Hank Phillippi Ryan is an Emmy award winning reporter and the bestselling and award-winning author of multiple thrillers. Ahead of the upcoming release of her next novel, The Murder List, we sat down with Ryan to ask her questions about her writing process, her favorite books, and where she puts her Emmys.
What’s your favorite place to write?
The very first word of my very first book I wrote at my desk in my study at home near Boston, a strangely-shaped room with a bay window, and built-in bookshelves lining one wall and a fireplace on the other. That’s still my fave. I can look outside at a huge sugar maple tree, almost two hundred years old, and watch the seasons change. and the birds and squirrels battle for branch position.
Since then, though, I have learned to write in hotel rooms and in coffee shops, and on airplanes—airplanes are terrific offices, with built in deadlines. Once I even wrote a pivotal suspenseful scene sitting at a picnic table at Tanglewood, while the Boston symphony rehearsed Shostakovich. But for peace and serenity and solitude, I’ll take my perfect desk.
Do you handwrite or type?
Listen, if I wrote my books in longhand, I would never be able to read what I wrote. Never. After 43 years as a reporter, I have my own semi-short hand, but sometimes even I can’t read it. However, confession, even though I type really really fast, I am terrible. Once the Word software put up a message on the screen saying “There are so many errors in this manuscript, Word can no longer correct them.” But that was a good thing. When I’m typing that fast, it means I am in the zone.
What’s your favorite cure for writer’s block?
There is no writers block. Seriously. Some writing days are more difficult than others, and my cure for that is to say to myself: “Just write anything. You can fix it later.” The key is never to let your brain be tricked into believing I can’t do it. You have to believe: “I simply haven’t thought of the answer yet. And the only way to find it is to keep going.”
The best writing advice you’ve ever received?
Stephen King said the hardest part is just before you start. So I think recognizing that, you know? And simply get the show on the road. Even if it’s going to be a bad writing day, that doesn’t matter, right? I can fix it later.
What’s the book you’ve read the most?
The Stand, definitely. The Custom of the Country. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Winter’s Tale.
How did you come up with the character names for The Murder List?
Seriously, I have no idea. But funny story: Rachel North, one of the three pivotal main characters, was initially called Gianna Delaney. I loved that name, I thought it was provocative and equally possibly heroic or sinister.
But that character, Gianna Delaney, would not do anything. She was a lump, a piece of limp cooked spaghetti. When I changed her name to the more straightforward Rachel North, boom. She sat up and took charge. Jack Kirkland? His name had to be strong, with absolutely no baggage or seeming subtext. But names like Annabella Rigalosa and Danielle Zander–those came from the author gods. No idea! If I told you, “I did not make them up, it was simply their name,” that’s the closest to the truth I can get.
What’s the biggest crime you’ve ever committed?
That’s hilarious. Besides alliteration? As an investigative reporter, I’ve wired myself with hidden cameras, and chased down criminals, and gone undercover and in disguise, but I’ve never done anything illegal illegal. Unless you count, sort of, semi-but-not-really trespassing.
I suppose my biggest crime was in college, when I told my mom I was going back to campus, but my pals and I were actually driving to New York City. I totally got away with it.
What’s the most surprising place you’ve been on book tour?
I love book tour! And I am about to set off on a fabulous one for The Murder List. Come see me! No pressure, it’s just my career.
Book tour is fabulous. (And being a Guest of Honor at this year’s Bouchercon—that’s going to be amazing.) I pull my little wheelie bag through the airports humming “Magical Mystery Tour”. Even at four in the morning, it’s a joy and an honor.
The most surprising place I’ve ever been… I have no idea. I never see the places I go on book tour, you know? I’m in the airport, in a car, at the event, in a car, at the hotel, at the airport. Someone once said to me, Oh you went to St. Louis, did you see the arch? And I said: Sure, out the window of a cab.
Oh! But I was graciously and hospitably welcomed at the home of a friend of book store owner in a place which will remain nameless. They had a lovely guest suite, so comfy, but sadly, the other occupant of the suite was a huge and raucous cockatoo, with no cage, who took one look at me, squawked like a demon, flew up and then proceeded to land on my head.
Where do you keep your Emmys?
You are too funny. I keep them on the built-in bookshelves in my office. There are 36 Emmys now! Can you believe it? And on those difficult writing days (see above), I look at them and say, “Well, sometimes it works.”
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