Thursday, March 9, 2017

We Need Your Best Advice

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  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.  


  1. Thank you, Wendy, for your insightful post . . . so much to think about.
    I’ve not yet had the pleasure of reading your books; I’m looking forward to meeting Megan . . . .

    Isaac is the youngest in our family [until August, when the new grandbaby makes her appearance]; he will celebrate his second birthday at the end of this month.
    My wish: Peace; justice; friends; happiness. A good education and many, many books to read.
    Advice: Kindness counts. Always do the right thing, even when it’s hard.

  2. This is a wonderful book (and series). Don't miss it!

  3. My oldest niece will deliver her first child, a little girl, in June, about the time my first great-grandson will turn one. I wish for them a world where intelligence, kindness, and talent are valued, no matter what field they go into. I wish for them a world where everyone is listened to with respect, and everyone feels safe in raising his or her voice. I wish for a world where we learn to see past the jingoism and partisanship, and find a place where we understand each other, even if we don't agree. And I think it would be lovely if we could come to some deeper understanding of the things that genuinely matter: not a fancy watch or a hot car, but love, and compassion, and personal responsibility that bends toward the welfare of the entire community. Simple stuff, you know? Feed the hungry, care for the sick, love your neighbor, and be a mensch.

  4. Megan rocks, and she's providing a great fictional example of what so many real-life women do. I love this series and can't wait to read Bitter Harvest!

    My little great-niece, Alice, the first in her generation in that family, was born during this year's inauguration ceremony. May she have great role models of both genders all around her (well, she already does in her parents) and learn to be both strong and kind.

  5. Oh, wow, I love, love, love these comments (and thank you for the kind words!), and I agree wholeheartedly with the world all of you envision. My son is getting married this year to an amazing young woman, and I think about what I wish for them. Peace, a love that grows and matures and endures over time, and a world in which to raise a family that values kindness, empathy, care for the environment, and in which ALL are treated equally well and with respect. Simple stuff, for sure.

    Hank, Reds, THANK YOU for having me here today. I love your blog and am so excited to be a part of it!

  6. Wendy, when I went off to college, I left a prep school for young women and entered an institution that, up until my freshman year, had been a men's university. I knew about insidious sexism but blatant, in my face, we-educate-women-to -make-them-more-interesting-wives sexism was new. And really annoying.

    I have never been a deep thinker but even at eighteen I knew there was a problem.

    There were one hundred women in my freshman class (three hundred young men) and to a woman, we were smart, ambitious, and unwilling to accept "you can't do that".

    I was so lucky to know them.

    I have two daughters and what I wish for them is a world where ability and intelligence and character are the sticks used to measure a person. Not their parts.

    So thrilled for Bitter Harvest! Congratulations!

    1. Julie, I have to know where you went to school--maybe we attended together!

  7. Thanks, Julie! You paint quite a picture..."we-educate-women-to -make-them-more-interesting-wives sexism." I only dealt with in-your-face sexism in one job, right out of college. I was told that women should not be decision makers and that I needed to follow the lead and direction of my (extremely unqualified) male counterpart. Needless to say, I left that job ASAP. I do think things have improved over time (three steps forward, one step back?). I'm with Hank: "Until the most perfect week, sometime which I hope is soon, when we never have to discuss it again."

  8. What a powerful message, Wendy, at a perfect time. Loved the sentiment and message of International Women's Day. Congrats on Bitter Harvest!

  9. thank you so much Wendy for this powerful essay. I love that you can work this all into a COZY mystery! And for my 7 month old precious granddaughter, Dorothea, I wish everything you Reds have already named...

    And by the way, that cover is gorgeous!

  10. Hi, Wendy! You are fierce, and this is so timely. For my grandkids I wish peace and sanity. It breaks my heart to see so many families fleeing hardship and war.

  11. I went to a college that was all women, so it was very different. Many of us thought it was ridiculous at the time. Now, not so much--and might have even made me see the world in a stronger way.

    And yeah, for Silvo, I wish--kindness, too. SOmetimes people can be instantly nasty, you know? Because they can.

    Wendy, yay! And what is a micro-farm?

  12. Wendy, as long as we keep fighting, i believe there's still hope. So much great work is being done around the world to make a difference in women's lives--to value their courage and dignity, intelligence and work. It will be a pleasure to make Megan's acquaintance. Our family has three 'youngest', all at or just about 2 years old. Sydney, Gabby, and Camden. I wish them a world in which all the barriers which separate us from our potential as human beings fall--gender, race, class--when a person can be valued for who they are and nurtured to give the best of themselves to the world.

