Not Quite Twenty Questions for Phillip Margolin

hank-2013-bioHANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: My stepfather was a corporate lawyer (you know this, right?) And one thing my family did together was watch Perry Mason. I say “together” in the loosest of ways, because we kids were not allowed to say A WORD during the entire thing. I mean—not a peep.

If we wanted something clarified or explained, (what’s immaterial mean? Did they mean to have his name be Ham Burger?) we had to wait until the commercial.

My stepfather, we called him Boo (and that’s another blog but it’s not To Kill a Mockingbird-related) loved Perry Mason, and as result, we did too. My sister and I used to yell “Objection!” when we were told to do something we didn’t way to. Sadly, that was more effective for Perry than it was for us.

But, as I grew up, legal mysteries and legal thrillers became my favorites, and still are. And I have to say I absolutely remember reading Phillip Margolin’s Gone But Not Forgotten—it was 1993, so gosh, more than 20 years ago. And forgive me Phillip, but I don’t remember a thing about it, except missing women? And black roses? And that I LOVED it. And became an instant fan.

So now for something completely different…Not Quite Twenty Questions for the amazing Phillip Margolin. (And do look at his bio—his new book, Worthy Brown’s Daughter, is also somewhat of a departure! I gave it to Jonathan for Father’s Day.)

margolinTitle of your autobiography:
“Why It Helps To Be A Failure If You Want To Be A Success”

I was a mediocre athlete and a poor student. I didn’t perform well academically until I went to law school. Since I was a failure most of my life I never expected to succeed at anything. I always tried my best but I had no pressure on me because I never did that well. If things went well I got excited but if they went poorly I didn’t get upset because I always did poorly. This attitude helped me cope when things went bad and prevented me from getting egotistical when things went well.

Movie you would see again and again?
“Die Hard,” which I have seen about a million times.

I love it, too! But why?
It is the best action movie ever made.

Exotic drinks?
I live in Portland, Oregon. Oregon has some of the finest wines in the world and Portland is the microbrew capital of the universe, but I’m not into wine or beer. However, I do like weird cocktails and I always order the strangest one on the cocktail menu.

Pizza or chocolate?
I’m not into chocolate and prefer caramel or coffee desserts, so pizza definitely. I grew up on Long Island and I am a pizza snob, so I won’t eat just any pizza.

My wife, Doreen, and I were married 38 fantastic years. Then she passed away in 2007. She was my hero and the finest human being I have ever met.

Kids? Pets?
I’m not into pets but I have two terrific kids – both in their thirties – and two grandkids, 4 and 7. I love kids, especially when they are young and weird.

Golf, which I really enjoy but play poorly. I read everything constantly, I am a fanatic NFL fan and I love SciFi and action films.

Not if I can help it. When I was a kid my chore was to mow our lawn and that turned me off gardening. I do like hiking and there are a ton of spectacular places to hike in Oregon.

Do you watch TV? What?
I love TV but I don’t watch before six or so.

Okay, so no soap operas. Or Dr. Phil. But not even football? And how about at night?
NFL games are the exception. I watch SciFi and action movies, PBS mysteries (Agatha Christie mysteries are my guilty pleasure) and a few series like “Game of Thrones” and “True Blood.”

LOVE Game of Thrones. Because of that series, I have learned I can kill ANYONE in my books. Anyway. Can you sing? (Not Rains of Castemere, please.)
Not a note. I am paid huge sums to abstain from singing.

Best concert you’ve ever seen.
Eric Clapton and Santana. After they performed separately they had a battle of the bands. The Newport Jazz Festival was also pretty awesome.

Fear or Phobia?
I don’t have a fear or phobia.

What someone might not know about you.
I wanted to be a criminal defense attorney since seventh grade and the highlights of my career were pioneering the “Battered Woman’s Syndrome Defense” in Oregon murder cases and saving two innocent men from prison who were sentenced to life in prison for murder.

Do you have a recurring dream?

Guess after those court victories, all your stress disappeared! Congratulations. Fantastic. How about a secret talent?

Except for that saving people’s lives thing, huh? Can you believe how wonderfully your career turned out? Do people still talk about your first books?
With the exception of Doreen dying so young, my life has been a fairy tale, and I don’t take it for granted. Fans do still ask me about early books, especially Gone But Not Forgotten, and I still get excited when they do because I never expected to ever get a piece of fiction published.


Phil with Andrew Gross and Hank Phillippi Ryan

Phil with Andrew Gross and Hank Phillippi Ryan

Things you say to yourself when writing
“This is really fun” and “Don’t panic if your first draft stinks because you’ll be doing a lot of editing.”

What are you working on now?
My new book, Woman with a Gun, is in the final stages of editing and will come out on December 2, 2014. I am also starting my twentieth novel (Yikes!). It’s tentatively called “The Mayfly” and it brings back Amanda Jaffe, who appeared in four previous books.

Tell us something else about that!
“The Mayfly” is still in the planning stages so I don’t want to talk about it yet.

Woman with a Gun comes out on December 2. Stacey Kim has just received her MFA and she moves to New York City to write a novel but she has writer’s block. Then she sees an amazing, ten year old Pulitzer Prize winning photograph of Megan Cahill standing on the beach at night in her wedding dress holding an antique western six-shooter. When she does some research Stacey learns that reclusive photographer Kathy Moran took the photo minutes before finding the body of millionaire Raymond Cahill in the couple’s beach house. The Cahills were married earlier in the evening and the case was never solved. The photograph inspires Stacey to write a novel based on the case. When she travels to the seaside Oregon town where the murder occurred to get background she ends up solving the murder but not before she almost becomes a victim.

