HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: It’s “what we’re writing” week! And I am deeply in the midst of (you heard it here first) WHAT YOU SEE, the next Jake and Jane novel.
I am also deeply into author-crazy. TRUTH BE TOLD comes out October 7 (you may hear a bit more about that around these parts), and the author-crazy comes from knowing the reviews are about to start. And I’ve just received advance notice of two of them…and I’ll reveal (!!!) below.
But first. There’s a question that some authors loathe...but I love. And that is: where do your stories come from? Some authors answer with caustic throw-aways—Schenectady, says one very famous guy. The grocery, says another.
But I think “where do your stories come from” is fascinating. I recently heard Jacqueline Winspear talk about her new book, and she has an amazing book-birth story. Hallie, too. And Susan.
And as for TRUTH BE TOLD, (And oh, did I tell you it it’s a Library Journal Editor's Pick? Whoo hoo!) I can tell you exactly where it came from.
It’s a puzzle of four parts.
The first? My husband is a criminal defense attorney. When we first met, I asked: Have you ever had a murder case where the defendant was convicted, but you still thought they were innocent?" His eyes softened a bit, and then he said: “Yes.” The man was charged with murder in the death of a young woman—the prosecution said he had lured her to a forest, and tied her to a tree.
The first time Jonathan represented the man, the case ended in a hung jury. The state brought the charges again, and again Jonathan represented him, and again, a hung jury.
The state brought the charges again, and the defendant—well, let’s just say he decided he wanted to handle the case his own way this time. Jonathan disagreed. The man got a different lawyer. He was convicted, and is still in prison.
Jonathan told me he still, to this day, thinks the man is innocent.
Another puzzle piece? Another of Jonathan’s cases. A man in prison, incarcerated with a life sentence for shaking a baby to death, recently confessed to a cold-case murder. It’s very unlikely that he actually did it—so why would he confess?
Another puzzle piece. We recently did a big story on abandoned homes in Boston. They are all places the banks have foreclosed on, where the owners have been evicted, and the houses are now empty. All are for sale. Many of them are neglected, with broken windows and overgrown lawns. But some are in good shape. While I was interviewing the head of Boston’s Inspectional Services Department about this, I began to wonder. What could be going on inside those forgotten empty houses?
I also thought about the people who had been evicted from those homes. People who’d gotten mortgages from banks with lots of money, but who through some failure of their lives, some catastrophe or disaster, some wrong decision or bad luck had not been able to keep up the payments. Wouldn’t there be something that could have ben done to prevent that? If a banker-type really cared about their customers, wouldn’t there be something that could be done to keep people out of foreclosure?
And finally, I was sitting at the computer in my TV station office, writing a story, and thinking about why I do what I do as a reporter. It’s making history, I decided. It’s creating the record of what happened in our lives, the comings and goings, that issues and the solutions, the documentation of how we live. And people believe it, right? What’s on TV and in the newspapers becomes a resource by which all is remembered and relied on.
And then I thought—what if some reporter decided not to tell the truth? Not big discoverable lie, but simply—little things. A sound bite, a reaction, a quote. Who would know? What difference might that make? And what would happen when the truth was finally told?
And in the way we all do as authors, by spinning and polishing and twisting and turning, and shooting it full of a lot of adrenaline and a little romance, I got the key elements of TRUTH BE TOLD:
A mortgage banker turned Robin Hood decides to manipulate bank records to keep people out of foreclosure, a murder victim is found in a foreclosed home, a man confesses to the unsolved Lilac Sunday murder, and a reporter makes stuff up.
And now you know exactly where it came from.
Reviews? So far—so fabulous. Publisher’s Weekly says:
"Smart, well-paced…Ryan cleverly ties the plot together, offers surprising but believable plot twists, and skillfully characterizes the supporting cast."
And whew, Kirkus says:
"Foreclosure fraud entwines with a 20-year-old murder case in the latest knotty, engrossing mystery-thriller by an award-winning Boston journalist... Ryan seasons her mix with vivid Boston local color and caustic observations on new media—which one would expect from a journalist who's won even more awards for her TV reporting than she has for her mysteries. Ryland and Brogan are such a cute couple that you wonder how long it'll be before somebody makes a TV series out of them."
And here’s a tiny bit from Chapter 2.
“Why would he confess if he didn’t do it?” Detective Jake Brogan peered through the smoky one-way glass at the guy slumped in the folding chair of Boston Police Department’s interrogation room E. What Jane would probably call “skeevy,” too-long hair scraggling over one ear; ratty jacket; black T-shirt; tired tan pants. Thin. Late thirties, at least, more like forty. How old would Gordon Thorley have been in 1994, when Carley Marie Schaefer was killed? Late teens, at most. Around the same age as Carley. “This guy Thorley just shows up here at HQ and insists he’s guilty? You ever seen that? Heard of that?”
“Let’s get some lunch. Ask questions later.” DeLuca jammed his empty paper coffee cup into the overflowing metal trash bin in the hall outside the interrogation room. “Sherrey will get all we need, give us his intake notes after. Could be a bird in the hand.”
“Not exactly ‘in the hand,’” Jake said. “If he’s a whack job. There’s also that old ‘innocent till proven guilty’ thing.”
HANK: So, Reds and readers, do you like to know where a story came from? Or would you rather believe it’s all a product of the author’s imagination?
And pssst. I have an ARC of TRUTH BE TOLD for one commenter!