Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Margaret Grace - Why I Write Mysteries

*Note from the editor: Welcome to Camille Minichino, aka Margaret Grace, author of the wonderful ‘Miniature’ Mysteries, that are miniature only in that they deal with miniatures and dollhouses. Enjoy her unusual and wonderful take on why she writes mysteries! It’s really more what mysteries are to her! Enjoy!

Why I Write Mysteries

by: Margaret Grace (aka Camille Minichino)

I write mysteries because it's so much like doing physics. You might even say,


[Some people think I see everything in relation to physics. As if that's a bad thing!]

We often hear that mysteries are like puzzles, that writers and readers enjoy putting the pieces together, ending up with a satisfying solution, much like turning 1500 jagged pieces into a reproduction of Van Gogh's Sunflowers.

I'm in accord with that notion, but only to a certain extent.

Surely, mysteries are not like jigsaw puzzles, where all the pieces can be piled before us with one brisk dump from the box, and what's required is simply to sort them by color or shape and fit them together.

Neither are mysteries like Rubik's cube puzzles, where the faces of a block are bound as one, but in the wrong order.

We have everything we need; our job is to make the correct twists and turns.

Is a mystery like a crossword puzzle? I don't think so. Again, all the clues are there in a couple of columns. In most cases, there are black squares that are cues to word length. We fill in the blanks and enjoy a sense of accomplishment when every square is filled in.

How about an acrostic?

Now we're getting closer.

Closer to mysteries and to physics. Especially if we're looking at a diagramless acrostic.

Contemporary acrostics use two sets of clues: one set might be a list of definitions or word play phrases, the other is a quotation that emerges as correct letters are transferred to a grid that has no marks for word length. The solver works in both directions, sometimes figuring out the definitions, anagrams, or puns, and other times using insight into what the quote is about. That is, sometimes looking at the pieces, sometimes at the whole.

There's often also a vertical clue, where the initial letters of every definition spell out the quote's author and source. This gives us even a third set of clues to work or "see through."

In the same way, in a good "whodunit" mystery, there are many sets of clues that unfold: some are hidden in plain sight, some are subtly presented, some not; some are within the character profiles and arcs, the setting, or the plot. These mysteries are solved not by simply putting a given number of known pieces together, but by first sorting out the pieces that matter from the ones that don't. Maybe there are a couple of red herrings; maybe there are no herrings of any color.

I've seen puzzles where the manufacturer has deliberately included extra pieces that don't belong in the scene. Those puzzles are more like the great physics problems: figuring out the messy universe.

But solving the mysteries of the universe may take a while. In the meantime, I have nothing against working and reading on the small scale of a good, messy whodunit.

Neither doing physics nor reading mysteries should be taken lightly. Remember Woody Allen's admission: "I'm astounded by people who want to 'know' the universe when it's hard enough to find your way around Chinatown."








  1. Check out Margaret Grace today on the Killer Hobbies blog as well, talking about Mourning in Miniature, her new book out today!


  2. I enjoy Camille's books, I have the first one and loved it. She is a great writer and also very inspirational in minatures!

  3. It's quite possible that I forgot to say Thank You! to Donna for hosting me today.
    And thanks, Audrey for your great enthusiasm. Some days I think there's no other reason to write other than people like you.

  4. I agree Camille... great readers are the best reason to keep writing!

  5. What fascinating analogies. I know what my husband I will be discussing tonight.