Author Answers with Hank Phillippi Ryan

Please welcome Hank Phillippi Ryan back to the Word Nerds. We first met her at Bouchercon 2009, and I got to catch up with her last fall when her novel “The Other Woman” came out. Her latest work, “The Wrong Girl” hit shelves yesterday and we’re thrilled she came to share about the book with us.

Word Nerds: What is “The Wrong Girl” about and what kind of reader is going to enjoy it?

hank PRHank: I love this question.  The story is “about” a Boston newspaper reporter, the resourceful and determined (and struggling a bit after an unfair firing) Jane Ryland, who begins to suspect a respected adoption agency is reuniting birth parents with the wrong children.

I mean—that’s chilling! Why would someone do that? And would the people in involved ever know? How?

If a person says to you—here’s the woman you’ve been searching for your whole life. Here are the documents from your adoption agency, and here are the items your mother left when she dropped you off. Would you believe them? You would, of course—but what if, soon, or eventually, you began to fear that you were not with your real parents? If you were living with someone who was not your real birth daughter?  What if you didn’t know the truth about your own family?

That’s what THE WRONG GIRL is about.wrong girl cover

But there’s more. The book is also “about” how difficult and overloaded the foster care system is.  How many helpless kids—who are left behind because of drugs or abuse of a catastrophe or because someone just made a mistake—are sent into a system full of people who may be trying to do their best—but just can’t handle it.

What would happen if someone decided: the system will never work. I’m going to step in and save children—and I don’t care whether it’s legal or not.

So it’s “about” –our love of family. Our bond with our parents.  How far would you go to find yours? Would you know them if you met them? It’s also about greed, and manipulation, and  cynicism, and the power of desire—and what would happen if someone preyed on our primal need to have a family.

And I’m eager to hear from readers who may have been searching for—or who may have found—their birth families. The stories are often wonderful—but not always. And I’m eager to hear all of them. Email me, via my website, okay?  I’m putting together  a series of posts sharing them.

Oh—what kind of reader? Suspense lovers. Lisa Scottoline is my hero, so are Linwood Barclay, Lisa Gardner and Sue Grafton.  THE OTHER WOMAN won the Mary Higgins Clark award, so you know the books are don’t have graphic sex or violence—but they are smart and surprising and suspenseful.

WN: You’re an investigative reporter and a novelist — how do you balance both?

Hank: Ha. I work all the time. Now you’re laughing, but it’s the truth. I go to work at Channel 7 around 9 am—and come home at 6:30. I write til ten, and then make dinner! My darling husband is very patient. I have learned to be very organized. Seriously, I have lists of lists. I have learned NOT to multi-task—to do one thing at a time, to really DO it, and then move on. I think if I try to juggle, say, talk on the phone and answer emails at the same time—neither one gets done very well.

I work on vacation days, and on weekends. Jonathan and I haven’t been to a real movie  in a long time—nor have we been away on vacation. It’s a—well, not a sacrifice, since I’m very happy. Very happy. But it is a lifestyle choice.

WN: “The Other Woman” was influenced by real events—political intrigue and secret mistresses—you’ve called it  ‘The Good Wife meets Law and Order.’ Was “The Wrong Girl” also drawn from real life? 

Hank: Well, hilariously, that came from a news tip I got at channel 7! A woman called and wanted me to do a story about her sister, who, she said, had been looking for her birth parents and the adoption agency had finally sent her to meet her birth mother. It was all very exciting and wonderful—but when they met, they both instantly knew they were not related.

I was fascinated, of course—what an amazing story. As you can imagine, I tucked the phone between my check and my shoulder, and started typing notes like mad.

Turns out, it was a not a very good story. Not for TV at least. It was a clerical error, one that—because of a lot of circumstances and coincidences, including similar names and twins, if you can believe it!—it couldn’t have happened to anyone else. So it was interesting, you know but not an investigative story.

But crime fiction author me started to wonder—what if an adoption agency was reuniting birth parents with the wrong children—on purpose? Why would they do that?? What if someone didn’t know the truth about their own family?

Well, wow. And at that very moment, I knew I had THE WRONG GIRL.

WN: This is your sixth novel… what’s gotten easier and what’s gotten harder as you continue to write?

Hank: Oh, funny. Easier—lemme think. I guess “easier”—if any part of it is “easy” which it isn’t—is that when the pitfalls come, they’re not as frightening, because I’ve been there before. So on the days when I think—I’ll never figure this out. I stink. This is a terrible book. Whose idea was this, anyway? I can pause, and laugh, and realize I’ve said that six times before. And it sort of—diminishes the terror. Sort of.

Harder? Oh, harder is a much easier question. Now I know I have to  be better each time, not make the easy choices, the book had s to be completely fresh and completely new and completely compelling. I love that readers are expecting a complex tale of suspense, a “Jane” story and a “Jake” (the detective) story—and that in the end the two plots will come together.

Making that happen is very very difficult. Though when it works, its fabulous.

WN: What’s next for you? And what book has captured your attention lately?

Hank: What book has captured my attention? RED SPARROW, a terrific spy book from Jason Douglas. The incredible and incomparable Julia Spencer-Flemings THROUGH THE EVIL DAYS.  Linwood Barclay’s (isn’t he wonderful?) A TAP ON THE WINDOW. A new author, Rachel Howzell Halls LAND OF RAINBOWS. Rosemary Harris’s The BITCHES OF BROOKLYN a real departure for her, and completely hilarious.

Me? I am working like mad on the next Jane Ryland book, tentatively titled TRUTH BE TOLD. I’m in the (see above) scary part.

And I’m crazy on tour! It’s amazing, for a person who used to be terrified of flying. Now I look forward to it, because I love to write on the plane. I cannot wait to come see everyone. Visit my website for the whole schedule—you will not believe it!

WN: What’s a question (and the answer to it) that you’d wished the Word Nerds would have asked?

Hank: Ridiculously, I thought about his way too much. Something about when I eventually (!) win the Edgar? Seems too pushy. Something about what I wish someone had told me? That writing a book is incredibly difficult and incredibly rewarding. Seems obvious. My mantra or watchword? “You never know” and “Leap and the net will appear.” Seems like you’ve heard me say that. Has my life changed since I’m now able to make stuff up? Yes, indeed.

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One thought on “Author Answers with Hank Phillippi Ryan

  1. Great interview! I met Hank at MWW this summer, and she was amazing and inspiring.

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