Hank Phillippi Ryan Interviews … LINDA BARNES

NQTQ – Not Quite TwentyHANK 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.  msOt2FgCVm0xjr_BnS9p8Eg

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!]

Not Quite Twenty Questions—this time it’s twenty-eight–with Linda Barnes.LindaBarnesheadshot-e1365460995873

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?

Fine wine

When in history would you choose to visit?

The future


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?

Whatever works

 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?

Writer’s block

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

 Secret talent?

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's photo 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

About bethkanellbooks

My life is always a three-strand braid: love for Vermont, love of reading, and the need to write (and write better and better). Come visit and chat at any of my blogs and posts -- there's a big wonderful world of writing and reading, and we're in it together.
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57 Responses to Hank Phillippi Ryan Interviews … LINDA BARNES

  1. hankpryan says:

    I am incredibly grateful to Linda for being the experimental first interviewee…! Isn’ t she great?
    And even though we are pals, I do think I know her a bit better after this.

    SO–two things: one! What questions should we add to NQTQ? What would you like to know? And–who would you like to hear from? (We have some wonderful authors already lined up..watch this space.)

    And two: FREE BOOKS! Because you are reading the comments, you can enter to win a signed copy of a wonderful new mystery novel. ( Which one? That will be a surprise! But trust us, we’re all sisters here!) Just comment below–and I hope you’ll join me in tweaking NQTQ–and suggesting future authors!
    We’ll announce the winner Sunday night.

  2. How exciting, Hank! I can hardly wait to see who suggests what … Yay, sisters! (And brothers — smile.)

  3. Kathy Reel says:

    How could I not have read any Linda Barnes yet? I will be rectifying that by starting with The Perfect Ghost. Loved the interview.

    • hankpryan says:

      Yay, Kathy! Perfect. Our goals are to give you a little bit of inside scoop on writers you already know and love– and to introduce you to writers you haven’t quite met yet. Hurray.

  4. Kim says:

    Love love love this format! I’ll start thinking about questions I’d like the answers to … I’ve always been intrigued by James Lipton’s interviews. As for authors, I love your focus on the legends. It’s a great opportunity for me to tackle some authors I’m not familiar with!

  5. jpchoquette says:

    Great interview and am looking forward to reading one of Linda’s books soon. I’m happy about this new series and can’t wait to read more! Two questions for authors that I always am curious about: how do they write (routine–morning? evening? how many hours on average a week? etc.) and also, did they ever consider giving up and if so, what made them determined to continue, no matter what.

    • hankpryan says:

      Great questions! Let me ask YOU. Are you AM or PM? If I had to write in the early morning, you’d find me with my head clonked against the computer. But at 10 PM? I am going strong. So it’s whatever works for YOU, right? But I agree, it would be fun to know..although I bet our takeaway would be that everyone is different. And it’s reassuring lovely to hear that!

      And same for the “giving up” part. Did I ever condor giving up? EVERY DAY. Briefly. 🙂 But what would be the point of that?? If it were easy, anyone could do it..but we’re in it because it’s wonderful. But yup, absolutely, adding it to the list!

      • jpchoquette says:

        Definitely a.m.–in the late p.m. I’d be the one with head lolling against the computer. Absolutely, whatever works for the writer, I’m always curious about setting and time of day and things like that. It helps me imagine the writer at their craft. And I think you’re right–probably every writer has “those days” when they feel like giving up. But what makes some stick it out and others not?

      • hankpryan says:

        JPCHouquette–I love how different we all are! And I am definitely asking about why some people give up.. I agree, fascinating.

  6. I’m loving the NQTQ interview and would like to add one more: what do you advise a writer determined to be published in the genre for the first time?

  7. hankpryan says:

    Oh, Janet, cannot wait to ask that. Perfect. What would YOU say?

  8. hankpryan says:

    Now I’m thinking about his even more–I’d say: read read read–and then look at your own stuff. Are you–good? Or do you need to keep working? What makes your work special, and wonderful, and riveting? Are you being too impatient? And thank you! So glad you’re loving these–they’ll be different every week..so I hope you’ll come watch them evolve.

  9. hankpryan says:

    This also makes me realize I’ve never seen The Italian Job. Have any of you?

  10. I want to give a shout out for the Michael Spraggue series. An actor and amateur sleuth. Great books, and how I came to know Linda’s work. Love the Carlottas, and THE PERFECT GHOST was terrific.

    Great questions, and great series Hank! Thanks (as always) for all you do for Sisters in Crime New England.

  11. Mary Gatto says:

    Thanks for introducing Linda Barnes. I will definitely give her books a try. Love your NQTQ.

  12. Mare F says:

    I still have my ARC copy of A Trouble of Fools and cherish it. It must be time to revisit this series. Thanks!

  13. Jody says:

    Great interview. I’m going to start over & re-read all the Carlottas.

  14. Linda/Carlotta are one of the reasons I began to write crime fiction, myself more than twenty years ago. Thank you, Linda! Awesome questions, Hank.

