Hank Phillippi Ryan Interviews … JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING

Hank Phillippi RyanI just came from giving a keynote at Sleuthfest, and I said, among other things!, mystery conventions are places where  300 people who’d rather be by themselves are forced to come together and actually TALK to each other.NQTQ – Not Quite Twenty

Right? Right?  And I am completely like that—shy as they come.

As a result, a few years ago at…where was it? Bouchercon, I think, 2010, in someplace far from home, I was hanging around in the book room, by myself, fascinated with watching the world go by, (as writers always are) when I saw another person, alone, come into the room. She had flair, she had style, she had presence, absolutely.

So I thought—wait. I know her. I KNOW her. I went up to her and said—Julia? It’s Hank.

And we powered our way through that conference! What a team.  And I have to tell you—it was like being with a ROCK STAR. She’d been away from the book scene for 18 months or so, and wow, she was BACK.

Heads would turn as she walked by—and there was this constant buzz of Julia, Julia, Julia.

She probably would insist it wasn’t that way. But I insist it was.

You know Julia Spencer- Fleming.  She’s won the Anthony, Agatha, Macavity—oh, all of them. Seriously. You name it—Dilys? Yes. Barry? Yes.  I’m not listing any more. All of them. She began in 2001, when In the Bleak Midwinter bested more than two hundred and thirty other manuscripts to win the 2001 Best First Traditional Mystery Award.

We know she write unputdownable tales of the Adirondacks, through the eyes of Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne. And if you don’t know who those people are? Clear the decks, sisters, you have a treat in store.

(I once asked her—Van All-stine? Or All-Steen? And she said—it’s however YOU say it.)

Her website says she writes “novels of faith and murder for readers of literary suspense.” But I think she has some–power. Some—irresistible force.

See what you think.

Not Quite Twenty Questions for Julia Spencer-Fleming? I could have asked a million.

Title of your autobiography?


photo by Lisa Bowe

The Pilot’s Daughter          

Oh—interesting. Why?

My father was an Air Force pilot who died in the line of duty when I was a baby. My mom later remarried another great (Air Force) guy who adopted me, but the story of my father’s death, the weight it gave my position in the family, and the expectations that came from being his legacy all had and continue to have a significant effect on my life.

Also on my writing – he died when his bomber crashed into a mountain in the Adirondack High Peaks. It’s not a coincidence that my novels deal with a sense of ominous danger in that part of New York.

Julia, I did not … know that.  It makes me think of you so differently. I have to say. And while I consider about that, I’ll go on.

Book you wish you had written?

Heart and Bones by Margaret Lawrence. It was almost the perfect novel for me: great as historical fiction, great as a romance, great as a mystery.                       

Movie you would see again and again?

Die Hard.      

***Really! I never would have predicted that, either. Why?

For Atwood’s book, in part because I love all three genres, and it’s rare to find them melded together so seamlessly. Her writing is powerful; emotional and literate at the same time.

Die Hard because…. really, who doesn’t like Die Hard? It’s a witty heist movie disguised as an action-adventure blowout. It has Alan Rickman doing a sexy German accent. If you pay attention, you’ll see it has just about the perfect three-act structure. It’s a lesson in story architecture, illustrated by Bruce Willis in a skinny T and tight pants.

I’m picturing that. I’m heading for Netflix. And the library. And changing the subject. Exotic drinks–yes? No?

Only when relaxing on a tropical beach. And they must be brought to me by my cabana boy, Rodrigo.   

When in history would you choose to visit?

The English Civil War period. So many fascinating antecedents to the American Revolution, and so little known in this country.  

Oh, do you know of The Sealed Knot? It’s a group that reenacts those battles … what a cool name, huh? Anyway. What are you working on now?        

The ninth Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne mystery, Hid From Our Eyes.

Oh, what, what, what  is it? Can you divulge?

It’s a novel about the relationships of men: fathers and sons, mentors and protégés. It’s also about a series of identical murders occurring in 1952, 1972 and 2006. Whodunnit? Why? I have no idea.

So that makes this an easy one. Plotter or pantser?evil-days-new-lg

Pantser. Which is why I have no idea about the crimes in my own book.         

Pizza or chocolate?         

Pizza! (Chocolate tends to give me migraines.)


Three. The Smithie, finishing up her final year in college, The Boy, a freshman at Trinity in Connecticut, and Youngest, who is thirteen and driving me crazy.


Marvin the dog (inspiration for Oscar the dog in my latest book) and Neko the black cat.       


