It’s a great pleasure to have talented mystery writer and award-winning investigative reporter Hank Phillippi Ryan with us again today as she takes off on her GCC tour for her latest Charlotte “Charlie” McNally novel, Drive Time (MIRA, Feb. 2010)! About the book, Robert B. Parker wrote: “Hank Phillippi Ryan knows the television business entirely, she understands plotting and she writes beautifully. No wonder I loved Drive Time. Anyone would.” Plus, it got a coveted starred review in Library Journal along with this rave: “Placing Ryan in the same league as Lisa Scottoline…her latest book catapults the reader into the fast lane and doesn't relent until the story careens to a stop. New readers will speed to get her earlier books, and diehard fans will hope for another installment.”
Welcome back, Hank, and congrats on this new novel! I'm thrilled to get to read another one of Charlie's stories ;).
Can you give us the scoop on Drive Time?
DRIVE TIME is about secrets. TV reporter Charlie McNally’s working on a story about a dangerous scheme that could absolutely happen...and let me just say, if you own a car, or rent a car, you’ll never look at your vehicle the same way after reading DRIVE TIME. In fact, after writing the book, I now get a bit creeped out when I go into a parking garage. That’s all I‘ll say.
Charlie’s also drawn into another frightening situation—this one at the prep school where her fiancé is an English professor. When Charlie learns a secret that might put her step-daughter-to-be in danger, and might also be an blockbuster investigative story—how does she balance her loyalty to her husband-to-be—with her need to protect the public?
So this is a tough one for Charlie. And she must make many life-changing decisions. Just when she begins to think she might be able to have it all—a terrific career and a new husband and a new life--revenge, extortion and murder may bring it all to a crashing halt.
Hey, you're originally a Chicago girl! Can you tell us a little about your background?
I was born in Chicago, where my dad was the music critic for the old Chicago Daily News. We moved to Indianapolis (where some of my family still lives) when I was about 6. I went to public schools, where I was a geeky Beatle-loving misfit voted “most original” in high school...much to my chagrin at the time. Majored in English at Western College for Women in Oxford Ohio, when in to work in politics and then...radio.
I got my first job in broadcasting because—as I told the news director at the radio station—“Your license is up for renewal at the FCC, and you don’t have any women working here.” Well, it was 1970! I’m proud to be part of the group of women who began to break down the gender barriers back then.
I worked for almost 2 years in the U.S. Senate, and then a couple of years at Rolling Stone Magazine in Washington, DC. And then, TV.
Now you're an Emmy-award-winning investigative reporter for an NBC affiliate in Boston. Growing up, did you know that's what you wanted to do?
Definitely not. 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 al 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.
Anyway, my sisters and I used to create musical shows when we were all young, and perform for our parents in our back yard. I did acting in high school and college. I wanted to be a DJ on the radio for a long time! But I thought I would be an English teacher, or a lawyer for the Mine Workers union, or for awhile, a political activist.
(My mother, though, 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. But being a TV reporter was not in my sights. Little did I know!
You’ve got four books under your belt, you’ve won an Agatha, and been compared to Lisa Scottoline. Will there come a time when you say goodbye to journalism to focus full time on your fiction?
Ain't that the question! I still smile in delight every time I see my Agatha teapot. And when the starred review in Library Journal for DRIVE TIME compared me to Lisa Scottoline, well, I burst into tears. But I still love my job in TV. So--you could ask me that question every day, and every day I'd have a different answer. And I guess the bottom line is: who knows?
Any plans to write a non Charlotte McNally novel?
Yup. Absolutely. It's in the works. You heard it here first.
Any other genre you want to tackle?
Yup. :-) It’s in the works. You heard it here first.
Your husband’s a criminal defense attorney. Does he read your work or give you any tips or even ideas for plots?
He’s the most patient man on the planet. Yes, he's really the only person who reads my pages while they’re in process. When I first started writing PRIME TIME, I'd give him five pages or so a day, and I'd hear him laughing and I was so delighted! And he would tell me every day how terrific it was. Then, about fifty pages in, I went in for my daily pat on the back. And he had a funny look on his face. "Honey?" he asked. "Is something going to happen soon?" So I knew I had some work to do.
Ideas for plots? Ah, no, not really. I'm always running ideas by him, to see if he thinks they’re plausible and believable. And sometimes he'll come up with just the perfect little thing I need to pull something together. But we think very differently. He’s much more--wedded to reality.
Do you have any advice to share with fledgling writers and journalists?
For journalists: Don’t be afraid. Be very afraid. Be scrupulously careful. Think. And think again. Never give up.
For writers: On my bulletin board there are two quotes. One is a Zen saying: “Leap and the net will appear.” To me, that means: Just do it. The other says “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” And I think that’s so wonderful—just have the confidence to carry on. Writing is tough, arduous, not always rewarding in the moment—but no successful author has ever had an easy path. When you hit an obstacle, pat yourself on the back. You’re a writer!
Thanks so much for answering all of these questions, Hank! And thanks also for your great book giveaway!! Hank is generously giving away 2 books to commenters on this post (names to be drawn on Monday, Feb. 22nd). Each winner will have a choice of one book from Hank's TIME series (Prime Time, Face Time, Air Time or Drive Time). Good luck, everyone!
Also, a very enthusiastic shout out to Carleen Brice, a fellow GCC pal of both Hank's and mine, who's debut novel Orange Mint and Honey is now a Lifetime movie (!!!) called "Sins of the Mother." It's airing THIS Sunday night, Feb. 21st at 8 pm EST, so check it out on LMN!! For more info, here's the movie trailer on YouTube, and Carleen wrote about the adaptation process here. For some extra fun, take a peek at her movie-watching party contest--you might win free books and goodies ;).