Friday, September 11, 2009

A Little AIR TIME with Hank Phillippi Ryan

It's my pleasure to have fabulous mystery writer and GCC pal Hank Phillippi Ryan here today! She's an award-winning investigative reporter, currently on the air at Boston's NBC affiliate, where she's broken big stories for the past 22 years. Along with her 26 Emmys (WOW!!), Hank has also won dozens of other journalism honors, including 10 Edward R. Murrow Awards, and highest honors from Investigative Reporters and Editors and The National Association of Science Writers. Hank’s been a radio reporter, a legislative aide in the United States Senate, and in a two-year stint in Rolling Stone Magazine's Washington Bureau, worked on the political column "Capitol Chatter" and organized presidential campaign coverage for Hunter S. Thompson. She began her TV career in 1975, anchoring and reporting the news for TV stations in Indianapolis and then Atlanta. She and her husband, a nationally renowned criminal defense and civil rights attorney, live just outside Boston.

All of this AND praise from Suzanne Brockmann, who says of Hank's books, "I love this series!" (Marilyn adds, "I second that!")

Welcome, Hank!! You know I loved getting to guest blog on your group site Jungle Red Writers a couple of weeks ago, so it's especially wonderful to have you here today :-).

AIR TIME is the third book in the series. Could you give us a summary of this story? Sure. Star reporter Charlotte (Charlie) McNally enters the glamorous and high-stakes world of high fashion...and soon discovers when the purses are fake, the danger is real. To break her latest big-money blockbuster, Charlotte must go undercover--but what if the bad guys recognize her? This savvy TV journalist must face more than her fear of flying when her inside scoop on designer duplicates suddenly turns deadly.

Carrying a hidden camera and dressing to deceive, Charlie finds she's not the only one disguising her identity. Nothing--and no one--is what they seem. And that means nothing--and no one--can be trusted. In her high-risk job and in her suddenly steamy love life, how can she tell the real thing? Charlie is forced to make some life-changing--and life and death--decisions. With only a split-second to act and with her own life in the balance, Charlie knows if she chooses wrong it will be the last decision she ever makes.

This sounds great! And I *love* that line about the fake purses and the real danger--LOL! Charlotte (Charlie) McNally is an investigative TV reporter, and so are you. What qualities do you share with Charlie, and how are you different? When my husband talks about Charlie, he calls her “you.” As in—when “you” are held at gunpoint, when you track down the bad guys, when you solve the mystery...and I have to remind him, “Sweetheart, it’s fiction. It didn’t really happen.”

But a couple of things: I’ve been a TV reporter for more than 30 years. (Yes, really.) And so it would be silly, in writing a mystery about TV, not to use my own experiences. Think about it--as a TV reporter, you can never be wrong! Never be one minute late. Never choose the wrong word or miscalculate. You can never have a bad hair day, because it’ll be seen by millions of people! It’s high-stakes and high-stress--literally, people’s lives at stake--and I really wanted to convey that in the books. And everything that TV people do and say in the books is authentic and genuine. (Of course, Charlie can say things I can’t say, and reveal things I can’t reveal.) We’re both devoted journalists, and over-focused on our jobs.

But Charlotte McNally is different, too. She’s single--I’m happily married. She’s ten years younger than I am, and so is facing different choices and dilemmas. She’s braver than I am, certainly. Funnier. And a much better driver.

Charlie has some exciting adventures in your mystery series--going undercover, confronting some really bad guys. could you tell us about some of your adventures as an investigative reporter? There’s a huge been-there-done-that element to the books--I’ve wired myself with hidden cameras, confronted corrupt politicians, chased down criminals...been in disguise, been stalked, and threatened and had many a door slammed in my face. I’ve had people confess to murder, and others, from prison, insist they were innocent. So when that happens to Charlie, it’s fair to imagine me. Although the plots are completely from my imagination, those are real-life experiences.

Your job sounds very demanding. How (and when) do you find the time to write? Do you ever take a vacation, and, if so, what do you do with your time off? Short answer--no. I don’t take vacations anymore. We used to! We love Nevis, a tiny island in the Caribbean with empty white beaches and nothing to do. We love to go to western Massachusetts, to Tanglewood, to go to plays and the symphony and museums. We love to go to Cape Cod, to Truro, to sit on the beach with pals and read, then go out to wonderful dinners. All in the past. Now, I write. And Jonathan lounges in the backyard. Luckily, we have a lovely yard, with a pool and beautiful gardens.

