***First: winners! The winner of the arc of WHAT YOU SEE is Margie Bunting. The winner of WOOF is vwright. The winner of Murder on Amsterdam Avenue is Betty Jo English. Email me your address via my website! And YAY! ***
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Today—a post from dear pal Wendy Tyson that brought tears to my eyes. You’ve seen that Dove soap ad that asks people to run like a girl? If you haven’t, please look for it. It’s amazing.
But first read today’s blog, because Wendy wants to know:
What’s written on your thighs?
A while ago, I attended a fundraising event benefitting an organization that helps at-risk girls develop leadership skills. In an award acceptance speech, one of the speakers shared a story about her ten-year-old daughter. One night, she said, she noticed bold slashes of black permanent marker on her daughter's thighs. Alarmed, she asked her daughter why, exactly, she was writing on her legs. Her daughter calmly explained that she had been playing lacrosse with her older brothers. Frustrated and tired of losing, she'd gone inside and written "Unstoppable!" on one thigh and "Fearless!" on the other. Then she went back outside to play. Every time her brothers were beating her or she felt discouraged, she'd slap her legs, allowing those secret messages to buoy her confidence.
Pretty fantastic, right?
Pretty fantastic, right?
I think about this wise little girl when I’m creating my characters. In her own way, she hit upon the crux of character development: the designation of a fatal flaw and the development of traits that will eventually bring about change and growth. This young girl viewed herself as having a fatal failing—her inability to beat her brothers at lacrosse no matter how hard she tried, a maddening shortcoming indeed. She then found a path that would help her overcome this flaw. She would be unstoppable. She would be fearless.
As authors, we know that a character’s fatal flaw often represents the opposite value of the theme of the story. In my Campbell mysteries, the theme is image, change and showing one’s true nature. My main character, many of my characters, actually, are insecure, afraid to let the world see their real selves, and terrified of true change. To reach their ultimate goal—progress in these areas, progress that will transcend their fatal flaws—they must develop certain positive character traits (e.g., courage, confidence, determination) over the course of the series. If only it was as simple as writing those positive traits on my characters’ thighs.
Sheesh, forget my characters. I wish it were that simple for me as well.
When I craft female protagonists, I want them to be strong and gutsy and able to make all the decisions I'd like to think I'd make in life. They beat up the bad guys, look out for the underdog, solve the seemingly unsolvable, and do it all with tight abs, great hair and rock solid conviction. But that's not real life.
In real life, hosiery runs when we have an important meeting. The dog throws up on the carpet, children fail in school, babies contort abdominal muscles in ways we thought only possible in the movie Alien. And sometimes the only bad guy we come in contact with is the asshole on the turnpike who cuts us off (but wow, do we scream at him from the safety of our cars—he never sees it coming).
But that doesn't mean we can't tap our inner warriors.
My writing journey has been long and bumpy. Some days, I think I have "Unworthy!" and "Inadequate!" written on my thighs. At any given moment, I’m juggling three kids, a husband, three dogs, a full-time job, a writing career and the countless other things that go with a busy lifestyle. I worry that I can’t do it all, at least not well. I worry that I’m failing someone. I worry that my writing is not good enough, that I don’t have what it takes to be an author. I worry.
Maybe it doesn’t have to be that way, not if I apply the simple logic of that little girl.
There is an old Chinese proverb that says "When sleeping women wake, mountains move." Think about that. Our characters are not the only ones capable of great things.
The mother of the fearless and unstoppable little girl is herself quite accomplished. Business woman, philanthropist, member of multiple boards—and the mother of five children. And she's out there making a difference with other people's kids. Moving mountains. And teaching her own child that she, too, can topple obstacles. Because in the end, isn't that what it's all about? Having a vision, whether it's as big as writing a novel, running a business, cleaning up the environment or ending hunger in your community, or as small (but impactful) as helping your own kid—and pursuing that vision with a loud rallying cry, obstacles (including our own demons) be damned. And in pursuit of our dreams—whatever those dreams may be—letting go of our own preconceived notions of what we can and cannot accomplish.
I think it’s time to rewrite what's written on my own flesh, to trade my insecurities—my fatal flaws—for the ballsy determination of that ten-year-old. But what to write? No more "Tired!" and "Frustrated!" or “Afraid!” Maybe my new mantras will be "Fearless!” and "Confident!" Or how about “Creative!” and “Strong!”? Better yet, I think I’ll write “Determined!” and “Grateful!” because the longer I am on this writing journey the more I realize that it takes both determination and gratitude to stay on course. Determination to keep writing, to write more skillfully, to fight the inner critic, to overcome personal fears and the skepticism of others, to maintain balance in one’s life, to give back. And gratitude for the opportunity to be part of something bigger than oneself, no matter where it leads.
HANK: Have you seen the TED talk about “getting big”? I think of it all the time. I have two carved rocks on my desk that say: “Patience” and “Imagine.” I still believe in patience and perseverance—but I think that’s power!
Reds, what would you write on your thighs?
Wendy Tyson is an author, lawyer and former therapist whose background has inspired her mysteries and thrillers.
Wendy has written four published crime novels, including Dying Brand, the third novel in the Allison Campbell Mystery Series, which was released on May 5, 2015. The first in the Campbell series, 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 to be released just in time for spring 2016. Wendy is a member of Sisters in Crime and International Thriller Writers and she is a contributing editor for The Big Thrill, International Thriller Writers’ online magazine. Wendy lives on a micro-farm just outside of Philadelphia with her husband, three sons and three dogs. Visit Wendy on Facebook or at: www.WATyson.com.