Thursday, April 18, 2013

Where Joy and Tragedy Meet

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: You may have noticed I haven't been here much over the past couple of days--my work as a reporter was blasted into fast forward by the horrible hideous unbelievable events in Boston. I announced it live, as it was happening...before we even knew anything for sure. I have no idea what I said..although I seem to think it began--"Breaking news now, we're getting word there was some kind of explosion at the finish line of the Marathon...."

 I've seen swat teams and armed guards stalking the empty streets, carrying assault weapons with their fingers hovering at the trigger. I've  interviewed everyone from vicitms' families to departing runners to law enforcement to the Governor. I said to him--"Someone is out there who bombed the Marathon. How do you tell the public everything will be okay...when you don't know that?"

My husband was inside the federal courthouse when it was evacuated for whatever happened. (And  what's actually pretty funny, he was live on the phone on Channel 7 reporting what was happening! )

Boston is--on edge, careful,  suspicious, and everyone is trying to pretend they're not terrified.
Normal is such a wonderful thought. We're all wishing things could go back to the way they were. But they won't.

And that's one reason I am so thrilled to have Andrew Gross here today. He's the nicest, most comforting, most normal guy you can imagine. Yes, a terrific writer. And also thoughtful, and compassionate and funny and loving. Exactly the perfect person to come to Jungle Reds today.


                         by Andrew Gross

Writing this, a day after the heartbreak in Boston, it feels a bit petty and mercantile to put together something charming and witty that every writer knows is basically a veiled promotion of my new book. It somehow seems fitting that Hank asked me to prepare something for this particular week, she being a TV reporter from Boston, me from New York, and that it happened to converge with the horrible events up there.

 In a similar way to how the extremes of joy and tragedy came together up there too. Colliding at that finish line. Joy. Tragedy. I’ve written of those things many times; it’s basically what I do. Take a likeable, everyday person, someone you’ve met a thousand times, a doctor on his way to a conference or a yoga mom, and through one fallible or ill-fated moment, rip apart their happy lives. I wrote on Facebook that the image of that eight year old boy, who at first was said to be reaching out to cheer on his dad crossing the finish line, will stay with me a long time. Maybe a bit shamefully perhaps-- at least for a while-- because I’ve drawn up such similar images in my books so many times.

But every writer will tell you its hard for fiction to keep up with reality in recent times.

When I’m asked, “Why thrillers...?” I always answer that in my view thrillers are absolutely the most relevant form of fiction being written today, as they best reflect the real issues and crises that mirror our world. Thriller writers are rarely MFA candidates; they’re journalists, and ex-CIA agents; and doctors and lawyers and cops whose broad experiences inform their craft—and then I say that I understudied for a career writing about crime by spending twenty years in the women’s apparel business.

That’s my only yuk, but I do feel I probably got the better education.

How I made that transition s a story in itself, but my point here is that thrillers matter. And they matter by not just taking stories off the front pages, but also in how those stories grab the heart. It’s my goal to invest the reader in the plight of my hero within the first ten pages—something I learned from writing with Patterson, who understood early the intersection between joy and tragedy. Likeable, everyday people who on a hundred other days would just go on with their lives, but today will be different. And I choose to write about families, because family is the universal back story, isn’t it?

 And I always go for an emotional affirmation at the end. After the bullets stop flying and the chase cars screech to a stop, what I want you to take away from one of my books is a dad who had to save his family, not such himself; or a suburban mom who slipped in a moment of weakness and now, when accused of two murders she didn’t commit, doesn’t just have to just prove her innocence, but has to regain the trust of her kids as well. What I always go for, I realized, as I watched the newsclip from Boston over and over, is that eight year old boy.

Which brings me again to yesterday’s events one more time.

There is a moment in NO WAY BACK (just out this past week by the way—couldn’t resist!), where Wendy Gould is at a hotel bar waiting for a friend where an attractive stranger starts up a conversation, thinking she’s got her eye on an overhead baseball game.

“Yanks or Red Sox?” he asks.

“Yanks, of course,” she says. “Born and bred. South shore.”

“Sox,” he replies. “South Boston. Okay, Brookline, if you beat it out of me.” That random start leads to a one-in-a-million series of events in which Wendy’s happy, suburban life will never be the same.

As a New Yorker who grew up hating the Red Sox, Celtics and the Bruins, I guess we share a common bond with Bostonians right now.

Thanks for inviting me to share these thoughts.

