Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Jungle Reds Celebrate Hank's Big THE MURDER LIST Day!

RHYS BOWEN: We Reds are having such a fun month. First we danced for joy when Hallie’s book, CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR, and mine, LOVE AND DEATH AMONG THE CHEETAHS, came out and now we have been counting down until Hank’s THE MURDER LIST. 

Well, dear readers, that day is finally here. We are so excited about this book. Already so many stellar reviews. So much buzz. It has to be a huge hit. And we decided to celebrate by making Hank the spotlight of our deep and meaningful questions:

HALLIE EPHRON: It seems like with every book, you push the envelope. Going deeper. More complex. More unexpected. What new turf are you tilling with THE MURDER LIST?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN : Here’s a funny thing.  So many of the marvelous and spectacular reviews (yay!) of THE MURDER LIST have called it character-driven, and wow, I love that. Hurray. But in fact, THE MURDER LIST came from the story. Then the characters, like Rachel and Jack, came to populate that story. And happily, they took over.

I was listening to my criminal defense husband discuss a murder case one day. One track of my mind was listening to his narrative, and the other track was thinking—wow, what a good guy he is. The authentic real thing—standing up for the little guy, protecting the rights of the individual against the vast power of the state and the prosecution, making sure the prosecution plays by the rules and that the trial is fair and just.

And then I thought--what does the prosecutor’s wife think about her husband? Certainly she things he’s a good guy—protecting the public, putting miscreants behind bars, keeping criminals off the streets, standing up for law and order.

So how, I thought, can everyone be a good guy? And I started thinking about good, especially when it comes to the justice system. And realized that everyone involved chooses the side they think is the good side. And then they fight it out to see which “good” wins.

And then added to that: the obsession with lawyers--sorry, Jonathan and all--to win. 

You ask a lawyer, “What’s a good case?” And they’ll say “Winnable.” So given that they all think they’re good, and that they all want to win—and they’re always always in a battle with each other—doesn’t that set up perfect conflict? And the question of how far someone might go to win?

And then add a newbie—a young lawyer wannabe who has to choose a side.

So I created law student Rachel, trying to figure out her legal life.  And her influences—her brilliant defense attorney husband and her new employer, the powerful prosecutor. Two sides, battling for the legal soul of this novice attorney.

At least, that’s what they think they’re doing.

LUCY BURDETTE:  Your books are mostly (all?) set in Boston, and they involve reporters and lawyers, all of which are close to home for you. How closely do you stick to reality, with settings and characters and plot?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Yes, they are all set around Boston at least, and yes they involve reporters and lawyers. I'm fascinated by how reporters and lawyers are required to think, seeing every possible side of every possible story, and then sticking to the truth they choose. 

Then, think how much what a reporter says in the story can affect a trial. And how much what a lawyer tells a reporter can affect that story. And yes, no one in my books, reporter or lawyer, does anything that a real person would not or could not do.

THE MURDER LIST, I have to say, is quite realistic. Terrifyingly so.

As for the settings, yes, part of the fun is making it authentic. Now I sometimes drive by places where events occurred in the murder list, and I think oh, that’s where Rachel and Jack first met for coffee. And then I laughed, and remember, oh, I made that up.

If a murder takes place in someone’s house, though. I make up an address or if there is a scene in a restaurant, I make up the restaurant.  Just in case :-)

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING:  You dig deeper into the legal profession in THE MURDER LIST than you have in any other book, and you have expert help in the form of your husband! (For readers who don't know, Jonathan Shapiro is a VERY distinguished trial attorney.) But what's it like getting him to talk about the messy details of cases? Will Jonathan spill tea? Do you have to wait until X many years after a verdict before he'll disclose what REALLY happened?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:   Well, I have to admit I am incredibly lucky to have having in-house legal counsel. We are also both lucky to have the framework of spousal immunity, and reporter-source confidentiality. Jonathan and I talk about absolutely everything about everything, with the understanding that some of it will never get past the kitchen table. Except very fictionally :-)

In THE MURDER LIST,  all the super conflict, and the super dynamics, and the super inside details, those are all based on reality. Sometimes I say to Jonathan: I cannot believe you have such an interesting life! And he says the same thing to me.  

But one caveat (!) there is a dashing handsome brilliant defense attorney in THE MURDER LIST, and people wonder if that actually is Jonathan. It most definitely :-) is not. Truly. Trust me. (Hmm. The more I say that the more you won’t believe me. But Jack is not Jonathan!  And I know you have read it, Julia, and I know you recognize that from page 1.)

