Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The book that won't sell

I LOVE Joanna's idea of giving you a taste of an unpublished book.

The book that's been filling up way too many folders and a whole lot of disk space in my office is LOGIC AS A SECOND LANGUAGE. One of its many subtitles: How to Live With an Engineer.

I've approached the topic in every form I can think of, but I've never had any success getting it published as a book.

I've taught it as a class, "The Logic of Communication," at various venues, presented it as a humorous talk, and even sold it as a one-hour tape (in the old days). I long to see the book in print, and haven't given up. Every time I have a 2-day lull in my mystery writing, I take out the files, both paper and e-, and try again to reshape it.

Here's a section from the introductory chapter.

How Do I Look: An Invitation to Troubleshoot

A classic story handed down for generations in engineering schools goes like this:

A priest, a lawyer, and an engineer are condemned to die by the guillotine.
First the priest lies down face up, and waits for the blade to fall. But the blade sticks, and according to the law, if the blade sticks the prisoner goes free. So the priest gets up and thanks God and claims that Truth has spared him.

The lawyer is next. Like the priest, he lies down and looks up at the blade. Once again the blade sticks in midair. The lawyer is free. He stands up and proclaims that Justice has saved him.

Finally, the engineer lies down and looks up at the blade. Just as the executioner is about to make his third attempt to drop the blade, the engineer lets out a cry: "Wait, wait," he says, "I see the problem!"

Logic As A Second Language offers the reader a way to deal with a person who'd rather have his head cut off than not make things "right." The book teaches critical thinking skills and how to communicate with people who are trained to be logical at all costs, like the engineer in the story.


One of the main consequences of the training of logical people is a kind of built-in troubleshooting mechanism that seems to operate at all times. Mechanics, engineers, computer people, are all trained to look for trouble. Their job is to inspect a system—a car, a bridge, a computer program—and ask themselves where things have gone wrong, or where they might go wrong in the future.

If there’s already a problem to solve, they begin by examining every possible piece of the item or project to determine if it could be the source of the trouble. If they’re in the design stage of the project they do the same thing, anticipating future problems and testing for potential failure under certain operating conditions.

So, when you come into the room dressed for a party and ask, "How do I look?" the logical person immediately takes up the challenge and starts looking for problem areas.

"First, the noise from your bracelets might disturb the musicians. Second, you might find it hard to walk on that gravel driveway in those heels. Third, that sleeveless sweater isn’t going to be warm enough if we come home late."

Well, you did after all ask, "How do I look?"

The logical person assumes that if all you wanted to hear was, "You look great," or "Cool outfit," you would have said so.


My agent once told me that this book changed the way she dealt with her engineer husband. "Good," I said. "Then you can sell it?"

"No," she said. "I don't think anyone would want this."

It was an answer that defied logic.


Monica Ferris said...

An optimist thinks the glass is half full, a pessimist thinks the glass is half empty, an engineer thinks the glass is too big. My husband has the mind of an engineer. Once you get used to it, it's rather nice!

Camille Minichino said...

Yes, it's very nice, Monica! Engineers are the most helpful people; and everything "works" in my house.

Silverlotus said...

That is a book I would love to read. My husband and many of our friends are engineers. (And I'm a half-trained engineer myself.) I think it would be fabulous to read your insights.

Ellen said...

One book which has some of the same worldview is Eric S. Raymond's The Hacker's Dictionary in its various editions. Start with the appendices.

If you wish a cautionary tale of what may happen if you let an engineer run free, try


Betty Hechtman said...

I loved the beginning. Maybe you could make it a self help book. Learn to think like an engineer and fix your life.

My husband isn't an engineer nor does he have the mind of one. When something doesn't work in my house it gets handed off to me.

Camille Minichino said...

Good tips here. Thanks Betty and Ellen.
Silverlotus, I may need you as a resource!

Camille Minichino said...

I recommend going to the link Ellen gave -- articles on living in a perfectly engineered 100 square feet. Smaller than my office! or go to

Linda O. Johnston said...

I'm married to an engineer and love the concept of your book, Camille!

Chris V. said...

I know I'm not engineer-minded so I'd rather not have solutions. I never think about my bracelets making noise. haa! But I liked the joke! What about a how-to book like somenoe said - put i on Kindle?

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Um, Camille, I think you needed to keep on shopping the book around. It sounds wonderful to me.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

I hope you might also have a chapter on Adult Children of Engineers. There are a lot of us, and I think it influenced our thinking process.