The Strangest Things — Guest Wendy Tyson

Last year I got to spend almost a whole day sitting next to Wendy at a book festival. Everyone should be so lucky! Her latest book, Ripe for Vengeance, just came out. Thanks for joining us, Wendy!

In our house, puppy makes three—dogs, that is. Or muses, as I like to call them. Only our most recent family member is a fluffy ball of eleven-week-old mischievousness who makes sure I’m using my limited writing time to watch him chase butterflies, clean up his potty messes, and say “no” over and over (and over and over). Sure, he’s adorable. And yes, I knew exactly what I was getting into when I brought him home. What I didn’t foresee was the extent to which little Finn would push me out of my head (and a recent writing funk) and back into the land of the inspired.

Readers often ask me where I find inspiration for my novels and short stories. I’d love to say I keep detailed binders full of interesting news bits and true crime articles, treasure troves of ideas that I can access whenever my mojo is running low. That would be a lie. The truth is much less tangible. For me inspiration blooms from the strangest things, and is sometimes fostered in the strangest places. The real trick is to cultivate a habit of openness. Over time, I’ve come to recognize that niggling feeling that means an idea is developing.

For example, in the first few pages of my recent release, Ripe for Vengeance, Megan is called to a local storage facility by her veterinarian boyfriend. A potbellied pig was found living in a storage unit, and the pig needs to stay with Megan on her farm. There’s mystery behind the pig’s sudden appearance: whose is it, why is the unit renter’s true identity hidden, and is the pig somehow related to a murder that occurs the next day?

The idea for Camilla the pig popped into my head back when I was moving to Vermont. We were renting a storage unit, and while the facility manager was showing us to our spot, I noticed dried corn on the ground in the elevator and along the hallway. I pointed it out, and the manager frowned—no food was allowed in the units, he said. Like that, my imagination was sparked. What if fictional feed led to the discovery of an animal being illegally stored in a unit? I asked the manager about his experiences, and he assured me that he’d seen that—and worse. A story was born.

In dissecting that experience, I realized I hadn’t been doing anything other than sorting and packing and cleaning for weeks. I was mentally wired and physically exhausted. Writing? Who had time to write? My life during that period revolved around trying to get the house ready for closing, which was to take place in just a few days. And yet in the midst of all of that, revelation came. That day, I took a few photos of the storage facility, fleshed out my thoughts with some quick notes, and a few months later, I started writing. I love Camilla, and I’m glad my packing fervor brought this little pig into being.

I have another book coming out in January. It’s a re-release from a new publisher, and the book is called A Dark Homage. It’s a grittier mystery about feminist author and philanthropist Miriam Cross, who disappears from her Philadelphia home and later turns up dead, having lived under an alias. Similarly, the idea for A Dark Homage came about when my mind was focused elsewhere. My husband and I were driving around a small town outside of Allentown, Pennsylvania and having a heated discussion (okay, argument) about potential career shifts. As we meandered through residential neighborhoods peppered with tiny bungalows and one-story homes, I noticed a boarded-up rancher wedged between two well-maintained properties. I snapped a photo and didn’t think about it again for months.

Then one day, I was looking through my photos, and I came across that picture. I wondered who had lived there—and why they left. I’d been working on A Dark Homage, and Miriam’s character was fleshed out already, but I’d been struggling with plot. In that moment, I realized that Miriam died there, in that small house in a small town near Allentown. My mind swirled with questions: Why was she there? How did she die? Who wanted her dead? Once that house came into being, the rest of the book fell into place. Miriam’s disappearance would be one piece of a complex and dangerous puzzle. The keystone to the story had come to me months earlier, when I didn’t even know I was searching for inspiration.

I firmly believe the fertile ground for storytelling occurs behind the scenes, when the mind is shifting sideways, quietly observing patterns and noticing the smallest of details. The key to unlocking the imagination is the mental freedom to watch and explore, something that often happens when the brain is busy doing other things.

So perhaps little Finn is a true muse after all. He keeps me busy, allowing my mind to wander.

Indeed, during our most recent walk in the woods, Finn led me to a knoll beneath a dark canopy of trees at a park near my house. He was drawn to a red bandana, it’s material marred by muddy boot treads. Looking around, I saw indentations in the leaves and dirt of the damp forest floor, along with the remnants of a tiny campfire, indicators that someone had slept in that secluded spot. It seemed like a strange place to make camp. Who had stayed there? Were they hiding? Running away? I was left to wonder.

And—quite happily—write. Readers: Where do your ideas come from?

Bio: Wendy Tyson is a writer, lawyer, and former therapist whose background has inspired her mysteries and thrillers. Wendy writes three mystery series, the bestselling Greenhouse Mystery Series, the Allison Campbell Mystery Series, and the forthcoming Delilah Percy Powers crime series. Wendy’s short stories have appeared in literary journals and two crime fiction anthologies, and Wendy is a contributing editor and columnist for International Thriller Writers’ online magazines, The Big Thrill and The Thrill Begins. Wendy and her family live in Vermont.

Here’s a bit about the book:

It’s late spring in Winsome, and Washington Acres is alive with the sights and sounds of farm life. The flowers are blossoming, the vegetable gardens are thriving, the pollinators are buzzing, and the Pennsylvania countryside has fully awakened from its deep winter slumber. Only this season, rebirth comes with a price.

College friends of Megan’s beau, the handsome veterinarian Dr. Denver Finn, are in Winsome for a corporate volunteer event. They will be mentoring troubled kids from a nearby school during a hiking and camping trip. When one of Dr. Finn’s friends is murdered at the state park, a student—a boy with a brutal history—becomes the prime suspect.

With a teen’s life at stake, Megan digs into the victim’s past to clear the boy’s name. She learns that the victim sowed conflict wherever he went. As Megan worms her way closer to the truth, she realizes her own life is at stake, as well as the lives of those she loves.

16 Thoughts

  1. I love this, Wendy! I think it’s so true that we have to give ourselves wandering time to let the inspiration pop in. Congratulations on the new Megan as well as the gritty release – I hadn’t heard about it.

  2. Congratulations, Wendy!

    Wasn’t it Agatha Christie who said the best time to plot was while doing the laundry? If it worked for Dame Agatha…

  3. It’s fascinating to read how inspiration happens. It’s amazing to me (a non-writer) that you can take finding a few dried corn kernels and create a whole book!

  4. Thank you, everyone–and Sherry for inviting me! I’m honored to be here today. I love the Wickeds; coming here is like visiting a friend every day. Inspiration is a funny thing. I think for even the most organized of us, the roots of inspiration form while we’re doing that laundry, as Liz said.

    And thanks, Gretchen659–he is a sweetheart, even if he’s torturing his canine siblings as I write this. 🙂

  5. Thanks for visiting the Wickeds today, Wendy! Ideas are just about everywhere, aren’t they? I find a lot of my inspiration comes from my historical research. Current events of the past are such a rich vein to mine!

    1. I imagine they are. I’ve always loved reading historical fiction. Talk about world building!

  6. I loved that sub-plot in the book. Thanks for giving us the story behind the pig.

    This is a fabulous entry in a great series. If you aren’t reading it, be sure to pick it up.

    1. Thanks, Mark! And thank you for being such a wonderful support to writers and resource for readers. I love your blog.

  7. I love Wendy’s books, and her latest was awesome, I really love her characters!!!! Yes the pig was adorable too!!!

    1. Thank you so much, Deborah! I’m thrilled you’re enjoying the series!

  8. Great post, Wendy! It’s amazing how a single detail can spark an entire world.

    Love this series so much. Congratulations on the book and the puppy and wishing you much success!

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