Not Quite Twenty Questions for Charlaine Harris

hank-2013-bioHANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Once I was at a library event, and the well-meaning person who was the emcee said, “And now here’s someone who needs no introduction, Hank Phillippi Ryan.”

Well, that was very nice, and I knew he meant it affectionately. The problem with it was, I do need an introduction. And it started me wondering if there was any one who actually didn’t need one.

One of the names I came up with (and I think you’ll agree) is Charlaine Harris.

But—even with a blockbuster HBO series (True Blood) and all kinds of other fabulous stuff (see below) she is so modest and so unassuming that she would probably disagree.

I will admit that many years ago, I bet 10 or so, I met Dana Cameron and Toni Kelner and they talked about how wonderful this Charlaine Harris was. Newbie that I was, I had no idea.

And wow, was it fun to find out!

And even more fun now, after how many series? Three? Four? Five? and incredible hard work and bravery and imagination and courage, if there’s anyone on the planet who could be described as being an overnight sensation in 20 years, isn’t it Charlaine?

Now she’s walking the red carpet in Hollywood, and is one of the most acclaimed and beloved authors in the world. I will never forget the Sunday morning I opened the New York Times book review section and she had seven titles on the bestseller list at the same time!

It might have been eight, but who’s counting.

She is a wonderful and loyal and fabulous friend, and I admire her beyond all description.

CharlaineCharlaine Harris now, with Not Quite Twenty Questions.

Title of your autobiography:
“She Did the Best She Could”

(See, I told you she was modest.) Why?
I often fall short of my own goals, in my personal and professional lives. It’s hard to accept that I have built-in limitations.

Movie you would see again and again?
The Last of the Mohicans

Why? (You know, I’ve never seen it. I decided it would be too sad.)
It’s got everything: great acting, good script, beautiful scenery, romantic and adventurous.

Exotic drinks?
Nope, not me.

Pizza or chocolate?
Chocolate.

Spouse? Children? Special people in your life?
I have a spouse, Hal, and three adult children whom I adore. My newest special people are outstanding and tiny, our grandchildren Gavin and Devin.

Pets? 
Three rescue dogs.

Garden?
Used to, arthritis does not permit any more.

Hobbies? 

Reading. We go to the movies, too, and I definitely watch more television now that my eyes are getting older.

Oh, what do you watch?
Oh, yes, I love: Project Runway, Justified, Longmire, Life Below Zero, and Chopped. Oh, and True Blood!

Hank interviewing Charlaine at Crime Bake 2010

Hank interviewing Charlaine at Crime Bake 2010

Okay, gotta ask. Do you remember the first time you saw True Blood? What did you think?
The first time I saw True Blood, I was sure my husband and I were going to have to move. It was so much more EVERYTHING than I ever imagined. But it turned out people really loved it!

And wait—isn’t there another TV thing in the works?
Yes, Hallmark Channel is planning a series of made-for-TV movies made on the Aurora Teagarden books, my early series about a librarian and the challenges she faces in her small town when bodies turn up. Candace Cameron Bure is attached.

Wow. And check Charlaine’s blog on Femmes Fatales for a wonderful story about her latest Hollywood foray! Anyway, back to reality. Best concert you’ve ever seen.
I saw the Beatles in the seventies.

I did too! In the 60s though. <smile> Can you sing? 
A little. A very little.

Book you wish you had written.
So many! But the first book I thought that consciously was “Jurassic Park.” Minus all the scientific stuff.

I never would have predicted that! Why?
People: EEEEK! Dinosaurs: AAAARGH!

Fear or phobia?
Heights. And those weird rubber people with waving arms that businesses put by the road to entice you in. I will do a detour to avoid those.

I really hate those. I think they’re Stephen-King creepy, and I always wonder how anyone thought of them. “You know what we should do?” someone said. And then they described them, and someone else said—“Yeah, great idea!” Sheesh. Anyway, what someone might not know about you.
Pretty much of an open book.

Do you have a recurring dream?
No.

How about a secret talent?
I can figure tips quickly. Otherwise, math moron.

If you could meet and chat with one person, it would be…
Tough one. Shirley Jackson, maybe.

It is a tough one! Funny, huh? But why Shirley Jackson?
I picked Shirley Jackson because I admire her intensely. She could write very funny books. She could write terrifying books. And she was a master at creeping dread. You would start reading, and then you’d sense that something was a little off with the protagonist and her viewpoint, and then you’d become more and more aware that all was not well in her head . . . or you’d laugh and laugh at her family’s situations. Her versatility was astounding.

Charlaine_officeThings you say to yourself when writing:
Keep going, you can do it.
Or, “What would be the most fun thing that could happen right now?”

What are you working on now? Or—what’s your latest book? Or both?
I’m working on the second Midnight Crossroad book, and the third installment of Cemetery Girl. Just finished a short story.

Tell us something else about that!
Second books are traditionally hard, because all the newness of the first book has worn off for the writer, and you’re faced with the hard work of making the characters charming all over again.

Are you enjoying it? 
Some days . . . .

Do you have a motto? What is it?
Keep working.

Can you believe how wonderfully your career turned out?
Oh, gosh, NO.

HANK: Well, we can! And we are cheering like mad. Sisters, wouldn’t you say Charlaine is the role model for perseverance leading to wild success? Do you think about “Keep going, you can do it” when you write?

MidnightCrossroadAnd a signed copy of Charlaine’s MIDNIGHT CROSSROAD book to one lucky commenter!

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CHARLAINE HARRIS is a New York Times bestselling author who has been writing for over thirty years. She was born and raised in the Mississippi River Delta area. Though her early works consisted largely of poems about ghosts and teenage angst, she began writing plays when she attended Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee. She switched to novels a few years later, and achieved publication in 1981 with Sweet and Deadly.

After publishing two stand-alone mysteries, Harris launched the lighthearted Aurora Teagarden books with Real Murders, a Best Novel 1990 nomination for the Agatha Awards. Harris wrote eight books in her series about a Georgia librarian. In 1996, she released the first in the much darker Shakespeare mysteries, featuring the amateur sleuth Lily Bard, a karate student who makes her living cleaning houses. Shakespeare’s Counselor, the fifth—and final—Lily Bard novel, was printed in fall 2001.

DeadEverAfterBy then, Harris was feeling the call of new territory. Starting with the premise of a young woman with a disability who wants to try inter-species dating, she created The Sookie Stackhouse urban fantasy series before there was a genre called “urban fantasy.” Telepathic barmaid Sookie Stackhouse works in a bar in the fictional northern Louisiana town of Bon Temps. The first book in the series, Dead Until Dark, won the Anthony Award for Best Paperback Mystery in 2001. Each subsequent book follows Sookie through adventures involving vampires, werewolves, and other supernatural creatures. The series, which ended in 2013, has been released in over thirty languages.

Sookie Stackhouse has proven to be so popular that Alan Ball, creator of the HBO television series Six Feet Under, announced he would undertake the production of a new HBO series based upon the  books  He wrote and directed the pilot episode for that series, True Blood, which premiered in September of 2008.

In October 2005, the first of Harris’s new mystery series about a young woman named Harper Connelly debuted with the release of Grave Sight. Harper has the ability to determine the cause of death of any body. After four novels, this series is on hiatus.

CemeteryGirlNow Harris is working on a trilogy of graphic novels with Christopher Golden and artist Don Kramer, “Cemetery Girl.” On her own she is writing a new series set in the small town of Midnight, Texas.

Harris has also co-edited a series of very popular anthologies with her friend Toni L.P. Kelner, aka Leigh Perry. The anthologies feature stories with an element of the supernatural, and the submissions come from a rare mixture of mystery and urban fantasy writers.