    How about – what’s your recurring nightmare? ;^)

    • hankpryan says:

      Oh, great question, Edith! Adding it to the roster..xoxo (What’s yours?)

      (Hmm..recurring dream, maybe, too…since good is as interesting as bad. My good recurring dream is that there is a whole set of rooms in my house that I keep forgetting existed–they are beautiful, and wonderful, and fled with fabulous things. It is SUCH a good dream!)

      • Sigh. Mine usually involves flying to China (I have been many places in the world, but not China, yet). Some are the usual: late to the airport, passport is at home, and so on. But in the most common version, I am flying the plane. A big-ass plane. And I know in the dream that I do NOT know how to fly a plane! Shit…

  15. CristineGzr says:

    Really nice interview, not a rehashing of the same old questions, I really enjoyed it. Boston is such a perfect setting for murders for so many good reasons.

  16. Mary Sutton says:

    Great interview. Edith’s recurring nightmare question is a good one.

    My only problem: Now I have more books to add to the pile.

  17. hankpryan says:

    And oh, Mary, we all have the same “problem.” But that’s a good thing!

  18. hankpryan says:

    But Edith–the plane is FLYING! That is a GOOD dream! (Hmmm..wonder if it means you are challenged but succeeding??? Hmmm???)

  19. No suggestions yet, just enjoying how the interviews are unfolding as a fun surprise! Since I am a reader and not a writer (and sometimes toil over writing a review or blog comments), all aspects of how the book gets from your brain to my hands are fascinating.

    And ha ha ha, almost missed this . . . and Susan Lucci lost the daytime Emmy for only the eighth tine.

  20. Hank, I’m learning so much about the rich heritage of female mystery writers from you and my Amazon wish list is growing. Thank you so much! Keenan Powell

  21. Linda Barnes says:

    What great comments and questions! Oh, Edith, that question about nightmares gave me the chills. But I definitely think Hank should ask it. Of other writers, not me! And Keenan is so right about the many wonderful mystery writers of the female persuasion out there waiting to be read.

  22. terryshames says:

    Hank, thank you for reintroducing me to Linda Barnes. I read her early Carlotta books and now I’ll go back to the later ones. And Linda, I’ll play Scrabble with you. I’m slow, too. You may win, but I love the idea of nothing smaller than 5-letter words–and zounds! those obscure words.

    • hankpryan says:

      Okay, sounds like the gauntlet is thrown.. is there a way for us all to play Scrabble together? Wouldn’t that be hilarious? And how many points is zounds? Ooh, on a triple word?

  23. Barbara Bibel says:

    I love Carlotta. It sounds like there will be no more about her. Say it isn’t so! I look forward to the new series, too.

    • hankpryan says:

      Isn’t it–amazing, how characters we love stay with us? DI you ever read–stay with me here–MT Anderson’s Clue in the Linoleum Lederhosen? In it, someone says says fictional characters remain alive only when people take their books out of the library. That almost makes me cry.

  24. How could I not know Carlotta? She sounds wonderful. Thanks Hank, for the introduction. Will meet her very soon. (Love the interview style.)

  25. Linda Barnes says:

    Barbara, I honestly don’t know whether or when there will be another Carlotta. A new voice is calling me right now, but I miss Carlotta and she says she has at least one more story to share. Maybe I can work a Scrabble tournament into it???

    • hankpryan says:

      Wow. And there, dear readers, is why we do this. We shall see…and cross fingers. And will eagerly await the new voice. Is there anything more exciting? Linda, you are amazing. xoo

  26. Thank you Linda and Hank! What a great conversation!

    • hankpryan says:

      AND THE WINNER of the FREE BOOK (chosen at random by closed eyes and scrolling, very scientific) is Janet Mendelsohn! Hurray–and Janet, email me at h ryan at whdh dot com and send me your address.

      Other commenters- we love that you’re here! Thank yo so much for being on the inaugural voyage. Next Thursday, a brand new interview–guess who?? Hint–you’ve certainly read her books, and we wouldn’t be here without her.

      And we’ll choose another winner!

    • hankpryan says:

      Oh, Julie…I know you’ll be in the hotseat soon! You cannot escape NQTQ!

  27. Janet Mendelsohn says:

    Hooray for randomness! I haven’t won anything in many a moon. Maybe this is a good omen…or maybe there’s a story here…rookie mystery writer receives a novel from a famous crime writer and tucked inside finds…

    • hankpryan says:

      Oh, I can promise you it’s a good omen..and what a terrific story prompt! Hmmm…

      What’s your favorite kind of mystery?

  28. Janet Mendelsohn says:

    My favorite kind of mystery? That’s like choosing a favorite filling in chocolate. But lately its been detective stories (John D MacDonald’s Travis McGee series) and those with a female sleuth.

  29. hankpryan says:

    Okay–on the way! And we’ll give another prize after our next interviewThursday…see you then!

  30. Gustaf Berger says:

    How often have you gotten to use a nine-letter word in Scrabble? (Anaerobic.)

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