Writers at Work: Hank Phillippi Ryan Welcomes Rosemary Harris

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Rosemary Harris is the most adventurous person I have ever met. She’s—brave, in every way. She’s just as happy to be kayaking down the Dangeroso River (I made that up) as she is at the gala opening of the Metropolitan Opera (I did not make that up.) She and her husband (who deserves a blog of his own) are founders of a library in Tanzania—no one else I know would even think of that, let alone do it.

"Ro" and Hank at Deadly Ink.

“Ro” and Hank at Deadly Ink.

She’s a master gardener, collects all kinds of incredibly esoteric and beautiful stuff, she can sing and dance and ski and snorkel and cook and pick out the perfect wine and the perfect shoes.

We met at a Sisters in Crime meetings, gosh, six, seven, eight? years ago. The police officer who was supposed to speak canceled at the last minute (we’ve always thought he’d realized there was a big football game on TV, and he dumped us for the Patriots). But that turned out to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Not only were Ro and I (and the fab Jan Brogan) pressed into service for an impromptu panel on what it was like to be a newbie author—but that very day we concocted the founding groundwork for the Jungle Red blog. And we’ve been friends ever since.

And oh, yeah, she writes, too, with five published novels, and a new one on the way. Her most recent one was a complete departure—a witty savvy clever and thoughtful women’s fiction novel where no one is killed. (Gasp, SinC members, can you imagine?) (smileBofB_home2)

And her new one — well, I’m not sure I’m allowed to tell you — in fact, I’m not sure I even exactly know! Ro is being very careful about discussing it.

Over this month, we’re discussing nuts-and-bolts writing—how authors do it, how they encourage themselves, how they believe in themselves. Whether they get up early or stay up late, whether they’ve changed their lives for their writing.

So question is—how does Rosemary Harris do it? In our continuing exploration of nuts and bolts of writing, Ro gives us some insight into her process.books_DH266

1.  When you need to do your writing for the day, how difficult is it to get yourself to begin? Why?

Everything’s changed with my current WIP. It’s historical fiction and these days I get started by doing a little research. I didn’t have to do that with my previous novels.

2. Is there something you say to yourself every day? Whether it has to do with responsibility, or deadlines, or commitment, or fear, or optimism, or creativity?

Totally stolen from Jess Lourey who posted it on FB one day. I don’t say it but I do think it – Today, let’s create some art, smile at strangers and organize a shelf, okay? It cracks me up and that’s a good way to start work.

3. When you sit down to work, what’s the first thing you think? 

I’m just doing this for myself.

3A. Why do you think that?

That was what I thought with my very first book and it’s served me well for the first five! Thinking too far ahead can complicate things.

4. What’s the first thing you do?  Really?  Do you check your email, or Facebook, or Twitter FIRST?

Lord knows why but I always check emails.

5. How do you handle the temptations of the internet?

I’m doing so much research these days (on the 19th century) that satisfies my urge to click on links.

Slugfest_home26. When you begin writing, are you optimistic or pessimistic about where you’ll be two hours later? 

I’m always optimistic. What’s the point of being pessimistic?

6a. When you finish each day, how do you feel?

Absolutely relieved – the way I feel after a great workout or a successful day in the garden.

7.  Do you have a daily word or page quota?  How committed to that are you?

Brad Parks once said something about the Church of 1000 words. I go to that church. And if I get more that’s okay too.

8. Do you work on the book every day?  How do you feel when you have a day where you don’t write? How often do you think–“I should be writing!” ?

Now that I’m in the thick of it I write every day. Last fall I was up to my eyeballs in technical stuff related to self-publishing my fifth book. I thought “I should be writing” every day.

The original "Jungle Red" writers: Rosemary, Jan Brogan, Roberta Isleib, Hank, and Hallie Ephron (2008)

The original “Jungle Red” writers: from left, Rosemary, Jan Brogan, Roberta Isleib, Hank, and Hallie Ephron (2008)

9. Are there things you have given up as a result of your–well, okay. What have you given up to allow yourself to write?

Showering. It’s overrated.

9a. Come on. Really.

I’ll come over – you be the judge! Seriously … I do everything a little less. Cooking, working out, movies … the thing I miss the most is reading. Apart from research, I’m lucky if I read one or two books a month these days.

10. Do you actually drink the wine or champagne your friends gave you when you succeeded at something? Or do you save it for a more special occasion?


11. Think of your last success. When it happened … how long did you float? How soon after did you start focusing on the next success?

1) I worked out this morning. That was my last success.  Clearly I measure success in my own way!  2) Five minutes.

11a. Come on. Really.

For real. I am the most successful person I know.

12. For extra credit: what do you wish someone had told you? (Something personal and specific. Not like how wonderful Sisters in Crime is, or how supportive everyone is, or how wonderful librarians and bookstores are. We agree.) What is something you really–learned?

This may depress some people, but to paraphrase Mae West,  “goodness has nothing to do with it.”

12a. What do you mean by that?

What are you — an investigative reporter??? You’re going to force me to elaborate, aren’t you?

HANK: I hope so. (smile)

Okay. In the same way that I’ve always known there were others who were younger, thinner, richer, etc., there will always be writers who are more successful, better compensated, and have better sales than I do. In many instances, “goodness has nothing to do with it.” It’s either a liberating or depressing thought depending on how you take it. I find it liberating.

12+. For double-duty extra credit: because this is a very important question which may be difficult to answer but may be very helpful to others. Do you think you are a good writer?