Professionally, Harris is a member of the Mystery Writers of America, the American Crime Writers League, Sisters in Crime, and the International Crime Writers Association. She is a past member of the boards of Sisters in Crime and MWA, and she has served as president of the MWA. She is also a member of Science Fiction Writers of America, Horror Writers Association, and Romance Writers of America, just to make sure she’s covered.

Personally, Harris has been married for many years. She mother of three wonderful children and the grandmother of two. She lives in central Texas, and when she is not writing her own books, she reads omnivorously. Her house is full of rescue dogs.

http://charlaineharris.com/

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Wrong GirlHANK PHILLIPPI RYAN is the on-air investigative reporter for Boston’s NBC affiliate. She’s won 30 EMMYs, 12 Edward R. Murrow awards and dozens of other honors for her ground-breaking journalism. A bestselling author of six mystery novels, Ryan has won multiple prestigious awards for her crime fiction: the Agatha, Anthony, Macavity, and for THE OTHER WOMAN, the coveted Mary Higgins Clark Award. National reviews have called her a “master at crafting suspenseful mysteries” and “a superb and gifted storyteller.” Her newest thriller, THE WRONG GIRL, has the extraordinary honor of winning the 2013 Agatha Award for Best Contemporary Novel! A four-week Boston Globe bestseller, it was dubbed “Another winner” in a Booklist starred review and “Stellar” by Library Journal.  She’s on the national board of Mystery Writers of America and 2013 president of national Sisters in Crime. Watch for her next novel, TRUTH BE TOLD, on October 7, 2014.

Visit her online at HankPhillippiRyan.com, on Twitter @hank_phillippi and Facebook at HankPhillippiRyanAuthorPage.

Posted in Hank Phillippi Ryan, Interview, Not Quite Twenty Questions | Tagged , , , | 21 Comments

Not Quite Twenty Questions for Donna Andrews

hank-2013-bioHANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: My husband and I don’t celebrate the anniversary of the day we met. We celebrate the anniversary of the day before we met. And we call that “You Never Know Day.” Because you never know what wonderful life-changing thing is around the next corner.

And it’s the same with writing, isn’t it? One day everything is bleak and terrible, or at least depressing or disappointing. And then the next day—blam. The dream agent calls, or the idea appears, or the perfect words come, or—who knows what.

The same thing happened to Donna Andrews. You know her, right? I met her at—must have been Malice. No—Bouchercon! When we were assigned to emcee the charity auction together. She had the audience rolling the aisles (hyperbole) with her hilarious (not hyperbole) wit and off-the-wall humor.

She’s now on her seventeenth (!) mystery for St. Martin’s, and every one has a bird pun in the title. How did that happen? I, of course wanted to know. Well, it seems it was by chance. You never know, right? And that’s all explained in one of Donna Andrews’ truly Donna-ish (thoughtful, clever and honest) answers to my Not Quite Twenty Questions.

DonnaAndrews057thumbnailTitle of your autobiography:
And You Thought I Made All That Stuff Up?

Why?
Best title I’ve thought of so far. I’m open to suggestions.

Movie you would see again and again?
The Twelve Chairs.

Why?
It’s a wonderful combination of physical and verbal comedy with just a smidgen of heartwarming snuck in when you’re not looking. And then there’s the young Frank Langella…

Exotic drinks?
Appletinis. That’s about as exotic as it gets. Usually I stick to margaritas.

Okay, basic food groups, then. Pizza or chocolate?
Pizza. Preferably pepperoni and sausage. If you’re on some kind of health kick, you can throw on a few mushrooms and green peppers—with, not instead of, the meat.

Spouse? Children? Special people in your life?
No spouse or children, but I’m lucky enough to live a few miles from my 92-year-old mother in one direction and my brother and his wife with the twin nephews in the other. Little League season just ended. I dream about baseball at the moment. And can anyone explain this Minecraft thing?

Pets?
No pets of my own, because I can’t do the guilt when I travel. And cats are easier than dogs, but alas! I’m allergic to cats. But I do have several loaner dogs who can stay with me when their people are traveling: Ginger, a Shih-Tsu; Wesley, an elkhound/shepherd mix, and Jingle, a beagle/basset mix. Or possibly beagle/dachshund.

DonnaAndrews_MysteryLovesCompany_restingHobbies?
Reading, of course. And playing computer games. And gardening. And attending Little League games.

Garden?
Yes, diligently and badly. The deer and the rabbits eat everything, so if you want to catch my attention in a garden store or catalogue, just write in big letters “Deer hate this! Rabbits loathe it!” and I’m sold. My father was a skilled and avid gardener who could keep the family in vegetables and fruit all summer and—thanks to my mom’s freezing—part of the winter. I inherited the avid. My garden philosophy is that if I see something that survives in spite of my efforts (and those of the deer), I go out and plant a lot more of it. Hellebores and daffodils are my mainstays—hellebores are a contact irritant, and daffodils are poisonous. In fact, I have been known to study books on poisonous plants as much for garden tips as for plot inspiration.

Do you watch TV? What?
Way too much TV. I like a lot of the crime shows, even though I know how inaccurate they are, and if there are vampires, wizard, spaceships, or aliens on a show, I’m either watching it or planning to do so on Netflix or DVD when I’m not on deadline. Ditto anything Joss Whedon touches.

Can you sing?
Yes, but there doesn’t seem to be much demand for me to do so. A friend who’s gotten very involved in choir activities recently decided to assess my vocal range and, once I’d finished singing along to his plunking on the keyboard he announced that I was a tenor. Or a contralto; I gather it’s much the same range. Clearly this explains why so many people call me “sir” over the phone. And also why I have such a hard time with sing-alongs; I can’t possibly hit most of the notes the women are singing, and the men look at me oddly if I try to rumble along with them.

Best concert you’ve ever seen.
Once in the late 70s, when my brother was a starving musician in New York, he took me to see a show by a Cissy Houston, then best known as Dionne Warwick’s aunt, Aretha Franklin’s backup singer, and Leontyne Price’s cousin. In the middle of her show, Cissy brought up her teenaged daughter to sing a song or two. My brother and I looked at each other and both said variations on “Wow! She’s going somewhere.” And that’s how I came to hear Whitney Houston sing at least five years before her first record came out.

ThirteenthNightBook you wish you had written.
The War for the Oaks by Emma Bull and Thirteenth Night by Alan Gordon.

WarfortheoaksWhy?
They speak to me. I told Alan once that when I heard what he’d done—taken my favorite Shakespeare play, Twelfth Night, and written a mystery featuring the same characters fifteen years down the road—I was prepared to hate him for thinking of it first, but he did it so fabulously that I couldn’t hate him. All is forgiven. The War for the Oaks is considered one of the pioneering works of urban fantasy and is still my gold standard. How can you not love a book in which a young woman electric guitar player not only forms her own band but gets to fight evil with chords?

Must go and reread both of them soon.

I did hate Alan for that brilliant idea! And told him so. At least admitted to my idea-envy. Oh well. Fear or phobia?
I’m slightly claustrophobic and slightly acrophobic, which is why I’m very proud that I’ve managed to complete a few caving expeditions.

What someone might not know about you.
Um . . . dunno; in a dozen years of being on panels, is there anything I haven’t confessed? No, wait; I’ve got it. I used to be very shy as a kid. No one will believe it, of course, but it’s true.

