Over the past few months I have had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with the novels of fellow Indianapolis native Hank Phillippi Ryan, and they have proved to be everything the critics say--fascinating, exciting and thrilling!
My interest in the mastermind behind the books increased immensely so I consider myself lucky, indeed, to have had the opportunity to interview Hank, and the interview itself was a highpoint of my college career! She's become my newest must-read author, and I look forward to reading the rest of the books in her two series.
Hank's talents extend far beyond the world of books. As a enormously successful investigative reporter for Boston's NBC affiliate with 30 Emmys and ten Edward R. Murrow awards (to name just a few) to her credit, she has been instrumental in passing bills before legislature, uncovering malfeasance, and jailing criminals.
I hope you'll enjoy reading this interview as much as I enjoyed interviewing Hank Phillippi Ryan!
JB: How have your Midwestern roots helped shape your writing style? Life views? Did it shape your character?
HPR: Well, what a great question. I have never thought about this! I grew up in Illinois and Indiana-first in Chicago, where my father was the music critic for the old Chicago Daily news--and then outside Indianapolis from the time I was six. We lived in a pretty rural area. It's not rural anymore, but back then my sister and I used to ride our ponies to the library. And we couldn't see another house from ours.
So I read books, up in the hayloft-yes, know I look kind of like a city girl now, but that's how it was back then. My sister still lives in Carmel! And I guess, Midwesternly, I'm honest and polite and hard-working and self-sufficient. After living in Boston for the last 20 years-wait, thirty years!--when I come home I'm always taken with how patient people are, and how no one goes through yellow traffic lights, and how uncomplicated the streets are.
It sounds sappy, but maybe my Midwest upbringing was part of the reason I try to be a good person. Leave some sort of mark on the world, some sort of benefit, make a difference.
JB: What do you admire and detest most about your character Charlie McNally?
HPR: Charlie is 46 years old-smart, savvy successful, but married to her job in television. And she wonders what happens to a woman who's married to her TV career when the camera doesn't love her any more? Will she be a media old maid? (Is she me? Well, ah, that question certainly crossed my mind. Many times.)
And each of the books--all thrillers, mysteries, suspense, romantic suspense, whatever you decide to call them--has a different theme drawn from the conflicts we all face. Prime Time (which won the Agatha for best first novel) is about a person's relationship with her job. Face Time is about relationships with their mothers. (Charlie's mom is a lit-tle demanding.) Air Time is about finding true love at mid-life. And Drive Time is about when it's time to make a change--to kind of drive away from your past and head into the future.
So I'm so thrilled when readers say, "I love Charlie! I've felt just like that! How did you know?" And Charlie works through it all, and comes out not only finding the bad guys, but finding out a bit more about herself. I love that in a novel--where you fall in love not only with the story, but with the character.
JB: How much of yourself do you see in her?
HPR: I made her younger than I am--I'm 63. But that means I know what it's like! Is Charlie me? Well, yes, in a way. Because after all these years of experience, it would be silly not to use all my time on TV to make the books genuine and authentic and honest.
But she's Charlie. She's smart and hip and wise and loving and terrific. Braver than I am, funnier than I am, and a much better driver.
JB: Investigative journalism and mystery novels such as the ones you have written are similar. Do you believe mystery made you want to become a journalist, or vice versa?
HPR: Here's how I see it. Every one of my journalism awards--and I just won two more Emmys, so that makes 30--represents a secret. A secret that someone didn't want you to know. A secret the bad guys would have preferred to keep hidden. A secret that we had to dig up and research, and evaluate and prove and present-no matter what was in the way. Will we discover the truth? That's the suspense.
Look at it another way--I'm tracking down clues, following leads, relying on a mix of knowledge and instinct and curiosity. And always with a search for justice--a hope to see the good guys win and the bad guys get what's coming to them--and in the end, a goal of making a difference, changing the world, and bringing justice.
Is that journalism? Or is it writing suspense fiction? Turns out, to my surprise and delight, it's exactly the same. Except in journalism, you don't get to make things up.
So writing novels? I've always wanted to write them, ever since I read my first Nancy Drew and Sherlock Holmes--then moved on to sneaking Marjorie Morningstar from my parents' bookshelves, figuring there must be racy parts. (There weren't, but I fell in love with stories and story-tellers.) On to thrillers like Fail Safe and On the Beach, and all the Agatha Christie mysteries. I fell in love with the architecture of the mystery--that a clever author could create a world that never existed before--with people you cared about, and a problem that needed to be fixed. And, most fascinatingly, with a puzzle that a clever reader might be able to solve.
Come to think of it--it's a lot like television. In doing an investigative story for TV, I have no idea what the ending will be. I'm following leads and doing the research to find out. It's the same with writing fiction. I write my books so I can know what happens in the end and discover how the story turns out.
Lee Child and I had a big discussion about this--it's in the interview he did with me that's a bonus track on the Macmillan audio book of The Other Woman. I don't use an outline in my writing , and neither does he. We have no idea what's going to happen next, and the only way we can find out is to write it.
