HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: How’d you like to live on a fabulous sailboat? Sail around the blue waters of the Caribbean, or wherever, exploring, and going on adventures with your brilliant and fascinating spouse?
And then, in the peace of a port or the solitude of your home in Maryland, surrounded by gardens, write compelling and smart mysteries, arrange SRO signings for your fellow authors, win awards and accolades and be national president of Sisters in Crime? And just be generally—beloved?
Yeah, well, not a dream for Marcia Talley! That’s her life. And she took time from her life of adventure to tackle our Not Quite Twenty Questions!
Title of your autobiography:
She Takes a Licking, But Keeps on Ticking
It dates me, I know, but the title refers to the Timex watch commercials of the 1950s and 1960s. Timex subjected their watches to various “torture tests” – strapped to Mickey Mantle’s bat, taped to the backs of swimming turtles, attached to the propeller of a running outboard engine – and in spite of it all – as spokesman John Cameron Swayze used to say on TV, “…they keep on ticking.” As a three-time cancer survivor (totally fine now, thank you!) I relate to that Timex watch.
Movie you would see again and again?
Ruthless People, or maybe Overboard.
Both feature tightly-written scripts, not a single superfluous word. And both are absolutely hysterical. In Ruthless People, Danny DeVito has plans to murder his wife, but before that can happen, she is kidnapped. When the ransom call comes, he refuses to pay, of course. It’s a modern take on the O’Henry story, “The Ransom of Red Chief,” and a tour-de-force for Bette Midler as the kidnap victim who eventually teams up with her kidnappers to take revenge on her two-timing spouse. It’s one of those movies we’ve seen so often that we quote from it. “I’ve been kidnapped by K-mart!” or “Not Haiti, you moron, it’s Tahiti!”
Oh, my favorite these days is a mojito! Properly made with all-fresh ingredients, with an umbrella in it, served poolside by Raoul, the pool boy.
(I guess he wasn’t there when I came to visit…) Pizza or chocolate?
Chocolate, definitely. Ever have tangerine ice cream with hot fudge sauce? I rest my case.
Spouse? Children? Special people in your life?
I married my college sweetheart, Barry, who I met while washing dishes at Oberlin College. We will be celebrating a significant anniversary this fall and plan to commemorate the event by taking one of those two-week long Viking River cruises from Budapest to Amsterdam. We have two amazing daughters, Laura (an attorney in Washington, DC) and Sarah, the social media maven for Sisters in Crime. Each daughter is married, Laura to a historian and Sarah to a Navy doctor, and each has three children – two boys and a girl.
I am a cat person, but sadly, Tommy – who was once featured in a Mystery Scene article by Elaine Viets – after a long life as muse, has passed away.
Sailing. And knitting. I am a sucker for yarn on sale. I have more yarn right now than I could knit up in three lifetimes, but when one of those Little Knits emails hits my mailbox, and I see I can buy a bag on sale – a whole bag! – for $19. I’m a goner.
Just a bit, as I’m noted for my brown thumb. Just yesterday, I nearly killed a spotted pink by leaving it out in the sun, but after remedial water therapy, it’s recovering nicely on the kitchen table. This summer I had three huge tomato plants and potted herbs: basil, parsley, sage, and mint. Mint for the aforementioned mojitos.
Oh, no, your garden is gorgeous! Do you watch TV? What?
Oh, yeah. Right now, I’m enjoying Longmire and Game of Thrones. Recently, the first season of True Detective blew me out of the water. And Orphan Black! OMG, what great TV. Otherwise – true confession – I veg out on home makeover shows on HGTV.
Can you sing?
Yes. I used to sing alto in the Oberlin Musical Union, and later in various church choirs. Now I am pretty much limited to congregational singing, but love it, especially when I go to church in England. We Anglicans know hymns!
Best concert you’ve ever seen.
I’m going to go all classical here, because it was such a magical moment. A Baltimore Symphony concert with Paquito d’Rivera on sax, simply accompanied by piano, bass and drum performing Astor Piazzolla’s quartet, “Oblivion.” Silky, sultry, seductive … I was mesmerized. There are versions of this piece on You-Tube, but none so fine as this one, played live, that night.
Photo by Brian Braye
Book you wish you had written.
Can I cheat here and nominate a series? Dorothy Dunnett’s historical series beginning with Game of Kings – six novels following the adventures of Crawford of Lymond, a Scottish mercenary, as he makes royal alliances and fights bad guys all over western Europe during the middle years of the 17th century. I would love to see this series brought to television. Epic costume drama!
Dunnett is one of the world’s greatest storytellers. And her history is so accurate that I stopped looking up the real characters in Wikipedia because I’d – spoiler alert! – find out what actually happened to them. She also penned the House of Niccolo series set one hundred years earlier and a fascinating novel, King Hereafter, about the real MacBeth, as well as seven mystery novels featuring the peripatetic detective, Johnson Johnson and his sailboat, Dolly.
Fear or phobia?
I really hate to fly. Every time I get on a plane, I think light thoughts, willing the plane to stay in the air. Should I ever drop off to sleep … be afraid, be very afraid.
What someone might not know about you.
That I used to be a librarian specializing in computer systems integration.
Do you have a recurring dream?
