Hank Phillippi Ryan: A Force of Nature

It’s our great pleasure to welcome award-winning, best-selling author Hank Phillippi Ryan! We have a lot to talk about and she’s crazy-busy, so let’s get started:

Hank Phillippi Ryan

Hank Phillippi Ryan

I know for ‘The Other Woman’ you based your ‘what if’ premise on a real story about a Senator having an affair. Is there a ‘real story’ behind your newest release ‘The Wrong Girl’?

HANK: Yes! And that’s one of the great things about having a dual career as a TV journalist and a crime fiction author—sometimes there’s a news tip about a story—that doesn’t pan out for TV—but with a little imagination and a lot of adrenaline, it can turn into a terrific thriller.

 And you know,  I have an abiding philosophy that sometimes the universe provides.  Like every author I’ve ever known, coming up with that beautiful gem of the idea, the core of the book, is the hardest part of all. You know it when you have it and when you have it you can write it! But when you don’t have it, it’s miserable. And I writhe on the couch, haunted by the question,  trying to think—what’ll be the unique interesting original plot of the next book? And when it’s time—every time!—something presents itself. (Which should teach me not to worry, although that hasn’t quite happened yet.)

 In this  case, I got a phone call at my tv station from a woman who said she had a story for me. Now, I get a million of those calls a day—well, not that many, but many—and I try to listen to them all as much as I can. Who knows when it may be the story of the century. It could happen.

So this woman tells me a cousin of hers had spent the past ten years searching, unsuccessfully, for her birth mother. And finally, it seemed she’d found her. The adoption agency had called to say the birth mother had decided to let herself be known, and as a result, the agency called the daughter and set up a reunion.

But then, the caller said, everything began to fall apart. The “mother” and “daughter” met—they liked each other fine, and had a cup of tea. But as they chatted, things just didn’t add up.  Dates, times, cities, birthdays.

 And finally, the caller said, “They realized the agency had sent the mother the wrong girl.”

 I still remember the goose bumps I got when she said that.  I thought—this is my book!

 Now, in reality, the story of what happened is –surprisingly—not that interesting! It was a clerical error, and a name mix-up, (someone was Mary Williams and someone was Marie WiIliams, something like that) and they were indeed relatives, and nothing that would have happened to anyone else. But I was instantly transported to the world of adoption and foster care and the love of mothers and daughters—and the heartbreaking decisions that sometimes have to be made.

 What if an adoption agency was reuniting birth parents with the wrong children?  Could that happen? Whoa. And in that instant—I had THE WRONG GIRL.wrong-girl-225

All of us crave family—it’s our identity and our history and our story. For a person searching for her birth parent—do they really want to know? What if they don’t like them? What if the answers they find are unsettling? What if you were happier—before?

Or—and I’m smiling now—what if you get linked up with the wrong person? And what if someone deliberately lied about it?  Would you know? How? And what would you do?

What if you didn’t know the truth about your own family?

 Again, did I know the answers when I started writing it? Who, what, when ,where, why?  Nope, not  at all. But it was terrific fun and a constant surprise to find out.

Follow up to that: given your life as a reporter with WHDH in Boston, do you work on stories and think “wow, this would make a great novel!” (Like the ancient graveyard just discovered last month?)

HANK: Every moment of every day. You’re right, a few weeks ago we discovered that cemetery officials, for instance, were trying to hide that during a renovation of a building they discovered bones. Now—what crime fiction author wouldn’t alert to that one?

And seeing the world through the eyes of a crime fiction author as well as a reporter has changed everything, now that I think about it. Everything—from a personality to a bit of dialogue to a crime scene to an office conflict to the fragrance of the Boston Harbor and how a mother offers her child a potato chip…you know? Becomes the beginning of a possibility.

I love that—it’s not just “it would make a great novel”—but it would give me a genuine moment, or an authentic emotion, or a realistic setting.

And of course, as a reporter, (I’ve been on the air almost forty years!) people are always trying to tell me other people’s secrets! And secrets are always treasures.

I LOVE gritty, determined Jane Ryland! How many books do you plan in her series? And what about a relationship with her hot editor? 🙂

HANK: Thank you! Well, four are done deals, and I am thrilled about that—coming out in 2014 and 2015.  And I am laughing—what a good idea about the relationship with the hot editor—you might be very intrigued about what happens with exactly that in THE WRONG GIRL. Let me know what you think.

What will happen with Jake and Jane? If anything? I have no idea. No outline, no idea!

other-woman-240h ‘The Other Woman’ won the 2013 MWA/Mary Higgins Clark Award (congratulations!) What was it like actually meeting the great author or is she an old friend?

