I'm doing a blog tour this week, spreading wisdom hither and yon. Here's the schedule, but I will obviously keep reminding you of where I'll be.
Today is a two-fer, because Speak Without Interruption has posted an excerpt of WOUNDED EARTH (and isn't Speak without Interruption a glorious title for people who have things to say, but don't always feel like they get heard?), as well as my usual bi-weekly post at The LadyKillers, where I'm talking about technology in mysteries. Check them out!
Here's a guest post from my friend and fellow physics-and-math person Camille Minichino. She's starting a brand-new mystery series featuring Sophie Knowles, a college math teacher, and you know I'm gonna love that one. Even better, she's talking about a relic--her old slide rule--and I love relics so much that I wrote a book called Relics. Listen as Camille tells us why doing the math is so important...
Do the Math
By Camille Minichino, aka Ada Madison
Here I am with a relic—the slide rule I bought at the MIT store. It cost me a week's pay—$35—sometime in the middle of the last century. It got me through a mathematics major and a few graduate physics classes before an enormous, clunky IBM 1620 came in and took over.
My newest protagonist, Professor Sophie Knowles, math teacher at a small New England college, probably wouldn't know which end is up on the foot long slide rule, nor would she have the patience to sit for hours entering her data on error-prone punch cards.
Math education has changed since my college days. Whew. Welcome, technology!
We've also come a long way since Sophie's namesake, eighteenth-century mathematician Sophie St. Germain, had to hide behind a man's name to get the math community to pay attention to her. Or since nineteenth-century German university policy allowed Emmy Noether only to audit classes in mathematics and then, once she passed doctoral exams anyway, allowed her to teach only without pay.
The real Ada, Countess Ada Lovelace, was another story entirely. To keep her from going the creatively manic route of her father, Lord Byron, Ada's mother encouraged her to study mathematics. Ada went a little too far, trying to use her math skills to win at gambling, and . . . didn't.
So we've made some progress along gender lines, but women are still underrepresented in engineering, science, and math.
And not much has changed as far as the perception of math. It still gets bad press, from both genders. Math is thought of as a difficult subject, requiring a special brain typically belonging to boring people. Even in educated circles, math illiteracy is often worn as a badge.
The same person who would never say, "I hate reading," or "I can't do words," doesn't hesitate to say, "I can't do math," and sound proud of it.
Where does this attitude start? Maybe with dolls that say, "I don't like math." Or with celebrities like Angelina Jolie, who tells a little girl struggling with her homework, "I hate math" ("Salt," 2010). Or with the Michigan teacher I heard about who told her middle school class, "If you behave yourselves this morning, you won't have to do math this afternoon." (AAARRGH, if I knew her name; I'd make her a slimy villain in my next book.)
What can we do?
Enter Professor Sophie Knowles. I can't fix everything that's wrong with the levels of science and math literacy among our citizens, but I can certainly use my writing skills to present another option: a smart female mathematician who loves puzzles, beads, has a hot boyfriend who's an EMT pilot and an ice climber, and who applies her flair for logic to solving murders.
Here's my hope: that readers who would otherwise shun a book with math in the title will be attracted to Sophie and enjoy her stories.
Another title aimed at reaching non-math-lovers and helping them see the beauty of the subject is Mathematical Literacy in the Middle and Secondary Grades by my gracious blog host, Mary Anna Evans, coming in Spring 2012. Mary Anna and her co-author Dr. Faith Wallace have teamed to create a book that brings into the math classroom things kids love to read and do--things like computer games, social media, and popular fiction like Mary Anna's and mine--so that their teachers can help them relate mathematics to their own world. Tell all your math teacher friends to give it a look.
If you need more prompting to go all John Lennon and Give Math a Chance, consider this endorsement, uttered by no less a figure (so to speak) than Agatha Christie, in her An Autobiography:
"I continued to do arithmetic with my father, passing proudly through fractions to decimals. I eventually arrived at the point where so many cows ate so much grass, and tanks filled with water in so many hours. I found it quite enthralling."
