Tuesday, November 19, 2013

It's "What We're Writing" Week! Hank Tuesday

Continuing our new feature on Jungle Red: a week of posts on "What We're Writing." 

Hear the latest from:
Hallie Ephron Monday
Hank Phillippi Ryan Tuesday
Rhys Bowen Wednesday
Lucy Burdette Thursday
Deborah Crombie Friday
Julia Spencer Fleming Saturday
Susan Elia MacNeal Sunday 

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I'm trying to remember whose brilliant idea THIS was.  Showing our works in progress? I certainly would ever have agreed to...well, okay. Because we're among friends. And remember, this is a first draft.
You know I'm a TV reporter in--I almost said "real life"--and the main character of my books is  a newspaper reporter. Well, now she is--after she got fired from her TV job for protecting a source. People ask me--does your crime fiction come from your day job? 

Yes. And no. What happens to Jane Ryland is not my non-fiction life made into fiction. But her stresses, her passion, her complications, her experiences, her desire for a great story and for justice--all that's true.
I've done many stories about the housing crisis--in fact, our investigations have resulted in people getting their homes out of foreclosure (that one won an Emmy) and millions of dollars in refunds. Hmmm. This new book, TRUTH BE TOLD, takes the knowledge I gained from that research--and polishes, twists, expands and imagines.

How far would a person go to keep their home? What would if feel like if someone tried to take it? Or DID take it? How much of ourselves is wrapped up in that place that houses our families and our possessions and our histories? 
That's what I thought about while I was writing TRUTH BE TOLD.  
(Can you picture this scene? And in line 2, do I need "tall"?) 

                           TRUTH BE TOLD 

“I know it’s legal. But it’s terrible.” Jane Ryland winced as the Sandoval’s wooden bedframe hit the tall grass in the overgrown front yard and shattered into three jagged pieces. “The cops throwing someone’s stuff out the window. It’s right out of Dickens, you know? Eviction? There’s got to be a better way.”
Terrible facts. Great pictures.  A perfect newspaper story.  She turned to T.J. “You got that, right?”
T.J. didn’t take his eye from the viewfinder. “Rolling and recording,” he said.
A blue-shirted Suffolk County sheriff’s deputy--sleeves rolled up, buzz cut-- leaned out a front window, taking a swig from a plastic bottle. He shaded his eyes with one hand.
“First floor, all clear,” he called. Two uniforms comparing paperwork on the gravel driveway gave him a thumbs-up.  The Boston cops were detailed in, they’d explained to Jane, in case there were protesters. But no pickets or housing activists had appeared. Not even a curious neighbor. The deputy twisted the cap on the bottle, tossed the empty out the window. The bottle bounced on top of a brittle hedge, then disappeared into the browning grass.
“Oops,” he said. “I’m headed for the back.”
“That’s harsh,” T.J. muttered.
“You got it though, right?”  Jane knew it was a ‘moment’ for her story, revealing the deputy’s cavalier behavior while the Sandovals—she looked around, making sure the family hadn’t shown up—were off searching for a new place to live. The feds kept reporting the housing crisis was over. Tell that to the now-homeless Sandovals, crammed, temporarily they hoped, into a relative’s spare bedroom. Their modest ranch home in this cookie-cutter neighborhood was now an REO—real estate owned by Atlantic & Anchor Bank. The metal sign on the scrabby lawn said “foreclosed” in yellow block letters. Under the provisions of the Massachusetts Housing Court, the deputies were now in charge.
“Hey! Television! You can’t shoot here. It’s private property.”
Jane felt a hand clamp onto her bare arm. She twisted away, annoyed. Of course they could shoot.
 “Excuse me?” She eyed the guy’s three-piece pinstripe suit, ridiculous on a day like today. He must be melting. Still, being hot didn’t give him the right to be wrong. “We’re on the sidewalk. We can shoot whatever we can see and hear.”
Jane stashed her notebook into her totebag, then held out a hand, conciliatory. Maybe he knew something. “And not television.  Newspaper.  The new online edition. I’m Jane Ryland, from the Register.”
She paused. Lawyer, banker, bean counter, she predicted. For A & A Bank? Or the Sandovals? The Sandovals had already told her, on camera, how Elliot Sandoval had lost his construction job, and they were struggling on pregnant MaryLou’s day care salary. Struggling and failing.  
“I don’t care who you are.” The man crossed his arms over his chest, a chunky watch glinting, tortoise-shell sunglasses hiding his expression. “This is none of your business. You don’t tell your friend to shut off that camera, I’m telling the cops to stop you.”
You kidding me?  “Feel free, Mr.--?” Jane took her hand away. Felt a trickle of sweat down her back. Boston was baking in the throes of an unexpected May heat wave. Everyone was cranky. It was almost too hot to argue. “You’ll find we’re within our rights.”
The guy pulled out a phone. All she needed. And stupid, because the cops were right there. T.J. kept shooting, good for him.  Brand new at the Boston Register, T.J. Foy was hire number one in the paper’s fledgling on-line video news department. Jane was the first –and so far, only--reporter assigned.
“Here’s a chance to show off your years of TV experience,” the Register’s new city editor had insisted. “Make it work.”
Pleasing the new boss was never a bad thing, and truth be told, Jane could use a little employment security. She still suffered pangs from her unfair firing from Channel 11 a couple of years ago, but at least it didn’t haunt her every day. This was her new normal, especially now that newspapering was more like TV. “Multi-media,” her new editor called it.
“We’re doing a story on the housing crisis.” Jane smiled, trying again. “Remember the teenager who got killed last week on Springvale Street? Emily-Sue Ordway? Fell from a window, trying to get back into her parents’ foreclosed home?  We’re trying to show--it’s not about the houses so much as it is the people.”
“‘The people’ should pay their mortgage.” The man pointed to the clapboard house with his cell phone. “Then ‘the cops’ wouldn’t have to ‘remove’ their possessions.” 
Okay, so not a lawyer for the Sandovals.   But at least this jerk wasn’t dialing.
“Are you with A&A? With the bank?” Might as well be direct.
“That’s not any of--”
“Vitucci! Callum!” The deputy appeared in the open front door, one hand on each side of the doorjamb as if to keep himself upright. He held the screen door open with a foot. His smirk had vanished.  The two cops on the driveway alerted, inquiring.
“Huh? What’s up?” one asked.
“You getting this?” Jane whispered.  She didn’t want to ruin T.J.’s audio with her voice, but something was happening. Something the deputies hadn’t expected.
“Second floor. Back room.” The deputy pulled a radio from his belt pouch. Looked at it. Looked back at the cops. His shoulders sagged. “Shit.” 


