Thursday, December 14, 2017

All About the Journey

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  Doesn't it seem like everyone is taking photos of everything? It's almost as if it doesn't exist if there's no photo.  But the talented Wendy Tyson--and if you haven't read her marvelous books, you're in for a treat--uses those photos as an entree into her books.  What a great idea!

(Oh. Especially if the photos are in Italy.)

Welcome to my dear pal Wendy Tyson--who uses her photos to inspire her writing life. And, she's learned, it's all about the journey.

All About the Journey

During my first fiction writing class in college, I wrote a short story titled “Transit.” It’s an admittedly somber story about a woman who becomes the family breadwinner when her husband is severely injured at his slaughterhouse job. The entire piece takes place during the protagonist’s bus ride to the slaughterhouse where she’s now going to work, and it focuses on her internal transformation as she comes to terms with what’s happened and how her life is about to change.

The summer before I wrote that story I joined two friends on a backpacking trip through parts of Spain and Portugal. We didn’t have much money, and the Eurail passes we’d purchased provided both transportation and an uncomfortable place to sleep. The trip made an impression on me, not only because of the people we met or the places we saw, but because of the opportunity for introspection that’s afforded the traveler.

Since then, my fiction has become decidedly lighter and more optimistic, but I’ve always been fascinated with the concept of the journey, however short or long. 
It’s a perfect vehicle for allowing our characters to grow or change. In FATAL FAÇADE, the fourth Allison Campbell mystery, which was released in June 2017, Philadelphia image consultant Allison Campbell travels to the Dolomite region of Italy to meet with a reclusive client. There, amongst the haunting mountain vistas and ancient castles, she finds murder—and acceptance. 

Likewise, SEEDS OF REVENGE, the third Greenhouse mystery, open with protagonist Megan Sawyer journeying home from Philadelphia during a snowstorm. She comes to the rescue of a stranded driver, and from that act mayhem and self-awareness ensue.


But the journey isn’t an important tool only for the fictional beings among us; it can also be a source of inspiration for authors. The Greenhouse Series was born after witnessing the interactions of shop owners in a small town in the mountains of North Carolina during a book signing. 

The exchanges I witnessed were nothing unique or unusual, but the new setting, the hours I’d driven in unfamiliar terrain to get there, and the feeling of being out of my element, provided fresh perspective that triggered fresh ideas.
In fact, the act of traveling has become such an important source of ideas for my fiction that I’ve begun a photo journal to record moments that move me. Sometimes my subject is something grand that inspires a book, like an abandoned Italian castle (FATAL FAÇADE), a massive field of solar panels (BITTER HARVEST), or a walled convent (THE SEDUCTION OF MIRIAM CROSS). 

Sometimes, though, it’s something subtle that I might revisit later. BITTER HARVEST, the second Greenhouse mystery, opens with Megan finding a red Adirondack chair that’s been left on a hiking trail, positioned so that it faces her house. That chair was real, only I came across it while hiking in Vermont (it wasn’t actually facing anyone’s house). At the time, the chair intrigued me so I snapped a photo. It wasn’t until later that I realized it would make a haunting opening to a novel.

My family recently moved from Pennsylvania to Vermont. I travel back and forth to Pennsylvania regularly now, a five-hour car ride that’s become second nature.

While I often find myself looking forward to the journey because it offers time in my head to explore ideas, there’s risk in retracing a well-worn path. To keep it fresh, I make a point of looking for something new every time I go.

A few weeks ago, during the leg of the drive that winds through upstate New York, I saw a man walking along a lake on a lonely stretch of road. Dusk was just beginning to fall, and he cast a long shadow on pitted pavement.  I couldn’t stop to take my customary photo, but the image stayed with me—and it’ll be the basis for Greenhouse Mystery number five.

HANK: Oh, I can’t wait to hear about it!

And you know, the say there are only two plots. One, a person goes on a journey. Two:  a stranger comes to town.  And, thinking about hat, that’s the same story. From different points of view. Hmm.

