Interview: Wendy Tyson

We are delighted to welcome Wendy Tyson, author of the Allison Campbell mysteries and other works.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
Up early to write (undisturbed), followed by a leisurely breakfast with my husband and a day outside with my husband and the kids—at the beach or maybe touring a new city. More (undisturbed) writing time in the late afternoon, followed by dinner and a movie with my family in the evening. My eleven-year-old twins love “family movie night”—and I love that they still love it.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
My husband and I have a huge organic garden—it covers most of our small lot. I suppose I’m deadly-assetsknown for my cooking, which usually includes vegetables picked from the yard. We live near Philadelphia, and we’ve even begun to grow vegetables in hoop houses over the winter. It was fun to pick fresh spinach and arugula last February when there was a foot of snow on the ground.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
Linda King and Carol Lizell, two third grade teachers. Both made an indelible impression on me—pretty impressive considering that was 30+ years ago. And my first creative writing instructor in college. In addition to being a great teacher, she sent my short story, which counted as our final exam, to my house after the term was over with a note encouraging me to consider pursuing writing as a career. I was a bit lost in college, and that note (and the A on the story) meant a great deal to me at a time when I needed a boost. I still have that letter.

Do you listen to music when you write?
Absolutely, although the music I listen to while writing changes for each novel (and is different than what I would typically listen to). It’s kind of like pregnancy in that way—the cravings are odd, seemingly random and vary with each “kid.” With KILLER IMAGE, I listened almost exclusively to Vivaldi. With DEADLY ASSETS, it was a combination of Gregorian chant and Celtic music—go figure. And with DYING BRAND, due out in May, it’s been Bach and the Australian singer Sia.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
Really good quality dark Italian chocolate. You’ll have to read DEADLY ASSETS to find out why. Trust me, it fits.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
I had an idea that I couldn’t shake: What if two of Allison Campbell’s clients disappeared on the same day and there was no obvious connection between them? This concept became the basis for DEADLY ASSETS.   When I started writing, I had no idea what the connection would be, which made writing this novel particularly challenging.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
The ability (or inability) people have to change. Image, and what exists under the façade. Family, and how we define that word. Redemption. I had a pretty happy, well-adjusted childhood, but you might not know it from some of the darker themes that exist in my novels.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today? 
Allison Campbell is an image consultant on the Main Line of Philadelphia. She spends her days helping others reinvent themselves, but she’s a product of her own reinvention. A dissertation shy of a PhD in psychology, Allison left graduate school a decade prior after a tragedy with a patient. The tragedy continues to haunt her, as does a troubled childhood. The Allison we meet now is polished and successful, but it’s her experiences as an outsider that allow her to see below the façade and help people find the best in themselves (and solve crimes!).

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
Maura Isles, Alex Delaware and Dear Abby (Abigail Van Buren).

If you could host an author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
What fun! I say let’s mix it up—I’d invite Ernest Hemingway, Isaac Asimov, Stephen King, P.D. James, Shakespeare and Toni Morrison.

What’s next for you?
I am about to hand in the third book in the Allison Campbell mystery series, DYING BRAND, which is due out May 26, 2015. I’m working on a few additional projects, including a standalone thriller and a cozy series.

***

Wendy Tyson is an author, corporate lawyer and former therapist whose background has inspired her mysteries and thrillers. Wendy has written three crime novels. Her latest, DEADLY ASSETS, the second Allison Campbell mystery, was released on July 22. The first Campbell novel, KILLER IMAGE, was named one of the ten best mysteries for book clubs in 2014 by Examiner.com. Wendy has also authored THE SEDUCTION OF MIRIAM CROSS (under W. A. Tyson). Wendy is a member of International Thriller Writers Debut Authors Committee and a contributing editor to THE BIG THRILL, International Thriller Writers’ online magazine. Wendy lives near Philadelphia with her husband, three sons and two muses, dogs Molly and Driggs. Visit Wendy at: http://www.watyson.com

Lessons from Falling

This post is going to play off some of the earlier posts by other Mysteristas this month, namely Kait, Diane, and Pam. If you haven’t read those posts, do so. Great posts.

Anyway, last time I was here, I’d suffered a bit of a fall myself. I’d sent my latest manuscript, something I’ve been working on for about a year (not continuously), the first draft completed as part of NaNoWriMo in 2013. I was expecting changes. I really was. Because hey, that’s what a writer pays an editor for, right?

I wasn’t quite expecting the amount of changes I got. Don’t get me wrong, there are parts the editor loved (and some of those parts I really slaved over, so that’s good). But her take on my love-interest was, um, not what I wanted to project. So, I allowed myself a couple of days to sulk and feel sorry for myself, then I got back to work.