  13. My 4 grandchildren are very little and I hope that they will have a meaningful future filled with peace, compassion, kindness, respect and understanding. Not material things but what I grew up with. Freedom to be what we strive for.

  14. Right on, Wendy. And big congratulations on the new book.

  15. As a women's college graduate and godmother to two darling girls, my advice is always to let your voice be heard.

  16. I am fortunate to have grands who I help out with, but worry about their future as well. This world has changed so rapidly and there are so many problems. I fear for them. I want the best and and concerned. being self sufficient, understanding and respectful is important.

  17. Beautifully said! Flora, I love this, "I wish them a world in which all the barriers which separate us from our potential as human beings fall--gender, race, class--when a person can be valued for who they are and nurtured to give the best of themselves to the world." I have twin 13yo boys. I watch the openness with which they greet the world--and everyone in it--and I am heartened and optimistic.


  18. We have two baby girls, our youngest grandchildren. Over the weekend, we celebrated Caroline's first birthday -- and Fern's six month's birthday (Fern was born on my 70th birthday and I learned that she and I don't get to really celebrate our half-birthdays three years out of four! Leap year issue.)

    Anyway, the little girls are very different already -- Caroline is physically strong and smiles 99% of the time. Fern is tiny, a "forest creature," and is also an engaging, smiling darling. When I project into their futures, I see them following their mothers and aunties (our four daughters). I hope that they are happy and that they find work and interests that they love.

    I think a lot about gender and the lives of our six grandchildren -- two of whom are boys. The world is such a challenging and confusing place!!

  19. I couldn't help but grow up believing women had power. My paternal grandmother was a "Rosie the Riveter" during WWII working for Bell Aircraft who raised two boys, my maternal grandmother was a Navy nurse who raised four children, and my mother raised four kids while fighting her way to a Masters degree in nursing. If those three didn't set an example of "empowered women" I don't know who could.

    None of my family has kids (yet) so my 14-year-old son is the youngest person I know. He currently attends an all-boys high school where the motto is "Men of Faith, Men of Scholarship, Men of Service." I wish for him all the things that others have mentioned - and his sister (16) checks in with him once in a while to make sure he's "on the right track." So far, so good. He seems to respect women as "real people," he believes in protecting the world (environment and people), and he's got a kind heart. Now if only I were sure the habit of doing his homework was firmly ingrained!

    Congrats on the new book, Wendy!


  20. Oh. Advice? I have lots of it. Most has come from raising a girl in a world that opened up so wide for women as I was being born and now has seemed open in a new way as people are attempting to shut that door opened five decades ago.

    1) What other people think of you is not your business. You are the only person who has to live in your skin so you need to do be a person you are proud of.

    2) Speaking of perfect, Hank - there is no "perfect" time for anything. There are good times, there are bad times, but mostly there is just time. And it passes. So pick your moment, perfect or not, and do it.

    3) Don't be "nice." Nice is a lie. Nice tells young women to smile when they're scared but don't want to hurt someone's feelings. "Nice" gets women raped and killed because they've been conditioned to accept their true feelings matter less than appearances. Be kind but don't be afraid to draw the line if you feel disrespected or in danger. (This goes back to 'what other people think of you is none of your business.')

    4) True beauty comes from within. You can't buy it. You can't paint it on. You can't put it on like a dress. You also can't hide ugly because that comes from within too.

    5) Take care of your teeth. You get two sets to last your whole life. That first set is literally for practice so learn how to care for them.

    6) Look for ways to be happy. Sometimes they're harder to find. You'll have to dig through ways to be miserable often in the search. Happiness is usually at the bottom of the bin but it's worth the digging. Once you find it you'll know what it looks like.

    7) Everything is going to be fine. Bad things happen. You can't stop them by worrying about them. But, in the end, everything is going to be fine.

  21. Oh, teeth! Aimee, I totally agree, but the teeth thing is a big deal, and no one ever talks about it.

    And yes, everything will be fine. More than fine Though it is sometimes hard to believe. But if you can instill that, it's so important!

