Archive for July, 2017

Q/A Week

Now and then, I allow some time to de-clutter my files. I found this interview, the questions from a high school boy doing an assignment. I thought I’d share today

• What is the first book you remember reading?

There were no readers in my family, and no “children’s sections” in bookstores (actually, no bookstores in my hometown!). So the first book I read that wasn’t for homework was when I was in college. I wandered into the science library and found a biography of Marie Curie – the scientist who won 2 Nobel prizes for her work with radioactivity. I remember thinking, maybe all these other books are just as fascinating. And I began my reading life.

• What or who inspired you to begin writing?

My high school teachers inspired me to keep learning. My Italian teacher told us that she took classes every summer in something she knew nothing about, so she’d understand what her freshmen were going through. So, once I learned all the math and science I could, I took writing classes, and when I was 60, I thought it was time to start a new career.

• If you could have lunch with 3 authors (past and present) who would they be and what do you think you would all talk about during lunch?

First, Dante Alighieri, who wrote La Commedia, later called The Divine Comedy, which I read in Italian in high school and in English later; Second, Lewis Carroll, author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland; Third, Stephen King, contemporary author of many stories. They all write about themes that I love: good and evil; mathematics and logic; and the mysterious ways that people behave. We’d have a great lunch!

• How do you avoid or defeat writers block?

UH-OH (Photo credit: Author Jo Mele)

By not believing in it! I tell myself that if I were a cab driver, I’d have to go to work every day even if I didn’t feel like it, even if yesterday was disastrous. I’m a writer – I write even when I don’t feel like it, or even if yesterday’s output was a car wreck.

• How do you define success as an author?

I’m the kind of author who requires readers! When even one person tells me she enjoyed one of my books, or learned something from it, I consider myself successful.

Any questions from The Real Me readers?

Not Again!

But it has been at least 6 weeks since I’ve posted NYC photos!

This time it’s legit — a trip report, you might say. I’ve just returned from ThrillerFest, an annual conference in Manhattan.

In between panels, I managed a trip or two to museums. Here are just two of the old favorites I visited at MOMA on 53rd between 5th and 6th.

1. A Monet that got me through grad school at Fordham. I could always find a seat in front of this mural, captured here only in part.

2. Van Gogh’s The Starry Night. This one moves around the museum. Last week I found it right outside the Terrace Cafe. In case you’re curious, here are 11 things you might not know about the painting.

View from an asylum

Finally, something completely different. The restroom signs. I hope you can read the newest footnote: SELF-IDENTIFIED. New York never disappoints.

On the wall, outside the restroom; similar sign outside Men's

Addicted to DIY

Make a soda fountain chair from a champagne cage. Instructions obvious?

This blog is about three months late — I should have written it for April 1. Because the follow up to “Managing a DIY Addiction” is: You can’t! April fool!

I can blame my DIY addiction on many things, starting with the lack of toys available when I was a kid. The proliferation of toys now is exponential; they’re found in just about every retail outlet from bookstores to produce stores and even at the dry cleaners. (We wouldn’t want the sweet little tots to be bored while the nanny picks up Mom’s business suits.)

Not that our family could have afforded toys anyway, but I consider myself lucky in both regards – few toys available and little money to buy what there was. I, and my friends, were left to our own imaginations.

My father built me a crude dollhouse and that’s all I needed. I’ve written elsewhere (ad nauseum, you might be thinking) about furnishing that house and probably hundreds more scenes, roomboxes, and houses in the intervening years. Thank goodness for the countless charity auctions that are willing to take the finished products off my hands, or I’d have to have a separate dwelling for my crafts.

DIYing my dollhouse carried over to other areas. Not, I’m sad to say, into major work like painting a life-size house or fixing the plumbing, but to many other crafts. From my earliest days, I would look at something in a store—a greeting card, say, or a skirt, a bookmark, a scarf, a calendar, a paperweight, an ornament—and think, I can make that.