The revision has been pretty extensive. The manuscript as returned was about 92,000 words. My “cut” folder now has scenes totaling about 13,000 – but the overall count has stayed steady. Referencing what Kait said earlier this week, a lot of words have fallen away. I loved those words – especially one scene that was dear to me. But it no longer served the story. It had to go. And they’ve been replaced by better words (at least I hope so).

Lesson: Don’t be afraid to let stuff that doesn’t work fall away because it frees up space for things that do work and will make your story better.

As I read the editor’s comments, I was initially really hurt and dismayed at the perception of my love-interest (if you can have a secondary protagonist in a story, she’s it). I wanted her to be a smart, strong, capable woman who wanted a relationship, but wasn’t defined by that relationship. And she’s not afraid to stick up for what she believes in, even when it goes against the grain.

But that’s not how the editor saw her. The editor saw a petulant, manipulative child determined to get what she wanted at all costs.

Yeah. Not Good.

As I read and thought, I realized I’d fallen victim to not letting my character hurt enough, not pushing her down (as Pamela wrote about). I’d hidden her back-story, failed to uncover the wound that was making her do these apparently irrational things, and explain her driving need to be right. I hadn’t let her hurt enough on the page. Which meant I was denying her the opportunity to heal – for readers to root for her.

Lesson: Don’t be afraid to expose your character’s deepest fears because that’s what’s going to make the emotional connection work.

I’ve been at this rewrite/revision for two weeks. I’ve been asked, “Why are you letting this upset you so much?” And the answer, as Diane so poignantly said yesterday, is that I love these people. Okay, yeah, they came out of my brain. Technically, they don’t exist – not in flesh and blood. But they’re real to me. I’ve had short stories published with them, and readers have told me Jim and Sally are real to them. And just as I’d do anything to help the flesh-and-blood children I have, because I love them, I’m willing to do what needs to be done to help my characters. Even if that means another rewrite.

Lesson: Writing is hard work; to do it well, you have to fall in love with the story you are telling.

With fall in full swing here in southwestern Pennsylvania, it seems fitting to be where I am. This story was born in the fall (November). It is set in the fall (during the month of October), and it’s reaching it’s conclusion in the fall.

At least I really love fall.

Falling In Love

I like falling in love. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve been in love with a lot of different people over the course of my life. There’s something special about that window of time, after you meet someone special who just clicks. You spend time together, you share your interests, you experience the rush of firsts: secret smile, touch, kiss, embrace. Every discovery is thrilling. The chemistry takes you away from your regular reality to a place where you want to stay all the time, a place you don’t want to ever leave.

For readers, discovering a new series is a lot like falling in love. The characters are the people we want to spend all of our time with; they’re the ones who keep us coming back book after book. They show us their lives, and we live out their romances and fears as they do, on the page. When we’re forced to leave them for the responsibilities of our own lives, we race home to find them waiting for us, somewhere around page 60, or maybe 155 (but never 50 pages from the ending, because we would have just stayed home to finish the book, responsibilities be damned!). Discovering a new series is a lot like starting a new love affair.

As writers, we probably all fall a bit in love with our characters, and not just the ones we expect. I’ve killed off characters that I long to resurrect and have had to resolve love triangles where I myself honestly don’t want to choose. But we must make these decisions. Like a crush that wears out in time, like a romance that fizzles after it sizzles, we have to see things clearly and to bring reality to our work. We’re talking mysteries here, not full-on romance novels, and everything can’t keep coming up roses.

Which is entirely okay. In fact, I think it’s kind of expected. After all, even Cupid carries a weapon.

P.S. SUEDE TO REST in 13 days!!

Falling words

I am a potter. I have a wheel, I throw clay, sometimes with more success than others, and I do some hand building. It’s really my only non-physical hobby. I wish I had more time for it, but such is life. For me, potting is a Zen experience. I can lose myself in the world of damp clay while I create objects out of nothing. When I first started, I tried to make every ounce of clay count. Bits and chunks would ooze from between my fingers I would strive to pat them back into place. My teacher would laugh and say, “Let what isn’t important fall away. A good pot has only essential elements. Clay remembers everything you do to it.”

That’s a lot like writing. When I first started writing novels, I tried to keep all my words. Everything was important. How else could the reader fully know the story? Took two critique sessions to get over that idea. Probably should have taken only one, but my critique partner, who was far more experienced than I, was being kind. By the second session, she realized hints were not sufficient, this newbie needed tough love, and red pencil in hand, struck through whole pages. Killing my darlings and teaching me that the story started with the action. Readers did not care what went before. It’s best not to bore them. Although I did not know it at the time, this advice follows Elmore Leonard’s famous rule, ‘Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.’

