by Kathleen Costa
This week we have a review of Past and Present by Judy Penz Sheluk, along with an interview with Judy. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win an ebook copy of Past and Present, and a link to purchase it from Amazon.
Rooted in Deceit: A Greenhouse Mystery by Wendy Tyson
You Don’t Need a Green Thumb!
In 2016, Wendy Tyson first published A Muddied Murder, the first book in her Greenhouse Mystery series, introducing Megan Sawyer who started out as a big city lawyer until circumstances made it necessary for Megan to return home and help run Washington Acres, the family’s organic farm, and the farm-to-table cafe. It was suppose to be a peaceful and idyllic lifestyle change, but turned into uncooperative goats, muddied farm work, business permit conflicts, and the murder of the zoning commissioner that put Megan at the top of the suspect list. In Bitter Harvest (2017), the transformation and success of the farm and café continues, but an Oktoberfest celebration and suspicious freak accident of a local pub owner serves up another murder investigation. In late 2017 and highlighted on KRL, Seeds of Revenge heralded the winter holidays with the death of an estranged father, but it’s the connections to Megan’s aunt that puts her on another case. The engaging side dramas include all things farm related along with a budding romance with a Scottish hunky veterinarian, family issues, and interactions with some quirky residents of Winsome, Pennsylvania. All this makes for a marvelously entertaining series!
Rooted in Deceit earns 5/5 Farm-to-Oven Pizzas…Murderously Fun!
After a two-year absence, Megan’s father has returned from Italy, new wife in tow, for a short “primarily business” visit, but showing his pleasure of her efforts to transform the family’s farm into a successful business venture is lukewarm. Megan and her grandmother are excited to host her father, but the wife made arrangements for them to stay at the upscale Summit Yoga Retreat Center and Spa. She prefers to enjoy the spa, meditation and Pilates classes, and plans to peruse the gallery exhibition of local artist’s work and take a few back to Milan. Megan learns her estranged BFF is a highlighted artist, and the Center is managed by an ex-boyfriend, and although the Center might be a boast for local tourism, she discovers it might also be competition for her Café. She sets up lunch with her father hoping to reconnect, but finds herself in the middle of…another murder! Her estranged friend is found strangled, and having been witnessed arguing with the artist, her step-mother is considered a suspect. Alibis are not solid, and a “by the book” detective duo expands their investigation to include former boyfriends, disgruntled employees, and more family and friends.
Yes! I loved it! Wendy Tyson has penned a very engaging murder mystery with a third-person narrative rich with descriptions of the farm and woods you can almost smell, the people you can almost envision, and the pizzas you can almost taste. But beyond the clever mystery that challenges one’s inner Sherlock and dialogue that illustrates tone and emotion, it is the side dramas that make the entire book entertaining. I greatly enjoy a story that depicts real life…no one drops their life to investigate murder 24/7. So, along with following the ups and downs of running the farm and cafe and harvesting tomatoes and fresh herbs, Tyson adds a “pizza farm” as the newest venture, Megan and Denver’s relationship is temporarily long-distance, interactions with her grandmother, friends, and employees continues, and an emotional family quadrangle between father/daughter/step-mother and an estranged mother is precariously navigated. Wendy Tyson goes beyond the cozy mystery formula to bring fans a delightful series, and newbies can easily join with this fourth book. It definitely blossoms as one of my favorites.
Be a Big Fan of Wendy Tyson!
Along with penning the four-book Greenhouse Mystery series, Wendy also writes the four-book Allison Campbell Mystery series that I would describe as a “cozy with an edge.” The series begins with Killer Image, first published in 2013, introducing image consultant Allison Campbell whose job entails helping to reinvent people’s images in the wake of scandals, mayhem, and of course, murder.
Our Guest…Wendy Tyson
Author of the Greenhouse Mystery series
KRL: It is great to have with us Wendy Tyson, author of the very entertaining Greenhouse Mystery series, celebrating the new release of the fourth book, Rooted in Deceit. Can you give us a mini biography for Wendy Tyson? Who is she and what influenced her to become a writer?
