Overheard at Crime Bake

Our annual Crime Bake conference was just over a week ago, and we’re missing it already. We thought it would be fun to share a few highlights from the conversations, for those of you who missed it. And, so we can relive the experience!

We’re in the Sisters in Crime community because we love crime fiction. And we not only love it, we immerse ourselves in it by reading AND writing about it. So why do we do this? What’s the draw to murder, mystery and mayhem?

This was a topic of discussion at the recent New England Crime Bake during the “Desperadoes Waiting for a Train: Why We Write Crime Fiction” panel. Some of our fellow authors engaged in a lively conversation on the subject. Here’s a snapshot of what we heard:

Hank Phillippi Ryan: “We write and read crime fiction because we require a conclusion, and we rarely get that in real life. We’re looking for the end to that story.

Sheila Connolly: “It’s about righting a wrong.”

Brendan Dubois: “There is chaos every day in the world and crime fiction helps to restore order – not necessarily justice, but some retribution.”

Guest of honor Craig Johnson: “The stakes are high. When you’re dealing with life and death, that doesn’t allow for a slow story.”

Jennifer McMahon: “Justice is a human convention. It’s a gray area, and we have to embrace that we’re not always going to get a resolution tied up in a bow.”

The authors also discussed the virtues of plotting vs. pantsing and how they became interested in the genre. Craig Johnson shared a story about visiting a crime scene with his grandfather, a member of the highway patrol, at a young age, which drew him to mysteries.

Oh, and did you know Hank Phillippi Ryan used to ride her pony to the library to get books as a child? Yes, these are the things we hear at Crime Bake!

In the panel “Ordinary People in Extraordinary Situations,” the conversation turned to which comes first – ideas or characters? Authors including Daniel Palmer, Vicki Doudera, Peter Swanson, Steve Ulfelder and Jan Elizabeth Watson talked about the crazy places from which ideas can come. Some favorite examples: while chopping wood and at real estate courses.

The takeaway? Ideas come from everywhere and at any time, so be open! And, imagining what would most scare you as a reader helps, too.

Did you attend Crime Bake? What stood out for you at your favorite session?

Posted in Conferences, Craft, Crime Bake, Event Recap, SinCNE, Writers, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

On Marketing One’s Book: A Dialogue

Ahh, the dreaded “m” word: Marketing. For many authors and other self-employed artists, the word creates a feeling bordering on disgust. It might bring to mind pictures of overweight men in polyester suits, hair slicked back, hand out, shark-smile in place. Or maybe the term reminds us of those terrible telemarketer calls, where–no matter how politely you refuse the service or product–you end up having to hang up on the caller because you can barely get a word in edgewise.


I recently conducted an unofficial author survey (i.e. of my friends who are also authors) to ask what they believe they need as an author, or what help they could have used when first starting out. Most of them replied, “help with marketing” and made mention of the fact that they “greatly disliked,” “didn’t have time for,” or otherwise dreaded marketing their books.

Is that one of the reason that so many authors today still seek traditional publishing packages instead of choosing to self-publish? There could be many other reasons of course, but from what I’ve been hearing/reading, it seems that unless your name begins with S and ends with King, you’re likely going to be doing a lot of book marketing for yourself, traditionally published or not.

While there are loads (and loads and loads) of blog posts, websites and chatter via social networking sites regarding the “how to’s” of marketing one’s book, it still seems to be an area where new and (sometimes) better information continues to flow. Daily. So how does an  author determine what best practices to choose in regards to marketing?

This post isn’t going to offer helpful information or potential solutions. Instead, I’m hoping it will open up a dialogue, a way for all of us to share what’s worked/hasn’t worked in our own marketing efforts. Feel free to offer tips, links to resources or other items of interest in the comments section. And thanks in advance for being part of the conversation.

Author Photo 16Apr13J.P. Choquette writes suspense novels and markets them on a nearly daily basis from her office in northwestern Vermont. In her free time she enjoys making junk art, being outdoors and spending time with family … as well as reading up on the business side of writing. 

Posted in Book promotion, J.P. Choquette, Marketing, Opinion, Social Media, Writers, Writing | 6 Comments

Not Quite Twenty Questions for Marcia Talley

hank-2013-bioHANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: How’d you like to live on a fabulous sailboat? Sail around the blue waters of the Caribbean, or wherever, exploring, and going on adventures with your brilliant and fascinating spouse?

And then, in the peace of a port or the solitude of your home in Maryland, surrounded by gardens, write compelling and smart mysteries, arrange SRO signings for your fellow authors, win awards and accolades and be national president of Sisters in Crime? And just be generally—beloved?

Yeah, well, not a dream for Marcia Talley! That’s her life. And she took time from her life of adventure to tackle our Not Quite Twenty Questions!

Title of your autobiography: 
She Takes a Licking, But Keeps on Ticking

It dates me, I know, but the title refers to the Timex watch commercials of the 1950s and 1960s. Timex subjected their watches to various “torture tests” – strapped to Mickey Mantle’s bat, taped to the backs of swimming turtles, attached to the propeller of a running outboard engine – and in spite of it all – as spokesman John Cameron Swayze used to say on TV, “…they keep on ticking.” As a three-time cancer survivor (totally fine now, thank you!) I relate to that Timex watch.

Movie you would see again and again?
Ruthless People, or maybe Overboard.

Both feature tightly-written scripts, not a single superfluous word. And both are absolutely hysterical. In Ruthless People, Danny DeVito has plans to murder his wife, but before that can happen, she is kidnapped. When the ransom call comes, he refuses to pay, of course. It’s a modern take on the O’Henry story, “The Ransom of Red Chief,” and a tour-de-force for Bette Midler as the kidnap victim who eventually teams up with her kidnappers to take revenge on her two-timing spouse. It’s one of those movies we’ve seen so often that we quote from it. “I’ve been kidnapped by K-mart!” or “Not Haiti, you moron, it’s Tahiti!”