Do you have a recurring dream?
Yes. In it, I notice a bug on the wall or floor, and I suck it up with the vacuum cleaner. And then I notice another bug, and another, and pretty soon the vacuum cleaner bag is filled, and the walls are now crawling with bugs, and sooner or later the bag will burst, and they will all swarm out—

I have figured out that when I dream this, I am feeling at least a little overwhelmed by everything I have on my plate, and need to take a long, hard look at what I have the bandwidth for and what I need to delegate, delay, or just say no to.

How about a secret talent?
I am currently the family champion at Takamaru’s Ninja Castle, one of the segments of the Wii Nintendoland game. But the nephews are probably going to surpass me in that any day now.

If you could meet and chat with one person, it would be…
Only one? Aw, come on, can I have half a dozen? Have you ever read Van Loon’s Lives? In it, the Dutch-American writer Henrik Van Loon has the ability to summon any historical figure to come to dinner. He decides on his guests, does a brief biographical sketch for the readers and then tries to imagine what would happen if he put this mixture of people together. Like Shakespeare, Cervantes, and Moliere. Robespierre and Torquemada. Hans Christian Andersen and Mozart. Plato and Confucious. One of my particular favorites is the evening when he invited the Bach and Breughel families, and the Bachs serenaded the Breughels while the Breughels painted the Bachs.

I refuse to pick just one person! I want to do what Van Loon did! (It’s a fabulous book. Published in 1942, and out of print, but very findable in used book stores and sites. Well worth reading.)

Can you believe how wonderfully your career turned out?
Every so often, when I’m complaining about deadlines or my editor’s demands, I take a step back and remind myself that I’m doing full time what I always wanted to do.

Things you say to yourself when writing:
Just finish today’s quota. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t even have to be good. Just finish the book. You can edit a rotten draft. You can’t edit a blank page.

What are you working on now? Or—what’s your latest book? Or both?
The life of the working writer: I have one book coming out this month—The Good, the Bad, and the Emus. I’ve finished the draft of another and am waiting for thegalleys to arrive—that one’s called The Nightingale Before Christmas. And I’m starting to plan still another—probably set at Halloween, and tentatively titled The Lord of the Wings. But that’s still in the planning stages, so I’m as close as I ever come to being between books. But not for long.

Malice lineup of Best Novel  nominees: Hank Phillippi Ryan, Louise Penny, Rhys Bowen, Lorraine Bartlett, Donna Andrews, and moderator Shawn Simmons

Malice lineup of Best Novel nominees: Hank Phillippi Ryan, Louise Penny, Rhys Bowen, Lorraine Bartlett, Donna Andrews, and moderator Shawn Simmons

Tell us something else about that!
The Good, the Bad, and the Emus is about feral emus and solving the possible murder of Meg’s long-lost grandmother. Meg’s father was found as an infant in the fiction section of a Charlottesville library. Earlier in the series, he is reunited with the father he never knew when Dr. Montgomery Blake sees a picture of Meg and realizes she’s a dead ringer for Cordelia, his college girlfriend. A few years later, curiosity overcomes Dr. Blake and he hires a local private eye to see if he can locate Cordelia. And the private investigator not only finds her—he determines that she may have been murdered. So Meg and Grandfather set out to solve the murder—and while they’re at it, round up the flock of feral emus Cordelia had been feeding.

Meg’s father and grandfather get a lot of screen time in Emus, but Meg’s mother doesn’t appear for most of the book—mainly because once the emu roundup begins, they are all camping out, and Mother does not camp. She considers it camping if she has to stay in a hotel without a four-star restaurant. So I decided The Nightingale Before Christmas would be Mother’s book. She and eleven other designers are participating in a Christmas-themed decorator show house. Meg, of course, has been drafted to serve as the organizer for the event, which means she ends up stuck with a lot of the headaches when one of the designers ends up murdered in the room he was decorating.

Can you just—tell us about the bird thing?
When I was getting ready to submit my first book to the St. Martins contest, I realized it needed a title. I called a friend who was good at that sort of thing and said “Help me think of a title for my book.” The friend knew that I had several projects going, and asked “Which book–the murder mystery with the peacocks?” Bingo! And I knew publishers liked themes, so when I began working on the second book, set in Maine, I made sure to put puffins in it. I figured birds would be a good theme. If John D. MacDonald had lived much longer he’d have run low on color names, and Sue Grafton will probably have to retire after Z, but birds? There are an estimated 10,000 of them in the world, and a reasonable number have names that lend themselves to lighthearted titles.

Are you enjoying the writing?
I don’t always enjoy writing, but now that I’ve turned it in and finished the revisions, I’m really enjoying having written.

Do you have a motto? What is it?
Um . . . not really.

HANK: Great motto! I can see it embroidered on an eagle rampant, emblazoned on the escutcheon… Oh, wait I see. No motto.

But you know, Donna? I think your motto should be: Bird By Bird.

EmusAny good bird title puns for Donna, sisters? We hope she’ll be needing a lot more! And a copy of The Good, The Bad, and The Emus to one lucky commenter.

 

WINNER of Toni Kelner’s new “Skeleton” Book is JULIA DAVID! Contact me via my website http://www.HankPhillippiRyan.com and I will get you your prize!

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DONNA ANDREWS bio (from her website)

Like Meg Langslow, the ornamental blacksmith heroine of her series from St. Martin’s Press, Donna Andrews was born and raised in Yorktown, Virginia. These days she spends almost as much time in cyberspace as Turing Hopper, the artificial intelligence who appears in her technocozy series from Berkley Prime Crime.

Although she read widely as a child, especially in fantasy and science fiction, her love of mystery developed during her college years (and particularly at exam time.) Andrews attended the University of Virginia, majoring in English and Drama with a concentration on writing. After graduation, she moved to the Washington, D.C. area and joined the communications staff of a large financial organization, where for two decades she honed her writing skills on nonfiction and developed a profound understanding of the criminal mind through her observation of interdepartmental politics.

RealMacawIn the fall of 1997 she started on the road to publication by submitting her first completed mystery manuscript to the Malice Domestic/St. Martin’s Press Best First Traditional Mystery contest. Upon learning that Murder with Peacocks had won, she acquired a copy of Peterson’s Field Guide to Eastern Birds and settled down to have fun in her fictional world for as long as she could get away with it. Murder with Peacocks won the Agatha, Anthony, Barry, and Romantic Times awards for best first novel and the Lefty award for the funniest mystery of 1999. Subsequent books have also received Agatha and Lefty nominations, and Crouching Buzzard, Leaping Loon won the Toby Bromberg Award for Excellence (presented by Romantic Times) for the Most Humorous Mystery of 2003. Owl’s Well That Ends Well (April 2005), the sixth book in the series, features a murder at a giant yard sale. No Nest for the Wicket (August 2006), the seventh book, explores eXtreme Croquet, and in The Penguin Who Knew Too Much (August 2007), Meg discovers penguins–and a body–in her basement. In Cockatiels at Seven, Meg must solve a crime while encumbered with toddler. She must organize her county’s holiday parade and solve a related murder in Six Geese A-Slaying. And the latest, Swan for the Money, features competitive rose growing and belted Tennessee fainting goats.

DeleteAllSuspectsNovember 2005 saw the release of Delete All Suspects, the fourth book in the Turing Hopper series–which was partly inspired by her experience serving as a translator between the marketing and systems departments at her day job. Andrews notes that in these books she seeks to use computers and other technology accurately without making the action incomprehensible for readers who prefer whodoneits to computer manuals–and Delete All Suspects, she achieves a long-time ambition of killing off a spammer, even if only on paper. The first book in the series, You’ve Got Murder, won the Agatha award for best mystery of 2002, and was followed by Click Here for Murder and Access Denied.

