Writer Interviews: Hank Phillippi Ryan

Hank Phillippi Ryan is gorgeous and talented and one of the most generous and hardworking writers around. She works full time as a TV reporter, writes at night, and still finds plenty of time to support and encourage her fellow writers through organizations, such as Sisters in Crime. She’s about to be president of the national chapter. I can’t wait to get my hands on her latest book, THE OTHER WOMAN, described as The Candidate meets Basic Instinct (see below). And because of Phillippi Ryan’s generosity, one lucky person who leaves a comment on this post before Sept. 12 will win a copy of her novel.

Here is Hank Phillippi Ryan in her own words:

1. Describe your writing routine and/or schedule?

Routine. Schedule. Do such things exist? Hmm. Let me see. I have a full time job as a TV reporter—so that means my fiction wring is on the craziest schedule imaginable. I can’t possible write in the morning—I’ve tried it, even with maximum amount of coffee, and I just sit there, staring at my computer.

So I go to work at Channel 7 first thing—my husband’s law office is two blocks away—what a lovely coincidence!–and we drive to work  together, him in the drivers seat and me reading the newspaper out loud to him. (Sometimes I make stuff up to see if he’ll notice…).

We leave at 6:30 or so, drive home—and then I start my writing “day”! I write til about 10, then make dinner. Yes, it’s wacky. Yes, it’s crazy. Yes, it works for me. Maybe after all hose years of working for the 11 o’clock news, my brain seems to work at night.

When I’m deep into mid-novel mode—I’ll write after dinner, too. Then all weekend, and all my vacation days. I haven’t had a vacation in five years, I think. Since I started wiring. My husband is very very patient.

2. What do you do if you get writer’s block?

I’m a reporter. I don’t get writers block. I can’t. Can you imagine—if I said to the producer of the six o’clock news:  “May I be on at ten after 6, instead of 6? I’m just not feeling the muse…”

I’d be laughed out of the place! So I sit down to write, and I just do it. Some days it’s glowing and fabulous, other days, I know it stinks. I do it anyway. I can fix it later, right? But as Nora Roberts says, you can’t fix a blank page.

And you know, what I write on the days I think I’m terrible—well, when I look at it later, its never as bad as I thought. It’s more the emotion and the fear than the reality. So I say—for me, I don’t believe in writers block.

3. Who do you read, or recommend other writer’s read, in regards to craft?

Ah, Ann Lamott’s Bird by Bird, certainly. Stephen King’s On Writing. Save the Cat. I look at those books, I bet, every week. I just open them, and dip in, and see what page happens to appear. Hallie Ephron’s book and Chris Roerden’s book on how to write mysteries are practical and a necessity…both of mine are dog-eared and marked up.

Sometimes I just pick up Dennis Lehane or Sue Grafton or Lisa Scottoline, and just read a random page. It seems like the universe provides what you need when you need it.

4. Who do you read for fun?

Ah. That’s the big untold secret of being a writer. I used to read ALL the time, hundreds and dozens of thrillers and mysteries, suspense, everything. Now I—have a harder time. I do a lot of contest judging, and so all the books I read last year, for instance—hundreds of them!–were kind of…work. But it was a real treat to find the wonderful ones.

For fun, huh? Dennis Lehane, Sue Grafton, Lisa Scottoline—oh, I said that. Lisa Gardner, Bryan Gruley, Kent Krueger, Lee Child, Karin Slaughter. You get the picture.

5. When did you first know you wanted to be a writer? Tell us about it.

Huh. What an interesting question…because I  don’t think it worked that way.

Two parts. One, I’ve been a TV reporter for more than thirty years. I’ve written stories every day—from one-minute quickies to  hour-long documentaries. I’ve written poignant features, and humor, and in-depth investigations, and crime and politics and medicine and been a movie reviewer and an on the-road correspondent. Telling stories was what it was about every day. Still is.

