog did not bark or the answer has been in the letter on the mantel all along.

Sometimes I worry that I’m wasting time with the morning acrostic, or the Sunday NY Times crossword.

Is it enriching my life that I’ve learned a new word (predacious: predatory, plundering) or factoid (molasses is an ingredient of rum)?

I take my response from no less a puzzle figure than Erno Rubik (b. 1944), sculptor, architect, and inventor of the Rubik’s cube (patent, 1975). He has this to say: “The problems of puzzles are very near the problems of life, our whole life is solving puzzles.”

Some of us get more practice than others.

All this talk about puzzles. Let’s do one more. A cryptoquote:

B SZ MYU MA CVMFU EVM CVBYW JBWU YMNUJ, CVSC VRZSYBCL EBJJ HXSE ZMXU TMMH CVSY UOBJ AXMZ YUE HBFPMOUXBUF. – ZSXBU PRXBU

Of course, there will be a drawing. Send answer to camille.minichino@gmail.com

Holy April

Novices and postulants, c. 1961

Here are a few of the religious celebrations this month:

  • 4 April. Rama Navami
  • 9 April. Mahavir Jayanti
  • 9 April. Palm Sunday
  • 10 – 18 April. Passover
  • 13 April. Maundy Thursday
  • 14 April. Good Friday
  • 14 April. Vaisakhi
  • 16 April. Easter Day

My best wishes for a Happy Holiday!

(If none of these applies to you, you can celebrate the arrival of the first Pony Express in Sacramento on April 13, 1860!)

Spring morning

From the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a meditation for Holy Week: a painting by Childe Hassam.

Spring Morning in the Heart of the City

World’s Biggest Typo

This is an old story, from the days of my first book, back in the ’90s, but you may not have heard it.

The Preamble

Twice a year, members of Sisters in Crime of Northern California host a “showcase” where we’re invited to read from our newly published work. One after the other, usually about 8 or 9 of us at any given event, stand behind the podium and read a selected passage. Maybe the first chapter, maybe a particularly funny or gripping section from the middle. We have 5 minutes.

Question: How many typos can you expect to find in an already printed book in 5 minutes?

Answer: I don’t know, and I certainly don’t want to find out.

To make sure that doesn’t happen, I never read from my latest release, or any book of mine that’s been published. I know I couldn’t stand it if I came across a typo and could do nothing about it. In fact, I never even open my books once they’re published. Call it Typophobia.

At the showcases, I read from a Work in Progress – that way if there’s a typo or an awkward phrase, I can fix it on the next draft.

The Incident

I guess it serves me right that one day at a signing, I came across the WBT—the World’s Biggest Typo in one of my books.

A woman bought a copy of “The Hydrogen Murder,” in hardback, from the bookseller and brought it to the table for me to sign. At least, on the outside, it looked like “The Hydrogen Murder.” The wrap-around paper cover was right, the flap copy and photo were correct.

I opened the book, ready to pen my name. But something was off. What was Simon & Schuster’s logo doing on the first page? Avalon was my publisher at the time.

I kept going, flipping pages, gasping as I went. The printer (or someone!) had put the entire text of Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451″ between the covers of my book. I removed the paper cover and saw that the printing on the hardback spine was correct for “The Hydrogen Murder.” In the photo, you might be able to make out the flap copy (mine) on one side, and the title page (Bradbury’s) on the other.

I’m sorry to tell you that there is no resolution here—the bookseller had no idea where she’d gotten the book; no other book in her stock of Hydrogen Murders was like this one. I did, of course, keep the book, making sure the purchaser’s money was refunded. It remains in my inventory as one of a kind.

I’ve often wondered if the great Ray Bradbury ever opened one of his copies of “Fahrenheit 451″ and found “The Hydrogen Murder,” by Camille Minichino.

If so, it might not have fazed him—after all, he wrote sci fi.

Can you top that for a typo? I’m willing to relinquish my title to the WBT for a good story.