  22. Wendy, what a great post!! I have been thinking lately about the whole Rust Belt thing, declining jobs, depression, drug addiction, and wondering what things would really help. And I thought, maybe people could be encouraged to garden. Home gardens, community gardens. Is that incredibly naive? But it improves lives in so many ways other than just a better diet on less money. A connection with nature, bonds in the community, etc., etc., etc. How about a National Gardening Service?

    My little granddaughter, Wren, just turned one, and I've been thinking a lot about gender issues, too. For her I want a world where it never occurs to her that there is anything she can't do, a world where kindness is more important than things, and a world that is not divided into them or us.

    Thanks for letting me rant, Wendy and Hank, and now off to buy your book, Wendy!!

  23. I do not want to stir up memories of sexism. Things have certainly improved but we'll never be perfect. I hope my 16 year old granddaughter stays happy and optimistic and never runs into brick walls in her pursuit of her goals. I think school gardens are a wonderful idea Deb. And community gardens. And I just read where a school has kids meditate when they're kept after school for misbehaving. I can't wait to read your book, Wendy!

  24. Thank you all for the kind words! I love writing this series and it brings me incredible joy when readers relate.

    Wonderful advice, Aimee. I think #1 is so important. It's hard to be different, especially when you're growing up. I try to instill in my boys that (1) it's ok to be different (and not just ok--wonderful), and (2) you owe it to yourself to be true to who you are. I love #6 too. Happiness is not a passive state of being. Like love, it takes work.

    Deborah and Pat, I love the gardening idea. While traveling in developing Eastern European countries, we saw so many kitchen gardens--tiny, productive gardens planted in postage size yards and window boxes. Many families sustained themselves with these gardens, eating what was in season, preserving extras, and sharing with neighbors and those unable to grow their own food. We took that experience to heart and now grow most of our own produce in our small lit. (Hank, a micro is simply a tiny farm that produces a variety of vegetables on a small plot (like an acre or less).)

    Gardening is empowering, and community urban gardens can be a great way to provide low cost healthy good and increase community interaction too. For schools? Fantastic. Kids need to understand that they can grow their own food--and so many don't understand where their food comes from. In some ways the advent of big grocery stores and convenience foods have hurt us. I don't think it's naive at all. It's power we have collectively forgotten we have.

  25. The youngest in my family at the moment is my brother's first grandchild. Bella just turned one, and she's already fiercely independent. As my mother says, she has never acted like a baby, seeming like an old soul from the very start. My wish for her is that the world stays her oyster.

    One of our greatest strengths as women is the inevitable underestimation. Sure, it's also a weakness, but only if we don't turn it to our own advantage.

  26. We women certainly have been fighting a long time for recognition, haven't we? How about the very terms "forefathers" and "the fathers of our country"? I rejoice in coming across books recognizing the important parts women have played in our country's (and other countries') history, both non-fiction and fiction books. One non-fiction book concerning the American Revolution is Glory, Passion, and Principle: The Story of Eight Remarkable Women at the Core of the American Revolution by Melissa Lukeman Bohrer. Then, the popular The Girls of Atomic City. I love Susan Elia Macneal's Maggie Hope series dealing with WWII and focusing on how important women were in WWII in England.

    My seven-year-old granddaughter is exactly the type of girl I want her to be--confident, a grand reader, fearless, and kind. She is going to state competition for chess this month, the only girl on her team. She loves outdoor adventure and has already read the first two Harry Potter books. She has a nature table in her room where she collects specimens, bugs and leaves and such. And, did I mention that she has a great sense of humor and has fun whatever she's doing. I guess you could say that she gives me great hope for the future of women.

    Wendy, I am looking forward to reading this great series of yours. Thanks for giving us much to think about today.

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  28. And, a Happy Birthday to Hallie today!

  29. Aimee, I love the distinction you draw between being nice and being kind. Being nice can cost women and girls, but everyone benefits when we are kind to one another. And your teeth advice applies to our bodies in general. Yes, you can get replacement parts nowadays, but better to take care of the set you have!

    Wendy, thanks for shining a light on these issues. I'm so amazed when both men and women report not having experienced or witnessed sexism. Seventy-four cents for every dollar, and you doubt that sexism exists? The math isn't hard! I'm graduate of a women's college and so grateful to have been educated in an environment where my capabilities were valued and encouraged, and no one cared if you wore PJs down to the dining room!

  30. Welcome endy and thanks for being here and raising such interesting questions.

    My youngest grandchild is Caleb, who will be four in a month. He's a gorgeous ginger and has his two older brothers in hand. I wish for him a safe ride to adulthood and hope that he will treat all women as his father treats his mother. Then all will be well.