Of course, sometimes the attempts were colossal failures, but enough projects succeeded that I kept on going. From friends and relatives, I learned sewing, knitting, crocheting, drawing . . . whatever it took to make that thing that was in the stores.

One time I took a cartooning class so I could make a comic strip for our Christmas card. The instructor was about 17, and worked on Toy Story! Fun, but that was my last try at that.

Dick (note the pocket protector): How do you like our tree this year? Camille (remember this was 20 years ago): It's our best ever! (And you see the "tree" is really a tv image.)

Crafting as therapy. There's nothing like it. It's impossible to stay stressed and unfocused while trying to glue tiny pieces together.

More miniature scenes are on display in the gallery on my website.

How to Turn Your Day Job into a Mystery Series


Lucky me—I’ve managed to turn every aspect of my life into a mystery series. It started with Camille the Scientist and the Periodic Table Mysteries.

I’d had the idea for years, ever since Sue Grafton’s A is for Alibi hit the stores in the early eighties. I realized that a guaranteed 26 books was nothing compared to the 100+ possibilities I had at my fingertips as a scientist. The alphabet? A piddling list. The periodic table was where it was at, and it was still growing.

For the next 10 years or so, I told everyone within earshot about my great plan—to write a mystery series based on the Periodic Table: The Hydrogen Murder, The Helium Murder, and so on, up to the last atomic number recorded. I talked about my series as if I’d already written it.

I see this now as a common phenomenon—like Dorothy Parker’s “I love having written.”

Eventually I stopped using my computer for endless games of yahtzee and solitaire and started my first novel. There was no question about who would be my protagonist, what her background would be, what career she’d have. No question either about the setting.

Enter Gloria Lamerino, Italian-American physicist from Revere Beach, Massachusetts. In other words, me, except for the part about being smart and brave enough to take on a murder case. Gloria needed a connection to a cop, who’d look like a cross between Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, with the heft of Paul Sorvino. And she’d need an interesting place to live—how about the abode of one of my first boyfriends, a mortuary intern whose apartment was above a funeral parlor? Imagine the fun of following Gloria as she creeps down to the laundry area, on the same floor as the embalming room.

This was my math: A Periodic Table Mystery Series was a perfect opportunity to present my view of females in STEM; my knowledge of Italian scientists and Italian-American culture; and my love of the town I grew up in, the site of the country’s first “theme park” and the first public beach in the United States. Uberambitious! And a poor example for my current writing students when I warn them not to cram too many themes and “messages” into one book.

But I was young, barely 60 years old.

The first eight books of the series wrote themselves. Each element of the table is fascinating, with great potential for good or evil. Lithium, for example,  can be used in manufacturing and in medicine; it also reacts violently with water, forming a highly flammable gas and corrosive fumes. In The Lithium Murder, a janitor at a lab overhears secrets concerning the dangers of lithium waste disposal and is murdered when he tries to blackmail the researchers.

My sorry job was to explore the possibilities of crime and criminals surrounding each element. The worst part was sometimes turning scientists into killers. Otherwise, after a few books, readers would realize, “Well, we know it’s not the physicist.” I managed to spread the wealth of criminal pathology around characters with various occupations.

By the time I reached The Oxygen Murder, my agent asked, “Do you have any other ideas?” I quickly learned that this question was code for Enough of the elements; give us something more popular.

I had to acknowledge that not everyone was addicted to the splendor of the periodic table and mined the rest of my life for ideas and potential series. My life long hobby as a miniaturist gave birth to Gerry Porter and her 10-year-old granddaughter, Maddie, in the Miniature Mysteries (writing as Margaret Grace). When the “code” came up again, I tapped into my tenure as a college professor with the Professor Sophie Knowles Mysteries (writing as Ada Madison). And most recently, my brief stint as a postal worker led me to Postmaster Cassie Miller (writing as Jean Flowers).

All four series are ongoing in one form or another, either as novels or short stories. And, since I did a stint as a “Kelly Girl,” I still have jobs to tap into—paralegal anyone? How about German translator? As long as I can keep thinking up pen names, I should be okay.