Saturday, May 31, 2014

Murderous Intent: Why I Write About Killing People

by Wendy Tyson

What motivates you to write about killing people? Salad Bowl Saturdays is pleased to welcome Wendy Tyson to share her thoughts on the subject. Welcome, Wendy! — Paula

Recently my mother, a very sweet former second grade teacher who can still make you sit up straighter with one pointed, sideways glance, asked me why I wanted to kill people. “Even if it’s just on paper, Wendy,” she said. “I’m only going to ask you once. Why?”

Why, indeed?

I cut my mystery teeth on Agatha Christie, Mary Higgins Clark, Elizabeth George, Harlan Coben, Donna Leon, Jonathan Kellerman.  Too many to name. Mysteries are, for me, like comfort food. When I pick up a novel by one of my favorite mystery writers, I know I’m getting something familiar yet satisfying. I know I’ll be taken away.

But as I looked at my mother across her small front porch, the What happens at Grandma’s house, stays at Grandma’s house stone staring at me from the flower garden circling our white wicker chairs, I considered why I love writing mysteries so much.

For that matter, why so many of us enjoy reading murder mysteries.

I’ve heard others’ theories. Some say the appeal of the murder mystery is the desire to create the perfect crime. I will admit that there’s a certain left brain quality to mystery writing that excites me. I’m a transactional lawyer by training, and mysteries offer the opportunity to not only create compelling characters, but to craft complex plots. In a mystery, the puzzle has to fit together at the end. There can’t be a single leftover piece, and nothing can feel jammed together. It all has to work. Plotting the mystery can be a challenge -- which is, of course, half the fun.

I recently heard a famous thriller author suggest that our collective love for the genre has to do with our need to experience danger in a safe environment. That, in effect, readers like to sympathize with the victim while knowing they won’t actually be hurt. Kind of the literary equivalent of a roller coaster. And we, as writers, receive the same thrill from creating these stories as readers get from writing them. I can see that, too.

But neither of these theories fully answered the question for me – or my mother. Why do I write about killing people? That day, I looked at my mother and said simply, “Justice.” I think she knew what I meant because, true to her word, she didn’t ask me again. But her question made me think long after I left her home. Was that the right answer?

Before law school, when I was in my formative twenties, I’d been a therapist in a variety of social service settings. I worked primarily with teenage girls who’d either been in trouble with the law or who’d been abused by their families – or both. I saw the worst humanity has to offer, but I’d also witnessed incredible spiritual resiliency and strength. During those years, one thing stuck with me: life isn’t always fair. Innocent people got hurt. Bad people got away with bad stuff. And isn’t that the case with true crime, too? Victims often go un-vindicated. Criminals go free. Real crime is gritty and sad and often infuriating.

But not in murder mysteries. In mysteries, no matter how awful the crime, the bad folks get their comeuppance (in one way or another). True, there’s the plot puzzle aspect, and the thrill of danger. But there’s also a certain fairness that I think appeals to many readers. For me, writing mysteries allows me to impose a sense of order on a crazy world. Do people die? Yes -- although I never take death lightly, even on paper. But in the end, justice prevails.

Why do you write and/or read murder mysteries?

Wendy Tyson’s background in law and psychology has provided inspiration for her mysteries and thrillers. Originally from the Philadelphia area, Wendy has returned to her roots and lives there again with her husband, three kids and two muses, dogs Molly and Driggs. Wendy’s short fiction has appeared in literary journals, including KARAMU, Eclipse, A Literary Journal and Concho River Review. Wendy is the author of Killer Image, an Allison Campbell mystery (Henery Press), and The Seduction of Miriam Cross (E-Lit Books – under the pen name W. A. Tyson). Deadly Assets, the second novel in the Campbell series, will be released July 22, 2014. Find Wendy on Facebook or Twitter, or visit her at