HANK: So it's at my editor now, and I'm waiting (with fingers crossed) for her thoughts. She always has terrific suggestions about how to make it better--and I cannot wait to hear them. Sidebar: I'm hearing from a couple of people that they loved THE WRONG GIRL--but had been apprehensive about reading it, since they were adopted or had family who had adopted--and thought it would be too disturbing. Did any of you think that?  Hey! No worries. It's true and honest and you'll like it. Really.


  1. I loved “The Wrong Girl” . . . disturbing only in that someone might actually do such a thing in the first place . . . .

    It’s good to read that Jane has found some peace of mind with her newspaper reporting . . . . So, what’s in the second floor back room??? And who is the obnoxious guy in the three-piece suit??? Can’t wait to read the rest of this one . . . .

  2. Hank, I'm going to love this book.

    I think it's good to use "tall" there. That makes it clear what kind of grass it's hitting. It's not falling on a package of marijuana. It's falling on an unkempt lawn.

  3. I'm sure her comments will be terrific because it's a terrific scene! Great beginning. Thank you for sharing it with us. (Watch your first-line apostrophe on Sandovals', though...)

  4. Hank, I this week was my idea, but I'm also thinking of cheating on Thursday:).

    This is a terrific start--you know how to blast out of a beginning!

    (Have to disagree with Reine, though--you've got "overgrown" so don't think you need "tall")

    xoxo Lucy

  5. Lucy, NO CHEATING! ANd now I know who to blame..

    It's so funny how looking at this scene through YOUR eyes makes me see different things. It's one of my revision tricks, actually--to pretend I'm someone else.

  6. Hank, I can't wait to revisit with Jane and gang. You always manage to pick a topic that seems organic to the characters and still remains timely for the reader. This new one seems to follow that trend. ;)

  7. Can't wait!

    My humble opinion is -- change: "bedframe hit the tall grass in the overgrown front yard"
    to bedframe hit the overgrown front yard"
    I think cleaner and gives more of a picture of weeds, etc.

    I am reading your first books -- love!!! (Bought them at Shady Hill School fair.)

  8. Oh Miss Queen of the Opening Line: “I know it’s legal. But it’s terrible.”

    Another terrific one! And a great opening. It does feel weird, doesn't it, putting it out there...

  9. Thank you Hallie! Yes, it's almost scary. It IS scary.

    And thasnks, Kaye! xoxo How's WImsey 2 gonig?

  10. Kristopher! HOw wonderful of you..yes, exactly what I try to do. What would Jane really do? What would she really care about? ANd what kind of story would a thoughtful determined reporter feel is important?
    (And I bet you can predict how Detective Jake Brogan soon appears...)

  11. I am hooked. This is a great opening, Hank! I can't wait to read more.

  12. Great opening, Hank! Great opening line, too!!! You are master (mistress?) at that.

    And now I want to know what happens next...

    Lucy, no cheating! But I'm still trying to decide what to put up on Friday...