That's exciting every day. And when people say, "Wow, The Wrong Girl surprised me!" I say, "Yes, I was surprised, too!" Talk about surprise endings-I surprise myself every time. And it's fabulous.
JB: Your work includes putting criminals behind bars, getting bills passed and winning prestigious awards for your writing. What has been the most fulfilling?
HPR: Impossible question. Impossible! I've wired myself with hidden cameras, confronted corrupt politicians, and tracked down criminals. I've gone undercover and in disguise. As a result, we've gotten millions of dollars in restitution and refunds for consumers, and several new laws have been passed. That's about as fulfilling as you can get!
And yet, and yet.... Actually finishing a novel. Then six novels! Seeing them in bookstores and libraries. Winning the two Agathas, the Anthony, the Macavity--and the Mary Higgins Clark award for the first in my new series, The Other Woman. (It's also the only book nominated for the Anthony, Agatha and Daphne!) That's about as fulfilling as it gets, too.
So, hey. I refuse to choose!
JB: Your husband is a defense attorney? What sorts of constructive criticism does he have for you while you are pursuing criminals?
HPR: Oh, when I started reading this question I thought you were going to ask: what sorts of constructive criticism does he have for you in writing crime fiction! Because actually, he's more involved with that than with my news stories. (Just like reporter Jane and detective Jake in my books, there are some things we can't tell each other-and some things we know that we can't tell anyone else. There are parts of our professional lives that have to stay separate.)
What I can say, when it comes to writing fiction is that it's fabulous to have him as in-house counsel!
I'll say, "Honey, I need to have a guy stay in custody for eight hours without being released-how could I do that?"
"What does a police officer have to say when he knocks on someone's door?"
"Under what circumstances could he break the door down?"
He always has a good and realistic answer.
JB: The Wrong Girl will be released in Fall 2013. You have said it is "new territory" for you: was this your most challenging novel to write yet?
HPR: Oh, yes. Every new novel is more challenging than the one before, because it has to be better! And the Jane books are big, exciting, multi-layered stories, so they are complicated--and wonderfully fun to write. It's new territory, because even though the stories feature newspaper reporter Jane Ryland and Boston cop Jake Brogan, the plots are very different, and each one has to be unique and original and irresistible. It's also new territory because I don't use an outline, so everything is a surprise!
(Now I'm writing the third one, for Fall 2014--and it's already a challenge! It's going to be terrific if I do say so myself!)
JB: Going back to your time in Indianapolis, I have to ask about your time at WIBC/WTHR two of my favorite local stations...
HPR: Mine, too! I'll always be grateful to WIBC for giving me my start in broadcasting--long story how I got the job there in 1970: because I had no experience whatsoever, and the news director--to whom I owe my career!--took a big chance on English-major me. I loved it! And wow, talk about learning on the job! Same thing with WTHR, my first job in television. By that time, I'd been on the staff of Rolling Stone magazine and worked in the U.S. Senate, so I wasn't as much a newbie. (I started out as the political reporter, to cover the 1976 presidential election. Then I was also given the medical beat, and did movie reviews.) (!)
The news director at WTHR decided if I could write for Rolling Stone, he could make me into a TV reporter. It wasn't easy. I was so clueless, for the first two weeks I went home every night and sobbed. But eventually, I figured it out. And found my calling! And now I've been a reporter for almost 40 years.
JB: The dedication you talk about, and full-throttle lifestyle in all your different ventures, has to get stressful at times. What is your favorite way to wind down and relax?
HPR: Ha. I'll let you know when I find a way. So far, so nothing.
JB: Who are some of your favorite authors, and what is the best personal advice you have received from them? Have you incorporated this into your writing?
HPR: Authors I love? Linwood Barclay, William Landay, Lisa Scottoline, Tess Gerritsen, John Lescroart, Stephen King, Mo Hayder, Lee Child, Lisa Gardner. Every time I type a name, I think of more!
I had a discussion with my idol Sue Grafton some time ago. We talked about "intent." About actually putting it out there, into the universe, what you'd like to have happen. To be honest with the universe, confident, and diligent. I'm really a believer in that. Yes, I want to be a terrific writer. Yes, I'm willing to work hard. Yes, I want to succeed.
Grafton also said, "You're just writing a book. It's not nuclear war." (Or something like that.) The point was that while you're taking our work seriously, there's no reason to take yourself too seriously, you know? It should be fun, rewarding, inspirational. But not constantly depressingly stressful.
So I've learned to embrace the whole thing--the pressure, the ambition, the craziness, the unpredictability, the ideas, the evolution, the friends and the joy. We get this one chance to do it, right? And I'm so delighted to be on this path.
And hey, see you soon! In the meantime, come find me on Facebook at Hank Phillippi Ryan Author Page and on Twitter @hank__phillippi
(Joseph Bender is a Magna cum Murder intern. He is a senior at Ball State majoring in Advertising.)