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: sweet of you. And I'm blushing. Coming from YOU, Debs!

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.

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.

How are you and Charlie alike, and how are you different?

: 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.

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!

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?


  1. Oh, thank you, Deb, for the perfect questions..and very kind words...xoxo

    Whoa. Look at that red number! Is that RO? (I dont think so...) Can you imagine walking into Malice in THAT? (YOu'll recognize me in the black, I betcha....)

    HOw about the rest of you..are you packed? (Joking...) Who's going?

  2. Hank, we're all so thrilled that DRIVE TIME has been nominated for an Agatha -- wish I was going to Malice to clap when your nominated titles are announced.

    As you say, your day job has fed what I never realized is actually your night job (writing!) -- and I know you take inspiration from real stories. Are there pitfalls associated with that? Is there information that you gather from real investigative reporting that you would not/could not put in a book?

    And what's coming next for you??

  3. Thanks, Austin! xoxoo

    AH, Hallie, so lovely of you. IS there something I wouldn't use? Well, no! It's all very couched and altered and twisted and disguised, so no one would ever recognize what any of it was..(did that make ANY sense?)

    So no,actually, it's all fodder! And it works out very nicely that my day-job research gets tweaked into night-job material.

    Plus--it's not just stories, you know? It's how a guilty person behaves, and what a prison looks like, and how a DA talks, and how a police officer stands...

  4. I have, sure, Hallie. I don't do separate ones for the books--but I've done plenty for my day job!

    Even the feeling of powering through a red light, you know? Watching cars move out of the way?
    Or how the back seat of some police cars are plastic, without padding. And the back doors won't open from the inside.

  5. I'm exhausted just reading about your busy schedule! (You always seem so calm and rested.) Best of luck on the Agatha!

  6. Yay Hank! Great interview and I'll be cheering for you at Malice.

  7. I've always said there are more hours in Hank's day than there are in anyone else's. It's not just that she gets so much done, it's that she does it all brilliantly!

  8. Hey,Alan, congratulatinos to you, too!! (Have YOU decided what to wear?)

    *I* always seem *calm* and *rested*??? Awww, I fooled you. But thanks...


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  10. Hi Hank. I'll be cheering for you at Malice! I just finished Drive Time two weeks ago. I couldn't put it down! I'm so excited that you were nominated for the award. I met you in Myrtle Beach at the South Carolina Writer's conference. I'm very excited to be going to Malice this year. I hope to see you there!
    Nancy Jo

  11. I truly am impressed by Hank's a ability to crank out top books. I know from experience how tough a business TV news is...especially during sweeps months. Hurray to you, Hank for being able to tell real life stories as well as fiction.

  12. Nancy Jo, that's marvelous! Thank you. And eager to see you again at Malice--Find me, okay?

  13. AH, Julie, thank you--you and I have the same life. I still think we should go on the road's the new book?

  14. I want to know how Hank manages to look so good on so little sleep. Sigh . . .

  15. Hank, congratulations on the nomination, and I hope you find time in your busy schedule to buy a new fun outfit for the awards ceremony! Sometimes the shopping ritual can brighten your entire experience (speaking as the mother of a toddler, the ritual has taken on a whole new meaning for me, since it now happens so rarely).

    I'm curious, did you ever have people in the publishing business criticize your choice of writing first-person, present tense? My current decade-long work-in-progress (egad) was in the same format, till I was told that present tense books rarely sell, and I should switch to simple past. I've done it, and don't mind the change, it's a bit more efficient. But I admire your sticking with the present tense when a lot of people seem to be against it. Doing it well is so hard.

    Congratulations on your dual careers, as well! My mom used to be a writer-producer for KRON Channel 4 News in San Francisco during the late 70s. But she quit that after meeting my dad when he came in for an interview (incidentally, not with her, but with a colleague she couldn't stand--ironic, isn't it?). I can't imagine how you find the time to do news reporting and writing novels at once! Your drive is amazing.

    Best of luck at Malice, and thanks for taking the time here at JR, on top of everything else you do! ^_^

  16. Rebecca, whata very sweet story! I met my husband, too, doing an interview with him. But we didn't start dating til TEN years later--and when we started comparing notes, we realized we had met before.