Exotic drinks?
Oh, my favorite these days is a mojito! Properly made with all-fresh ingredients, with an umbrella in it, served poolside by Raoul, the pool boy.

(I guess he wasn’t there when I came to visit…) Pizza or chocolate?
Chocolate, definitely. Ever have tangerine ice cream with hot fudge sauce? I rest my case.

Spouse? Children? Special people in your life?
I married my college sweetheart, Barry, who I met while washing dishes at Oberlin College. We will be celebrating a significant anniversary this fall and plan to commemorate the event by taking one of those two-week long Viking River cruises from Budapest to Amsterdam. We have two amazing daughters, Laura (an attorney in Washington, DC) and Sarah, the social media maven for Sisters in Crime. Each daughter is married, Laura to a historian and Sarah to a Navy doctor, and each has three children – two boys and a girl.

I am a cat person, but sadly, Tommy – who was once featured in a Mystery Scene article by Elaine Viets – after a long life as muse, has passed away.

Sailing. And knitting. I am a sucker for yarn on sale. I have more yarn right now than I could knit up in three lifetimes, but when one of those Little Knits emails hits my mailbox, and I see I can buy a bag on sale – a whole bag! – for $19. I’m a goner.

Just a bit, as I’m noted for my brown thumb. Just yesterday, I nearly killed a spotted pink by leaving it out in the sun, but after remedial water therapy, it’s recovering nicely on the kitchen table. This summer I had three huge tomato plants and potted herbs: basil, parsley, sage, and mint. Mint for the aforementioned mojitos.

Oh, no, your garden is gorgeous! Do you watch TV? What?
Oh, yeah. Right now, I’m enjoying Longmire and Game of Thrones. Recently, the first season of True Detective blew me out of the water. And Orphan Black! OMG, what great TV. Otherwise – true confession – I veg out on home makeover shows on HGTV.

Can you sing?
Yes. I used to sing alto in the Oberlin Musical Union, and later in various church choirs. Now I am pretty much limited to congregational singing, but love it, especially when I go to church in England. We Anglicans know hymns!

Best concert you’ve ever seen.
I’m going to go all classical here, because it was such a magical moment. A Baltimore Symphony concert with Paquito d’Rivera on sax, simply accompanied by piano, bass and drum performing Astor Piazzolla’s quartet, “Oblivion.” Silky, sultry, seductive … I was mesmerized. There are versions of this piece on You-Tube, but none so fine as this one, played live, that night.


Photo by Brian Braye

Book you wish you had written.
Can I cheat here and nominate a series? Dorothy Dunnett’s historical series beginning with Game of Kings – six novels following the adventures of Crawford of Lymond, a Scottish mercenary, as he makes royal alliances and fights bad guys all over western Europe during the middle years of the 17th century. I would love to see this series brought to television. Epic costume drama!

Dunnett is one of the world’s greatest storytellers. And her history is so accurate that I stopped looking up the real characters in Wikipedia because I’d – spoiler alert! – find out what actually happened to them. She also penned the House of Niccolo series set one hundred years earlier and a fascinating novel, King Hereafter, about the real MacBeth, as well as seven mystery novels featuring the peripatetic detective, Johnson Johnson and his sailboat, Dolly.

Fear or phobia?
I really hate to fly. Every time I get on a plane, I think light thoughts, willing the plane to stay in the air. Should I ever drop off to sleep … be afraid, be very afraid.

What someone might not know about you.
That I used to be a librarian specializing in computer systems integration.

Do you have a recurring dream?
I’m in a house, and I seem to know it well. It goes on for room after room after room, and I’m usually looking for someone or something, but can’t find him/her/it. Sometimes I’m decorating the house and moving the furniture around. And it has an old-fashioned boathouse on the shore of a deep, cold lake. Have no idea what Freud would make of all that.

I have house dreams, too. Hmmm. How about a secret talent?
I am a darn good archer! Back in the day when colleges had a PE requirement, I took swimming and archery because I’d never been much good at team sports. Picture me, that poor little girl, sulking on the sidelines, the last to be picked for any playground team. I had always been a good swimmer, but being able to hit a target accurately using a bow and arrow really surprised me. I’m also a decent shot on the gun range and once, after a workshop in Las Vegas, ended up (along with fellow author, Donna Andrews) on the cover of the magazine Women and Guns. My husband hung my targets up in the basement as a deterrent to burglars.

MarciaTalley_casualIf you could meet and chat with one person, it would be…
Dead or alive? Elizabeth I – was she really the virgin queen? Inquiring minds want to know. For someone alive today, I’d love to have a lunch date with George Clooney. What? You say I have to be serious? Oh, okay, then, how about Elizabeth Warren? What an intelligent, down-to-earth breath of fresh air in an otherwise moribund Congress. If I lived in Massachusetts, I’d vote for her. Three times.

Can you believe how wonderfully your career turned out?
I am constantly amazed that after fourteen novels, people still want to read about Hannah Ives. She has been with three publishers – Bantam/Dell, Morrow/Avon and now Severn House. But I guess Hannah is like me – she takes a licking but keeps on ticking!

Things you say to yourself when writing:
This is awful, the worst crap ever! No, it’s not. Yes, it is! No, sit back down. You’ve done this before and you can do it again!

What are you working on now? Or—what’s your latest book? Or both?
My latest mystery, Tomorrow’s Vengeance, will be out any day now. It’s set in a posh continuing care retirement community modeled on one I visited in Sarasota, Florida. I’m well into writing the next book in the series, Daughter of Ashes, where Hannah and her husband buy a vacation cottage on the Chesapeake Bay and bodies ensue.

