Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Guest blogger: Hank Phillippi Ryan

To celebrate the launch of Hank Phillippi Ryan's second Charlie McNally mystery, Face Time, I asked Hank if she'd consider guest blogging. Despite an incredibly hectic schedule, which not only includes book promotion but also her regular serious news job over at Boston's NBC affiliate, WHDH-TV, she said, "Sure!" And within hours had sent me the following entry, which invites us behind the scenes of both her family and her mystery-writing process.

And, by the way, if I remember correctly from Prime Time, Charlie has a cat. So, without further ado, here's a peek inside the world of Hank Phillippi Ryan:

My mother is so mad at me. She’s in the midst of reading Face Time, the newest Charlotte McNally Mystery. It’s being released this week! I say: Hooray. So far, Mom says: I’m sure that’s lovely, dear. You can imagine the tone.

Mom is terrific. She’s almost 80, and is absolutely beautiful. An artist, a reader, a wonderful intellect. (She doesn’t have a computer, so she’s not reading this.) I’m her oldest daughter, and any psychologist will tell you that can cause some friction.

So anyway. Why is mom mad? She thinks I’ve “used her for art.”

It’s true: Charlie McNally’s mother in Face Time is a bit—persnickety. She’s opinionated. She thinks, for instance, that Charlotte might want to give up her very successful 20-year TV career to marry some tycoon and become a tycoon wife. No matter that Charlie is happy with the personal life (pretty happy, at least, for a 46-year-old single woman who is married to her job) and happy with her professional life (pretty happy, at least, even though she’s fearful she’s gong go be replaced by someone younger). Mom also thinks Charlotte (she refuses to call her Charlie, saying, “nicknames are for stuffed animals and men who play sports”) might want to visit the plastic surgeon for some face time of her own.

Now Mrs. McNally is not, I repeat, not, my mother. But in these days of controversy over whether books that are purported to be memoirs are actually true—I find myself fighting to convince her that my book is truly fiction.

It’s ALL MADE UP, I tell her. Yes, Charlie has a Mom, and I have a Mom. But I’m not Charlie and she’s not you.

Silence on the other end of the phone.

“Of course it’s me,” she finally says. “Don’t be ridiculous.”

So I’m wondering, do any of you have a problem with this? Do people “recognize” themselves in your books—and you have to convince them it’s a fictional character they’re recognizing? Would you “use” someone for “art”?

Or if you’re a reader, do you assume fictional characters are real people just put on paper?

And as it turns out—as Mom will find out if she’ll just get to the end of the book—it’s not only a mystery, and a romance, but kind of a love story between mothers and daughters. My editor said she cried. One reviewer has said she cried. (Which is odd, you have to admit, in a murder mystery.)

Yes, as authors we take elements of reality. Then we polish, and tweak, and exaggerate, and accessorize. But the fun is making up something completely new. Creating a new world. New characters and new relationships. And it’s ALL MADE UP.

Okay, Mom?

Hey, you said this so well, I'm going to send it to my own mom. Thanks, Hank!


Roberta said...

that's a great story Hank. As I lost my mother years ago, my mother-in-law fills in with the sharp motherly comments from time to time:). I know she's proud of me in her own way but she finally told me after five golf mysteries and Deadly Advice had been published that she didn't care for my first character at all. I figure if you've made it to 94 and are still sharp as a tack, you're entitled to any opinions you want!

good luck with the new book! Roberta Isleib

Clea Simon said...

Thanks for stopping by, Roberta! (Roberta - to you readers out there - is the new president of Sisters in Crime, which I definitely have to blog about, soon!)