If it's good enough to enthrall Dame Agatha, it's good enough for me.
Camille Minichino is the author of three mystery series. 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 on her website: http://www.minichino.com
Listen to my friend Tracey Alley, author of many books, including The Witchcraft Wars series and the Kaynos History tales, as she gives you the scoop on what a writer's life is like. And isn't that what we're all about here at "It's Like Making Sausage...?"
There are usually three things most people assume when you tell them you’re an author. One, that you must be rich – sorry, see J.K. Rowling and co for that, most writers consider themselves lucky to make a living out of writing and the rest of us work for less than peanuts.
Two, that you must know a lot of celebrities – well again, see the big names for that. Your average writer is a solitary creature, rather like a spider, who weaves their webs inside the confines of their own little nests and rarely venture out to meet any real people let alone celebrities.
Three, that it’s an easy profession. Whoa! You could not be more wrong. Yes there are those who are born with a creative imagination – that’s only the start, not, by any means, the whole story. I can come up with thousands of ideas, that’s never been a problem, but can I craft them into something that is readable? Do I know enough of the mechanics to make a decent story into something that is not only entertaining but well written, well edited, well put together? Most of us use beta readers, editors and critique groups because the simple fact is that very, very few of us are capable of doing the entire thing from word one to the end without some help along the way.
Quite simply writing is not the simple task that many people assume it to be and it is becoming ever more complex as so many writers choose to go the independent route rather than stick with a traditional publishing house. It’s not enough to just have talent, assuming that you even have any, but you also have to have hard work, determination, perseverance and humility. You have to be able to craft a story well and take criticism with class and dignity when you’re failing in that task. And let’s not forget – just because you’ve had a great idea that doesn’t necessarily mean it will translate into a great book. I would estimate that for most writers probably 95% of their ideas end up as nothing more than that, an idea.
Then once you’ve had the great idea and managed to craft it into a well-written book now you have to try and sell it. This may mean querying agents or publishing houses directly or, if like me, you’ve chosen to take your book to the marketplace independently, you have to sell it directly to the public. That’s the hardest job of all.
Very few, if any, writers that I know are, by nature, natural salespeople. Thus the task of marketing and promoting your book is not an easy one but essential if you ever want to sell even a single copy. You have to learn the intricacies of social media and how to use that effectively without alienating potential readers but still letting them know about your product. You have to find reviewers who are willing to look at your work, and cross your fingers each time that you’ll actually get a good review. All in all it’s a tough business. Simply promoting and marketing your book can take up an enormous amount of time in your day and of course, by now, you should also be working on the next book.
At any rate you get the idea. Writers aren’t automatically rich or famous, we don’t necessarily know any celebrities and it’s not easy. However, having said all that, if you are a writer, and I truly believe that some of us are just born that way, then you love every single minute of it. All the hard work, all the editing and reworking of your novels, all the criticisms and praise and even all the marketing and promotion. As a writer I love all of it, well, maybe not the marketing and promotion side, but I love to be able to do what I love and have people actually read my work – no matter how much hard work that might take. So to every reader – thank you. To every reader who actually liked the book – thank you even more.
As luck would have it, I am the Independence Day blogger over at Poisoned Pen Press's website. How fitting, considering that I write about a woman of European, African, and Native American descent who I have described as "American history, walking around on two legs."
Come see what I have to say about Faye and the Fourth of July and the pursuit of happiness:
Mary Anna Evans has degrees in physics and engineering, but her heart is in the past. Her series character, Faye Longchamp, lives the exciting life of an archaeologist, and Mary Anna envies her a little.
Faye Longchamp's growing list of adventures include Artifacts, Relics, Effigies, Findings, Floodgates and, coming in October, Strangers.
Mary Anna is a co-founder and board member of the Anhinga Writers' Studio. The Studio presents an annual summer workshop in Gainesville, Florida, providing writing instruction and networking for fiction and nonfiction authors of all levels of experience. For information on this year's summer workshop, visit www.anhingawriters.org.