A member of MWA, Sisters in Crime, and the Private Investigators and Security Association, Andrews spends her free time gardening and conquering the world (but only in Civiliation IV).

For more information: http://donnaandrews.com.

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Wrong GirlHANK PHILLIPPI RYAN is the on-air investigative reporter for Boston’s NBC affiliate. She’s won 30 EMMYs, 12 Edward R. Murrow awards and dozens of other honors for her ground-breaking journalism. A bestselling author of six mystery novels, Ryan has won multiple prestigious awards for her crime fiction: the Agatha, Anthony, Macavity, and for THE OTHER WOMAN, the coveted Mary Higgins Clark Award. National reviews have called her a “master at crafting suspenseful mysteries” and “a superb and gifted storyteller.” Her newest thriller, THE WRONG GIRL, has the extraordinary honor of winning the 2013 Agatha Award for Best Contemporary Novel! A four-week Boston Globe bestseller, it was dubbed “Another winner” in a Booklist starred review and “Stellar” by Library Journal.  She’s on the national board of Mystery Writers of America and 2013 president of national Sisters in Crime. Watch for her next novel, TRUTH BE TOLD, on October 7, 2014.

Visit her online at HankPhillippiRyan.com, on Twitter @hank_phillippi and Facebook at HankPhillippiRyanAuthorPage.

Posted in Hank Phillippi Ryan, Interview, Not Quite Twenty Questions, Writers | Tagged , , , | 32 Comments

Not Quite Twenty Questions for Toni Kelner

hank-2013-bioHANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I was going to say Toni Kelner leads a double life, both as the Toni I’ve known for the past nine years, and as Leigh Perry, who the world has known for what, two? But truly, Toni leads a quadruple or quintuple life, as an author of her Toni L.P. Kelner mysteries—how many series, Toni?, and editor with Charlaine Harris of the New York Times Best-selling anthologies of paranormal short stories, and as the coolest mom and wife around. I mean, sisters, she dresses up, she participates in all kinds of conventions like Comicon and other cool stuff that many of us (me) don’t even know what it is…and, and…

And she’s always ready with a joke or a laugh or helping hand or a pat on the back. She’s a great and loyal pal with a very surprising personality—all southern drawl, until, bless her heart, she comes out with a zinger that has the entire crowd roaring with laughter.

(And she’s the one who taught me about “Bless her heart,” which is a whole other blog.)

Even in the midst of all she’s juggling—she agreed to our Not Quite Twenty Questions. And you’ll read how her personality—honest and thoughtful and loving and professional and um, so funny—comes out so beautifully in her answers.

tonilpkelnerTitle of your autobiography: 
I Was Rejected by Mickey Mouse

Why?
When I was trying to sell my first novel, I met the editor in chief of the brand-spanking new Hyperion Press. Hyperion is the adult publishing imprint of Disney publishing. She invited me to send a partial, and I got a very well-written, thorough rejection letter. But the thing was, Hyperion was so new they didn’t have a logo or letterhead yet. So my rejection was written on Mickey Mouse letterhead. I’ve always pictured Mickey saying, in his famous voice, “Hi, Toni. We don’t want your book.”

What do you think about that now?
Mostly amused. I mean if I got angry at every publisher who’d ever turned me down, I’d have nobody to talk to at conventions. And I’ve been published by several of them since.

Movie you would see again and again?
Lots of them, actually. But I’ll go with Serenity.

Why?
I think Joss Whedon, the producer and screen writer, does the absolute best dialog; the actors are wonderful; and the story is pretty close to perfect. It’s a fun romp, and quite exciting even upon re-watching.

Oh, well, um, I’ve never see that. What is it? And why do you love it? Do you think about it when your write your own stuff? Answer any or all…
Serenity is the continuation of the short-lived-but-awesome TV show Firefly, which was basically a space Western. It’s got tight plotting and adventure and humor and great characters and amazing fight scenes—everything I like in a movie. Joss went on to direct The Avengers, which has some of the same magic.

I wish I could write actions scenes like that, but I’m afraid I’m a lost cause. I do bear in mind something Joss said about slang in his shows and movies. Somebody asked him how he researched the lingo for the show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which started out with the characters as high school students. He said to make it up, that slang changes so fast it’s impossible to stay current. I do that myself.

So—easy questions: Exotic drinks?
Yes, please. Frozen strawberry daiquiri or frozen strawberry margarita. My philosophy on drinks is that if you can’t put a paper umbrella in it, what’s the point?

Pizza or chocolate?
You promised softball questions! Chocolate.

ToniAndSteveSpouse? Children? Special people in your life?
I’ve been married for 26 to Stephen Kelner, Jr. We have two daughters: Maggie and Valerie.

Pets? 
Technically Spot and Clara are the girls’ guinea pigs, but I have petting privileges. Plus I’m the backup caregiver when the girls are busy.

Hobbies? 
TV and movies, and playing silly computer games. I don’t include reading, because that’s not a hobby, it’s a way of life.

Garden?
Nope. Brown thumbs.

Do you watch TV? What?
I binge-watch DVDs more than I watch current stuff, but I make exceptions for Doctor WHO, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and the competition show Face Off. Our current DVD binges are Elementary and Torchwood.

Can you sing? 
Love to sing. I’m rubbish, but it’s so much fun!

Best concert you’ve ever seen.
A tie between Darryl Rhoades and the Mighty Men from Glad and the Velveteen Playboys. The Monkees were great, too.

Book you wish you had written.
The Dreaming Jewels by Theodore Sturgeon.

Why?
It’s one of those rare perfect books to me. Generally I can pick at even my most favorite books, but there are some that are just gems.

Fear or phobia?
Bugs. (Not insects, because I include spiders.)

How about a secret talent?
Okay, it won’t qualify me for the Legion of Heroes, or even the Legion of Substitute Heroes, but I can find four-leaf clovers regularly. I can also make up song lyrics to a tune on the fly, but that may not be a talent so much as a way of annoying my family.

I can do that, too! It drives people crazy. Anyway, what someone might not know about you.
I’m much meaner than people think I am. At first, anyway. And I had a chop shop operating out of my back yard once.

Do you have a recurring dream?
I have invasion of privacy dreams, when people come into my house or yard and will not go away. There’s a reason I’m a secluded writer.

If you could meet and chat with one person, it would be…
Joss Whedon, though I’d probably go too fan girl to be able to actually have a conversation.

Huh. I guess I could have predicted that. But can you believe how wonderfully your career turned out?
It depends on the day. On bad days, I think I’m doing everything wrong. But on good days—which is most days, actually—I cannot believe how lucky I am!

Things you say to yourself when writing.
Only 200 more words and you can stop. Only 150 more words and you can stop. And so on…

What are you working on now? Or—what’s your latest book? Or both?
I’m doing something different. Christopher Golden has asked me to write a vampire story for his horror anthology Seize the Night. Now I’ve done plenty of vampire stories, but never as horror.

a-skeleton-in-the-family-cover-186x300Then I’ll jump right into the next Family Skeleton book (by my alter Leigh Perry).

Tell us something else about that!
I don’t know as much about it as I should at this point, but I think it’s going to be set at a summer camp for live-action role-players, much like Wizards and Warriors camp here in Massachusetts. The fact that Valerie is going to be attending Wizards and Warriors camp next week is just a coincidence.

Wait—the Family Skeleton series? Where’d THAT idea come from?
I was toying with the idea of a paranormal mystery series, and our fellow pals Charlaine Harris and Dana Cameron seemed to have the vampire and werewolf tropes so well covered I couldn’t see anything I could add. So somehow the idea of a walking, talking skeleton occurred to me. The funny thing is, I never thought anybody would buy it.

