Saturday, May 16, 2015

What's Written on YOUR Thighs?

***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?

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 

 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:


  1. Thank you for your inspiring message . . . for myself, I think I'd write "Compassionate" and "Capable."

  2. When I saw this blog title, I jumped back to 1998. I was running the Boston Marathon on a charity number, hoping to finish in under six hours. I'd run (and walked) twenty miles, but never twenty-six. And I wasn't sure I had any friends and family lined up on the (very long) course to cheer me on, other than the friend by my side I had trained with. So I wrote E D I T H on my thigh. And all kinds of random strangers cheered me on. It was fabulous! Such a boost.

    I love the thought of your daughter slapping her thighs to remind her that she was fearless and unstoppable. Let's all do that!

  3. oh, wow - that little girl!!!!! What a force she is already, can you imagine the woman she's going to become?!

    just. wow.

    Thigh words. I love this. okay.

    Since retiring I have promised myself to continually try new things and to spread my wings. So thigh words - "Try," and "Fly" (if I had a third thigh, I'd write "Create")

  4. Oh Wendy, this is a beautiful essay--thanks for bringing it to Jungle Red! Now we must hear more about your book and your writing...

  5. Oh, I know what I'd write: WRITE THE DAMNED BOOK! Fearless or Unstoppable would be a reach.

    Wendy, as the mother of 2 (usually) fearless and unstoppable daughters and grandma of a truly fearless two-year-old who zooms around on a scooter, I resonated to your essay.

  6. Oh, yes, indeed!

    Wendy's books are smart and terrific and thoughtful--Wendy, do tell! What's the new one about?

    And I am still haunted by this essay. Thank you!

  7. Hi everyone! Thank you SO much for having me here today--I am incredibly honored. I love your comments and the Reds! As an experiment, I actually wrote "Determined" and "Grateful" on my thighs in black Sharpie this week. Know what? It helped. But I learned something about myself: I don't need as much help with determination as I do gratitude and, perhaps, patience. As a wee bit of a Type A personality (a-hem), I need some yang for my yin. Everytime I felt myself get agitated over something silly, I'd pat my "Grateful" leg as a reminder. It worked!

    Hank and Lucy--the third book in the Allison Campbell series, DYING BRAND, just came out on May 5th. For those not familiar with the series, it's about an image consultant (a dissertation shy of a PhD in psychology) who solves crimes on the Main Line of Philly alongside her dysfunctional (but lovable) non-blood family. It's been a blast to write this suspense/cozy with an edge series. Thanks for asking!

  8. Wendy, thanks for the inspiring and thoughtful essay.

    For my thighs on writing days, I'm going with:

    "Determined" "Grateful"

    For my thighs on exercise days:

    "Be" "Thin"

  9. Wonderful essay. Inspiring, even. And cozy with an edge is my favorite kind of mystery!

  10. That little girl is a force to be reckoned with even at 12! Powerful essay, Wendy. I'm looking forward to finding your books--if you can do this in a short essay--imagine the power in your books!

    I think I'd write "Focus" on one thigh, because if I focus on what I'm doing in the moment, there won't be room for that critical voice to come through: "What makes you think your writing is good? Why aren't you as thin as you used to be? Why aren't you...fill in the blank." And on the other thigh, I think "Will"--there will be a way to reach this child, to get through this chapter, to move forward. And, also, there's room on the sides of my thighs for other inspiring words: thankful would be good , too!

  11. So, Wendy, I will look for a patience rock for you! And we can both remember to be grateful… Although I have to admit, that is never far from my consciousness.

  12. I'm considering using my sharpie for "don't worry"! But Flora, I like focus, too!

  13. Eloquent, beautiful, thank you, Wendy--you hit the I-worry truths in my heart too. xoxo

  14. Thank you, everyone! Nancy--you made me laugh. I have plenty of room for "Be" and "Thin" on my thighs--although maybe "Acceptance!" would work better. Ha! And Hank, yes, a patience rock is definitely needed!

