CYBER CAFE: Meet Hank Phillippi Ryan

This June, Toronto Sisters in Crime welcomed Hank Phillippi Ryan as guest speaker to celebrate the 30th anniversary of SinC “mothership”.  I had the privilege of interviewing Hank Ryan on behalf of Toronto SinC last fall at Bouchercon in New Orleans. She is a delightful, warm person with a staggering list of accomplishments.

Hank has been the on-air investigative reporter for Boston’s NBC affiliate for 30+ years. For her ground breaking journalism work, she has been awarded 33 EMMY’s, 14 Edward R. Murrow awards and dozens more honours. She is also the bestselling author of nine mystery novels which together have earned five Agathas, two Anthonys, two Macavitys, the Daphne and the prestigious Mary Higgins Clark Award!

Throughout her career, Hank has worked to support women. She was 2013 President of the USA Sisters in Crime and is a founding teacher of Mystery Writers of America University. She also sits on the board of the Lyric Stage of Boston where she founded the “First Curtain” program to bring theatre to underprivileged students.

Hank lives in Boston with her husband, a renowned civil rights and criminal defence attorney.

 

How did you choose journalism as your career?

I grew up in rural Indiana. As a kid, I was bookish and nerdy. I had no friends so I read all the time. Books were my real friends.

I attended Western College for Women in Oxford, Ohio where I really came into my own. At the same time, I really had no idea what I wanted to be or do. I ended up studying English, majoring in Shakespeare while I minored in listening to rock and roll records. But while I loved college, I felt that I should be out in the world making a difference.

At first, I believed that politics was the best way to change the world. I was a political campaign worker and then a press secretary to a US congressman. Later, I put in a two-year stint at Rolling Stone Magazine where I worked on the political column “Capital Chatter” and even organized the coverage for gonzo journalist, Hunter S. Thompson’s presidential campaign. Then I decided that I could do more good on the other side of the microphone, asking the questions rather than answering them.

I love how you landed your first job in the media. Do share your story with us.

I simply walked into the newsroom of the biggest radio station in Indianapolis and asked for a job as a reporter. Back in the 1970’s, they didn’t have any women reporters working there. I mean no women at all. But we were also right in the middle of the Women’s Movement.

I argued with the news director. Every time he raised an objection, I shot it down. He kept telling me he couldn’t hire me because I had no experience. In the end, I pointed out that the station’s FCC licence was up for renewal and he told me the job was mine.

What inspired you to become an investigative journalist?

I always want to be a detective: to find out the truth. A journalist and a detective always seek out the hidden truth, the deeper story behind events.

As a journalist, I always ask: What is the real story? And I ask WHY? For example, why would that corrupt politician take the money? As an interviewer pursuing the truth, I ask WHAT IF? To illustrate, see how the reporter unmasks the priest in the movie, Spotlight.

How do you manage the stress of your job?

You’re right, the stress is there. You can’t last in this business if you don’t love it. I can never make a mistake. I can never call someone the wrong name, be late or have a bad hair day.

I truly love my job. I’ve battled hurricanes, floods and blizzards. I’ve wired myself with hidden cameras, chased criminals and confronted corrupt politicians. I’ve revealed mistakes in the 911 system that sent emergency responders to the wrong addresses, a failing jury selection system, firefighters given faulty equipment, corruption in the mortgage industry and unfair practices by powerful contractors. My work has helped to change laws, send criminals to prison, remove homes from foreclosure and to provide millions of dollars in refunds and restitution to victims and consumers. I’ve been able to change lives.

What led you to take up mystery writing?

As I said, I always wanted to be a detective. And I’ve been a lifelong mystery reader, starting with Nancy Drew.

I tell my readers and fans that I’ve really been writing for over 35 years. My first encounter with publishing was in 1969 when I had a summer job as a proof reader. I had to read the entire Indiana Code of Laws out loud.

But seriously, every day, when my team and I put a news story together, it’s like making a small movie. We start with nothing and at the end of the day we have a story. The only difference is that in my mystery novels the story that I’m telling is one that I’ve made up.

Tell us about your two mystery series.

My first four mysteries featured Charlotte McNally, a Boston television reporter, who feels a lot like me but is separate from me. The first book in the series, Prime Time, won an Agatha for best first novel. I’m happy to tell you that the entire series is now available in all-new editions.

