I mentioned in last week’s Ramblings that I’d be posting an interview with someone who I think is one of the nicest people in the writing business. Many years ago, I had a blog spot on a writing site where I interviewed authors. I was new, didn’t have any real connections in the business but I’d read a book called Drive Time so I contacted the author thinking it was a long shot, she was probably busy etc. I got a gracious response with a yes, would love to be interviewed, and that author was Hank Phillippi Ryan. Since then I’ve interviewed many authors and Hank remains one of my favorites for her down to earth personality and for being just an all-round nice person. She’s on a whirlwind book tour promoting her latest release so once again, she’s gone out of her way to do this interview for me…thank you, Hank. As you’ll see at the end of the interview, Hank’s kindly giving away a copy of Trust Me to one lucky person. Just leave a comment about why you’d like to read the book(deadline is Friday Sept 14th at Midnight Eastern), and we’ll pick a person at random and the book will be yours!
This Writer’s Life (TWL)-For readers who don’t know about you, could you tell us, what made you want to write fiction and why you chose the mystery genre?
Hank Phillippi Ryan (HPR)-So pleased to be here! And in the midst of a nationwide book tour for my new TRUST ME, so this is such a glorious time. How did I decide on mysteries? Well, I grew up in really rural Indiana, and my sister and I used to ride our ponies to the library to get books! Can you believe it? Then we would read up in the hayloft of the barn behind our house. I read all of the Nancy Drew books, and then the Sherlock Holmes short stories, and all of the Agatha Christies. I came to love the architecture of the mystery, that a clever author could draw you in, and intrigue you and then surprise you with a twisty fabulous ending. So even back then I always wanted to be a mystery writer–or a detective! As an investigative reporter since 1975 🙂 and now, since 2005, a mystery author, it’s really the perfect combination. But doing investigative reporting and writing mysteries—it’s kind of the same, right? You’re always looking for who done it.
TWL-During your time as an investigative reporter have you ever been working on a story and thought this would make a great mystery or this would be perfect for a scene I’m working on?
HPR-I live such a double life… both of those things have happened! My books reflect my years of experience as a reporter, of course. I have wired myself with hidden cameras, confronted corrupt politicians, gone undercover and in disguise, so my real life is often surprising and exciting. Plus, my husband is a criminal defense attorney and he’d handled many notorious and fascinating cases. So we’re a good match, and it all flows into my books. In my television work I want you to be riveted to the screen, and in my novels, I want you to be riveted to the story. So it’s all about doing the very best storytelling I can!
TWL- You’ve written two series but your current book, Trust Me is a standalone one. Did you want a change of pace or will we see Trust Me develop into a series too?
HPR-TRUST ME is my first psychological standalone, and I am thrilled about it. The freedom of a standalone was glorious, and I was thrilled with the idea of telling a one-time-only story. I think a standalone book requires the story to be the very most important life-changing singular event that ever happens in a character’s life–and that’s what TRUST ME is: An obsessed journalist. A troubled mom. These two strong, smart women face off in a high-stakes cat and mouse game to prove their truth about a terrible crime. But which one is the cat and which one is the mouse? I dare you to find the liar!
So this will never be a series. This is the most compellingly riveting occurrence that there could ever happen in Mercer and Ashlyn’s life. But only one can prevail.
TWL-Tell us about your writing process? Do you start with a character first or plotline or does it vary?
HPR-I always start with the plot. Isn’t that contrarian? I know people generally start with characters. But what I want in my stories, to begin with, is that one gorgeous unique gem of an idea that no one has ever written about before. For Trust Me, I thought–wow! Could I write a thriller where two people tell equally believable versions of a story, using exactly the same evidences and about exactly the same murder. And what if neither one of those is true? There are three sides to every story, yours mine and the truth. And that’s how Trust Me started.
I have no outline when I write—so I never know what’s going to happen until the next sentence and the next paragraph and the next page. That’s what gets me to my computer every day—I cannot wait to see what happens! People say—wow, the ending of TRUST ME was such a surprise! And I say yeah, wasn’t it? Talk about a surprise ending, I surprised myself. And I hope that happens every time.
