Along with her 26 EMMYs, Hank’s won also won dozens of other journalism honors. She's been a radio reporter, a proofreader, a legislative aide in the United States Senate (working on the Freedom of Information Act) and an editorial assistant at Rolling Stone Magazine (working with Hunter S. Thompson).
Her first mysteries, Prime Time (which just won the prestigious Agatha Award for Best First Novel of 2007, and is a double RITA nominee for Best First Book and Best Romantic Suspense Novel of 2007, a DAPHNE nominee, and a 2007 Reviewers' Choice Award Winner) and Face Time (Book Sense Notable Book), were best sellers. They'll both be re-issued in 2009 as MIRA Books. The next in the series, Air Time and Drive Time, are also coming soon from MIRA Books
She and her husband, a criminal defense and civil rights attorney, live near Boston.
We've spiffed up the Playground today, installed lights, microphones, video monitors and a teleprompter, and we'll be live in five, four, three, two... Take it away, Hank!
I’ve wired myself with hidden cameras, confronted corrupt politicians and chased down criminals. As a television reporter for the past thirty (yikes) years, I’ve battled ice storms, hurricanes, and power outages. In my fledgling days, I covered basketball games, cat shows and science fairs...then moved on to murders, fires, building collapses and explosions. Since 1989, as an investigative reporter, I’ve blown the lid off mortgage scams, gotten people’s homes out of foreclosures, had people confess to murder, proved the jury selection process was flawed and that if you call 911, emergency responders might get sent to the wrong place.
I’ve won 26 Emmys and countless other journalism awards. And yet, when I sat at my computer, knowing that the next keystrokes would begin my very first novel—that was much scarier and much more intimidating.
Ever since I read my first Nancy Drew—The Clue in the Old Clock, remember? And then Clue in the Diary. (Which I thought, most of the way through, was clue in the “dairy,” and I couldn’t figure out why there weren’t cows.) Anyway, ever since then, age about 7, I knew I wanted to write mysteries. I just never had a good enough idea for a plot.
Then, at age—yes, I’ll say it, 53, I got an email. It was obviously spam, and the subject line said something about mortgage refinancing. For some reason, instead of deleting it, I opened it. But the email was nothing about mortgages. It was lines from what looked like an Elizabethan-era play. (And Mom said my majoring in Shakespeare would come to naught.) Anyway, I remember thinking: Why would there be lines from a play in a spam about mortgages?
And then it just—whisked though my mind—“maybe it’s a secret message.”
And I can tell you now, I remember that moment. Clearly. Because that’s when I though—ding ding. That’s the plot I’ve been looking for all these years.
I thought and thought and thought about it. I was obsessed. And then one night at dinner—over seared tuna and martinis—whatever my dear husband was telling me went all blurry. I dug into my purse for a pencil and found a scrap of envelope. And I wrote: “Between the headache, the hot flashes, and all the spam on my computer, I’ll never get everything done. I came in early this morning to get ahead, and already I’m behind.”
That became the first line of PRIME TIME, my first novel. (Romantic Times later gave it a Top Pick calling it “a perfect combination of mystery and romance.”) And through revisions, changes, manuscript disasters and major-league revamping, those lines never changed.
And my obsession never wavered. I wrote through all my vacations, all my days off. One entire summer, I never sat in the sun. Never went to a movie. My husband, out of sheer necessity, did the laundry. And we ate a lot of pizza. But I had to, had to, had to, write my book—a mystery about a 46-year old TV reporter who’s married to her job but wonders what happens when the camera doesn’t love her anymore. (And I was working, full time, as investigative reporter for Boston’s NBC affiliate. Still am.)
I had doubts. At one point, about half way through, I realized I’d chosen the wrong bad guy. Yes. I was writing the book, so you’d think I’d know who did it. But no. One night I sat bolt upright in bed, and had the shocking revelation that I’d outwitted even myself. The next morning, I checked my manuscript-in-progress, and hardly had to change a word to create what turned out to be the final story. Talk about a surprise ending—it surprised even the author.
Another time—maybe 40,000 words in—I hit the wall. I realized I had no idea what I was doing. I was bummed, fearful, and almost defeated. I called my mother, as I sometimes do, and said: “Mom, I love my book so much, but I’m not sure I can finish it.”
She paused, as she sometimes does, and then she said “Well, sweetheart, you will if you want to.”
And that was that. I remembered I was in control of my destiny. I wanted to write it. And I did. And it just won the Agatha for Best First Novel.
Next time on the Playground, I’ll tell you all about the agent search (sigh) and then the publisher search (sigh.) Each one tough and tear-inducing, each one with a happy ending.
But I can’t resist telling you about the day the phone rang. I was in my office, at channel 7. “Seven news!” I said, picking up the receiver.
“Hank Phillippi Ryan?” someone asked. I didn’t recognize the voice.
Was it a going to be a big story? Or some wacko telling me the Martians had landed in their back yard? You never know.
Yes,” I said, hesitantly.
“I’m calling about the RITA’s,” the voice continued. “Congratulations.”
Please come visit my website at http://www.hankphillippiryan.com/
And just for you on the Playground? I’m giving way two autographed copies of PRIME TIME and two of the Book Sense Notable Book FACE TIME. Just go to my website, and tell me which famous romantic suspense author is “holding a yellow bag.” Everyone who enters will also get a coupon for 50 per cent off the all new AIR TIME. (Click on “contact” to enter.)
Can’t find Prime Time? Yeah, I know. It’s pretty much sold out. Face Time too. But here’s the scoop: Prime Time will be re-issued by MIRA Books in July 2009. Then the MIRA edition of Face Time in August, and the all-new Air Time from MIRA in September. Drive Time, the 4th Charlotte McNally Mystery, will be out in 2010.
P.S. For some reason I keep humming the tune to "On the Cover of the Rolling Stone" so nudge me if I start to get annoying. I've read PRIME TIME and the secret-messages-in-the-emails is a quite clever plot. And I could so identify with the heroine because I too wonder if age is catching up with me.