HANK: Oh. It was—life changing and inspirational. I was so thrilled to win—I can’t even describe that—and to know that she read my book and approved, well, can you imagine?

She was elegant, and regal, and bejeweled–and completely charming. A wonderful sense of humor. She’s the real thing, and that’s clear in everything she does. She worked hard from moment one, and still does. And she’s not resting on her laurels—I think  she’s interested in getting better every day—and again, that’s inspirational. I went home and worked even harder.

Name authors whose books you automatically buy and devour.

Sue Grafton. Tess Gerritsen. Lisa Scottoline. Lisa Gardner. Linwood Barclay. Julia Spencer-Fleming.

So, you’re married, a reporter, a bestselling author, president of ‘Sisters in Crime’, on the Board of Mystery Writers of America as well as being a MWA instructor and contribute to two well-known blogs: the Femme Fatales and Jungle Red Writers and you have a newsletter. Seriously. How on earth do you accomplish all of this? Do you schedule yourself down to the minute?

HANK: Well, you know, I kind of do. Not in such a draconian way, but I am very organized—I have lists and list of lists, and several calendars, and I’m always figuring out the next thing I need to do. The deadline for the book is always the umbrella decision-maker—can I do whatever it is and still write the best possible book? If yes, then I can do it.

Ah, I used to cook all the time, and I’m good at it, but there’s a lot of Whole Foods carry-out salmon on our menu these days. We don’t have dinner parties anymore, and I can’t remember the last time we went to a real movie or on vacation. So I guess I admit my “external fun” level is low.

My husband—my dear, patient, supportive husband—is a criminal defense attorney, and has lots of big cases, so he has projects of his own.

On work days, I work at Channel 7 from 9 til 6-ish, then write or do book things from 7-10. Then we have dinner at ten! We try to think of it as, ah, chic.

SO far, so good.  But very, very non-stop.

Food you just can’t say no to?

HANK: Twizzlers. Pizza.  Triple venti non-fat latte.  Fresh raspberries.

What’s next for Jane Ryland and is there a tentative release date?

HANK: TRUTH BE TOLD will be out Sept 2014—I love it!  Jane’s on the trail of a bank executive who may be manipulating mortgage records to keep people out of foreclosure. (Yes, she admits, its robbing the bank from the inside. But hey—banks were bailed out—maybe it’s time for the people to be bailed out.)

And Jake’s assigned to investigate the murder of a woman found in an empty house—a house that’s been foreclosed on.

What happens when you do a good thing—but it’s illegal?

Wow! That sounds GREAT! If you hadn’t been a reporter or writer what would you have been?

HANK: I think about that sometimes. I read an article where it suggested you look back at your childhood dreams and see how what you’re doing now compares to that.

When I was a kid I wanted to be a flight attendant (glamorous back then), and a waitress (you got to bring people things that made them happy and then get money for it. Hey, I was 6.)—then a geneticist (discovery!), and then a disc jockey (music and show business) or the lawyer for the mine workers. (Helping people and making the world fair.)

But really, what I discovered in over-thinking about the essence of it all, was that I wanted to perform, and tell people what to do.

That still makes me laugh.

What else would I do? This is it, sister. Story-telling. Sometimes true stories—and sometimes stories I get to make up.

READERS: For a chance to win a copy of THE WRONG GIRL please comment or ask Hank a question. Today’s Q: If you were adopted would YOU seek out your birth-parents?

Hank and Louise photoHank doesn’t know this, but our own Diana Belchase managed to capture a picture of her interviewing Louise Penny at the Malice Domestic Conference this past May. I think you’ll agree with me, readers, after reading all of Hank’s activities, jobs, blog and novels, she really is the definition of a Force of Nature!

HANK: (Do readers have searching stories? I’d love to hear them..send me an email via my website—or find me on Facebook!)

Website: http://www.hankphillippiryan.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HankPhillippiRyanAuthorPage

Blogs: http://femmesfatales.typepad.com/my_weblog/  and  http://www.jungleredwriters.com/

About Sarah Andre

Romantic Suspense That Keeps You Up All Night! I live in sunny FL, love daydreaming, reading and chocolate. I write in the wee hours of the morning before my helpless hubby and 2 male Pomeranian pups awaken with their demands. :) My debut LOCKED, LOADED and LYING is available now.

Posted on September 24, 2013, in Author Interview, Sarah Andre and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 59 Comments.