TWL-You have a full time career, you teach, you’re a speaker at writing events, and you write lots of books. Many would be authors always say they never have time to write a book, so what advice would you give them?
HPR-You know, when I started writing my first book, Prime Time, I called my mother in the middle of it –and said “Mom, I love this book, but I’m not sure I can finish it.” And she paused, and then said “Well dear, you will if you want to!” And I thought– wow. Isn’t that true for us all? We all do what we want to, what we’re compelled and obsessed and driven to do. So I love my career, I love speaking, I love being with my husband, and I love writing. How could I give up any of them? So I gave up sleep and cooking instead.
TWL-You’re one of the members of the wonderful writing site, Career Authors. How did that get started and how did you get involved with it?
HPR- Yes, Career Authors is such a joy. Two authors, an agent, social media guru, and an editor… And we all decided that serious writers needed a site that wasn’t chit-chat or comment-driven or full of recipes and slices of daily life – – not that there’s anything wrong with that. But writers all are in the same community, with the same questions, and the same needs, and the same fears. So we designed Career Authors as your practical once-a-day news-you-can-use site, focused on the writers who are committed to making a living as an author. How do you do that? What do you need to know, where do you go, how does it work, what should I do now? Those are the questions we try to answer. And I am so thrilled with the mad success! Come see us at www.careerauthors.com and sign up for our newsletter!
TWL-What one piece of advice would you give to an aspiring mystery writer?
HPR-Advice? My goodness, it sounds so silly. But just: don’t give up! It’s very difficult, and we all hit the wall in every novel. I will admit to you that every time I write a book, I think —how did I ever do this before? I have no idea what I’m doing. And then I just push through that. So my advice, on the days that you’re having a bad writing day? Pat yourself on the back. Because that means you are a real writer. If it’s easy, I must say, you are probably not working hard enough. So stop worrying, and start writing. Everything is a draft until it isn’t, right? So you can always fix it.
TWL-Any favorite writing instruction books?
HPR-Because there is no one “right” way to write, I’m drawn to more philosophical books about writing. Ann LaMott’s Bird by Bird, and Stephen King’s On Writing, and even Andy Martin’s Reacher Said Nothing. Pick up any of those books, and you’re writing life will change. And then, go ahead and write the way you write.
TWL-And finally, what’s next for you? Are you working on your next mystery?
HPR-Next book? Yes, yes! Thank you for asking, and breaking news, I just hit send on my newest psychological standalone The Murder List. So happy about it! And cannot wait to get started on the revisions. I’m also touring the country for a Trust Me, and eager to have your readers open it and dive into the story. Let’s give away a copy to one lucky commenter!
It just got a starred review from Booklist which calls it “A knock out,” and the Washington Post/AP calls it “Stellar.”! So all in all, I am incredibly happy, and the only thing that would make me happier is that you would all read Trust Me. And love it!
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN is the on-air investigative reporter for Boston’s WHDH-TV. She’s won 34 EMMYs and dozens more journalism honors. The nationally bestselling author of 10 mysteries, Ryan’s also an award-winner in her second profession—with five Agathas, three Anthonys, two Macavitys, the Daphne, and for THE OTHER WOMAN, the coveted Mary Higgins Clark Award. Critics call her “a master of suspense” and “a superb and gifted storyteller” and she is the only author to have won the Agatha in four different categories: Best First, Best Novel, Best Short Story and Best Non-Fiction. Her novels have been named Library Journal’s Best of 2014, 2015 and 2016. Hank’s newest book is the acclaimed standalone psychological suspense thriller TRUST ME (August 28, 2018), which Suspense Magazine’s reviewer calls “By far one of the best thrillers I’ve read in years.” The Booklist starred review says “a knockout!” and New York Post, BOOK BUB, PopSugar and CrimeReads named it one of the Best Thrillers of Summer 2018.
Hank is a founder of MWA University and past president of National Sisters in Crime. Visit Hank online at HankPhillippiRyan.com, on Twitter @HankPRyan on Instagram @hankpryan and Facebook at HankPhillippiRyanAuthor.