Did you always like scary stuff? Are you brave in real life?
I’m totally not brave at all, unless you count the time I went onto the front porch with a cutlass because my daughter heard somebody out there. Boy, were those raccoons startled!

I write the scary stuff, particularly normal people dealing with scary stuff, to try to convince myself that if something really awful happens, I’ll be able to deal with it and not just squeal like a hungry guinea pig. If anything happens, I’ll let you know if it worked.

Are you enjoying it? The short story? And the Skeleton book? 
The short story? I am, actually. It’s a stretch, but I’ve enjoyed kind of analyzing what makes a horror story horror. And I’m getting down with my dark self. I’ve freaked out my husband Steve, so that’s a good sign that I’m on the right track.

Sid the Skeleton

Sid the Skeleton

As for the next Skeleton book, I know I’ll have fun. They are a romp to write.

Do you have a motto? What?
Fair’s fair.

I have a deep-seated need to see the world as fair, and play fair myself. That’s applies to stuff like letting somebody out in traffic if another driver let me out, emptying the dishwasher because Maggie did it last time, and recognizing that every day can’t be perfect because most of my days are just great.

HANK: Isn’t she…so wonderful? Every time I read one of these interviews, I just fall in love with the person all over again. So how about you, sisters? Do you like scary stuff? To read? Or to write? Have you seen Serenity? (The movie, I mean.)

And a signed Skeleton book to one lucky commenter!

**************** 

Toni L.P. Kelner is the author of eleven mystery novels: eight Laura Fleming mysteries and three “Where are they now?” mysteries. Both series are available as audio books and e-books.

GamesCreaturesPlayKelner is also the author of numerous short stories, and co-edits bestselling urban fantasy anthologies with Charlaine Harris. Their most recent are Games Creatures Play and Dead But Not Forgotten.

Kelner has won the Agatha Award and an RT BookClub Lifetime Achievement Award, and has been nominated multiple times for the Anthony, the Macavity, and the Derringer.

Writing as Leigh Perry, she recently debuted the Family Skeleton series for Berkley Prime Crime.

****************

Wrong GirlHANK PHILLIPPI RYAN is the on-air investigative reporter for Boston’s NBC affiliate. She’s won 30 EMMYs, 12 Edward R. Murrow awards and dozens of other honors for her ground-breaking journalism. A bestselling author of six mystery novels, Ryan has won multiple prestigious awards for her crime fiction: the Agatha, Anthony, Macavity, and for THE OTHER WOMAN, the coveted Mary Higgins Clark Award. National reviews have called her a “master at crafting suspenseful mysteries” and “a superb and gifted storyteller.” Her newest thriller, THE WRONG GIRL, has the extraordinary honor of winning the 2013 Agatha Award for Best Contemporary Novel! A four-week Boston Globe bestseller, it was dubbed “Another winner” in a Booklist starred review and “Stellar” by Library Journal.  She’s on the national board of Mystery Writers of America and 2013 president of national Sisters in Crime. Watch for her next novel, TRUTH BE TOLD, on October 7, 2014.

Visit her online at HankPhillippiRyan.com, on Twitter @hank_phillippi and Facebook at HankPhillippiRyanAuthorPage.

Posted in Hank Phillippi Ryan, Interview, Not Quite Twenty Questions | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 45 Comments

Not Quite Twenty Questions for Phillip Margolin

hank-2013-bioHANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: My stepfather was a corporate lawyer (you know this, right?) And one thing my family did together was watch Perry Mason. I say “together” in the loosest of ways, because we kids were not allowed to say A WORD during the entire thing. I mean—not a peep.

If we wanted something clarified or explained, (what’s immaterial mean? Did they mean to have his name be Ham Burger?) we had to wait until the commercial.

My stepfather, we called him Boo (and that’s another blog but it’s not To Kill a Mockingbird-related) loved Perry Mason, and as result, we did too. My sister and I used to yell “Objection!” when we were told to do something we didn’t way to. Sadly, that was more effective for Perry than it was for us.

But, as I grew up, legal mysteries and legal thrillers became my favorites, and still are. And I have to say I absolutely remember reading Phillip Margolin’s Gone But Not Forgotten—it was 1993, so gosh, more than 20 years ago. And forgive me Phillip, but I don’t remember a thing about it, except missing women? And black roses? And that I LOVED it. And became an instant fan.

So now for something completely different…Not Quite Twenty Questions for the amazing Phillip Margolin. (And do look at his bio—his new book, Worthy Brown’s Daughter, is also somewhat of a departure! I gave it to Jonathan for Father’s Day.)

margolinTitle of your autobiography:
“Why It Helps To Be A Failure If You Want To Be A Success”

Why?
I was a mediocre athlete and a poor student. I didn’t perform well academically until I went to law school. Since I was a failure most of my life I never expected to succeed at anything. I always tried my best but I had no pressure on me because I never did that well. If things went well I got excited but if they went poorly I didn’t get upset because I always did poorly. This attitude helped me cope when things went bad and prevented me from getting egotistical when things went well.

Movie you would see again and again?
“Die Hard,” which I have seen about a million times.

I love it, too! But why?
It is the best action movie ever made.

Exotic drinks?
I live in Portland, Oregon. Oregon has some of the finest wines in the world and Portland is the microbrew capital of the universe, but I’m not into wine or beer. However, I do like weird cocktails and I always order the strangest one on the cocktail menu.

Pizza or chocolate?
I’m not into chocolate and prefer caramel or coffee desserts, so pizza definitely. I grew up on Long Island and I am a pizza snob, so I won’t eat just any pizza.

Spouse?
My wife, Doreen, and I were married 38 fantastic years. Then she passed away in 2007. She was my hero and the finest human being I have ever met.

Kids? Pets?
I’m not into pets but I have two terrific kids – both in their thirties – and two grandkids, 4 and 7. I love kids, especially when they are young and weird.

Hobbies?
Golf, which I really enjoy but play poorly. I read everything constantly, I am a fanatic NFL fan and I love SciFi and action films.

Garden?
Not if I can help it. When I was a kid my chore was to mow our lawn and that turned me off gardening. I do like hiking and there are a ton of spectacular places to hike in Oregon.

Do you watch TV? What?
I love TV but I don’t watch before six or so.

Okay, so no soap operas. Or Dr. Phil. But not even football? And how about at night?
NFL games are the exception. I watch SciFi and action movies, PBS mysteries (Agatha Christie mysteries are my guilty pleasure) and a few series like “Game of Thrones” and “True Blood.”

LOVE Game of Thrones. Because of that series, I have learned I can kill ANYONE in my books. Anyway. Can you sing? (Not Rains of Castemere, please.)
Not a note. I am paid huge sums to abstain from singing.

Best concert you’ve ever seen.
Eric Clapton and Santana. After they performed separately they had a battle of the bands. The Newport Jazz Festival was also pretty awesome.

Fear or Phobia?
I don’t have a fear or phobia.

What someone might not know about you.
I wanted to be a criminal defense attorney since seventh grade and the highlights of my career were pioneering the “Battered Woman’s Syndrome Defense” in Oregon murder cases and saving two innocent men from prison who were sentenced to life in prison for murder.

Do you have a recurring dream?
No.

Guess after those court victories, all your stress disappeared! Congratulations. Fantastic. How about a secret talent?
None.

