Author Guest Post
My mother recently read A MUDDIED MURDER. As you might expect of a mother, she told me she loved it. As you might expect of a daughter, I could read the subtext in her tone, a lingering and unspoken something. After a moment’s hesitation, I asked her if she really loved it. She did, she said again. And then she said something that surprised me: “Was I the basis for one of the characters? I mean, I don’t mind at all…I was just curious.”
Stunned, it took me a second to reply. “Of course not,” I said. “My characters are wholly fictional.”
But the more I thought about her question, the more it gave me pause. I imagine the friends and family members of authors always have this lingering inquiry in their minds. I probably would too. In fact, I frequently get asked whether Jason (the love interest in the Allison Campbell Mystery Series) is based on my husband. Or, for that matter, whether Allison is me.
It’s never as simple as taking characters whole cloth from life. Or it shouldn’t be. Rather, creating characters and plot lines is a complex process, one that draws on an author’s experiences, memories, relationships, interests and perhaps even subconscious biases. And, most of all, their imaginations.
Take Bibi for example. Bibi, or Bonnie Birch, the main character’s feisty grandmother in A MUDDIED MURDER, is very much her own person. I don’t have a Bibi in my life. But when I thought about my mother’s statement, I knew she was referring to Bibi. Like my mom, Bibi is spirited, fiercely loyal, loving and upbeat. But she’s also overly pragmatic, frugal, secretive, and a little salty. She is, in short, an amalgamation of traits, some of which are certainly shared by people I know and love. Bibi is a dear character, one I adore, and so my love for my mom and my grandmothers may have inspired her, but that’s where it ends.
So how do I create a character?
I often start with a situation and ask myself a series of questions about who would do/be involved in that type of event. For example, when I first came up with the idea for the Greenhouse series—a woman starts an organic farm and café in rural Pennsylvania and gets sucked into solving murder mysteries—I queried what type of person might have all of the traits necessary to make that kind of choice. This person needed to be intelligent enough to solve crimes, passionate about sustainable living, and she needed a motive for starting a (not always lucrative) business like a farm. I worked backwards from there. I made Megan an environmental lawyer who was disillusioned by the realities of legal practice. I crafted a recent tragedy that caused Megan to be emotionally vulnerable and open to a change in lifestyle. And I decided Megan should be fiercely loyal to one person—her grandmother Bibi—so that when she was asked to return home to stay with her father’s aging mother on their derelict family farm, she would agree. Once I had the basics nailed down, I continued to build Megan’s traits and preferences as I wrote the story. At some point, Megan, like Bibi, became very real to me.
Let me give you a more recent example of this process. I’m currently writing BITTER HARVEST, the second Greenhouse mystery. I’ve been struggling with one of the characters, a Winsome resident and potential suspect. One day during a hiking trip I came upon a strange sight. There atop the steepest hill sat a single Adirondack chair. It looked so out of place and lonely on that cold Vermont trail that it made my author’s mind start to turn. I asked myself who would have placed it there, and why. It dawned on me that I had the catalyst for my as-yet developed character. By asking that series of questions—Why would someone place the chair there? Was this person alone in life—and if so, why? What did he (I knew it would be a “he” for purposes of my story) do with his days? Was he angry, bitter, enraged or somehow disenfranchised from society? Could he use that spot, with its high vantage point, to spy on a particular person?—I drew my new character.
You see, it was only a chair. And most likely the person who put it there wanted to take advantage of a lovely view after a long climb. Simple as that. But that stark image developed into something bigger, and like Bibi, the character who was formed is an amalgamation of traits, dreams and behaviors. When you read BITTER HARVEST, you’ll meet this man and see this chair. The chair is real. The rest is fiction.
About The Author
Wendy Tyson is an author, lawyer and former therapist whose background has inspired her mysteries and thrillers. Wendy’s latest novel, DYING BRAND, the third Allison Campbell mystery, was released in May 2015. The first Campbell novel, KILLER IMAGE, was named a best mystery for book clubs in 2014 by Examiner.com. Wendy is also the author of The Greenhouse Mystery Series, the first of which, A MUDDIED MURDER, is due out March 29, 2016. Wendy and her husband are passionate organic gardeners. They live with their three boys and three dogs on a micro-farm just outside of Philadelphia.
A Muddied Murder by Wendy Tyson
Book 1: Greenhouse Mystery Series
Publisher: Henery Press
Publication Date: March 29, 2016
Format: Paperback - 276 pages
Kindle - 779 KB
Nook - 557 KB
Genre: Cozy Mystery
Barnes & Noble
Greenhouse Mystery Series
Book 1: A Muddied Murder
Book 2: Bitter Harvest (Publication Date: Spring 2017)
Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the publisher / author via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review and participation in a virtual book tour hosted by Great Escapes Virtual Book Tours.
When Megan Sawyer gives up her big-city law career to care for her grandmother and run the family’s organic farm and café, she expects to find peace and tranquility in her scenic hometown of Winsome, Pennsylvania. Instead, her goat goes missing, rain muddies her fields, the town denies her business permits, and her family’s Colonial-era farm sucks up the remains of her savings.
Just when she thinks she’s reached the bottom of the rain barrel, Megan and the town’s hunky veterinarian discover the local zoning commissioner’s battered body in her barn. Now Megan is thrust into the middle of a murder investigation—and she’s the chief suspect. Can Megan dig through small-town secrets, local politics, and old grievances in time to find a killer before that killer strikes again?
My Book Review:
In A Muddied Murder, the first book in the Greenhouse Mystery series, author Wendy Tyson weaves a riveting cozy mystery that follows the trials and tribulations of ex-corporate attorney turned organic farmer / cafe owner Megan Sawyer.
Set in the small rural town of Winsome, Pennsylvania, this fast paced tale follows Megan Sawyer as she returns to her hometown to help her Grandmother Bonnie "Bibi" Birch run their family owned organic farm and cafe. Megan's struggles to restore the farm and run the cafe takes a turn for the worse when she finds the body of Simon Duvall, the town zoning commissioner in her barn. Megan and Commissioner Duvall had an argument over the denial of her business permits, and suddenly she finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation as the primary suspect! Determined to clear her name and save her family's property, Megan decides to investigate the murder on her own with the help of handsome local veterinarian Dr. Daniel "Denver" Fin, and her two employees, brother and sister Clay and Clover Hand. Can Megan and friends solve the murder mystery before the killer strikes again?
A Muddied Murder is a wonderful cozy mystery that has an intriguing cast of characters who all have skeletons in their closets and long held past secrets, plenty of town gossip and family drama, a subtle romance, and enough suspenseful twists and turns that will easily keep the reader engaged and guessing how Megan and her friends will solve the murder mystery.
A Muddied Murder is an entertaining cozy mystery that is hard to put down, and will leave the reader wanting to follow Megan's next adventure.
A Muddied Murder is the first book in the Greenhouse Mystery Series.
RATING: 5 STARS
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