Tell us something else about that!
Barry and I recently bought a vacation cottage in the Bahamas. Previously, we’d made a bid on another cottage, but the deal fell through because of some – how do you say? – shenanigans by a rival real estate agent. So, I decided a real estate agent needed to die. Then, at a writing retreat sponsored by Sisters in Crime last spring, author Sarah Shaber shared something shocking that was going on in Franklin County, North Carolina and – tah dah! – I had a plot.

Are you enjoying it? 
Oh, yes. Killing someone off in a novel is ever so therapeutic.

Do you have motto? What is it?
If I could teach my two daughters only one thing, it would be this: “Never define yourself solely in terms of somebody else.” They’re both bright, independent women with strong marriages and great kids, so I guess we did something right.

HANK: So sisters, isn’t she great? But you know that. In honor of Marcia—let’s talk about sailing! Do you love to sail?


MarciaTalley_Tomorrows-VengeanceMarcia Talley is the Agatha and Anthony award-winning author of nine Hannah Ives mysteries, including ALL THINGS UNDYING and WITHOUT A GRAVE . She is editor/author of NAKED CAME THE PHOENIX, a star-studded, tongue-in-cheek collaborative serial novel about murder in a fashionable health spa.

A second collaboration, I’D KILL FOR THAT, is set in an upscale gated community. Her short stories appear in more than a dozen collections including “With Love, Marjorie Ann” and “Safety First”, both Agatha award nominees, and the multi-award-winning “Too Many Cooks”, a humorous retelling of Shakespeare’s Macbeth from the viewpoint of the three witches from Much Ado About Murder, edited by Anne Perry. A recent story, “Driven to Distraction” won the Agatha Award, was nominated for an Anthony, and selected for reprint in two major collections including “The Deadly Bride and 21 of the World’s Best Crime and Mystery Stories.” Another story, “Can You Hear Me Now,” appeared in Two of the Deadliest: New Tales of Lust, Greed and Murder from Outstanding Women of Mystery,” edited by Elizabeth George.

Marcia is national President of Sisters in Crime, Inc., serves on the board of the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America and is a member of the Authors’ Guild. She lives in Annapolis, Maryland, with her husband, Barry. When she is not writing, she spends her time traveling or sailing.



Hank TruthBeTold_coverHank Phillippi Ryan is the on-air investigative reporter for Boston’s NBC affiliate. She’s won 32 EMMYs, 12 Edward R. Murrow awards and dozens of other honors for her ground-breaking journalism. A bestselling author of seven mystery novels, Ryan has won multiple prestigious awards for her crime fiction: three Agathas, the Anthony, Daphne, 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 2013 novel, THE WRONG GIRL, has the extraordinary honor of winning the Agatha Award for Best Contemporary Novel and the Daphne Award for Mainstream Mystery/Suspense, and is a seven-week Boston Globe bestseller.

Her newest hardcover, TRUTH BE TOLD, is a Library Journal Editor’s Pick and RT Book Reviews Top Pick, with starred reviews from Booklist and from Library Journal, which raves, “Drop everything and binge read!” She’s a founding teacher at Mystery Writers of America University and 2013 president of national Sisters in Crime.

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 , , , | 1 Comment

Not Quite Twenty Questions for Dana Cameron

hank-2013-bioHANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Dana Cameron may be the only person I know who I can truly imagine living in the past, the present, or the future.

She’s an archaeologist, so she loves the past, and understands it. Her short stories set in colonial Boston teem with reality, both in the character and in the setting—and they are so amazingly realistic, you cannot believe they come solely from imagination. She’s an expert in all things Baker Street, and I can certainly picture her tete a tete with Sherlock. And more than holding her own.

In the present? She’s a world traveller, a fearless explorer, (except for one thing, which she reveals below) and at home in the most elegant restaurants and on the most rigorous hikes, and immersed in the art world, both literary and martial. She also loves her kitties. And her cool husband.

And the future? Her Fangborn novels create a future that’s fascinatingly terrifying, but if there were ever anyone I’d want to share a foxhole in the future with, it’s Dana Cameron.

Who, in the here and now, answered our Not Quite Twenty Questions.


Photo by James Goodwin

Title of your autobiography
The Queen of Spades

Because it’s the title I imagined generations of grateful graduate students and colleagues would use for an archaeology festschrift in my honor. It was a fantasy that got me through graduate school.

Oh! I just got that. Archaeology. Spades. Ba-dump-bump. Okay, then.

Movie you would see again and again?
“Raiders of the Lost Ark.” It is the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” of my set.

It is almost perfect in its beats and truly succeeds as an homage to the serials of the 1940s. Plus, it came out right before I went to college for archaeology and made me an infinitesimally bit cool.

So you never planned to be a mystery writer? How did that happen?
I wanted to be a writer when I was very young, but thought I’d have to run with the bulls, or get into bar fights, or go to war, in order to write—which sounded unpleasant. So I decided, at age 10, to become an archaeologist, which I loved. Many years later, I was working on a project in Maine, when my friend and I were accosted by a site looter with a metal detector. And a gun. It was very scary—how often does one have to worry about being shot?—but we came out unscathed. When I told another friend about it later, she said “you need to write this down.” And boom, a moment of satori. I started writing mysteries, which I’d read and loved all my life. The funny thing was, I started writing because of an adventure I was trying to avoid in the first place.

Okay, easy stuff. Exotic drinks?
Unusual or just be-fruited? Because I adore mai tais, margaritas, and rum punches; I also like aquavit, absinthe, and have gone on global quests for very rare, aged bourbons.