    FIrst person. Well, I didn't get
    one bit of criticism or comment when we were offering the book--thinking back, no publisher/editor mentioned it.

    Now, readers--that's another story. At one event, a couple came up to me, all effusive, saying they'd heard so much about my books, could not WAIT to read them, all that.

    They picked up PRIME TIME, which had just won the Agatha, flipped through it. One looked at the other--and said--with an expresion like rotten eggs: "First person."

    They closed the book, put it down, and walked away.

  17. ANd Rebecca? My new work-in-progress is third person, past tense.
    And to me, it's very very difficult.

  18. Hank, I completely understand how difficult 3rd person is, and I wish you all the best finding a voice you're happy with in the new book. My only concern is once I finish this decade-long novel, what will my next character voice sound like? My first person character's voice has lived in my head for so long, I have no idea what it will be like to write something different. Whenever I write in third person for something else, it feels somewhat odd.

    And sorry if I didn't make my question on POV clear--I was told people dislike present tense, not first person. There are so many successful first person novels out there, but it seems more rare to find present tense. So I was more curious about present tense, how much resistance you had from writing that.

    But seriously, those people who effused about your book, then walked off without a copy because it was in first person? Wow. There's a reader with a limited perspective, if you ask me. Fiction should push our expectations, even as it satisfies them--at least, I should hope so, anyway.

    How fun that you met your husband in an interview, too! My mom only got brought into the interview with my dad because the jerky colleague needed to borrow her cameraman. She only let him as long as she tagged along. Good thing that she did, or I wouldn't be here! :p

  19. Hank,

    You are a great role model. You are such a success at both reporting and writing. I'll be cheering for you, and I'll have everything crossed that I can cross for you to win.

    I love 1st person POV, but I've met some 1st Person "non-fans," too. Have fun trying your hand at 3rd person. I'm sure you'll write another wonderful book.

    Good luck and great interview!

    Ann Charles

  20. Hank, I wish you well at Malice. How about purple for the dress?

    Oh, and yes your books do keep up at night. It is so worth it.

  21. Hank! What a busy woman you are today!!!

    I vote red for your Malice dress, yes. You look great in red!

    Having been an early Drive Time reader, you know how much I love it! Congratulations again on your nomination and Good Luck! WISH I could be there!

    (You and Deb make a great team).

  22. Pat..purple? Well...lemme think. And thank you, so much. You are such a dear pal...

  23. Rebecca..oh, present tense. Ah, so, no one mentioned that, either. It was not a decision, you know? It's just how it came out.

    And, more than you ever needed to know...I have trouble with past tense. We write, we can discuss always feels strange to me. I keep's already happened, so why do I care? Silly me, I know.

    Tp get myself in the groove, I say to myself: Once upon a time, there was...and that's such a familiar construct, I can go ahead. asked. Xoxo

  24. Ann, thank you! What a compliment,, coming from you, the queen of VOICE! What'S the latest on your new book?

  25. Kaye, thank you so much for inviting me today to your Meanderings and Muses..what a true writers-readers connection....
    And didn't we have a great discussion about the amazing Paul Simon? And lyrics as literature? I hope you'll invite me back....xoxox

  26. Kaye, thank you so much for inviting me today to your Meanderings and Muses..what a true writers-readers connection....
    And didn't we have a great discussion about the amazing Paul Simon? And lyrics as literature? I hope you'll invite me back....xoxox

  27. Hank, you make me blush. Optical Delusions in Deadwood out in a few weeks. Woot woot! I'll send you the cover when it's ready--sneak peak. :)

  28. congrats again Hank and more fingers will be crossed up here in CT! We're so proud of you!

    I have to agree about complaints regarding present tense. Except truly in your books it feels completely natural--does not draw attention to itself.

    Hope the vacation was soooo restful! xoxo

  29. Hank, I join the crowd in wishing you success at Malice! Your upbeat energy is contagious! Can't wait for your next book!

  30. Oh, Coco! Thank you..and looking forward to it! xo

    Conratulations on SHE HAD TO KNOW If anyone hasn't seen your booktrailer--here's the link!

  31. Hey congrats Hank. Hope you snag another award!!