  13. Great opening! Can't wait to find out more. And my 2 cents for the edit - keep tall, but change overgrown to neglected.

  14. What a fantastic premise, and a great hook! I can't wait to see where this goes.

    As for "tall:" Honestly, I think the sentence works either way. "Tall" gives me the immediate picture a couple of words before "overgrown" fills it in more with weeds and such. But if you're on a "kill every unnecessary word" hunt, it works without it, too.

    And for me, it never fails: I can see a passage much more critically as soon as I share it with other people. Every time.

    Great, great work! Thanks for sharing!

  15. Again, I think all of you are so brave to let the world see WIPs. That said, Hank, this one had me from the beginning. It's going to be another winner.


  16. Oh yeah, I'm there, and itching to know what the cop found inside the house!

    Thanks for sharing, Hank. And I have to say to all the JRWs sharing this week -- I think it's brave of you. I appreciate seeing behind the scenes. It's inspirational.

    I'm with Lucy: Since you've got "overgrown" you don't need "tall." You could even call the grass "crabgrass" because isn't that the kind of grass that grows on untended lawns? (I pictured crabgrass while I was reading.)

  17. Was it a body, Hank? Was it a body that the officer found? I can't wait to read the finished product!

    You are all so brave this week to share your works in progress. It must feel like auditioning, except that you don't know how many people are "out there" in the audience! To me, that would be super scary!

  18. Oh, Ramona. xoxo Yeah, we went through a lot of them, as you well know. Sometimes it's easy, and sometimes it's--astonishingly difficult.

    What do the rest of you think??

  19. Oh, DebRo, I'll never tell!

    ANd yes, it is super scary.

  20. Another great opening line. How do you do it?

    I'm with Edith; I think the adjective "overgrown" makes the adjective "tall" unnecessary. And yes, watch the apostrophe on "Sandoval's" in the first graph.

    OMG, did I just offer criticism to Hank Phillippi Ryan? =)

  21. Oh… Lucy and Hank… I was being a little tongue in cheek. Marijuana? I love the scene. XO

  22. No, no, I'm putting in marijuana! Can't hurt..

    xoxoo :-)

    And I had decided--why didn't I think of that!--to change to "neglected." But then decided back. Maybe it isn't "neglected."
    Overthinking now. :-)

  23. For what it's worth, I think it's almost better if it's not "neglected," if we're supposed to sympathize with the homeowners. We've seen this story, some of us have even had it happen to people we know. If I picture the house and yard as well cared for, but a little overgrown in an early spring heat wave, I feel worse for the family.

    And I love the title! :)

  24. Yeah, LynnDee, "neglected" has a judgement attached. Overgrown, yes, and let us wonder about why.


  25. A MISTAKE IN THE FIRST LINE! Got to love it. Thanks, team. xo

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  27. I cannot wait, and especially loved this: “Excuse me?” She eyed the guy’s three-piece pinstripe suit, ridiculous on a day like today. He must be melting. Still, being hot didn’t give him the right to be wrong. “We’re on the sidewalk. We can shoot whatever we can see and hear.”

    Just from what you shared, I am already intrigued and eagerly look forward to reading the entire book. Recently did the same, sharing 3 paragraphs of something I'm writing in a FB post and was blown away by the positive feedback.

  28. Nice detail—overgrown. Like that. Lots!

    I can't believe you JRWs are doing this, this week. What are the chances a therapist might have been behind it?

    Hats off!


  29. Hi Hank

    Fantastic opening! ps my vote is to leave off the "tall." overgrown says it better.
    can't wait to read the book! when do you think it'll be due out?
    sandy gardner

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  31. Yeah, some therapy. A big lesson in second guessing. Or maybe--in friendship.

    Thanks, Becky! xo

    And Sandy--it should be out--if all goes as planned and SOMETIMES it does--next September. xo

  32. I like the tall grass in the overgrown lawn . . . good scene-setting.
    Even more, I want to know what they found and what's going to happen with this family, and who the creepy guy is and . . .
    when I can read this book . . . oh when?
    Yes, you have definitely hooked me.

  33. Perfect example of one of the things I was talking about while on tour, Hank: how crime fiction is dealing with social/economic issues that most other fiction slides past. Mortgage failures, evictions, unemployment...PLUS you just KNOW they've found a body back there.

    Can't wait to read it!

  34. Heck. I want to read this NOW!! ;)

    Pen M

  35. Well, thank you! This is all very reassuring..I will keep you posted! Watch for TRUTH BE TOLD next September! And ah...I am very grateful for your reactions..ooxox

  36. Hank,
    Great excerpt, and I love the title!! Of course your editor will love it:)

  37. Wow, you sure know how to hook me! Read it to my partner who now also is eager to get started on your earlier books.

    Great opening. Tells so much with few words - that's talent! (and a bit of work, I'm sure)