Wendy: Hi Kathleen. I’m thrilled to be here! I’m a mystery and thriller author from Vermont (by way of Pennsylvania). I have a background in psychology and law, but my passion has always been writing. I was an avid reader as a child and began writing short stories before I was ten. My first published pieces appeared in literary journals. It wasn’t until I was in my thirties—after law school—that I attempted a novel. That first one was never published, but eventually the next one was. I never looked back.
KRL: Is there a reason you chose to write in the cozy mystery genre? What is it about cozies that interested you?
Wendy: I didn’t originally set out to write cozy mysteries. My first series, The Allison Campbell mystery series, is darker than your traditional cozy. Henery Press picked it up, and they were known for their cozies. I started reading some of the other Henery authors, and others who wrote in the sub-genre, and I enjoyed the world-building and puzzle elements.
A cozy is a challenge to write. As an author you need to convey tension and suspense without gratuitous violence—harder than it seems. But cozies have special appeal. In a real world that can feel overwhelming at times (just read the news on any given day), it can be especially enticing to lose yourself in a crime novel in which justice generally prevails and the setting and characters feel familiar. Writing the Greenhouse Series has, in many ways, felt like going home.
KRL: A Muddied Murder (2016) was the first book in the Greenhouse Mystery series. Then Bitter Harvest (2017), Seeds of Revenge (2017), and now Rooted in Deceit (2018) round out an engaging set. Can you give us some insights into how the series started? Why a focus on gardening? Do you have a green thumb?
Wendy: My husband and I are passionate organic gardeners. A few years ago, we started our own small vegetable farm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, with the intention of developing it into an organic CSA (community supported agriculture). Unfortunately, things fell through with the land we were leasing, and the farm never made it past its first season. During a book signing in a small town in North Carolina about a year later, I was moved by the interactions I witnessed between the shop owners, their children, and the townspeople. It dawned on me that a version of our small farm could live on in a fictional small town. Thereafter, Washington Acres Farm and the fictional town of Winsome, Pennsylvania, were born.
While I love gardening and creating recipes based on our own harvest, it’s really my husband who has the true green thumb. His grandparents were Pennsylvania homesteaders (in the Pocono Mountains) before it became trendy, and he grew up two doors down from them. He used to help out at their farm–gardening, tending to the animals, and selling produce on occasion. He taught me everything I know.
KRL: You’ve mentioned on your website writing short stories, but the novel is what you love. Can you expand on that? Is there something specific about writing novels that better suits your writing style?
Wendy: Short stories are great fun to write. They require discipline and focus and are a wonderful way to learn craft. As you mentioned, though, it’s really the novel I love. The novel is expansive; there’s plenty of room to explore. As an author, you can get to know multiple characters and develop them over a longer arc (even longer if it’s a series). You can explore subplots and multiple themes. You can fully develop worlds. All of that is harder to do in the space of short fiction. Discipline and focus and a command of craft are still required in a full-length work, but I like the possibilities a novel presents.
KRL: Your bios mention a background in law and psychology. Can you explain your experience or credentials? In what way does this background help or hinder your writing?
Wendy: I have an undergraduate degree in psychology and an M.S. in counseling. During and after graduate school I worked with troubled teens and their families in a residential treatment setting. In my late twenties, I left the counseling field and went to law school. I practiced corporate law in a large Philadelphia law firm for a number of years before entering the private sector, where I am now. The one constant during this time was writing; I wrote short stories throughout college (I minored in English) and graduate school, and I finished my first novel after law school.
Overall, I think my background has helped my writing. Someone once said that the most important field of study for a novelist is human psychology. There is truth to that. Whatever the genre, readers want to connect with characters. They want to root for the hero and at least understand the motivations of the villain. Actions must make sense. Characters, like real people, should be multi-faceted and complex. I think studying psychology and law provided insight into human nature and, in that way, enriched my writing.