The murders are not based on any real cases. And, though I worked hard to keep legal jargon at a minimum, all the details are authentic.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Hank, which came first, wanting to be a reporter or a writer? What were your "aha" moments?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN  Oh, Debs, I never wanted to be anything but a lawyer or a disc jockey. Those were my basic ambitions. I kind of wanted to be a detective, too, like Sherlock Holmes. 

My aha moments, and there have been many, came more as a surprise then a quest. My mother always said I was incredibly curious, and she taught me, and I can hear her saying this, to “go and find out. “ so I learned how to do that.

I knew I wanted to be a reporter only after two weeks of being a radio reporter! I went home those two weeks, sobbing, because I had no idea what I was doing. Then one morning I went to the station and I thought wow, this is exciting. And I know how to do this! And I have been a reporter ever since then, 1971, can you believe it?  
Same with television… There was a learning curve, certainly, and then I fell in love with it.

As for investigative reporting, I totally remember that aha moment. I was interviewing the head of the water department from somewhere, and he said “we have no evidence of toxicity in our water.”
And I sort of looked at him, and said: “Have you ever tested for it?”
And he said no. And I thought: whoa. People lie. And I can find out the truth.

As a writer, the aha was when I had the idea for Prime Time. I had absolutely no doubt that would be a good book, and that I could do it. Silly naive me, right? But it turned out to be true.

JENN MCKINLAY:  What was your most embarrassing moment on air?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  Most embarrassing moment? Such a perfect Jenn question.  Oh, I have two big big big ones. 

One, when I was filling in for the weekend anchor person, and you know, one of the edicts in television is to just read the prompter. So at the end of the newscast, as I was mentally telling myself how good I was, I read the prompter. Which said  Thank you for being with us tonight, I’m Kate Sullivan, have a good evening.”

Which I read, out loud, on live TV. And then I realized, no, I was not Kate Sullivan.

Other one was when I was doing a big investigation into nuclear medicine. And one of the elements sometimes contained in those is krypton. But--I called it kryptonite. Much to the glee of all the scientists who called me to tell me that that was only in Superman.

What can we learn from this? ALWAYS have an editor who is smarter than you are.

RHYS:  And last from me. Everyone else was so literary and career-oriented in their questions. Mine is more mundane. I have always wanted to know about the nickname HANK. Who gave it to you and when? Did you choose it yourself? Are you happy with it? Do you feel it fits your personality? Has it been a help or a hindrance in your career? Have people thought you were a male? Any funny mixups? (I ask because Rhys is also a man’s name and I have been approached with Dear Mr. Bowen).

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN  Oh, Rhys.  My real name is Harriet Ann. I loathed it, absolutely hated it. I was such a geeky nerdy kid, and Harriet just made it all worse, especially when all the cool girls were Debbie and Linda.  Then my first day of college in 1967, someone said oh, you don’t look like a Harriet, we’ll call you Hank. And it’s been that ever since.(I love Harriet now.)

Honestly? I think other people like it more than I do. If I had a choice, I might be Harriet again. And yes, if it weren’t for my picture on the books, it would be utterly baffling. Because unlike people who use initials, where there is always the possibility of being either gender, Hank is definitely a man. Until they meet me or see the picture. 

Interestingly, The UK version of TRUST ME comes out this Thursday — and my fabulous UK publisher wondered if there was another name I could use instead of  Hank. So in the UK, I will be at Anna Ryan. Cool, huh? I love it! And here is the cover of that book.

But here in the US, Hank it is.  I love it, though, in that it’s at least memorable. You never know what seemingly small decisions are going to change your life!

RHYS:   We are rooting for you and hoping for great things this week, my friend!

Dear readers, check out Hank’s signing schedule on her website. She has a HUGE tour!

And--not being pushy, but we're all pals: you can buy THE MURDER LIST here! 

And who has a question they would like to ask Hank? A signed copy of THE MURDER LIST to her one very lucky commenter!

