Sunday, December 2, 2012

Hank Phillipi Ryan, Crime Writer Par Excellence

Inspired by the advice of Mary Higgins Clark (the Queen of Mystery) – "Start your story by asking, What if?" – our own Thelma Straw presents the impressive bio of interviewee Hank Phillippi Ryan by posing that very question, and riffing on the resulting fantasy.

WHAT IF… that famous, often outrageous, talk show host and generous philanthropist, Don Imus, the I-Man, were to promote Hank Ryan on his show "Imus in the Morning"!

SCENE: The New York studio of WABC/Fox Business Network TV.
MUSIC: "Imus in the Morning"
TIME: 6:04 A.M.

Don Imus rushes in with a book in one hand and a giant Starbucks cup in the other. He throws the book at Bernie McGuirk, who yells, "Boss, you're late!"

The I-Man scowls. "Been up ALL NIGHT! Reading this new book! – called THE OTHER WOMAN! Girl by the name of Hank wrote it. Great lookin' girl - Hank Phillippi Ryan."

He stares at his crew. "Damned fine writing. Boys, you gotta read it. Brought a whole load of the books over in my limo - one for everybody here!"

Man in chauffeur's cap enters, pushing a cart, filled ceiling-high with books. They all have the title THE OTHER WOMAN. He hands them out to members of the cast and crew.

The I-Man continues. "Been following those Best Selling Mystery Girls all these years - Mary Higgins Clark and her daughter, Carol, Patsy Cornwell and that totally brilliant and charming D.A., Linda Fairstein. Girls all made a fortune with their mystery books. Could line the walls of Fort Knox, with all the dough the I-Man helped them get!

"But this Hank Ryan woman - she's something else! Worked for top TV up in Boston. Investigation reporter!"

"Investigative, boss," Bernie mutters.

Imus throws him a hard look. "Whatever! Won herself a whole wall full of Emmys and Murrows! Got more trophies than anybody on the planet! Girl's won just about every mystery writer prize you can name - Agatha, Anthony, Macavity - I'm betting on her for one of those little Edgar Poe statues, too!

"She's just been voted in as leader of the pack of that outfit - Sisters of Crime! And if you think that's all, you ain't heard nothing!"

Bernie whispers, " Sisters in Crime, boss!"

"That girl's on the cover of the biggest magazine in town - Mystery Scene! Plus, she's wowing all the writers of romance - got the nod on the Kiss of Death! Don't know what THAT means, but it must be pretty damned good if she got it! Just got the vote of the Best of 2012 by Suspense Magazine!"

Imus takes a swig of the coffee. "Now, that's one damnfine prize for anybody. Right, Bernie?"

Bernie nods and holds up his copy of THE OTHER WOMAN to the camera.

"There's more! She worked with the crew of our boy Senator Ted Kennedy down in Foggy Bottom (godblesshisoul – we miss him) and wearing her TV hat, knocked over some bigtime crooks down in Georgia. Bydamn, this girl's got a resume like a Nobel Prize winner! Next thing you know, she'll be on the Big Screen in Tinseltown! Hell, they might get her to play that guy Reacher's new gal-pal!

"Bernie, get on the horn and tell Miz Ryan we want her to come and be our guest on the program here. She can name her day! Any day - any time! Tell her the I-Man says she's the best durn mystery writer to come down the pike in a month of Sundays! Deirdre thinks so too… now we've got to talk about the news of the day…"

"Comin' up on twenty minutes past the hour, Eastern time. Ladies and gentlemen, Imus in the morning!"

But instead of Imus, Thelma herself interviewed Ms. Ryan. Here's how it went:

Do you plan a series with Jane Ryland?

More than plan! It’s underway. The next in the Jane Ryland/Jake Brogan series is THE WRONG GIRL, which is coming from Forge this time next year. (Is an adoption agency reuniting birth parents with the wrong children?) Some of the characters in THE OTHER WOMAN will return. And some will survive to appear in the next book!

Here’s the video about THE OTHER WOMAN — we took kind of a risk with it — what do you think?

Your book titles are very enticing! How do you choose them?

I will admit to you that they choose themselves. It seems to me they spring so naturally from the story that there’s nothing else the title could be.

Tell us about the Ryan Award June 13 from the Boston Bar Association.

Oh, that was such an honor. They were thanking me for all the work and stories I’ve done over the years focusing on safety in the workplace — toxics use reduction, asbestos, radon, gas leaks, air quality.

