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Q&A with thriller author Matthew V. Clemens

ClemensLong-time MWW attendee, faculty, and board member Matthew V. Clemens, with his collaborator, Max Allan Collins, has penned 17 TV tie-in novels including  CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CSI: Miami, Dark Angel, Bones,  and  Criminal Minds. Twilight Tales published the pair’s collected short stories in  My Lolita Complex and Other Tales of Sex and Violence. They also have authored thrillers — You Can’t Stop Me, No One Will Hear You, What Doesn’t Kill Her, and  Supreme Justice for Thomas & Mercer. Fate of the Union was released in November 2015, and the next Reeder and Rogers thriller is due this year. A resident of Davenport, Iowa, Matthew can’t quite recall if he first discovered MWW in 1990 or ’91, but he’s attended every conference since. Matthew’s high regard and affection for MWW is mutual, and we look forward to welcoming him back to Muncie for his 25th (or is it his 26th?) conference this July.

MWW committee member Janis Thornton won the lottery, and her interview with Matthew follows.

MWW: You identify author R. Karl Largent (a frequent MWW faculty member until he died in 2003) as a writing mentor, who greatly influence your writing. (1) What other MWW faculty have made a positive impact on your career? (2) What were the most inspiring and helpful insights they taught you about writing? (3) How have you applied them to your writing over the years? (4) How do you incorporate those lessons into your workshops and pass them on to your attendees?

MC: 1) Holy frijoles, all of them. I’ve met amazing people, legends, at MWW since my first conference in 1991. Joyce Carol Oates, George Plimpton, William Brashler, Donald E. Westlake. So many people that I read when I was learning. More recently, I have learned a ton from John Gilstrap, William Kent Krueger, and Julie Hyzy, in particular. You never know enough about storytelling. I don’t care who you are, and the moment you stop learning is the moment you begin to wither.

2) I have no real idea how to answer this. Every insight is helpful in some way. Karl taught me PYAITCAW — Plant Your Ass In The Chair And Write. That, more than any other tidbit is the one that has kept me going. I’ve learned to write tight, to get in and get out, and a thousand other bits that are all part of the process.

3) This is a weird one. Some lessons you know right away — okay, I can use that, I can do this step better because I’ve learned this tip. But I remember after my very first writers’ conference that I went home annoyed, thinking I hadn’t learned much. Then, about a month later, I wrote something that made me just stop as I realized that before the conference there was no way I could have written that piece, that paragraph, even that sentence.

 These tips we learn, they all go into the simmering soup that is our creative brain, and we may not even know they’re there, like bay leaves, but sooner or later they surface and you understand how important these little bay leaves of knowledge are to what you’re trying to accomplish. Not everything is cayenne pepper and immediately noticeable, but it is all part of the whole.

4) My first conference as a student was 1987, so almost thirty years of learning to tell a story as well as I can, the last twenty-four as a professional and I still feel there’s so much to learn, but when I teach, I try to bring up as much of what I’ve learned as I can. You throw it all out there and some of it will stick in this person’s brain, some totally different item will be important to someone else. It boils down to teachable moments and hearing the thing you need when you’re ready to hear it. Writing is not a destination; it’s a journey. The sooner you understand that, the easier it is to accept that not everything you do is perfect, or even good sometimes, but you keep at it, you keep learning, and you get better.

MWW: You met your favorite author, Max Allan Collins, at a 1987 writers’ conference, when you were still a budding writer. At that event, Collins told you that your writing had possibilities. Just five years later, you sold your first short story and quit your day job. To top it off, before the decade ended, Collins had become your writing partner. So the burning question is: What did you do after 1987 to hone the writing skills that helped you land a partnership with Collins.

MC: I wrote every day. I read every day. Then eventually, I started working as a freelance editor. Along the way, I met Pat Gipple and we collaborated on Dead Water: The Klindt Affair. That was a true crime book about a murder in our hometown. In doing that, I met some police investigators who became friends. About that time, Max and I started writing short stories together and looking for something we could do in a novel format. When he was offered the tie-in gig doing novels for CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, he called me and asked if my cop contacts would help us get the forensics right. I sat down with a crime scene investigator I knew who fed us the correct science, and Max and I ended up doing ten novels, four graphic novels, and short stories for eight CSI jigsaw puzzles and even designed the story for a CSI: Miami computer game. Our collaboration has continued, and now I’m putting the finishing touches on my draft of our twenty-fourth novel.

