One of the things that worried me when I thought of writing as a career was that it would be a solitary occupation.
I'd been a physicist for a long time. No one does physics alone, not since Newton, anyway. Who can accommodate something like a 17-mile-long tunnel to house a collider, or a 192-beam laser, in her garage?
Physicists gather around huge equipment in giant laboratories these days, working as a team. My graduate school mates and I spent long hours together in the same laboratory every day, sharing power supplies, monster-mentor stories, and data. We became close friends and knew each others' families as well as our own for a few years. Decades later, we still get together for reunions.
For the same decades, I'd wanted to be a published writer—something with more popular potential than my technical papers on the scattering properties of a titanium dioxide crystal. But I couldn't imagine sitting alone in a room with pen and paper, or keyboard and monitor, pouring out my thoughts and plots, in solitary confinement.
Imagine my delight when I discovered that writing—mystery writing especially—was a community endeavor. I discovered not only professional organizations and critique groups, but book clubs, conferences, Internet lists and groups, and blogging colleagues. Who knew?
Sure, there's a lot of me-and-my-chair for many hours, but I always know I can call or email any number of colleagues if I want to brainstorm a plot point, or whip off a chapter I'm not sure of. With each book, my acknowledgments list gets longer.
Also, like physics, writing requires research. Most of it is people-oriented, which has turned out to be quite a bonus. In the course of writing themes and subplots for 15 books, I've interviewed an embalmer, a veterinarian, a medevac helicopter pilot, an ice climber, a hotel administrator, an elevator maintenance man, and countless experts in police procedure, forensics, and—uh, ways to kill people.
I've gone to cities I'd never have visited otherwise, like Omaha and Boise and Milwaukee (I usually fly over these states on my way to and from San Francisco and Boston or New York.)
And the readers! I remember my very first conference, very first book. A woman I'd never seen before came up to me and told me she liked my book. I was confused, since I thought only my family and friends had even seen the book. I showed her my badge and said "I'm Camille Minichino. You probably think I'm someone else."
She gave me an indulgent smile and said, "You'll get used to it."
I never have. I'm still amazed and pleased when readers approach me with a kind word about my books, and I remember whom I'm writing for.
I'm on my third series, with a new protagonist, Professor Sophie Knowles, a college math teacher at a small New England college. I still count on my dream critique group and all my colleagues to see me through the next book.
In each series I've tried to make the protagonist sleuth someone you'd like to have lunch with. Like real-life scientists and mathematicians. And mystery readers and writers.
I'm sure some writers prefer go it alone, but I never would have made it. The writing and reading community are smart, fun, and generous. I'm glad I found them.
Good example: I've met the gracious Marilyn Meredith in person only once or twice, but we're both after the same thing, connecting to the rest of the mystery community, and that's enough for her to welcome me to her blog. Thanks, Marilyn!
Camille Minichino is a retired physicist and VSP (very social person) turned writer. Her akas are Margaret Grace (The Miniature Mysteries) and Ada Madison (The Professor Sophie Knowles Mysteries). The first chapter of "The Square Root of Murder," debuting July 5, is posted at http://www.minichino.com.
And from me:
Though Camille and I have only spoken a couple of times, I've seen her from afar at several conferences in the far away places she's talking about. You see I knew Camille from her books and knew who she was and admired her. Now I know a lot more about her than I ever did before--and you do too.