KRL: The characters you’ve created are so universal. They could be our neighbors, shop owners, family. Do you have a personal connection to any of them? Can we find you in Megan or one of the other characters? Did you write your characters by taking real-life people and “changing the names to…,” you get my drift?
Wendy: First, thank you for the kind words! When I decided to write the Greenhouse series, I wanted to create a compelling, inviting world, one readers would want to return to again and again. That meant including intriguing, relatable characters—characters readers would think of as friends. I think this type of world-building is critical in the cozy novel; it pulls a reader in and also heightens the suspense. When readers are invested in the characters, they’re more likely to feel they have a stake in the outcome of the mystery.
That said, I don’t base my characters on specific people in real life. I may use general elements of people’s personalities to build my characters (Bibi’s stubbornness, Clover’s idealism), but I never borrow whole cloth. I observe what’s happening around me, pulling from reality to create fiction.
Despite the fact that Megan and I are both recovering lawyers, she’s not based on me or my life. That said, each of my characters has some bits of me in them. I think that’s the nature of fiction writing, whether we’re always aware of it or not.
KRL: Four books down in your Greenhouse Mystery series. What does the future hold for Megan? Do have any professional goals to write another series or in another genre?
Wendy: I’m writing the fifth Greenhouse mystery, Ripe for Vengeance, now. That book comes out in June 2019. Book six will be out some time in 2020. The first book in my Percy Powers crime series, A Dark Homage (Down & Out Books), is due to be released in January 2020. I’m also working on a standalone thriller and some short fiction.
KRL: You also penned the engaging four-book Allison Campbell Mystery series starting with Killer Image (2013), then Deadly Asset (2014), Dying Brand (2015), and Fatal Façade (2017). The series generally predates your Greenhouse Mystery books, and the storylines seem more a “cozy with an edge.” Can you give us some background and insights into this series? Its tone, its theme, its characters? Do you plan future books with Allison?
Wendy: The Allison Campbell Mystery Series features Allison Campbell, the Philadelphia Main Line’s premier image consultant turned amateur sleuth. A dissertation shy of a PhD in psychology, Allison spends her time helping others reinvent themselves, but her greatest transformation was her own. Allison escaped an unhappy, abusive home when she put herself through college and graduate school. A tragic incident with a young patient caused Allison to leave school and the field of psychology. With nowhere to turn, she moved to the Main Line and began working at an image consulting firm. She eventually bought the firm, and when we meet Allison in Killer Image, the first novel in the series, Allison must prove that her client, another wayward teen, is innocent of a ritualistic murder.
The Allison Campbell series is definitely darker than the Greenhouse mysteries. The series tackles some tough topics, like teenage prostitution, Alzheimer’s Disease, mental health issues, and domestic violence. It has been called cozy with an edge, although it probably fits best in the traditional mystery category. The fourth book in the series, Fatal Façade, which takes place in the beautiful Italian Dolomites, came out last year. I hope to write another Campbell novel, but I don’t have a firm date at this time.
KRL: I know the writing process is unique to each writer. Can you give us an idea about the “Wendy Tyson Technique” for writing: writing schedule, specific writing technique or time of day, outlines…are there lots of Post-it notes on the wall?
Wendy: I work full-time at a demanding job and I have two kids still at home, so life can be hectic. I tend to write whenever opportunity presents itself. My favorite time to write is early in the morning, preferably before dawn, when my inner critic is still asleep and most of my family is in bed.
When beginning a new novel, I do a lot of thinking and free-writing to develop the characters and aspects of the plot. I don’t outline at that stage. Once the basic storyline is formed in my head, I start writing. I take notes in the manuscript as I go, using brackets to signal anything I need to research/explore/change. I try not to lose the momentum. Once the first draft is complete, I do a major revision, addressing anything in brackets and tackling major structural and character elements. With each revision, I get more tactical—until the final revision is largely wordsmithing. When I can read the work and forget I wrote it, it’s ready.
KRL: We know you write, but do you get a chance to read? Is there another author who inspires you or one you might consider a professional or personal hero?