MWW: When did fiction thrillers and true crime first draw you in as an author? What about them attracted you?

MC: I started reading mysteries in grade school. First, it was Donald Sobel’s Encyclopedia Brown series, then I skipped the Hardy Boys and went straight into what has been a lifelong love of Sherlock Holmes. As both reader and writer, I am attracted to seeing justice meted out, and as I have gotten older, I’m interested in trying to understand what makes people capable of the cruelty we inflict on one another. There is always a conflict of some sort to be resolved, and honestly, I like to see the good guys win.

MWW: Just as your books thrill readers, whose books thrill you?

MC: So many authors, so many good books. Because of my schedule, I tend to read my friends. I love Gilstrap, Hyzy, and Krueger. I’m late to the party on people like Johnny Shaw, Sean Chercover, and Lou Berney, but they’re all great, too. A lot of what I read is in my capacity as a consulting editor. Some of my clients are published, some not, but I read a lot of good books that way, too.

MWW: Your intensive workshop, “Making Your Thriller Thrilling,” promises to reveal steps for writing a suspenseful thriller: characters, settings, building suspense, incorporating other ingredients such as humor. What do you want your attendees to know before they step into your classroom?

MC: You need to know we’re going to write in class. Writers write. I’ll talk a lot, but we learn this craft by doing, so we’re going to spend time writing and talking about what we’ve written. I would love them to all take a couple of hours before class to watch “Jaws.” That movie is a great tool for learning how to create suspense, and how to use humor to break tension.

MWW: And now, before we close, I’d like to offer you the last word — perhaps you’d like to share a tidbit of insight to put attendees at ease, or maybe you’d rather ramp up the tension with some intrigue. It’s up to you, Matthew!

MC: Put my attendees at ease? I’m going to make someone cry. Happens every year. I have a streak to protect. Seriously, we’re going to have fun, we’re going to work hard, and if this works like it should, we will all learn something new. Even when leading a seminar, I learn something too. Storytelling is a vast art form, and there are as many ways to do it, as there are people who imagine telling a story. What I will do is pass along what I’ve learned, and what has kept me afloat in an ever-changing publishing world for the last quarter century.

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Matthew’s Part I session is:
Making Your Thriller Thrilling:  From inception to completion, we will touch on the steps to writing an exciting, suspenseful thriller.  Creating real-life characters, intriguing settings, building suspense, and even using humor. We will also discuss adding tools to your writer’s toolbox that will allow you to succeed regardless of your chosen genre. Not just a lecture, we will do numerous writing exercises in a workshop setting. [NOTE: this session is 53% full! Register soon!]
His Part II sessions are:
Saturday, 1:15-2:15 p.m.– Panel on the crime writing business (also includes Lori Rader-Day, Larry D. Sweazy and D.E. Johnson)
Saturday, 2:30-3:30 p.m.– Master Class: Nuts And Bolts: Basics Of Novel Writing + The Book Doctor Is In. A discussion of completing a novel from the first glimmer of an idea through writing a complete manuscript. Gleaning an idea, developing it, researching it, writing the first draft, revising, and editing, all the way through to searching for the perfect agent for your work. Including a 25-point checklist to know if you’re done with your novel. Matthew uses the checklist is his own work and as a developmental editor.

Q&A with Larry D. Sweazy

MWW welcomes mystery author Larry D. Sweazy!

Sweazy Larry2Larry is the author of 12 novels, including A Thousand Falling Crows, See Also Murder, Vengeance at Sundown, The Coyote Tracker, The Devil’s Bones, and The Rattlesnake Season. He won Western Writers of America Spur awards for Best Short Fiction in 2005 and for Best Paperback Original in 2013. He also received the 2011 and 2012 Will Rogers Medallion Award for Western Fiction for the Josiah Wolfe series. He was nominated for a Derringer Award in 2007, and was a finalist in the Best Books of Indiana literary competition in 2010, and won in 2011 for The Scorpion Trail. He has published more than 60 nonfiction articles and short stories, which have appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine; Boys’ Life; Hardboiled; Amazon Shorts, and several other publications and anthologies. He is a freelance indexer and has written back-of-the-book indexes for more than 850 books in 19 years, which served as inspiration for the Marjorie Trumaine mystery series.

Larry is teaching an intensive session for Part I on Thursday, July 21, 2016.

