Sunday, May 1, 2011

MYSTERIOUS WOMEN - Janet Dawson, Ann Parker, and Camille Minichino

The Main Branch of the Oakland (California) Public Library  brought together three delightful and talanted Mysterious Women to talk about their writing and their books; Janet Dawson, Ann Parker and Camille Minichino (left to right).

Although I remembered my camera, for once, I had to beg additional paper from another attendee--no background in journalism here. As well as being one of the authors, Camille had prepared a list of questions for the panel, so I wrote like crazy to give you an idea of what they said.

How much research do you do for your books?

Janet talked about one book in which her protagonist, Jeri Howard, has a case which goes back to the 1940s.  Janet went to the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley, to do research and found she could look up all the back issues of the Camp Roberts Dispatch. The papers provided her details about small events, such as Bing Crosby performing for the troops, and locations which helped with atmosphere.  Setting the book at Camp Roberts also raised questions of jurisdiction since the camp straddled the county lines of Monterey and San Luis Obispo, so research as to which county would handle a murder on the Camp was important. "I like to find out enough so it looks like I know what I'm talking about."

Ann discovered that her grandmother was raised in Leadville, Colorado until she was 18, but had never talked about it.  When Ann decided to set her books there, she discovered the town has a lot of historians and that historic Colorado newspapers are available on line (  Thanks to the internet, she does more and more of her research on line including finding transactions of the American Medical Association of 1880 about tuberculosis.  She also does site visits and visits local antique stores for collectibles from the era in which her books are set.  One of the greatest gifts was copies of letters by George Elder, who wrote to his Philadelphia family in 1879. "I love opening people’s eyes to what the place was actually like." 

Camille ended up creating a fictional town so she didn't have to worry about streets being accurate.  She admits she's not really a researcher but a story-teller.  In her first book, she wrote about Cinco de Mayo as celebrating Mexican Independence.  She received a rather castigating letter from a reader to whom she apologized saying she was "only a physicist, and an American physicist at that."  They have since become friends. 

What part of writing is your favorite, easiest, hardest?

Ann loves writing dialogue, action scenes, sex scenes "which are a type of action scene", and doesn't mind killing people.  The hardest part is the "muddle in the middle", that gets to her.

Janet said getting started was the hardest, having the raw idea.  The most fun is refining what she's written.  She does find sex scenes hard and, in her fourth book, writing a confrontation between Jeri and her mother was very hard.

Camille doesn't work from an outline but often gets stuck at about the 80 percent complete stage.  She enjoys writing dialogue, especially humerous dialogue.  "A single like of good dialogue can give you all the subtext."

How did you each come to writing?

Camille never read until she got to college.  Her parents weren't readers; books and learning weren't part of the way she grew up.  When she got to college was when she discovered one could read for pleasure.  Once she discovers something, she wants to do it and so it was with writing and mysteries.

Janet always knew she wanted to write.  When she was small, she wrote five-page books. And her background is as a journalist.

Ann has a background as a science/technical writer.  She and Camille shared an office at Lawrence Livermore Labs and it was Camille who got her into writing fiction.  It was because of her family that she wanted to write a book in Leadville.

Why mysteries?

Janet always liked to read mysteries so it was a case of writing what she likes to read.

Ann has always read a lot of mysteries.  She likes the idea of "frontier fiction" and wanted to show the social turmoil, which isn't much different from today.  When Camille mentioned writing fiction, and Ann found there were very few historical mysteries set in the West.

Camille felt it just seemed like the easiest thing for her to write.

All three authors write women sleuths.  What prompted that decision?

Ann's career has always been as a woman in a man's world, so that perspective related most to her.

Janet needed a protagonist with a reason to poke about in other people's business and found, when during research, that most female PIs had come from the legal field, and as Janet had worked in the legal field, it seemed a logical choice.

Unfortunately, the conversation moved on before Camille had the opportunity to answer. 

NOTE:  Lesson to be learned: if you’re on a panel, don't also be the moderator.

What does your writing space look like?

Camille has an office in her house and a favorite chair that is now held together with duct tape but she just won't give it up.

Ann has taken over the guest room--guests must now sleep in the living room--which is filled with stacks and stacks of books and files.

made a second bedroom into her office and has been meaning to clean it up for the past 20 years.  As she has cats who have decided that computer time means cuddle time, it's often a challenge seeing the monitor through the cats. 

ANN PARKER writes the Silver Rush mysteries set in Leadville, Colorado in the 1880s, featuring saloon keeper Inez Stannert.

CAMILLE MINICHINO has written eight mysteries in the Periodic Table series featuring physicist Gloria Lamerino.  She also writes the Miniature Mysteries as Margaret Grace and will be introducing the Professor Sophie Knowles mysteries as Ada Madison.

JANET DAWSON's Jeri Howard is an Oakland private investigator.  "Bit Player," the series 10th installment, will be released on April 21st.