No one is ever going to accuse me of writing short. That’s not my style. I do like compound sentences. I believe that stories have multiple parts and storylines. Most of all, I believe that writing fiction mean telling a story. That takes lots of words. My writing style is a combination outliner pantser. I need to know a beginning and have an idea of an ending. Sometimes I even know four or five highlights in between. Then I have to tell myself the story. I work it through, twist it around, and let all my characters have at it. They often argue with me over who gets top billing, who dies, and who did it. Once, they knew my villain was innocent. They didn’t tell me until the second draft. Characters do not always play fair.

At about the end of page 100,000 – no, not really, but it feels that way – there’s a story in all those words, somewhere. That’s when the pottery knife comes out. I shave away the excess. All the superfluous words fall to the floor. Word by word, phrase by phrase, they fall away from the essence of the tale. All the things I had to tell myself leave the page. At the end of the third draft, I’m left with the essence of the story. Everything unnecessary has been cut away. Only the essentials remain, and I’m ready to polish.

How about you? Are you able to write tight from the start?

A Push, a Shove, a Fall

We’re halfway (ish, as my daughter would say) through the month, and we’ve explored so many facets of falling in two weeks. I love the themes we choose for this blog, because much like when I’m doing a crossword puzzle, my brain is forced to think in new and different ways about the same concept. It’s wonderfully challenging! This group has spent these weeks discussing falling on our faces and falling (on purpose!) out of airplanes/boats/etc. We’ve had things fall into place in a number of ways, and we’ve had our confidence fall right down to the bottom. But, we keep picking ourselves and each other back up, learn from the adventure, and move forward. It’s kind of exciting, if you think about it (although, not always in the moment).

In my post earlier this month, I talked a bit about how hard it is for me to knock my character down and make her suffer a bit, which of course helps encourage the reader to care about her. Last week, I got knocked down myself. Not physically, but nonetheless, I’m feeling a bit bruised. You see, I was laid off last week. While it was not wholly unexpected, it was quite disappointing. This isn’t my first ride through this particular rodeo, and I doubt it’s ever enjoyable. But, this time, a strange thing has happened.

I feel good. Really good. Of course, there’s stress because this impacts my family financially, but the reality is, I was overdue for a change. Like many who don’t love the process of job hunting, I procrastinated a bit, and then a bit more, and a year after first thinking about it, I was still in the same position. Until I got a push, a shove, and a fall onto my figurative butt. Here are some of the reasons that I feel so good right now:

  • It was time for a change, and now I can’t procrastinate any longer.
  • I feel lighter, like I’ve lost 20 pounds overnight, which tells me my psyche was kind of done with that place, that it wasn’t good for me any more.
  • I’ve been the incredibly surprised recipient of so many lovely, thoughtful, kind notes of encouragement from former colleagues, friends, and other loved ones.

That last one just might be the most important. It’s easy to forget how many people we can impact each day, and it was so nice to learn that I really was making a positive difference to people. I felt all warm and fuzzy inside as I read each note, and acknowledged these for the reminders they are: I’m good, really good at what I do. I worked with some great, smart, fun people. This isn’t the end of the world. Those notes made me excited to seek out my next opportunity, and hopefully they will serve as important reminders when I experience the set-backs that come with a job search.

There’s also a valuable lesson here in just how carefully I should think about my characters, how well I need to know them. What characters in the story do the main ones impact, and how? Do they realize it (do I?!?)? What would change if they did/didn’t? This experience is fodder for adding depth and dimension to my story, and to my characters, which is exciting, too. I’ve been developing the book review side of my writing, recently, and I’m being asked to do more reviews. In addition, I’ve been working on improvements to my personal writing blog, and those activities bring me joy. Now, I’ve got a renewed perspective on my fiction writing. Really, things are looking pretty bright–even if I’m a little bruised today.

Tell me readers, experienced any good falls lately?

Guest Post: Judy Alter

Sidekicks and Minor Characters

Remember The Lone Ranger and Tonto? Roy Rogers and Cookie (Andy Devine)? Almost all legendary heroes had their sidekicks who are useful foils to their brave adventures, providing a bit of comic relief sometimes. Sidekicks—or minor characters who steal the spotlight—show up in mysteries today too.

cover.jpg2The main characters in two of my mystery series have sidekicks who are their polar opposites, and what strikes me as funny is that both sidekicks have thee sixth sense or psychic abilities to some extent. I don’t write paranormal, but I’m not ready to say I don’t believe in instinct, sixth sense or psychics. I’m sort of on the fence about the whole subject. But these two are probably as close as I’ll ever come to writing paranormal.

Keisha, Kelly’s office assistant in the Kelly O’Connell Series, has the sixth sense, talks about it all the time, and has used it to save Kelly more than once. There was, for instance, the time she made boyfriend José leave the zoo in mid-trip with Kelly’s daughters because she suddenly knew Kelly was in trouble. They arrived to find Kelly and her husband, Mike, held hostage by a crazed gunman who planned to take Kelly on a one-way trip to Mexico.