It’s A Mystery

Some mystery novels are gritty and dark, while others are light and funny. No matter what type of mystery novel you are writing, all of them have basic elements that require attention and skill. This class will be part lecture, part workshop, with plenty of room for discussion with multiple award-winning author Larry D. Sweazy about characterization, plot, setting, fair play, writing a successful mystery series, and much more. 
MWW committee member Cathy Shouse interviewed Larry about what he will teach at this summer’s conference.
MWW: What does it feel like to have such a complimentary, starred review by Publisher’s Weekly for See Also Murder? … “[A] terrific first in a projected series… The characters are superbly drawn, and the prairie–its flatness, winds, and critters–is an evocative character in its own right.”
LDS: It’s always a good day when an author gets a great review like the one in  Publishers Weekly. It means the book might get a little extra push into the world and make it easier for readers to find. This review was especially gratifying.  See Also Murder, and the series as a whole, was a huge risk for me to write. I had previously published paperback Westerns, a naturally perceived male-dominated genre. My main character in this series is a middle-aged woman who lives on a North Dakota farm in the mid-1960s. My publisher, Seventh Street Books, took a huge leap of faith, too, with the series idea and me. The fact that Marjorie has been well-received helped to validate that risk and what I have believed all along: There are no limitations to what a writer can, or should, write about. No one should ever tell a writer that they can’t at least try to write something outside of the box. If I had told myself that I couldn’t write in Marjorie’s voice then I would have shortchanged myself as an artist, and, most importantly, the readers who have enjoyed her stories.
MWW: Please provide some details for the intensive class on mystery writing that you’ll present Thursday. What kind of information will you provide? Will there be writing in class? 
LDS: I learn the most in classes that are interactive.  I like a little bit of lecture, learning from the experience of the instructor, then applying the lessons, and finally, talking about what we have learned. I hope to balance those elements in this class. Yes, there will be writing. Students should be prepared to work, but I also know that everyone has some burning questions that they want to find the answer to, so discussions are important part of my classes. We all have something we can learn from one another.
MWW: Give us a thumbnail sketch about how you landed in the mystery genre. With so many different sub genres, how would you describe yours and how is it faring in popularity these days?
LDS: I’ve always read and loved mysteries, even though I got my start in the Western genre. If one thinks about it, there are plenty of mystery elements in a Western. There’s usually a crime of some kind, which in turn demands a law enforcement character to set the wrong back to right. My first five novels were Westerns, then I published a modern-day mystery (set in Indiana), a few more Westerns, then to where I am now, which is writing all mysteries. I would argue that a majority of my novels have been mysteries. They were just shelved in a different section. I think the mystery genre is as healthy as it’s ever been. Readers seem to have an insatiable appetite for murder, mayhem, and ultimately justice, which is the reason we read mysteries in the first place.
MWW: What has been your most memorable career experience, or just the award you are most proud of?
LDS: That’s an interesting question. I’ve been lucky with awards and good reviews. I’m happy that I get to write every day and that readers seem to enjoy what I do. I recently received a letter from a reader who read my books while she took care of her elderly mother. My books, she said, provided an escape and some much needed entertainment from a dreary and hopeless situation. To know that your work moved someone, took them away to a different place, and gave them a little relief from reality is what writing and storytelling is all about. I’m proud to know that I did my job as a writer for that reader. Honestly, that’s as good as it gets.
MWW: What would you say to those on the fence about coming to your intensive, those who are perhaps nervous about their skill level or how much value an in-person class can offer them?
LDS: I attended this workshop over twenty years ago. I remember what it’s like to be starting out. What I remember the most about my early workshop experience is that it was encouraging and safe. I was surrounded by people who wanted to see me succeed. I had something in common with everyone there–the aspiration to become a writer and to improve my craft. The faculty was approachable and generous, willing to share their knowledge no matter how successful they were. Making the commitment to come to a workshop like MWW is huge, not only financially, but emotionally. Perhaps it’s the first time a person has put their dream out for public view, or shared their work with a room full of strangers. It can be scary, but it can also be a gratifying and instructive experience to get honest feedback, and to see a path that will allow the dream to become a reality. It did for me.
MWW: Anything else to add?
LDS: I say this all of the time. Dream big. Work hard. Never give up. Do those three things and you’ll be surprised at what happens. What are you waiting for?
Follow on Twitter: @larrydsweazy

Mystery author Terence Faherty teaching Manuscript Makeover

A recommendation to register for the October 10, 2015 Manuscript Makeover sessions from Lori Rader-Day

Lori Rader-Day’s debut mystery, The Black Hour (Seventh Street Books, 2014), received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Library Journal and was a finalist for the Mary Higgins Clark Award. Her second mystery, Little Pretty Things, was released from Seventh Street on July 7. Her short stories have appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Time Out Chicago, Good Housekeeping, and others. She grew up in Boone County, Indiana, and attended Ball State University.

