HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN is the on-air investigative reporter for Boston’s NBC affiliate, winning 33 EMMYs and dozens more journalism honors. The bestselling author of eight mysteries, Ryan’s also an award-winner in her second profession—now with five Agathas, two Anthonys, two Macavitys, the Daphne, and Mary Higgins Clark Award. Her TRUTH BE TOLD won the 2015 Agatha, and she edited the 2015 Agatha-winning non-fiction WRITES OF PASSAGE. Critics call her “a superb and gifted story-teller.” A founder of MWA University, Hank was 2013 president of Sisters in Crime. Her newest book, WHAT YOU SEE, is a Library Journal Best of 2015.
Tell us about your new release.
Well, depends on what you mean by new! My newest thriller WHAT YOU SEE was just nominated for the Agatha for Best Mystery of the Year, so that’s fabulous. As you know you can read my books in any order, but it’s the fourth Jane Ryland adventure.
Here’s what got me thinking about WHAT YOU SEE: what if you realized you were married to someone who had lied to you from moment one? Who was not who they said they were. What if you completely fell for it? And then, as the real truth begins to emerge, and he figures he’ll get caught, he takes your daughter and tell you you’ll never see her again. What would it be like to know your whole life was based on a lie?
Couple that with the constant surveillance in our lives… Cameras watching us wherever we go. How could that deception and that surveillance mesh to make a page-turning thriller? What if WHAT YOU SEE in surveillance, or in photographs, or on a computer monitor—is not the truth? And that is WHAT YOU SEE. (Which, if I may add, is also a Library Journal Best of 2015.)
But you said it depends on what you mean by new? What does that mean?
Oh, that’s such a great story. My very first mystery is also new. Again! The first of the Charlotte McNally series, called PRIME TIME, had been out of print for a little while. But there was so much interest in it, my new publisher snagged the rights and decided to bring it back! So now the fun, funny, and fast-paced Charlie McNally mysteries are available again! PRIME TIME won the Agatha Award for best first mystery, and the other three (so far) in the series, all bestsellers and award nominees, will be out every other month this year. I am so fond of these four books in the Charlie series, and I’m thrilled that new readers will be introduced to them.
What led you to write this book?
PRIME TIME? Well, I remember it perfectly. A life-changing moment, right? One day at work, at Channel 7/NBC Boston, where I have been a reporter for so many years , I was deleting spam emails from my computer, and opened one by mistake. What was in that email spam was so shocking, I thought… Well I’m not going to tell you. Because it would spoil the book! But that spam email was the impetus for PRIME TIME, and I promise: when you read the book, you will never look at your own email the same way again.
Did you have an interesting experience in the research of this book?
Oh, in my 40 years as a reporter, I have wired myself with hidden cameras, confronted corrupt politicians, gone undercover and in disguise! I’ve had people confess to murder, handled crime scenes, covered fires and swat ream situations and tear gas and hurricanes and on and on… our stories have changed laws and changed lives. So it is a real joy to be able to share that authenticity with readers, you know? The high stress and the high-stakes, the responsibility, the joy–and the disappointment and the triumphs.
Being a reporter, I never know what will happen in the next moment! It’s exciting, and terrifying, and wonderful… And I am so delighted to be able to convey that in the Charlotte McNally and Jane Ryland books.
Are any of your characters loosely based on people you know in real life?
Oh gosh, I confess, since it’s only between us, there is a lot of me in Charlie McNally. She’s determined, and a dedicated journalist, and worries what happens to a person who’s married to her job in television when the camera doesn’t love her anymore. Because of that, I’m always so gratified when people say oh, I love Charlie, she’s so fun and funny and smart, I wish she could be my friend. And I think, smiling to myself, well thank you!
As for others? Well, there’s no one based on a real person… Okay. I will confess that Charlie’s mother, Mrs. McNally, is exactly my mom. She recognized herself, too. And loved it.
Do you know the end of your books before you write it?
No! I really don’t. I don’t use an outline, so the only way I know what happens next is by writing the next word and the next sentence and the next scene.. Is it a constant surprise what happens. When I got almost to the end of WHAT YOU SEE, I flounced into the living room, in despair, and said to my husband “I cannot solve the mystery I created for myself! This puzzle is just too difficult!“ My husband said, “Well, honey? You’re almost done with the book, you certainly know who the bad guy is, don’t you?” And I just paused and said, “Well, no. I don’t.
And when I finally figured out what happened in WHAT YOU SEE, I was by myself in my study, and I stood up and applauded. I was so pleased with the ending! So when people say to me: the ending of your books always surprise me! I say yes don’t they? They surprised me, too! Talk about a surprise ending–I surprise myself. And I hope that always happens!
What do you do when you are not writing?
Well, my husband would tell you, I am thinking about writing! I have a very demanding job as a television reporter, so research and writing and shooting and editing for that takes up a big chunk of time. I am working on my next book right now, and that takes up the rest of the time! I must say, it is quite a juggle. Cooking was the first to go… My husband will be the first to tell you. And we have not taken a vacation in many years. But the joy of writing overcomes everything else.
Which book impacted you as a teenager?
It’s funny, because I remember the books I read as a kid, mysteries with Nancy Drew, and Sherlock Holmes, and Hercule Poirot. Oh, and the Edward Eager fantasies, and Jane Langton’s Diamond in the Window. And A Wrinkle in Ti,e. And Visit to the Mushroom Planet.
As a teenager I remember sneaking Marjorie Morningstar from my parents’ bookshelf, (I think I thought it would be racy!) and I madly read political thrillers, isn’t that funny? Like Failsafe and Alas, Babylon and Seven Days in May and On the Beach. (You can tell I am a child of the sixties!)
But that’s when I fell in love with storytelling, and suspense, and realized I loved that kind of page turning , unputdownable thriller. It’s the kind of book I love to read now, too!
So-What are you reading now?
My night table pile is way too tall! Right now I am reading the fabulous Gregg Hurwitz ‘s ORPHAN X, a new book by Brunonia Barry (she wrote The Lace Reader) called The Fifth Petal (a wonderfully creepy story about modern-day Salem witches), and Chris Pavone’s new international thriller The Travelers. All fabulous. I just finished Gilly Macmillan’s What She Knew, also terrific. I cannot wait for the new Lisa Unger, and the new Jeffrey Deaver. So many books! (If you have a favorite, let me know! Just come to my website http://www.HankPhillippiRyan.com and click on contact. Mention this blog—and I’ll send you a special gift!)
What social media do you participate in?
Oh please, don’t ask me about this. I am very fond of Facebook, I will admit it, and hope you all will come find me on Hank Phillippi Ryan author page. I have lots of fun and contests and a lot of inside scoop. I know, I know, it’s bad for me. It gets in the way of writing. But it is irresistible. I’m also on Twitter, and Instagram. Way too much.But I always always answer emails from readers—just click Contact on my webpage—and it comes directly to me!
What’s next for you?
Hurray! I just hit “send” on the final final edit of my brand-new book SAY NO MORE, and my editor says it’s the best yet! It comes out November 2016. So exciting—and I have to say I love this book. It’s all about the power of silence, and how keeping quiet may be the most dangerous weapon of all.
NEXT: Excerpt from PRIME TIME.