Except for that saving people’s lives thing, huh? Can you believe how wonderfully your career turned out? Do people still talk about your first books?
With the exception of Doreen dying so young, my life has been a fairy tale, and I don’t take it for granted. Fans do still ask me about early books, especially Gone But Not Forgotten, and I still get excited when they do because I never expected to ever get a piece of fiction published.

 

Phil with Andrew Gross and Hank Phillippi Ryan

Phil with Andrew Gross and Hank Phillippi Ryan


Things you say to yourself when writing
:
“This is really fun” and “Don’t panic if your first draft stinks because you’ll be doing a lot of editing.”

What are you working on now?
My new book, Woman with a Gun, is in the final stages of editing and will come out on December 2, 2014. I am also starting my twentieth novel (Yikes!). It’s tentatively called “The Mayfly” and it brings back Amanda Jaffe, who appeared in four previous books.

Tell us something else about that!
“The Mayfly” is still in the planning stages so I don’t want to talk about it yet.

Woman with a Gun comes out on December 2. Stacey Kim has just received her MFA and she moves to New York City to write a novel but she has writer’s block. Then she sees an amazing, ten year old Pulitzer Prize winning photograph of Megan Cahill standing on the beach at night in her wedding dress holding an antique western six-shooter. When she does some research Stacey learns that reclusive photographer Kathy Moran took the photo minutes before finding the body of millionaire Raymond Cahill in the couple’s beach house. The Cahills were married earlier in the evening and the case was never solved. The photograph inspires Stacey to write a novel based on the case. When she travels to the seaside Oregon town where the murder occurred to get background she ends up solving the murder but not before she almost becomes a victim.

Are you enjoying it?
Writing is the most fun. I get to my office at 7:30 every week day and I can’t wait to start.

HANK: So, sisters, are you a 7:30 person? If I had to write at 7:30 AM, it would be a disaster. Now—7:30 PM? Bring it on. And Worthy Brown’s Daughter to one lucky commenter!

****************

PHILLIP MARGOLIN bio

I grew up in New York City and Levittown, New York. In 1965, I graduated from the American University in Washington, D.C., with a bachelor’s degree in government. I spent 1965 to 1967 in Liberia, West Africa, as a Peace Corps volunteer, graduated from New York University School of Law in 1970 as a night student. I went nights and worked as a junior high teacher in the South Bronx to support myself. My first job following law school was a clerkship with Herbert M. Schwab, the chief judge of the Oregon Court of Appeals, and from 1972 until 1996, I was in private practice, specializing in criminal defense at the trial and appellate levels. As an appellate attorney I have appeared before the United States Supreme Court, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the Oregon Supreme Court, and the Oregon Court of Appeals.

As a trial attorney, I handled all sorts of criminal cases in state and federal court, and have represented approximately thirty people charged with homicide, several of whom faced the death penalty. I was the first Oregon attorney to use battered women’s syndrome to defend a woman accused of murdering her spouse.

WorthyBrownsDaughterSince 1996, I have been writing full-time. All of my novels have been bestsellers. Heartstone, my first novel, was nominated by the Mystery Writers of America for an Edgar for best original paperback mystery of 1978. My second novel, The Last Innocent Man, was made into an HBO movie. Gone, But Not Forgotten has been sold to more than twenty-five foreign publishers and was made into a miniseries starring Brooke Shields. It was also the Main Selection of the Literary Guild.

In addition to my seventeen New York Times bestsellers, I have published short stories and nonfiction articles in magazines and law journals.

From 1996 to 2009 I was the president and chairman of the Board of Chess for Success. I am still heavily involved in the program, and returned to the board after a one-year absence in 2010. Chess for Success is a nonprofit charity that uses chess to teach study skills to elementary- and middle-school children in Title I schools . From 2007 to the present, I have been on the Board of Literary Arts, which sponsors the Oregon Book Awards, the Writers in the Schools program, and Portland Arts and Lectures.

My newest novel is WORTHY BROWN’S DAUGHTER  a compelling historical drama, set in nineteenth-century Oregon, that combines a heartbreaking story of slavery and murder with classic legal plot twists.

http://www.phillipmargolin.com/

****************

Wrong GirlHANK PHILLIPPI RYAN is the on-air investigative reporter for Boston’s NBC affiliate. She’s won 30 EMMYs, 12 Edward R. Murrow awards and dozens of other honors for her ground-breaking journalism. A bestselling author of six mystery novels, Ryan has won multiple prestigious awards for her crime fiction: the Agatha, Anthony, Macavity, and for THE OTHER WOMAN, the coveted Mary Higgins Clark Award. National reviews have called her a “master at crafting suspenseful mysteries” and “a superb and gifted storyteller.” Her newest thriller, THE WRONG GIRL, has the extraordinary honor of winning the 2013 Agatha Award for Best Contemporary Novel! A four-week Boston Globe bestseller, it was dubbed “Another winner” in a Booklist starred review and “Stellar” by Library Journal.  She’s on the national board of Mystery Writers of America and 2013 president of national Sisters in Crime. Watch for her next novel, TRUTH BE TOLD, on October 7, 2014.

Visit her online at HankPhillippiRyan.com, on Twitter @hank_phillippi and Facebook at HankPhillippiRyanAuthorPage.

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Not Quite Twenty Questions for Gayle Lynds

hank-2013-bioHANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Welcome to New England, Gayle Lynds! I knew she was a long time California girl, so I was surprised and delighted to hear she’d moved to town. “Town” meaning Maine, but we’re SinCNE, so hey, we need to swoop her right up, right?

Masquerade2I met her—how long ago, Gayle? When David Morrell asked me to write an article about her book MASQUERADE for inclusion in the ITW anthology of 100 MUST READ THRILLERS. How could I write such a thing without interviewing her? Which I did—and she was fabulous.

We’ve stayed pals—seeing each other, too briefly, at various writing things. But we reconnected at a recent meeting of (insert name of other big mystery group here and that also goes by initials). She’d been invited to speak about her writing process and what she’s learned in her career—wait. You know about her career, right? She pretty much broke the gender barrier in spy novels—when her first book was submitted to an agent, many years ago, she told me, his response was “A woman couldn’t possibly have written this.”

Which is such a great quote now, right? But probably not so much fun at the time. Well, fairly soon after, she showed HIM, right? And is now a multi multi New York Times best-seller.

And now for Not Quite Twenty Questions—for the iconic Gayle Lynds.

GayleLyndsTitle of your autobiography?
I Didn’t Know I Wasn’t Supposed to Do It

Why?
Because I really didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to write guy books in a guy field. (Who made the rule that spy novels were guy books????) There are a few other instances like this in my checkered past.

Book you wish you had written?
How to Survive Living with a Writer. Or, I’m Not Ignoring You When My Eyes Glaze Over – I’m Just Planning to Kill Someone (Not You)! [Note: Lesson learned from Marriage #1.]

Movie you would see again and again?
The Godfather

Why?
To me, it’s a glorious, beautifully structured story with unforgettable characters, perceptive cultural insights, thrilling action, and an ironic, bittersweet ending that reveals and echoes. Wow.

Exotic drinks–yes? No?
I enjoy watching exotic people drink.

When in history would you choose to visit?
The future, say 50 years hence.

Why?
I’m terrified, but curious. The theme of my life.

Pizza or chocolate?
A Mount Everest of chocolate, please.

Spouse?
A husband, John C. Sheldon. Definitely spice.

Kids? Pets?
An assortment of children, like a great box of chocolate. He has three, and I have four, all grown up but amazingly still kids to us. We are lucky.We also blended animals, but with attrition have only two cats left. They’re aging and bossy, just like us.

Hobbies?
I keep working on that.

