Oh my stars… Today, Traveling With T has Hank Phillippi Ryan- author of THE WRONG GIRL- a recent winner of the Agatha Award for Best Contemporary Novel (May 2014!) When contacted by one of Hank’s publicist about the option of an interview, I was all “Heck yeah!” (except, I was much more dignified in my email back- something along the lines of I would be delighted to ask Hank some questions!) With THE WRONG GIRL being released in paperback July 29th and Hank’s newest, TRUTH BE TOLD, being released October 7th, 2014- I am beyond excited. And think that after reading this interview- you will be beyond excited, as well. So put on those crime investigator hats- and let’s get to the interview!
Interview with Hank Phillippi Ryan- author of THE WRONG GIRL
Hank, your Jane Ryland series, so far, has tackled the subject matter of the political scandal and adoption scandal. Where do you get ideas for your books?
This is the perfect example of why I am so lucky to have a dual career! I’ve been a television reporter since 1975 (!), and am still the investigative reporter for the NBC affiliate in Boston. I’ve wired myself with hidden cameras, confronted corrupt politicians, gone undercover and in disguise. We’ve changed laws and changed lives. One of the goals of investigative reporting of course, is to expose the bad guys, and make sure the system works the way it should. And after all these years, I have encountered many bad guys—and endless examples of how things don’t work the way they should.
For example, as you say, political scandal. Adoption intrigue. And in TRUTH BE TOLD, the harrowing effects of the housing crisis.
Think about it—every one of the 32 EMMYs I’ve won represents a secret someone didn’t want me to tell, right? And that’s exactly the same dynamic that is so exciting in crime fiction. So I take all those years of experience and adventures—and tweak and polish and inject a little adrenaline—and there, out of reality, comes a terrific story. How lucky is that?
Jane Ryland is a tough female character. She follows her instincts and goes after the story. How important is it to you to write a strong female lead who is a “take charge” kind of person?
Huh. Interesting. An executive producer once told me a genuine investigative reporter comes to town—and stays until everyone hates them. Funny, huh? But realistic, because the job of a tough reporter (like Jane) is to make a little trouble—trouble for the bad guys, at least. My goal for Jane is to have her be determined. Determined to do good, to get the story, and expose the truth. So there’s no room for timidity or fear—even though someone is often trying to stop her at every turn.
But on the other side of Jane’s coin, a good reporter knows how life-destroying it is to make a mistake. Jane can never be wrong. So she’s not only determined to get the story, she’s determined to get it right. That is never easy, and there are always surprises and pitfalls and dangers.
I want Jane to be an authentic living portrait of the high stresses and high stakes in journalism—people’s lives are in her hands, right? So she’s going to have to be strong enough to investigate, negotiate, discover and confront. She’s also got to have enough compassion and heart to care about what she’s doing—she knows news stories are about people, and she has to be careful of who gets hurt along the way.
Over the last few months, you have been on THE WRONG GIRL tour. What was your favorite part of book touring? Least favorite part?
You have to picture me, dragging my little suitcase through some airport, a smile on my face, and humming Magical Mystery Tour. Truly, that’s a genuine picture. It’s incredibly exciting. The whole idea of a book tour makes me laugh with joy—to meet readers, and booksellers, and librarians, to talk about books and writing. To chat with people who say “I loved the part where Jane and Jake….” And then they tell me something they enjoyed. Or when they say—I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough!
I can barely keep from crying, it makes me so happy.
The complaints about book tour? I would never complain, even when there’s no hot water or the creepy guy in the middle seat is hogging the armrest. And it’s frustrating to have it be so whirlwind. Sometimes, truly, I have no idea where I am, and certainly there’s no sight-seeing. I miss my darling husband, that’s for certain. But I spend most of my book tour full of gratitude.
In May, at the Malice Domestic Awards, an Agatha Award for Best Contemporary Novel was presented to you, Hank. This is your 3rd Agatha- how does it feel to win such prestigious awards?
True story. When I was getting ready for this year’s Agatha banquet—when THE WRONG GIRL was nominated, I was so proud of that! But I was so sure I wouldn’t win that I wasn’t even worrying about it, and I was kind of patting myself on the back that I had gotten over my nervousness and crossed fingers and just relaxed into enjoying watching someone else win.
I got all dressed in my nice dress and glittery earrings, feeling very self-actualized. And then I looked in the mirror. I was wearing two different shoes.
To have the support and enthusiasm of the people who chose THE WRONG GIRL to win the incredibly prestigious Agatha? And my short story ON THE HOUSE and for best first novel, THE OTHER WOMAN? How does it feel, you ask? My feet are not touching the ground. I am incredibly grateful. This seems to be a theme, but hey, it’s not a bad one.
Do you know how the Jane Ryland series will end? Or are you just enjoying writing it for as long as you can?