I’m in a house, and I seem to know it well. It goes on for room after room after room, and I’m usually looking for someone or something, but can’t find him/her/it. Sometimes I’m decorating the house and moving the furniture around. And it has an old-fashioned boathouse on the shore of a deep, cold lake. Have no idea what Freud would make of all that.
I have house dreams, too. Hmmm. How about a secret talent?
I am a darn good archer! Back in the day when colleges had a PE requirement, I took swimming and archery because I’d never been much good at team sports. Picture me, that poor little girl, sulking on the sidelines, the last to be picked for any playground team. I had always been a good swimmer, but being able to hit a target accurately using a bow and arrow really surprised me. I’m also a decent shot on the gun range and once, after a workshop in Las Vegas, ended up (along with fellow author, Donna Andrews) on the cover of the magazine Women and Guns. My husband hung my targets up in the basement as a deterrent to burglars.
If you could meet and chat with one person, it would be…
Dead or alive? Elizabeth I – was she really the virgin queen? Inquiring minds want to know. For someone alive today, I’d love to have a lunch date with George Clooney. What? You say I have to be serious? Oh, okay, then, how about Elizabeth Warren? What an intelligent, down-to-earth breath of fresh air in an otherwise moribund Congress. If I lived in Massachusetts, I’d vote for her. Three times.
Can you believe how wonderfully your career turned out?
I am constantly amazed that after fourteen novels, people still want to read about Hannah Ives. She has been with three publishers – Bantam/Dell, Morrow/Avon and now Severn House. But I guess Hannah is like me – she takes a licking but keeps on ticking!
Things you say to yourself when writing:
This is awful, the worst crap ever! No, it’s not. Yes, it is! No, sit back down. You’ve done this before and you can do it again!
What are you working on now? Or—what’s your latest book? Or both?
My latest mystery, Tomorrow’s Vengeance, will be out any day now. It’s set in a posh continuing care retirement community modeled on one I visited in Sarasota, Florida. I’m well into writing the next book in the series, Daughter of Ashes, where Hannah and her husband buy a vacation cottage on the Chesapeake Bay and bodies ensue.
Tell us something else about that!
Barry and I recently bought a vacation cottage in the Bahamas. Previously, we’d made a bid on another cottage, but the deal fell through because of some – how do you say? – shenanigans by a rival real estate agent. So, I decided a real estate agent needed to die. Then, at a writing retreat sponsored by Sisters in Crime last spring, author Sarah Shaber shared something shocking that was going on in Franklin County, North Carolina and – tah dah! – I had a plot.
Are you enjoying it?
Oh, yes. Killing someone off in a novel is ever so therapeutic.
Do you have motto? What is it?
If I could teach my two daughters only one thing, it would be this: “Never define yourself solely in terms of somebody else.” They’re both bright, independent women with strong marriages and great kids, so I guess we did something right.
HANK: So sisters, isn’t she great? But you know that. In honor of Marcia—let’s talk about sailing! Do you love to sail?
Marcia Talley is the Agatha and Anthony award-winning author of nine Hannah Ives mysteries, including ALL THINGS UNDYING and WITHOUT A GRAVE . She is editor/author of NAKED CAME THE PHOENIX, a star-studded, tongue-in-cheek collaborative serial novel about murder in a fashionable health spa.
A second collaboration, I’D KILL FOR THAT, is set in an upscale gated community. Her short stories appear in more than a dozen collections including “With Love, Marjorie Ann” and “Safety First”, both Agatha award nominees, and the multi-award-winning “Too Many Cooks”, a humorous retelling of Shakespeare’s Macbeth from the viewpoint of the three witches from Much Ado About Murder, edited by Anne Perry. A recent story, “Driven to Distraction” won the Agatha Award, was nominated for an Anthony, and selected for reprint in two major collections including “The Deadly Bride and 21 of the World’s Best Crime and Mystery Stories.” Another story, “Can You Hear Me Now,” appeared in Two of the Deadliest: New Tales of Lust, Greed and Murder from Outstanding Women of Mystery,” edited by Elizabeth George.
Marcia is national President of Sisters in Crime, Inc., serves on the board of the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America and is a member of the Authors’ Guild. She lives in Annapolis, Maryland, with her husband, Barry. When she is not writing, she spends her time traveling or sailing.
Hank Phillippi Ryan is the on-air investigative reporter for Boston’s NBC affiliate. She’s won 32 EMMYs, 12 Edward R. Murrow awards and dozens of other honors for her ground-breaking journalism. A bestselling author of seven mystery novels, Ryan has won multiple prestigious awards for her crime fiction: three Agathas, the Anthony, Daphne, 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 2013 novel, THE WRONG GIRL, has the extraordinary honor of winning the Agatha Award for Best Contemporary Novel and the Daphne Award for Mainstream Mystery/Suspense, and is a seven-week Boston Globe bestseller.
Her newest hardcover, TRUTH BE TOLD, is a Library Journal Editor’s Pick and RT Book Reviews Top Pick, with starred reviews from Booklist and from Library Journal, which raves, “Drop everything and binge read!” She’s a founding teacher at Mystery Writers of America University and 2013 president of national Sisters in Crime.
Visit her online at HankPhillippiRyan.com, on Twitter @hank_phillippi and Facebook at HankPhillippiRyanAuthorPage.