HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: What we're writing? I'm in the "after we've written" part--on the SAY NO MORE book tour! And loving it.
Here's one shot of launch night!
and here's C. J. Box and Linwood Barclay with me at Poisoned Pen (where the fabulous Rhys came to the Sunday event!)
and with...Diana Gabaldon!
And in Denver at Tattered Cover with our own Laura DiSilverio (and a bad case of altitude sickness..)
Right now I’m in such a chic hotel room in Madison Wisconsin, getting ready to speak at Mystery To Me Bookstore, a beautiful independent in the heart of this vibrant college town.
I took a walk down a quaint little street to enjoy the beautiful fall day, and pretend everything was normal, and say hi to the bookstore. (What a treat to see it! Not only was SAY NO MORE in the window, and prominently on the shelf, but also saw an ENTIRE shelf of just Rhys!)
The bookstore owner was so happy to see me, and it was so touching and lovely. And we talked a bit about bookstore appearances and how they are getting fewer and farther betweener. About how even the biggest of book big shots often fail to draw a crowd—so true! I have been to some events at various bookstores to see authors I consider must-reads and must-sees, and the attendance is sparse.
Some authors hate to do it—because it takes a lot of time, it’s exhausting and stressful...and in the end, hard to quantify whether it’s worth it.
As you all well know, I am a big proponent of “worth it.”
Thursday (tonight!) to celebrate SAY NO MORE I will be at the wonderful Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont—and I know some of you are in the vicinity! Come say hello.
And wow—it is getting amazing reviews—The Washington Post calls it “stellar”! I am floating! But one of my favorite review words comes from Publisher’s Weekly—which gives it a rave, and calls it “unflinching.”
Part of that, I hope, comes from my portrayal of a victim of campus sexual assault. Ripped from the headlines? Yes, except remember I wrote this two years ago, and, sadly campus sexual assault is even more in the headlines now. You know the stats: it happens to one in five college women. Most often in the first week of classes—so dangerous, that week is known as The Red Zone. And 150 colleges are under federal investigation for failing to report the incidents.
So here’s a little from SAY NO MORE from the point of view of a young victim/survivor, a students at Adams Bay College, named Isabel Russo. She’s so traumatized about her assault, she can’t bring herself to leave her apartment.
Isabel looked at the checkerboard of days on her August calendar, the one she’d found online and printed on the portable device set up by the coffee-maker on her kitchen counter. It was a high point of her day, she had to admit, when she got to obliterate another square, the big black Magic Marker X reassuring her she was one step closer to graduation. One day closer to leaving Adams Bay College, leaving Boston, leaving her old life behind and going somewhere, anywhere, anyplace no one knew her. Where no one knew what had happened to her. And where they never ever ever would. She would never say a word.
She stared at the remaining calendar squares. So many of them. Every day at six p.m. she crossed off that day. If she did it in the morning, the day wasn’t truly over yet, so the moment wasn’t as meaningful.
Twenty years old, she thought, as she poised the thick black Sharpie over the square marked “Monday.” And I am counting the days until I can leave this apartment.
Apartment. She looked around the little place she’d called home since she came to Boston going on four years ago, full of hope and excitement, full of her future as a performer or teacher or both. She’d gotten good news on the very first day, when she’d won the school’s freshman housing lottery and was allowed to opt out of Adams Bay’s notoriously crowded dorms. Her mother, to her wild delight, had agreed to pay the extra it would cost.
At first, Isabel adored her new home base. She painted most of it pale blue, one wall pristine china white. Hand-stitched—because who has a sewing machine?—curtains from yards of blue-striped linen, installed with expandable rods from CVS. As inspiration, she arranged her framed posters of Maria Callas singing Tosca and Mirella Freni as Mimi, and in a fit of do-it-yourself fervor, successfully installed her little corner-mounted speakers. She put two potted scheffleras and a folding chair on her tiny wrought-iron balcony, a fire escape, really, overlooking Kenmore Square. She invited classmates to visit, and they’d drunk Nebbiolo and listened to her vinyl and compared, well, notes. The whole scene was cool, proof she was independent and free and grown-up and on her own.
Since last semester, though—last May, to be exact, one Friday night in May, to be horribly exact—her apartment had been all about allowing her to be apart: an apart-ment. She wished she could be apart from everything.
An email pinged her attention. Professor Ruth Tully. Again wanting her to come to the summer semester’s final Music Theory 301 classes in person, not rely on notes and online lectures. All the classes had video hookups for those who were disabled, or sick, or for when the winter weather was so miserable that attendance would be difficult for commuting students. The college-by-video thing was Isabel’s lifesaver now. If Isabel didn’t have to go outside—not set one foot outside, not ever, not ever again . . .