Gayle & John

Gayle & John

Garden?
Lots of flowers. I particularly love peonies and lilacs. I couldn’t grow them in Southern California, so am really enjoying being able to grow them here in Maine.

Fear or phobia?
Yes and yes, which is why I write thrillers. Kill the bad guys!

What someone might not know about you.
I don’t like jammies. I wear nighties.

Do you have a recurring dream? What is it?
My two “favorites” – I’m back in college and haven’t studied and can’t find my next class and am sure to fail; and I’m at some terrific party and have forgotten to wear my shoes. Now you know what fills my closet.

Do you watch TV? What?
Absolutely. This is a golden age in television. Currently, we’re watching series like The Americans, Elementary, and Game of Thrones.

Can you sing?
I can, but you don’t want me to.

Secret talent?
Keeping secrets.

Thing you always say to yourself when writing?
What am I really trying to say here?

What are you working on now?
A new international espionage novel (A.K.A.: spy thriller). I’m still in the flailing-around stage, doing research and trying to make sense of my thoughts.

Are you…enjoying it?
When it’s not driving me nuts, yes, very much.I doubt I’ll ever truly understand the process. This much I know – if I don’t do it, the book doesn’t get written, and that would make me sad.

Do you have a motto? (What is it?)
Don’t look back. There are enough problems – and plenty of joys – ahead.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Wonderful! And here’s some more writing advice from Gayle. She says, when you don’t know what comes next in your book, ask yourself: “What is my villain doing?”

When she mentioned that in her speech last week, I thought—gee. That’s my problem. I don’t know who my villain IS.

So again—welcome, Gayle! What secrets would you reveal to her, Sisters, about New England?

****************

BookOfSpiesNew York Times bestseller GAYLE LYNDS is the award-winning author of ten international espionage novels, including The Book of Spies and The Last Spymaster.  Publishers Weekly lists her book Masquerade among the top ten spy novels of all time.  The London Observer calls her a kick-ass thriller writer.  Lee Child says she’s “today’s best thriller writer.”  Her next book is Game of Assassins, due out in 2015.

With Robert Ludlum, she created the Covert-One series.  The first one, The Hades Factor, was a CBS miniseries.  A member of the Association for Former Intelligence Officers, she is cofounder (with David Morrell) and former copresident of International Thriller Writers, Inc.  In 2011, she married John C. Sheldon and moved from Southern California to Southern Maine, where the moose outnumber the two-legged inhabitants and she’s very happy.  Please visit her at www.GayleLynds.com

****************

Wrong GirlHANK PHILLIPPI RYAN is the on-air investigative reporter for Boston’s NBC affiliate. She’s won 30 EMMYs, 12 Edward R. Murrow awards and dozens of other honors for her ground-breaking journalism. A bestselling author of six mystery novels, Ryan has won multiple prestigious awards for her crime fiction: the Agatha, Anthony, Macavity, and for THE OTHER WOMAN, the coveted Mary Higgins Clark Award. National reviews have called her a “master at crafting suspenseful mysteries” and “a superb and gifted storyteller.” Her newest thriller, THE WRONG GIRL, has the extraordinary honor of winning the 2013 Agatha Award for Best Contemporary Novel! A four-week Boston Globe bestseller, it was dubbed “Another winner” in a Booklist starred review and “Stellar” by Library Journal.  She’s on the national board of Mystery Writers of America and 2013 president of national Sisters in Crime. Watch for her next novel, TRUTH BE TOLD, on October 7, 2014.

Visit her online at HankPhillippiRyan.com, on Twitter @hank_phillippi and Facebook at HankPhillippiRyanAuthorPage.

Posted in Hank Phillippi Ryan, Interview, Not Quite Twenty Questions | Tagged , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Hank Phillippi Ryan’s Q&A with NYT Best-Selling Author Linda Fairstein

hank-2013-bioHANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a multiple New York Times best-seller? Not the acclaim, which would be wonderful, but how it would feel to be writing a book that everyone is waiting for, everyone is anticipating, everyone is figuring will be another hit.

Like, for instance, Linda Fairstein. What mystery reader has not read some or all of her books, and what mystery author has not wondered “HOW does she do it?”

And that is exactly what I wondered too…so I asked the fabulous Linda to take us on a guided tour of her writing brain, and let us in on how her brand new book Terminal City evolved. And it is fascinating!

(I know this is different from my usual Not Quite Twenty Questions. Maybe we’ll ask her to answer those another time!)

HANK: On day one–what did you need to begin Terminal City? What was the first moment of the first idea?

LINDA: Terminal City is the 16th book in my Alexandra Cooper series of crime novels. As many of your readers know, I was a prosecutor in the Manhattan DA’s Office for 30 years, in charge of the country’s pioneering sex crimes unit – and that’s the job I’ve given to Coop.

One of the things I do in the series is center each book in a world that explores some aspect of New York City history. They are places we’ve all been to or seen in the movies, but most have dark undersides. There really was a murder of a young musician between acts at Lincoln Center, while 4,000 people sat in their seats (Death Dance), and while Central Park is the most glorious place on this island, my unit prosecuted more than fifty crimes – some of them homicides – during my tenure (Death Angel).

So the first moment of the first idea for this new book was the question of where to go in the city. I’ve long been fascinated by Grand Central Terminal – the colossal centerpiece of Manhattan – since my earliest trips to New York City, holding my mother’s hand as we made our way across the concourse. Last year, it was the terminal’s centennial, and so many wonderful stories –some of them dark and mysterious – surfaced in books and articles everywhere. All I needed was some good reading material, a few behind the scenes tours, and a vivid imagination.

HANK: Page 50– is it what you thought it would be? What fabulous idea did you have here? (Were you still researching?)

LindaFairstein_photoLINDA: The terminal was absolutely everything I hoped it would be and more. It was like unlayering something that had many levels of skin. Hidden staircases and rooms which don’t appear on any blueprints of the building. I had never known its creators envisioned an entire ‘terminal city’ underground, beneath the streets of Manhattan. For me, the research rarely stops. I get to this point in the story and begin to create a scene, and realize I might be able to find another angle, another bit of intrigue, to build into my plot. It’s the great fun (sometimes punctuated by a bit of torture) in writing novels.

HANK: Page 100–what surprises were in store? Were you having a good time writing?

LINDA: Was I having fun? A great question.I must say I love to sit down and write the first two chapters of a book. I’m back with my characters (one of the joys of doing a series) who have become my pals, and they’re inside my head, talking to me. But then the next eighty pages or so, for me, are the toughest. I’m trying to create a tight plot, introduce some of the suspects, lay in some clues because crime fiction readers demand ‘smart’ and ‘fair play’ in their stories, I think. I’m not always having fun until I reach about half way through the manuscript. I love what I’m doing at the keyboard, but it’s not always fun.

HANK: Page 200–What did you learn. what were you thinking?

LindaFairstein_cityshotLINDA: Writing novels is a constant learning process, which is one of the most exciting things about it. At this point, I’ve kind of realized that this book will actually get done. That there is a story coming together. In Terminal City, this part becomes fairly dense. Some of my readers thoroughly enjoy the history I explore, which gets heavy here. Others want the faster pace (stay tuned…coming later) of the unraveling of the mystery. That’s a constant balancing act and usually reaches a peak at this point in the manuscript.

HANK: Page 300–were you excited, inspired, bemused, worried?

LINDA: So this is the point at which I really get excited.Usually, this is past the point of worrying (although I hate books that end badly, so I always worry about sticking the landing). And rarely would I use the word ‘inspired,’ as much as I would like to. I love writing the last quarter of the novel. The story line is all crystal clear at that point, and I feel like I’m barreling along. For me, the first one hundred or so pages are like pulling a heavy sled uphill. Then I’m on a plateau for awhile, just telling my story. Then I get on that sled on the top of a peak and just let ‘er rip, all the way to the end.