My second series centres on Jane Ryland, a TV reporter who struggles with serious personal and professional challenges. The first book featuring Jane, The Other Woman, won the Mary Higgins Clark Award as well as being nominated for the 2012 Agatha, Anthony, Macavity, Shamus and Daphne awards for Best Novel. I’ve written four more books featuring Jane, the most recent being Say No More, which was released November, 2016.

Tell us how you write. Are you a plotter or a pantser?

I typically write in the evenings between 7 and 10 pm and on weekends. I strongly believe that the truth behind my mystery’s plot must be consistent with the real world. And I make sure that my characters’ motivations are always consistent. Otherwise my readers will not find the story believable.

I would describe myself as a “pantser”. I have no idea where my story will take me: I never know who the murderer is until I get there. When I sit down to write, anything can happen and I look at that unknown with joy. If the story is real, the words will come.

 

What brings you to Toronto, Canada?

Every year national Sisters in Crime sends speakers to selected chapters in North America and Toronto SinC was chosen for 2017. My husband and I have always wanted to visit Toronto and I’m very much looking forward to meeting my Toronto Sisters in Crime in June.

 

Hank’s visit was a huge success. For pics and details do check out Toronto SinC website and FB page.

WANDERINGS: Hydro Gift Boxes

A well-kept secret in Toronto is that our city actively promotes street art. There’s even hope that Toronto can become a go-to destination for followers and fans.

One interesting sideline is the beautification of our plain, military-grey hydro boxes. Hell, the city even pays artists to do this. Here are some neat examples spotted on my cycling forays. Click on each image to enlarge it.

Fancy peacock
Flowers in field

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Detail of Toronto life
Witty in our ‘hood

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blues raccoon
Cool cat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Broken heart
Lettre sur boite

 

 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY CANADA – How Small Towns Celebrate!

Greetings Readers!

I’m back! June was crazy busy with numerous readings and writerly activities – and of course, the Ride to Conquer Cancer. My tenth Ride went very well despite the 30 degree temperature: full details in a future blog.

On July 1st, Canada turned 150 years old. I’m old enough to remember Expo 67 and the celebrations of Canada’s 100th birthday. (See my blog Expo 67 Then and Now.) But nothing is as charmingly and wholeheartedly Canadian as small town Ontario.  In Goderich, where we have our cottage, the party began on June 30th with fireworks at the harbour beach. (Click on each image to enlarge it.)

Sun sets over salt mine
Kids, sparklers & lake freighter taking on salt

 

 

 

 

 

Beautiful!

 

 

 

 

 

 

On July 1st, everyone lines up for free hot dogs and soft drinks at The Square (actually an octagon).  After downing your nitrate and sucrose-laden treats, you can escape the official speeches by grabbing an ice cream at Cravings or an Americano at Cait’s, the new hipster café.  Then settle back in your lawn chair, digest and watch the parade!

Historical society float

It begins with the resounding sirens of Goderich’s fire engines, followed by one of many piper bands to celebrate the region’s Scottish ancestry.

Piper band

 

Everyone takes part in the parade: hobbyists, local businesses, churches, charities, old, young, human and animal!

Fincher’s: Best bookstore in Huron County!
Boating safety – very Canadian
Model aircraft – very Flight of the Phoenix

Some Canadian institutions:

Zamboni or what, eh?
Ye old chip wagon

 

 

 

 

 

Goderich has not escaped the decamping of industry to China.  For nearly 100 years all the world’s road graders were manufactured in Goderich. Not any more.

Road graders now only history
21st century industry

 

 

 

 

 

Steadfast parade participants:

The Shriners
Knights of Columbus

 

 

 

 

 

The International Order of the Daughters of the Empire

And my personal favorite: the Lions! Many years ago this venerable lion was self-propelled by a Volkswagen Beetle underneath. Alas, the vehicle is gone and our moth-eaten friend needs mobility assistance.

Old Faithful hits wheelchair stage

 

New lion in vintage car

A breakthrough for Goderich: the first Pride floats in the parade ever! And rainbow flags decorated the lampstands around The Square!

Drag queens in Goderich!
Pride flag in Goderich!

 

 

 

 

 

Any vehicle can be in the parade!

Vintage car
Golf cart

 

 

 

 

 

Mobility scooter
Captain Canada in go cart

 

 

 

 

 

We’re Canadian: even our bikers are polite!

Most enthusiastic Canadians ever! 

 

 

 

 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ONE OF THE BEST COUNTRIES IN THE WORLD!