Pizza or chocolate?
If it comes right down to it, pizza. If it were portable like chocolate, I’d have that in my bag.

Spouse? Children? Special people in your life?
My darling James. We’ve been together since high school, and he’s the best thing to ever happen to me.

Yes, two fierce battle tabbies, Kaylee and Zoe.

Writing, reading, research. Going to museums and exploring cultures through food and drink.

I go for hostas. Low maintenance, fire and forget.

Do you watch TV? What?
Lately: “Orange is the New Black,” “Penny Dreadful,” “Fargo,” and “Orphan Black.” I’m looking forward to the next season of “Justified,” “BBC’s Sherlock,” “House of Cards,” and maybe “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”

Can you sing?
No, but sometimes I do anyway.

Best concert you’ve ever seen.
Jazz pianist Hiromi Uehara at Scullers in Cambridge on April 14, 2013. One of the most joyful expressions of technical brilliance I’ve ever seen. People left that show exalted, better than they were before.

Book you wish you had written.
There are many, but The Bone People, by Keri Hulme, is the first that came to mind.

Because it is brutal and exquisite and poetical; it is a book I slowed down reading to keep from getting to the end.

Fear or phobia?

What someone might not know about you.
I cannot whistle.

Do you have a recurring dream?
Several, and they’re all horrible.

Okay, but what? Now you have me curious. And what do you think they mean?
When I’m being dramatic, I intone darkly, “I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.” But I’m incredibly literal in my nightmares. They’re all obviously my worries about striving and failure, seeking and being besieged. A lot of stage-dressing and foo-farah for not very much plot.

And she quotes Hamlet, too! But how about a secret talent?
I bake pretty good bread.

If you could meet and chat with one person, it would be…
Either Shakespeare or Cleopatra. Both are fascinating historical characters about whom little is known.

Can you believe how wonderfully your career turned out?
I’m constantly amazed and so, so grateful.

Things you say to yourself when writing
Just write something. You can only learn something new about your character or edit your work into something readable if you get words down on the page first.

Dana_Cameron_CuriousCaseofMissAmeliaWhat are you working on now? Or—what’s your latest book? Or both?
I’m working on my third Fangborn novel, which right now is called Hellbender; I’m also working on a horror short story (“Whiskey and Light”) and a Sherlockian pastiche (“The Curious Case of Miss Amelia Vernet”).

Tell us something else about that!
Hellbender is my third Fangborn novel, an urban fantasy adventure featuring archaeologist Zoe Miller. She’s starting to come to grips with her powers—she’s a werewolf and part of a family of creatures dedicated to protecting humanity from evil—and is working hard to keep the secret identity of the Fangborn, well, secret. But I left her in a very difficult place in the last book, Pack of Strays, which came out last April, so I need to make sure I get her out of that, first.

Huh. Are you brave, in real life?
I think I’m emotionally brave, which means to me that I’m capable of challenging myself. I’m still working on the physical bravery; I have too much in my life I don’t want to lose. I leave that kind of bravery to my protagonists.

Are you enjoying it? The writing, I mean?
Yes/no. I write out of sequence and without an outline. Right now, the book is at the stage where it has to start coming together. For every fantastic moment I discover something new or make a connection between scenes, I worry it’s just a big, random mess devoid of originality or art. But when I do make one of those connections, it’s magical, it’s the best part of writing. All the drama and angst is part of exactly the same process that got me through my first eight books (and about twenty short stories), so I try to remember it’s just what happens.

Eight books and twenty short stories! (Ah, so far, right?)
Yep, the count is still ticking up!

Do you have a motto? What is it?
One apocalypse at a time.


Dana_Cameron_PackofStraysLike her series protagonists, Dana Cameron was a professional archaeologist, working on Old and New World sites dating from prehistoric times to the nineteenth century.  She began writing mystery fiction after an encounter with an armed site looter.  Site Unseen(2002) featured New England archaeologist Emma Fielding; this was followed by Grave Consequences, Past Malice, A Fugitive Truth, and More Bitter Than Death, and the Anthony Award-winning Ashes and Bones.  A series of short stories led her to explore other genres and subgenres, including historicals, thrillers, and noir (“Femme Sole” was short-listed for the Edgar Award).

Dana_Cameron_SerpentsTaleBut it was her Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity Award-winning urban fantasy short stories (including “The Night Things Changed” and “Swing Shift”) that inspired Seven Kinds of Hell, the first Fangborn novel (47North), followed by Pack of Strays.  The protagonist Zoe Miller discovers her identity as a werewolf and one of the Fangborn, a race of vampires, werewolves, and oracles secretly dedicated to protecting humanity.

Dana is a member of The Femmes Fatales, Mystery Writers of America, and Sisters in Crime (she’s a past president of the New England Chapter).  Dana lives in Massachusetts with her husband and feline overlords.

Visit me online at http://DanaCameron.com/, on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/dana.cameron, and Twitter https://twitter.com/danacmrn


Hank TruthBeTold_coverHank Phillippi Ryan is the on-air investigative reporter for Boston’s NBC affiliate. She’s won 32 EMMYs, 12 Edward R. Murrow awards and dozens of other honors for her ground-breaking journalism. A bestselling author of seven mystery novels, Ryan has won multiple prestigious awards for her crime fiction: three Agathas, the Anthony, Daphne, 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 2013 novel, THE WRONG GIRL, has the extraordinary honor of winning the Agatha Award for Best Contemporary Novel and the Daphne Award for Mainstream Mystery/Suspense, and is a seven-week Boston Globe bestseller.

Her newest hardcover, TRUTH BE TOLD, is a Library Journal Editor’s Pick and RT Book Reviews Top Pick, with starred reviews from Booklist and from Library Journal, which raves, “Drop everything and binge read!” She’s a founding teacher at Mystery Writers of America University and 2013 president of national Sisters in Crime.