Does it feel like there’s a line between you and “real writers”? Back before I had finished my first novel, that’s how I felt. I had studied writing, I had even published some short stories–but I didn’t feel as though I had crossed over into that other place I knew existed. I could see them over there: authors, working, being productive, finishing full novels.

Things finally clicked for me when, through Midwest Writers Workshop, I met mystery author Terence Faherty. With only a few pointers on my first ten pages, Terry managed to give me enough direction and confidence to reimagine my manuscript and make it so much better. I figured out in just a few hours what it meant to be a working writer and how to see my own work more critically. The book Terry helped me with will be published next July.

I would highly recommend a Manuscript Makeover with Terry Faherty for anyone writing mystery or who might want to work on suspense, pacing, and character development in any fiction project.

REGISTER HERE!

October 10, 8:30 am – 3:00 pm

Ball State Alumni Center, Muncie, IN

“Manuscript Makeover for MYSTERY” Led by Terence Faherty

FahertyTerence Faherty is a two-time Edgar nominee for the Owen Keane series, which follows the adventures of a failed seminarian turned meta-physical detective. He is a two-time winner of the Shamus Award for his Scott Elliott private eye series, which is set in the golden age of Hollywood. His short fiction has won the Macavity Award from Mystery Readers International. His latest book,  The Quiet Woman,  is a romantic mystery set in Ireland, with a ghost.

PLUS TWO OTHER SESSIONS AVAILABLE:

“Manuscript Makeover for FICTION” Led by Holly Miller & Dr. Dennis E. Hensley

Manuscript Makeover is limited to 20 participants who have fiction projects-either novels or short stories-in progress. The six-hour workshop is led by Holly G. Miller, author of  Feature and Magazine Writing and consulting editor to two national magazines, and Dennis E. Hensley, chair of the professional writing department at Taylor University and author of Teach Yourself Grammar and Style in 24 Hours.  The instructors have co-authored seven books together-including a series of novels, as well as completed several solo book assignments.

“Manuscript Makeover for NONFICTION” Led by Hank Nuwer

Hank Nuwer is the author of 26 books, 22 in nonfiction. His thousands of nonfiction articles have been published by Harper’s, The Nation, Saturday Evening Post, GQ, the New York Times Sunday Magazine, Fraternal Law, Diablo (city) Magazine, Boston Magazine, Indianapolis Monthly and many more.

Q&A with D.E. Johnson

 

Johnson DEAlthough D.E. “Dan” Johnson always wanted to write, for the first half of his life, he chose practicality over passion.

After a long, successful career in the audio-video retail business, he sold his Grand Rapids, Michigan-based company in 2006. He took a couple years off to get back to the dream and use the time to hone his writing skills. As it turned out, it was time well spent.

In 2008, Dan met veteran P.I. novelist Loren Estleman, who agreed to read some of Dan’s work. Dan sent him the first three chapters of his novel in progress, The Detroit Electric Scheme, a historical mystery set in 1910 Detroit. To Dan’s delight, Estleman praised the work, comparing it to Les Miserables. The book found a publisher (St. Martin’s Minotaur Books) and hit the bookstores in September 2010. The Detroit Electric Scheme was named one of Booklist’s Top Ten First Crime Novels of the Year and won a 2011 Michigan Notable Book Award.

Dan followed up with three more books in the series — Motor City Shakedown, named one of the Top 5 Crime Novels of 2011 by the House of Crime and Mystery, called “extraordinarily vivid” by The New York Times, and won a 2012 Michigan Notable Book Award; Detroit Breakdown, placed on the best crime novels’ list for 2012 by multiple publications; and Detroit Shuffle, which earned starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews in 2013.

A 2009 Midwest Writers Workshop Fellow, Dan calls MWW’s summer workshop one of the best conferences in the country and certainly the best value.” He is joining MWW’s 2015 faculty, teaching an all-day Thursday intensive session, “Writing the Crime Novel,” an hour-long Friday afternoon session, “Settings You Can’t Escape”; a Saturday morning buttonhole, “Characters You Can’t Forget”; and a Saturday afternoon session, “The Hows and Whys of POV.”

