Monday, January 31, 2011
The Scoop - Interviewing the Interviewer
Okay, here’s, the scoop. (I mean, what else can you expect from two reporters, Hank Phillippi Ryan, a real-life reporter at the NBC affiliate in Boston, and Charlotte McNally, a (shhhh: fictional) reporter at Boston’s Channel 3. (Also fictional.)
Hank talking now, hands on hips: “I wanted to interview Charlie. She insisted on interviewing me. So we came up with questions for both of us to answer. Fine.”
First we decided to introduce each other.
HANK: Charlotte McNally—Charlie—is a veteran reporter at a Boston television station. She’s smart, and savvy, and successful—
CHARLIE (interrupting): Yeah, well, you never know when that’ll end. I do have a study full of Emmys, just like you do, Hank, but as you well know, you’re only as good as your last story. If I don’t come up with a blockbuster for the next ratings sweeps, it’s goodbye Charlie. And I’ll be replaced by someone younger. And I bet you’ve had that feeling, too, Hank, in your thirty years as a TV reporter. Just guessing here, of course.
(HANK: You see how she is.)
How are you two alike, and different?
CHARLIE: I’m younger. And a better driver.
HANK: Fine. She’s younger. And a better driver. And I do admit, when my husband talks about Charlie, he calls her “you.” As in: when “you” get chased by the bad guys, or when “you” get held at gunpoint. And I have to remind him, “Sweetheart, it’s fiction.” But Charlie can say things I can’t say about the reality of television, and because she’s (whispering) fictional, she can go places I can’t go.
CHARLIE: Hush. My turn. So let me say, I think we’re both devoted journalists. Hank was married to her job for years, really, verging on workaholic, I heard that from everyone. But she was—is—driven to find justice, and to change the world, and to stand up for the little guy. And I know Hank’s found true love—though she was older than I am when it happened. We’ve both wired ourselves with hidden cameras, confronted corrupt politicians, and chased down criminals. And we both still do that.
What’s the most interesting story you ever covered?
CHARLIE: Well, I must say there were moments when I was covering the AIR TIME story when I wondered if it would be the last story I ever did! You know those fancy designer purses you see on street corners and in flea markets? They look like the expensive Pradas and Chanels—but they’re actually cheap knockoffs.
I wondered—who’s making those? Where do they get the designs? How do they distribute them? And who’s getting all the money from purse-addicted women? And even more—how do they get away with selling them right under the noses of law enforcement?
So I went undercover and in disguise to find out. But! I’ve got to admit, there was nothing more amazing than what I uncovered in DRIVE TIME. Now, I never turn the key in my car’s ignition without thinking about it--and I’ve never been more terrified.
HANK: Well, interestingly! I’ve done a lot of stories on automobile recalls and also counterfeit designer merchandise! And much of AIR TIME, including the undercover work, is been there-done that, I must admit. (Of course the scheme I devise for the bad guys is completely from my imagination! But when I described it to law enforcement types, they had to agree it would work!) Parts of DRIVE TIME, too, came from a real story. (But not the biggest secret revealed in the story. That’s completely...well, you’ll have to read it.)
CHARLIE: Yeah. Good idea. Even I was baffled. Til about…page 279.
HANK (ignoring her): My most interesting story? Ah, we’ve found serious flaws in the state’s 911 system, which resulted in emergency responders being sent to the wrong addresses. We found federal jury pools without one person of color—and now that system is changing. We’ve uncovered predatory practices in the mortgage and home improvement industry, and our stories led to people getting their homes out of foreclosure and several new laws enacted. (I think every one of my Emmys represents a secret someone didn’t want revealed—and a time when we changed the world a bit.)
But I always hope my most interesting story is just around the corner.
What made you decide you wanted to be a journalist?
HANK: I had some ideas about making a difference with my life. I started out working in political campaigns in my early-early twenties, and then in Washington DC as an aide in the US Senate, then moved to Rolling Stone Magazine. I got my first job as a TV reporter after that, and I was hooked. Being a reporter is such a responsibility—you have lot of power to expose, confront, and change the world.
And I love to tell a good story.
So—as a reporter—tracking down leads. Interviewing compelling characters. Going after the bad guys. Finding justice. Having a satisfying conclusion. Changing the world. That’s what reporters do. And that’s what mystery authors do, too! So it all worked perfectly.