HANK: You typed THE END–did you?–What goes through your mind?

LINDA: There is always a rare combination of total euphoria and relief when I type THE END. I was behind schedule this time – never for any good reason – and so it’s a wonderful feeling to get to the finish line. I never cease to be amazed that I have completed another book, so I often have a good ‘happy’ cry. And later, always, a stiff drink that evening.

HANK: You are such a star, such an indisputably successful author–is that how you felt at the end of your first draft?

LINDA: You’re always so generous to me. I felt good at the end of the first draft because I make my revisions throughout the process of writing. Every day as I sit down to write, I start by re-reading the work of the day before. Sometimes, I go back to the very beginning and read it all as a piece, editing myself throughout the process. I find it helps the pacing of the story a lot, it catches many of the word echoes or repeats, and keeps me on a good timeline. So I am constantly revising and editing, which means things don’t change a lot for me when I get the draft back from my editor. Again, some joy at finishing, and always some relief.

HANK: When you read the printed pages–were there moments when you thought–hey, I wrote this?

LINDA: This is a very funny question – a really good one. I bet only writers really ‘get’ this. Absolutely true. There are times I reach a line of dialogue that stands out and I think to myself, ‘way to go’ – I did this? Or a good clue I had forgotten I had thrown in. Sometimes I go back to one of the earlier novels, looking for a description or a fact for the backstory, and come across a surprise from one of the books that simply makes me smile because I had forgotten I had written the lines. This is a writer’s bit, I think. It’s just sheer fun.

HANK: Readers, do you share the same feelings as you progress (or not!) in your books? I love that Linda sometimes feels apprehensive, and sometimes feels delighted—I think that’s so reassuring!

And of course, a copy of Terminal City to one lucky commenter.

GrandCentralStation

HANK: When you walk into Grand Central now, what do you think?

LINDA: There’s hardly a day that goes by when I’m in the city that I don’t go near Grand Central, on foot or in a cab. The building (so glorious) has always grabbed my attention – it has a lot of majesty, and there are 750,000 people who use it, visit it, pass through it every day. Having inhabited it for the better part of a year, and used it as a crime scene, I’ll never look at it the same way again. I love being there.

HANK: What is your wish for Terminal City?

LINDA: My wish for Terminal City is that readers come to feel the same way about GCT as I do. It’s a majestic, colossal, historic, dynamic and inviting place to be. My novels are meant to be entertainments of course, so I want the reader to be drawn into the mystery, suspense, and thrills of the story. But I also want to introduce them, gently, to one of the great treasures of New York City.

Thanks so much to you, Hank, for such a generous interview!

********

TerminalCity_coverLINDA FAIRSTEIN is the author of the bestselling series of crime novels featuring Manhattan DA’s Office sex crime prosecutor Alexandra Cooper. The sixteenth novel – Terminal City – was published by Dutton in June, 2014.  Fairstein is an honors graduate of Vassar College and the University of Virginia School of Law, where her classmates created a Public Service Fellowship in her honor. For thirty years, from 1972-2002, she served in the office of the Manhattan District Attorney, and continues her legal work for victims of violence to this day.

 

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Wrong GirlHANK PHILLIPPI RYAN is the on-air investigative reporter for Boston’s NBC affiliate. She’s won 30 EMMYs, 12 Edward R. Murrow awards and dozens of other honors for her ground-breaking journalism. A bestselling author of six mystery novels, Ryan has won multiple prestigious awards for her crime fiction: the Agatha, Anthony, Macavity, and for THE OTHER WOMAN, the coveted Mary Higgins Clark Award. National reviews have called her a “master at crafting suspenseful mysteries” and “a superb and gifted storyteller.” Her newest thriller, THE WRONG GIRL, has the extraordinary honor of winning the 2013 Agatha Award for Best Contemporary Novel! A four-week Boston Globe bestseller, it was dubbed “Another winner” in a Booklist starred review and “Stellar” by Library Journal.  She’s on the national board of Mystery Writers of America and 2013 president of national Sisters in Crime. Watch for her next novel, TRUTH BE TOLD, on October 7, 2014.

Visit her online at HankPhillippiRyan.com, on Twitter @hank_phillippi and Facebook at HankPhillippiRyanAuthorPage.

 

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What Authors Can Learn from KISS (Yes, that KISS)

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Yes, these are the real tickets.

The Molson Centre in Montreal on June 27th, 2000, was chilly, loud and dark. After spending nearly an hour in the hot sun on Rene Levesque Boulevard, it was hard to see inside the cavernous auditorium. I kept my boyfriend’s long, blond hair in sight, occasionally grabbing a wrist or hem of his t-shirt so I wouldn’t lose him in the crowd. It wasn’t my first time at a live music concert but it was the first time I’d been to a metal concert. To say that I felt a little out of place is putting it mildly. My capri pants looked grandmotherly next to other girls miniskirts (or were those bandannas camouflaged as skirts?) and my t-shirt felt utterly un-rockstarish.

We found our seats, along with thousands of new friends. Just as the first waft of smoke hit my nostrils, the cover band bound onto the stage. I couldn’t hear anything below screaming decibel so mostly I pantomimed different ideas to my boyfriend. Do you know where the bathroom is? When is KISS going to start playing? Did you bring anything to drink?

Finally, all the lights dropped off except for the exit signs. Other types of smoke wafted through the air and I begged a cigarette off a guy two rows up, ripping the filter out to stick in my ear. I held the other one closed with a finger and wondered if I was going to make it another hour+ like this.

Then lights exploded over the stage, pyrotechnics boomed and danced over the space and KISS rocked and rolled its way into my world. I couldn’t believe how much fun I had. I rocked. I rolled. I jumped up and down waving my fist in the air during a song that I hadn’t even realized was played by the infamous four. I made eye contact with Ace and Paul Stanley. I was still a little weirded out by Gene Simmons’ tongue but was mesmerized by his ability to play a guitar. I caught a guitar pick and squealed like a three month-old who’s just discovered her toes.

Mostly, I was fascinated by the way that the Paul Stanley, the spokesman for the group, reiterated how much they loved us, their fans (and yes, by this time I did consider myself part of that group). Over and over throughout the night we were sent love from the stage, appreciation from the musicians who, quite honestly, have more money than many small countries and could have retired from touring years ago.

When we left the concert later that night, my boyfriend asked me what I thought. “I loved it!” I gushed. I yammered away about the awesome pyrotechnics, the lights, the costumes–as though he hadn’t just experienced all of this for himself.

“You know why I think that KISS has had such a successful, long-time career?” I asked.

“Cause they play great music?”

“Oh, well, yeah. Of course that. But I really think it’s because they love their fans. They really, truly made us feel like we were important and that buying a ticket was something they appreciated.”

And that, I think, is how it should be for authors. Whether we’re newly self-published or traditional-house superstars, we owe it to our readers to thank them, over and over and in as many creative ways possible, for reading our books. When a business goes above and beyond what’s expected, we call it exceptional customer service. I think we need a new term for authors who do this: Exceptionothors. Exceptionauthors. Excepauthors? Well, OK. Forget the term. Let’s just focus on loving our fans and appreciating them any way we can.

J.P. Choquette is working on a third suspense novel and loving her fans online and off in northwestern Vermont. Sign up for her free enewsletter and you might find yourself featured in one of her upcoming short suspense stories! 

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