Dan and his wife, Shelly, make their home near Kalamazoo, Michigan, where he grew up. We thank Dan for speaking with MWW Planning Committee member Janis Thornton earlier this week about his writing and his journey as an author. The result, a Q&A with Dan, follows.

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MWW: When we first met at the MWW fellows’ retreat in the spring of 2009, you didn’t yet know it, but you were on the brink of landing your first publishing contract, resulting in your highly successful The Detroit Electric Scheme, which came out the very next year. What did that achievement do for your confidence as a writer, your passion for writing, and your writing itself?

DEJ: It was very affirming to get my first book deal and a thrill beyond description to see the manuscript in hardcover. My confidence really jumped, which let me give myself permission to take more chances in the subsequent books. As far as passion, I had pretty well maxed that out already. After denying myself writing most of my adult life, I dove in with both feet in true compulsive fashion.

MWW: Now, four books later, what has been your biggest writing-related surprise? And what has been the most satisfying aspect of becoming a published novelist?

DEJ: I’d say the biggest surprises have been the affirmations by critics. My books have gotten three starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, and one each from Booklist, Library Journal, and Kirkus Reviews. I’ve also won two Michigan Notable Book Awards, which I didn’t even know existed until my publisher submitted my first book. I was just hoping to get a book out there in the world, so it’s been really gratifying to have a good reception for four of them so far.

The most satisfying aspect, without a doubt, is reader email. Two kinds in particular: my fave is the “You kept me up all night” email, because that tells me I did my job, and also emails from readers who feel like my book has connected them to some aspect of their past, usually an ancestor who lived in Detroit during the time period. Just the fact that people feel compelled to share something about their reading experience with me is amazing.

MWW: Please tell us a bit about your writing process. For example, do you write until you reach a daily word goal, a certain number of pages, or a particular stretch of time? Do you plot your story in advance, or do you let the story reveal itself as you progress?

DEJ: My process is to write every opportunity I get. I’ve seen quotes from many writers along the lines of, “I get inspired by putting my butt in my seat.” Since I also work a “real” job, I can’t wait for my muse to call. I write early in the morning and most weekends — all weekend — until I’m done. On occasion, I’ll give myself a word count goal, but usually I slog along until I’m finished.

I plot in advance but give myself permission to change anything and everything. Two of my books even have different antagonists than I expected when I started. A mystery plot has to follow a pretty specific convention, and I find it much easier to have a plan.

MWW: Where are you in your Detroit series? Now four books into it, you’ve taken your readers from 1910 to 1912. How far into your character s’ future will you keep the series going? Is there a new series brewing, and if there is, what is it?

DEJ: I’m giving Will, Elizabeth, and company a well-deserved rest. They need to heal their bumps, bruises, cuts, gunshot wounds, radiation burns, etc., before I punish them further. I’m currently working on two different Chicago-based series, one in the gambling world of the early 1900s, and the other in a grimmer reality after the Great Fire. Both still need work, so I’m not sure which will surface first.

MWW: What is the ratio of time you spend conducting research vs. time you are writing? What is the primary source for your research? When you are writing, how do you make that mental shift from 2015 to 1912?

DEJ: When I was working on plotting The Detroit Electric Scheme, I spent three months full-time on research. I’ve been able to use that material throughout the series, and I’d guess I probably spent another four weeks in research out of the year, give or take, it took me the write each book. There are a lot of good sources for researching the time period, none better than the archives of the Detroit News and Free Press.

As far as “thinking 1912,” I give myself a running start. Before I go to bed, I read the section I just wrote to put me in the proper frame of mind for the next morning. I’ll usually read it again just before I start writing.

MWW: What advice do you have for writers in their mid-life years, and beyond, who dream of being a published author but are still looking for that first book deal?

DEJ: Don’t give up! Perseverance is the most important trait for a writer to be published. Hundreds of famous authors were rejected dozens or hundreds of times before they made it. However, you also need to be realistic about your project. Even though you’re in love with your post-Apocalyptic YA novel, chances are agents are not going to be these days. Look for your next idea, sit your butt down, and get to work.

MWW: You are booked for a Thursday intensive session, “Writing the Crime Novel.” What would you like your participants to know in advance about you and the material you’ll be teaching? What’s the best way for them to prepare for the class? And what is the most helpful writing advice you plan to pass on to them?

