HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Jane and Jake? I know and love. Well, I don’t know all about them--they always surprise me, and I hope that continues. But one thing that always fascinates me, when faced with blank pages that I know have to somehow turn into pages of words, is whose story am I telling?
Yes, it’s Jake’s journey, and Jane’s journey, but in every book they have to encounter and connect with a world of mostly-new people. In my books you know you’re going to get Jakes partner Paul DeLuca, and ME Kat Richardson, and the gruff but effective Supe, Mona from downstairs, little Eli and his mom Neena who live upstairs, Jake’s imperious mother, and Jane’s cat Coda.
But to make a story, I have to find the new people. The new point of view characters who will make each book unique and compelling. My books have five points of view—Jane’s and Jake’s—and three more. Three new people we have to care about, and wonder about, and try to decide whether they are good guys or bad guys. And wonder if they will make it through the book, right?
Their stories twist and turn together, and that’s the dramatic irony, right? Because each character only knows what they know—but you, the reader, knows all of it. And that’s what creates suspense, and misperceptions, and mistakes, and danger.
I’ll divulge this: as I begin each novel, I have NO idea. What happens to them? Who’s good or bad? Their motives. It always emerges as a big surprise. (Um, so far.)
In TRUTH BE TOLD, (which comes out this fall and for which I JUST received arcs, so keep reading) I introduce three new main characters.
Here’s how you’ll meet one of them:
Lizzie McDivitt typed out her name, letter by letter, on her new computer. Trying it out. Elizabeth McDivitt. Elizabeth Halloran McDivitt. Elizabeth H. McDivitt. The admin types needed the wording of the nameplate on her new office door, and she had to choose. First impression, all that.
Would her bank customers be more comfortable with her as the crisp and competent Liz? Or the elegant and experienced Elizabeth? Maybe this was the time to become Beth, the friendly-but-competent Beth. The motherly Bess?
Lizzie, well, that was a definite no. Lizzie was fine for her parents, and even for Aaron, but not here at the bank. ‘Lizzie’ sounded like the new kid, eager to please. Semi-true, of course, but not the image she needed. She needed…compassionate. Understanding. Her clients would be the needy ones, the out-of-work ones, the down-and outers who’d once had the assets to get a mortgage from A&A—but now had to scramble for refinancing and loan modifications.
She clicked her plastic ballpoint.
The bank had so much money. Her new customers had so little.
What would be the bad thing, she wondered, about making it a little more fair?
Aaron was still out for lunch, she guessed. She thought of him, his curls, and that smile, and what he’d actually said to her that first day back by the old vault. Their “tryst” last night, that ended—way too late--with her finally saying “no” and cabbing it home. She shook her head, remembering her girlfriends’ advice. You have to stop being so picky or you’ll be alone forever. True, Aaron was more than cute. True, he had a good job. So, okay, maybe. Even though he wasn’t exactly…
“Miss McDivitt? You ready for your one-thirty? Mr. and Mrs. Iantosca are here.”
“Thanks, Stephanie,” she said into the intercom. She punched up the Iantosca’s mortgage loan documents, a series of spreadsheets, tiny-fonted agreements and the decisive flurry of letters stored on the bank’s in-house software. The green numbers that were entered several years ago had gone red last summer, then bold red in the fall, then starting around the holidays, black-bordered bold red. By now, mid-May, Christian and Colleen Iantosca were underwater and in trouble.
So they thought.
She took off her black-rimmed glasses, considered, put them on again. Slicked her hair back, tucking a stray wisp into place. She checked her reflection on the computer monitor. Lipstick, fine. Portrait of a happy magna cum laude MBA. Good job, her own apartment, a potential boyfriend—she clasped her hands under her chin, thanking the universe and embracing her karma. Math geek no more. Future so bright, she ought to wear shades.
Liz, she decided. Compassionate, but knowledgeable. Approachable. And, starting today, starting now, Liz McDivitt was in control.
Aaron Gianelli waited on the front steps of the triple-decker, peeled the last of the waxed paper from his tuna melt wrap, took a final bite. A mayo-soaked glop narrowly missed his new cordovan loafer, landed on the concrete beside him. Too damn hot for a tuna melt, Aaron decided, too late, but this “meeting” was his only chance for lunch. He crumpled the paper, aimed, and hit the already-brimming dumpster over by the driveway.
His first score of the day.
If the others didn’t show up pretty damn soon, it’d be his only score. That, he could not afford. He wondered how his partner was doing, at his meeting. They’d talk later. Compare notes. Not that there were notes.
Standing, Aaron brushed the dust from his ass. Squinted out at Pomander Street. No cars. Nothing. They’d agreed to meet here 1:30. He checked his annoyingly silent cell phone. If they were going to be late, they should have called. If they were jerking him around, they’d be sorry. But no biggie. He’d find other customers.
He’d parked his car down the street, left his suit jacket inside, thank god. It was brutal out here. He’d be a sweat machine when he got back to the office, but the AC would take care of that before anyone noticed. And Lizzie would believe whatever he told her. He smiled. He loved Lizzie.
He patted his pockets, still smiling, feeling for the ring of keys. He’d go in without the clients, check it out. House was empty, that was certain. The bank had made sure of that.
Aaron was still smiling. He loved the bank.
And here’s new character number three.
“Good afternoon, gentlemen.” Peter Hardesty closed the interrogation room door behind him, plonked his leather briefcase on the metal table, held out a hand. He’d already heard the cops were calling this guy ‘The Confessor.’
Confessor or not, Gordon Thorley was innocent till proven guilty. And, like so many others Peter had represented, profoundly in need of counsel. In this place? Alone with a detective? A legal minefield.
“Who’re you?” Thorley twisted in his folding chair, scooted it as far from Peter as the cinderblock wall would let him, metal scraping against concrete. Thorley’s sallow skin stretched over sharp cheekbones, weary eyes too big. Peter could almost hear the guy’s brain shift gears. Surprise. Then fear. Then calculation. Thorley flickered a hard look at Peter, jerking a yellowed thumb in his direction. Spoke to the detective. “He a cop, too?”
“Holy sh—how’d you get in here, Hardesty? Who called you? Mr. Thorley here hasn’t asked for a lawyer.”
Peter recognized the plainclothes detective in the weary brown suit and ugly tie--Detective Branford Sherrey. “Bing” Sherry. Veteran cop, beloved of the district attorney’s office, and remarkable asshole. Now he looked like he’d been socked in his shirt-straining gut. Sucks when the system works, Peter thought. When you have to provide legal advice to a nutcase who’s trying get himself a life sentence. Justice. What a concept.
Liz, Aaron and Peter. Faithful readers will know at least one of my point of view characters sometimes doesn’t quite survive the entire book. How do I decide who lives and who dies? How do I decide who is good and who is bad? I will tell you, that’s the magic.
Because—if I’m lucky--they tell me.
And JUNGLE RED BREAKING NEWS—The Agatha-winning THE WRONG GIRL is now an Anthony nominee! And huge hurrahs to Red Julia, whose THROUGH THE EVIL DAYS is also an Anthony nom! YAY!
And oh, yes, that ARC of TRUTH BE TOLD! Let’s see…just guess which of the three characters is still alive at the end of the book, and tell me in the comments. I’ll pick a winner at random! (And I won't say if you’re right—but it’ll be fun to see later!
(And you’ll still buy the book, right? (Now available for pre-order!) No pressure, it’s just my career…..)