Are you enjoying it?
Writing is the most fun. I get to my office at 7:30 every week day and I can’t wait to start.

HANK: So, sisters, are you a 7:30 person? If I had to write at 7:30 AM, it would be a disaster. Now—7:30 PM? Bring it on. And Worthy Brown’s Daughter to one lucky commenter!



I grew up in New York City and Levittown, New York. In 1965, I graduated from the American University in Washington, D.C., with a bachelor’s degree in government. I spent 1965 to 1967 in Liberia, West Africa, as a Peace Corps volunteer, graduated from New York University School of Law in 1970 as a night student. I went nights and worked as a junior high teacher in the South Bronx to support myself. My first job following law school was a clerkship with Herbert M. Schwab, the chief judge of the Oregon Court of Appeals, and from 1972 until 1996, I was in private practice, specializing in criminal defense at the trial and appellate levels. As an appellate attorney I have appeared before the United States Supreme Court, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the Oregon Supreme Court, and the Oregon Court of Appeals.

As a trial attorney, I handled all sorts of criminal cases in state and federal court, and have represented approximately thirty people charged with homicide, several of whom faced the death penalty. I was the first Oregon attorney to use battered women’s syndrome to defend a woman accused of murdering her spouse.

WorthyBrownsDaughterSince 1996, I have been writing full-time. All of my novels have been bestsellers. Heartstone, my first novel, was nominated by the Mystery Writers of America for an Edgar for best original paperback mystery of 1978. My second novel, The Last Innocent Man, was made into an HBO movie. Gone, But Not Forgotten has been sold to more than twenty-five foreign publishers and was made into a miniseries starring Brooke Shields. It was also the Main Selection of the Literary Guild.

In addition to my seventeen New York Times bestsellers, I have published short stories and nonfiction articles in magazines and law journals.

From 1996 to 2009 I was the president and chairman of the Board of Chess for Success. I am still heavily involved in the program, and returned to the board after a one-year absence in 2010. Chess for Success is a nonprofit charity that uses chess to teach study skills to elementary- and middle-school children in Title I schools . From 2007 to the present, I have been on the Board of Literary Arts, which sponsors the Oregon Book Awards, the Writers in the Schools program, and Portland Arts and Lectures.

My newest novel is WORTHY BROWN’S DAUGHTER  a compelling historical drama, set in nineteenth-century Oregon, that combines a heartbreaking story of slavery and murder with classic legal plot twists.


Wrong GirlHANK PHILLIPPI RYAN is the on-air investigative reporter for Boston’s NBC affiliate. She’s won 30 EMMYs, 12 Edward R. Murrow awards and dozens of other honors for her ground-breaking journalism. A bestselling author of six mystery novels, Ryan has won multiple prestigious awards for her crime fiction: the Agatha, Anthony, Macavity, and for THE OTHER WOMAN, the coveted Mary Higgins Clark Award. National reviews have called her a “master at crafting suspenseful mysteries” and “a superb and gifted storyteller.” Her newest thriller, THE WRONG GIRL, has the extraordinary honor of winning the 2013 Agatha Award for Best Contemporary Novel! A four-week Boston Globe bestseller, it was dubbed “Another winner” in a Booklist starred review and “Stellar” by Library Journal.  She’s on the national board of Mystery Writers of America and 2013 president of national Sisters in Crime. Watch for her next novel, TRUTH BE TOLD, on October 7, 2014.

Visit her online at, on Twitter @hank_phillippi and Facebook at HankPhillippiRyanAuthorPage.

About Lisa Haselton

Lisa Haselton has had several short mystery stories published and has a couple of novels in various stages of completion. She always enjoys learning new tidbits about other writers, and takes great pride as an editor when working with writers on polishing their manuscripts. She's living a life around her passions for writing, photography, volunteering, and anything related to New England, particularly New Hampshire.
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6 Responses to Not Quite Twenty Questions for Phillip Margolin

  1. Mary Sutton says:

    7:30 a.m. I am still bleary-eyed, barely out of the shower, and under-caffeinated. No way. I’m with you Hank, 7:30 p.m. I’m rocking.

    I love the title of your autobiography, Phillip!

  2. Kim Fay says:

    Definitely 7:30 AM … though to be honest, I actually start at 6. I’m my sharpest the minute I jump out of bed. By noon, my creative brain is napping.

  3. hankpryan says:

    That is SO interesting! I am so fascinated by morning-brain people. Then I go back to sleep. (And wow, Kim, if you start at 6, that’s really 3am. To me. Right?) xoo

    • Kim Fay says:

      I hadn’t thought of it that way, Hank. But yes – in which case it would be night owl hours, which I can’t do. Oh my, this is getting confusing 🙂

  4. Pen M says:

    7:30? AM? Uh, no. I am definitely a night owl. I admire people who can be coherent in the AM. 🙂
    Both these books sound fantastic!!

  5. Claire says:

    Definitely a morning writer. I wake up with the story line drawing itself out, as if it wrote itself while I slept. Plot lines reveal their angles, tricky questions are answered, characters evolve and grow – and I must get it down before it tangles with reality. I can get up an hour or more earlier if I’m in a writing phase. Just don’t forget to permit me my afternoon nap!

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