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Thursday, January 17, 2013


We call Fridays here at Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers Book Club Friday, but we’ve never had an author blog about book clubs. Today I’m thrilled to welcome back author Camille Minichino to rectify that.

Camille has published seventeen mysteries in three series: The Periodic Table Mysteries, The Miniature Mysteries (as Margaret Grace) and the Professor Sophie Knowles Mysteries (as Ada Madison). She's written articles for popular magazines and teaches writing in the San Francisco Bay Area. Camille is past president of NorCal Mystery Writers of America, NorCal Sisters in Crime, and the California Writers Club. She works at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and teaches science at Golden Gate U., San Francisco. Read more about her and her books at her website

Camille’s latest book is A Function of Murder, a professor Sophie Knowles Mystery, and she’s offering a copy to one of our readers who leaves a comment. -- AP

I Heart Book Clubs

I'll start with a confession: I never met a book club I didn't like.

Right now, I'm facilitating three of them. One is a nonfiction group that has been meeting for twenty-two years. This month we're reading The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success, a new book by Kevin Dutton. (Take the quiz. You may be one. Scary!) The second club is a relatively new mystery group at an indie bookstore; the third (pictured above) is a library mystery group that has been meeting for sixteen years. Some of them agreed to pose tonight just so you could see them at work! You can tell who are the shy ones.

I thought I might do a little how-to, as if facilitating book clubs is a craft, like beading or making mop dolls! Here's how I do it:

1. At the first meeting, collect data on who likes what and choose the books for a few months ahead, making sure everyone has a say in some way. In succeeding months, be egalitarian in author gender, subgenre, setting, and any other group preferences.

2. Set out ranking rules. We use a scale from 1 to 10, where 10 is "best book I've read since Poe's Telltale Heart, and 1 means "I threw it across the room." In the middle is "I would (or would not) recommend it." Ranking is based on 3 factors: Characters, Plot, Writing. A book can get a 10 on character and 2 on plot, or 7 on plot and 1 on writing, and so on.

3. At the beginning of each meeting, each member gives a ranking with a one liner: "I rated this a 10 in all categories because I didn't yawn once while reading it." This gives everyone, even the shyest, a chance to express an opinion before things get out of hand.

4. Discussion proceeds. I usually start with those who ranked the book the farthest off the average. "How come everyone gave this book a 2, Oscar, and you gave it a 10?" or "Anastasia, you're the only one who claimed to have taken a match to the book and gave it a 1. How come?"

5. The facilitator needs to be prepared:
• with questions that encourage discussion
• with familiarity of the author's work to give the current book context
• with insights that get people talking about deeper issues in the book
• with specific passages marked as examples, in support of her/his own opinion or those of others.

Some book clubs fall into disrepair when the talk is 80% social; others prefer it that way. I prefer clubs where the discussion is about the book of the month first, chatting about shoes and kids a very distant second (okay, you caught us going out for ice cream, but that was after the meeting).

 I spent many years of my life doing physics and math (a la Professor Sophie Knowles) – very social careers. No one does science out of her garage any more; it's a team endeavor. My concern when I turned to writing was that it was too solitary a profession and I'd never last. I'm so glad to have been wrong!

Book Clubs are a great way to share what I've read, to meet and bring together others who love to read and are eager to talk about why. Often I've given a book a 5 to start with and changed to an 8 after hearing from the group about things I missed.

Between critique groups (couldn't do without them), writers' organizations (ditto), conferences, and book clubs, I have enough interaction to last through the days when it's just me and Word 2011 for the Mac, and, of course, the whole crew in the Professor Sophie Knowles Mysteries.

I'd love to hear about your experiences with Book Clubs. If you leave a comment, you'll be entered into a drawing for a copy of my latest release, A Function of Murder.

Dr. Sophie Knowles is a math professor with a knack for creating complex puzzles that delight her students. But now, at the close of the academic year, she must solve a crime that doesn’t quite add up…

At the math department’s graduation party, Sophie hears heated arguments coming from the graduates about Mayor Graves, the commencement speaker. Not the mayor’s biggest fan, Sophie is happy to escape the drama with an after-hours campus stroll accompanied by her helicopter-piloting boyfriend, Bruce Granville. However, their date is interrupted by the mayor himself—with a knife in his back.

As it turns out, the knife is actually a Henley College letter opener—something that is gifted to every member of the graduating class. Sophie is led to a complicated puzzle of scandal and corruption, and it seems that Mayor Graves is at the apex of it all. When Sophie finds out that the mayor was seeking her help on the day he was murdered, she must use her top-notch logic to crack the puzzle and catch the killer running free on campus…  

Thanks for joining us today, Camille. I wish I lived close enough to attend one of your book clubs. Readers, leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of A Function of Murder, and don’t forget to include an email address or check back on Sunday to see if you’re the winner. We have a lot of giveaways going unclaimed because we have no way of contacting the winners. -- AP


Judith Mehl said...

I've always loved Camille Minichino's books and her thoughts on book clubs should go a long way in making a new club function. Her clubs all sound exciting but different.
Judith Mehl
Author: "Formula for Murder," "Game, Set, Murder"

Marguerite Hall said...