DEJ: First of all, we’ll have fun. The class will be part lecture and part workshop, with a lot of interaction. I’ll be touching on all the important aspects of writing thrillers, mysteries and crime novels, from characters and setting to plotting and writing violence that kicks the reader in the gut. My topic is so big I don’t know that I can single out any one piece of advice I think is most important. My goal is to give the writers a blueprint for writing the best book they can. If the attendees have works in progress, that’s great, but the only prep necessary is to drink lots of coffee beforehand and be ready to go!

MWW: Thank you, Dan! We look forward to seeing you in July.

Q&A with Julie Hyzy

MWW is delighted that popular, award-winning mystery author Julie Hyzy is returning to this year’s conference. Julie was last a featured MWW faculty member in 2012.

HyzyShe is a New York Times bestselling mystery author and winner of the Anthony, Barry, and Derringer awards. An incredibly busy writer, Julie produces a book a year for two cozy-mystery series — the White House Chef (featuring Olivia Paras) and Manor House (featuring Grace Wheaton) — both for Berkley Prime Crime.

During this year’s Part I, Thursday intensive sessions, Julie will share what she’s learned as a novelist. Her workshop is, “Your Novel and How to Write It.” Her Part II sessions are “The Voices in Your Head” on Friday afternoon and “Friends Indeed” on Saturday morning.

Julie makes her home with her family in Chicago. Visit www.juliehyzy.com for more information about her books.

This week, MWW committee member Janis Thornton caught up with Julie for a Q&A.

*  *  *

 MWW: What led you … or perhaps you were driven … to write cozy mysteries? When did you know you had found your niche?

 JH: Believe it or not, I never set out to write cozy mysteries. Although my first novel was a light romantic suspense, my next two (the start of my Alex St. James series) were a little edgier and my short stories have always been dark. But back in about 2006 or so, Marty Greenberg (then head of Tekno Books — now, sadly, deceased), asked me if I had any interest in writing a series involving the first female White House executive chef. Of course I was interested! Oddly enough, until he shared a couple of titles his team had dreamed up for the books, I didn’t know they were expecting a cozy. That definitely changed my approach.

Since then, I’ve come to embrace the genre and I truly enjoy writing Ollie’s adventures. In fact, I had so much fun with them that I created a series of my own with Grace and the Manor House gang. I do, however, hope to return to my darker roots (and I’m not talking about my hair <grin>) one of these days.

MWW: As you’re preparing to start a new book project, how much of the story do you plan, such as outlining, and how much of it is simply organic?

JH: I always have a plan of attack, but it’s never set in stone. I outline, but the actual method changes from book to book as I explore new techniques and adopt new habits. When I begin a new manuscript, I generally have most, if not all, of the key scenes jotted down. That said, if an unplanned character shows up and says “You need me,” or my protagonist tells me that she’d prefer to follow a different path, I listen. The final manuscript rarely matches the original outline.

MWW: One of the difficulties with writing a series is keeping the characters, situations, and mysteries from getting stale. You clearly don’t have that problem… so what advice do you give authors looking for ways to keep their series fresh?

JH: That’s so nice of you to say. Thank you! I have to give Ollie and Grace the credit here. They lead interesting lives and I simply follow along and write it down. That sounds like a non-answer, doesn’t it? But it’s the truth. I try very hard not to get in my characters’ way when I’m writing. I place them where they need to be, but then I let them take over. They constantly surprise me with ideas and actions I could never have imagined on my own.

MWW: Your stories are also realistic. For example, you obviously have spent a great deal of time in the White House kitchen <smile>. But seriously, how do approach the research for your books so the settings and situations seem so real?

JH: Again, thank you! I research like crazy. I read everything I can about the White House so that I can portray life there as realistically as possible. (Within reason, that is. In real life, they’re WAY more detailed than my characters are. But that could get boring for readers, so I pare it down.) When I’m writing for Grace, I refer back to photos and books I’ve collected from mansion-tourist museums in the U.S. Plus, I visit as many key locations as possible — as often as I can. In fact, I’m traveling to Quebec City later this year because I have some scenes in mind I’d like to set there (for an entirely new story). Although there’s a lot of information online about locations, there’s no substitute for actually visiting a place in person. How else to experience the sounds, the smells, the people?

MWW: What do you enjoy most about being a full-time writer? And what about it, if anything, continues to challenge you?

