INTERVIEW WITH WENDY TYSON

Wendy Tyson is an author who finds inspiration in her areas of expertise: law and psychology. A lawyer and former therapist, she now writes three fictional series—the Greenhouse and Allison Campbell mysteries for Henery Press and the Delilah Percy Powers crime novels for Down & Out Books. The bestselling Greenhouse Mysteries draw upon Wendy’s experiences living and working on a micro-farm in the Philadelphia area; she and her family now make their home in Vermont. Wendy’s short fiction has appeared in literary journals and anthologies (including THE NIGHT OF THE FLOOD and BETRAYED). She’s a contributing editor and columnist for the International Thriller Writers’ online magazines, The Big Thrill and The Thrill Begins

Wendy’s new novel, ROOTED IN DECEIT (available September 4 from Henery Press), is the fourth entry in her popular Greenhouse Mystery series. In the book, lawyer-turned-farmer Megan Sawyer is reunited with her father and his high-strung Italian wife, Sylvia—an inherently dramatic event that is further amplified when Sylvia is named a person of interest in the murder of local artist Thana Moore, Megan’s onetime best friend. Publishers Weekly enthused, “Lively characters, a charming setting, red herrings galore, and a satisfying denouement make this entry a winner.”

Recently, Wendy turned up some candid truths about her new book—and offered a glimpse of what’s to come for Megan and the cozy(ish) town of Winsome …

John B. Valeri: ROOTED IN DECEIT is your fourth greenhouse mystery. In what ways do you see this book working as both a standalone story and a continuation of the overall series arc? Also, how do you feel that you’ve evolved as a writer as your oeuvre has grown?

Wendy Tyson: ROOTED IN DECEIT is both a standalone and very much a continuation of the series. In fact, in some ways, Rooted is a transitional novel, a bridge to some of the changes that will be forthcoming for Megan, Washington Acres, and the town of Winsome. 

By the start of ROOTED, Washington Acres is earning income and the café has a solid following. Megan has proven herself as a farmer and businesswoman, tackling serious hurdles over the course of the last few seasons.  While some of the dramatic revelations regarding Megan’s past and her family have already occurred, in ROOTED Megan has the opportunity to really deal with her past on her own terms. This means reconciling her feelings about her mother, but it also means confronting her father and his new wife, Sylvia. No spoilers, but the end of the novel provides some needed closure, and as the saying goes, when one door closes, another opens. Book four hints at a new chapter in Megan’s life—new possibilities, new relationships. All that said, this book also serves as a standalone, perhaps more so than many of the other books in the Greenhouse Series. Readers who aren’t acquainted with Megan or the folks from Winsome should be able to follow right along.

In terms of my own writing, I think I’ve learned what to chase and what to let go. Some characters grab you; as you write, they take on a shape and personality of their own. It’s tempting to follow these characters down every path, to allow the story to flow organically in ways never intended. As a student of psychology, people (and characters) fascinate me. I think it’s important to be open to new ideas and possibilities, but it’s also critical to ensure that the story remains intact, that every scene moves the plot forward in some way. While I remain a “pantser,” not a plotter, experience has taught me the value of structure and pacing.  

JBV: This particular story is set against the backdrop of summer. In what ways does season inform the mechanics of your plot(s) – and how does this also allow you to incorporate unique horticultural elements/considerations?

WT: It’s so much fun writing about a topic affected by the weather! Farming is certainly a seasonal activity, and like all farms, Washington Acres Farm, the Pennsylvania farm in my Greenhouse series, is subject to the conditions and restrictions of the weather and the seasons. With that in mind, I tend to weave seasonal elements into the storylines—I want each season to be almost an additional character in the book. This “woman versus nature” aspect allows Megan to face natural challenges (rain, snow, or as we see in Rooted, drought), and it also serves to heighten the mood and suspense of the mystery. 

For example, in A MUDDIED MURDER I took advantage of heavy spring rains during the dénouement, using the torrential downpours and subsequent power loss to increase the tension and up the stakes. Likewise, in SEED OF REVENGE, Megan and the townsfolk of Winsome are hit by unusually heavy snowstorms throughout the holiday season. Not only does the weather serve to increase the isolation of the small town (and thus the tension), but it also affects the mood of each scene. White, fluffy snow on a sunny day feels positively cheerful (perfect when juxtaposed against murder). Heavy snow on a dark and lonely stretch of road becomes spooky and even ominous. Of course, it’s important not to overuse weather in the mechanics of a plot, but it does flow more naturally because of the organic farming theme.