I have never participated in one, but would love to start one online. This post has given me a wonderful idea on what's need to make it successful. Thank you :)

Lili Northe said...

I love/hate book clubs/groups..Sometimes they are wonderful.especially when there is longevity..but other times, I think people come together to talk about everything and anything except the book...I think that if I wanted to hear about her son, or her husband...I would have asked her.. I have started an Art Discussion group that runs smoothly, there are assignments, and I prepare talking points..and I started a book discussion group in a local RWA chapter group that is still going strong after 6 years...A well-oiled book group requires enthusiasm on the part of all the participants, and members who really want to talk about books...

Camille Minichino said...

Nice to meet you, Judith, Marguerite, and Mareva -- thanks for mentioning excitement and enthusiasm as necessary ingredients!

traveler said...

thanks for this interesting post. Your book sounds captivating and special.

petite said...

Book Clubs are wonderful since they allow us to experience more books than we would normally enjoy, as well as meet others with the similar interests. Many last for years since it depends upon the leaders and the enterprising members. Many thanks for this intro to your books and book clubs.

Carol-Lynn Rössel said...

I've never been in a book club, but this post makes the idea tempting.

Camille Minichino said...

Yes, one of the best things about book clubs is the experience of reading something you wouldn't have picked up otherwise, giving you a new author to explore.

If you can't find a good one, start one! Most libraries and bookstores welcome a new book club.

Leslie Ann aka LA said...

I understand there are virtual book clubs now, I read an article about an author who was invited to one nearly 300 days out of the year, and of course I can't find the article.

I think it would be fun to try virtual. Camille, do you know anything about them?

Inquiring author wants to know :)
Thanks so much for you info here. I enjoyed reading the post.

~L.A. Sartor aka Leslie Ann

Camille Minichino said...

I'd love to know more about the virtual book clubs.

I'm not a fan of CHATS, where everyone is talking "past" each other as fast as everyone can type. But virtual, where it's more like a conversation, could work. Anyone else know about them?

Sally Carpenter said...

A local indie mystery bookstore hosted a long-time book club. After the store closed last year, the club continues to meet at a restaurant, showing there's no stopping a good book club. Thanks for the post!

Camille Minichino said...

True, Sally! The club pictured in this blog started meeting at a bookstore also. When the store closed, the club moved to my home, and now it's at the library. Can't stop us!

Janet Rudolph said...

I love book clubs. Our mystery book club has been meeting for over 35 years every Tuesday night. We're like family. We read a book a week.

Camille Minichino said...

Very impressive, Janet! And lucky group to have you in it.

Debbi Goodman-Smith said...

I am in a Mystery Book Club now, and we meet a a member's home and order in Chinese food for dinner. We discuss the book we have read for the month and then other books members have read. I have read your first two series. I look forward to reading your new one.
Our book club meets one evening a month in San Francisco, and we would love to have your first Ada Madison book as our March or April book, and have you be our guest for dinner and talk about your new book.

Camille Minichino said...

What a wonderful invitation, Debbi! Please email me at camille.minichino@gmail.com and we'll work it out.

Liz V. said...

Love The Periodic Table Mysteries series, and your miniature murder reading corner holds pride of place on my china cabinet.

Best wishes for A Function of Murder.

Anonymous said...

Hi all,
I run my bookclub much differently
from you.
At the library where I work I tried
the usual stuff. Either a few people showed up who hadn't read the book or nobody showed up at all..
Once I started asking what the people who showed up Had read my group took off and is still going years later.
We all read different books and simply share them with each other.
And every month as more people read them, we have more to talk about.
It's a blessing.
If you're ever in Tulsa, Ok please
think about stopping in with us!
Michele Bradford

Camille Minichino said...

A good book club is a treasure, I agree, Michele. Tulsa is my husband's birthplace, so if we go back again . . . see you!

And Liz, I'm so glad the scene stayed glued together!

Carole Shmurak said...

Like Camille, I'm involved in leading three book clubs, all of them mystery-related. Two have been going for 12 years and the third is in its second year. I've also been a guest speaker at other book clubs. I find that book groups that meet at libraries talk about the book, even if refreshments are served. Those that meet at people's houses tend to be social and more food-focused as well. I've never asked people to numerically rate the books though. They're all pretty vocal about how they feel about the book, and usually articulate about why. Over the years, the book groups have gained more men, which seems to be unusual, so one group is now about 50/50, and the other two are about 3 times as many women as men. Like Csmille, I also find this as a great way to have the social interactions I used to have as a professor, before I started writing mysteries.

Camille Minichino said...

Like Carole, I definitely find a difference in my settings: 1 bookstore, 1 library, and 1 home, but in each case, we come away with an increased appreciation for the book or the topics the book raises.

Lots of good ideas here and, again, I thank you, Lois, for the chance to meet your readers!

Teralee ElBasri said...

I'm a librarian who runs both the mystery book club - where everyone reads a different book on a theme (next month is arts and crafts mysteries) - and the fiction/nonfiction book club where the group alternates a title in a different category each month.

Loved reading the BC ideas!