Sunday, October 25, 2009

author interview: hank phillippi ryan

This post contains affiliate links.

How excited was I went Hank Phillippi Ryan, the author of the fantastic Charlie McNally series (if you've read my reviews, you know how much I love the books), agreed to an interview!! She's also letting me host a giveaway.

What inspired you to write the Charlie McNally series? Did you intend to make it a series?

It was really a special moment--and I remember it all perfectly. First--let me say I’ve always wanted to be a mystery author. Yes, I’ve been a TV reporter for more than 30 years, but ever since I read my first Nancy Drew...well, you can imagine the rest. But even though TV became my life, there was always the mystery-possibility simmering in the back of my brain.

One day, I got a strange email. It was clearly SPAM, sent to millions of people, but the subject line and the subject matter inside didn’t match. Why would someone put lines from a play from Shakespeare in an obvious spam about mortgage refinancing?

It crossed my mind--maybe it's a secret message.

And then I thought: My plot! And from that moment I was obsessed with writing what become the Agatha-winning PRIME TIME.

Nope, it wasn’t a series to begin with. But then one day I thought--Face Time. Air Time, Drive Time. And I couldn't resist.

In addition to writing the Charlie McNally books, you’re a reporter in Boston. How do you balance the two careers? Do you have a writing routine?

Ah—that’s the big question! Quick answer—I work all the time. I haven’t had a vacation in four years. Sleep was the first casualty, then cooking, then fun. Oh, and exercise. And going to movies. Luckily I have a very very patient and supportive husband.

My routine? I get up at say, 7. (Couldn’t possibly write that early—I’m always so impressed by the authors who get up at 4am and dash off some chapters before the sun rises. Sigh. My head would be klonked on the keyboard. Could not do it!) But on workdays, I head to the office, and get home about 7pm. When I’m in writing mode, I write til about 10, then make dinner! My husband and I always have dinner together, then I write a bit afterwards. (I’m definitely a late night writer. All those years of reporting for the 11 pm news, I guess.) Weekends, I write. (Luckily I have a beautiful study, lined with books, working fireplace, antique desk in a bay widow, looking out over a now-bright yellow-gold maple tree.)

Right now I’m in promo mode! So after work I usually have a signing or a reading. It’s wonderful to meet so many new people, and introduce them to the books.

Charlie’s cat Botox behaves a lot like my cat. The parts with Botox are some of my favorites because of how true to life they are. Do you have a cat?

Oh, thanks, Nicole. We don’t have a cat now, but I did have the hilarious and clever Leon, who died at age 14. (I named him Ponce De Leon because I found him, as a tiny kitten, dumped on Ponce de Leon Avenue in Atlanta.) I also had the one-of-a-kind neurotic but wonderful Lola—who chose me when I saw her at the animal shelter as kitten, then died in my arms at age 20. I still almost cry when I think of it—and that was 7 years ago! So yes, Botox is a very dear character to me, too, and I love her relationship with Charlie.

As a child, Charlie stayed up late reading Nancy Drew. What was your favorite book as a child?

Ah—well, certainly Nancy Drew! But I also loved any book about horses, there was a series the started with—Silver Birch, something like that? And all the Black Stallion books. And Donna Parker and Vicki Barr—anyone remember those? Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, certainly. Ivanhoe. Anything about King Arthur. Books by Edward Eager. And Jane Langton’s The Diamond in the Window. Amazingly, I had a signing with her recently—I could barely believe I was in the same room. She’s such an icon.

What book (your own or someone else’s) has had the most impact on your life?

Well, it’s odd to say my own. But it might really be PRIME TIME! I’ve been a reporter for 30 years—and to write a mystery that’s successful opened the door to me to such a new part of my life! I’m truly the poster child for following your dreams. I t would be lovely if someone else, seeing how I made a career addition in mid-life, got the courage to do the same thing. Shows you how books can change your life in many ways.

If I had to pick a book that taught me about storytelling, it would with be Steven King’s The Stand, which was so pivotal to me! (I literally called in sick in 1980 to stay home and read it—the only time that’s ever happened. To Kill A Mockingbird. Winds of War. Ann Lamott’s Bird by Bird. My favorite book is The Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin. Anyone read that?

What’s up next for Charlie in Drive Time?

Ah, big changes in the works. Just as Charlie begins to believe that she might be able to have it all—career and a happy marriage—it all begins to fall apart. Lots of choices for Charlie—and lots of changes for those closest to her. Some, I promise, will surprise you. (And some I cried while I wrote.)

DRIVE TIME is fast-paced, tense and suspenseful…Is there a deadly and sinister plot unfolding at the prestigious prep school where Charlie’s fiancĂ© teachers? And is he the next murder victim? Or what if he’s a suspect? And—Charlie’s tackling another big story—what really happens to your car in valet parking?

Award-winning investigative reporter Hank Phillippi Ryan is currently on the air at Boston's NBC affiliate, where she's broken big stories for the past 24 years. Her stories have resulted in new laws, people sent to prison, homes removed from foreclosure, and millions of dollars in refunds and restitution for consumers.

Along with her 26 EMMYs, Hank’s won also won dozens of other journalism honors. She's been a legislative aide in the United States Senate (working on the Freedom of Information Act) and at Rolling Stone Magazine (working with Hunter S. Thompson).

Her first mysteries, PRIME TIME (which won the prestigious Agatha Award for Best First Novel, was a double RITA nominee for Best First Book and Best Romantic Suspense Novel, and a Reviewers' Choice Award Winner)and FACE TIME(a Book Sense Notable Book), were best sellers. They were both re-issued this summer from MIRA Books. Her newest book is AIR TIME (MIRA Sept. 2009)which is already an IMBA bestseller. (Sue Grafton says: "Sassy, fast-paced and appealing. This is first-class entertainment.") Drive Time will be published in February 2010. Her website is


  1. Hey Nicole! So delighted to be here..and thank you so much for inviting me! Can't wait to give away some books and loot to your savvy readers..
    with much affection

  2. Nancy Drew inspired me to read but I'm glad she inspired you to write! Looking forward to reading Prime Time!!!