Tuesday, April 21, 2009

I’m not confused, I’m just puzzled…

When I was a teen I developed a lifelong love of jigsaw puzzles. The most challenging I ever did was an all red circular one named “Little Red Riding Hood’s hood.” Obviously, looking at the top of the box was no help at all for finding groups of pieces. My only clues were the shapes of the pieces. After a while it began to get easier, except when my little niece, who thought the puzzle belonged in the box, took it apart when I wasn’t looking. No matter, I had all summer back then, when I was home from college, and I finished it. What satisfaction!

As a writer, I still enjoy a good puzzle. For me, writing mysteries seems perfectly natural, probably since I most often find myself reading them. Mysteries are like a good puzzle, and constructing one starting from the seed of a single idea is both a challenge and a joy. I also like learning more about familiar characters, so I read and now write series books. My Wally Morris Vengeance series just got bigger, with the publication of Vengeance Runs Cold, my fifth.

People often ask me where I get the ideas for my mysteries. The answers vary with each book. The first started with a dream, the second with a very interesting day spent in the kitchen of our synagogue, the third with a truly bad haircut, and the fourth with contentious disagreement regarding local land development.

This brings us to my current book, Vengeance Runs Cold, which was inspired by water damage in my basement.

The oddly shaped imperfection in the cinder block intrigued me and I soon found myself creating a story set in a mansion on the shores of Lake Champlain. But really, I just followed the same instincts that keep other writers unable to leave their computers until their stories are told—I asked myself what could have caused that damage (excluding the obvious), who would be involved with it, where it might have been found, and what might happen.

Little by little, the pieces began to fall together. The frame was formed, the middle filled in, with leftover pieces reclassified as red herrings. Soon, the denouement came into sight, and all the loose ends were neatly tied up. The puzzle was complete.

Joani Ascher


Elisabeth Rose said...

Ooooohh, Joani! I LOVE jigsaws. Every Christmas for years I'd buy some new ones to do over the summer holidays. Anyone who visited the house had to put in at least one piece. My son loves them too but husband and daughter aren't so keen.
Red Riding Hood's cape sounds like a shocker. The hardest looking one I've seen is in the National Art Gallery of Australia shop. It's big and it's of the painting Blue Poles by Jackson Pollock.

I.J. Parnham said...

As another jiggiphile (now what is the right term for a jigsaw enthusiast?) I love that analogy. Nearly every picture hanging up in my house is a favourite jigsaw glued into a frame.

There's been so many times when I've got to the last chapter with no idea what my story has been about but I know if I just keep cramming those pieces in I'll get to the answer. And then suddenly there's just one little hole left and I look at all the clues I've left myself in the bigger picture and there is only one possible answer, so I stick the piece in and it's done.

Sandy Cody said...

Chiming in as another jiggiphile (love that word, Ian) and another mystery writer, I have to say that your analogy is perfect for the way plots fall into place - but only after hours of concentration and determination. Yesterday, Loretta talked about what makes a writer and persistence came up large. Seems we have a theme here.

Joani Ascher said...

I did the Jackson Pollock, a Peter Max and one by an artist whose name I don't remember but who painted rectangles within rectangles with various other lines, using colors that began to undulate after I stared at them trying to figure out which pieces went together. When I was finished with the puzzles I held my breath, picked them up and turned them over, so that I could glue them to a poster board. I have to admit, if a few pieces fell out and had to be replaced, I didn't mind. It somehow prolonged the fun--I was actually sad when I was finished with the puzzles.

LaVerne St. George said...

I'm a jigsaw fan,too. I have one called the Great Wall of China that repeats its design and has no edges. I'm determined to finish it. I like the mystery novel type of puzzle, too, but fortunate for me, those of you who write mysteries always let me in on the solution at the end. That's like putting in the last piece of the jigsaw. Thanks for your blog, Joani.

Christine Bush said...

I love the analogy of puzzling and mystery writing! Except in the last puzzle I put together.. when I got to the end, there was a piece missing! Uh oh, I think I'd better go check my plot line.. Thanks for the fun post!