You have won 26 Emmys and 10 Edward R. Murrow Awards. Could you tell us about the stories that won a couple of these distinguished awards for you? Here’s a list! We proved the state’s 911 system was sending emergency responders to the wrong addresses. We found there was not one person of color on the federal jury pools in parts of Massachusetts. We discovered why thousand of people were never called for jury duty. We found there were thousands of warrants for peoples’ arrests that were never served . We found people convicted of drunk driving who were still on the road. We found unsafe big rig trucks on the highways and found they were illegally ignoring the weight limits on the state’s bridges, thereby causing expensive and dangerous damage. We found school buses with massive mechanical problems. We found the unit pricing in stores was completely incorrect. We found unscrupulous mortgage companies luring people into foreclosure. At least four—maybe five?—laws have changed as a result of our stories and people have gotten literally millions in refunds and restitution.

Were you always a public person, comfortable in front of the camera and with a microphone in your hand? Or is this a skill you had to develop? How early did you know you wanted to be a TV journalist? When did you have your first inkling you wanted to be an author? You know, I have a funny juxtaposition of desire to be in the spotlight--and sheer terror of being in the spotlight. I love my job in TV--and have to go live and unrehearsed all the time. Confession: I’m still terrified every time. I want to be perfect, and when you’re on live, you can’t possibly be. That’s one reason why I love investigative reporting--there’s more time to work, and dig, and polish, and produce. It’s like making a little movie, and I can make it as perfect as possible.

My sisters and I used to create shows when we were all young and perform for our parents in our backyard. I did acting in high school and college. I wanted to be a DJ on the radio for a long time! My mother says she always knew I would be a television reporter--but I think that was just her way of rationalizing that all I did as a pre-teen and teenager was read books and watch TV.

I knew from my first Nancy Drew that I loved mysteries. Nancy was my first best friend--I was a geeky unpopular kid, and it was such a relief to go home and hang out with Nancy. She was smart and made it be okay to be smart. She was confident and inquisitive and resourceful. I loved that.

I got into TV by chance. I had worked as a radio reporter (hired because, as I informed the radio station, they didn’t have any women working there! Hey. It was the seventies.) But after a few years working in Washington D.C. (on Capitol Hill as a legislative aide and then for Rolling Stone Magazine), Rolling Stone closed its Washington office, and I needed a new job. I went back home to Indianapolis and applied for a job as a TV reporter. It was 1975. I had covered politics in Washington, and the news director of the station figured he could teach me to be a TV reporter. (This was incredibly risky--I had never taken journalism and didn’t know one thing about TV. But I wasn’t afraid--and knew I could do it.)

Problem was, I should have been afraid! I quickly learned I had no idea what I was doing. I went home every night for the first two weeks--sobbing. Because I thought I would never understand it. Soon after--it hit me--oh, I get it! And I have adored it ever since. When I do seminars and classes, students ask me how I got started. I tell them, I’ll tell you the story, but it won’t work that way anymore!

What is your work in progress? Balancing my life! Okay, really--I’m working on two other ideas for series...but my first love is Charlotte McNally. Will there be more Charlie stories? That depends on you readers! What do you think? Let me know, okay?

FYI: Hank’s giving away five ARC’s of PRIME TIME (the first book in the series) to readers! To enter the drawing contact her through her website and put "PRIME TIME ARC" in the subject line. Good luck!


Kwana said...

What a wonderful interview. Thanks so much Marilyn and Hank. What an exciting life and a great book.

Pamala Knight said...

Thanks for the excellent interview Marilyn and Hank! So wonderful to hear where some of Hank's inspiration for her characters and settings come from. Charlie's story sounds like an awesome read and I'll be anxious to get my hands on it.


Pamela Cayne said...

Wow! I'm a little breathless just reading about Hank--I think I'd have to have a paper bag next to me in order to read one of these wonderful-sounding books! Consider me in line for both!

Marilyn Brant said...

Kwana, Pamala and Pamela~Isn't she cool??! I read about these things Hank has done and my jaw just drops...AND there are those 26 Emmys!

I'm so glad you ladies stopped by to visit. Hope you all have a wonderful weekend :).

Sandra Ferguson said...

I love the sound of Charlie . . . especially the braver and better driver. LOL! I'd like to believe that our heroines are the best of our traits and those that we'd pursue if we had more time, more money, and a little more gumption. I hope Charlie stays around for a long time, and Hank, I hope you get a little down time to stroll the beaches again.

Vesper said...

Wow! Fascinating, both the person and the interview! Thank you, Marilyn and Hank, for such an interesting and inspiring glimpse into Hank's and Charlie's universe. :-)

Marilyn Brant said...

Sandra~thanks for stopping by. I laughed at the "better driver" line, too :).

Vesper~thanks so much!! I'm always impressed by what Hank's accomplished...amazing stuff!

Leshia Stolt said...

I just wanted to stop in and say "Hi!" Hank, we met in Indianapolis last weekend. Thanks again for being such a great speaker and just a fantastic person all around. (The fact that you associate with Ms. Brant only raises my opinion of you!) I can't wait to dig into my new books!

Marilyn Brant said...

Aw, thanks, Leshia!! Glad to have you visit and am very happy you enjoyed the interview ;).