JBV: Megan’s father and his high-maintenance wife, Sylvia, come to town. How is this set-up inherently dramatic – and in what ways do you look to keep the focus on Megan while also developing dynamic, multi-dimensional characters to both challenge and enhance her status?

It’s interesting that you ask this question. While writing the first draft of ROOTED IN DECEIT, I found that Megan’s father and his wife were “taking over” the initial chapters. Their grand, unexpected homecoming, their rebuff of Bibi’s offer to stay at the farm, even Sylvia’s attitude, were all inherently dramatic (as homecomings tend to be), and as a writer it’s easy—perhaps too easy—to get caught up in that drama. I had to find a way to help readers understand Eddie and Sylvia’s roles in the book, and as you point out, their roles in helping Megan grow, without allowing them to be the stars. 

I think the key to keeping the focus on Megan was to be selective in the number and type of scenes featuring Eddie and Sylvia. I wanted to create scenes that were short enough to be palatable but long enough to develop their characters in such a way that Megan’s reaction to them seemed natural. Megan’s father (and Bibi’s enabling relationship with him) is, in many ways, Megan’s kryptonite. Her father is a perpetual child, more of a sibling than a parent, and Megan is confronted by that in Rooted. But over the course of the novel, Megan learns that she can’t change her parents, only the ways she deals with them. Even more important, our occasionally judgmental Megan realizes that people have deep flaws. Growth often means loving them despite the flaws, knowing when to set limits, and even doing things for them that defy reason.

JBV: Megan and the book’s victim, Thana Moore, were BFFs once upon a time. What creative doors does revisiting the past open – and how does it allow you to organically show the evolution of your protagonist?

WT: I remember watching the Japanese movie Rashomon while in college. Ever since, I’ve been fascinated by the ways multiple people can witness the very same event but walk away with completely different perspectives or recollections. Our world view and personality affect perception. I think the past offers the same possibilities. Whenever you’re dealing with the past you have unreliable narrators. Megan’s memories of the past and her relationship with Thana are naturally colored by emotions (especially feelings of betrayal, regret, and loss), and by being forced to dig into that past, she must confront those feelings in order to get a clear picture of the victim and the events leading up to her death. 

Also, opening the door to the past allows readers a glimpse of a Megan they might otherwise never know. Through Megan’s memories, the memories and perceptions of others, and devices such as scrap books and photo albums, readers witness additional dimensions of Megan’s character—including her vulnerability. As an author, it’s a great tool. By allowing Megan to recognize her role in past events and generally take ownership of the ways she was a revisionist, I can help her to grow—and demonstrate that growth—over the course of a novel in a very believable manner.

JBV: There is a progression in Megan’s relationship with her boyfriend, Dr. Finn, here. In what ways does their dynamic augment the overall suspense – and how do you endeavor to balance a romance that’s satisfying for readers without being (overly) cliché?

WT: We find out early on in ROOTED IN DECEIT that Denver has to go away to Scotland to visit his sister, who has been injured in an accident. While Denver has not been a sleuthing partner in every book, he’s been a friend and sounding board. Megan doesn’t have his support to the same degree, and in fact there are some questions that arise about their relationship—questions that are hard to answer when one person is across the Atlantic. I think this increases Megan’s isolation, heightening the romantic suspense and forcing Megan to rely on her wits during a very emotional time.

We’re shaped by our experiences, and nowhere is that truer than in our relationships. Megan has suffered great turmoil in her family life but has also experienced incredible love and support. Similarly, in her romantic relationships, she’s known deep and lasting love with her childhood sweetheart, who was later killed while in the military. These dichotomies have not made her distrustful of relationships, but she’s happy on the farm and wary of uprooting her life once again. The universe has been unkind; why rock the boat? Denver is divorced—and he’s suffered betrayal. He’s good natured and open, but careful, perhaps desiring more commitment than Megan would like to give. We’ll see how this plays out. I try to avoid clichés, such as forced love triangles, but I do appreciate a healthy dose of romance. Relationships are complex. I think the trick is to show that complexity, and the richness of love, over the course of a series.

JBV: Leave us with a teaser: What comes next?

WT: I’m writing book five, VIPE FOR VENGEANCE. Readers get to know Denver a bit better when his college friend is murdered in Winsome while participating in a volunteer weekend with a teenage boy. Oh, and Megan’s family gets a little bigger—but that’s all I will say for now!