With Denis scheduled to work, I found myself jumping in the Jeep and heading to The Poisoned Pen all by my lonesome to see Hank Phillippi Ryan and Linwood Barclay. I was already acquainted with Barclay, having both read his novels and seen him in a previous appearance at my favorite bookstore, but this would be the first time I'd see Ryan, whose books I have yet to read.
One of the first things we all learned was that this wasn't a mere promotional stop for either writer. Ryan had flown in from Boston and Barclay from Toronto to attend meetings of the Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime, the latter occurring after this event. Rhys Bowen was also in town and was in attendance.
|L to R: Linwood Barclay, Barbara Peters, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Rhys Bowen|
When host Barbara Peters mentioned that this wasn't the usual time of year for Barclay to be visiting the bookstore, he smiled and said, "Yes. I'm very glad the book came out now so I didn't have to visit Phoenix in August!" The book Barclay was talking about was The Twenty-Three, the last of three interconnected books with a background story that explodes in this last novel.
From the beginning, Barclay knew that the major story was about someone who had an ax to grind with the town of Promise Falls. Looking at all of us in the audience, the author assured us, "All questions will be answered."
Hank Phillippi Ryan told Barclay, "You've juggled the point of view so beautifully in these books!"
Barclay thanked her and then explained to the uninitiated that each book in the trilogy was told from one person's point of view, and that person changed from book to book.
The two authors were conducting their own interview. Barbara Peters had joined Rhys Bowen in the audience. Ryan then asked Barclay, "Did you know what was going to happen at the end of book three? Did you have a big plan from the very beginning?"
"Yes," Barclay replied.
"How did you feel when you finished the third book? Happy? Sad?" Ryan asked.
"Actually my reaction was 'Thank God, it's all over,'" Barclay said, "especially since all three were written back to back." He is one writer who knows how to buckle down and make his deadlines. He wrote three humor columns for the Toronto Star for fifteen years. Newspaper reporting will teach you to make deadlines.
|Hank Phillippi Ryan|
With her latest book, Say No More, Ryan knew that she wanted the book to contain two different stories so it wasn't "just this linear thing."
One of the ideas that became Say No More happened to Ryan when she and her husband saw a Cadillac smash into a van and then leave the scene. The author got a description and wrote the license plate number in the dust on the dashboard of their vehicle. A month later she was called and asked to perform a nonsuggestive identification in which she would be in the courtroom and asked if the person driving the car was present.
The trial dealt with some unsavory characters, and Ryan's reaction was, "No thank you! I'm recognizable, and this could put my life in danger." She then realized that her whole life had been devoted to getting people to tell her things, and this one incident-- and her very personal reaction to it-- had shifted her entire perspective. Now she understood why some people do not want to cooperate.
Barclay wasn't done with that nonsuggestive identification. "Was the guy you saw in the courtroom?"
"Yes, he was!" Ryan exclaimed.
"The moral of that story is Do Not Dust Your Dashboard," Barclay quipped.
"These days, we'd have our phones," she replied.
Ryan and Barclay then began to talk a bit about their writing processes.
Barclay said, "By 8:30 or 9 AM, I'm in the study with my coffee, and I write until 2 or 3 PM. My wife calls up the stairs, 'It's vodka o'clock!' and I hear that whistle blow. Normally I write 2,000 words a day."
Ryan told us, "I have an author friend who was going to ask for a two-month extension on her deadline because she 'wasn't feeling it.' I can just see myself at the television station saying, 'What if I go on at 6:10 instead of 6? I'm not feeling it.'"
"Another person took ten years to write a book on brown paper that she'd attached to the walls. When she finished, she tore the paper off the walls and started over again. In sentences this time," Ryan said.
In answer to a fan's question, Barclay said, "When I start writing a book, I know the end point, but I don't know what route I'm going to take to get there. Pace is also important. A really good crime novel has a sense of momentum."
"I love it when I'm in the zone, writing so fast that Word can no longer correct my spelling," Ryan said. "I never know the ending of my book. I surprised myself with the ending of Say No More. I love that!"
|Hank Phillippi Ryan|
"I like digging for information. I like real life," Ryan commented. "We don't know what's going to happen."
These two were bouncing from one question to the next. Barclay's two favorite films? Rear Window and Vertigo, and he'll be finishing his next book by December 1 (which means it's done).
Ryan's next book is a standalone whose working title is "The Truth as I Know It." It deals with the truth that someone tries to convince us is true and the indefinable real truth. She also shared that her first draft of her first book, Prime Time, was over seven hundred pages long.
Most of Barclay's books start out with his thinking a simple "what if?"
An extremely enjoyable and informative afternoon ended all too soon. What should come as a surprise to none of you is that I went home with my first Hank Phillippi Ryan book to read. Ah, the perils of The Poisoned Pen!
|Hank and Linwood|