You are very involved in three big groups - MWA, SinC, and ITW - in the crime world. How do you fit them all in your heavy schedule? And keep their agendas apart?

Yes, they’re all terrific organizations. I’m the new national president of Sisters in Crime, and on the board of MWA, and a happy member of ITW. How do I keep their agendas apart? I don’t. I think they are the same — at least similar. To encourage good writing, to educate and inspire authors, to create a community of writers and readers, to understand the changes in the publishing world. My publisher was so taken with my enthusiasm both the groups, they created a special video about it.

You have such a full event/tour schedule. How do you handle all those trips and still find time to write?

 I’m organized. As much as anyone can be, at least! I know that writing the best possible book is the top priority, so that’s what I make room for first. When the books are complete, or at the editor, then I know I have a bit more time to travel and speak. So I keep in mind the goal of where I am in the process — when I’m in writing mode, I have a calendar that has chunks of time blocked out for that. I have a words-a-day chart, and I make sure I keep to my quota. Writing has to come first.

You have lots of pictures in costumes! Were you into drama as a child?

Oh, so funny. Ah, I never thought about it that way. Yes, my siblings and I used to put on shows for our parents… We dressed up in crinolines and hats and whatever we could find. In high school and college, yes, I was in plays, most often the 2nd banana character role, or the funny one. But I’m in costume once a year, you know? At CrimeBake. This year my very patient husband and I were Sam Spade and Miss Wonderly from The Maltese Falcon. We carried around the “falcon” which was a stuffed owl we spray-painted black.

How do you keep your mystery hat separate from your RWA hat?

Well, again, they’re the same hat! (Someone asked me once if I could write a mystery without romance. I said – not if the characters are behaving like real people! They said, well, could you write a romance without mystery? I said — Well, no, what would the characters DO?

 You wrote somewhere you felt you'd discovered David Hosp, the Boston crime novelist. A few years ago, the MWA-NY Mentor Committee also felt that WE "discovered" David Hosp! We invited him down to be our guest speaker. What advice do you give to debut novelists?

Yes, I love David! And discovering new or new-to-me authors is such a treat. (One of the joys of my life was moderating the best-first panel at the Edgar symposium. It brings tears to my eyes.) For debut authors? Count your blessings. Things take a while. Things rarely happen overnight. A wonderful thing has happened to you. Keep working. Get better. Be grateful.

You have won – ( gasp!) – 27 Emmys and 12 E.R. Murrows. Plus the Agatha, Anthony and, Macavity! What are you proudest of?

Oh, Thelma. You know that’s impossible. I adore every one of them, and could tell you the whole story for each one. I must say winning the Agatha was… astonishing, since I’d fallen in love with Agatha Christie’s work by the time I was fourteen. And then to win an award named after her — well, pretty cool. But the awards are on my shelves, right by my desk, and I see them and think about them every day. It’s an inspiration.

What in your studies in Germany may have helped you on TV or as a novelist? Or your work on Capitol Hill?

Oh, I was in Germany when I was sixteen or so — it certainly was different from my life back home in rural-ish Indiana. I wish I could think of a cool thing, but mainly we talked about the Beatles and tried to get into dance clubs. I’m still in touch with some of my pals from then, people from all over the world.

My work on Capitol Hill, though? And my years as a political campaign worker? Pivotal. Every day. In my work as a reporter, and as a novelist. I deeply understand how the political and election system works, who controls what and how, the lust for power and the ability to manipulate and portray reality. How far people will go to get what they want. Deception, and desire and revenge and rationalization. (Remember, I was in DC during Watergate and the CIA hearings.)

And writing THE OTHER WOMAN — well, think about today’s headlines. That book is the result, really, of forty years of research!

I read your childhood hero was Thomas Edison. Can you share the reason?

Because getting a “wrong” answer is just as valuable and educational as getting the right one. That perseverance and hard work can lead to success and inspiration. That you can find the answer if you just work on it. That you can discover something new. (I lobbied to get my step-kids to name our first grandson Edison. They didn’t. There’s still time.)

In the outstanding work you did as an investigative TV reporter in Georgia, were you ever in any real danger?

Ah, besides the time I was in the hot air balloon over the hills of north Georgia? Oh, and I did white-water raft the Chattooga. (Cue the banjos.) Well, sure, I guess so. But that’s not what I really think about. The thing about being a TV reporter is there’s usually a photographer with me. So I always tell them: if it looks like something bad is about to happen, make sure you’re rolling.

