Monday, December 12, 2016

At The Poisoned Pen with Hank Phillippi Ryan & Linwood Barclay!

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.

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Barclay wrote all three books in fifteen months and thought that he would be able to put his feet up for the next year and a half... until he learned that his publisher had tightened his writing schedule. The trilogy, in order, is Broken Promise, Far From True, and The Twenty-Three. The author did have an unpleasant dream or two about something happening to him before he finished the trilogy-- which reminded him of the horrific accident that Stephen King had several years ago. King received so many messages from his fans, many of which said something along the lines of "We're so glad you're okay because now we'll get to read the end of the Dark Tower series!"

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."

Linwood Barclay
Barclay had a reader contact him to say that he was so angry that the meaning behind the number twenty-three wasn't given by the second book that he wasn't going to bother reading the third. "So... what's the deal with the number twenty-three?" the reader asked. Barclay refused to tell him. (Good for him! I wouldn't either.)

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
Hank Phillippi Ryan has no fear of deadlines either; she's been a television reporter for forty years. She is used to working very fast. As a writer, Ryan feels that her first job is "to be entertaining. I also like to take something complicated and make it fascinating. Imagine someone reading my book on the subway and missing their stop. I love that image."

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.

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In her latest novel, Jane Ryland sees a hit-and-run that ruins someone's alibi, and her silence is the only thing that's keeping three women alive. 

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.'"

Linwood Barclay
"She must've been writing literary fiction," Barclay deadpanned, which reminded me of Barbara Peters' definition of that genre.

"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 had my first Zack Walker book halfway written  when my agent, Helen, asked me who did it. I said, 'It's either....' She cut me short. 'Stop. Don't write another word until you know whodunit,'" Barclay said. 

"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


  1. Your PP trips always sound like so much fun, Cathy! And Linwood Barclay is terrific! I really like his writing style and wit. Lucky you to have met him.

    1. Yes, he is a lot of fun. (Must be all those humor columns he's written.) And Ryan is amazing, too!

  2. Well, how wonderful, Cathy! I am so pleased--and wasn't it a great day? Thank you so much for this terrific blog--crossing fingers you love SAY NO MORE! (Let me know, okay?)


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