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 , , , , | 6 Comments

Creative Crop Circles–ala Joni Mitchell

Yesterday I was riding in the car and heard the most interesting idea: creative crop circles. There was a blurb on the radio and the phrase, coined by singer/artist/writer Joni Mitchell, is her definition of working creatively.

When she feels tired of words, or when the words aren’t coming or aren’t making sense, Mitchell said she moves on to painting or if not painting, her music, to soothe herself. Flowing from one area of creativity to another, Mitchell said, has been really important to her work (and, I’d guess, her sanity).

How many of us have other creative outlets? When working full-time in a non-creative field (say, as a bank manager or administrative assistant) it’s somewhat easier to tap into your creative nature once work is done.

But when you write for a living (or draw, or make music) it becomes more difficult. This thing that once provided you with an outlet for feelings and emotions, that once transported you to another time and place, must now be harnessed and reigned in. Few authors I know are successful when they work “as the mood strikes.” Most put in hours of diligent work, even when sitting at their desk and typing words is the last thing they feel like doing.

So, how do you find that balance between art and product? Between creativity and the business aspect of selling books? Would love to hear your ideas and input in the comments below.

J.P. Choquette makes junk art during her free time. Long walks provide her with plenty of “materials,” and when she’s not creating mixed media pieces, she’s plotting her next novel. You can read excerpts of her work or sign up for her fun, free newsletter by visiting www.jpchoquette.com

Posted in Craft, J.P. Choquette | Leave a comment

Not Quite Twenty Questions for Hank Phillippi Ryan

hank-ryan-2013-c-pressWe’ve turned the tables this week and the interviewer is now the interviewee!

Yes, that’s right, Hank Phillippi Ryan has graciously (not that she’s ever not gracious) handed over her recorder and notepad and let us ask her Not Quite Twenty Questions.

Is it pure coincidence that her latest book has just released? We think not. Let’s celebrate and see what more we can learn about this woman who is always writing!

Title of your autobiography: 
The Juggler!

Sometimes I laugh at all my to-do lists. Sometimes I have no idea what day it is! (I am hoping I am not alone in this.) I know I am so lucky, and I am very grateful. But there are days when I wonder: how is all of this going to get accomplished? (I am hoping I am not alone in this.) And then, somehow, it does. Maybe I should change the title to: Doing One Thing at a Time. But that’s not as good a title.

Movie you would see again and again?
Oh, Working Girl! Do you know it? With Melanie Griffith as a smart-but-dissed secretary working her way up in the business world. I cry every time I see it. What else? Desk Set, with the wonderful Katharine Hepburn as a researcher. Philadelphia Story, because, you know, true love. The Godfather is amazing every time.

There are more—with all the movies on TV, what would I stop everything to watch? Ah, Dirty Dancing! Suspicion. The Lady Vanishes. Day of the Jackal! (And what’s that movie with Kevin Costner and the fax machine? No Way Out?) Oh, Sabrina! And Funny Face.

Somebody stop me.

Why those movies?
I’m a sucker for ugly duckling stories, I guess because I was so geeky-unpopular growing up. And for hard-work-and-perseverance-and intelligence-makes-the-difference stories, because of , um, the same thing. And The Godfather—well, every shot, every word, every expression matters. I try to do that in my books, too. You see something differently wonderful each time. And I adore thrillers, that’s my guilty pleasure. Day of the Jackal is just the best one ever.

HankSignsBEAExotic drinks?
Theoretically. Of the citrus/vodka ilk. But these days, I can have one drink. Then I feel like curling up and sleeping. I’m more of a red wine person. Or prosecco!

Pizza or chocolate?
So funny. Pizza. I could have pizza every day. Chocolate I can take or leave.

Spouse? Children? Special people in your life?
Aw, you know Jonathan. (He’s a criminal defense attorney-so nice to have in-house counsel!) We just celebrated our 17th anniversary! We have two kids, my stepchildren, all grown and with kids of their own. Lucky me!

Nope. I had two terrific cats, Lola and Leon. I got Lola from the Humane Society, and she was so tiny she couldn’t even go up steps. Leon (a stray) arrived about 6 years later, and they lived in the same place with me for the next 14 years. (Lola died at 20, and I still dream about her.) For all that time, neither acknowledged the other!

HA! No. (Ha. Hobbies. I am laughing.)

Yes, we have a fabulous gorgeous garden! It is the joy of my life to fill our house with flowers from it — tulips, then hydrangea, now dahlias.

Do you watch TV? What?
Yes, indeed. Thank goodness for the DVR! The Good Wife, Game of Thrones, Outlander(!) Project Runway, Tyrant, The Brief, Forever (silly, but I love Ioan Griffud). My go-to show on the road is Chopped, because it is ALWAYS on.

HankInNCCan you sing?
Not at all. Truly. It is embarrassing. I LIKE to sing, but it is absolutely awful. (At least I know it, right?)

Best concert you’ve ever seen.
Oh, the Three Tenors, on the Champs de Mars in Paris! The “Concert of the Century” it was billed. And we just happened to be there, and walked in, and got amazing seats. Whoa.

Book you wish you had written.
Well, that’s interesting. I almost said A is for Alibi, because it is so seminal. But then that would have meant I wrote it 20 years ago, and that would have changed my life in a way I wouldn’t want. (I guess…) To Kill A Mockingbird, but again, the baggage. Winter’s Tale, by Mark Helprin is so gorgeous. And it’d be such fun to be as free and timely as Bonfire of the Vanities.

