Saturday, July 2, 2011

Women in a Man's World

Please welcome my special guest today: Author Camille Minichino, talented mystery writer, who goes by many names. Camille Minichino is the author of three mystery series, beginning with her Periodic Table Mysteries. 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:


I seem to be turning all phases of my life into mystery series. My husband is worried that he'll be featured (or fictitiously murdered) soon.

My newest protagonist, Professor Sophie St. Germain Knowles, teaches math at a small New England college, eerily similar to my own alma mater and former place of employment. When she's not helping the local police solve murders, she creates puzzles and brainteasers for magazines and hangs out with her medevac pilot boyfriend and an offbeat beading friend, Ariana.

The setting is contemporary, but Sophie has a two hundred year history, you might say. I named her after the great Sophie St. Germain (1776-1831), who made breakthrough contributions to mathematics in the form of number theory and the theory of elasticity.

Fifty years before Ann Parker's Inez Stannert became a businesswoman and took her place among the saloon owners and poker players in Leadville, Colorado, Sophie St. Germain was trying to make her own way in a man's world.

Women were not admitted to the schools and studies Sophie craved, so she created a new identity. Just as Inez sometimes resorts to wearing men's clothing to better accomplish her mission, Sophie used a man's name on her technical papers and letters. As Monsieur LeBlanc, Sophie corresponded with the great male mathematicians of the time, including Lagrange, Legendre, and Gauss.

Some continued to admire her work even after learning that M. LeBlanc was a woman; others were not so enlightened.

In spite of her widely known achievements, Sophie St. Germain's death certificate lists her not as mathematician or scientist, but as a rentier (property holder).

Maybe that was high praise for a woman 180 years ago.

There's no indication that "the ridicule attached to a female scientist" (Sophie St. Germain's own words) has completely passed, as we know from the failure of the ERA and the data on gender and salary.

What's a girl to do?

One idea: continue to write strong, intelligent female protagonists, like Inez Stannert, and, I hope, Gloria Lamerino, Geraldine Porter, and Sophie Knowles.

Many years ago I read a mystery series that featured a female English professor at a major university. I loved it. I reread one of the books as I prepared to write my new series.

Much to my surprise, the book that I'd remembered so fondly was merely a blatant protest against the sexist workings of the university faculty, thinly disguised as a mystery. The protagonist stands up at meeting after meeting and rants about her treatment and the discriminatory practices at the university. Her monologues go on for three or four pages at a time, without interruption, throughout the "novel."

I put the book down and could hardly believe I'd once loved it. But it was a different era. That very successful, groundbreaking series would never fly today.

Now it seems best to try to bring about awareness of women's place in the world in a way that's not heavy-handed.

Professor Sophie Knowles is my most recent attempt to portray a normal, likeable woman who also happens to be a mathematician, as Inez is a likeable woman and also a strong and clever businessperson.

In fact, Sophie is such fun, she's offering a math-related prize to three readers of The Silver Rush Mysteries blog. Send an email to by midnight July 10, with SILVERMATH in the subject line, and be entered into the drawing.

Thanks for letting me visit, Ann! It's an honor to hang out with the award-winning Inez!


Ann Parker said...

Hi Camille! Thanks for posting here today! I loved learning about Sophie St. Germaine. How interesting that she was listed as "property owner." She and Inez could have had some interesting conversations, no doubt!

Susan C Shea said...

Can't wait to read the first in your new series. The history behind it is fascinating, and you're so sly - as you say, not all sexist bias is gone, so Sophie has two jobs: solve a mystery and expand the dialogue. Of course I'm entering your contest....

Camille Minichino said...

Susan, you are duly entered!

Ann, thanks for hosting. It's really fun (and an honor!) to be on your site.

That might make an interesting story/blog: Inez shares a drink with Sophie St. Germain!

Anonymous said...

I remember the series you loved. I did too but had the same experience in rereading. So happy you are doing the protagonist you are. She sounds wonderful--as does her historical namesake...

Priscilla said...

Anon was Priscilla. Still getting use to the techie toys...

Anonymous said...

Loved the post and learning about your characters and your series.

Ann Parker said...

Come on back any time, Camille/Ada/Margaret! :-) It was great to host you during your month-long blog tour...

Lesleat Tash said...

Hey, it's Leslea from BBT.