JH: I love the fact that I can make a living (albeit a small one) following my passion. I’ve always wanted to be a writer and I really feel as though I’m living the dream. I enjoy being my own boss and setting my own schedule. Hilariously, that’s also what I struggle with most. Hitting deadlines on time, every time, takes discipline; and while I’m usually pretty good at sitting my butt in the chair and keeping my fingers on the keyboard, I’m also very easily distracted. Our youngest daughter, Biz, and I enjoy watching BBC dramas while we drink tea. Using our tea time together as a carrot (er, in this case, crumpet) often gets me to complete my daily word count.

MWW: What project are you working on currently?

JH: I’m writing the seventh book in my Grace (Manor House) series right now. The sixth book (Grace Cries Uncle) saw some major changes in Grace’s life so I’m using this one to kind of re-settle things before her world gets upended again in Book #8. I’m also jotting notes for something altogether new.

MWW: You are teaching a Part I intensive session called, “Your Novel and How to Write It.” What’s the best way for your participants to prepare for your class, and what is the best new writing tip you want them to take home?

JH: The best thing a participant can do is simple: be prepared for a fresh approach. I was impressed with the level of professionalism at MWW when I was there in 2012. These writers aren’t looking for someone to parrot old rules like “Write what you know,” or “Avoid talking heads.” They’ve been there, done that. We’ll definitely cover some basics (it’s impossible not to) but I hope to encourage these writers to dig deeper. No one has all the answers, of course, but I’m eager to share what’s worked for me.

MWW: Thank you, Julie!

REGISTER TODAY!

Hank Phillippi Ryan Interview

Hank Phillippi Ryan to speak at MWW 40th

hank-phillippi-ryan-crop-pressHank Pillippi Ryan is an investigative reporter for Channel 7 News on WHDH-TV, the NBC-affiliate station for Boston, Massachusetts. A native of Indianapolis, she attended Western College for Women in Oxford, Ohio, and also studied abroad at the International School in Hamburg, Germany. Ryan joined WHDH-TV in 1983 as a general assignment reporter. In 1989, she was named principal reporter for the station’s investigative unit. Ryan has won 28 Emmy Awards and 12 Edward R. Murrow Awards for her investigative and consumer reporting.
Her first published novel, Prime Time, won the Agatha Award for best new mystery of 2007, featuring Boston investigative reporter Charlotte “Charlie” McNally. Her follow-up mystery, Face Time, was published in 2008 (and re-issued in 2009) and was a Book Sense Notable Book.
Her newest thriller, The Other Woman, is the big news! Published by Forge in September 2012, it is nominated for the MWA/MARY HIGGINS CLARK award, selected as one of Suspense Magazine’s Best Books of 2012, and named a TOP BOOK OF 2012 by the Kansas City Star.
“Fabulous! Fabulous! Want to know why everyone is talking about Hank Phillippi Ryan’s sizzling new thriller? Because with its frenetic pace, twisty plot, and superbly realized characters, The Other Woman is the book you need to read next! Don’t miss it!”  ~ Julie Hyzy

For MWW13, Hank will talk about planning your crime novel and ways to jumpstart your writing. MWW committee member Cathy Shouse interviewed Hank about her dual careers and coming to MWW this summer.

Q. Since meeting you at the writing conference in Washington D.C. in 2009, it seems your writing career has exploded with good news. Plus, you have that amazing Day Job. Please give us a thumbnail sketch of how you’ve become an “overnight success.”

HANK: Overnight success! Thank you. Pausing to laugh now, of course. I stated writing in 20..05? When I was 55. I’ve always wanted to write mysteries, but it wasn’t ’til then that I had a good idea! But when I did, I was just obsessed with writing the story. I was such a newbie, I had no idea what to do or how to connect or anything about the system. And that was probably such a good thing–it’s so daunting, isn’t it? And if you understand reality, it all seems impossible. Happily, I was clueless, and persevered. And that has served me well.

I simply–work. I’m organized, I’m driven, I’m curious, I’m happy when others succeed. I’m truly interested in paying it forward. I am open to new things, and to being disappointed and challenged and lucky.

Q. What is the best tip–or three, you would give writers in the early stage of the journey?

HANK: *Anything is possible, right?  If you persist?

*You never know what wonderful thing is around the next corner, so don’t quit five minutes before the miracle.

* Thinking of writing a whole book is incredibly difficult –but thinking about writing a page a day isn’t so tough. So set reasonable goals, ones you can meet–like writing a page a day. Do that and you’ll be finished with your book in just a year!

