HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: What were you doing in 1987?
It was that year that Aretha Franklin became the first female artist inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
The first-ever anti-smoking ad, (featuring Yul Brynner) aired on TV, as did the premiere of “thirtysomething.” That same year, the Beatles albums were first released on compact discs, and Susan Lucci lost the daytime Emmy for only the eighth tine.
I was…let’s see. A general assignment reporter here in Boston, not yet an investigative reporter, and the idea of writing a mystery/thriller was barely beginning to percolate in my mind. (I wouldn’t write my first until 20 years later!)
Anyway, however you calculate, 1987 was a while ago.
IN 1987, however, Linda Barnes was already changing the mystery world. A Trouble of Fools, the first of her now 12 Carlotta Carlyle mysteries (featuring her 6’1″ redheaded Boston private eye), burst onto the publishing scene. And unlike now, when every Tuesday several new female series sleuths appear, back then the cab-driving Carlotta was breathtakingly original. She still is.
I found an interview that asked Linda why she wrote crime novels, and her answer is haunting.
“First, because I enjoy reading them. Second, because I’m a control-freak and crime novels can be an orderly oasis in an untidy world. But those are the easy answers.
When I was a small child, my next-door neighbor, a Detroit policeman, shot and killed a teenager as he fled across my front lawn. I heard the shot. My parents told me not to look out the window. Of course, I did. I’ve never gotten the facts straight on that long-ago shooting, but I remember staring at the bloodstains in the grass the next morning.
When I was twenty-three, a dear friend of mine committed suicide. His death was wholly unexpected, a one-two punch in the gut and the heart that even now leaves me breathless. For years I tried to invent a scenario in which he died some other way, because homicide seemed so preferable to suicide. Sometimes I think I write most of my books about his death.”
Authors come and authors go, but Linda Barnes is proof that hard work and talent and passion and are what long-lasting careers are made of. Her newest book, a standalone called THE PERFCT GHOST, is getting raves. And I know she’s working on something new, but she absolutely won’t tell me. So much for my investigative reporter skills.
Still, she did agree to answer our NQTW.
Not Quite Twenty Questions—and they may not be the ones you’d expect. What, I wondered, would these successful sisters say—with just a one-word prompt? We know about their writing—but what about their personal lives, and preferences, and fears and talents?
I wasn’t sure it would work—should I have done a traditional interview? But turns out–I am fascinated by the answers we’re getting. I have learned things I never would have predicted. Over the next weeks—I hope you will, too. [Special hint from your editor: Watch this evening’s comments on the blog for word of an added offer from Hank!]
Title of your autobiography?
The First Hundred Years
Book you wish you had written?
Movie you would see again and again?
The Fugitive, The Italian Job, The Princess Bride
Exotic drinks–yes? No?
When in history would you choose to visit?
Incredibly better medical care, for one. And I always want to find out what happens at the end.
What are you working on now?
First in a new series
Oh, what, what? Can you divulge?
No comment. (Or, in the words of the mysterious woman in Help: “I can say no more.”)
What have you learned from the first one? What do you know that you didn’t know… before?
Everything and nothing. There are days when I think I know too much to write another series — and day when I think I know too little. Because I know how long you live with the decisions you make, I find myself hesitating to make them.
I know how hard the process can be, but I also know how satisfying it is to write THE END.
Plotter or pantser?
Pizza or chocolate?
Chocolate, with hazelnuts
Who do you play? Are you good? What’s your secret strategy? Best word ever? (Mine is anaerobic.)
Confession: I play against myself; no one will play with me because a.) I’m slow, b.) I refuse to consider words of fewer than five letters, and c.) I won’t keep score. Can’t recall best word ever, but often use Shakespearean insults.
Allergic to dirt
Fear or phobia?
Thing you always say to yourself when writing?
It’s only a draft. . .
What do you wish someone had told you?
To live in a warm climate
Do you watch TV? What?
Sherlock, Mad Men
Secret TV vice?
Downton Abbey, only in reruns
Can you sing?
More, more, tell us more..
I grew up singing Motown and show tunes, but now, like Carlotta, I sing the Delta blues; she plays guitar way better than I do, but I try to restrain my jealousy.
Best concert you’ve ever seen?
Bonnie Raitt, Steeleye Span
Already outed as secret singer
Do you have a motto? (What is it?)
Never give up the ship.
* * *
Linda’s Official Bio:
Before writing her first stand-alone novel, The Perfect Ghost, which Publisher’s Weekly calls “a captivating story of love, rivalry, and revenge,” Linda Barnes wrote 16 mystery novels, 12 featuring her 6’1” redheaded private eye Carlotta Carlyle, and four featuring actor/detective Michael Spraggue, an amateur sleuth. In addition to best-selling mysteries, she has also written award-winning plays and short stories.
Linda Barnes’s celebrated Carlotta Carlyle first appeared in 1985 in the award-winning short story “Lucky Penny.” Since then, Barnes has written twelve Carlotta Carlyle novels: A Trouble of Fools (1987), The Snake Tattoo (1989), the Boston Globe bestsellers Coyote (1991), Steel Guitar (1993), Snapshot (1994), Hardware (1995) and Cold Case (1997), which also appeared on The Boston Globe bestseller list. Flashpoint came out in 1999. The Big Dig was published in 2002, followed by Deep Pockets in 2004 and Heart of the World, in 2006 and Lie Down With the Devil (2008).
Among her many honors, Barnes won the Anthony Award for Best Short Story (“Lucky Penny,” 1986) and the American Mystery Award for Best Private Eye Novel (A Trouble of Fools 1987). She has been nominated for both the Shamus and the Edgar. The Snake Tattoo was named one of the outstanding books of 1990 by The London Times and Lie Down With the Devil was named one of the Best Mysteries of 2008 by Publisher’s Weekly.
She lives near Boston with her husband.
* * *
Hank Phillippi Ryan is the on-air investigative reporter for Boston’s NBC affiliate. She’s won 30 Emmys and dozens of others honors for her ground-breaking journalism. The best-selling author of six mystery novels, Ryan has won multiple prestigious awards for her crime fiction: two Agathas, the Anthony and the Macavity, and for THE OTHER WOMAN, the Mary Higgins Clark award. Her newest thriller THE WRONG GIRL (now an Agatha and Left Coast Crime nominee) was dubbed “Another winner!” in a Booklist starred review. Her upcoming novel is TRUTH BE TOLD (Forge, 2014.) She is 2013 president of national Sisters in Crime. http://www.HankPhillippiRyan.com