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.?
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.
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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