Mike scoffs at Keisha’s sixth sense, though he has to admit that it’s come in handy sometimes; Kelly is more willing to believe but tires of hearing Keisha talk about it all the time. When Keisha announces someone is trying to kill neighborhood reclusive diva, Ms. Lorna, Kelly asks sarcastically, “You know this how? Don’t tell me it’s your sixth sense.” But in the newest Kelly O’Connell, Deception in Strange Places, someone is indeed trying to kill Ms. Lorna.

In the first book in my new Oak Grove Mystery Series, The Perfect Coed, Susan’s Hogan’s sidekick is Aunt Jenny, the beloved spinster aunt who raised Susan. Aunt Jenny is everything Susan tries not to be—dithery, easily flustered, impractical, a bit naïve. But she has almost telepathic powers. Dining in a restaurant with her beau, Judge John Jackson, Jenny announces during the salad course that they have to leave because Susan is in terrible danger. The judge protests that they haven’t had their dinners, but no matter. Jenny insists. The waitress asks if they received a phone call, and the Judge drily replies, “You might say that.” Of course, Susan is in a life-threatening situation. (No spoilers here!)

Sidekicks with psychic abilities may be an old plot device, but they are handy for moving the plot ahead and often for providing a light laugh. Maybe we all need sidekicks in our lives.

How about you? Do you believe in superpowers or whatever you want to call it? I always claim I research cars and houses carefully before purchasing—but I know in the long run I buy on instinct. And I believe in my instincts about people. Perhaps my belief in instinct is why I’m a pantser, not a plotter, but that’s another subject.

Kelly O’Connell Mysteries:
Skeleton in a Dead Space
No Neighborhood for Old Women
Trouble in a Big Box
Danger Comes Home
Deception in Strange Places
Sixth to launch mid-winter, tentatively titled Death by Desperation

Oak Grove Mysteries:
The Perfect Coed
Second as yet untitled and unscheduled and mostly unwritten but coming.

***

An award-winning novelist, Judy Alter is the author of five books in the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries series: Skeleton in a Dead Space, No Neighborhood for Old Women, Trouble in a Big Box, Danger Comes Home, and Deception in Strange Places. She also writes the Blue Plate Café Mysteries—Murder at the Blue Plate Café and Murder at the Tremont House. New in October 2014 is The Perfect Coed, the start of a new series.

Her work has been recognized with awards from the Western Writers of America, the Texas Institute of Letters, and the National Cowboy Museum and Hall of Fame. She has been honored with the Owen Wister Award for Lifetime Achievement by WWA and inducted into the Texas Literary Hall of Fame.

Judy is retired as director of TCU Press, the mother of four grown children and the grandmother of seven. She and her Bordoodle, Sophie, live in Fort Worth, Texas.

Find Judy at:
Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Judy-Alter/e/B001H6NMU6/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1377217817&sr=1-2-ent

Turquoise Morning Press: http://www.turquoisemorningpressbookstore.com/search?q=Judy+Alter

Smashwords: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/462168

Web page: http://www.judyalter.com

Blogs: http://www.judys-stew.blogspot.com; http://potluckwithjudy.blogspot.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Judy-Alter-Author/366948676705857

Twitter: @judyalter

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5446.Judy_Alter

Harvesting Books

Our garden is in its final throes. The tomato leaves are turning yellow and the last of the little green globes stand out stark red. The herbs have long flowered, but the late bees still come and drowse among the purple and white of the mint and oregano. The catnip buds hang heavy. Even the zucchini plant is still trying, and the green apples, given a reprieve this year with a hot October, might yet make it to red. They’re blushing for sure.

All this reminds me of gathering in what you’ve worked hard to plant and grow. Writing a novel is harder work than all that hoeing and tilling, then digging trenches and sowing seeds. Editing is weeding. I’m bad at both, but it must be done. Then I mulch. Is that like sending things off to editors and agents? Tucking the plants in and waiting?

I’m waiting for two publishing contracts to end with more anticipation that I await the volunteer cantaloupe that may produce a little round globe that’s edible. The first two novels in my Power Places series are soon to be mine. I can pick them off the vine of traditional publishing and bring them to my own table. In plain language, I’m going to put them back out myself. I’ll continue the series.

I hope to have the next installment of the Power Places series ready by next spring, so I can bring two out at once. All my own. I won’t make ten percent or six or eight. I’ll make the whole thing. Yes, I’ll have to pay for production. I’ll have to promote—just like I do now. But the harvest will be mine. And the plowing and planting of the next in this series. I do have another piece I’m working on that I’ll send around to traditional publishers. Why not? A little variety makes for a healthy writing career, just like biodiversity keeps the planet and the bees happy.