  1. I had a friend in college who was adopted and people would always ask if she wanted to find her parents and she would tell them that the only parents she had were the ones who raised her and she really wasn’t interested in whoever gave birth to her. I think I would have had the same attitude, especially now after raising two children.

    • Hi Maureen,
      Thanks for your comment. I’d be willing to bet every adoptee gets sick of that question too. Its kind of natural curiosity for others to ask, but also kind of rude too. 🙂

    • HI Maureen…thanks..yeah, it’s such a personal decision, you know? Every one I talk with about this feels very strongly about it..but in a very specifically personal way. I hope you love the book!

  2. Welcome Hank!
    I know you’re traveling on your book tour (where are you today?) and will comment when you can. When you’re on the road are you still working as a reporter for the Boston TV station in some capacity?

    As for the Question of the Day: I think I would want to meet my birth mother for sure, but probably once and over coffee. I would not have the same curiosity to meet my birth father…which is odd.

    • Hey Sarah! Yes, right now I am in the Denver airport. Funny, huh? I try to be really early getting to the airport so I can take one level of crazy out of my life.. Well, so much for that idea. I’m actually in Phoenix, on the way to Denver. So much for knowing where I am…

      And yes, I am still at Channel 7! They are giving me a little leave of absence to do this crazy book tour! And I’m still trying to juggle. Yesterday, for instance, I went to the TV station in Phoenix to record a voice track that they sent back to Boston for a story that’s on tonight–! Yikes.

  3. Amazing interview, ladies. Hank, I can almost feel your energy and excitement. And as someone who also runs her life by lists and non-stop activities, I understand the need, as well. Though, at times I’m exhausted.

    Congratulations on The Wrong Girl. I know it will be another thrilling winner.


    • Thank you! And yes, THE WRONG GIRL just made the Boston Globe Bestseller list! Hurray..at number 6. My dear Sue Grafton is number one, and that just brings tears to my eyes.

      • Well I have both of those new novels, so it’ll be a ‘faceoff!”

        Thanks for commenting Jenn, and yep, you’re just about the busiest person I know, even after stepping down as chapter prez.

  4. Hank, welcome to Kiss and Thrill. Love your books! And, I just have to say it. Love your hair. Seriously. (Oh come on, everyone-you know you were thinking that too!)

  5. Welcome to Kiss and Thrill, Hank! I adore your books and can’t wait to read this one.
    As for the question, I would not seek out my birth parents. My college roommate who was adopted did find her birth parents and it was a disaster. A door was opened that she still has not been able to close. And in the process, she almost lost her adopted family who was wonderful to her.
    Too much pain. I wouldn’t do it. Then again, I wasn’t adopted so I’m probably the wrong person to ask. 🙂

    • Yes, Sharon, I hear stories like that–people often imagine it will be a wonderful fairy tale, but sometimes those decisions are made out of chaos or fear or disaster or unhappiness–and people don’t want to return to that.

    • Wow, Sharon that really is awful. I guess I never thought of that. I’m the fairy tale kind of girl Hank mentions. Where the reasons for giving me away would be heartbreaking but completely understanding and I’d come away a much better person for meeting her.

  6. What a fabulous interview, ladies! Hank, thanks for being with us today. I know my insatiable curiosity would make it hard not to want to know more about my adoptive parents, but I think I might want to do a little checking before I decided to meet them. Sharon’s story has me thinking… 😉

    And, wow, I will never feel like I’m too busy to do anything again. Your schedule and energy sound exhausting. Enjoy the book tour!

    • OH, Gwen, it’s fun! and exactly what I’ve always dreamed of. So what if I don’t know where I am or what time it is…la dee dah. I’ll be at the Tattered Cover in Denver tonight–hope there’ll be people there!

  7. I think I would if for no other reason to know what their medical history.

  8. Hank, Thanks for joining us at Kiss and Thrill. That is a fascinating premise for The Wrong Girl. Thanks for sharing how the idea was born. Sarah, great interview!

    Hmm. I’m not certain if I would search for my birth parents. My gut reaction is no, but what I would be interested in would be meeting possible siblings. So that might be a package deal 🙂

    • Thanks, Carey! ANd yes, Sarah had terrific questions..fun to answer!

      And you know, I agree with you. After all this time of considering it, I still haven’t decided what I would do.

  9. Hank, these books sound amazing (I had looked into some of the adoption/foster care stuff for a story and was hooked but my book went in another direction) and I love your description of the panic while waiting for an idea. I am a couple weeks away from “writhing on the couch” b/c I’m nearly done with revisions for the latest ms. As for finding birth parents: yikes, that’s tough. I imagine it would all depend on how amazing (or not) my adoptive situation was, or whether or not I had health or other burning concerns…Thanks for visiting Kiss & Thrill! They do the best interviews!