*Celebrate a good chapter, or a good idea, or the solution to a problem.

*Have fun! It’s fun, it’s rewarding, it’s creative.

*Don’t worry–because worrying will not make a spot of difference.

Okay, that’s more than three. How about: Embrace editing.

Q. Midwest Writers Workshop 2013 is mere months away. What do you aim for as a writing workshop instructor?

HANK: If people in my sessions can go home with just one terrific life-changing idea or inspiration, I’m happy. Everything I teach won’t be valuable to everyone every day–but I live for the moments when I imagine someone at their desk, writing, and saying,”OH! That’s what Hank meant!” That’s a terrific vision.

I love to hear the dilemmas individual writers face and work with them to untangle their thoughts and come up with solutions. Sometimes writers know SO much about their stories, it’s difficult to see the narrative path. I am eager to help them find their way. Sometimes writers don’t know enough about their stories–and I use my TV interview techniques to encourage them to imagine and think and suppose…and then send them on their way.

My goal is to inspire! And then watch other writers be happy. 

Q. At Indiana Romance Writers of America a few years ago, you spoke on how working in TV news helped your writing.  What is one tip from that presentation? 

HANK: Just do it. You know? Just write. Don’t fuss, don’t procrastinate, don’t make excuses. As a TV reporter, I have to have my stories done by deadline. Sometimes, I don’t feel like doing it. Doesn’t matter. Sometimes, I know my writing isn’t the best it can be–but the news isn’t going to wait. When I have a deadline, I have no choice. So I translate that to my fiction writing. I have a word goal for the day, and I do it. Sometimes it stinks. That’s fine. Unlike TV reporters, as fiction authors, we have the true luxury of being able to tweak and edit and fix and change…but as Nora Roberts always says, you can’t fix a blank page.  So pretend you have a deadline. You do.

Q. Everyone’s goal seems to be to write full-time. What advantages are there to keeping the Day Job, if any? 

HANK: Well, first of all, I love it. I’ve been a TV reporter for 37 years! And every day is a joy. (Well, almost every day.) I’m curious about the world, and this job lets me explore that with a kind of access most people don’t have. I get to talk to–and interview and confront-all kinds of people and go all kinds of places.  So when people ask–did you do a lot of research for your new book?–I say well, I’ve been doing research for the last 37 years! Now, I get to spend my day as a journalist, and (informally) do book research at the same time!

It does make writing time more precious and difficult to schedule…and as a result, I have to be incredibly organized and focused. Luckily, knock on wood, I am.

Q. Tell us about your Indiana roots and anything else, quirky or serious, that we should know before meeting you in Muncie in July.

HANK: We moved to Indianapolis from Chicago when I was five…I went to–School 53? Is there such a thing? And then we moved far out into the suburbs, to Zionsville, when I was 10 or so. It was so rural back then, we could not see another house from our house. We used to ride our ponies into town. I went to Pike High School, when I was the geeky nerdy Twilight-Zone watching outcast. As a senior, to my enduring shame, I was voted “Most Individual.”  It was years later when I realized that was a good thing. I worked at the Dairy Queen in Zionsville–that was my first summer job! I also worked for two summers at the Lyric Record store. (Records. Remember?) I still have family in Indiana-in Carmel.

And my first grown-up up job was in Indiana too, as a staffer on several political campaigns. Anyone old as I am and remember Matt Welsh? Terry Straub?  My first job in broadcasting was at WIBC Radio–remind me to tell you about that some day! And then in television at WTHR. (With Paul Udell and Renee Ferguson-anyone? Anyone?)

Q. Is there anything you would like to add, and please include your next release or whatever you are working on?

HANK: SO delighted to say–THE OTHER WOMAN is now in third printing, hurray, and made several “Best of 2012” lists in including the Boston Globe, Kansas City Star, Oline Cogdill, and Suspense Magazine.

The Other Woman by Hank Phillippi Ryan
The Other Woman by Hank Phillippi Ryan

My next book, THE WRONG GIRL will be out in hardcover from Forge this fall. What’s it about?  I’ll have to practice this-but “What if you didn’t know the truth about your own family? Jane Ryland suspects a top-notch adoption agency is reuniting birth parents with the wrong children.” It’s scary, let me tell you! I love to write stories about everyday things that are not what they seem.

Very excited about that! And now I am on the hunt for the plot of the next book. Where do ideas come from?  That’s the most difficult one of all! But that’s a question for another day. Can’t wait to see you all!