Here's the interview that Hank was so nice to let me conduct
Debbie - Hank, first of all welcome to General Fiction and thank you for being here this month while we feature your first novel Prime Time.
Debbie - Okay first question why does a nice multiple Emmy, Edward R Murrow and other award winning news reporter want to write a mystery novel.
Hank - Ah! Thank you for saying I’m nice. There are a lot of people—some now in prison, in custody, or otherwise generally unhappy—who do not think I am so nice! In fact, when people meet me after seeing me on TV, they sometimes say, hey, you’re smiling! Because on the air I’m tough and confrontational. But Debby, you know the truth.
Anyway, mystery novels. I’ve always wanted to write mysteries, since I was—gosh, old enough to read about Nancy Drew and Cherry Ames and then Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle. I loved trying to find the clues and uncover the secrets and solve the puzzle. I was a bookish kid, a loner, a reader, unpopular and geeky. (Before geeky was cool.) So being involved in a mystery was my way of having adventures.
When I grew up (?) and went into politics and then journalism—well, that’s kind of detective-y isn’t it? You’re still looking for clues and tracking documents and following leads. And I’ve loved it for all these years. Still do. I often think my best TV story is just right around the corner.
But mystery writing was still in the back of my mind. Problem was, I never had a good idea for a plot. Which, obviously, is a problem.
But then one day I got this weird spam in my email. And I opened it by mistake. It was clearly a spam, and the subject line was something about mortgage refinancing. But in the body of the email there were what looked like lines from what looked like a play by Shakespeare. So I stared at it for a while. Baffled. Intrigued. Thinking--why would there be lines from a Shakespearean play in what clearly is a spam about mortgage financing?
And then…I thought. Bingo. My plot! The plot I’ve been looking for, all these years! (I get goosebumps now, telling you about it. I remember the moment it so clearly.)
And that was Prime Time. Which as you know won the prestigious Agatha Award for best first mystery! Became the first in a series of Charlotte McNally Mysteries. And it changed my life.
D - Is Charlie McNally you?
H -Ah. I’ve spent the last several years denying Charlie is me. Fine. Fine. Here in the privacy of this interview, I’ll say it. She’s me. What can I tell you?
Like Charlie, I’ve wired myself with hidden cameras, confronted corrupt politicians and chased down criminals. I’m a veteran journalist who’s worried about the job security of a career in television, and also about what happens when you’re married to a career in television and the camera doesn’t love you anymore. All true. Fine.
And, in trying to write an authentic and genuine story about a TV reporter who solves murders, it would be silly to ignore all my experience and experiences.
But I’m also not Charlie. She makes decisions I might not make. She’s a good and fearless driver. She’s single, I’m happily married. I’m older than she is. I’ve been a TV reporter for more than 30 years so it seems to be (knock on wood) working out. I’ve never been in a gun battle in an airport hangar. Yet. Or involved in a high-speed chase. (Well, wait, yes I have.)
D -Tell us how your duo careers are similar and how they’re different.
H -Deadlines. I’ve learned do much about writing mysteries by making deadlines—and I know my years in journalism have made me respect them.
Can you imagine if I told my boss— “I’m not feelin’ the muse today. Could I be on the news at ten after six, instead of six? Or better, could I have another week to work on this?” I’d be toast, instantly. So I learned there’s no such thing as writers’ block, and no room for procrastination, and no time for mulling things over. I just—-do it. And now, as an author, I have the glorious joy of being able to edit and revise.
There’s a huge been-there-done-that element to the books—I’ve worked 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.
Counterfeit merchandise, the essence of AIR TIME, came from my experiences covering that world and working with the Secret Service and police departments and TSA, as well as my own undercover work. I've had people confess to murder, and convicted murderers insist they were innocent--that's the key to FACE TIME. And the real-life big-money conflicts in the financial world I've covered for TV--that's what's behind PRIME TIME.
We've done lots of stories about car recalls--the pitfalls and the dangers, and what can happen that allows people to be driving dangerous cars. So I know the inside scoop on how recalls work--and what may be wrong with your car at the very moment, and why you may not know it-- and all that comes in to play in DRIVE TIME.
The books aren't fact-made-fiction--but it's been wonderful to be able to use these real-life experiences as stepping off points.But the key--in television and in fiction--is to tell a good story, right? With compelling characters, and an important conflict, where the good guys win, and the bad guys get what's coming to them. Makes no difference if you're making it up, or reporting the facts. It's all about the story.
D - SO what’s coming up for you?
H -Well, this is SO exciting. I’m about to debut a brand new fabulous wonderful —new thing. (Charlie is not going away..she’s just on vacation.) But I can’t wait to introduce you to THE OTHER WOMAN. It’s a suspense thriller that’ll be out next year from Forge Books.
THE OTHER WOMAN is the fast-paced story of a disgraced Boston reporter tracking down the secret mistress of a political candidate! And of a Boston cop tracking a possible serial killer. The two soon suspect they may be on the trail of the same person. Jake and Jane have their personal conflicts--and one big secret they share: they're mad for each other, but if anyone finds out, it’ll kill their careers. Dirty politics, dirty tricks, and barrage of final twists—as one character says: “You can choose your sin, but you cannot choose your consequences.” Seduction, betrayal and murder—it’s gonna take a lot more than votes to win this election.
I’m so excited! (oh, I said that…)
I’m also off to Bouchercon to cheer on DRIVE TIME as an Anthony nominee for best paperback original. I can’t tell you how thrilled I am about that. (And I’m the only woman who is nominated!) Will I see any of you at Bouchercon?
I’m also teaching in the Mystery Writers of America’s MWA University—a fantastic day-long series of classes for people who are interested in writing books of their own. We’re doing them all over the country—other teachers include Megan Abbott, Jessie Lourey, Julie Smith, Hallie Ephron, David Morrell, Reed Farrel Coleman, Dan Stashower and many more! So check MWA website for info . We may be coming to your town—wouldn’t that be great?
D -What’s the one place you’ve never been that you would like to journey to.
H - Narnia. Okay, kidding. Well, not really kidding. And Lyra’s world in Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass. And Nick and Nora’s Manhattan. Oh, okay, fine. You want me to name a real place.
Venice. (Italy, not California.) I’ve loved Tuscany, and Rome and Florence, and Siena. But we haven’t been to Venice. And might as well go to Milan, too, right? SHOPPING!,
D -Tell us all something that would surprise us about you.
H -I’m very very very shy. Truly. (Does that surprise you?)
Hank blogs at Jungle Red http://www.JungleRedWriters.com
The Lipstick Chronicles http://www.thelipstickchronkicles.typepad.com
And at Femmes Fatales http://www.femmesfatales.typepad.com