Fear or phobia?
Ah, well? Spiders. SPIDERS! And earwigs. And gas, like gas appliances. I’m okay with flying, and heights, and depths (though I’m not big on swimming) and darkness. I guess my fear is that someone I love will get hurt. Terrified of that. I’ll say to Jonathan: “Be careful!” and he says: “Of what?” and there are the two different personalities.

You can spend the day doing whatever you want. Tell us a little about that day.
Coffee. Do a little email, read nice fan mail. Read good reviews. Write write write in my little study for several hours and good stuff comes out. Take a quiet walk, and think, and have a good idea. Organize dinner, welcome Jonathan, have a glass of wine, chat and watch a movie. Wow. That’s either ridiculously boring or reassuringly possible.

What someone might not know about you.
Oh, gosh, I can’t even imagine there’s anything, after all this time we’ve all known each other!

I am a really good cook! And ironer.

I was Hunter Thompson’s assistant at Rolling Stone Magazine. I traveled with Richard Avedon doing a big photography project. I worked for a subcommittee of the US Senate Judiciary Committee.

I find it very difficult to throw away glossy paper bags or out of style clothes. I am terrible at folding towels, cannot do it. I am a terrible driver; I am terrible at following directions in a car.

HankOnTourDo you have a recurring dream?
Yeah…a couple of them. One is of a house, a beautiful house which I know perfectly well—and I think oh—I forgot about this! I forgot I live here! Similarly, I often dream of a room in my current house that I forgot was there. I open the door-and oh, I can picture it perfectly now. It’s a big, like, library/closet, with lots of those lovely thin map drawers. When you pull out the drawers, they are full of paisley scarves and pearls. It’s nice. I’m always so surprised by the beauty I seem to have forgotten.

I still sometimes have the stress dream — late, lost, unprepared. But a few years ago, when I had it, and I realized I was supposed to go on stage and I DIDN’T KNOW THE WORDS OR STEPS! And then, in the dream, I said to myself, this is a dream. And besides, you do know the words and the steps.

I haven’t had the dream since then.

How about a secret talent?
I MUST have one, right? I can make dinner out of whatever is there? I can make up new lyrics to songs?

Your dream dinner party guests from history or currently?
Shakespeare. Edith Wharton. Stephen King. Judy Collins. Robert Pinsky. Sue Grafton. Nellie Bly. Audrey Hepburn.

Can you believe how wonderfully your career turned out?
Oh, please. I laugh every day with gratitude.

Hank TruthBeTold_coverWhat are you working on now? Or—what’s your latest book? Or both?
TRUTH BE TOLD! Is out this week! I am incredibly excited about it. It’s a big exciting entertaining thriller, set in Boston–about a diabolical mortgage fraud scheme and a notorious cold case murder. And also about a reporter who fabricates stories.

It’s a TOP PICK, and has starred reviews from Booklist and from Library Journal, which says—in the best review line I think I’ve ever seen!–“Drop everything and binge-read until the mid-boggling conclusion.”

Got to love that.

And working on the 4th Jane Ryland thriller, WHAT YOU SEE. Hoping to figure out how that ends. And it had better be soon! (It’s due November 1. La dee da, plenty of time.)

Do you have a motto? What is it?
You Never Know. (it’s the ultimate saying for an optimist—because whatever happens—it could all be good!)

Hank is also visiting the Wicked Cozy Authors today, to continue the conversation!


A bestselling author of seven mystery novels, HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN has won multiple prestigious awards for her crime fiction: three Agathas, the Anthony, Daphne, 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 2013 novel, THE WRONG GIRL, has the extraordinary honor of winning the Agatha Award for Best Contemporary Novel, and the Daphne Award for Mainstream Mystery/Suspense, and is a seven-week Boston Globe bestseller. Her newest hardcover, TRUTH BE TOLD, is a Library Journal Editor’s Pick and RT Book Reviews Top Pick, with starred reviews from Booklist and Library Journal, which raves, “Drop everything and binge read!”

hank-shadow-350The bestselling THE OTHER WOMAN, (now in a third hardcover printing and also available in e-book and paperback), was the first in the new Jane Ryland series from Forge Books. It’s listed as a Best Book of 2012 by the Kansas City Star, the Sacramento Bee, Suspense Magazine, and The Boston Globe, won the prestigious Mary Higgins Clark Award, and was the only novel nominated for the Agatha, Anthony, Macavity, Shamus and Daphne awards for Best Novel of 2012.

An award-winning investigative reporter at Boston’s NBC affiliate and a television reporter since 1975, her work has resulted in new laws, people sent to prison, homes removed from foreclosure, and millions of dollars in refunds and restitution for victims and consumers. Along with her 32 EMMYs and 12 Edward R. Murrow awards, Hank’s won dozens of other honors for her ground-breaking journalism. She’s been a radio reporter, a legislative aide in the United States Senate and an editorial assistant at Rolling Stone Magazine.

Her first four mysteries, beginning with the Agatha Award-winning PRIME TIME, feature Charlotte McNally, a Boston television reporter. FACE TIME was a BookSense Notable Book, and AIR TIME and DRIVE TIME were both Anthony and Agatha Award nominees for best novel of 2009 and 2010.

Hank is also on the national board of Mystery Writers of America and served as 2013 president of national Sisters in Crime.

Hank PrimeTimeHank’s first novel, the bestselling PRIME TIME (which won the Agatha Award for Best First Novel in 2007) is actually not her first encounter with publishing. That was in 1969, when she got a summer job as a proofreader, and read the entire Indiana Code of Laws out loud.

Since then, Hank’s been a political campaign worker, a radio reporter, a press secretary to a US Congressman, a legislative aide in the United States Senate, and—in a two-year stint in Rolling Stone Magazine’s Washington Bureau –worked on the political column “Capitol Chatter” and organized presidential campaign coverage for
Hunter S. Thompson.