I’ve always wanted to write mysteries, always, but for years, just never had a good idea. (Know the feeling?)

But one day in…well, 2005? I had a great idea for a plot. I knew it was a great idea the moment I had it. I still get goose bumps, remembering that. And that turned out to be PRIME TIME, which won the Agatha Award for best first. I was fifty-five years old.

6. What advice would you give an aspiring writer?

Why are you still “aspiring”?  A writer is someone who sits at the computer (or uses a typewriter or yellow pad) and writes. That’s what you do. The moment you decide to do it—the moment you decide you have story to tell and you begin to put those words together—you’re a writer.

Every writer—and I promise you EVERY one—has days when they can think of a million reasons why doing almost anything else is a better idea. One day, I decided it was absolutely necessary for me to alphabetize my spices. I am not kidding.

But that is the fear speaking. And that is silly. If you have the dream to be a writer, then write.

Can you aspire to be better? Oh, of course. And we all do. We read read read and write write write and listen and learn and soak it all in. Of course we aspire to be “better.” But you can’t be “better” until you start.

Everyone—and I promise you everyone—has bad writing days. Days when the whole silly idea is impossible. On those days—just keep writing. It’s never as bad as you think and the next day will be better.

Don’t let the fear stop you.  What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail? You won’t fail.

7. What do you think is the most important skill to have to succeed as a writer?

Persistence. Belief. Patience. Imagination. Confidence. Humor. Gratitude.

8. What is your favorite food and/or drink?

Pizza.  Cabernet sauvignon. Peanut butter. Proseco. Avocadoes. Steak with bleu cheese. Lemon soufflé. Champagne. Lobster.

9. Do you have a favorite book or movie?

Millions of them.  Let’s see—books? A Winters Tale, by Mark Helprin. Bonfire of the Vanities, but Tom Wolfe. Look Homeward Angel by Thomas Wolfe. Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton.  Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee.

Movies? To Kill A Mockingbird, of course. Day of the Jackal! (The real one, not the new one.) Lawrence of Arabia. The Seven Per Cent Solution. The Right Stuff.  Working Girl.  When Harry Met Sally. Adam’s Rib.  Desk Set.  North by Northwest.

10. Is there anything I didn’t ask you that you’d like to share?

Well, about THE OTHER WOMAN, of course! My new suspense thriller, which the starred review for Booklist called “A prefect pre-election thriller,” and for which the starred review from Library Journal said “Readers who crave mystery and political intrigue will be mesmerized.”

So that’s pretty nice.

It’s the first in a new series—and Julia Spencer-Fleming called it The Candidate meets Basic Instinct. I had always said it’s The Good Wife meets Law & Order. Either way, you get the drift.

And on the cover—after Lisa Scottoline says “Non-stop suspense! Riveting!”– there’s one line that tells it all: “You can choose your sin, but you cannot choose your consequences.”

Crossing my fingers that you love it. We took a little risk, too, with the book video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RdH02wV_O3M

See what you think—it’s not what you might predict!



twitter  @hank_phillippi @junglereds

Blogging at http://www.jungleredwriters.com/


Hank Phillippi Ryan is the on-the-air investigative reporter for 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 28 EMMYs, Hank’s won dozens of other journalism honors. She’s been a radio reporter, a political campaign staffer, a legislative aide in the United States Senate and an editorial assistant at Rolling Stone Magazine working with Hunter S. Thompson.

Her first mystery, the best-selling PRIME TIME, won the Agatha for Best First Novel. FACE TIME was a BookSense Notable Book, and AIR TIME and DRIVE TIME were nominated for the AGATHA and ANTHONY Awards. Hank’s short story “On the House” won the AGATHA, ANTHONY and MACAVITY.

Her newest thriller, THE OTHER WOMAN, comes out in hardcover September 4 from Forge. A starred review from Library Journal says “a dizzying labyrinth of twists, turns, and surprises. Readers who crave mystery and political intrigue will be mesmerized by this first installment of her new series.”


