A Wicked Welcome to Hank Phillippi Ryan

TBT cover hi resThe Wickeds all know Hank Phillippi Ryan. She is a Sister in Crime, a friend, and a cheerleader. We had a great conversation, with the second half of the interview appearing over at Pen, Ink, and Crimes, the Sisters in Crime New England blog.

I want to talk about your books, especially Truth Be Told, the new Jane Ryland novel, but first I’d love to ask you a little bit about you. You had/have a huge career as a television reporter. Tell us a little bit about that.

Oh yes, I am still investigative reporter for Boston’s NBC affiliate. I’ve been a television reporter since… 1975! And so far have 32 Emmys for investigative reporting. Longevity does have its pluses.

I think it was on my mother’s influence, because when I was growing up she would never tell me the answer to anything. “Go and find out,” she would always insist. “Go ask for yourself.” So I learned how to ask questions, and how to be confident in research. It always seemed like fun to me, solving a puzzle and having an adventure.

I never planned to be a reporter, though. I thought I would be a geneticist, or an English teacher, or the lawyer for the Mine Workers. Finally deciding I wanted to change the world, I went into politics, and worked in several political campaigns. Sadly, no candidate I worked for actually won. Seemed like the universe was trying to tell me something!

Finally, with crossed fingers and a lot of nerve, I applied for a job as a radio reporter, This was 1971. I only got the job–and I know this is true–because I told them their license was up for renewal at the FCC and they did not have any women employees. Ta dah. The next day I had my first job in broadcasting. I took a chance—and found my first calling.

So I’m really proud to be part of breaking the gender barrier in broadcasting!

And if you ask me what the best story I’ve ever done is, I would say… It’s still to come.

At 2013 Malice Domestic, celebrating Hank's win for Best Contemporary Novel. From L-R Liz, Kate Flora, Julie, Eidth, Hank, Barb, Sherry, and Mo Walsh
At 2013 Malice Domestic, celebrating Hank’s win for Best Contemporary Novel. From L-R Liz, Kate Flora, Julie, Edith, Hank, Barb, Sherry, and Mo Walsh

I’m glad to hear that! What made you start writing mysteries?

Oh, I always wanted to be a mystery author, ever since I was a little girl. Tess Gerritsen always says writers “self-select” at about age 7, and I sure did. I was all about Nancy Drew, and Sherlock Holmes, and even back then, Agatha Christie.

I loved the idea of being able to create a puzzle, that someone could then solve. But that the result would be surprising.

What was surprising… It wasn’t until maybe 40 years later that I actually had a good idea for a plot!

The moment I thought of it, secret messages in computer spam!, I got goosebumps, and I still do now. And from that moment I was obsessed with writing. I told my husband… I’m going to do this! No contract, no agent, and absolutely no idea of how publishing worked. But I was obsessed.

That turned out to be Prime Time, which won the Agatha for best first mystery.

And ever since then, writing mysteries has been at the top of my mind! I think about it all the time.

The newest, TRUTH BE TOLD, is a big exciting entertaining thriller, set in Boston–about a diabolical mortgage fraud scheme and a notorious cold case murder. And also about a reporter who fabricates stories.

It got starred reviews from Booklist and from Library Journal, which has the best review line I’ve ever seen: “Drop everything and binge-read until the mind-boggling conclusion!” Got to love that.

HPRThe buzz on this book is great. I wonder, how has Hank influenced Jane Ryland?

That’s a wonderful question. The reason all of our books are special, and unique, is that only we could write them, correct? And I know Jane Ryland could not exist without me.

But Jane is, what, 30 years younger than I am? So what she’s going through now are cycles of life that I have already handled. And problems and decisions I have already faced, both personal and professional.

Still, she is not me! She is a new person, and that is part of the joy. It’s really amazing as she reveals herself to me… Her confidence and her fears and her vulnerability and her history and her goals.

She doesn’t always make the same decisions I would. And that surprise is also part of the fun.

Jane is much more confident than I was at 34, I can tell you that! But she is 34 at a different time in our culture than I was, see what I mean? (I’ll be 65 next week! Yeesh!)

Happy early birthday!! What can Jane do that you wish you could do?

Well, as an objective reporter, I am not supposed to have any opinions. And I certainly can’t comment on the state of journalism these days. Jane can.
And does.

I love that. Your first series featured Charlotte McNally, and was a more of a traditional mystery, with some cozy influences. Tell us a little about writing that series.

The Charlie series, which I think of as a mystery series, is a little bit more humorous – I guess, a lot more humorous than the Jane Ryland thrillers. They are in first person, only from Charlie’s point of view. So there’s a lot more internal dialogue. And that makes a huge difference in telling the story.

The Jane books are multiple point of view, past tense, third person. There’s Jane, and Detective Jake Brogan, and three others in each book!

I started doing writing that way because I knew the story of The Other Woman woman was so much “bigger” than a Charlotte McNally story could be .

And in the Jane books, including the new Truth Be Told, the tone is darker, and the events are more pervasively sinister. It has more of a big city feel, even though both series are set in Boston.

In a big thriller, the story can be so much more complex then it can be in a first-person traditional mystery. I still don’t write graphic sex or violence (though I certainly read books that include it!) It’s much more interesting to me as a writer to create anticipation and aftermath and imagination.

(More about Charlie in the next year or so!)

Can’t wait for the Charlie news! Last question, what do you wish your readers knew about you?