Hank began her TV career in 1975, anchoring and reporting the news for TV stations in Indianapolis and then Atlanta. She’s battled her way through hurricanes, floods and blizzards, wired herself with hidden cameras, chased criminals and confronted corrupt politicians. With ground-breaking reports including revealing mistakes in the 911 system that sent emergency responders to the wrong addresses, a failing jury selection system, firefighters given outmoded and failing equipment, corruption in the mortgage industry and unfair practices by powerful contractors, her hard-hitting journalism has changed laws and changed lives. She has also covered national political conventions, the NBA playoffs and the Super Bowl, and has interviewed newsmakers from Prince Charles to President Carter to Muhammad Ali.

Hank grew up in the Indianapolis area and went to Western College for Women in Oxford, Ohio, where she majored in Shakespeare (and, she says, “minored” in “independent reading and listening to rock and roll records”). She also studied abroad at the International School in Hamburg, Germany.

Outside Channel 7, Hank is a founding teacher at Mystery Writers of America University. She also served as the 2013 president of national Sisters in Crime, which promotes the professional development and advancement of women crime writers to achieve equality in the industry. She’s also on the advisory board of the Lyric Stage of Boston, a professional theater company. There, Hank founded the Lyric’s “First Curtain” program, which provides the full theater experience for underprivileged students with free tickets and theater education scholarships.

Hank lives in the Boston area with her husband, a nationally renowned civil rights and criminal defense attorney.

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

Posted in Hank Phillippi Ryan, Interview, Not Quite Twenty Questions, Of Interest, SinCNE | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

Not Quite Twenty Questions for Vincent O’Neil

hank-2013-bioHANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: New England Crime Bake is coming! And we are so excited about that…(If you’re attending, hurray. It’ll be pretty darn interesting to hear the tales guest of honor Craig Johnson has to tell, right?)

And I always say: something wonderful and unexpected happens at every convention and at one of my very first Crime Bakes, I met the wonderful Vinny O’Neil.

He’d just won the St. Martin’s prize for best manuscript, but being Vinny, he didn’t mention that when we first sat down together at dinner. We just talked about writing and mysteries.

Then, if I remember correctly, he said something about graduating from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Cool! So, pursuing that, I managed to get him to tell me that he was also a West Point graduate, and a long-time infantry officer, in PANAMA, and he speaks Chinese. There’s probably a lot more, but he said, if he told me, he’d have to kill me.

Crime Bake 2008 with GOH Harlen Coben (back left) poses with Vinny, Hank, and other panelists.

Crime Bake 2008 — Vinny, Hank, and other panelists pose with GOH Harlen Coben (back left).

Who’d a thought? You never know who you’re going to sit by—and you never know if, like Vinny, that person will turn into a lifelong friend.

Vinny is having quite the adventure in mystery/thriller world. And his new book—with an entirely different bent!—is just being published.

So—although I kinda think he’s used to be the one DOING the interrogations, here’s Not Quite Twenty Questions for Vinny O’Neil.

VincentOneil_headshotTitle of your autobiography: 
 A Non-Standard Career Path

I once heard that phrase used in reference to an individual who marched to the tune of his own drummer. It was meant as an insult, but I’ve had so many different careers by now that I think it fits.

Movie you would see again and again?
The Godfather!

Godfather is not only my favorite movie, but it is also my favorite book. Once you get past the ludicrous assertion that there is such a thing as a “good” crime family, there is so much great dialogue, so many towering characters, and such gripping action that I must have seen the film (and read the book) a dozen times. At least.

Exotic drinks?
These days the most exotic drink would be some kind of seasonal coffee; my gone-but-not-forgotten Borders Bookstore coffee shop used to serve an excellent Pumpkin Spice coffee around Halloween and a very tasty Gingerbread Man latte around Christmas.

Pizza or chocolate?         
Oh, chocolate. Definitely.

Spouse? Children? Special people in your life?
No kids and never married, but I do come from an extended family that is very tight. I also have a great many friends from my different careers, especially my writer friends.

I grew up with collies and have always loved dogs. Although I don’t have one of my own, every place I’ve lived there has been a dog who became my special friend. Right now it’s an aged Bassett Hound named Yulie who loves to have his back scratched.

Vinny with friend in Panama

Vinny with friend in Panama

Foreign language, movies, and physical fitness.

I don’t have the green thumb, but I did once manage to successfully transplant an Asian Lilac from a pot to a flowerbed outside the building where I was living at the time. The plant was a gift when I was in the hospital after breaking my elbow in a mountain biking accident.

Do you watch TV? What?
There is so much great TV out there these days that I have to be careful about watching too much. I LOVED Breaking Bad, never miss Justified, am addicted to Game of Thrones, and I’m looking forward to the Breaking Bad spin-off Better Call Saul that’s due to start in February.

Can you sing?
Not even in the shower.

Best concert you’ve ever seen.
The Charlie Daniels Band. They were all over the radio at the time with “Devil Went Down to Georgia” and other hits, but their show was simply amazing. They did everything: jazz, blues, rock, country-western, and others, and of course when Charlie himself started sawin’ on his fiddle it was an astounding thing to see and hear.

Book you wish you had written.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

The laugh-out-loud humor and the witty wordplay is only surpassed by the otherworldly imagination of Douglas Adams.

Oh, I love that book, too. Fear or phobia?
Sharks. I blame Jaws, which I saw in the theaters.

What someone might not know about you.
I played a mean tenor saxophone in my High School’s jazz band. That group won the New England championship year after year because of the musical genius who ran our school system’s entire music program.

Do you have a recurring dream?
This is a great question. I have two recurring dreams, and I’m told they’re both very common for Type A people. The first takes place in college, where for some reason I have never attended a single class in one course and yet I’m going to go take the final exam anyway. That one is doubly funny because the only time I ever got into real trouble at West Point was for accidentally missing a class.