Friday, May 30, 2014

How to Lose a job Without even Trying

How To Lose A Job Without Even Trying
Earlier in my life I was part of a committee that interviewed and rated applicants for jobs in a mental health setting.  We always had at least four or five applicants for every open position.  Several times ten or more people applied for each position.  Many people had similar backgrounds, experience and training.
Hiring was important enough to warrant the time spent by three employees when we found someone who could perform job duties well, get along with co-workers and stay with the program over a long period of time.
Fortunately for us, or unfortunately for them, a number of applicants effectively ruled themselves out by their behavior, thus making our task easier.  Believe me, some applicants appeared to go out of their way to disqualify themselves and lessen the number of interviews needed. 
Some applicants didn’t meet the job requirement and sent in required paperwork anyway.  I can’t tell you why.  Practice for a job they might actually get?  Other applicants who either didn’t read or didn’t think what they read applied to themselves sent in resumes and answered question in a sort of generic way that might qualify them as firefighters or acrobats as easily as mental health professionals. 
Other applicants had the paper credentials and applied for the job offered, but demonstrated inappropriate behavior early during the application process.  Since we needed people who could write progress notes, treatment plans, reviews and so forth, misspellings, bad grammar and “humorous” answers to questions impressed us, but not in a good way.  I remember one applicant who paid a staff clerk to type his resume as he waited in the waiting room before an interview.  Another candidate sent in cartoons along with her paperwork.  Creative?  Yes. Persuasive? No.
 A third person got all the way to an interview. Everything was going along swimmingly until she was asked about her ability to work with various ethnic groups.  She answered quite well.   Then, without a query from us, she added remarks about a group we had not mentioned.  She volunteered her perceptions that the particular group fit negative stereotypes about them.  She did not get a job offer.  If she had not offered her opinion, she very likely would have. 
One memorable person gave funny answers about why he left his last job.  The humor, however, was derisive toward his former employer.  What would he say about his new one?  The hire was not worth the risk. 
In a more recent part of my life I was an editor.  As with the earlier job, some of the people submitting either did not read or did not attend to guidelines.  Some did not carefully check their spelling or grammar.  A number made promising, but not fully print-worthy submissions.  Some things never change.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Psyche of a Mystery Writer

When I meet new people, I often introduce myself as the little old lady who murders people. I watch for the widened eyes and the hint of a smile before I add, “on the written page, of course. I’m a mystery writer.” And then they usually laugh and sometimes ask me what I write. If they do, I tell them, but if they don’t I let it drop.

Since I started writing mysteries I’ve murdered over twenty people, not counting the several I’ll murder in my current book or those in short stories started but not finished. When I think about it I wonder what sort of person can murder people gleefully or at least with impunity even though it’s only in books or stories. Is there something abnormal about us? And yet when I think about all the mystery writers I’ve met, especially at the Malice Domestic convention I recently attended, in my mind I still see masses and masses of happy people smiling and hear their happy chatter. I can’t imagine a convention of accountants, scientists, academics, lawyers, doctors or any other profession with so many happy, laughing people, or sometimes exhausted from all the social stimulation.
Because it was hot that summer, my son had shaved his head.

That reassures me to some extent that I’m not abnormal although I’m not sure how many mothers would ask their son to pose as a dead body for them because her granddaughter, couldn’t find a good dead body to use for the cover of my first book. He not only agreed, but dressed in decent clothes to lie down on his lawn and let me take numerous pictures from all angles. Another time while visiting a nature museum in a state park in Virginia, while I was looking at a display of something, I blurted out to my youngest sister standing next to me, “I just figured out how to murder someone.” Needless to say, she quickly walked away from me looking around surreptitiously, I’m sure.

But there is also that emotional side of me that is saddened when I read of anyone who has suffered. I recently read about a Vietnam Veteran, who has lived in a group home for mental illness for years and never received the medals due him. The people who ran it contacted Sherrod Brown, our U.S. senator, who saw to it that he received all that were due him and a ceremony was held at the home for him. My eyes got moist when I read that. Also, this past weekend on Prairie Home Companion in honor of Memorial Day, Garrison Keillor and Heather Massey sang “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” I sang along with a lump in my throat. The same thing happened earlier in the day at my granddaughter’s graduation when the band played “Pomp and Circumstances” and then later when we all joined the choir in singing the “Star Spangled Banner.”

So then how do I appease my conscience over my murderous tendencies in my writings? Well, in my books I mostly kill not very nice people, who no one would mourn. Notice I write mostly. In my last book two women were murdered and left grieving family members behind. Or if they’re not exactly nasty, there is some other reason the reader won’t feel saddened by the death. As for short stories, the characters, including the victims, are not developed enough for any reader to grieve over their death – not even me. And I will never harm a child or animal in my books or stories.