So Reds, if someone was walking down YOUR street, what interesting thing might they see? Hmm I see a big hedge that--overnight—was run into and smashed by…something. There’s a story, right?

How about outside your window?  And—have you ever used a Eurail pass? I always thought that was the coolest thing.

And what's your favorite book about a journey?

Wendy Tyson's background in law and psychology has provided inspiration for her mysteries and thrillers. Originally from the Philadelphia area, Wendy has returned to her roots and lives there again on a micro-farm with her husband, three sons and three dogs. Wendy’s short fiction has appeared in literary journals, and she’s a contributing editor and columnist for The Big Thrill and The Thrill Begins, International Thriller Writers’ online magazines. Wendy is the author of the Allison Campbell Mystery Series and the Greenhouse Mystery Series.


Megan Sawyer is determined to farm year-round. So much so that she braves a December snowstorm to pitch her fresh greenhouse greens to Philadelphia chefs. And then she sees a stranger stranded on the side of the road. But this woman is no stranger to Winsome. It’s Becca Fox. A love chemist (you read that right). She’s headed to her aunt’s house to sell her love potions at holiday events.  Or so Becca thinks.

Her sneaky aunt only invited Becca home to reunite her with her estranged father. It sounds noble and kind-hearted, until the man ends up dead.  Megan soon finds herself in the middle. She realizes Becca’s not the only one getting iced over. Megan’s own aunt, the famous mystery author, is dragged into the drama. Now it’s personal. Our Megan must follow a cryptic trail of literary clues, all while sifting through the victim’s sordid past. As she gets closer to the truth...the murderer gets closer to her.
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Wednesday, December 13, 2017


RHYS BOWEN: Today I'm delighted to host a good friend, Kate Carlisle. I'm sure she needs no introduction to those of us who love cozier mysteries. Kate and I share a publisher and an agent and seem to wind up doing events together, so I thought it would be a great idea to have her on Jungle Red with her suggestions for holiday gifts. 

How is it that the holidays—dates fixed well in advance—always manage to sneak up on me?! I've had a deadline looming, which is always a good excuse for neglecting to pay attention to every other date on the calendar. Yet somehow, despite my inattention, Christmas is right around the corner. And as my Jewish friends know, Hanukkah is already upon us.

In case you're scrambling like I am, I present you with a few Gift Ideas for Mystery Lovers. Or if there's something on this list that you'd like to unwrap, share this post with someone who might be looking for gift ideas for you.

A Handmade Mystery Charm Bracelet


Etsy is a great website for getting clever gifts you can't find anywhere else. One word of caution, though: if you're intent on committing a crime, this bracelet will give you away every time. It's going to be a little jingly.

A Mystery T-shirt

This T-shirt featuring the late, great Edgar Allan Poe would be a conversation starter, for sure—which could be a bad thing, if people keep interrupting you while you're trying to read!

A Murder Mystery Jigsaw Puzzle

A story and a jigsaw puzzle that helps you solve the crime—fun for a couple to do together!

A Mystery Novel—or two—or three—or more!

What a great gift books are—hours of entertainment in a convenient little package! If you've missed one or more of these books, then let your loved ones know which titles so they can get you something you really want. And be sure to check out all the other books by the Jungle Red Writers.

At the annual Victorian Home and Garden Tour in Lighthouse Cove, the competition is about to turn deadly....

Contractor Shannon is in high demand among rival homeowners, who will do anything to win Best in Show. One-upmanship and even espionage break out among neighbors. When a body is discovered at one of her home sites, Shannon must nail down the details and build a case against the killer before the door shuts on someone else—for good.

Following the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, private detective Molly Murphy Sullivan and her husband, Daniel, are invited for Christmas at a mansion on the Hudson, and they gratefully accept, expecting a peaceful and relaxing holiday season. Not long after they arrive, however, they learn that the hosts' daughter wandered out into the snow ten years ago and was never seen again. But Molly slowly begins to suspect that the occupants of the house know more than they are letting on. Then, on Christmas Eve, there is a knock at the door and a young girl stands there. “I’m Charlotte,” she says. “I’ve come home.”


