"All novels are mysteries," said Janet Dawson. "We're lured in by wanting to find out what comes next, what makes these characters do what they do." In the case of Dawson — whose private eye Jeri Howard works the mean streets of Oakland and the greater East Bay — and the other Mysterious Women appearing with her at the Oakland Main Library (125 14th St., Oakland) on Saturday, April 30, mystery is the form but life is the inspiration. "Since Jeri Howard is a private investigator," Dawson said, "she has to do a lot of legwork. It's helpful for me to visit the places I'm writing about." The Paramount Theatre featured prominently in Dawson's fifth Jeri Howard mystery, Nobody's Child, so Dawson took the theater tour multiple times to get the layout. For the newest, Bit Player — whose central mystery is a Hollywood murder that may have involved the PI's then-starlet grandmother — Dawson got to do some legwork through her own past. "From the silent era on, my mother's family owned movie theaters in small-town Oklahoma." When she was growing up, Dawson's uncle ran the projector and her aunt the concession stand. Both her mother and aunt met their husbands while selling tickets, "so you could say the movie allure is in the blood."
When it comes to turning real-life passions into page-turning intrigue, you'd be hard-pressed to top Camille Minichino. Holding a Ph.D in physics and currently employed by Golden Gate University and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Minichino has published eight books starring retired physicist Gloria Lamerino; five (under the name Margaret Grace) featuring a crime-solving miniaturist and her precocious granddaughter; and a new series (as Ada Madison) centered on Sophie Knowles, a puzzle-loving college math professor. "Sometimes I feel that eventually I'll turn every part of my life into a mystery series," said Minichino. "I've never outgrown my love of dollhouses and miniatures," she added, by way of explaining her Miniature Mysteries series. "Writing a novel and creating a miniature scene are very much alike: You do a 'draft,' live with it a while, edit it, polish it, and submit it. In each case — making a miniature scene or writing a novel — I'm creating a model of reality, a fictional world where things can be easier and often make more sense than in the life-size world."
Minichino was instrumental in fostering the fiction career of Ann Parker, a science writer by day. "Camille and I worked together and have been friends for many decades," Parker said. "Back in the late-1990s, I turned to her for advice when I started to seriously consider writing a novel set in Leadville." Parker sets her Silver Rush Mysteries in 1880s-era Colorado, where saloonkeeper Inez Stannert doles out rotgut and justice with equal aplomb. Parker's maternal great-grandfather was a blacksmith in the real Leadville, and her grandmother worked at the bindery of the Leadville paper. But, she explained, "It's the stories they didn't tell me that led me to focus on Leadville for my mystery series." Her grandmother never, as far as Parker knows, toted a gun but "looking at the Leadville census for 1880, one finds there were women working as physicians, journalists, miners, and, yes, saloon-owners. Not many, mind you, but even one is enough for fiction." 2 p.m., free. 510-238-6568 or OaklandLibrary.org