Am I glossing over something in my psyche like a Mafia boss who has many people killed, but loves his family and treats them well? I think not. Instead, I feel I’m exposing evil and seeing that justice is served in the end to those who murder; at least in my books and stories.

If you’re a mystery writer, how do you feel about your propensity to murder on the written page?

If you’re a reader and not a writer, do you feel there’s something abnormal about those who write mysteries?

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

An Interview with Julie Anne Lindsey

An author on the SinC email list signed off with the titles of her books, Murder by the Seaside and Murder Comes Ashore. As a beach author focusing on Hatteras Island, NC, I had to look for her books and read them. Julie Anne Lindsey writes a fun cozy mystery series set on Chincoteague Island, VA. After reading her mysteries, I went to her website and found that Julie writes in multiple genres including YA and Romance so it’s no wonder that twenty-something main character, Patience Price, solves mysteries and has two men desiring her attention. Please welcome Julie to WWK.                                                  E. B. Davis

Would you give our readers a series synopsis of your mystery series?

Mayhem, murder and a sexy secret agent follow downsized FBI worker Patience Price when she returns to her sleepy seaside hometown of Chincoteague, Virginia.

Patience was brought up on Chincoteague Island by hippie parents who never lost the 1960s and have somehow combined those days with new age philosophy. What did Patience have to rebel against as a teen?

Patience emerged from the womb as the ultimate type-A personality. She and her parents were destined not to mix. They are oil and water. If Patience is from Mars, her parents are from Wyoming. A cohesive relationship was definitely not in the cards. As a teen, Patience craved structure and discipline, the very things her parents couldn’t give her. I honestly believe them incapable of anything less than unconditional acceptance. That was a problem for Patience. She and her parents were the embodiment of “You just don’t understand me!” Every teen says it, but Patience really meant it.

Luckily, ten years and all that love has landed her at a point of acceptance. She’s better for their positions in her life. More than once, Patience wishes she could relax, let her guard down and breathe the way her parents do. As the series moves forward, we see Patience picking up some of these attributes.

What attracted you to set your series on Chincoteague Island? Have you lived there?

My family and I vacationed to Chincoteague in 2007 (about four years before I wrote anything longer than a grocery list). When I started writing, my imagination always drifted back to the island. We only stayed for a week that summer, but in many ways, I never left. I think I brought the island home in my soul. I know how melodramatic that sounds, but it’s true. If I could move there, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

In Murder by the Seaside, Patience’s high school boyfriend, Adrian, becomes a murder suspect. Why does she have mixed feelings about helping him solve the murder?

Patience is stubborn and prideful. Adrian broke her heart when he changed their plans to graduate high school and travel the country together by opting for college. He really should’ve been upfront with her, but his reasons were pure and right. She’s kicked herself for a decade for being stupid, not seeing the change coming, and not thinking of college first. She’s really mad at herself, but Adrian’s a handsome and willing target. She also struggles with her remaining attraction to him after so many years. She thought she changed during the ten years she was away, but seeing her childhood soul mate sets off a typhoon of emotion she doesn’t want. One look at Adrian and she’s eighteen and awkward all over again. That’s not great for her self-image. At first, she toys with capturing him just so she can turn him in. After all, she worked for the FBI and she believes in the system. Plus, it *might* feel good in her bad places to punish him for breaking her heart. Patience is a complicated woman.

Why does Patience have insurance problems?

Poor Patience. The minute she starts asking questions about the murder, she becomes a target. This is good news for Adrian. He obviously isn’t the real killer, (unless the welcome home committee swapped casseroles and cupcakes for drive by shootings and car bombs). Unfortunately for Patience, her Prius and new office take the brunt of the killer’s crazy and the insurance company won’t cover fires caused by fireworks lit inside. Go figure. On Patience’s behalf, I feel obligated to tell you, these occurrences were not her fault. Mostly.

Patience returns to Chincoteague Island to start a counseling practice. What aspect of the small resort town impedes her career?

Patience grew up in Chincoteague, loves the people, knows the culture and believes in the practice of counseling. In all rights, she is perfect for this position and it’s a wonderful, needed, addition to her community. Unfortunately, small towns are tightknit and somewhat busy with gossip and hearsay. No one wants to be seen getting counseled. This leads to townsfolk who blindside her at the grocery, beach or home, pretending to make small talk, while spilling their hearts and leaving her with cash. It’s all very bizarre, but she catches on quickly and goes with the flow. Regardless of how the sessions take place, she’s glad to be useful.