In the latest Library Lover’s Mystery, the library’s big fund-raiser leaves director Lindsey Norris booked for trouble

Lindsey Norris and her staff are gearing up for the Briar Creek Library’s annual Dinner in the Stacks fund-raiser. But the night of the fund-raiser, Lindsey finds Paula, one of her employees, crouched over the villainous library board president's dead body. As the plot thickens, Lindsey must catch the real killer before the book closes on Paula’s future . . .

A middle-of-the-night call wakes Episcopal priest Clare Fergusson and her husband, Police Chief Russ van Alstyne: a farmhouse has erupted in flames, killing the couple sleeping indoors – and their eight-year-old foster child, Mikayla, has disappeared from the wreckage without a trace. A recent transplant recipient, Mikayla will sicken and die without proper medication.

Can anyone unpick the trail that leads to Mikayla before her days come to an end?

Wishing you peace, love, and lots of time to read this holiday season!

What books are on your wish list this year? Are you giving books, as well?

Tuesday, December 12, 2017


RHYS BOWEN: Is anyone else feeling stressed at this time of year? How many presents do I still have to buy? Have I left anyone out? The cleaning lady? The mail carrier? And what can I possibly get for my husband who says he wants nothing and needs nothing? And the house... is it ready for the Christmas luncheon I have to host, and my son's birthday....

So I'm wondering what other people do to de-stress? I have a grandson who loves to play video games as an escape (not the violent kind, his parents won't let him). I tried that once, years ago when I bought our kids the first primitive video game system. I can't remember what it was called but it had Smurfs and Super Mario and other harmless and non-violent games. Oh, and Pacman. I tried one in which you had to shoot ducks as they came across a fairground booth. Talk about stressful! The more ducks you shot the faster they came. My palms were sweaty. My heart was racing. So not the greatest stress-remover for me!

And there was the time when I thought that fish might be a good idea. Looking at a tank of tropical fish is supposed to be soothing, isn't it? We bought the tank. We stocked it with tetras and mollys and all kinds of bright and beautiful fish. And then John gave me a book on fish diseases. Disaster! Fin rot and Ick and others I can no longer remember. So I started to stare and worry. Was this one swimming funnily? Oh God. He didn't have Ick, did he? And why was that one lying quietly and not swimming? Rush to disease book and see what might be wrong with it.

So no fish for me. But my son is a fan of meditation. You can do it anywhere. No equipment needed.
Just ten minutes of your time to escape and calm the mind. I've tried it. Believe me, I have tried. But it goes like this:
Sit quietly with your hands resting in your lap. Empty your mind...
Me: How do you empty your mind? I cannot catch all those rogue thoughts rushing around.
Now concentrate on your breath. Breathe in........... visualize the breath as it fills your lungs
ME: I'm visualizing. It's warm and red and--wait. Did I turn off the stove?
Now breathe out, slowly, through your mouth. Focus on the sound of your breath.... Like a gentle breeze
ME:Gentle breeze..... wind... There should be a storm in the next chapter. That's what it needs. She goes out into the storm and someone is standing amid the trees.And the trees are dancing like wild creatures. Yes. That would be great. I should get it down before the image goes...
Now breathe in again. Slowly, through your nose. Hold it for seven counts...
ME: Was that the mail coming? Mail? OMG. Did I mail that review copy I promised?

You get the picture. My mind will not stay calm and still for five seconds, let alone for ten minutes.
But what does work for me is sitting in the sauna at my health club. It's like Pavlov's dog--the moment I sit on the bench my breathing slows. Tension flows away.
And getting out into nature works too. Sometimes I drive about five miles from my house to China Camp State park on the Bay, park and watch the sunlight on the water. There is something about being at the edge of a body of water that is wonderfully centering. Walking on a beach. Feeling sand between the toes, letting waves run over my feet. I think I need to do that right now! (The picture is the beach in Cabo San Lucas where I was this time last year. Heavy sigh.)

So how do you cope with stress? What works for you?