1991 - Vinny standing in front of his troops from the First Battalion (Airborne) of the 508th Infantry

1991 – Vinny standing in front of his troops from the First Battalion (Airborne) of the 508th Infantry

The second recurring dream is in Ranger School, which was a grueling two-month commando school I attended as a newly-minted lieutenant in the US Army in 1986. Sleep and food deprivation were compounded by the carrying of heavy loads over brutal terrain while attempting to perform tasks that were sometimes highly complex. Although I graduated after being forced to repeat a two-week stage of the course, in the dream I’ve been called back to do the whole thing all over again. The best part is that I know I’m far too old for this and no longer in the army, and yet I’m going to try it anyway.

How about a secret talent?
I can still recite the “Definition of Leather” rapidly and without error. The “Definition of Leather” was one of many items of Plebe knowledge we were required to memorize at West Point. For some reason that one stayed with me.

Just so you don’t have to Google it (and you can Google it):

If the fresh skin of an animal, cleaned and divested of all hair, fat, and other extraneous matter, be immersed in a dilute solution of tannic acid, a chemical combination ensues; the gelatinous tissue of the skin is converted into a nonputrescible substance, impervious to and insoluble in water; this sir is leather.

You know we’re going to ask for a performance of that at Crime Bake! So– if you could meet and chat with one person, it would be…
Theodore Roosevelt. One of the few “bigger than life” characters of history who actually lived up to the hype.

Can you believe how wonderfully your career turned out?
I’ve done so many different things and held so many different jobs that I’m thankful every day for being able to write. Although I learned something from every job I’ve ever held, there is a special feeling about being allowed to simply sit down and try to create something entertaining, meaningful, and, every now and then, beautiful.

Yeah, those moments are amazing. Things you say to yourself when writing:
Get the words on the page. Writing is rewriting. You can’t edit what you haven’t written.

Just tell the story.

GloryMain_VincentOneil_coverWhat are you working on now? Or—what’s your latest book? Or both?
HarperCollins recently picked up my military science fiction series, so I’ve been working on that for well over a year. The first Book, Glory Main, was released in July of 2014 and the paperback will come out in September. The sequel is done and is scheduled for release in December. It’s tentatively entitled A Hand in the Stars, and I’m currently writing the third book in the series.

Tell us something else about that!
It’s a lot of fun writing this, because although it’s science fiction I have to make the settings real for the reader and the whole story is very character-driven. Glory Main is essentially a story of survival, with four characters marooned on a barren planet where they have to first find water, then food, and then safety. Their situation deteriorates rapidly when they realize the planet is inhabited by humanity’s enemy, an alien race that resembles mankind so closely that they’re called the Sims.

A Hand in the Stars is a much more complex story. It follows one of the soldiers who had been marooned in Glory Main, but it also introduces the highest level of the human government fighting the Sims and the difficulties of maintaining an interplanetary alliance in a war that has dragged on for decades. So Glory Main worked on the micro level and was focused on the basics of survival while A Hand in the Stars goes all the way to the macro level.

Are you enjoying it? 
Action-adventure in a completely imaginary world is always fun, and of course I get to draw on my personal experiences from nine years as an infantry officer in the US Army from the mid-eighties to the early nineties. The biggest challenge for me has been transposing the basic issues and concerns of soldiers from time immemorial into a future world that is believable and relatable but still loaded with all sorts of science fiction goodies.

I have an especially good time coming up with the nicknames the future soldiers would create for their common equipment and the acronyms they might use. In A Hand in the Stars I introduced a group of individuals who accompany the infantry on the ground while coordinating air support assets ranging from surveillance robots to rockets fired from orbit. Officially designated as “Aerial Support Systems Liaison”, they are affectionately addressed by their acronym ASSL.

Oh, hilarious! Do you have a motto? What is it?
It’s not so much a motto as a favorite quotation that applies to so much of life.

“Nobody knows anything.” – the first sentence in screenwriter William Goldman’s memoir Adventures in the Screen Trade

HANK: Oh, I love that! And ya know, it’s pretty darn true. So who’s going to Crime Bake? If you’ve been before, has anything wonderful happened to YOU there?


Death Troupe_VincentOneil_coverVincent H. O’Neil brings a wealth of life experience to his writing. Over the years he has been an officer in the US Army, a consultant, a risk manager, and an apprentice librarian.

A native of Massachusetts, he holds a bachelor’s degree from West Point and a master’s degree in International Business from The Fletcher School. After writing in his spare time for many years, he won the St. Martin’s Press “Malice Domestic” Writing Competition in 2005.

His award-winning debut novel, Murder in Exile, was the first book in a mystery series featuring the background-checker Frank Cole. It was followed by Reduced Circumstances, Exile Trust, and Contest of Wills.

His mystery novel Death Troupe is the first book in a theater-based mystery series featuring playwright Jack Glynn and the unusual members of the Jerome Barron Players theater troupe.

Harlequin Worldwide Mystery has released all four of the Frank Cole “Exile” novels in paperback, and published a paperback version of Death Troupe in 2013.

Interlands_VincentOneil_KindleIn 2012 he released a military science fiction novel called Glory Main: A Story of the Sim War. Harper Voyager has acquired Glory Main and the next two books in the series, and Glory Main released on July 29th, 2014.

His latest work, Interlands, is a Lovecraftian horror novel set in Providence, Rhode Island. It features graduate student Angela Morse, who is searching the local woods for a lost stone obelisk once worshiped by a colonial-era cult that perished at its feet.



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 Crime Bake, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Interview, Not Quite Twenty Questions | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments