I just found Mystery author Hank Phillipi wandering by and dragged her inside the blog space. She's not getting out before we ask her tons of questions.

Things you might not know about Hank.

Award-winning investigative reporter Hank Phillippi Ryan is on the air at 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 26 EMMYs, Hank’s won dozens of other journalism honors. She's been a radio reporter, 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. It was also was a double RITA nominee for Best First Book and Best Romantic Suspense Novel, and a Reviewers' Choice Award Winner. FACE TIME and AIR TIME are IMBA bestsellers, and AIR TIME was just nominated for the AGATHA Award for Best Novel of 2009. (Of AIR TIME, Sue Grafton says: "This is first-class entertainment.") DRIVE TIME, February 2010 from MIRA Books, just earned a starred review from Library Journal.

Hank's short story "On The House" is now an AGATHA nominee for Best Short Story of 2009.

She is on the national board of Mystery Writers of America.



Let’s Twist Again


You’re reading a suspenseful novel (say, like my new DRIVE TIME!), or watching a nail-biter of a movie. Do you try to solve the puzzle as you read or watch? Or do relax and get carried away? And if there’s a twist, do you want to know?

Here’s the scene you’ve got to imagine. Me, and my dear husband, side by side on the couch. (He looks a bit like Donald Sutherland, if that helps. Not scary-spooky Donald Sutherland, but nice Donald.) We have wine. Some little snacks. And a movie.

Jonathan clicks the remote to ‘play’. The mystery thriller—you pick the movie--whirrs into life. Opening credits, big opening scene, setting the stage and introducing the characters. About five minutes in, a woman enters the plot.

“Dead,” I say.

Jonathan pushes pause. “What?”

“Nothing, nothing,” I say, taking the remote and pushing play. “I’m just saying, she’s toast.”

Four minutes later: KABLAM. Jonathan takes a sip of wine. “Anyone could have predicted that,” he says. “Plus, you guessed.”

I shrug.

Soon after, someone who is someone’s friend/lover/teacher/husband/neighborhood cop arrives into our plot. “I like him for it,” I say. “Guilty Guilty Guilty.”

Jonathan, who I might add is a criminal defense attorney and more used to real-life murder than any of us, is not happy. Pauses the video again. “Can’t you just watch the movie? Can’t you just wait and see what happens?”

I push play. Of course, the answer is no. For the rest of the movie, I—mostly—keep my suspicions and guessing to myself. Unless I just can’t stand it.

“I’m…,” the almost-heroine says.

“Pregnant!” I yell.

“Pregnant,” she says.

“Ha!” I say, raising a victory fist. “The twist.”

Jonathan’s face is some combination of annoyed, impressed and affectionate. He’s married an investigative reporter turned mystery writer, and we can’t stand not to predict what’s going to happen. Or think of a way that it could happen better. Or happen more interestingly.

It may have started with Perry Mason. When I was a little girl, with a lawyer for a step-father, when Perry was on, there were rules. Like: total and absolute silence. My little sister and I were not allowed to ask things like—who’s that guy? What’s embezzlement? Why is she crying? If we wanted to watch Perry on our 17th inch Philco (or whatever it was) we had to be very, very quiet.

Even my dad was quiet. But my 12-year-old brain began to figure things out. Like—the pattern. Of course, you had a head start with Perry. His client, except for that one famous time (what was the name of the case he lost? Anyone?) was not guilty. And the most obvious second choice didn’t do it either. The twist was--it was always the third person, kind of the guy who was not in the forefront until about two-thirds of the way in. And soon, I could always guess. And I was always right. Of course, I was never allowed to say it out loud.

((“Foreshadowing!” I say, all grown up now and on my own couch. “See the river in the background? Someone’s going to drown.”))

Figuring out Nancy Drew was a snap, even though I loved her. Sherlock Holmes? Yeah, even Arthur Conan Doyle had a pattern. I realized that after devouring every Holmes story I could find. It was kind of—a rhythm you could tap in to and figure out the end. Like Law and Order, right? They’re fun to watch. But get the rhythm, and you get the bad guy. (Tum TUM)

And when I read now, I still can’t just let go and let the author take me away. I do try. Try not to think ahead, nail the foreshadowing, find the clues, figure out whodunit before the author tells me. I always, always fail. (But that’s also why I don’t read mysteries while I’m writing. I can’t. I only want my story in my head. I don’t want to be trying to solve someone else’s puzzle.)

Of course, I don’t always guess the bad guy. And it doesn’t really matter. If I do, that’s okay. If the author has written a careful, fair and clever book, I give them props for that.

When I don’t, though, that’s just great. I go back through; looking for the clues I missed, seeing if it was fair. And when it is, when I’m fooled and deceived and misled, that’s the best.

But know what I’m wondering now? Is it fair to promise a “twist ending”? If I’m told there’s going to be a twist, I read the whole book differently. Looking for the twist. Which is somewhat distracting. Isn’t it twistier not to say so? All my promo material for Prime Time promises a twist ending. Which it does have. And people say they never guessed it. But I wonder—should I have left it a surprise? Or does promising a twist make it more of a challenge?

What do you think? Do you try to solve the puzzle as you read or watch? Or can you just—relax and get carried away? And if there’s a twist, do you want to know?

Hank will be giving away 2 signed copies of one PRIME TIME, so check back here tomorrow to find the winner!

35 comments

  1. Mary Marvella // April 7, 2010 at 12:07 AM  

    Welcome, Hank! I can't believe you have accomplished so much!

    Are you willing to tell us how many book manuscripts you wrote before you sold?

  2. Scarlet Pumpernickel // April 7, 2010 at 3:26 AM  

    Hank, welcome to the Pink Fuzzies! We're so pleased to have you drop by. MM, you can untie her now, I don't think she gonna escape. Boy, MM you sure know how to bring in interesting bloggers.

    I so admire Hank. What an inspirational career and still going strong. Can you give us an example of your work day?

  3. Hank Phillippi Ryan // April 7, 2010 at 8:13 AM  

    HI all! Thank you so much for my slippers-I'm wearing them right now, and they'll look terrific on TV.

    Scarlet, work day? Well, here I am at Channel 7 right now--ready to see what happens today in reporter world--I'll work til about 6, then tonight I'm giving a big speech about the books and TV.

    SInce I'm trying to make sure everyone knows about DRIVE TIME right now--I'm not in writing mode. But I am working on my next synopsis, so that's always the top of my mind.

    Anyway, after the speech, I'll sign books (yay!), then I'll go home, have dinner with my husband, and try to have a few minutes of delicious doing nothing.

    Ah--gotta go! Back soon with more..
    thanks os much for inviting me!

    Do you all balance job and writing?

  4. Hank Phillippi Ryan // April 7, 2010 at 8:13 AM  

    Oh-how many book manuscripts I wrote before I sold?

    AH, none. PRIME TIME was my first.

  5. Judy // April 7, 2010 at 8:29 AM  

    Welcome to the Fuzzies, Hank. I laughed and laughed over the scenario with your husband because I've done the same thing on a smaller scale. "Oh, no! Not her!" "There he is, he's the one!" etc. Too funny. Congratulations on your many achievements and the fun you have had doing it.

  6. Autumn Jordon // April 7, 2010 at 8:42 AM  

    Hi, Hank. So good to see you here at the Fuzzies. Congrats on the Agatha nominee. That is so cool.

    I loved watching Perry and Law And Order and CSI New York, even Bones. And yes I do the same thing, shouting out the names before the show ends. My husband has stopped giving me the evil eye and plays along now.

    Answer: The Case of the Deadly Verdict.

    Questions: What advice can you give for really twisting the story? How do you brainstorm? Do you draw from past case files?

    One more: Will you be at Thillerfest?

    (((HUGS))

    PS: Don't put my name in for Prime Time as I have my signed copy. WINK Loved it.

  7. Mary Marvella // April 7, 2010 at 11:03 AM  

    If Autumn wins, I'll take her copy for a deserving person, me! Maybe I don't deserve it but...(snicker!)

    And yes, I've been told to hush while guessing aloud during television shows.

  8. Joelle Charbonneau // April 7, 2010 at 11:33 AM  

    Hi Hank! Thanks for stopping by the Fuzzies:)

    I'm with you. I can't seem to shut my brain off while watching a movie or reading a mystery/thriller. My mind insists on figuring out the puzzle. Funny enough, I often figure out the mystery in most books about 50 pages in and I can't tell you why I am certain who done it....I just am.

    Congrats on your two Agatha nominations. I'll be keeping my fingers and toes crossed for you.

  9. Nightingale // April 7, 2010 at 12:20 PM  

    Hank, congrats on your nominations and an exciting life. Enjoyed the post tremendously. I never try to solve the problem. I like to get carried away.

  10. magolla // April 7, 2010 at 12:23 PM  

    Loved your couch scenario, Hank! But I have to admit, my hubster is the key-clue-figure-outer. It is irritating, so I feel your hubby's pain. :-)

  11. Barbara Monajem // April 7, 2010 at 2:15 PM  

    LOL. Once I started writing seriously, my reading process changed completely. Now I notice tiny details and simply have to know why the author put them there. I'm always looking for the solution or the twist. Often I figure out who the bad guy is, but I'm so impatient that I almost always skim and skip to the end. (And then go back to get the details. Sometimes.)

    Jeez, Hank, you sound awfully energetic. Just reading about all your achievements makes me want to take a nap.

  12. Hank Phillippi Ryan // April 7, 2010 at 3:32 PM  

    Thanks guys--I've been covering a big fire and had to miss some of the time I would have been here!

    (And yes, Barbara, a nap is sounding pretty good.)

  13. Hank Phillippi Ryan // April 7, 2010 at 3:34 PM  

    Joelle!Thank you! Yes, the Agatha nominations are just--well, they still bring tears to my eyes.

    You can read the entire short story "On the House" on my website--check it out!

  14. Hank Phillippi Ryan // April 7, 2010 at 3:36 PM  

    Autumn--Thrillerfest! yes, I'll be there for part of it, at least. I have an essay, called "Masquerade" in the new antology of the 100 Best Thrillers of ALl Time edited by David Morrell.

    Very exciting.

    Will you be there?

  15. jessi // April 7, 2010 at 6:39 PM  

    Did I read that correctly, Hank? You popped out and covered a fire? Too bad your life's not exciting! I couldn't even imagine accomplishing so much (and with makeup on).

    My husband & I have resorted to watching comedies and horror together~~keeps me from annoying him too much.

    Take care!

  16. Liz Lipperman // April 7, 2010 at 6:41 PM  

    Loved the story, Hank. I'm so glad to find out I'm not weird!! I always look for the well-known bit actor. They're always the bad guys.

    I wrote a blog not too long ago comparing mystery writing to playing the game, Jenga. If you pull out the pieces too quickly, the tower falls and so does your the mystery.

    Congrats on the Agatha nominations. You so deserve them.

  17. Mary Marvella // April 7, 2010 at 7:14 PM  

    Hey, Liz and Magnolia, thanks for dropping by!

  18. Dale // April 7, 2010 at 8:00 PM  

    Hank I am so jealous - Prime Time was your first manuscript?? That is so fabulous. And did I read you're working on a synopsis for another book - is that the normal process for you - synopsis before you start writing?

    It's great you're visiting Mary's corner today! (Hi Mary, hands waving madly)

    Dale

  19. Donnell // April 7, 2010 at 8:09 PM  

    Hi, Mary, hi, Hank! I've already raved about Hank's work, and, yeah, Dale, she published her first manuscript, but I have a sneaking suspicion all those years at the network taught her to write ;) Nice to see you, Hank. Hope you're still floating from your Agatha nods and wins!

  20. Mary Marvella // April 7, 2010 at 9:02 PM  

    Hey, Dale and Donnell! Thanks for stopping by. My GIAM ladies rock!

  21. Hank Phillippi Ryan // April 7, 2010 at 10:13 PM  

    Hey all-- just back from a speech and booksigning..and so lovely to see you all here.

    Jessi--yes, that's the thing about tv news..you never know! Good idea about comedy and horror movies--but that still doesn't stop me from guessing.

  22. Hank Phillippi Ryan // April 7, 2010 at 10:16 PM  

    Liz--love the Jenga comparison! So wise. And thank you for the kind words..I do have my fingers crossed.

    xoxo

  23. Hank Phillippi Ryan // April 7, 2010 at 10:17 PM  

    Donnell! So wonderful to see you here..and don't you have some lovely news to share????

  24. Hank Phillippi Ryan // April 7, 2010 at 10:23 PM  

    Dale-hey--nice to see you! Ah--for Prime Time, I didn't write a synopsis--and it worked fine,except that the first draft was 723 pages long. I had to cut cut 400 pages!! But it was amazingly educational experience to do that edit.

    FOr the other books,the publisher expected a synopsis. I had no idea how to do one, and I griped and complained for about three days.

    NOw, I must say, even though writing a synopsis is the part of writing I dislke the most--by far!--when I am finished, it becomes a great tool,and I am happy I have it.

    INterestingly, the actual book is never exactly the same as the synopsis. Sometimes,not even close! But I am always grateful for the road map.

  25. Dale // April 7, 2010 at 10:36 PM  

    400 freakin pages!! I can't imagine. As for your question, I balance family and full freelance writing with writing.

    I like (a loose term here!) to write a synopsis after the first draft where I can see the journey up to this point and then imagine the synopsis of where I want to see the book in the end. The trick is to then revise the book to match the synopsis. :)

  26. Mary Marvella // April 7, 2010 at 10:55 PM  

    Hope you sold a bunch of books, Hank!
    You had a busy day!

  27. Cindy // April 7, 2010 at 11:00 PM  

    Hi, Hank. I'm jealous too. First book. I do that whole couch scenario too. Drives people crazy. Maybe that's why no one will watch movies with me.

  28. Hank Phillippi Ryan // April 7, 2010 at 11:04 PM  

    Yes,we did, MM! Thank you so much!

    And Cindy,I'll happily watch movies with you!

  29. Mary Marvella // April 7, 2010 at 11:43 PM  

    Deb Dixon tells a story about seeing a movie with her writing buds after a writing workshop. They had the theater to themselves and talked about everything from the "call to action", "the inciting incident", and each plot point.

  30. Rochelle // April 8, 2010 at 12:04 AM  

    Hank - love the couch story! Made me laugh out loud because I do it all the time without the adorable hubby to annoy.

    One question - when you're in writing mode, how many hours per day do you spend at the keyboard?

    Congratulations on all of your well-deserved accolades and nominations.

  31. Mary Ricksen // April 8, 2010 at 5:33 PM  

    Fantastic blog!!! Oh my goodness. untie her Mary.
    Thanks for the interview Hank

  32. Hank Phillippi Ryan // April 8, 2010 at 5:36 PM  

    Yes, yes, good idea, MAry! How about untying me now??? My husband is wondering...

    xox

  33. Mary Marvella // April 8, 2010 at 10:47 PM  

    If I must! Loved having you with us, Hank. You are always welcome back. Your story is a wonderful one about determination and making time for what we really want to achieve.

  34. Mary Marvella // April 8, 2010 at 10:48 PM  

    By the way, I used silk rope because I couldn't find the mink-lined cuffs. do you still have them, Mary R?

  35. Dayana // April 10, 2010 at 9:14 AM  

    Whoa! Great post and something to think about.

    Welcome Hank! When I watch a movie or read a book, I love to go in cold. I don't want to know anything about it. I really hate when people ruin it for me and tell me something or give some major thing in the story away. I like to go in fresh and oblivious. Just my way. It reads much better and everything is more satisfyingly unexpected.

    Thank you for joining us here.

    Dayana~