EAT THIS BOOK: The Charming Predator by Lee Mackenzie

I am a true crime junkie. Ann Rule is one of my favorite non-fiction authors: I have read everything she’s published – and re-read it.   l love that her histories are moral tales and that the perpetrator is always caught and punished. She delves deeply into the motivations behind the crime and is especially compassionate to its victims. 

Not all of  my crime writer friends enjoy reading true crime. For many, murder must stay in the realm of make-believe and real life is more akin to horror. Other friends draw on true crime to make their work more believable. So why does true crime fascinate me? 

Early in my career at the Ontario Ministry of Health,  I was assigned to the team investigating a series of mysterious deaths at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children. This scientific study ran parallel to the ongoing police investigation. Because Ontario didn’t have the necessary expertise and resources, the Ministry engaged the Centers for Disease Control, Atlanta who led the team.  In the end, the scientific study agreed with the police investigation: the hospital deaths were due to homicide. Unfortunately, the murderer was never caught and punished.

The study changed the lives of everyone who worked on it. The Ministry made epidemiology and disease investigation a priority, which greatly helped to protect the public during the notorious SARS outbreak. My boss, Rick, left public health to become a forensic psychiatrist. And I developed a life-long compulsion to uncover the “why” behind crime and eventually took up crime fiction writing.

This rainy holiday weekend I visited Fincher’s, our beloved bookstore in cottage country, which has an interesting True Crime section. The Charming Predator caught my eye. From the first page, I was hooked: this book reads like a thriller.

Lee Mackenzie worked for 21 years as a broadcast journalist and news anchor. While backpacking around Wales as a young girl trying to find herself, she met the charming Kenner Jones at a local tourist office. They struck up a friendship that blossomed into romance and marriage.

Kenner had a way with words. Like many conmen, he possessed remarkable verbal skills and bamboozled dozens of people out of their life savings, including Lee while they were married.

Lee chides herself throughout the book for her innocence and lack of self-esteem which led her to ignore her misgivings and to overlook Kenner’s many lies and outrageous fabrications. Eventually she broke free of him. How? You must read her book to find out!

The Charming Predator is a warning to those of us who grew up protected and were taught to believe the best of people. After reading this book you will be especially wary of pious people who hang around politicians.

And so arm yourselves, readers and eat this book!

 

 

WANDERINGS: Graffiti Alley North

Greetings Readers!

It’s been a chilly spring and I’m still wearing my winter bike gear in May! But riding through the wind and rain toughens you up to any adverse weather on the Ride to Conquer Cancer. As always, the City of Toronto keeps closing bike routes and the repairs are s-l-o-w.  This year it’s the southern part of the Don Valley trail, which I normally do on every training ride.

Graffiti Alley North

But there are rewards. Cruising down a Leaside street and crossing north over Eglinton en route to Sunnybrook I discovered Graffiti Alley North. The street runs parallel to Eglinton now torn up by the light rail construction.  Feast your eyes, readers!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cool crab
Garage door fairy
I see you
Wise ass owl
Robot army
King of Toronto’s green boxes
Marlowe the ferret?
Movember man, save me!
The artist?

 

Cool dragon

 

 

 

A Fairy Tale Authors for Indies

The Village Bookshop, Main St., Bayfield ON

Saturday, April 29th was the third annual Authors for Indies, a day on which authors and booksellers together celebrate independent book stores. In previous years, I’ve had a great time at Books and Company in Picton and Book City at the Beach in Toronto.

So imagine my delight when I learned that the Village Bookshop in Bayfield was one of the participating indie bookstores this year. Bayfield lies 10 minutes south of our family cottage in Goderich (of tornado infamy) and this was a great opportunity to meet some Huron County writers.

Spring flowers

The Village Bookshop has a fairy tale setting in the heart of Bayfield, one of the prettiest towns in Ontario. Many years ago, this lovely yellow building housed a bakery and tea room. Sadly, it closed, but happily The Village Bookshop moved in. Golden hardwood floors, an eclectic mix of books for all tastes, a children’s play area and an emphasis on local authors -what’s not to love!

Bayfield’s bookstore has a long tradition of supporting authors. A few years ago, my friends Cathy Astolfo, Janet Bolin, Alison Bruce, Mel Campbell and I had a wonderful time as authors at a mystery-themed literary festival.  

 

Wine, beer, Culbert’s goodies and Glow Grass!

Martha Beechie, the present owner, loves to support local authors. She spoiled us on April 29th by serving sparkling wine, local craft beer and pastries from Goderich’s beloved Culbert’s Bakery!