Why is Patience scared of the island’s ponies?

Her fear of ponies is one of those irrational, no good reason for it, fears. I have all sorts of those, ponies included. I thought it’d be fun to share that fear with her since wild ponies live on the island.

Everyone seems to know that Patience is a former employee of the FBI. They don’t seem to understand that she wasn’t an agent but in human resources. That doesn’t stop Patience from relying on the FBI’s personnel. What two FBI staffers does she call upon to help her?

I relate to the islanders on this. I based Patience’s character on a dear friend of mine who does the job Patience was downsized from. I am guilty of asking her all sorts of things about the bureau and am gently reminded she does training and recruiting, not investigation. Somehow, it seems everyone at the FBI should be able to track a killer and disable them with a karate chop, doesn’t it?

Working in human resources gave Patience a unique advantage in helping Adrian. She developed relationships with other employees including her best friend, Claire, and her long time crush, Special Agent Sebastian Clark. Sebastian is on leave following a mob bust gone sideways, so he welcomes the opportunity to leave town for a few days and help Patience.

Patience expects Adrian and Sebastian to be rivals, but they seem more like pals, disconcerting her. Why?

I think Patience assumes Adrian will have a problem with her new love interest, Sebastian, and Sebastian will have a problem with her old love interest, Adrian, cramping their budding romance. It’s logical from the standpoint that one is an FBI agent and one is on the lam for murder, but her emotions are all over and she hates it.

I have to say, all these assumptions have more to do with her feelings than anything else. She projects her feelings onto others more often than she knows. It’s how she deals with things she can’t control. They become someone else’s issues.

Mrs. Tucker runs a sock-hop style restaurant and local hangout, the Tasty Cream, but she seems more like a bartender. Is the Tasty Cream real, and how does she support Patience?

The Tasty Cream is very real, though if you visit in real life, look for Island Creamery. I adjusted the name and interior description a bit to fit my world.

Mrs. Tucker is an amazing friend and mother-figure for Patience. Mrs. Tucker is a staple in island living. She hears and sees all by working the ice cream counter. She’s a sounding board for Patience and provides a lot of free meals while Patience gets her practice off the ground.

How did Patience end up with a high school rival, Karen Holsten, and why do they continue their rivalry?

Karen Holsten snubbed Patience for most of their lives because they are different. Karen was raised by parents who valued the notion of high society, power and status. Patience was raised by hippies who run a local t-shirt/tarot shop. Karen likely learned from her parents the Price family was odd, if not beneath her, and she treated Patience accordingly throughout adolescence.

In high school a magical thing occurred. The island golden boy, Adrian Davis, fell madly, deeply, teenagely in love with Patience and for the first time in her life, Karen wanted something Patience had. This life twisted Karen’s attitude toward Patience, turned Karen’s disregard for Patience into active spite.

As for why their animosity continues…Patience had a lifetime of experience telling her to keep Karen at arm’s length. Also, it’s a strange feeling for Patience, “coming home.” What’s changed? Who’s changed? What’s the same?

People always expect others to be the same as when they were last together, but no one ever is. Patience worked hard to earn a graduate degree and make a respectable government employee of herself on the mainland, but back home, it’s hard to figure out where she fits. Until she figures that out, she keeps her guard up.

After helping to exonerate her old boyfriend in Murder by the Seaside and solving the mystery of body parts washing ashore in Murder Comes Ashore, what’s next for Patience?

Murder in Real Time arrives in September 2014. I had so much fun writing this story. I take island chaos to a whole new level. The tourists and birders are finally gone, but the island’s overrun with paparazzi, grieving fans and food trucks when Adrian rents his home to a reality television crew and the host is murdered. On top of that, a shooter on the island seems to be gunning for both Patience’s men. She’s in for another wild ride, but I promise a sweet ending….depending whose “Team” you’re on *stage wink*.