Jane Ryland was a rising star in television news—until she refused to reveal a source and lost everything. Now a disgraced newspaper reporter, Jane isn’t content to work on her assigned puff pieces, and finds herself tracking down a candidate’s secret mistress just days before a pivotal Senate election.

Detective Jake Brogan is investigating a possible serial killer. Twice, bodies of unidentified women have been found by a bridge, and Jake is plagued by a media swarm beginning to buzz about a  “bridge killer” hurting the young women of Boston.

As the body count rises and election day looms, it becomes clear to Jane and Jake that their investigations are connected…and that they may be facing a ruthless killer who will stop at nothing to silence a sandal.

With its dirty politics, dirty tricks, and a barrage of final twists, THE OTHER WOMAN is the first in an explosive new series. Seduction, betrayal and murder—it’ll take a lot more than votes to win this election!

As one character warns: You can choose you sin, but you cannot choose your consequences.


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Book Love. Always.

At one point in my life, my posessions, other than clothes, consisted of a roll-up black futon, a ghetto blaster, cd’s, journals, Mexican religious candles and a giant stack of books. Not much else.

The candles were propped on a window sill. The ghetto blaster and cd’s lined another wall and my futon was plopped in the middle of the floor. The wall by my head contained a long stretch of my books lined up against the wall.

I was a bit like Steve Martin in “The Jerk”:

“I don’t need anything. Except this. [picks up an ashtray]  And that’s the only thing I need is *this*. I don’t need this or this. Just this ashtray… And this paddle game. – The ashtray and the paddle game and that’s all I need… And this remote control. – The ashtray, the paddle game, and the remote control, and that’s all I need…  I don’t need one other thing, not one… “

Okay, Steve Martin kept adding to what he *truly* needed, but you get my point.

Back to my small room and meager belongings:

The books were the first thing I saw upon awakening. Pure joy.

And today, putting my books on new bookshelves fills me with that same joy. And now, as an adult, I can add a special piece of art to that tableau and that makes me even happier. I’m a bookworm and a little bit of an organization nut, so they are all alphabetized in their own bizarre order (the first four shelves left to right are general fiction and then the mystery section starts!)

In addition, I refuse to put a book on the bookshelf until it has been read. My to-be-read pile remains on my nightstand so I still have something to make me happy when I first open my eyes.

Books are my love.

I could never live in a house without books.

Raise your hand if you agree.

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R.I.P Sheriff Warren E. Rupf 1943-2012

I was so sad to hear yesterday from my good friend, a former cops reporter with the Contra Costa Times, that Sheriff Warren Rupf had passed away. The Times wrote an editorial about his passing. In another article reporter Lisa Vorderbrueggen aptly calls Rupf “the county’s own larger-than-life Wyatt Earp.”

Rupf was the epitome of everything you imagine a sheriff to be. He WAS larger-than-life and so FULL of life it is nearly impossible for me to imagine him gone. He was always, always a class act and a true gentleman, as Lisa points out.

My heart goes out to his family and friends and I just feel honored to have known him. He treated a silly girl reporter with respect and I will always be grateful for that.

You can read a bit more about him here and Lisa’s story here.

The reach of his influence can be seen on Facebook this morning. Dozens of people changed their profile picture to this in honor of him:

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Writer Interviews: Larissa Reinhart


Larissa provided a blurb for her interview and I’m so happy she did. I think from now on all my author interviews should include a blurb! Here is more about the lovely Larissa and her book:

In Halo, Georgia, folks know Cherry Tucker as big in mouth, small in stature, and able to sketch a portrait faster than buckshot rips from a ten gauge — but commissions are scarce. So when the well-heeled Branson family wants to memorialize their murdered son in a coffin portrait, Cherry scrambles to win their patronage from her small town rival.

