HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: When I was a little girl, I read Agatha Christie mysteries up in the hayloft of our barn. I fell in love with the mystery, with the puzzle, with the careful architecture of that kind of storytelling. I fell in love with trying to solve the mysteries along with Miss Marple and M. Poirot and the brave Tuppence and Tommy. Sometimes I could figure them out, but sometimes I was completely wrong. (And I could never just “read” the books, you know? I also had to solve along with the character. Did you?)
I remember wondering: how does she think of his stuff? The whodunit pattern is similar, and the detective is the same, but it’s new and thought-provoking and fascinating every time.
All these years later, I learned these were called “traditional” mysteries. And in Katherine Hall Page, the proud tradition continues.
And my tradition continues, too—asking: how does she do it? KHP’s twenty-second THE BODY IN… mystery, THE BODY IN THE BIRCHES, is next to tantalize us, (she’s working on it now) and her Roman holiday THE BODY IN THE PIAZZA is flying off the shelves.
She lives two towns over from me, and I can tell you she’s amazing. Hilarious, devoted, talented, a fabulous cook and a wonderfully devoted wife and mother and friend. Her mind goes a million miles an hour. I guess that’s how she does it.
And she still found time for NQTQ. So here are Not Quite Twenty Questions and not quite twenty answers from the winner of the Agatha for Best First Novel, Best Novel, and Best Short Story (has anyone else won all three?), Katherine Hall Page.
Title of your autobiography?
You Look Taller In Your Photo
Book you wish you had written?
For three reasons: I read it first when I was a child, around twelve, and it was totally engrossing. I was there; I was Jane. I cannot count the number of times at various other points in my life that I have reread it and I’m still there in that moment. Next, it is a perfectly crafted book—plot, characters, descriptions, and place. There is not a single misstep. Finally, it makes me cry and when it doesn’t, I’ll stop reading altogether.
Movie you would see again and again?
Love Actually (yes, I know, but adore Bill Nighy).
Very close second: To Kill a Mockingbird.
Exotic drinks–yes? No?
When in history would you choose to visit?
England between WW I and WW II
What are you working on now?
Well, The Body in the Birches, the Faith Fairchild Mystery #22!
And Small Plates, a collection of short fiction that goes on sale this May. I’ve described it as Agatha Christie meets Shirley Jackson.
So that’s… scary. I don’t equate you with “scary.”
But I am. In many ways, the traditional mystery is scarier than any other format because the murderers are relatives, neighbors and protagonists the proverbial ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances. And above all what I have always been intrigued, and terrified, by is the notion of wildly discrepant public and private faces. This has been a running theme through all my books. In three of the new stories, I have ratcheted this up a bit. Hence the Shirley Jackson reference. Also think Saki.
(And oh, I don’t think I am the only three-time winner in those Agatha categories, but I was the first, and am the only one to be nominated in four with the series cookbook, Have Faith in Your Kitchen, in the nonfiction category.)
Plotter or pantser?
Okay, but then: What’s the FIRST thing you decide in each book? You told me once—geography?
Yes. I alternate the books set in the fictitious town of Aleford, MA, with the “someplace else” books that have ranged literally all over the globe. The first decision is where and close on its heels, the precise location of the body—or one of them.
Ah HA. That’s the “in the” part. A.M. writer? Or P.M.?
So any time…can you also write any WHERE?
I suppose yes. My preference is for my desk in Massachusetts or Maine, but at times I’ve unfortunately had to write in places like my mother’s hospital room or similar type venues–under necessity.
Pizza or chocolate?
Neither—liquor is quicker.
Already have one.
No time (does husband count?).
Yes—mostly perennials. A few veggies.
Do you have a recurring dream? Or nightmare?
Gracious yes. Many. One of the most interesting ones (to me, because other people’s dreams are supremely boring) is that I have moved into a very large old house that needs a great deal of work. It’s quite beautiful, but too much and I change my mind and decide to try to get out of the deal. Could actually write about the house itself as it is that rare dream that stays clear upon awakening. Does not take Sigmund to come up with all sorts of interpretations!
What do you think that dream means?
Oh gosh. On a superficial basis probably that I should keep doing what I’m doing for a while longer. Plumbing deeper, may mean desire to take a risk. And then there’s the not-too-secret fact that I would like to move to a smaller house, but my beloved husband does not!!!
Are you a good driver?
Yes. My last ticket—it was for speeding–was in 1973! And it doesn’t really count, as it was New Hampshire. Plus I was driving a Pinto.
Fear or phobia?
No—although not crazy about certain rodents.
Thing you always say to yourself when writing?
“Damn, this is hard!”
Do you ever feel like giving up?
No. (I’m assuming you mean writing, yes? Have let go of goals like swimming across the English Channel etc.)
What keeps you going?
