Interview: Hank Phillippi Ryan

Please welcome Hank Phillippi Ryan, award-winning author of the Charlotte McNally series and the Jane Ryland mysteries–and she’s the president of Sisters in Crime!

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
That so depends! Paris is one. Another perfect day: No alarm clock. Coffee. The newspaper (on paper.) Four hours with my manuscript at a point where I’m loving it…and it’s almost done and I can see the finale.. More coffee. A call from  my producetheotherwomanr at Channel 7 saying my story is coming through-I’ll be at work in the morning to do a big interview. Lunch, something lovely. More writing, some emails, some fabulous reviews. (Why not, right? You said perfect.) My dear husband comes home with salmon and roses. And rose’.

I just realized my “perfect” day is all about work.  And you know, that’s true. Is that a good thing?

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
Yes. All of the above. Accessory? I’m very fond of purses and shoes. Color? NO question—black. People are always shocked when I wear anything else. Fragrance? 24 Faubourg, always.  Phrase. Oh—I love that question. Ah, maybe…Thank you? It’s a thrill just to be nominated! (!) And my constant: You never know.

Meal: that’s a toughie. Fresh tomatoes and mozzarella and basil. Proseco.  Rack of lamb on the grill. Terrific red wine.  Raspberries.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
Oh! Sue Grafton.  Steven Sondheim. Shakespeare. (There are many more…)

Do you listen to music when you write?
Nope. Never. Can’t do it. In the newsroom, with TVs blaring and  people yelling and utter chaos—no problem, I can write an script with no problem. I can bang out a news story at a fire, at a murder, in a raging hurricane.  But my books? Got to be quiet. Funny, huh?

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
The Other Woman…well, that would be something that’s different on the outside than on the inside, right? Something that’s not what it seems. So maybe…peanut M & Ms? Can’t hurt, right?

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
Oh, so interesting.  I was in the dentist’s office, waiting to have a root canal. Really! And I read a magazine article about Mark Sanford, the ex-governor of South Carolina, who told the world he was off hiking the Appalachian Trail—when he was actually off with his mistress. I wondered—through my pain—why would someone do that? Why would a person be the other woman? Love? Lust? Revenge? Power? Selfishness?

And then I began to wonder—could there be a reason no one ever thought of? A reason that would lead to murder? A reason I could use as the lynchpin for a thriller?

And then a person in the article was quoted as saying: “You can choose your sin, but you cannot choose your consequences.”

I remember clearly, I got goose bumps. And I thought—my BOOK! My Book!

It made the root canal worth it.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
Perception. Vulnerablilty.  The skepticism we have when someone says I didn’t do it. Why don’t we believe them? Desire and deception. The need to be loved, and the constant quest for approval.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
Jane Ryland is a reporter, a journalist, who in The Other Woman has just lost her job because she refused to break her word and reveal a source. SO she’s incredibly honorable, incredibly trustworthy, and incredibly driven–and as a result, fired. How would that change you–to do the right thing, but be punished for it?  She takes a low paying job on a  local newspaper—because she needs to get her reputation back—what do we have, you know, as reporters, if not our reputations?

Her father is always critical—when she was fired, he said—you must have done something. And her mother recently died—and Jane learned from her—when one door closes, another door opens.

She’s 33, in love with an off-limits cop, driven to success, and worried about winding up an old maid with two cats—so much so that she refuses to tell people she has a cat.  “But that may be my own problem,” she says.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
I’ve never thought about that this way, and it’s much more difficult that I would have predicted. Katharine Hepburn. Audrey Hepburn. And …ah, Rosalind Russell.  You know? Not physically. But emotionally and psychologically.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
Sue Grafton.  Stephen King. Shakespeare. Edith Wharton. Tom Wolfe. Nora Ephron.

What’s next for you?
Yeah, would that we knew that, right?

I’m still a full-time investigative reporter, still loving that. (I just won two more Emmys, so that make, amazingly, thirty. But then, I’ve been around a long time.)   I’m in the midst of writing Jane’s next adventure (they’re all standalones, so this is the “next” in the series, not the “third.”)

The new Jane Ryland, The Wrong Girl, comes out in hardcover September 10—Jane is on the trail of an adoption agency she suspects may be reuniting birth parents with the wrong children. Creepy, huh?  But it could happen.  So I’m being sent on a big tour for that—and hope to meet all of you on the road! (Check my website for the whole crazy schedule!)

And click here for a couple of wonderful contests!


Award-winning investigative reporter Hank Phillippi Ryan is on the air at Boston’s NBC affiliate. Her work has resulted in new laws, people sent to prison, homes removed from foreclosure, and millions of dollars in restitution. Along with her 30 EMMYs, Hank’s won dozens of other journalism honors. She’s been a radio reporter, a legislative aide in the United States Senate and an editorial assistant at Rolling Stone magazine.