As the clock ticks toward the deadline, Cherry faces more trouble than just a controversial subject. Her rival wants to ruin her reputation, her ex-flame wants to rekindle the fire, and someone’s setting her up to take the fall. Mix in her flaky family, an illegal gambling ring, and outwitting a killer on a spree, Cherry finds herself painted into a corner she’ll be lucky to survive.

Here is Larissa in her own words:

1. Describe your writing routine and/or schedule?

Because I have a 9 and 7 year-old, this depends on the school year. During the school year, I get them off to school at 7:30 and hop on the computer by 8:00. I meet my CP partner by text at 8:30 (we try to keep each other on task, although, admittedly, we have had 30 minute text conversations during which I multi-task). If nothing is pressing, I write or edit until I’m starving. Rummaging for food ensues. I get back on the computer and continue writing. More rummaging for food (lately I’ve kept Trader Joe’s chocolate covered edamame on my desk [which are AWESOME] to stop some of the hunting/gathering). Around 2:00, I stop and give myself 30 minutes of peace (nap) before hopping on the golf cart (yes, golf cart) to pick up the kids from school. Then there is much homeworking and carpooling until dinner. After they are in bed, I get back on the computer and catch up on social media/blogging, etc. In the perfect world, I will have stayed off social media and email all day, but I do not live in the perfect world.

During the summer: all hell breaks loose and it’s catch-can with computer time.

2. What do you do if you get writer’s block?

This usually occurs because something has gone wrong with the story. (I am a pantser). I have to back up, reread what I wrote, have some thinking time (in the shower or in the car) where I realize what’s gone wrong. Hit delete and start the scene over. Many times I’ve tried to force the story where I think it should go and not let the characters choose their fate. I have to ask myself, what would Cherry Tucker or [insert character name] think or do here? And that answers my question.

3. Who do you read, or recommend other writer’s read, in regards to craft?

Stephen King’s ON WRITING was the best book I’ve read. The most valuable lesson I learned was his idea that you put your character in a horrible situation and see how they get out of it. I love that and that’s my aim in writing. Put my sweet, little characters (although my heroines are not usually sweet) in some God-awful situation and see what they can do.

I’ve downloaded a lot of books on craft, but most are in my TBR pile. I’ve used STORY STRUCTURE ARCHITECTURE by Victoria Lynn Schmidt, to help me in plotting. I don’t really plot, but I use it to keep the book on track for pacing. I like classes more than books on craft. I don’t like reading non-fiction, which is probably why I liked ON WRITING so much, even though it’s non-fiction. In college I took a mythology class (my favorite college class), and we studied Joseph Campbell’s THE HEROE’S JOURNEY. That’s probably the best book on understanding stories.

Reference books are great, too. I bought a book on body language that’s been helpful. Because my heroine is an artist, I use my old art history text books a lot. And Lee Lofland’s POLICE PROCEDURE AND INVESTIGATION is a help for my mysteries.

4. Who do you read for fun?

Almost anything in fiction. I’ll read the literary stuff, romance, thrillers, historical fiction, mysteries, romantic suspense, fantasy, YA… (did I cover most genres there?). I’m a big mystery reader, especially British. If I’m really stressed, Agatha Christie calms my nerves. I love quirky books like Jasper Fforde’s Tuesday Next series and books by Jostein Gaardner. Love anything from early twentieth century, particularly British. Victorian period, too. Love magic realism. Romantic comedies. Even some Japanese writers. Just don’t make me read non-fiction. I will fall asleep.

5. When did you first know you wanted to be a writer? Tell us about it.

I remember writing lists of words at about age 4. I thought I was writing a book. In elementary school, I used to make books and magazines and sell them to neighbors (my poor neighbors). I won a national writing competition in 4th or 5th grade, was in Quill and Scroll in high school, and even wrote a column for our town’s paper. I always wrote for fun. I don’t know if I ever aspired to be a novelist though. I wanted to be a secretary because I liked to type and I loved desk stuff. I experimented with several majors in college and took creative writing for fun. Someone once told me you had to write what you know, and I felt like I didn’t know anything worth writing. I wanted to write about Victorian girls dying of TB (a story from high school). So I got a degree in history and then went to grad school for art history, which led me into teaching. My parents were teachers. I don’t think I knew writers were real people. The people I knew were farmers, mechanics, housewives, and secretaries. I came from a small town.

