I’m happy to have Hank Phillippi Ryan, and friend and fellow Girlfriends’ Cyber Circuit Author visiting here today to talk about her new book, Air Time, in which star reporter Charlotte (Charlie) McNally enters the glamorous and high-stakes world of high fashion and soon discovers when the purses are fake, the danger is real.
To break her latest big-money blockbuster, Charlotte must go undercover—but what if the bad guys recognize her? This savvy TV journalist must face more than her fear of flying when her inside scoop on designer duplicates suddenly turns deadly.
Carrying a hidden camera and dressing to deceive, Charlie finds she’s not the only one disguising her identity. Nothing—and no one—is what they seem. And that means nothing—and no one—can be trusted. In her high-risk job and in her suddenly steamy love life, how can she tell the real thing?
Charlie is forced to make some life-changing—and life and death—decisions. With only a split-second to act and with her own life in the balance, Charlie knows if she chooses wrong it will be the last decision she ever makes.
Real-life investigative reporter Hank Phillippi Ryan devises a scheme so timely and innovative you’ll wonder why someone hasn’t tried it. AIR TIME takes you behind the scenes of TV news—and reveals what can happen when a savvy, sexy journalist turns from hard-working reporter into becoming a killer’s target.
“Sassy, fast-paced and appealing. First-class entertainment.”
–author Sue Grafton
“I love this series!”
–author Suzanne Brockmann
“AIR TIME is a fun, fast read with a heroine who’s sexy, stylish, and smart. I loved it.”
–author Nancy Pickard
Hank shared with us an in-depth interview she did recently.
Q: Charlotte (Charlie) McNally is an investigative TV reporter, and so are you! What qualities do you share with Charlie, and how are you different?
A: When my husband talks about Charlie, he calls her “you.” As in—when “you” are held at gunpoint, when you track down the bad guys, when you solve the mystery . . . and I have to remind him, “Sweetheart, it’s fiction. It didn’t really happen.”
Q: But a couple of things: I’ve been a TV reporter for more than 30 years. (Yes, really.) And so it would be silly, in writing a mystery about TV, not to use my own experiences. Think about it—as a TV reporter, you can never be wrong! Never be one minute late. Never choose the wrong word or miscalculate. You can never have a bad hair day, because it’ll be seen by millions of people! It’s high-stakes and high-stress—literally, people’s lives at stake—and I really wanted to convey that in the books.
And everything that TV people do and say in the books is authentic and genuine. (Of course, Charlie can say things I can’t say, and reveal things I can’t reveal.) We’re both devoted journalists, and over-focused on our jobs.
But Charlotte McNally is different, too. She’s single—I’m happily married. She’s ten years younger than I am, and so is facing different choices and dilemmas. She’s braver than I am, certainly. Funnier. And a much better driver.
Q: Charlie has some exciting adventures in your mystery series—going undercover, confronting some really bad guys. Tell us about some of your adventures as an investigative reporter.
A: There’s a huge been-there-done-that element to the books—I’ve wired myself with hidden cameras, confronted corrupt politicians, chased down criminals . . . been in disguise, been stalked, and threatened and had many a door slammed in my face. I’ve had people confess to murder, and others, from prison, insist they were innocent. So when that happens to Charlie, it’s fair to imagine me. Although the plots are completely from my imagination, those are real-life experiences.
Q: Your job sounds very demanding. How (and when) do you find the time to write? Do you ever take a vacation, and, if so, what do you do with your time off?
A: Short answer—no. I don’t take vacations anymore. We used to! We love Nevis, a tiny island n the Caribbean with empty white beaches and nothing to do. We love to go to western Massachusetts, to Tanglewood, to go to plays and the symphony and museums. We love to go to Cape Cod, to Truro, to sit on the beach with pals and read, then go out to wonderful dinners. All in the past. Now, I write. And Jonathan lounges in the back yard. Luckily, we have a lovely yard, with a pool and beautiful gardens.
Q: Charlie is afraid of flying, and the airlines are constantly losing her luggage. When you write in Charlie’s voice about these dilemmas, you sound like you’re writing from experience. Is this true?
A: Sigh. Yes. I am a luggage-loss magnet. If they can lose my bags, they will. It’s almost funny. Almost. As for fear of flying, yes, I am afraid. (Although not as much has I used to be. I’ve worked very hard and tried a lot of things to get over it.) I was once covering a very bad plane crash, in a major airport, and was in a room with a lot of the bleeding and upset survivors of the crash. I often wonder if that bad energy someone affected me.
Q: Even though Charlie has a love interest, basically she’s married to her job. You are married to a very successful criminal defense and civil rights attorney. Is it difficult to maintain a balance between the demands of your careers and your relationship, or do your exciting careers help “keep the fire going.”
A: Fire? Well, hey. We both really respect each other, and we each think the other is really attractive and funny. We each understand when the other is immersed in work—in a story, or a writing a book, or handling a big case. We think each other’s work is fascinating. Jonathan is incredibly patient. An endlessly interesting. It’s wonderful for me to have in-house counsel to make sure my books are authentic when it comes to legal issues—and it’s fun for him to have a writer-wife who had advised him on his dramatic closing arguments.