HANK: Thank you, Andrew. And thank you all. And I can tell you--everything will be okay. 
Andrew Gross is an incredibly successful New York Times best-selling author. (You know this, right? And before he started writing on his own,  he wrote six books (at least) with James Patterson. Whoa.) Of his new book, NO WAY BACK, Publisher's Weekly says" "A fevered stand-alone. Tense, false clues, narrow escapes. The action spins to an exciting ending."  And if you've read this far, thank you. And lucky you.  Leave a comment.and you'll be in the running for a free copy from Jungle Red!


  1. Even though there are many of us who are physically far from Boston, the same agony grips all of us . . . it steals your breath, numbs your thoughts, drives you to your knees. Together we keep watch with Boston’s brave souls and pray hard. There’s never any understanding for such horrific acts; perhaps the fact that we cannot understand, that together we keep on keeping on . . . perhaps that is the truth that defines our humanity. Sometimes words simply fail us, and even if all we can offer is a long-distance hug and a prayer, it is that indomitable spirit that carries us through the uncertain days in which everything is redefined . . . strengthened by the knowledge that the spirit that draws us together is the one thing that will never, ever change . . . .

  2. Hank, thank you. This what I needed right now. I wanted so much to be back in Boston sitting in my office and watching your report. But this was good.

    I can't watch the places back home without crying. I feel hyperconnected. Because I am not there, the familiar grabs me and forces a memory on me. The memories of places that would have made me smile a week ago, make me cry today.

    Yesterday it was an interview outside Ashmont Station near my grandmother's house. My cousins still live there. Then it was the library in Copley Square. I could see the spot across the street where the Muffin House used to be, near Trinity Church -- my first date with Scott. Tomorrow it will be the interfaith service at Holy Cross Cathedral, where I was confirmed. Those memories are now changed, forever distorted.

    Yes, thrillers are the most relevant form of fiction today and so very appropriate that you are here today, Andrew. I look forward to reading your latest, NO WAY BACK. You hooked me in the hotel bar scene! And I'll forgive you for hating the Red Sox, because the Yankees suck.

  3. Nice post, Andy. Your stories are the kind I have loved since finding Elmore Leonard a few decades ago -- Joe Average getting swept up in something and performing like a hero. It really lets the reader go along for the ride and BE that hero. I would also love to read more about your experiences with Patterson, including more story-writing tips like the 10-page "investment" rule. Have you written anything?

  4. Thank you, Hank. Thank you for sharing with us during this horrible (and extremely busy) time for you.

    Like Reine, I am always connected to Boston. I spent my first few years (after being born in Maine) in Dorchester, not far from where little martin Richard's family is from. I know that that tight-knit community is grieving right now but will come together in a big way. Just like Boston in general. And since I've only lived in Maine and Massachusetts, I've always celebrated Patriots Day. There's always been that connection. And Boston is the center of New England as a whole (if not the universe, according to some.) So all of New England feels a piece of the loss and sorrow.

    And thank you, Andrew. How have I missed your books? Needless to say my TBR list just grew. And I grew up a Sox fan but the way the Yankees responded to this tragedy was amazing.

  5. Hey, Andrew! So happy to see you here on Jungle Red! Congratulations on the new book, and this very thoughtful essay.

    I think after something so horrific happens, we want to scream in anger, do something (anything!) to help... It's a comfort to read a story in which evil is unmasked and punished. Voila: thriller.

  6. Andrew, I too am a sucker for thrillers and a NYY fan. There are no words for the irony - and sadness - of this situation. I work in NYC so very well know the look and feel of police and military constantly scouring and watching. It's comforting and scary at the same time.

    I love stories that tell of the average person whose world is thrown upside down because of a single event. Just can't get enough of it. I wish you the best of luck with your latest release.

  7. Just arrived at the station..and the city is stil full of armed security--I smile at them: thank you.

    How wonderful was that national anthem! Did you hear it?

  8. Oh, Hank. Rene Rancourt always does a terrific job but last night was amazing - and he had help! And the photo montage the Bruins showed was great. Even the salute at the end of the game was touching. I imagine Friday night's Sox game will be something special.

  9. Andrew and Hank:
    Aside from the vast machinery involved in first-response, detection/investigation/pursuit, it may be that humor is the only way to neuter terror and terrorists. By reducing shock and horror to a joke, yes, damage is done to respect owed to victims. But it also offers defiance to evil. By refusing to be broken, dropped for the count, etc., the person who throws back a comeback reduces some of the power in chaos.