So I wrote for fun, then life happened and I didn’t write much except lesson plans and letters. Twenty years later I was living in Japan, my kids were in school for the first time, I didn’t have a job, and I suddenly had time. I always had stories in my head and my husband encouraged me to write. So I did. And here I am. (That was three years ago).

6. What advice would you give an aspiring writer?

I think reading is what helps me become a better writer. Read in your genre and out of your genre, but pay attention while you’re reading. Think about the choices the writer made in language, character actions, pacing, sentence structure, etc. Take a really good example of a book in your genre and dissect it.

Write as much as you can when you can. Fifty words a day if that’s all you can do. Do it whatever way works best for you, just write. Writing is the hardest part of writing. My brain has to be jumpstarted. Some days I’ll only write three words in an hour and then the flow comes. If you’re like me, you’ll need to block out time for that. Other people can write whenever they get five minutes. I’m envious. I’m too easily distracted.

Join professional groups in your genre like Romance Writers of America or Sisters in Crime (I’m in both) and online and/or local chapters. I’m in 4 national groups, a state-wide chapter, and a local writing group. You learn so much from other members. Take advantage of the classes they offer. Look for conferences. Live conferences can be expensive but there are some free on-line conferences. I did the on-line conferences while living in Japan and I learned so much about writing and publishing.

7. What do you think is the most important skill to have to succeed as a writer?

Perseverance. And knowing how to use the find/replace key.

8. What is your favorite food and/or drink?

Pizza and iced Oolong tea (a tea I started drinking in Japan). It used to be beer, but my body doesn’t want me to have fun anymore.

9. Do you have a favorite book or movie?

Favorite book? That’s like asking me to name my favorite child! I have so many I can’t even make a top ten, but my favorite book from childhood that I still love to read is THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE by C.S. Lewis. We named a dog after C.S. and my daughter is partially named for the character Lucy. I love the movie Lost in Translation. Maybe it’s my favorite. I also love all the John Hughes movies from the ‘80s. And Raiders of the Lost Arc. Favorite Movie is like Favorite Book. Too hard!

10. Is there anything I didn’t ask you that you’d like to share?

I love to chat on Facebook and Twitter, but my new favorite website is Pinterest. For the pinners out there, my heroine in the Cherry Tucker Mystery series is an artist living in Georgia. She loves to eat Southern food and also loves to “embellish” her clothing. On Pinterest, I’m always looking for great Southern recipes and DIY ideas to restyle ordinary clothes that would fit Cherry’s budget that lets her add personal style. If you find a recipe or DIY clothing idea you think Cherry would love, put an @LarissaReinhart in the comment section and let me know. I’ll pin it to my Southern Fixin’s and/or Cherry’s Wardrobe boards and might use them in a future book!

Also, if you love to chat about book topics, some of my friends and I have started a book chat group on Facebook called The Little Read Hens. We have a discussion topic question on Wednesdays we use as a starting point. We also like to celebrate book launches at our website littlereadhens.com. If you have a book launching or are curious about new books coming out, check us out!

Larissa considers herself lucky to have taught English in Japan, escaped a ferocious monkey in Thailand, studied archaeology in Egypt, and survived teaching high school history in the US. However, adopting her daughters from China has been her most rewarding experience. After moving around the midwest, the south and Japan, she now lives in Georgia with her husband, daughters, and Biscuit, a Cairn Terrier.