I’m so grateful for everything–but you knew that. And I’m so excited and nervous about Truth Be Told–but you knew that. And I am crossing fingers that you love it–but you knew that, too.

Thank you for visiting with the Wicked Cozys Hank! Readers, Hank will do a giveaway today to whet your appetite for Truth Be Told— one copy of The Other Woman and one of Agatha-winning The Wrong Girl.

About Truth Be Told:

TRUTH BE TOLD begins with an all-too-familiar tragedy in today’s headlines: a middle-class family evicted from their home in the suburbs of Boston. In digging up the facts on this heartbreaking story—and on other foreclosures—reporter Jane Ryland soon learns the truth behind a big-bucks scheme and the surprising players who will stop at nothing, including murder, to keep their goal a secret.

Boston police detective Jake Brogan may have a liar on his hands. A man has confessed to the Lilac Sunday killing, a long-unsolved murder that haunted Brogan’s police-commissioner grandfather. While Jake’s colleagues take the confessor at his word, Jake is not so sure.

In the meantime, Ryland and Brogan’s paths are once-again intertwined—and as their private relationship heats up, it may mean difficulties in their professional lives.

Financial manipulation, the terror of foreclosures, the power of numbers, the primal need for home and family and love… What happens when everything you believe is true turns out to be a lie?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN is the on-air investigative reporter for Boston’s NBC affiliate. She’s won 32 EMMYs, 12 Edward R. Murrow awards and dozens of other honors for her ground-breaking journalism. A bestselling author of seven mystery novels, Ryan has won multiple prestigious awards for her crime fiction: three Agathas, the Anthony, Daphne, Macavity, and for THE OTHER WOMAN, the coveted Mary Higgins Clark Award. National reviews have called her a “master at crafting suspenseful mysteries” and “a superb and gifted storyteller.” Her 2013 novel, THE WRONG GIRL, has the extraordinary honor of winning the Agatha Award for Best Contemporary Novel and the Daphne Award for Mainstream Mystery/Suspense, and is a seven-week Boston Globe bestseller. Her newest hardcover, TRUTH BE TOLD, is a Library Journal Editor’s Pick and RT Book Reviews Top Pick, with starred reviews from Booklist and from Library Journal, which raves, “Drop everything and binge read!” She’s a founding teacher at Mystery Writers of America University and 2013 president of national Sisters in Crime.

31 Thoughts

  1. I love your mother’s approach to your questions, Hank. I’d never heard that before. I did something similar with my sons, often answering their questions with, “Well, what do you think?” So pleased with all your successes!

    1. Yes, Edith! It drove me crazy at the time of course– “Why don’t you just TELL me??” I’d whine. But she was right. (As she’d be the first to remind us…)

    1. Oh, absolutely, John! One way my reporting informs my fiction is how rich my days are with potential characters, or at least snippets of characters and their motivations and personalities. I don’t take a whole real person and make them into a character–but I do select the best little bits and mix them into the character stew.

    1. Aw, so lovely of you! And hey, congratulations on your BOOKS! It must have been so amazing to open that box…xooxo Yay1

  2. Hi Hank! Congrats again on the new book. (And don’t enter me in the drawing. I’ve already read and loved the two books up for grabs.)

    1. Yay! Thank you. Crossing fingers we cleverly lured you into getting TRUTH BE TOLD! XOXOO

      1. THANK YOU! Ooops, caps lock. Well, la dee dah. I meant it in caps anyway. xooxo

  3. Happy Early Birthday, Hank! Are you sure that isn’t a typo, 65? I think so! Congratulations on the Agatha award for best first mystery, and good luck on your latest book, “Truth Be Told”.

    1. Thank you, Dianne! Crossing fingers. Yeah, no typo. Amazing, huh? SO funny to think of time going by that way..and how nicely things have turned out. WIsh I had known that when I was 15. xoxoo

  4. Way to go getting your first reporter job. Not an easy time for women to get ahead. In the late ’60’s we were told in high school our best career opportunities would be as teachers, nurses, or secretaries.
    Happy Birthday and congrats on the rave reviews for Truth be Told. Enjoy!

    1. Yeah, exactly! And I once told an interviewer that I could not type (even though I could) because I didn’t want to have to do it. NOw, I LIVE to type! And love to. The world is strange. xoxo

  5. Hank Phillippi Ryan. What an amazing name for an author, a reporter or a woman of any age! Cannot wait to read the new book (and the others that came before). Great interview.

    1. Thank you, Sherry! Crossing fingers you love TRUTH BE TOLD. Can you believe the terrific reviews? I am still floating. Keep in touch, okay?

  6. Great blog Hank! You have my interest. Looking forward to adding another author to my inventory!

    1. Oh, gosh, it’s amazing! ANd now I’m in Ann Arbor–tomorrow Seattle! xo Yay for time zones.

  7. Great interview, Hank. I never tire of reading how you came to write fiction. I wish I’d stuck with journalism (did I ever tell you I did sports journalism in college? Loved it.) Oh well, the things we do. No need to enter me in the giveaway, I have all three books (and I’ll see you in December to get the last two signed). I know what I’m reading this weekend!

    1. Mary, that’s so great to hear. Yeah, I d do to. Because it means I will have figured out the ending!

    1. Oh, Barbara, wonderful! Thank you..hope you love it. And then we’ll go out for clams!

  8. I think I have discovered some new books to read this winter! Thank you!

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