I think I’m getting better — and that’s what counts.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Rosemary always makes me smile. She’s so grounded, and so practical, and absolutely no nonsense. Unless, of course, nonsense is called for.

So sisters, when it comes to writing, are you, like Rosemary, doing it for yourself? Or for readers? Or—what do you think?

A copy of any Rosemary book you choose to a lucky commenter!

* * *

from Rosemary’s bio at http://www.rosemaryharris.com: Rosemary Harris was born in Brooklyn, New York, and now she, her husband, and their golden retriever Max split their time between Manhattan’s East Side and Fairfield County, Connecticut.

After several careers in book retailing (Waldenbooks), publishing (Crown Publishers), direct marketing (American Express Travel Related Services), and video/television/public television (WNET, ABC, Kultur, Winstar) she traded in her pumps for a yellow legal pad and a stack of pencils and started writing. A small item in the New York Times about a mummified body piqued her interest and subsequent research led to her first book, the Agatha and Anthony-nominated, Pushing Up Daisies, the first title in the Dirty Business mystery series from Minotaur Books.

* * *

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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18 Responses to Writers at Work: Hank Phillippi Ryan Welcomes Rosemary Harris

  1. thelma straw says:

    This was really fun to read – I smiled and laughed out loud. I happen to be very fond of both Ro and Hank – and this just made me feel real good inside – on a day when the world news is so depressing and was dragging me down, with Putin and those lost souls from the Malaysian trip…. I feel like a ray of sunlight has touched me with you two…. and I can’t wait to read your new books. I wish every writer on the US Continent could read this interview!!! Thelma Straw in Manhattan, who learned a lot from your words, dear friends!

    • hankpryan says:

      Oh, Thelma, you are too wonderful. And that’s what friends are for. I’m trying out Rosemary-via-Brad’s 1000 words a day scheme. So far, so great! And look at that 2008 photo–we haven’t changed a bit in six years, right?

  2. Rhonda Lane says:

    Delightful interview with our delightful Rosemary! I’m eager to read this historical coming out. I like considering each “mission accomplished” a success. What a great idea!

    • hankpryan says:

      Yeah–it does make success more possible. And it IS success..we are all so silly for thinking it’s always yet to come. (I can never type s-u-cc-e-ss without feeling like I should be leading a cheer…)

  3. Rosemary says:

    Hi guys…thanks for the kind words. 1) no we have NOT changed a bit in ahem…however many years and 2) i’ve felt successful ever since I wrote that first THE END We should do as Rhonda says!

  4. You two are fun together! I might have to “borrow” the “I’m only doing this for myself” idea — very liberating!
    My favorite Mae West (in aqua-aerobics when people worry too much about trying to stay in one spot, floating and bobbing around): I was once as pure as the new-fallen snow . . . and then I drifted.”

    • hankpryan says:

      I say “I’m only doing it for myself” every day, too…when I get up and decide to wear something other than sweatpants. xoox

  5. Do you two chug energy drinks by the gallon? Take Mega-vitamins? I used to juggle 50 projects simultaneously but can’t anymore. Seriously, what are your keys to efficiency? How do you resist self-editing and polishing as you go? Or can you rewrite and still write 1000 new words per day plus accomplish tons of non-writing stuff ?

    • Rosemary says:

      I’d love to answer Janet, but I’m running a marathon now..just kidding. On the rewriting, I have to resist the urge to go back more than ten pages – otherwise, I’d never finish. If something brilliant occurs to me that I simply must add (and it’s further away than 10 pages) I just put it on my outline in red, so that when I do go back I know what I wanted to stick in! That’s happening a lot with the historical as i continue to learn new things about the time and places in the book.

    • hankpryan says:

      Oh, see, Janet, you are so wise…I would never try to juggle that many things. Or even..close. I have learned to do ONE thing, do it, and then move on to the next thing. If you let your mind jump around and be distracted and thinking about the NEXT thing, nothing is ever accomplished very well.
      And I definitely re-write and polish–I go back a few pages from the previous day–I can tell because I leave all the typos. SO first i go through a fix typos, and when I do that, it gets me thinking. And that pushes me to the next day’s words.
      But the big key (to me) is that when I am all finished with the first draft, I’ll go through the whole thing again. So there’s a big impetus for me to just get that first draft done. I’ll fix it later.

      • hankpryan says:

        So wonderful to see you in PERSON today, Janet! xoo HOpe you had a good time at the seminar!

  6. Catching up on my week, and so delighted to see this! Thanks for the great conversation. And I am going to the church of 1000 words a day as well. Should we get T-shirts? Or mugs?

  7. lynncahoon says:

    I try to go to the Church, really. 🙂 But this is my new mantra… Mae West, “goodness has nothing to do with it.” It’s so hard not to compare yourself to more successful authors but all I wind up doing is feeling bad. I’m resolving not to do that to myself any more.

    Great interview.

    • hankpryan says:

      Yes, Lynn, I so agree. There’s a great quote from someone–its something like–don;t forget to be happy about what you have. It’s what you wished for yesterday.

      (Something like that..) zoo

  8. I’m late to the party, but great to catch up with two of my favorite people. This interview is like listening in on a terrific conversation. You are such fun to read. Especially grateful to take break from a very detail-oriented copy editor on our latest ms. She has me grinding my teeth, but I must admit in a few places (should I italicize “few”) she is spot on. Oh well. Back to the mine field.

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