Monday, August 19, 2019

Children's Books We Hate

RHYS BOWEN:  Catching my breath after nearly two weeks of book events, one flight per day, lots of hotel meals and different beds. But one of the things I do is catch up on movies on longer flights. And one of those was DUMBO.  Have you see it? I HATED IT. It was dark and scary and if I’d been a child I would have demanded to be taken out of the theater immediately
Which made me think of which children’s books I’ve always hated. Of course when I was growing up none of the books was too scary or violent. I remember talking to my grandson when he was about eight and asking him what books he liked. He said, “We’re listening to this great book in the car on the way to school”
“What’s it about?”  I asked.
“These children are brought to the city and they have to fight each other to the death.”
“I leaped to my daughter. “You’re letting him hear something like this?” I demanded. She said, “It’s a YA book and it’s very well written and they love it.” It was THE HUNGER GAMES.  I would have hated it. I hated, and still do, anything too dark, anything too sad.
Surprisingly, however, I adored the Harry Potters. Of course I was grown up at the time but I would have done so as a child. I certainly adored the Lord of the Rings. Maybe because in both the good guys won!

So other children’s books I’ve hated? The Wizard of Oz. Marking poor Dorothy go through all that and then finding she just had to click her heels to go home? Not fair! I don't like most of Roald Dahl. So many unkind characters and abused children.  And above all, THE GIVING TREE. That horrible little boy took and took from the tree and gave nothing in return and the tree was kind and forgiving until the last.
So, dear Reds, what were your least favorite children’s books?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Ha. I hated The Little Princess. How sad and depressing! No reason for it. But I do love Matilda, Rhys, and Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but I read it as an adult. But I SO agree. WORST BOOK EVER  is The Giving Tree. I mean--what on earth is that supposed to teach? Browbeat your parents, selfishly, until they kill themselves?  Our  darling little neighbor girl, Georgia, read it, and cried for literally days. And her mother warned me, "Don't even say the word "tree." It will set her off again.

LUCY BURDETTE: That's an easy one Rhys: any of the Grimm Brothers fairy tales that scared me to death! I also am bitter about all the horrible stepmother figures in these tales. Cinderella? Wicked stepmother won't let her go to the ball and makes her work like a scullery maid. Snow White? Poisoned by her stepmother for being too beautiful. Hansel and Gretel? taken to a witch and abandoned by their wicked stepmother.

I also have a hard time with books that are too sad, like Old Yeller and Bambi. And yes on the YA books--they are so violent and depressing these days!

RHYS: Lucy, I suppose, to be fair, that Grimm's fairy tales were not really written for children but assembled from folk history, stories to teach a moral, right? But I so agree with Old Yeller.

HALLIE EPHRON: Of course I loved Loved LOVED The Little Princess. Also the Wizard of Oz. Most of Roald Dahl, though Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, not so much. Loved the Grimm's fairy tales, the grimmer the better.

I made the mistake of trying to read some of the more recent Berenstain Bears books to my grandkids--the early ones were funny and irreverent. The new ones are preachy, too good for their own good. The first Olivia book was sublime, but it's been downhill ever since. And though I loved the first Eloise, the later books are disappointing. Ditto the later Madelines. Ditto Babar. And while the illustrations are great, do not try to read one of the Disney storybooks... the texts are execrable.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Lucy, you beat me to Old Yeller. What a horrible book! I'm still traumatized how many ever years later, just thinking about it. Add to that The Red Pony--gah! And The Yearling. I suppose they are all life lessons, but most of us learn them soon enough on our own. I didn't mind the Grimms, or Andersen, although The Little Match Girl always struck me as unbearably sad. And why would they make a movie of that story? Why are so many of these books about orphaned or abused children?

I made the mistake of trying to read the updated Bobbsey Twins and the updated Nancy Drew's with my daughter and they were absolutely dreadful.

HANK: Oh, SO RIGHT! The Red Pony, and Old Yeller. WHY? And Match Girl. I ask you!  What was that supposed to teach? And the matches went out, one by one? NOOOO.  How about Ring of Bright Water? I have a pal whose mother read that to her, and left out the ending. When she grew up and went to college, she went to the movie. She called her mother afterward, sobbing. RING DIES! She wailed.They wrecked it. And her mom had to confess she'd changed the ending to protect her.

JENN McKINLAY: Oh, wow, great topic. I have NEVER forgiven my brother for insisting I read WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS. Dan and Ann, my heart. Much like the
Hooligans haven't forgiven me for reading THE RED PONY to them when they were young. Oops! I am not an angst reader. In fact, I think I was the only kid in middle school who wasn't into Judy Blume's DEENIE or V.C. Andrews's FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC. Comedy, people, it's all about the comedy. If I wanted to be sad and scared and angry, I'd live my own life. LOL!

RHYS: So which were YOUR UNFAVORITE children's books?
And now our new Monday feature.
 Monday shout out! Good news? Giveaways?

