Writer Interviews: Hank Phillippi Ryan

Posted by on September 5, 2012

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.



10 Responses to Writer Interviews: Hank Phillippi Ryan

  1. Penny Michalski

    I love Hank’s writing style. Even if I don’t win, I’m buying a copy!

  2. Judy Alter

    Hank, if you thought you had writer’s block–for a novel, not a news piece–would you ever “put it on the back burner?” and do something else for just a bit? I know it’s not conventional wisdom, but sometimes it seems to work for me.

  3. Terry Ambrose

    As usual, Hank is a wonderful guest. She’s funny and always gives something valuable. In this case, I loved the “I’m just not feeling the muse…” How true it is.

  4. Hank Phillippi Ryan

    Thank you so much for inviting me! And what wonderful questions..I had a great time answering! Keep in touch, okay? And I’m crossing fingers you love THE OTHER WOMAN!

  5. Sarah

    I love Hank’s writing, too! And so glad she’s a SINC member and a journalist. I’m right with you on the writer’s block question. It doesn’t exist for journalists!

    • Kristi

      Is that because we’ve written for so many years under the fear of death?
      It may not always be pretty, but I can get it down on paper!
      You, my friend, are a machine. Your last novel was done in less than a year and rocked!

  6. Hank Phillippi Ryan

    Yes, exactly, Sarah and Kristi. I can’t say–oh, can I be on the news at ten AFTER six, instead of six? How long would I have lasted? SO I just–do it. And if I’m lucky, I can fix it later.

  7. David

    As Kristi said on FB, your advice is golden! As an aspiring writer (scratch aspiring: I’m a writer!), I agree. “…never as bad as I thought” – yes, that’s true.

    • Kristi

      It was hard for me, at first, to just flat out say I was a writer, but now it comes naturally!

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