Look for Julie’s books at all the major retailers, and if you want to know more about Julie and her books, you can explore her website. If you need fun beach reads this summer, I can recommend her books.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The She-Spot

Recently, I read in a article that Seoul, South Korea has created women only parking spaces dubbed “she-spots”. They are wider and longer than normal parking spots with good lighting and conveniently located near shopping center elevators and escalators. However, they are outlined in a pink color reminiscent of Pepto-Bismol® with a skirted female logo painted in the spot for further clarification. I’m unclear if men are ticketed (or just ridiculed) if they park in a “she-spot” instead of a “he-spot” outlined in blue.

Officials claim that this is part of a plan to make the capital more female-friendly and not a reflection on the way females drive. (Hmmm) They are also adding 7,000 female only toilets (presumably not in the parking spaces) and resurfacing pedestrian walkways with spongy material to make it easier to walk in heels.

In 2012, the German town of Triberg designated easy parking spots for women. The mayor said that it wasn’t sexist because women are free to park in the trickier “man-spots” some of which are next to pillars and can only be backed into at an angle. (I’m curious what the Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, thinks about this.)

China, Kuwait, Malaysia, Indonesia, Austria and Italy also have some women-only parking spots.

A university in British Columbia offers women-only parking spaces near its main doors during evening hours to help keep female students safe. Do male students think that’s sexist? Well, I did find comments indicating that at least a few males consider this a discriminatory policy.

My first thought was that the use of pink plus wider parking spaces is patronizing and harkens back to old stereotypes of the weaker sex. But perhaps other women don’t view this issue the same way I do. Maybe they see it as a sign of respect or a convenience that makes their lives a little easier.

In the U.S. I’ve seen spaces designated for pregnant women or parents with children but nothing just for women. What do you think of women-only parking spaces? Would any of your female characters park in one?
Photo courtesy of 

Monday, May 26, 2014

Baby, You Can Drive My Car - Characterization on Wheels

As I sat in the mechanic’s waiting room, I considered that, for some lucky people, cars transcend mere transportation. For those who can afford it, their wheels are a fashion statement, an accessory, an image they present to the world.

Writers show who a character is by what they say, think, do, and what others say about them. Some authors also show us a character’s personality by what what the character drives. Picture James Bond dodging assassins' bullets as he corkscrews down an alpine highway in his Aston Martin; Nancy Drew speeding down Main Street in River Heights in her roadster; Mickey Haller of Michael Connelly’s Lincoln Lawyer in the back seat of his chauffeur-driven Lincoln Town Car. Then picture Bond in a Prius; Nancy in a rehabbed hearse with Grateful Dead bumper stickers; the Lincoln Lawyer in a rusting minivan. Doesn’t work, does it? For some characters, their vehicles are an extension of their personality.

What else would an erudite, opera loving Oxford detective drive? Look at this photo of the maroon Jaguar MKII driven in the Inspector Morse series. The book series opened with Morse driving a Lancia, but the Jag was chosen for the TV series and made its way into the books. Try to picture Morse in a Mini or a muscle car or even a Range Rover. No, I can’t picture it either.

Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum drives a series of lemons she calls “POS” cars that do more than underscore Stephanie’s precarious financial situation. Her readers look forward to the disasters that await her cars, turning her wheels into plot points that often throw her into the vehicles (and arms) of her dangerously desirable rescuer, Ranger. Ranger’s cars are all gleaming black Porches and SUVs, underscoring his mysterious, hypermasculine competence.

Like Stephanie, Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone’s broken down VW shows us not only Kinsey’s precarious financial situation, but also her toughness. Kinsey and the car keep going, even when life and the road get difficult.

For many characters, their personalities are reflected in the different kinds of wheels they use to get around. Jessica Fletcher, the author/sleuth star of Murder, She Wrote, doesn’t drive, and travels around Cabot Cove by bike. This quirk underscores her can-do personality.  Jessica gets around, literally, under her own steam. On the Criminal Element blog, Donald Bain said he forgot this and had Jessica rent a car in his first book in the Murder, She Wrote series. Fans did not let him forget it.

In the television show Colombo, the famously rumpled detective drives a car almost as unimpressive-looking as he is. The humble Peugeot Cabriolet brims with personality, and surpasses mere characterization to become a character, an ally, to Colombo. Many a suspect lays eyes on the car and immediately thinks that only a loser would drive such a heap. The detective and his car tag team suspects, driving them them into the trap of low expectations.

What does your main character drive?