Thursday, April 14, 2011
Hank Phillippi Ryan Makes Time with DRIVE TIME
DEB: And since we're speaking of awards this week, and the Agatha in particular, what a special treat today to talk to Jungle Red's very own Hank Phillippi Ryan, whose novel Drive Time is an Agatha nominee for Best Novel! (Can I say that any bigger??)
Do you know what really happens in valet parking?
I can guarantee you that once you've read Drive Time, you'll never want to let you car out of your sight again . . . and I can also promise that once you start this book, you'll stay up way past your bedtime because you won't be able to put it down.
Hank is no stranger to awards, her first novel, Prime Time, won the Agatha for Best First Novel. Air Time was nominated for an Agatha and an Anthony for Best Novel, and Hank's short story, On the House, won the Agatha and the Anthony for Best Short Story. And that's not to mention her twenty-six Emmys for her work as a television investigative reporter . . .
We could go on and on, but let's talk to Hank about Drive Time.
To quote Library Journal's starred review, ""Buckle up and prepare for a wild ride as Charlie McNally and Boston's Channel 3 News investigate a nefarious car theft/forgery operation and race to get their story on the air before their lives are endangered. In the meantime, Charlie becomes consumed with secret sleuthing as blackmail and suspicious deaths threaten the private, prestigious Bexter Academy where her fiancé teaches. Amid late-night stakeouts and dangerous car chases, Charlie finds time for romance, wedding planning, and bonding with her future stepdaughter. In her fourth series entry (after Prime Time, Face Time, and Air Time), Ryan once again channels her Emmy-winning investigative reporting expertise to craft a realistic and compelling mystery, full of hairpin turns and dangerous intersections at breakneck speed. Verdict: Placing Ryan in the same league as Lisa Scottoline and Julie Kramer, 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."
DEB: Wow! That's terrific and well-deserved praise!
We've talked a little bit on JR earlier this week about writers writing what they LOVE rather than what they KNOW (by which we mean if you love something you WILL learn about it and your readers will love it, too). But you do write about what you know, and you do it brilliantly.
HANK: Aww......so sweet of you. And I'm blushing. Coming from YOU, Debs!
DEB: And you write in first-person present-tense, which is something that good writers make look easy but is really, really hard to do well. This puts the reader not only right into Charlie's head, but right into the action, and it also makes us feel like we KNOW Charlie.
HANK: Well, thanks. Someone asked me once why I chose first person. And you know, I never "chose." I just wrote my first sentence, and there it was. First person present. Kind of like--the way I talk.
DEB: How are you and Charlie alike, and how are you different?
HANK: 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.
DEB: Does writing about what you do make writing harder or easier?
HANK: Ahhh, the key--in television news and in fiction--is to tell a good story, right? With compelling characters, and an important conflict, where the good guys win, and the bad guys get what's coming to them. Makes no difference if you're making it up, or reporting the facts. It's all about the story.
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. 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.
Counterfeit merchandise, the essence of AIR TIME, came from my experiences covering that world and working with the Secret Service and police departments and TSA, as well as my own undercover work. I've had people confess to murder, and convicted murderers insist they were innocent--that's the key to FACE TIME. And the real-life big-money conflicts in the financial world I've covered for TV--that's what's behind PRIME TIME.
We've done lots of stories about car recalls--the pitfalls and the dangers, and what can happen that allows people to be driving dangerous cars. So I know the inside scoop on how recalls work--and what may be wrong with your car at the very moment, and why you may not know it--and all that comes in to play in DRIVE TIME.
The books are definitely not “fact made fiction--but it's been wonderful to be able to use these real-life experiences as stepping off points.
What has really helped me? Is that after thirty-plus years of writing news stories, I understand that some days, you're just not going to feel the muse. The key is--on those days? You write anyway. It's your job. So I try not to worry, not to despair and over-analyze. Just persevere.
DEB: I'm always in awe of writers who hold down demanding, full-time jobs, and write, which is ALSO a demanding, full-time job. How do you juggle your life, and when do find--or make--time to write?
HANK: Bwa-ha-ha. Seriously? I work all the time. We just took our first vacation in five years.
Sleep was the first casualty, then cooking, then fun. Oh, and exercise. And going to movies. Luckily I have a very very patient and supportive husband.
My routine? I get up at say, 7. (Couldn’t possibly write that early—I’m always so impressed by the authors who get up at 4am and dash off some chapters before the sun rises. Sigh. My head would be klonked on the keyboard. Could not do it!)
On workdays, I head to Channel 7, and get home about 7pm. When I’m in writing mode, I write til about 10, then make dinner. My husband and I always have dinner together, then I write a bit afterwards. (I’m definitely a late night writer. All those years of reporting for the 11 pm news, I guess.) Weekends, I write.
What keeps me going? Telling a good story. I'm so eager to find out what happens next in my books--and the only way I can do that is to write it!
DEB: And now for the MOST important question . . . Do you know what you're wearing to the Agatha Awards?
HANK: Oh, my dear Debs, thank you. Thank you. Thank you. The idea that DRIVE TIME is nominated for the Agatha for Best Novel is just--well, it still brings tears to my eyes. What I'm gonna wear....hmmmm. Can we all go shopping?? What are you all wearing?
DEB: Here at Jungle Red we will all be cheering you on!!!
JR readers, do you have questions for Hank? She'll be checking in to chat throughout the day.
(I think maybe she could borrow Ro's red dress?)
And wouldn't we all like to fit into this?