    I have only one granddaughter, Sarah Ann, who will be 23 next week. She is working on her PhD in Anthropology/Archaeology, studying the peopling of the Americas. On the side, she writes fiction. I am so proud of her I could burst. Her mother and father have given her all the tools she will need for success. I wish for her sanity in today's world and hope she will always be a little kinder than is absolutely necessary.

    And go into a convent!

    "Get thee to a nunnery, go. Farewell. Or, if thou wilt needs marry, marry a fool, for wise men know well enough what monsters you make of them. To a nunnery, go, and quickly too." The Bard

  31. Oh Wendy, your protagonist sounds so enticing. I raced off and bought the Tomato book asap.

  32. First of all, Wendy, I wanted to mention how much I enjoyed listening to you on the radio talk show last night. I had a rough start with connecting but only missed about 5 minutes of the show. My question, had I gotten up the courage, would have been: Approximately how many writers of cozy mysteries or romantic suspense ae men? I know of one or two off hand but I am sure there are more. There are a few writing teams, I know of, but I have wondered how many are men using a woman's name or initials.

    I read your Allison Campbell books long before I even knew anything about you and your wonderful approach to life and how to make this world better in all ways. And I have fallen in love with the Greenhouse Mysteries as I have a lot of food allergies and I agree with organics and sustainable foods. Our state voted in November and the law was passed in MA to have better animal care/housing/treatment for/at chicken farms, etc. Shall see how that works out, but it is a step forward.

    The question asked by Hank was about the youngest child in our family and what we wish for that person. That in our family is our granddaughter, Esme, who will be six years old on the 24th of this month. She is one of two of our China dolls that came into our lives after a long wait and many many challenges for all of us, especially her! What we pray for with this beautiful little girl is that she will have all the medical care and treatment that she needs by living with a loving family in a country where we always thought would provide medical care to everyone. Even with the best medical care and insurance, our little granddaughter may not be able to live a long life as she was born with Hepatitis B that she contracted from her birth mother. Since the day she arrived at age 16 months, she has been fighting a good fight to get better from all of the environmental problems that she was faced with in her orphanage. The air quality and the condition of where she was that first part of her life caused her to have severe lung and breathing problems that continue to this day even with the best care possible and the medications that should have helped her. But her Hepatitis B has been a factor and even though she has had a lot of hospital trips and gets sick more often than her sister and brother, she is a fighter, as much of one, as she can be with her medical problems. She is one of the funniest and most charming little girls that anyone could meet and she is oh so smart. She is tiny so some things just seem to be unexpected until you realize that she is as she tells us this week, that she is "5 years and 11/12ths which means almost six". We say prayers for all three of our grandchildren to have wonderful happy and healthy lives, but our youngest sweetie has more to be concerned with due to her disease, and hopefully the funding for Hepatitis B and other now incurable diseases will be there to give all of those people affected a chance at a much longer and better quality of life than they now have and hopefully.... a cure for all of these diseases.
    I know that you have at least six books planned in your Greenhouse series so that makes me very happy, Wendy, and I hope that there will be lots more, or another equally as inspiring and amazing series to follow this one. Take care.
    Cynthia B

  33. This piece is nicely timed, coming on the heels on International Women's Day. For those of us who grew up with the fight for equal rights we understand the struggle is far from over and I for one, am thankful for authors like Wendy who choose to write about that fight and never back down.

  34. My niece and nephew are the youngest. I would wish they would study hard get a good education and good jobs for their future. Thanks for the chance!

  35. Thanks for all of your wonderful comments. Susan, I hope you enjoy A MUDDIED MURDER! Cynthia, thank you for your kind words. I wish the best for Esme! She sounds like a special little girl, and very lucky to have such a warm and caring grandmother.

    And happy birthday to Hallie!

  36. Love this post, Wendy! And this, wow > "But for Megan, as with so many real-life women, the threat of failure was never an excuse not to commit." YES.

    Happy birthday, Hallie!

  37. Hank, please forgive me for asking. Why was this post the day AFTER #InternationalWomen'sDay? This post would have been perfect for that day!

    Wendy, I think I met you at Malice last year. Your stories sound interesting. I am kind of puzzled by "pull yourselves up by the bootstrap." There has to be at least one person who encouraged this person. That motivation had to come from somewhere! Just saying.