Ross aka The Hairy Husband.

[Ed. note: Ross actually doubles as Rodrigo, see above.]


Does lying on my bed watching Netflix count as a hobby?


Ross is the gardener. He does a lovely job with perennials.     

I asked you on Jungle Red (we’re blog sisters there)—“which cartoon character would your friends say you remind them of.” (I brazenly stole this question from another interviewer.)

You said this was discussed, and a final answer—one of the Powerpuff Girls (the smart leader of the pack) — emerged. I’m fascinated by that discussion.   Which other characters were candidates? What do you think about the results?

Well, my friend’s husband suggested Jessica Rabbit, but I suspect that’s because I was a redhead and am – ahem – embonpoint, as the French say. My godson suggested one-eyed, purple haired Leela from Futurama. I’m not sure if that’s because she’s a strong female character who captains a starship, or of it’s because she has major depth perception problems.

Do you have a recurring dream? What is it?

I am wandering through a house that belongs to my grandmother (who in real life had a rambling 1820s house and connected barn). I find doors I don’t remember seeing before and discover rooms or barns or apartments that I never knew existed. It’s a very pleasant dream, and always makes me think, when I awaken, that I ought to go over every nook and cranny in my own old house and barn!

AM or PM writer?

AM. I’m pretty brain-dead by the evening.

Can you write anywhere?

Anywhere with a flat surface for my laptop, a straight chair, and quiet. I write at home, at the little public library in my town, at the local uni library, in the organ loft at church (I have a desk, chair and lamp there), and at friends’ houses. Where I can’t write: planes, airports, coffee shops.

Are you a good driver?

Yep. And I like driving as well.

Fear or phobia?

Clowns. Clowns creep me the hell out.    

Thing you always say to yourself when writing?      

“Is this a cliché? Have I said this before?”

What do you wish someone had told you?

If you’re in the business of being a writer, half your time will be spent doing things other than writing.          

Do you watch TV? What?

Youngest and I have been watching Elementary and Agents of Shield. Both of which surprise me occasionally, which is rare.

Secret TV vice?

Say Yes to the Dress and Wedding Island.        

Can you sing?        

I have a lovely alto voice and have sung in choirs and in musicals.        

Best concert you’ve ever seen?

The Beach Boys on the National Mall on the Fourth of July, 1985.           

Secret talent?

Ability to keep getting published despite the fact I only turn in a book every two years.9780312986766-med

Do you have a motto? (What is it?)

Stick with me, baby, nothing but good times ahead!

* * *

from Julia’s official biography, at http://www.juliaspencerfleming.com:

Bestselling author JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING is the winner of the Agatha, Anthony, Macavity, Dilys, Barry, Nero Wolfe, and Gumshoe Awards, and an Edgar and Romantic Times RC Award finalist. She was born at Plattsburgh Air Force Base, spending most of her childhood on the move as an army brat. She studied acting and history at Ithaca College, and received her J.D. from the University of Maine School of Law. She lives outside of Portland, Maine.

Most new mothers are lucky if they manage to fit in a shower and a hot meal immediately after the baby arrives. Julia Spencer-Fleming completed her award-winning first novel, In the Bleak Midwinter. “Virginia was born on August 19th, and I finished the book in a torrent of writing over Labor Day weekend,” she says. “Then I worked on rewrites and editing during the rest of my maternity leave. I’d have the nursing baby under one arm and the manuscript under the other.”

* * *

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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31 Responses to Hank Phillippi Ryan Interviews … JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING

  1. hankpryan says:

    I know I’d decided to stick with just the list of questions-but you know me. If someone answers in a way I just cannot resist–well, I cannot resist. And we can see from this interview–from all of them!–the value of the followup!

  2. hankpryan says:

    Oh, and the winner of the book from the Katherine Hall Page interview (idid you miss it? It’s still up and she;s amazing..) is Diana Belchase! Email me at h ryan a whdh dot com with your address….and of course I’ll give away a surprise book this time next week too!

  3. I so get the Die Hard thing. In my WIP, my still fairly new couple Nell and James are trying to figure out what to do with themselves (quoting Camelot’s “What do the simple folk do?”) and they get to movies, and Nell says, “I hate to admit it, but I like movies where things blow up.”

  4. Kim Fay says:

    So many gems in this interview. I’ve read the first 2 of Julia’s books, and am so looking forward to the rest. I’m intrigued by the fact that she writes a book every 2 years. I feel that it shows in her writing – there is great care in it, and a pacing that does not feel rushed, even in the most suspenseful of scenes.

