As for Hank, she's seeing stars (starred reviews from Library Journal and Booklist; IndieNext Great Read). So we had to haul her down to earth to talk about this fabulous suspense novel that's being compared to the work of Harlan Coben and Lisa Scottoline, but which in truth is uniquely her own.
On the (gorgeous!) cover of the book it says: You can choose your sin but you cannot choose your consequences... Readers will be repeatedly taken by surprise at where the story leads.
So welcome, Hank! (And we'll give away a copy to a lucky commenter!)
Hank, this book it's so different from your Charlie McNally novels which are thrilling, of course, and suspenseful, and funny, like The Other Woman -- but somehow this seems bigger. Were you consciously trying to shift into higher gear?
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Well--I didn't really think about it as “higher gear.” I thought about telling this story--and how it needed be told to make it as suspenseful and full of tension as possible. The story was so big and so juicy that I realized that it couldn't be told from a single first-person viewpoint, because the reader had to know things that some of the characters didn't know. That meant I had to craft the story in a different way. So the form came from the essence of the story.
JRW: This novel has five viewpoint characters, as many plots and subplots, and, not to spoil anything but a huge number of breathtaking twists, some of them coming right on top of each other. And yet reading feels seamless. How did you keep everything straight?
HANK: That is one of the magical things about writing this book. I had the whole book—every word and every theme-- in my head the whole time. Like those plates on sticks on Ed Sullivan, I had to keep all the plots spinning. And keep each one understandable. When I neared the end of the book I actually made a list of all the loose ends that had to be tied up, and one by one I crossed them off.
And I was constantly surprised. Each time I figured out what happened, I would say WOW I had no idea! So when readers are surprised at the outcome--well, I was, too..
Practically speaking-- if writers are interested--I made a scene-by-scene chart which included what happened at the end of each scene. So then when I went back I'd know the last thing that POV character knew.
JRW: This book is so full of surprises for the reader, too! You start the book thinking: "The other woman" -- Oh, I know what that means. This is the "philandering politician" story told from the viewpoint of the mistress. Only it isn't. Well, it is but it isn't, which so cool.
HANK: (Laughing) Thank you! Yes, I was 100% conscious of that! I love being able to play with readers' perceptions. First, remember that I didn't know what was going to happen.
After that, it's sort of all happening on three levels-- I know what I know as an author. I know what the reader expects. And I know if I don't do what the reader expects, that's what reader expects, too. So I have to do something else. I wanted the reader to go into the book thinking one thing and then—after turning pages as fast as they can-- come out thinking, whoa, that's not what I predicted at all.
JRW: Jane Ryland, your hero, is a reporter who will do anything to protect a source and suffers for it. Have you had times when you had to do something personally risky to protect a source?
HANK: I'm trying to think if there's anything that I can actually tell...
JRW: Is that your final answer?
JRW: Can you tell us where you got your names, especially Jane Ryland and Jake Brogan? Because they sound awfully familiar...
HANK: Oh, this is so hilarious. I needed a name for this character. I knew her name was Jane, that was set from the moment I had the idea for the story. But what was her last name? So I'm on the Acela from Boston to New York, thinking like crazy, very frustrated, and I gave up. I said to myself: Fine. The next name I see on a building or billboard is going to be the name. Zooming through Connecticut I see billboard that says Ryland Industries.
So I think, perfect. I love it! Jane Elizabeth Ryland. And it never crossed my mind that it was like Ryan. Never never never. Until I read the advance bound manuscript that the publisher sent. And I thought holy moly – Ryland is kind of like Ryan. A year and a half after I started writing the book!
Jake Brogan. I needed his name to be similar to Jane's (you’ll see why when you read the book!) so Jake works perfectly. His name had to be Irish, because his grandfather was a police commissioner in Boston. (Which is why Harvard-educated Jake is a cop. I envisioned them watching Hill Street Blues together!) I went through all of the Irish-sounding names, and they were too obvious, too predictable, not quite right. Then one day I thought--Brogan! Detective Jacob Dellacort Brogan. Jake Brogan. Perfect. And it wasn't until later I thought--oh no! Jan!
JRW: With your Charlie McNally series, you've said that Charlie is an TV news reporter who worries about what she's going to do when the camera doesn't love her any more. Here you are, six years later, still a glamorous investigative reporter on TV with what certainly looks to all of us like your breakout novel.
HANK: Aw. Thank you. Crossing fingers. Remember what I said about spinning the plates? I love my work as an investigative reporter. I've done it for 35 years and I'm still thrilled every day coming to work. As an investigative reporter you never know what's going to happen and you can work to change the world and get some justice and help the good guys win.
But as for the novel writing—and remember, I started that at age 55!--there's never been anything that I love as much as that. The walls fall away and I’m in my own world when I’m writing. So what will happen next? As in my books, I just don't know.
JRW: Well, we all feel like we're in the last inning of a no-hitter, holding our breaths, and hoping you shoot the moon.
Here’s the video about The Other Woman— like the book itself, it’s not what you’d expect! And it’s getting a lot of buzz.
So, gentle Reds, join the conversation! You know Hank will answer any question... well, almost any. And remember--we're giving away a copy to one lucky commenter!