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July 25, 2011


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Paolo Amoroso

Faye also uses aerial imaging and computerized mapping systems.

Mary Anna Evans

Shhh, Paolo, don't tell these people that! LOL.

Okay, I'm busted. Faye uses 21st-century tools, too. I *did* say that she "tended" to use Iron Age tools. I didn't say that she used them exclusively. ;)

Can I tie this observation in to my original point? Let me try. If technology is, at its root, those things that make our lives easier, then those computers and airplanes and satellites that help her find archaeological sites can be filed under the same heading as her shovel. (They're not simple machines, though, so they do not further that part of my argument, though. Drat.) They support the development of my stories because they help Faye do what she needs to do (and what I need for her to do,) but they need to stay in their supporting roles.

If, in my next book, Faye whips out a fancy-schmancy new gadget that completely takes over the narrative, you people need to yell at me and make me stop.


Pulley, inclined planes... It all takes me back to basic physics labs! :-) Love your take on "technology." So, Faye doesn't have a cell phone? Seems like everyone nowadays carries one. It seems to be nearly a "given" in stories set in present day U.S. of A.

Mary Anna

Yeah, she has a cell phone. And she has solar panels that keep her off-the-grid island home fairly comfortable. So she's not a total Luddite, but she is cheap, so she is definitely not an early adopter.

I find that cell phones can be maddening things when trying to plot a modern mystery novel. When I need her to be in danger, I need to get her there without making her look like an absolute idiot, yet if I'm not careful, someone's gonna say, "Why didn't she just pull the phone out of her pocket and call for help?" When at all possible, I try to battle this problem by making the cell phone an actual part of the plot.

In ARTIFACTS, RELICS, and EFFIGIES, the locations were remote enough that I could legitimately let the cell coverage be spotty. In fact, RELICS was *about* a cell tower being built in a remote mountain valley. I was just very careful to establish the spottiness and the locations where she wasn't able to count on her phone. In FINDINGS, she's taken prisoner so quickly that she can't get to her phone. In FLOODGATES, she runs headlong into danger with a cell phone clasped to her ear, trying to figure out how to find the injured woman who has called her. The entire plot of STRANGERS revolves around a Gilded Age faux-stone mansion with walls so massive that cell phones wouldn't work inside. And in the upcoming PLUNDER, events unfold over a morning in which Faye is constantly texting or on the phone, trying to deal with important family business. When danger arrives, she has legitimately burned up her battery, without me falling back on the lame, "She forgot to charge it."

If technology gets any better, there won't be any way to write a mystery that works. Egad.

Camille Minichino

Yay! The six simple machines in a blog post - thanks, Mary Anna!

Your argument of technology making life easier certainly holds up. All of the classic machines are designed to work with (or against) the gravitational force; that's all we knew about for many centuries. The contemporary "machines" (though no moving parts) are designed to work with (or against) the electromagnetic force.

I'd better stop or I'll go to the other two.

Mary Anna

Camille, are you scheduled to post while we're on this topic? If not, you should get somebody to swap with you. :)

I believe I've mentioned here that I have a book coming out in 2012 called MATHEMATICAL LITERACY IN THE MIDDLE AND SECONDARY GRADES. I'm not sure I've mentioned that my co-writer and I are planning to propose a follow-up book on science literacy. I truly enjoyed writing about mathematical literacy, but science is my first love. Everybody cross your fingers that our publisher wants the science literacy book, please!

Camille Minichino

I'm posting this week but have twisted the topic around to some kind of sermon on computers and sports.

I hope hope hope science literacy is next on your list. I've been teaching classes in it since the sixties and now do it at Golden Gate U, SF. Wouldn't know where to begin for middle school, so I'm glad you're there!

Mary Anna Evans

I find that even very young kids can understand sophisticated science, as long as the concepts are couched in language they understand. There's generally no need to even get into the mathematics part of science at that age. Finding examples from a young person's world that can illustrate big scientific ideas can be so much fun.

When my son was five, we were sitting in a doughnut shop and he asked me why his hot chocolate was hotter when he drank it through his straw than if he sipped it from the top. He was treated to a monologue that began with, "Well, sweetheart, there are three kinds of heat transfer: conduction, convection, and radiation..."

He's now a mechanical engineer, so I apparently didn't scar him for life.


Mary Anna, just think: If you'd pointed out to your son that a coffee cup is the same as a doughnut (topologically speaking), you might have ended up with a mathematician! ;-)

Mary Anna Evans

Deep down, I know that you're correct, but the concept makes my head hurt...topologically speaking. :)

Thermodynamics and heat transfer, on the other hand, make perfect sense to me. Different strokes for different folks. LOL.

Camille Minichino

I once did a demo of a laser (back when they were new and thrilling!) for an assembly of K-2 kids -- I used a water hose to demonstrate the power of coherence.

I agree that kids can do a lot more at an early age than simply learn the names of leaves and bugs. Your thermodynamics story is great!

Spy pen camera

Well that's true If technology gets any better, there won't be any way to write a mystery that works...great stuff you provide.

Mary Anna

Readers of science fiction posited way back in the 1950s, and probably before, that there was no way to write a mystery that also functioned as science fiction. The writer could simply pull some new and improved ray gun or computer gizmo out of his...head...at the end of the book and solve the mystery as if by magic. It would be a return to the days of the Greeks and their deus ex machina.

The late, great Dr. Isaac Asimov begged to differ, and I agree with his logic wholeheartedly. He said (and I'm paraphrasing from memory) that a writer simply needed to establish a coherent universe and get the reader to buy into its rules. If those rules are never violated, then it is possible to maintain the mystery and still allow the reader to follow along as the detective solves the crime.

To prove his point, he wrote THE CAVES OF STEEL in 1954, a book that I think is an excellent example of both science fiction and mystery. In fact, it's just a really good book, regardless of its genre. I wrote an essay on this book for an anthology called MYSTERY MUSES, and I'm reprinting it in an upcoming book for writers that I'm compiling called DAY BY DAY: A WRITER'S COMPANION.

I guess you can tell that I'm a big Asimov fan.

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