HANK: Think of a farmer. Got a picture?
Okay. And because this is our dear Jungle Red, the image in your brain may not be a man. But—it might be.
My wonderfully talented pal Wendy Tyson has been thinking about this.
And of course, this is the perfect week for it. Then again, every week is the perfect week. Until the most perfect week, sometime which I hope is soon, when we never have to discuss it again.
Fighting Farmers and Other Ladies Who Launch
I just launched my second Greenhouse novel, BITTER HARVEST. The series, which lives on the cozier side of mystery, features environmental-lawyer-turned-organic-farmer Megan Sawyer.
Megan returns to her roots in the small, historic Eastern Pennsylvania town of Winsome to revive her family’s organic farm and turn an abandoned storefront into a natural foods shop and café. She’s joined in her quest by a motley crew of friends and family, including her spirited eighty-four-year-old grandmother, Bonnie “Bibi” Birch, who knows how to knead dough and shoot a gun. Farming is hard work, and getting not one but two businesses going takes all of Megan’s resources. She hits headwinds, of course—not the least of which involve murder.
Megan has pulled herself up by the bootstraps. She’s an Everywoman of sorts, a modern-day food warrior bent on showing the world what regenerative farming can do. To that end, she fights the good fight every day, struggling to keep the sign up and the doors open. Battling injustice? Simply part of the gig.
I recently engaged in a heated conversation with a man who was touting the attributes of “self-made men.” “They’re all across the country,” he said. “They started businesses, often from nothing. They’re what makes America great.”
His statements, made with the fervor of a true believer, gave me pause. Not because of the political nature of his responses (and no surprises, this was in the context of a political discussion), but because he made it quite clear by tone and intonation that he wasn’t using “men” as a gender catch-all. He meant Men.
“I agree that self-made men and women deserve recognition,” I said. “There are plenty of women who have sacrificed all to start a business or champion a cause.”
I was working on my third Greenhouse Mystery at the time, and the conversation stayed with me long after it should have. Perhaps because I’d seen some of this guy’s easy dismissal occur in my own books, in the townsfolk of Winsome: the zoning commissioner who refused Megan’s permits (he was bludgeoned to death in chapter three, by the way), long-time family friends who characterized Megan’s efforts as sweet or cute, and the young Chief of Police who felt Megan had set herself up to fail. But for Megan, as with so many real-life women, the threat of failure was never an excuse not to commit.
Eventually I realized that the conversation hit a nerve because the fictional backlash Megan encountered isn’t so fictional. I heard it in my counterpart’s condescending tone. I read it in the articles and opinion pieces condemning the peaceful women’s marches. I see it in the faces of people whose contempt for the opposite sex is thinly veiled beneath colloquial attitudes and old-fashioned platitudes. I, a lawyer and author who never saw gender as an impediment to success, was suddenly reminded of sexism’s insidious nature.
In many ways, Megan is fashioned after the strong women in my own life. Women who launched themselves at the world, often quietly succeeding in the face of great adversity. My great-grandmother was such a woman. She arrived in America from Italy at age eleven and found herself married to a practical stranger five years later. She didn’t speak English, was not wealthy, didn’t wear the right clothes, didn’t practice the right religion—and she had to feed a family of eight during the Great Depression.
Nevertheless, she persisted in learning the language, understanding the culture well enough to buy and sell houses for a profit. She was a house “flipper” before it became fashionable. Self-made? Absolutely. Unsung? That, too.
Of course, strength is not confined to one gender. Nor is perseverance. Nor is the term “self-made.” There are amazing men out there doing amazing things.
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t recognize and celebrate the women who’ve sacrificed to better our world. Megan’s a fighter. She fights proudly alongside the other female sleuths of our time, outsmarting bad people and seeing to it that justice prevails. But like many of her fictional counterparts, she’s fashioned after real-life heroes.
HANK: I think of all the new babies being born—my little nephew Silvio, just two weeks old. Debs and Hallie and Roberta have new members of their families.
Dear Reds, who is the newest member of your family? Or the youngest person you know? What would you wish for them? What advice would you give them?
And a copy of BITTER HARVEST to one lucky commenter!
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 in 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 with her husband, three sons and three dogs on a micro-farm just outside of Philadelphia.