 She loves small town characters with big attitudes, particularly sassy women with a penchant for trouble. PORTRAIT OF A DEAD GUY (Henery Press, August 28, 2012) is a 2012 Daphne du Maurier finalist, a 2012 The Emily finalist, and a 2011 Dixie Kane Memorial winner. When she’s not writing about southern fried chicken, she writes about Asian fried chicken at her blog about life as an ex-expat at theexpatreturneth.blogspot.com.

She and her writing friends also chat weekly about books on their Little Read Hens Facebook page and littlereadhens.com. You can find Larissa chatting on Facebook;

Twitter; and Goodreads. She loves pinning on her Cherry Tucker and other boards at Pinterest. You can also find more information on her website at larissareinhart.com.





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Writer Interviews: Julie Kramer

I’ve had the pleasure of running into Julie Kramer a few times at local events for authors. Of course I’ve read every one of her books. They are set in my new hometown and they feature a news reporter protagonist! The last time I ran into Julie I found out about her new release and was thrilled when she agreed to an author interview on my website. Her words of wisdom on the writing life are below:

P.S. Minnesota peeps: Don’t miss Julie’s launch party for her latest book:

Shunning Sarah Launch Party
Tuesday, August 7, 7 pm
Minneapolis, MN
Once Upon A Crime
604 W. 26th St.


Describe your writing routine and/or schedule?

It takes a year for me to write a book because that’s how long my publisher gives me. I do what it takes to make that deadline. Sometimes it means writing fast and furious the final weeks. These days, authors can’t think of themselves as mere artists, they have to be small businesses, and thus I try to balance writing with other necessities like promotion.

What do you do if you get writer’s block?

I try to jump ahead to the next thing that has to happen in the story. Sometimes I find the part that I was struggling with wasn’t necessary to the plot after all, other times the answer comes to me later. I don’t always write chronologically, so cut and paste is my friend.

How important is research to writing fiction?

My stories take place in real places, so I have to be careful not to mess up or that lapse will distract writers from the plot. I’m lucky when it comes to writing about a television newsroom, I’ve lived that research. My new book, SHUNNING SARAH, takes readers inside the mysterious world of the Amish. I grew up on a farm near an Amish family and have always been interested in their culture. Visiting among the Amish was intriguing research. Minnesota has one of the fastest growing Old Order Amish communities and I thought that would make an interesting backdrop to murder.

What advice would you give an aspiring writer?

Realize that not everyone is going to like your book. You need to have a thick skin. Working in the news business helped me develop that attitude.

What do you think is the most important skill to have to succeed as a writer?

Never forget that truth is stranger than fiction. Don’t talk yourself out of a good premise because you think readers won’t believe it. It’s your job as a writer to make them believe. “Is it believable?” is a better question to ask 100 pages into your manuscript, not on page one. Nothing in my books is as crazy as what viewers will see on the news each night. Understanding that gives me courage to take chances with my characters. Part of writing suspense comes from taking risks. As a writer of crime fiction, I want to periodically remind readers through storytelling that no character is safe.

What’s the biggest challenge to writing a series?

You need to decide whether your characters will grow and change or stay consistent book to book. You also need to make sure the stories are self-contained so readers don’t have to start at the beginning. At signings, when people ask which book they should buy, unless they tell me they’re the kind of reader who has to start at the beginning of a series, I suggest they pick the book that sounds the most interesting to them. I’m confident they’ll come back for more.


Investigative television journalist Julie Kramer writes a series of thrillers: STALKING SUSAN, MISSING MARK, SILENCING SAM, KILLING KATE and SHUNNING SARAH—set in the desperate world of TV news. Julie won the Daphne du Maurier Award for Mainstream Mystery/Suspense, RT Reviewer’s Choice Award for Best First Mystery as well as the Minnesota Book Award. Her work has also been nominated for the Anthony, Barry, Shamus, Mary Higgins Clark, and RT Best Best Amateur Sleuth Awards. She formerly ran the I TEAM for WCCO-TV before becoming a freelance network news producer for NBC and CBS.

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