Q: Since you write about what you do, do you ever have ethical dilemmas of your profession that cause conflicts between Hank, the author, and Hank, the journalist?
A: Ah, no. The closest I’ve come to an ethical dilemmas trying to make sure that no one is the books is a representation of a real person. I’m careful about that. There’s no real Franklin. Or Josh. Or Penny. (Is there a real Charlie? Well, that’s possible . . .)
Q: You have won 26 Emmys and 10 Edward R. Murrow Awards. Tell us about the stories that won a couple of these distinguished awards for you.
A: Here’s a list! We proved the state’s 911 system was sending emergency responders to the wrong addresses. We found there was not one person of color on the federal jury pools in parts of Massachusetts. We discovered why thousand of people were never called for jury duty. We found there were thousands of warrants for peoples’ arrests that were never served . We found people convicted of drunk driving who were still on the road. We found unsafe big rig trucks on the highways and found they were illegally ignoring the weight limits on the state’s bridges, thereby causing expensive and dangerous damage. We found school buses with massive mechanical problems. We found the unit pricing in stores was completely incorrect. We found unscrupulous mortgage companies luring people into foreclosure. At least four—maybe five?—laws have changed as a result of our stories and people have gotten literally millions in refunds and restitution.
Q: Tell us about your writing process. Are you a plotter, or do you wing it when writing? Do you work on one book at a time or more?
A: Such a great question. In PRIME TIME, I totally winged it. I had no idea what I was doing or where I was going, so I just blithely typed away. I typed The End, and then took it to be printed. It was 723 pages long! I had to cut half of it. Yikes.
It was a real editing education but also taught me I needed to be a bit more organized. And a lot tougher as a self-editor. (Now, I outline. Like crazy. My outlines are 60 pages long. I loathe writing them, but I adore it when I’m finished.)
I must say, though, that in writing PRIME TIME with no plan, I surprised even myself. I got about half-way through the book, and realized I’d chosen the wrong bad guy! I literally (as I remember it) sat up in bed, and thought—wait! The person who I thought did it—didn’t!—and it just dawned on me who the real culprit was. It as all I could do not to run downstairs to the computer and see if I was right. The next morning, as I read over my 40,000 words—I barely had to make a change.
The real killer had been lurking in my very own pages—I just hadn’t realized it! Talk about a surprise ending.
And yes, I only work on one book at a time. Well, no, not really. The next book is always forming in my head and just pushing to come out. Sometimes I have to hold it back!.
Q: In addition to the demands of your two successful careers, you seem to have close friendships with other authors. How do these friendships nurture you?
A: It’s been a long time since I was the new kid! My paIs in the mystery world have opened doors and shown me the way. I could never have figured out his new world without them.
Q: Were you always a public person, comfortable in front of the camera and with a microphone in your hand? Or is this a skill you had to develop? How early did you know you wanted to be a TV journalist? When did you have your first inkling you wanted to be an author?
A: You know, I have a funny juxtaposition of desire to be in the spotlight—and sheer terror of being in the spotlight. I love my job in TV—and have to go live and unrehearsed all the time. Confession: I’m still terrified every time. I want to be perfect, and when you’re on live, you can’t possibly be. That’s one reason why I love investigative reporting—there’s more time to work, and dig, and polish, and produce. It’s like making a little movie, and I can make it as perfect as possible.
My sisters and I used to create shows when we were all young and perform for our parents in our back yard. I did acting in high school and college. I wanted to be a DJ on the radio for a long time!
My mother says she always knew I would be a television reporter—but I think that was just her way of rationalizing that all I did as a pre-teen and teenager was read books and watch TV.
I knew from my first Nancy Drew that I loved mysteries. Nancy was my first best friend—I was a geeky unpopular kid, and it was such a relief to go home and hang out with Nancy. She was smart and made it be okay to be smart. She was confident and inquisitive and resourceful. I loved that.
I got into TV by chance. I had worked as a radio reporter (hired because, as I informed the radio station, they didn’t have any women working there! Hey. It was the seventies.) But after a few years working in Washington D.C. (on Capitol Hill as a legislative aide and then for Rolling Stone Magazine), Rolling Stone closed its Washington office, and I needed a new job.
I went back home to Indianapolis and applied for a job as a TV reporter. It was 1975. I had covered politics in Washington, and the news director of the station figured he could teach me to be a TV reporter. (This was incredibly risky—I had never taken journalism and didn’t know one thing about TV. But I wasn’t afraid—and knew I could do it.)
Problem was, I should have been afraid! I quickly learned I had no idea what I was doing. I went home every night for the first two weeks—sobbing. Because I thought I would never understand it. Soon after—it hit me—oh, I get it! And I have adored it ever since.
When I do seminars and classes, students ask me how I got started. I tell them, I’ll tell you the story, but it won’t work that way anymore!
Q: Your career in journalism has taken you to several metropolitan areas. Tell us about your odyssey and what brought you ultimately to Boston.