When Charlie presented herself—she opened the door to a new career for me.
CHARLIE: Huh. Try and stop Hank if she wants to do something. But there are times when Hank pushes me in a way I don’t want to go. Like that gun scene in—well, I won’t give it away. But the two of us do have some battles over my decision-making process. And my perceptions of the bad guys. And I can tell you, I always win. She can’t make me do what I don’t want to do.
HANK (whispering): I let her think that.
CHARLIE (rolling eyes): I’m ignoring her. As usual. But you know, being a television reporter is a high-pressure job. You can never be wrong! You can never make a mistake, You can never be one second late. And you can never have a bad hair day, because millions of people will see you. Women of a certain age are fighting the on-air aging battle. And many of us, who chose to devote our lives to our careers, are now assessing the results of that. I think that’s important.
So I’m glad Hank offered to write about it. And she seems happy about that, I must say.
Your significant others must have a difficult time, knowing the dangers and hours of your jobs. How do they handle it?
HANK: My husband knows I won’t make risky decisions. Usually. And when I’m out on a story, I have a photographer with me. So I just tell the photog—if someone tries to hit me, just make sure you get it on camera.
The hours on the job is a touchier subject. And Charlie’s battles with Josh over her devotion to her work, I must say, do stem from some actual--
CHARLIE: Hey, TV is 24/7. Nothing I can do about that. And Josh is devoted to his job, too, you know. If one of his students were in trouble, he’d be there in an instant. So it’s not just me.
HANK: As I was saying. What makes it work is that my husband, a criminal defense attorney, is devoted to his job, too. So when he has a big case, or an important trial, I understand the focus and attention he needs give it. And I think his work is exciting and important, so I actually enjoy it.
Going undercover—we both do it. What about the potential danger?
HANK: It’s–a necessary tool of TV journalists. A newspaper reporter just needs a notebook and a pen—or even just a good memory. A TV reporter has to get video. And sometimes, the only way to do that is with a hidden camera. We don’t break any laws.
Do I like it? I like the results.
CHARLIE: Let me just say: it can be scary. It can be stressful. And there’s always the possibility of getting caught, which is unpleasant. Hank can tell you that, for sure. And I have a question.
HANK: As usual.
CHARLIE: You should know.
HANK: (shrugging, but with affection)
CHARLIE: I’m thinking I might get a big job offer, from the network, to move to New York. My dream job. What I’ve always wanted. What should I do? What would happen to my love life—which suddenly, surprisingly, seems to exist? In life and in love, how do I tell the real thing?
HANK: I’m sure you’ll make the right decision when the time comes. I hope so, at least. You might just find out…in DRIVE TIME. Which, by the way, Library Journal calls—
CHARLIE: Yeah, yeah, they gave us a star. And compared you to Lisa Scottoline. You were dancing round for days! So—should we give away a copy of DRIVE TIME to a lucky commenter?
HANK: Absolutely! Great idea, Charlie.
CHARLIE (smiling): That’s the only kind I have.
Agatha, Anthony and Macavity award-winning investigative reporter Hank Phillippi Ryan is on the air at Boston's NBC affiliate. Her work has resulted in new laws, people sent to prison, homes removed from foreclosure, and millions of dollars in restitution. Along with her 26 EMMYs, Hank’s won dozens of other journalism honors. She's been a radio reporter, a legislative aide in the United States Senate and an editorial assistant at Rolling Stone Magazine working with Hunter S. Thompson.
Her first mystery, the best-selling PRIME TIME, won the Agatha for Best First Novel. It was also was a double RITA nominee for Best First Book and Best Romantic Suspense Novel, and a Reviewers' Choice Award Winner. FACE TIME and AIR TIME are IMBA bestsellers, and AIR TIME was nominated for the AGATHA and ANTHONY Award. (Of AIR TIME, Sue Grafton says: "This is first-class entertainment.") DRIVE TIME, February 2010 from MIRA Books, just earned a starred review from Library Journal saying it “puts Ryan in a league with Lisa Scottoline.”
Hank's short story "On The House" won the AGATHA, ANTHONY and MACAVITY awards for Best Short Story of 2009.
Hank is on the board of New England Sisters in Crime and the national board of Mystery Writers of America. Visit Hank's website.
Tomorrow on Killer Characters: February's new releases.