    • hankpryan says:

      Now you got me thinking, Kim… wonder if she writes the fast scenes fast, or the fast scenes slowly?

      • Kim Fay says:

        That’s an interesting question, Hank. I tend to write fast scenes very fast and then go back and refine them. But there is a sophisticated pacing to Julia’s books that I greatly admire and do wonder about her technique.

  5. Joan Lang says:

    Great interview Hank, my friend. Love, love all of Julia’s books and always impatient for the next one.. Love how the religious theme treads right into reality..

    • hankpryan says:

      Oh thank you, Joan! Yes, it’s fascinating how Clare’s profession and faith color all that she does and thinks about… Talk about deep point of view!

  6. I guess I need to see Die Hard! Lovely interview to you both. I’m also a toast-by-evening type of person, Julia. Mornings rock.

    • hankpryan says:

      Yes, Edith, let us know when you see it! It’s suspenseful, and funny, and human. And the die hard about the airport is good too… Any one remember the name of that?

  7. Laura (in PA) says:

    I adore Russ and Clare, and I adore this interview. Thank you.

  8. Kathy Reel says:

    What a fun and informative interview, Hank! Your questions were so interesting, and Julia’s answers were so entertaining. The recurring dream question, the autobiography question, the what time in history questions. Such great questions, and Julia’s answers revealed parts of herself that no blanket biographical sketch covers. Have you ever considered investigative reporting, Hank? Hehehe! I discovered both you and Julia last year in preparation for Bouchercon in Albany (my first), and what a discovery it was, two new favorite authors and lots of great reading. Clare, Russ, Jane, and Jake. I love these characters and can’t wait for more from them. My first activity on the computer every day (well, sometimes my last in the wee hours of the morning) is to visit Jungle Red Writers blog and participate in the topic of the day. You all are just so amazingly talented.

    • hankpryan says:

      How wonderful, Kathy… So lovely that our worlds come together like that! And hey, thank you for everything! XOXO

  9. Reine says:

    Great interview, Hank! So pleased to get a little more insight about Julia and what moves her—or with her! Loved every bit.

    • hankpryan says:

      Yes, she is terrific ! Thank you so much Reine– and loving your photography!

      • Reine says:

        Thank you, Hank. I’ve admired you and followed your career since your first days on air in Boston. It’s been a pleasure to watch your investigative work and now read your books. xoxoxo

  10. DIE HARD is one of my favorite Christmas movies. GREAT interview–love, love, love Julia’s books. Thanks Hank and Julia!

  11. Mary Sutton says:

    Another great interview. There is something about DIE HARD that is just, well, irresistible. Perhaps it is Alan Rickman AND the tight jeans – you know, back when Bruce Willis was, well, kinda hot.

    And Julia, I think I love you now. Just last night my own 13-year-old was driving me crazy. I am SO GLAD to hear I am not alone in that camp! That comment alone may have earned you a fan for life!

  12. I can’t figure out how to make my comment thread, so I’ll just add on down here!

    Kim, I tend to write my action scenes slowly and carefully – it’s the structure of my sentences that make them feel rushed (I hope!) I find it a challenge to convey intense action in a way that makes it both clear in the reader’s mind but not so detailed that it goes on and on.

    Hank, the films are:
    Die Hard
    Die Hard 2 (Die Harder)
    Die Hard with a Vengeance
    Live Free or Die Hard (the name was better than the movie)
    A Good Day to Die Hard (utterly ridiculous, but I still saw it opening weekend.)
    I approve the idea of a movie night! Maybe a pajama party at Bouchercon…?

    Kathy, Hank is a fantastic interviewer, as you’d expect from someone who has won – what is it, Hank – 30 Emmys and counting?

    And Mary, 13-year-olds are the worst. When my oldest was 13, I swear I was one step away from dropping her headfirst in the Saco River. Just keep repeating to yourself, “It’s only a stage. It’s only a stage…”

  13. Another great interview. Each one to seems to be the perfect set of questions for the person.

    Reading a Russ and Clare story right now. Love how things just continue to evolve for them. Just finished The Wrong Girl – couldn’t put it down. Thought-provoking and scary.

    And yeah, I get the Die Hard thing – my family (shaking their heads) gave me the first 3 DVDs years ago because they could see I was hooked.

  14. hankpryan says:

    HURRAY! And the winner of the book is–Laura in PA! Email me your address h ryan at whdh dot com!

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