I joined local mystery author Judy Keightly and Andy McGuire, poet and new father, in meeting local readers. Windigo Fire sold out immediately as well as all my consigned copies of Glow Grass and 13 O’clock. (Should have brought more!)

In between writing mysteries, boating as well as creating and producing plays with Bayfield’s community theatre, Judy and her husband are embarking on a new adventure. They are the new owners of a vineyard. Huron County promises to be the next wine-growing region of Ontario.

 

Martha and Munro

The Village Bookshop shares space with an artist who teaches painting during the summer months. Luckily, the only fox in the area is the one decorating the studio wall because Martha owns a brood of chickens who provide fresh eggs every second day. A pretty, fluffy-feathered breed, Martha has named each bird after a distinguished author.

My personal favorite was Munro named after Huron County’s most distinguished local author: Noble prize winner, Alice Munro who wrote her world famous stories in nearby Clinton, Ontario. Martha let us in on a secret: Ms Munro slips into The Village Bookshop from time to time to sign her books.

Next time you are visiting the Grand Bend or London area, drive a few miles north and Eat the Local Books in the Village Bookshop.

 

 

 

 

Back on the Trail of Street Art!

Greetings Readers!

I’m home from Hawaii and a most enjoyable Left Coast Crime. Back on the bike, too,  training for my 10th Ride to Conquer Cancer.  Always good to see spring struggling through on the Belt Line Trail.20170329_115443

Had to touch the usual icons of street art on the way, Uplifting Homily and Toronto’s own, Boaty McBoatface.

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School kids are getting into it. Crossing through Cedarvale Park I spot this though it’s marred by some cynical graffiti. Met an elderly dog walker who recognized – and approved – of my recording street art. As a volunteer, he’s been an advocate for the park for 30 years. He pointed out the escape hatch from the subway, cleverly hidden in a rock pile just off the trail. 

Kids contribution
Kids contribution

As always, part of my regular route is inaccessible due to repair. This year the middle Don Valley trail from Pottery Road to Riverdale is closed with dire warning to trespassers that the police are patrolling. But the lower part is open and I was rewarded by new art.

Little do the motorists atop the ramp from DVP to the Gardiner know what’s beneath them. Feast your eyes, readers!

20170401_13303820170401_13342220170401_133348

 

 

 

Tech problem

Greetings Readers!

A minor tech problem after trying to update a plug-in. My event listing is offline. Hope to have it resolved soonest.

For now, here are my April events:

Tuesday, April 18th, 7 pm   Attending Mel Campbell’s book launch, Ancaster Branch, Hamilton Public Library

Thursday, April 20th, 2 pm  Mesdames of Mayhem visit Coxwell/Danforth Branch, Toronto Public Library

Saturday, April 29th, Authors for Indies, Village Bookshop, Main Street, Bayfield, Ontario

Back soon with updates on Toronto street art and news from Honolulu’s Left Coast Crime.

Madeleine

 

 

BIG SALE for LEFT COAST CRIME!

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GREETINGS READERS!

As part of Left Coast Crime, my e-books will be on SALE on Amazon from March 16th to March 23rd at 12:00 am. The discounted price for each book is $0.99.

So if you haven’t had a chance to read my books on Kindle, you can now get ’em cheap.

ENJOY and many thanks!!

 

SURREAL TRAPDOOR: Marihuana in Legoland

Life does indeed imitate art – but, hey, Windigo Fire did it first!

ce3489971f4d58cd34e8614f532a7312In Windigo Fire, my villain, Santa is the owner of a seedy roadside attraction, Santa’s Fish Camp. Of course, he has a large crop of marihuana plants flourishing in the “service area”. 

I got the idea after we visited  Santa’s Village  in Bracebridge, Ontario with our then 4 year old  daughter. She absolutely loved Santa’s Village, but as a mom chasing after an active kid, well, my thoughts turned dastardly.  As I tell aspiring writers: ask the “What if” question. What if this clean, family-friendly attraction masked a grow-op?

Thus the seeds of Santa’s Fish Camp were planted so to speak. But now Legoland UK has followed suite! th2

2861129_2PgBfsPCZrJOlDrPa-M4Q3NzNHABmxp15VDg2rgUaG4Recently, a grow-op was discovered at Legoland UK. Two enterprising b*stards planted 50 thriving marihuana plants inside a cottage at the boundary of the theme park. Even cheekier, the ambitious  herbalists accessed the cottage through Crown Estate lands –  at Windsor Castle where the Queen lives!

Read the full story in the Huffington Post here. As they say, man, Legolize It!

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