On a day-to-day basis, once I sit down and start to write, I just keep going. Can’t really explain it, but I’ll look at the clock and hours have passed. When I am deep into the story telling, I want to find out what’s going to happen too (Don’t want to sound twee, of course I’m controlling it, but there’s a kind of rolling down a grassy hill when you were a kid feeling. I read this way, too. Am immersed).
Do you watch TV? What?
Yes. Sherlock! Also Dr. Who.
Secret TV vice?
New Girl, but this season not so great—ditto Downton.
Can you sing?
Yes. But may not.
Best concert you’ve ever seen?
Bob Dylan, Roman amphitheatre, Lyon, France 1993.
Runner up: Jefferson Airplane, The Boston Tea Party, Boston, MA 1968.
Oh, and Dan Fogelberg at the Orpheum 2000.
(It was amazing and we didn’t know of course at the time it would be one of the last and the last in Boston.)
Uncanny ability to get lost.
Good thing you’re such a good driver. So. What do you wish someone had told you? About life, not about driving.
That wisdom does not necessarily come with age.
Do you have a motto? (What is it?)
“Be Careful What You Put in Writing!”
from Katherine’s Official Bio (from her website http://www.katherine-hall-page.org):
It was during her husband’s sabbatical year in France after the birth of their son that Ms. Page wrote her first mystery, The Body in the Belfry, 1991 Agatha Award winner for Best First Mystery Novel. The fifteenth in the series, The Body in the Snowdrift , won the 2006 Agatha Award for Best Mystery Novel. Ms. Page was also awarded the 2001 Agatha for Best Short Story for “The Would-Be Widower” in the Malice Domestic X collection (Avon Books). She was an Edgar nominee for her juvenile mystery, Christie & Company Down East. The Body in the Bonfire was an Agatha nominee in 2003. Page’s short story, “The Two Mary’s” was an Agatha nominee in 2004. The Body in the Lighthouse (2003) was one of three nominees for The Mary Higgins Clark Award. The Body in the Boudoir was a finalist in the 2013 Maine Literary Awards. The Body in the Piazza, the twenty-first in the series, is out now from William Morrow in hardcover, paperback, large print, E-book, and audio editions.
* * *
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
Isn’t she great? (And what do YOU think that dream means?) And of course, I’ll send a surprise book-gift to one lucky commenter!
(I am in Orlando at Sleuthfest! And about to give a speech..but I’ll be back soon! And I know Katherine will come visit the blog, too…)
Another great interview. Katherine’s TV viewing sounds like mine. 😉 To me, that dream would be “you’re afraid this project is too big for you,” but that’s just me. And if I follow that with a runner friend’s advice, it would also mean I should try anyway.
yeah…interesting, Mary–that’s what I think, too..o~r that she has a challenge she’s not sure about. Seems important that it’s a beautiful house, not a scary house, right?
Katherine’s books and her writing is one of the reasons I started writing locally based traditional mysteries, too. I’m looking forward to the book of shorts. Another great interview, Hank!
Yeah, me, too, Edith! And it’ll be interesting to see her dark side, don’t you think? (Wasn’t it your idea to ask about dreams? GOOD one!)
What a great interview! I saw Katherine Hall Page talk about traditional mysteries last fall at Crime Bake, and learned so much. This interview made me feel like we were all having tea. Thank you both!
She’s terrific. The real thing. ANything you remember you learned, Julie? NOw that YOUR series is on the way?? (YAY!)
My favorite part of her answers is: “… there’s a kind of rolling down a grassy hill when you were a kid feeling.” Isn’t that the very best kind of writing? Another terrific interview – and yet one more mystery writer I need to start reading!
I love that, too! Love when the whoo hoo happens..xoo
Wonderful interview with fascinating questions from Hank and witty answers from Katherine. Thanks so much, ladies.
Well, our pleasure–and you are the queen of interviewers! xoo
Another one out of the park, Hank! (Sorry, Spring Training games just started.) Great interview – another author on my bookshelves that I enjoy learning more about. I get so excited when reading a book or interview and start thinking “me too, me too!” I was so hooked at Jane Eyre. I, too, first read it when about 12. Still have that tattered copy, need a rubber band to keep it together but can’t part with it because it’s like an old friend. Can’t count how many times I have read it. I read the whole thing, parts of it, just a page or two. I love the flow, the story . . . same with A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.
The meaning of the house dream? Well, I’m not very good at symbolism so if you figure it out please let me know. For years I dreamt of a house, always exactly the same. I figured maybe it had to do with wanting more order than was currently in my life. Who knows?
Thanks to you both. Off to update my TBR list.
Hi, Sally! Well, traditionally the “house” is the “self.” So maybe it means you are content and happy–which is wonderful!
This is a series I discovered at book three or four, then had to go back and start from the beginning. And while my husband is the one who is trying to minimize our lives, I can’t wait to get (and keep) every new hardback as soon as it hits the shelf. I was actually introduced to this series by a librarian, and was so excited about the series that I screwed up the courage to write and tell this wonderful author how much I loved the series and how I learned of it. Then was shocked when I received a handwritten note back, thanking me for my note, and telling her own brief stories about how much she appreciated librarians. All I could think was–“That’s class!” I still have the note around my house somewhere 🙂
Absolutely. Ritter, that is the essence of Katherine!
