By Amy Shojai
What in the world does a math-loving, Ph.D.-toting, doll house miniature-doting author write? Why, anything she wants! with a little murder mixed in for fun, of course.
Ada Madison is the pen name of Camille Minichino, author of 17 mysteries in three series. A FUNCTION OF MURDER is the third book in The Professor Sophie Knowles Mysteries, featuring a college professor.
A story set on a college campus adds up (get it?) since Camille has a degree in math and a Ph.D. in physics from Fordham University, New York City. She is currently on the faculty of Golden Gate University, San Francisco and on the staff of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
With such an illustrious educational background, I couldn’t wait to find out more about the author and her work. I asked Camille about her latest cozy mystery and her multi-book career.
What’s A FUNCTION OF MURDER about?
Graduation day gone wrong! Hours after giving the commencement address at the fictional Henley College in Henley, Massachusetts, the mayor of the town stumbles back onto campus, with a knife in his back. His last words are to ask for Sophie’s help. How can she refuse?
What inspired you to write A FUNCTION OF MURDER?
This is the third book in my “academic” mystery series. A campus setting is the most natural to me, since I’ve spent so many years as a student, a teacher, and even an RA on a campus! I love the idea that campuses seem idyllic, but really a lot of – ahem – underhanded dealings go on behind the scenes. There are contentious faculty meetings, board meetings, and a great deal of competition. Not that I found that on my campus, of course! I just made it all up.
Some books require lots of research and others not so much. What sort of research did you do for A FUNCTION OF MURDER?
For each book, there’s one area that I delve into that I don’t know a lot about, like ice climbing, e.g., which is part of the second in the series, THE PROBABILITY OF MURDER. In A FUNCTION OF MURDER, there’s a scandal surrounding the running of charter schools and I did a considerable amount of research, including talking to teachers, about charter schools. This is nothing like the research done by some of my friends who write historicals—such as, did they use zippers in that decade?
How is A FUNCTION OF MURDER different (or similar) than other cozy mystery stories? What can readers expect?
A FUNCTION OF MURDER follows the conventions of cozies—no graphic violence or sex; a small venue that limits the number of suspects; no global implications, Los Angeles will not fall into the ocean. It’s different in that my sleuth is a college math professor who loves puzzles and has a boyfriend with the death-defying job of medevac pilot. There’s humor (I hope) and an interesting entourage on the campus.
Your real name is Camille Minichino, yet only your first series carries that byline. Was that your choice, or the publisher’s idea? Would you advise new mystery series writers to use pen names for their books? Why or why not?
The publisher’s idea. The trend these days is to “brand” an author by a name and a series. New series, new name. I would not advise it unless “forced,” but I have to assume the marketers know what they’re doing. If you have a choice, and aren’t doing porn and horror on the side, keep your own name so you can keep expanding a fan base who knows you and recognize your name.
The “Periodic Tables” mystery series (by Camille Minichino) features a retired physicist, the Miniature Mysteries series (by Margaret Grace) includes a miniaturist and her eleven-year-old granddaughter, and your latest release (by Ada Madison) is the third in the Professor Sophie Knowles mysteries and features a math professor. How does your background influence each of these series? How are the main characters like you—or different?
I’m turning all phases of my life into mystery series. Lucky me! As a kid, I made tiny curtains for my dollhouse out of old hankies — I hardly imagined that one day I’d be writing mysteries featuring a character, Gerry, who makes tiny curtains out of old hankies. It’s been pretty special to be able to combine two passions. My educational background is in math (BA) and physics (PhD); thus Sophie and Gloria were born. So, in a way, they’re all me, and I’ve been through all of those experiences. Putting myself in a position (solving a murder) that would never happen in real life is almost too much fun.
Do you have a favorite series? If you can’t choose a favorite, what do you like best about each of your three series mysteries?
Gloria is the part of me that might have been an expert physicist, instead of one who also writes novels, does miniatures, and, in general, flirts with every idea that comes her way. Gerry is the part of me that has fun with kids (confession: I am not a kid person!) and plays at miniatures whenever she wants to. Sophie is the teacher in me, the woman who’d never leave campus if she didn’t have to, who loves to learn and share what she learns.
I’ve just had my debut thriller published, and have just begun work on the sequel with an eye toward a series. Having published 17 series novels, what is the one piece of advice you’d share with newer writers based on what you’ve learned in your career?
Network, network, network. (Looks like you’re doing it! Congratulations.) The only way to stay in the business is to keep showing up; hopefully, you’re also having fun.
Do you set out to write for specific fans of a given series, or simply create what the story demands and allow that to define reader appeal?
I try to have a good time whenever possible! This means writing stories that are interesting and meaningful for me, and also fun to write. But it would be naive to think I don’t have to pay attention to the market, unless I want to go the DIY route, which is not as appealing to me right now as having a publisher with major distribution channels. Again, it might just be that I’m lucky enough that enough people want what I love to write.
What haven’t I asked you that is important for readers to know about Camille Minichino and her book A FUNCTION OF MURDER?
You’ve been amazingly thorough! I might add that I do have an agenda of sorts with all my series — I deliberately choose to write about women who are smart, likable, old enough to have had an interesting life, and strong enough to persist in achieving worthy goals. I try to do this with a good story and a good dose of humor, and hope I’ve succeeded.
Camille Minichino has published 17 novels, eight in the Periodic Table Mysteries, featuring retired physicist GLORIA LAMERINO. As Margaret Grace, she’s published six novels in the Miniature Mysteries series, featuring miniaturist GERALDINE PORTER and her eleven-year-old granddaughter, Maddie. As Ada Madison, she’s published three novels in the Professor Sophie Knowles Mysteries, featuring college professor SOPHIE KNOWLES. The latest is A FUNCTION OF MURDER, paperback from Berkley Prime Crime.Camille is on the board of NorCal Sisters in Crime. She’s a member of NorCal Mystery Writers of America and the California Writers Club.
To learn more about Camille, please visit her website.