  10. Such a hard time for all, I think. My parents were briefly trapped under Copley while on the T, returning from a post-cancer check-up. My mother could not say enough about the "kind young people who kept them informed, found them the best stop to get off at, and led them in the right direction to get back to North Station." Young people probably being 40ish. :) But that's the take-away, right? No matter what, we humans can pull together and help each other. Thanks for the great post, Andrew. I'm looking forward to reading the new book--I love suspense.

  11. Barry, you are so right...the defiance element is strong in Boston right now..and it's very powerful.

    Lexie's mom--I can just picture that. I interviewed a woman from Australia, a runner, and she was wearing a parka that a passing stranger had just--given her.

  12. What perfect timing for this post. Boston has suffered a tragedy that no city or people anywhere in the world should ever have to suffer. It's so sad that such violence occurs in real life and not just in fiction. Thanks Andy for a terrific post and thank you, Hank, for your dedication and perseverance during these difficult times!

    I'm not a big Red Sox fan, but hey, maybe I'll root for them this year!

  13. Terry, we can use all the support you can give! (And hey, it might become a habit...)

  14. The world has gone mad, it seems. Thank you, authors, for helping to keep our minds off the insanity, and for helping us make better sense of the world through your finely observed character sketches and stories. It really does help.

  15. Thanks, Hank, and thanks, Andrew, for a great post. I think so much of what we as thriller and mystery writers do is to try to reaffirm the ordinary. The case will be solved and justice will be served... "Comfort" may be an odd word to use in connection with a thriller, but that's what we need to help us cope with frightening real-life events.

    But while there are crazy and bad people in the world, I am struck once again after the terrible events in Boston, and again after the disaster in the little town of West, Texas, yesterday (unlike Boston, this is not thought to have been deliberate) by the kindness, generosity, and willingness to sacrifice of ordinary people.

    And Andrew, now I have to read NO WAY BACK! How could I stand NOT to know what happened to the woman in the bar???

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  17. This is a great post, and really puts things in a different perspective -- especially for us who aren't local.

  18. I commented here about 2:30 this morning, so I thought maybe I should double check what I'd written. I just hope everyone knows that I love the Yankees, now and forever. Alright, it didn't hurt too much to say that, probably because I really mean it. <3

  19. And mysteries do it for me, too. Some days thrillers are too relevant, but I must have my share. Debs is right. They both do it. They both right the wrong.

  20. Reine, a fertilizer plant exploded about 8 p.m. last night in the little town of West, near Waco. The report of the number of casualties is not as high this morning as it was last night, but a good part of the town was destroyed. There was a fire before the explosion, and most of the first responders are still unaccounted for. This small, family-owned plant was one of the few that still sold dry ammonium nitrate. The explosion looked like a nuclear bomb, and is being reported as one of the largest US industrial accidents in recent history.

  21. I must look for your book Andrew. It sounds like a must-read. Those poor folks in West. That used to be a kolache stop for me years ago. As it is I drove through there twice last week going to and coming from a family memorial service. And a group from Houston were in Boston running; fortunately none of them were hurt. Life is certainly difficult at times, isn't it. You just have to keep plugging away and relish the good.

  22. Debs, I am so sorry to hear that. Thank you for explaining it to me. I'll have to go turn the TV on now.

  23. Andrew, thank you for the fine explication of the role crime fiction plays in offering readers examples of courage, tenacity, and the restoration of civilization at the end.

    Hank, we're all thinking of Boston and rooting for the indomitable spirit you all have shown so often.

  24. Oh, thank you, Linda...

    I'm sitting at my desk, looking at hundreds of marathon photos sent by the public, looking for pictures of the suspects. SIgh. Incredible to be doing this...

  25. Hank,
    Here in NY, Boston is in our hearts.

  26. Andrew - loved the post - I will be putting you on the list of authors to check out after I finish my latest stack of book.
    Hank - All you can do is keep your cool and do what you do. It is a very trying time. we have heard the statement, "We are all Bostonians". well in many ways, I am a Bostonian since I spent my "bright college days" at Northeastern U.
    We can hope that this fog will be lifted over the city to allow her to properly heal, move forward, and return to her glory!
    Boston Strong!

  27. Thanks, Hank! We love Boston and will return to visit again! Also love suspense and will definitely have to read your new book, Andrew! Gave me goosebumps tonight to watch Bostonians cheering "USA, USA!" after they captured the 2nd suspect! My heart goes out to all who lost someone or were injured. The whole country is thinking and praying for you!