JENN: My publisher is having a back to school sweepstakes! Up for grabs are five library based novels, including WORD TO THE WISE! So fun!

DEBS: My publisher is giving away 50 copies of A BITTER FEAST on Goodreads! The offer ends in 4 days, so don't miss out! (US residents only.)

And, TO DWELL IN DARKNESS  is on sale in e-book format for $1.99 through the end of the month. Check it out on Amazon
or your favorite e-book provider, and catch up with Duncan and Gemma before the new book.

HANK:  THE MURDER LIST is a CNN Ultimate Beach Read! 
PRE-ORDER The Murder List! https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250197214
AND here's a free snippet of the fab Angela Dawe reading the audio book! https://read.macmillan.com/lp/the-murder-list-audiobook/

HANK's LAUNCH PARTY!  For The Murder List
Tuesday, August 20 at 7 pm at  Brookline Booksmith
Wednesday Aug 21  7 pm RJ Julia . Madison CT (With editor Kristin Sevick)
Thursday Aug 22 7 pm An Unlikely Story, Plainville MA
Saturday  Aug 23  2pm . Poisoned Pen Bookstore Scottsdale AZ (ticketed event with true crime writer Billy Jensen)
MORE HERE : http://hankphillippiryan.com/events.php

RHYS: Love and Death Among the Cheetahs is #10 on the Wall Street Journal Bestseller list and #15 on USA Today.
And Kings River Life Magazine is currently holding a contest and giveaway of the book. Here's the link:https://www.krlnews.com/2019/08/love-and-death-among-cheetahs-rhys-bowen.html 

Sunday, August 18, 2019

People Disappear in New Zealand

HANK: Yay! The theme continues—and it proves you don’t have to budge from your comfy chair. The Reds will take you to places you’ve never been. Prague? Sure. Underground Oklahoma City? No prob. And today?  Meet the brave and plucky Sara Johnson, the debut mystery author who, when love and curiosity called, picked up packed up and went—well, would you have done the same thing?

A Great Adventure

     People ask how I got the idea to write the Alexa Glock mysteries set in New Zealand. It started when my husband proposed living in Aotearoa, “the land of the long white cloud,” for a year. Could we do it? I left my teaching job as a reading specialist at a Chapel Hill, North Carolina middle school, three children (the youngest was a college sophomore), and cat, to find out.

((Ed. note via Wiki : Aotearoa; commonly pronounced by English speakers as /ˌaʊtɛəˈroʊ.ə/   is the Māori name for New Zealand. It was originally used by the Māori people in reference to only the North Island but, since the late 19th century, the word has come to refer to the country as a whole. Several meanings have been proposed for the name; the most popular meaning usually given is "long white cloud", or variations thereof. This refers to the cloud formations which helped early Polynesian navigators find the country.  Now to our regular programming. 
(Map from Gringer - Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11342313 )
My first glimpse of the Southern Alps from an airplane left me chilled: jagged rows of snow-capped peaks raked the spine of the South Island not far from where we rented a house in Christchurch. The Canterbury area welcomed us with a three day “active front” which blew cars off the road and two trees down in our back “garden.” I loved the newspaper headline describing gusts of more than 222 kmh: “By Crikey it was windy.”

     A headline during our first week also caused me chills: “Chance of finding tourists alive very remote.” A Canadian couple driving a camper van disappeared while crossing Haast Pass. We planned to cross the same pass, one of three that bisect the Alps. We followed the story closely. It played out like this: first the wheels and chassis of the van were discovered 80 meters down a gorge in the Haast River. Most likely a rock slide from the same storm that welcomed us to this rugged country swept their van off the road. The next week the young woman's body was found on a downriver stretch of beach. The man's thigh bone was discovered three years later.

     People disappear in New Zealand.

     An early adventure was to the tip of the North Island, Cape Reinga, where the Maori believe the soul departs. It's a wild and spiritual place, and we could watch the Tasman Sea crash into the Pacific Ocean. Nearby, the Te Peki sand dunes rise 140 meters above the sea and attract attention. I joined a line of twenty-somethings trudging up the dunes in gale winds, my boogie board trying to escape, or carry me aloft, my bare feet sinking into the fine sand, so I could ”depart” from the crest.

     A body could disappear in this sand, I thought, and the idea for a mystery series crystallized.

     Thermal activity abounds on the North Island. The Rotorua area has the highest concentration of geysers, boiling springs, sinter terraces, sulphur pools, and mud pots in the world, and I was hot to visit. Skull and crossbone signs warned us, but even so, my husband dipped a finger into a steaming stream. “Get back,” I yelled, like a good wife. The year before, a boy slipped off the path and into one of the pools. Headline: Boy dies after being boiled alive in NZ thermal spring.