A best-selling author of five mystery novels, Ryan has won the Agatha, Anthony and Macavity awards for her crime fiction. She’s on the national board of directors of Mystery Writers of America  and is president of national Sisters in Crime.  Her newest suspense thriller, the best-selling The Other Woman (now in a third printing), is the first in a new series from Forge Books. It’s now listed as a Best Book of 2012 by periodicals nationwide including Suspense Magazine and the Boston Globe, is the winner of the prestigious Mary Higgins Clark Award, and the only novel nominated for all five top crime fiction awards: the Anthony, Agatha, Macavity, Daphne and Shamus. Her newest suspense thriller, The Wrong Girl, will be published in September 2013.

Twitter: @hank_phillippi


30 thoughts on “Interview: Hank Phillippi Ryan”

  1. What a great interview…there’s so much to comment on but I’ll limit myself to just two!

    1. The root canal answer is one of the most interesting story-genesis accounts I’ve ever heard. Honestly. Love it.

    2. If Edith Wharton were alive and writing mysteries today, don’t you think she’d probably be a Jungle Red too? I could see how she’d fit right in with all of you smart, witty ladies.

    Thanks so very much for visiting.


  2. Well, thank you! ANd I’m delighted to be here… You know what, Edith Wharton would have been perfect Jungle Red, you’re so right!

    HOwever: Do you know–apparently she used to write in bed, in longhand, surrounded by her dogs, and when she’d finish a page, she’d drop it on the floor, for the maid to pick up and take to her secretary to type. Hmm. Not exactly how I do it, personally….

    And let’s give away a copy of THE OTHER WOMAN (now in paperback, hurray!) to one lucky commenter!


  3. Hank, it is wonderful to see you here – thanks for taking the time (I am still amazed at how busy you are, yet you always get to everything and you are always lovely).

    I get goosebumps every time I hear that phase, “You can choose your sin, but you can’t choose your consequences.” I’ve heard you say that in every interview and it gets me every time.

    Dropping pages on the floor for the maid? Yeah, not the way I do it either. And my tomatoes are just about ready to come in, so if you like tomatoes & mozzarella, I can totally hook you up!


  4. Oh, and I forgot something, are you going to do a trailer for THE WRONG GIRL? Because I loved the one for THE OTHER WOMAN – it’s the one and only time a trailer made me say, “I need to get this book – yesterday.”


  5. Thanks, Mary! Yes, I love the video too–I had no idea how that was going to turn out–just like life, huh? But I was thrilled with the final version–here it is, for anyone who hasn’t seen it!


  6. Welcome, Hank! Thanks for visiting–and what a lovely interview. I agree with Mary; I, too, get goosebumps when I hear the “You can choose…” line. I’m curious to know–do you sleep?!? So many wonderful things you’re working on, and so many successes to celebrate. Thanks again for being here!


  7. OH, yes, Sarah–it would be one party where I wouldn’t have to say a thing, right? Wonder if it would be rude to take notes…


  8. Hi Hank, It’s an honor to have you drop by. The story of how this story found you is unique. I’m especially interested in your upcoming book. I reunited with my son when he was 20. Putting people with the wrong child? Wow! Congratulations on all those EMMYS.


  9. Theresa…I’m so eager to hear your story…keep an eye out, I’ll be asking people to share them soon! Are you on my facebook page? Come find me at HankPhillippiRyanAuthorPage!


    1. I will keep an eye out. I was going to write a three generation Southern women story and include a bit of my experience in it. I’ve got a little of it done, but it’s so outside my current genre, I’m hesitant.


  10. Hank, I loved this interview. I especially liked the themes you talked about. Perception and vulnerability.

    I’m with stonecreekwriting–I don’t know how you do everything you do with such grace. Are you sure there isn’t a maid scurrying in to pick up your pages and take them to a secretary?


  11. I am amazed at how much you do! . . . story ideas at the dentist’s trumps grading papers at the doctor’s office. Now I’m wondering about a movie from your books . . . could it happen?


    1. Well, Mary, it could happen, sure! It’s not something I think about too too much. I’t might be fabulous, who knows. I think The Wrong Girl would be amazing movie. But like Sue Grafton (!!) I’d worry about who they’d pick for Jane, and whether readers would go for it. Would you be happy if they picked (“they”?) someone you thought was all wrong? WOUld that ruin your vision of the books? OH, well, it might be a fun problem to have. “-)


      1. Ah, and for now we can just dream and imagine as we wish it to be . . . Jackie Torrence used to end the story of ‘Possum and Snake with “Never trouble trouble ’til trouble troubles you.” Hugs!


  12. Such a treat to find you here today, Hank! Add me to the list of people who want to know how you find time to sleep! I read The Other Woman last fall, having borrowed it from the library. I finally bought my own copy a couple of weeks ago so I can reread it whenever I want to, and am thinking of buying more copies to give away to all the people I’ve been recommending the book to. It is not an exaggeration to say it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. I love how you pulled everything together and kept the suspense going right to the last page. You deserve every award nomination and every award out there!


  13. AND THE WINNER IS: Stonecreekwriting! Please email me at h ryan at whdh dot com and send me your address! Thank you so much everyone…what a pleasure to be here! Keep in touch, okay? And happy everything to you all..


  14. Hank, what a great interview! I am constantly inspired by how busy you are and how much you love it. The fact that your perfect day includes work AND writing shows that you’ve followed your passion, and look how well that worked out for you! 30 Emmys and a shower of book awards!


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