Remember last week when I posted about my new obsession with online jigsaw puzzles?
We were having a GIGANTIC thunderstorm so I went downstairs where the noise from the hail wasn’t quite so deafening and tried to distract myself with a jigsaw puzzle.
One of the other “weighty mental paths” I traveled while I worked on it ended up being something I keep thinking about.
I’m a plotter by nature. I outline my books start-to-finish before I ever begin writing them. I like organization. I make lists for practically everything. At my house I have “a place for everything and everything in its place.” A new set of nesting Tupperware makes me positively giddy.
I began to wonder if there was a correlation between my love of crosswords and jigsaws and the way I live my life.
This is how PUZZLING INK, book 1 in my Crossword Mysteries begins.
The perfection of a pristine crossword puzzle grid always made Quinn Carr’s pleasure center buzz. Like being touched by the hands of a lover, but better. Not like she’d felt that in a while, but she had a vague memory.
The puzzle was orderly. Symmetrical. No chaos. No mess. No negotiation. Only one correct answer.
A puzzle grid never looked at you funny when you agonized over some marketing sociopath who couldn’t understand that “pepper, black” was worlds apart from “black pepper.”
Crossword puzzles never judged you. Unlike the people who thought they knew all about you simply because you were in your thirties, had to move home with your parents, and needed—needed—to alphabetize their spices before you could continue creating the crossword puzzle for the local Chestnut Station Chronicle.
Quinn Carr, as you might know, has recently been diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which really rocked her world. OCD is fairly common and there is an enormous spectrum of behaviors, but basically it’s a condition where someone might have unreasonable thoughts or fears (obsessions) that lead to repetitive behaviors (compulsions).
When I started thinking about the hook of crosswords for a cozy series, I wondered what kind of person would be really good at creating crosswords. Obviously, it would be someone who liked order.
As it occurred to me that Quinn would need to always bump up against herself in these books, I realized she probably required a diagnosis of OCD. Guess what are the four main ways OCD manifests? Contamination and washing; doubt and checking; taboo thoughts; and … order and arranging.
Thus was Quinn born.
I did a lot of research and interviewed a lot of people who are challenged by OCD and I’ve been told I’ve done an excellent job with my portrayal of Quinn, which thrills me. I didn’t want her to be a caricature, but I also didn’t want her diagnosis to define her. I wanted her to be fully realized, but with a bit of baggage. I’ve also had a lot of people write to me and tell me how happy they were to see mental health issues brought up in cozies. We all struggle with something, right? That makes us human.
I declined to write more than three books in the Crossword series because I felt like I did what I set out to do with them. (Plus, they were really hard to write! I had to learn to construct crosswords as well, which is a story for a different day.)
But I’m proud of those three books and think about Quinn quite often. Especially when I’m solving a jigsaw puzzle or crossword.
I’ve come to realize I’m drawn to order instead of chaos, neat rather than messy. I’ve always been this way so it makes perfect sense that I’m a plotter rather than a pantser when I write. I’ve never even attempted to write anything without a framework in front of me. (You might not be surprised to learn that I make my grocery list in the order I travel my grocery store, and not even with one of those pre-printed ones. Off the top of my head! They recently remodeled my store and, needless to say, that certainly threw a wrench in my works!)
Now, if I could only figure out a way to organize those hail storms. Or supermarket managers.
Let’s take an informal poll—are you an organizer who likes puzzles? An organizer who doesn’t like puzzles? Do you run your life by the seat of your pants but enjoy the control of solving a puzzle? Does chaos infuse every aspect of your being?