  10. I’m probably not supposta, wrong demo (i.e. gender) but I read HPR, all of her crime all of the time. The Wrong Girl is next. Go girl, go!

  11. Congrats on the MWA award, Hank! I can’t wait to start reading these books. Such interesting premises. I especially like the one about doing a good deed that is also illegal. Great interview, Sarah! I’m energized just reading it 🙂

    • Thank you, Krista. Yes, doing a good thing that’s also illegal.. so fascinating! COnflict and suspense and secrets and gray areas–that’s what make a great book! xo

  12. Kiss and Thrill, you are killing me with the amazing author introductions! Ms. Ryan has captured me with the different angles she presents, the real life settings, adoption reunion gone “wrong”? YES and YES!!!

    Great interview. Consider me a fan! I look forward to reading your books. 🙂

    • Thanks, Carmen, we bask in all these compliments! 🙂

      One of Hanks’ strongest talents is her chapter hooks. I basically read THE OTHER WOMAN all in one sitting. “Oh man, I have to find out what happens next. Just ONE more chapter and I’ll fix dinner…”

  13. Great interview, Sarah and welcome, Hank! I also love your hair and am exhausted just reading your schedule. 🙂

    I have no idea if I would want to meet my birth parents, but I’d definitely want to know their medical history.

    I think Carey nailed it when she mentioned potential siblings. I think I’d want to know if I had brothers or sisters. I’d want to know how we were alike or different, even though raised by different families. But then, I have a ton of siblings many of whom are half, so we were raised separately at times, so I already think about those things.

    • Yup, i have halfs, too…But I kind of think it would be irresistible if someone said–want to know who your birth mother is..? Would you say no?

  14. Hi Hank, your books sound absolutely fascinating.

    The premise for The Wrong Girl is true for my dad. He spent his whole searching for his birth parents & sad to say never found them. I did & it turned out to be his sister. Interesting to say the least….my Aunt is really my Grandma

    • Wow, I am still trying to wrap my mind around that, Sherry! What a fascinating family history. Do you still keep in touch with her?

    • Sherry…and that story is so complicated.I hope you and your family are understanding each other..and I am so grateful you shared with us.

  15. Great to see “The Wrong Girl” climbing various best-seller charts. Looking forward to reading it very soon. See you in Newburyport, MA!

  16. Hurray, Lou! Yes, very exciting… and see you in Newburyport. That’s soon, right? oxo

  17. Has anyone ever contacted you, thinking that your story is about them? Lol, was it?

    • Good question, Lisa! Thanks for coming over and commenting.

    • NOpe. not yet, Lisa! I’d love to hear from anyone who had that experience, though. It’s truly fiction–but I would not be surprised if something like the story I created–actually happened. WOUld you?

  18. Hooray, it’s Hank! Thank you, Sarah, for doing a great interview.

    I asked my friend if he wanted to meet his birth parents. He replied “Why?”.

    Some people don’t like to know the gender of their unborn babies. Me, I wanted to know everything they could tell me. I asked if they could tell me his future profession.

    I like mystery in my books not in my life.

    • HA! Love your profile name.
      I agree, I’d want to know if the baby inside was a boy or girl. At least that. To not know and give the baby up would haunt me forever.

      Thanks for your comment!

    • Oh, my goodness, that brunette. That answer “why”–is incredibly profound. WOw. Imagine what he must be thinking. YOu;re a good pal…

  19. Oh Hank,
    Thank you SO much for being our guest today in the middle of your busy tour. We all wish you record sales for THE WRONG GIRL and here’s to topping bestseller lists!

    • My pleasure! Thank you so much for inviting me! And please keep in touch–your commenters are fabulous. Keep in touch, everyone…and I hope you invite me back! (Come find me at Hank Phillippi Ryan author page.) And I hope you love THE WRONG GIRL..and will watch for TRUTH BE TOLD next fall.

      love to all..

  20. You know,.I don’t think I would. Too many emotions, from birth and adopted relations. Of course, if you have a medical emergency that only blood relatives could help, don’t know.

  21. I think I would be curious and want to know.

  22. Absolutely I would search for them! I’m too intrigued by ancestry, even if it is only one generation. I would have to know.

  23. I think I would seek out my birth parents. Probably to find out what connections we shared even though we were separated. It might be fruitless but I’d want to know.

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