First of all, Hank—you are the best and this was truly a labor of love. All these comments are heartwarming as well.
Ah, snail mail. I loved getting it and writing back, especially in praise of librarians.
And of course Jane Eyre is a mystery as well. Although in today’s market it would be labeled romantic suspense. It’s hard to choose between those two Bronte sisters, though. I mean Heathcliffe!!!
Since the weather couldn’t be any worse, I’m reading dark Scandinavian mysteries at the moment. Catching up on some of the Sjowall/Wahloo books I’ve missed. For warmth am turning to British chicklit-India Knight and Jill Mansell and a friend recently introduced me to the Prior’s Ford mystery series by Evelyn Hood, definitely cosies (set in a Scottish village).
Soak up some sun for me, Hank!
Oh, you know how it is at conferences, KAtherine! You could be anywhere, right? I had a terrific time at Sleuthfest-and from time to time, I looked out the hotel window and thought–palm trees! Sun! Weird!
Thank you, dear Katherine! Still at Sleuthfest—Home on Sunday and more to come! And we’ll extend the deadline for the book prize, of course! Love to all!
Dream could also relate to unabashed voyeuristic delight in looking at other people’s houses. Should have been a real estate agent.
Nope. YOu should have been nothing but exactly what you are! xo
What a lovely thing to say!
@hank_phillippi The house represents a desired change in your life. New roots per se. You worry about upheaval & hence recurring dream 🙂
So interesting! A “desired” change. That’s an important element!
Just think! I’m getting all this analysis for free!
As both a psychologist and a mystery writer, I love to look at dreams, but I’ve found the best interpretation of a dream comes from the dreamer herself. If there is anything meaningful in a dream (and some suggest dreams mean nothing but are merely bits and pieces out of our waking lives), it is the meaning the dreamer attaches to it. The best dream work I’ve every experienced comes from Fritz Perls who believe that the objects and people in our dreams are parts of ourselves and play acting those objects and people gives us insight into what the dream means. The quick answer then as to what her dream means is that it means what she thinks it means not what someone else (like our old buddy Sigmund Freud) thinks it should mean.
Absolutely Perls over Freud (especially for women)! I first realized that our dreams were very much the bits and pieces of our waking lives when I was quite small and I overheard my artist mother tell someone that she almost always dreamed in color.
SO interesting! All my dreams are in color–so much so that it’s fascinating to imagine black and white! (Are yours?)
And the winner is…come to today;s blog with Julia Spencer-Fleming to find out!
Oooh — I love this new way of announcing the winner! And the interview with Julia Spencer-Fleming is awesome: https://sincne.wordpress.com/2014/03/06/hank-phillippi-ryan-interviews-julia-spencer-fleming/
Moving into a large house that needs a lot of work, might mean that you’re stressed because of too many commitments. Your wish for a smaller house, may be a wish for a simplier life without so much stress.
So interesting! Thank you, Ginger..that’s a great (and very wise) explanation!
This is probably the closest! (And Hank, dreamed in color last night. Turquoise!)
I’m with Leslie on dream interpretation; there are possibilities that others can offer, but the symbolism is something chosen by the dreamer herself and only she can have an inkling of what something might mean. The big old house might be her mother for all the rest of us know – a place of comfort with room to grow. WHo knows? It could be a scary house of big open places (going off on a tangent with what Hank said about it possibly being scary). I think the interesting part is that the dreamer wants to leave the house. What isn’t said is whether or not she is able to…and if it’s a recurring dream, there is something called lucid dreaming that you can incorporate into your sleeping state so that you can actually change your dream if you want. I did that when I had the recurring theme of running away, being chased by something, in my dreams. I turned and took a stand. Consciously, but while still dreaming, because I had told myself I would dream and that while I was dreaming, I would realize I was in a dream and that I could change my actions. So eventually, that thought took hold of me one night while I was sleeping and dreaming, and I did. I also love my chick lits, so I will have to check out those you suggested as well, Katherine. And pick up your books now, too. I hadn’t discovered you before, so I’m delighted that Hank has chosen to share you with us. I always wondered how Dame Agatha came up with her ideas and the solutions. I’ve yet to figure out how to kill a body and leave it in a sealed room. But it won’t stop me from thinking about it.
Ah, those locked room! Think about this a great deal too. And forgot to add Madeline Wickham (Sophie Kinsella) to Brit Chick lit list. They are so well written and just plain fun.
Could scarcely believe my eyes when I opened the curtains this morning. Brilliant sunshine and not even a hint of snow or rain!
YAy, sunshine! SO happy to see it…
And Diane, I’ve done that, too. In a dream I say–this is a DREAM! And the scary part goes away.