She pursed her lips, focused on the sunlight fracturing through the faceted crystal she’d hung from a thin wire over her kitchen window. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet . . . silently she named the colors. The world was still beautiful, she needed to remember.
“Sorry, Professor,” she typed. “I’ll do video. Thanks.”
Send. Done. With only a twinge of regret. Professor Tully was very sweet to care about her so much. Isabel wondered if she suspected something. Professor Morgan, too, sometimes inquired, wondering why Isabel was no longer attending her gatherings.
Obviously when a once-proficient classical music student vanishes from class, something is going on. But her professors, even well-meaning ones, could pry only so far.
Someday she’d be able to go outside again. She’d tried it already, several times. But when she stepped out into the hallway, or smelled the—anyway. It became surprisingly easy to keep to herself. Friends faded away, most of them. She ordered food from the delivery place, got books online, and sent assignments via e-mail. She had her music. She listened to her operas. She practiced her pieces. She could manage better in another reality. In someone else’s story.
She would have transferred out of Adams Bay instantly, after the event. But she’d have lost her tuition. And credits.
“You’re fine. You’ll be fine.” She could hear her mother’s voice. How could she know about “fine”? But then her mother, long-distance from St. Louis, had closed the door. And locked it. “We cannot afford it, not anymore. And we cannot tell your brother. It would kill him.”
And there it was, the hierarchy, the family relationships in one little sentence. Who mattered, and who didn’t.
Here at “home” she didn’t have to touch anyone else. Or smell any- one. Or look into anyone’s eyes.
Nothing had happened to “him,” of course. She’d never say his name again. Never even think it. Never poison her mind with it. She’d make him a no one, a nobody, exactly as he’d done to her.
She looked up, glanced around as if someone could be watching. It always felt as if someone were, which was ridic. But Dame Callas’s darkly disapproving eyes seemed to stare right at her, and Mirella’s sweet expression had turned to pity. Isabel blinked, dismissing her fantasy. They’re only posters. She looked at her watch. 6:30. Gormay on the Way would arrive in an hour.
She had time.
She clicked into Facebook, hit the bookmark for his profile. Smiling, smiling, smiling. It was like this every day. Why did she keep looking? She went to Instagram, checked his IG photos. She’d watched as his friend list grew, saw him amass endless “likes” with his stupid sports and silly pop concert tickets and dumb jokes. He’d gotten a new car, she saw, scanning the newest photos. Another new girlfriend. She was smiling, too, even kind of seemed familiar. She clicked away from the heart-twisting, stomach-turning site. Enough.
Her next stop was always the “help” sites. Somehow, not being alone in her grief was reassuring. Even though it should have been chilling. But she had to look, once a day, every day.
Sexually assaulted on campus? We want to hear your story.
The headline on the Facebook “WE CAN HELP” home page was so shocking, so surprising, so unexpected, she blinked at it, willing her eyes to go back into focus. The postage-stamp-sized icon was of a scale of justice. “Maybe you can prevent this from happening to someone else,” the article began. “Make a difference,” it said. “Take back the power.”
“Click here,” it said.
She looked up again. It really felt as if someone was watching. The back of her neck prickled, and she could hear the silence.
Click? She could not do it. Why should she? All these hours she’d spent, making this place her refuge. Give that up with a click? No. She’d created a tiny bit of peace out of her shambles of a life. No way would she ever relive or talk about it again.
But how could it hurt just to see? “Prevent this from happening to someone else,” it said. She’d never wish her burden on anyone. Could she help instead? She touched her forefinger to the silver mouse. And pushed.
She steeled herself, waiting, not sure what to expect. Could they trace this? Know who she was? Should she close the computer, forget about it, fade to black? Maybe this was the biggest mistake she’d ever made.
She leaned her head back against the top rail of her kitchen chair, crossed her arms, felt the warmth of her bare skin. Briefly closed her eyes. No. The biggest mistake she’d ever made was going to that party.
She shook her head, wondering. It was an odd relief, maybe, to understand that nothing worse could ever happen to her. Maybe that was her power. Isabel paused, fingers poised over her keyboard. Thinking about the phone number now on the screen. Should she call?
The atmosphere of the room changed—a flicker of shadow through the maple tree outside, then a single shaft of light glinted a rainbow on her keyboard, the spectrum of colors changing, dancing, playing across her fingers. Smiling in spite of herself, she looked up to see her little window crystal twisting in the resolute sunshine.
HANK: I cannot wait for you to find out what happens to Isabel---because she meets my protagonist, reporter Jane Ryland.
And thank you, every one of you, for your enthusiasm and support and affection. We have each other, we really do.
So again: When a big name author comes to town, or a personal favorite do you go to your local bookstore and see them? Why and why not?