I have no idea. NONE. Yes, I am enjoying it, immensely. But I have no idea what’ll happen on the next page, let alone the next book.
I’m a huge fan of Jane and Jake- they work well together and just ooze chemistry. Do you know your plans for Jane and Jake? Or will I (and all the other readers) have to wait to see what happens with them?
Thank you! But nope. NO IDEA. When I say I have no idea, I mean, not at all. Because I don’t have an outline when I write; the only way I find out what will happen is when I sit at the computer and do my pages. People say—wow, the end of THE WRONG GIRL really surprised me! Or hey, in THE OTHER WOMAN, I never saw that coming! And they always laugh when I agree—I was surprised, too. Talk about a surprise ending – I always surprise myself.
It is one of the truly amazing things about writing. How does that happen?
Hank, can you tell a bit about your next book, TRUTH BE TOLD (out in stores October 7, 2014)?
It came right out a of news investigation I did. But like all my books, the germ of the idea grew into something completely different from the real story. We did a big investigation about how one city was spending millions of dollars to board up vacant homes that were owned by absentee landlords, and then not requiring the landlords to pay the city back for that work. So in other words—taxpayer dollars were being used to rehab privately owned neglected property! Scandal, huh? Big story. (We just won an EMMY for it, too!)
But I began to wonder about all those vacant houses. What secret thing could be going on inside? What could they be used for? No one even bothers with them—even the owners, landlords, or banks neglect them. As Jane Ryland speculates in TRUTH BE TOLD, could there be prostitution rings? Meth labs? Too obvious. But I thought of something else…
And TRUTH BE TOLD also introduces a mortgage banker turned Robin Hood. She decides to keep her clients out of foreclosure by manipulating bank records to make it look like their mortgage payments are up-to-date. Nice, huh? But it has the slight problem of being illegal. She is robbing the bank—from the inside. Could she get away with that?
It’s also about a reporter who makes stuff up. More I cannot say.
What is your favorite part about writing?
Oh, when I get a good idea. The stories unfold on the page, and most often I really don’t know in advance what will happen next. So when I type, as I did in my new WHAT YOU SEE (2015), “We can’t find Polly,” I said to myself: huh, who’s Polly? And a few pages later, I knew. Now—that is amazing.
And it happens all the time, if we’re lucky. When I figured out the ending to TRUTH BE TOLD, I was by myself in my study, and I stood up and applauded. Then I sat down, embarrassed. Luckily I was by myself.
Any authors that you enjoy that we should be reading?
Well, SHOULD is a funny thing. They say to write the kind of books you love to read, and I love Linda Fairstein, David Ellis, John Lescroart, Linwood Barclay, Lisa Unger, Charles Salzberg, Lisa Scottoline. Smart, creative, surprising. New authors? I’ve just read Rachel Howzell Hall and MP Cooley—wonderful new voices.
Jungle Red Writers- 7 smart and sassy crime fiction writers dish on writing and life. It’s The View. With bodies– First, I love that description of what the Jungle Red Writers are (it’s so true!) How did you get involved with the Jungle Red Writers?
Don’t you love Jungle Red? It started – gosh, how many years ago? A group of us got together, Hallie Ephron, Jan Brogan, Rosemary Harris and I—and decided to do a group blog. We named it Jungle Red after the nail polish that is such a big pivotal clue in Claire Booth Luce’s “The Women”. Since then it’s grown, astonishingly, to be one of the most read crime fiction blogs around—we’ve evolved and changed, and now its still Hallie and me, with Rhys Bowen, Lucy Burdette, Deborah Crombie, Julia Spencer-Fleming and Susan Elia MacNeal. Talk about favorite authors you “should” read? There’s a whole list of them!
We have a great time, and all of us comment on the blog every day—whether were talking about books or cooking or current events or philosophy or nostalgia or special guests. We’ve had blogs on everything from breakfast to scary movies to writing secrets to high school horror stories. It’s terrific.
Will you be going on a book tour with TRUTH BE TOLD?
Yes, indeed! (Do you hear the sound of Magical Mystery Tour?) I’d adore to see everyone—it’s so important. You know how there’s always the moment when you give a party and right before it starts, you have that flash of panic: What if nobody comes? It’s exactly the same for a book tour. So please, please (!) take a few minutes to come see me when I am in your town. My schedule is up on my website http://www.HankPhillippiRyan.com. Find me on Facebook (Hank Phillippi Ryan Author Page and Twitter @hank_phillippi). The success of a book tour is measured by the readers I get to meet—so I hope to see you all soon!
So, now that you know a bit about Hank- riddle me this: Will you be rushing off to buy the paperback cover of THE WRONG GIRL? Or eagerly awaiting the next book, TRUTH BE TOLD?
Happy Reading and Bookishly Yours,
T @ Traveling With T