Have you ever thought about a career in the CIA? Sure. But reality is better. You've had such a wide range in investigative reporting - do you keep involved in any of those issues?

Well, I’m still on the air, of course, as investigative reporter at the NBC affiliate in Boston. So, sure. Everything is a possible story! And look at THE OTHER WOMAN!

Where does your current name come from?

I’m laughing. My birth name is Harriet Ann Sablosky. Someone in college decided I should be Hank. Add a couple of ex-husbands, and there you have it.

What is a usual writing day for you like?

Heaven. I have a huge amount of coffee and read the morning papers. I check my email and etc on a separate computer, not the one in my study. I set a time where I’m going to begin writing so I don’t lollygag around. When that time comes, I go to my work computer, and do nothing else until I get my words for the day. When I have a day where all I have to do is write, that’s the best. It’s not always FUN, but it’s the best.

Do you have writing partners or first readers?


You are one of the most gracious writers I've encountered! What is your secret?

Oh, well, thank you!

How do you usually de-compress from your heavy schedule?

I’ll let you know when I figure that out. Seriously. I decided not to work one bit on Thanksgiving Day. That didn’t happen.

People who read this would like reassurance re their own careers. What advice do you give?

Oh, listen. My husband and I don’t celebrate the anniversary of the day we met. We celebrate the anniversary of the day BEFORE we met. And we call that “You Never Know” Day. Because you never know what wonderful thing is around the next corner. Right? So when you’re disappointed about something – it’s not worth it to worry. You don’t really know what’s good or bad – so don’t waste your energy in regret or sorrow. Someone said to me – don’t quit five minutes before the miracle. It’s a little Hallmark, I know. But still…

Thank you, Hank, for your sharing and all the advice to your fellow writers! We'll be cheering for you with your next book!

Thelma J. Straw

Win a copy of THE OTHER WOMAN! Send your mailing address to to be entered in the drawing.

***12/5/12 – We have a winner! SUSAN PATURZO of Denver.***

"Political skullduggery and murder make a high octane mix in this perfect thriller . . . " - Booklist starred review
"Ryan . . . employs her much honored investigative reporting and political background to craft a dizzyingly wild labyrinth of exciting twists, turns, and surprises. Readers who crave mystery and political intrigue will be mesmerized by this first installment of her new series." - Library Journal starred review

You can also find Hank in the following places: twitter @hank_phillippi Blogging at @junglereds


  1. This was a fantastic blog posting and a totally fascinating interview!!! Great info. and what fun to read!!!

  2. Great interview, you guys!!!! Thelma, LOVED your Imus script! Hank, I learn something new about you every time I read another piece like this one. and I think the name Edison just rocks.

  3. Oh, thank you! Yes, Thelma is such a rock star. And she asked questions I've never been asked! (I tried to keep my answers short...)

    Thnaks so much...and I'm not ignoring the "nice person" question. I'm just still blushing.

  4. Dear Hank, MANY thanks for taking time out in such a hectic schedule to give us SO much to think about!!! Here's to your next bestseller....!!!!! Thelma Straw in Manhattan

    BTW, everybody, let's send prayers and wishes to our fellow crime writer Bronson "Bo" Parker - in Hampton, VA, as he recovers from a very hard operation he mentioned on DL... tjs

  5. What a great Imus script! LOVED it! And the interview, was, of course, flawless- on point, funny and insightful!

  6. Great interview. Hank, I have had the pleasure of meeting you a couple of times and you're always inspiring. And I think Hank suits you much better than Harriet :)

  7. Thelma: Thanks for this great interview!
    Hank: "The Other Woman" is a fantastic read! I'm already looking forward to reading "The Wrong Girl" . . . .

  8. May it be so . . . " this girl's got a resume like a Nobel Prize winner! Next thing you know, she'll be on the Big Screen in Tinseltown! "
    Meanwhile, thanks for the wonderful books -- can't wait for The Wrong Girl!

  9. Hallmark or not, I love not quitting 5 minutes before the miracle. It is so true you never know when that super great thing is going to happen.

  10. Awww...thank you! Yes,working on THE WRONG GIRL right now. Revisions are such a treat--the story is there, you know And now i get to make it better.

    And well, Harriet. When you're six, and all the cool girls and Debbie and Linda, Harriet is not who you want to be. Now, after ALL these years, I love it.