Yesterday, I reviewed Genni Gunn’s stunning literary mystery, Solitaria. I’m pleased to welcome Genni to my blog today!
Writing a Literary Mystery
First of all, thank you for inviting me to write this post. I’ve been reading with interest all the other author guest posts – what a wonderful variety. I thought I would tell you a little about my process in the writing of Solitaria, a literary mystery. At their heart, all books are mysteries of some sort. What keeps us reading is the promise of discovery, be it murderers (in traditional mysteries) or secrets or anything in between — discoveries that arrive at a greater truths.
One of my recurring interests as a writer has been to create novels that contain many layers, which are peeled back little by little to unearth the core of each story. The trick is to figure out which architecture will best suit which particular story.
In Solitaria, I began by posing the central question that the book answers. Set in Italy, the novel begins with the discovery of human remains by a demolition team. All of Italy is a possible historic site, and whenever houses are being erected or demolished, whenever there is any excavation, if the crews find anything remotely resembling an earlier civilization, forensic anthropologists are brought in to determine whether building can continue. Sometimes, the ruins of entire towns are discovered many feet below the existing one. So it seemed fitting that I would use this practice to uncover the human remains that ask the central question of the novel, Who killed Vito? thus setting up the story that leads up to that murder inItaly during the Mussolini era, and the widening circles of repercussions that exist decades later.
I also wanted to examine the different ways people remember their pasts, and the consequences of those varying versions. I’m eternally fascinated by memory and our constant adjustment, and re-creation of it. I’m sure we’ve all experienced a family moment when someone recalls an incident, and everyone disagrees with the details. Of course, we all are the protagonists of our own memories, so naturally, we would see slightly different perspectives. However, in my experience, quite often the versions of memory among family members can be extreme. And who is to say which is the correct one? In her essay, The Site of Memory, Toni Morrison says gaining access to one’s interior life is “…a kind of literary archaeology: on the basis of some information and a little bit of guesswork, you journey to a site to see what remains were left behind and to reconstruct the world that these remains imply…”
In Solitaria, then, I began with physical human remains, discovered five decades after the original crime, and implied that one of my two protagonists knew what had happened. Then I brought the entire family home to bury their brother and uncover the truth. Of course, all these characters came with their personal remains, their personal agendas and their personal versions of events. The second protagonist is a young man who is trying to decipher what is real and what is invented. The novel is a peeling back of layers of memory to arrive at a common truth, and of course, to answer that question posed in chapter one: Who killed Vito? and more importantly, Why?
Does this sound easy? Would you believe that it took five years for this novel to come to fruition, and that I tried various other structures, before I finally settled on the one I used, with two protagonists each having a distinct voice, and the past and the present existing side-by-side in alternating chapters. Difficult as it felt some of the time, I was exhilarated by my work during these five years, because I spent so much of it in Italy, researching, writing and traveling. Who wouldn’t enjoy that?
Thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoy the book.
Thanks to the publisher, I have one copy of Solitaria to give away. To enter, please fill out the form below. This contest is open to all residents of the US & Canada. The winner will be contacted via email on Friday, September 16th. Good luck to all who enter!