A: Ah—I worked in television in Indianapolis for a year. As these things sometimes happen, a news director from Atlanta was in town, saw me on TV, and offered me a job in Atlanta. I packed up my stuff, left all my friends and family, and moved to a city where I knew absolutely no one. I stayed there for five years—loved it—and then got the job offer in Boston. Same deal—packed up and started anew. TV is very nomadic—all reporters work to move up the ladder. I’m very happy in Boston!
Q: Which authors do you admire? What books are on your nightstand to be read? Is your husband a reader? If so, do you have a two-person “book club” where you discuss what you’re reading? If so, what book have you recently discussed?
A: Let’s see: Thomas Wolfe. Tom Wolfe. Mark Helprin. Edith Wharton. I pretty much majored in Shakespeare in college and still love to read the plays. Stephen King. (I called in sick in 1980 so I wouldn’t have to stop reading The Stand. Don’t tell anyone.) In mystery world, Alafair Burke. Julia Spencer-Fleming. Sue Grafton. Margaret Maron. John Lescroart. Michael Connolly. Alex Berenson. Oh, way too many to tell!
Q: Yes, Jonathan is a big mystery reader! And sometimes we do read together. (We’re reading Girl with the Dragon Tattoo now—but he’s way ahead.) I’m judging books for a contest now—so my TBR pile is stacked with entries! Can’t talk about that right now.
Q: What do you wish readers knew about you?
A: I’m a pretty good cook! I love arranging flowers. I’m…nice. I have such a tough persona on TV—I’m always confronting someone, asking tough questions, being just a tad pushy—so people are always surprised to see me smile. I think I’m pretty funny, too . . . but that may be just me.
What would you like to know?
Q: What is your idea of a relaxing day?
A: A relaxing day? I must say, haven’t had one in a long long time. (I’ve had some very exciting ones, but not relaxing.)
Q: Let’s see. It would all start with coffee . . . no, wait. The alarm is not set. I can wake up whenever I want, no responsibilities. I smell . . . coffee. My husband comes in and says—amazingly, Starbucks has delivered lattes! Oh, I say, how lovely. We go outside with our lattes and sit at the patio table. There are blueberries and peaches. Our garden is in full bloom, hydrangea, lilies, the first of the dahlias.
A: We read all the newspapers, and I play with the New York Times crossword puzzle. I remember to check the best-seller list and I’m on it.
Q: Friends come over, and we loll around the pool, floating on inflatable rafts, and reading our books. We do that for, lets say—all day. (Someone brings lunch, magically, somehow. And someone cleans it up. Somehow.)
A: Cocktails and appetizers on the patio. A lovely dinner—maybe at our local wonderful restaurant. We think about going to a movie, but decide to watch one on TV instead. I fall asleep in the middle of it, as usual.
Doesn’t that sound nice?
Q: Tell us about Charlie’s fourth outing, Drive Time, which will be published in February.
A: Drive Time brings Charlie’s impossible decision. What happens when you get everything you always dreamed of—but it all happens at the same time. And you cannot possibly do it all?
She’s successful at work—so successful she’s offered a wonderful new job. In another city.
Finally, at age 47—she’s successful at love. But if that’s to continue—she can’t leave town.
And it seems, everyone has a secret. And they’re all asking Charlie to keep them. Does she tell? And when? And how does she balance her loyalties to her job and to her personal life?
And as her decisions unfold, parts of her life become dangerous and threatening: Someone dies. And then someone else. And someone she loves is accused of murder. What if that person is guilty? What will that do to her hope and fears.
There’s blackmail. Extortion. Murder. And a deadly scheme so diabolically clever—you’ll wonder why someone hasn’t tried it! (Yes, perhaps I should have chosen a life of crime—well, I guess I did. It’s just fiction!)
Suanne Brockmann says: “I love this series!”
Q: What is your work in progress?
A: Balancing my life! Okay, really—I’m working on two other ideas for series . . . but my first love is Charlotte McNally. Will there be more Charlie stories? That depends on you readers! What do you think? Let me know, okay?
Q: How can readers contact you?
A: Just go to my website http://www.HankPhillippiRyan.com and click on contact. Your email will come directly to me!
Award-winning investigative reporter Hank Phillippi Ryan is currently on the air at Boston’s NBC affiliate, where she’s broken big stories for the past 22 years. Her stories have resulted in new laws, people sent to prison, homes removed from foreclosure, and millions of dollars in refunds and restitution for consumers
Along with her 26 Emmys, Hank’s also won dozens of other journalism honors, including 10 Edward R. Murrow Awards, and highest honors from Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) and The National Association of Science Writers. Hank’s been a radio reporter, a legislative aide in the United States Senate, and in a two-year stint in Rolling Stone Magazine’s Washington Bureau, worked on the political column “Capitol Chatter” and organized presidential campaign coverage for Hunter S. Thompson. She began her TV career in 1975, anchoring and reporting the news for TV stations in Indianapolis and then Atlanta.
Hank and her husband, a nationally renowned criminal defense and civil rights attorney, live just outside Boston.