Hank Phillippi Ryan is an investigative reporter and TV journalist whose work at uncovering the truth has garnered her thirty Emmys and twelve Edward R. Murrow awards. Hank has carried her passions to writing, and the accolades for her six mystery novels include two Agathas, an Anthony, and a Macavity; three of the most prestigious awards in the mystery genre. In a nutshell, Ms. Ryan is amongst the best at what she does, be it as a reporter for Boston’s NBC affiliate, or at creating breath-stealing suspense novels.
Now residing in Boston with her husband, a renowned civil rights and criminal defense attorney, Hank’s journey began in Indianapolis. It was there she became the vice-president of the Midwest Chapter of the National Beatles Fan Club and dreamed of being Nancy Drew. High School led to college which led to work experiences worthy of an autobiography. Those jobs included a stint as press secretary to a U.S. congressman and a position in the Washington Bureau for Rolling Stone magazine. As a reporter she’s gone undercover, interviewed world leaders, sent criminals to prison and freed innocents wrongly convicted.
While I would thoroughly enjoy discussing Hank’s fascinating life, we’re here to discuss her bestselling novels, the latest of which is “The Wrong Girl.”
Hank’s novels walk a fictional parallel to her life. She initially introduced readers to seasoned reporter Charlotte NcNally in the suspense novel “Prime Time.” Readers demanded more, and a four-book series followed McNally’s exploits.
Continuing in the vein of a tough, yet sensitive reporter willing to risk all for the truth, Hank next unveiled Jane Ryland, a reporter willing to dig deep in to the most sinister of circumstances. In “The Other Woman,” the first of this new series, the character of Ryland is surrounded by political double-dealing and constant danger. Once again, the reviews, accolades, and demands for more rolled in.
“The Wrong Girl” is a story caught in today’s interests. Reporter Ryland uncovers the worst possible nightmare for a family – that their child isn’t theirs – and strikes hard at those who could/can profit from child-switching scenarios. It’s a risky topic for an author, and to pull it off the writer not only has to know the subject matter, but have the skill to keep the story flowing and the suspense at a believable, yet, knuckle whitening pace. Hank Ryan does that and more.
If you haven’t picked up one of Ms. Ryan’s books yet, do so now. Yeah. Right now.
Q) Obviously, the characters of Charlotte McNally and Jane Ryland mirror your investigative reporter
A) Oh, gosh. I have wired myself with hidden cameras, confronted corrupt politicians, gone undercover and in disguise—what I hope to bring to the books is authenticity, you know? A genuine feeling of the high stress and high stakes of being an investigative reporter. I’ve won 30 Emmys for my reporting (!) and every one of those Emmys represents a secret that someone didn’t want me to tell you. A secret someone didn’t want you to know.
As a reporter, then, no matter if it’s the real me or the fictional Jane, we have to be curious, right? And skeptical. And confident. Someone asked me to describe Jane in one word—and that was a difficult task! I finally came up with “determined.” And that’s me, too.
What’s different, though? Ah, Jane is a great driver. Charlotte is funnier than I am. But it’s a more difficult question than it seems—because they are true characters, you know? Even though they are fictional. So they behave in ways I can’t always predict. This is part of what Sue Grafton calls “the magic.”
The characters won’t always do what I want them to do—they are such strong personalities, they often dictate what’s right for them. As an author, that is fascinating to discover.
Q) Many readers enjoy the edgy romances you infuse into the stories. Why did decide to incorporate romance in suspense series?
A) Well, thanks! Yeah, the attraction Jane has for Detective Jake Brogan—and him for her—is complicated, because they are professionally prohibited from being together. A cop can’t date a reporter (he’d be the first to be blamed for a leak) and a reporter can’t date a cop (how can she cover the crime beat? What if she has to criticize her loved one, or throw him under the bus?). So it’s a very difficult quandary for them.
Why is there a bit of romance? Well, someone once asked me if I could write a mystery/thriller without romance. No, I said. Not if the characters are real people, right? Because we’re all—no matter where we are in life—wondering about that part of our existence that has to do with love. Whether we have it, or don’t. So a living breathing person—character—is going to be concerned with that. Like Jane and Jake.
The same person asked me if I could write a romance without a mystery. No, I said. Because—what would the characters DO for a whole book? You can see why I write crime fiction!
Q) We’re human; second-guessing comes with the job. Without going into details, is there a report you wish you had handled differently?
A) Happy to go into details. Years ago, maybe 12? I did a story about radioactive medical materials, and how the security in labs was so lax that these potentially dangerous items were being stolen. One of the elements that’s used is Krypton.
In my story, I called it Kryptonite.
I still think about that. At least I can laugh now. Kind of.
Q) You potentially saved many lives with a story of how school bus recalls weren’t getting delivered to schools. Laws were changed as a result of your work. Following up on the previous question, what’s the story you’re most proud of?
A) Such a touch question. We’ve changed laws and changed lives, gotten millions of dollars in refunds and restitution for consumers. We found huge problems in the 911 system that were sending emergency responders, police and firefighters to the wrong addresses—that’s now been fixed.
We found heartbreaking deception in the mortgage banking and home improvement industries—new laws were passed to make sure that didn’t happen again.
We’ve revealed some potentially life-saving infant tests that were not being done in certain hospitals—now they are.
After 35 years as a reporter, I’m so proud of what we’ve accomplished. And I always think my best story will be the next one.
Q) Reporting and writing are not nine to five jobs, and you do both. How do you keep your home life
A) Laughing. Truly, that’s part of it. Let me confess that there is absolutely no way to do it all perfectly, so I try to be organized and prioritized, and I try to laugh and enjoy it every day. What needs to get done, gets done. I am big on lists, and have been known to do a task, then PUT it on the list so I can check it off.
We eat a lot of carry-out salmon, haven’t gone on vacation for years—and my husband and I adore each other. I am a hard worker, and really lucky, and I count my blessings every day.
Q) Any parting comments for fans and readers new to your work?
A) You know, if we’re lucky, when we were kids, someone put us on their lap and began “Once upon a time…” We all love stories, and as a journalist and as a crime fiction author, that’s what I love to do—tell stories. Riveting, suspenseful page-turners of stories, that’ll keep you entertained and up too late turning the pages.
My book THE OTHER WOMAN (some call it The Good Wife meets Law & Order) won the prestigious Mary Higgins Clark award—that lets you know it’s a smart, suspenseful thriller, with no graphic sex or violence. THE OTHER WOMAN also was nominated for the Agatha, Anthony, Macavity, Daphne and Shamus—that lets you know it’s among the top novels in all realms of crime fiction.
The brand new THE WRONG GIRL (what if you didn’t know the truth about your own family?) is already a multi-week Boston Globe (and others) bestseller—and is nominated for the best Suspense/Thriller of 2013 by RT Reviewers Choice.
Readers (like me) who love Lisa Scottoline, Tess Gerritsen, Sue Grafton, Sandra Brown, Harlan Coben—well, they say to write the kind of books you love to read. That’s what I’m doing.
Right now I’m working on the next Jane Ryland thriller, TRUTH BE TOLD (how far would you go to save your home?)—it’ll be out this time next year!
But meanwhile, do let me know how you like THE OTHER WOMAN and THE WRONG GIRL. Find me on Facebook and Twitter! And go to http://www.hankphillippiryan.com/ and click on “contact”—your message comes directly to me.
Thanks so much for this—what a treat!
DA Kentner is an award-winning author www.kevad.net