Wendy: I have always loved to read, and I think I appreciate my reading time (limited as it is) now more than ever. I read crime fiction, but I try to branch out into other genres. Right now, I’m reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s books. Purple Hibiscus has been my favorite—highly recommended. As far as a professional hero, I have many, but I think I’ve learned the most from reading Stephen King. I’ve been devouring his novels and short stories since grade school. Each time I read a piece of his work, I pick up something new about the craft of writing.
KRL: So many authors speak of connecting with their fans. Do you have any online events, bookstores, or conventions coming up?
Wendy: In August, I had the privilege of being part of a panel in Bryant Park in New York City. That was a blast. I also spoke and signed books at the Closter Public Library in Closter, NEw Jersey, earlier this week, and I was interviewed by Blog Radio/Authors on the Air Network (“Your Book Garden) on September 25.
In terms of upcoming events, readers can find me at the Barnes & Noble in Ithaca, New York on October 17; at the Lahaska Bookshop in Peddler’s Village, Pennsylvania, on October 20; at the Morris County Public Library in Whippany, New Jersey, on October 22; at the North Wales Public Library in North Wales, Pennsylvania ,on October 23; and at the Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, Vermont, on October 26.
KRL: So many authors say writing is all encompassing, and your bio refers to living on a micro farm, but do you have any favorite hobbies you enjoy?
Wendy: I enjoy spending time outdoors, and I like to hike, kayak, and swim with my family. My favorite hobby is traveling. I get as much enjoyment from planning trips as I do from taking them.
As a family, we prefer going somewhere off the beaten path, which usually means road trips or renting a house and staying in a new area for a few weeks at a time. We traveled to much of the United States and Europe this way, including Greece and Slovenia. This past summer we spent two weeks in the Azorean Island of Sao Miguel, off the coast of Portugal. A beautiful place. I’d love to go back.
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Wendy: I make jewelry! I used to do it more often, but it’s been harder and harder to find the time. It’s a great creative outlet, in part because it’s so different from writing.
KRL: Ok, here’s something fun, Wendy…Rapid Fire!
Ready! Set! Go!
Coffee or Tea? —Coffee—preferably black.
Dog or Cat? —Dog. Love dogs! We have two—a Lab and a Boxer mix.
Carnivore or Herbivore? —Vegan!
Pie or Cake? —It depends! If it’s chocolate or carrot? Cake. Otherwise, pie.
Picnic or 5-star Restaurant? —5-star restaurant.
Print/eBook or Audio version? —Print. I’m old school, with the overflowing bookshelves to prove it.
Theater or Wait for the DVD? —Depends on the movie. Usually wait for DVD so we can watch it in comfort.
Favorite Actor? —Ewan McGregor. Bradley Cooper. Do I really have to pick just one?
Favorite Actress? —Melissa McCarthy. I think she’s hysterical.
Dirty Martini or Pina Colada? —Pina Colada
Beachfront Property or Cabin in the Woods? —Cabin in the woods by the beach!
Active or Cuddling in a Comfy Chair? —Active
Finish these sentences:
If I could meet anyone in the world, past or present, it would be —Jane Goodall. Her work with primates is fascinating, and I admire her activism on behalf of wild animals and the environment.
If I had just one wish, it would be —For more wishes, of course!
If I could trade places with anyone in the world, it would be —No one. I’m truly grateful for all I have. (But if I could trade places for one day, I wouldn’t mind swapping spots with someone who rehabilitates sea animals, especially dolphins.)
KRL: This has been great connecting with you. We’ve covered so many topics and had some fun, too. Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
Wendy: Thank you! What a thrill to spend time with you!
I hope readers will check out my new website—WendyTyson.com—and find me on social media.
Thank you, Wendy, for joining us and sharing a little about yourself and your books.
Check out other Henery Press mysteries on their website.
To enter to win a copy of Rooted in Deceit, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “rooted,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen October 6, 2018. If entering via comment please include your email address. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.
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