At the thermal mud pots I oohed at the bubbling stinking Hades, and knew I had to kill someone there. Molten Mud Murder takes place at those mud pots. My protagonist, Alexa Glock, must identify the remains through dental X-rays. Everything else boiled away.

     Foveaux Strait, separating the South Island and Stewart Island, is notoriously rough. The Maori call the wind whipping the strait hau-mate, or death wind. The year before we made the crossing, a rogue wave capsized a fishing boat, killing eight men. Tourists, like my husband and me, visit Stewart Island for many reasons: hiking (yes), birding (yes), hunting (no) and shark cage diving (NO). There are at least 44 tagged great white sharks in the area. They like to visit, too, and certainly could be blamed for a ravaged body washing ashore.

     That happens in the second Alexa Glock mystery, Chum (coming September, 2020). Was the shark really the culprit?

     My husband and I hiked the 33-mile Milford Track, “the finest walk in the world,” in sunshine. We could actually see the glacial streams, alpine passes, gushing waterfalls, sheer cliffs, and not fall off swing bridges. This is unusual. The area gets 268 inches of rain each year. One hiker blogged about being airlifted out halfway through, after 15 inches submerged the track. Shortly after we completed Milford, a hiker, right in front of her partner, was swept away in a swollen creek.

     But what if the partner gave a little shove? In book three, Alexa hikes the Milford Track. As she clutches the flimsy rail of a swinging bridge, she spots a body in the river below.

     We reached the Cape Kidnappers gannet colony on a trailer pulled by a 1949 Minneapolis-Moline tractor. The old tractor pulled us between the breaking waves and spectacular cliff formations. I was shocked to spot a golf course atop one cliff. Our tractor driver told us a rich American bought the land, built a house and golf course. Many Silicon Valley hedge fund managers have also bought New Zealand property, perhaps as doomsday escape hatches. New Zealand has since banned foreigners from buying homes. But this man already had, and what if his neighbors didn't like it? The clamor of thousands of gannets protecting their chicks would eclipse a scream for help.

     Book four, I think.

     There are countless ways this brutal landscape can swallow a body, and thus makes a perfect setting for the Alexa Glock mysteries. The cat is on my lap as I peck away back home in North Carolina.

HANK: Told you! Adventure! Anyone been to New Zealand? Do you want to? Did you know it was called Aotearoa?

When a body is found half-submerged in a Waiariki Thermal Land of Enchantment molten mud pot, forensics expert Alexa Glock, her specialty odontology, spots a way to prolong her stay in New Zealand. Her fellowship has ended and no one is waiting for her to return to the States. Men have never been her expertise, but teeth are. Other ways of identifying the body may have… melted away.
A determined Alexa barrels her way onto the scene and into the lives of Rotorua’s finest, especially Detective Inspector Bruce Horne. There’s something about his glacial blue eyes that gets under never-married Alexa’s skin, even though she’s sworn off men.
Danger lurks in “the land of the long white cloud.” The murder victim, a city councilman, had trespassed on a sacred island forbidden to Pakeha, or non-Maori, and Alexa must follow suit. The Maori community is incensed that the rules of tapu have been disregarded and the consequences are disaster, demonic possession, or death.
Say what?
Alexa doesn’t believe in these three D’s, but when she discovers an unorthodox death threat in her rented riverside Trout Cottage, she reconsiders. A second murder heats the case to the boiling point and reveals a molten mix of motives and suspects. At the heart of Molten Mud Murder is an age old debate: is the past better left undisturbed, or unearthed? And at what cost either way?

Sara E. Johnson’s debut novel, the start of a series based in New Zealand, presents a page-turning story of facing the past and cracking the door open to an unexpected future. Sara E. Johnson is a mystery writer who spent nine months exploring wondrous New Zealand. Everywhere she snooped, there was a mystery that needed writing. Molten Mud Murder, Sara’s debut novel, will be published September, 2019 by Poisoned Pen Press/Sourcebooks. It is the first in the Alexa Glock Mystery series set in New Zealand.

Sara has a BA in Journalism and an MA in Education from the University of North Carolina.
Sara lives in Durham, North Carolina with her husband and golden doodle. She is a part-time educator and full time snooper. She is the current president of Triangle Sisters-in-Crime and a member of the North Carolina Writers’ Network.