Shifting Genre Gears
By Dawn Ius
Wendy Tyson knows a little something about juggling multiple projects. For the last nine or so novels, she’s alternated between her two cozy mystery series’ protagonists—Megan Sawyer and Allison Campbell. And that doesn’t take into account her multiple nonfiction contributions—she’s a fixture on both the teams for The Thrill Begins and The Big Thrill—or her busy non-writing professional and family life.
But as the old cliché goes, if you want to get something done, give it to a busy person.
For Tyson that means the launch of a new novel—a page-turning tale that takes her far outside her comfortable cozy mystery lane and plants her firmly on the fast track as an emerging star in the thriller genre.
In A DARK HOMAGE, Tyson introduces us to a kick-ass new protagonist—Delilah Percy—and her team of female private investigators who are, in this first book of what Tyson anticipates to be a series, thrust into a case involving a sordid sex tape, a venture capital firm, a secret society of women, and a Catholic nun.
This is no Greenhouse Mystery, and Allison Campbell is nowhere to be found—as bad-ass as those series protagonists are, they’re no match for Delilah and her eclectic crew. Which is just how Tyson wants it.
“I wanted to create a character who very much knows who she is, who is both resilient and vulnerable, tough and caring,” she says. “Delilah is a former cowgirl turned private investigator. Born in the American West, she grew up working alongside her cowboy father. She believed she would follow in his footsteps—until he died in a freak accident, an accident for which she blames herself. Delilah and her mother never really got along, and when Delilah’s mother remarried and moved east, Delilah had to reinvent herself.”
Tyson knows a little about that herself. While firmly rooted in storytelling now, Tyson’s background includes law and psychology—both careers in part facilitating her shift from cozy mystery to gritty thriller.
“I love reading crime fiction—all types of crime fiction—and while I enjoy writing my cozy series (returning to it is like going home), I’m particularly drawn to writing darker mysteries and thrillers. I think my experiences in psychology, in particular, have led me down this path,” she says. “I’m obsessed with motive and the very human ability to deceive—even ourselves. What makes criminals do the things they do? Is there really such a thing as evil, or are even the most vile perpetrators somehow convincing themselves that what they’re doing is just? Why do heroes put themselves on the line to save others—is it altruism, or is there some more complex human condition at work? These are the questions I struggle with and the themes that are woven into my books.”
Motive is something Delilah and her team grapple with in A DARK HOMAGE. What would make a famous author and feminist go to great lengths to disappear? What would cause someone to hunt her down and murder her in a particularly brutal fashion?
“The book goes beyond one woman’s murder and delves into the human capacity for greed and cruelty, selflessness and even self-sacrifice,” Tyson says. “I wanted to write something different, something that explored new ground, and A DARK HOMAGE gave me the opportunity to do so.”
“Different” may have begun with Tyson shifting gears for this book, but there are a number of factors in Tyson’s thriller “debut” that make it different than anything you may have read or is currently available in the marketplace—particularly the eclectic cast of supporting characters which include a (mostly) stay-at-home mom, a former nun, and a former stripper.
As Tyson says, each of the women faces her own demons, but they rely on each other for support, tough love, and the specific skills they bring to the table. Barb, the stay-at-home mom, is almost militant in her need for order; Margo, the former nun, is underestimated because of her age and former profession; and young Natasha, the ex-stripper, ran away from her career to become a PI.
“I grew up surrounded by strong, vibrant, tough-minded women,” Tyson says. “In many ways, these characters are an homage to the women of my youth.”
Tyson has given them room to grow in this series, though much of it will be in a “learning on the go” kind of way. A DARK HOMAGE kicks off the series with an unabashed look at some difficult and timely topics, including at least one with global and humanitarian implications. Tyson hopes that readers will not only be thrilled and entertained, but that they will also be “inspired to take action.”
But for all its darkness and grit, A DARK HOMAGE retains Tyson’s classic humor—from the quick-witted dialogue, to how each of the women views everyday events through their personal lens. No matter how “thriller”-esque a novel is, Tyson is a firm believer in the power of laughter, and her homage to that is as evident in this new novel as her fascination with darkness. The key is balance.
“While I think it’s important to give dark subjects like murder the respect and gravitas they deserve, when humor arises organically from a story—either because of the situation or the characters or both—it can work to both highlight the gravity of an event and break what might otherwise be unrelenting tension or darkness,” Tyson says. “Too much humor, or humor done poorly, and an author risks undermining the suspense. Without humor, the grimness of dark crime fiction can become overwhelming.”
It’s clear that Tyson has found the right balance—not only in how to intertwine humor with darkness, but also in her writing life where she says she is thrilled to have her hands in a number of upcoming projects. Snow Malice, book six in the Greenhouse Mystery series, comes out July 14, and she is currently writing An Immortal Initiation—book two in the Percy Powers Crime series, as well as an unnamed standalone thriller. Tyson also has a short story featured in the upcoming anthology The Swamp Killers.
A lot to look forward to. But whatever Tyson is working on, we’re thrilled she’s unafraid to shift gears and keep those project balls in constant rotation.