  15. I would have to write EXERCISE DAMMIT! on my thighs. Maybe that would work. The run like a girl commercial was wonderful.

  16. Welcome, Wendy! Love, love, love this post. I'm with Kaye -- what a force this young woman already is. Can't wait to see what she'll do when she grows up.

    I would write "survivor" and "unbreakable."

  17. When I read about how busy most authors are with parts of their lives other than writing, some even having full-time careers elsewhere, I am so in awe. And, I cant' help but think that someone that busy who makes time for writing shows the rest of us that the soul wants what the soul wants, and it cannot be denied, there will be a way to do it. Of course, you don't have to have another full-time job to be a busier-than-believing author. The schedules you people keep are insane. For all authors, I pick the words "unstoppable" and "determined."

    For me, I'd choose the words "reach" and "young-at-heart." I want to keep reaching for new experiences and knowledge, and want to forever be young-at-heart.

    Thanks for an inspiring post today, Wendy. I will be checking out your books now.

  18. Such an inspirational post. Someone once told me when I was working full-time that I had "horsepower", so I think that would be on one thigh. Not sure about the other.

  19. Horsepower is great! And I love all of your suggestions. So does this preclude short skirts, or encourage them??

  20. I once had a necklace with "Live, Love, Laugh" which I gave away to a friend when I was leaving Jamaica. Now I have three stones that say it, a gift from a library friend. I think if I were to write on my thighs, that would be it.
    I heard of an artist who draws his own tattoos, with Sharpies, because he knows our tastes change . . . just as my words would change, depending on so many things.

  21. Nice thing about Sharpies--you can write the words of the moment.

    For the next few months mine will be FOCUS and DETERMINED.

    Thanks, Wendy, so inspirational!

  22. I could use some words today. Querying is a killer, and I might be all out of inspiration.

    I could always use some patience and faith.

  23. Faith is another great one--they're all great! And it's so true; the beauty of a Sharpie is that the ink will fade and something new can be written there as our needs and aspirations change.

    Hank--I say bring on the short skirts! We're being fearless, right?

  24. And to rejection file is thicker than my tax file. Hang in there. Patience and faith.

  25. Wendy, I've only just begun. I'd love a rejection because it would be proof my submission had been read. I'm not a fan of limbo. Likely no one is, but still... Right now, I feel like I'm throwing rocks into the ocean hoping to fill it up or hit a iceberg.


  26. Thewildbleu! Now you have the jungle red karma! Keep us posted… xxx

  27. Thewildbleu...responses will come; give it time. It's so hard, I know. Wishing you the best!

  28. Wendy, I think I'm going with "Yes!" plus "And..."

    Thewildbleu: When I was querying, one of my mentors, April Henry, suggested I take a piece of paper and write 99 "nos" on it and a big "yes" at the end. Each time I received a rejection (& I counted those "black holes" as rejections after no word for 6 mos), I crossed off a "no." It was an amazing shift in perception for me - each rejection made me feel like I was getting closer to "yes." Hang in there.

  29. Cindy, I LOVE that! What a great idea. You had a very wise mentor.

  30. Oh, Cindy, that is the best idea! I may just do that this evening.

    And thank you, Wendy and Hank. The support and encouragement I find in the world of mystery writers is so wonderful and heartening.

    kate (thewildbleu)

  31. Cindy, that's brilliant! And works in every realm.

    Kate-- keep us posted !! Xxx

  32. Oh, this resonates! Thanks so much, Wendy. I love the Allison Campbell series, and I very much look forward to reading the new series!

  33. Thank you, Cynthia! I'm thrilled that Henery Press has signed on for three more Allison books, too--we just haven't announced it publicly yet.

    And thank you again to the Jungle Reds for hosting me on your blog yesterday! My best to all of you. It was a blast being here.

  34. I love this! I should write "Grace" and "Kindness" on mine.