Monday, April 21, 2008

Guest Author: Hank Phillipi Ryan

Let’s Twist Again

Here’s the scene you’ve got to imagine. Me, and my dear husband, side by side on the couch. (He looks a bit like Donald Sutherland, if that helps. Not scary-spooky Donald Sutherland, but nice Donald.) We have wine. Some little snacks. And a movie.

Jonathan clicks the remote to ‘play’. The mystery thriller—you pick the movie--whirrs into life. Opening credits, big opening scene, setting the stage and introducing the characters. About five minutes in, a woman enters the plot.

“Dead,” I say.

Jonathan pushes pause. “What?”

“Nothing, nothing,” I say, taking the remote and pushing play. “I’m just saying, she’s toast.”

Four minutes later: KABLAM. Jonathan takes a sip of wine. “Anyone could have predicted that,” he says. “Plus, you guessed.”

I shrug.

Soon after, someone who is someone’s friend/lover/teacher/husband/neighborhood cop arrives into our plot. “I like him for it,” I say. “Guilty Guilty Guilty.”

Jonathan, who I might add is a criminal defense attorney and more used to real-life murder than any of us, is not happy. Pauses the video again. “Can’t you just watch the movie? Can’t you just wait and see what happens?”

I push play. Of course, the answer is no. For the rest of the movie, I—mostly—keep my suspicions and guessing to myself. Unless I just can’t stand it.

“I’m…,” the almost-heroine says.

“Pregnant!” I yell.

“Pregnant,” she says.

“Ha!” I say, raising a victory fist. “The twist.”

Jonathan’s face is some combination of annoyed, impressed and affectionate. He’s married an investigative reporter turned mystery writer, and we can’t stand not to predict what’s going to happen. Or think of a way that it could happen better. Or happen more interestingly.

It may have started with Perry Mason. When I was a little girl, with a lawyer for a step-father, when Perry was on, there were rules. Like: total and absolute silence. My little sister and I were not allowed to ask things like—who’s that guy? What’s embezzlement? Why is she crying? If we wanted to watch Perry on our 17th inch Philco (or whatever it was) we had to be very, very quiet.

Even my dad was quiet. But my 12-year-old brain began to figure things out. Like—the pattern. Of course, you had a head start with Perry. His client, except for that one famous time (what was the name of the case he lost? Anyone?) was not guilty. And the most obvious second choice didn’t do it either. The twist was--it was always the third person, kind of the guy who was not in the forefront until abut two-thirds of the way in. And soon, I could always guess. And I was always right. Of course, I was never allowed to say it out loud.

((“Foreshadowing!” I say, all grown up now and on my own couch. “See the river in the background? Someone’s going to drown.”))

Figuring out Nancy Drew was a snap, even though I loved her. Sherlock Holmes? Yeah, even Arthur Conan Doyle had a pattern. I realized that after devouring every Holmes story I could find. It was kind of—a rhythm you could tap in to and figure out the end. Like Law and Order, right? They’re fun to watch. But get the rhythm, and you get the bad guy. (Tum TUM)

And when I read now, I still can’t just let go and let the author take me away. I do try. Try not to think ahead, nail the foreshadowing, find the clues, figure out whodunit before the author tells me. I always, always fail. (But that’s also why I don’t read mysteries while I’m writing. I can’t. I only want my story in my head. I don’t want to be trying to solve someone else’s puzzle.)

Of course, I don’t always guess the bad guy. And it doesn’t really matter. If I do, that’s okay. If the author has written a careful, fair and clever book, I give them props for that.

When I don’t, though, that’s just great. I go back through; looking for the clues I missed, seeing if it was fair. And when it is, when I’m fooled and deceived and misled, that’s the best.

But know what I’m wondering now? Is it fair to promise a “twist ending”? If I’m told there’s going to be a twist, I read the whole book differently. Looking for the twist. Which is somewhat distracting. Isn’t it twistier not to say so? All my promo material for Prime Time promises a twist ending. Which it does have. And people say they never guessed it. But I wonder—should I have left it a surprise? Or does promising a twist make it more of a challenge?

What do you think? Do you try to solve the puzzle as you read or watch? Or can you just—relax and get carried away? And if there’s a twist, do you want to know?

Hank will be giving away a signed copy of one of her books, so check back here tomorrow to find the winner!

Award-winning investigative reporter--and now Agatha and RITA nominee--Hank Phillippi Ryan writes the Charlotte McNally mysteries: smart, funny and always with a twist. (Or two.)

Hank is currently on the air at Boston's NBC affiliate, where she's broken big stories for the past 22 years. Her stories have resulted in new laws, people sent to prison, homes removed from foreclosure, and millions of dollars in refunds and restitution for consumers.

Along with her 24 EMMYs, Hank’s won dozens of other journalism honors. She's been a legislative aide in the United States Senate (working on the Freedom of Information Act) and at Rolling Stone Magazine (working with Hunter S. Thompson).

Her first mysteries, Prime Time (Agatha nominee for Best First Novel of 2007, double RITA nominee for Best First Book and Best Romantic Suspense Novel of 2007, and 2007 Reviewers' Choice Award Winner) and Face Time (Book Sense Notable Book), were best sellers. They'll both be re-issued in 2009 as MIRA Books. The next in the series, Air Time and Drive Time, are also coming soon from MIRA Books.


Debra Dixon said...

Hank-- Welcome to the convertible!

Great question and one I can only answer by saying, if I can't guess the twist, I want to know there is a twist.

If I can guess the twist, I'd rather not know so I won't be looking quite so hard.

So how does that help anyone market a book to me unless they know whether I can guess the twist or not?

Tricksy business those tricksy twists.

Amy Addison said...

Thanks for posting here, Hank! As far as twists, I'd rather not know, because then I read differently.

I am not allowed to speak during any movie...too often pointing out the structure annoys other viewers...

Ellen said...

One of the reasons I love to read mysteries is to try and figure out the ending and I love to win. I'm pretty good at winning and sometimes can even predict a twist coming. I'd rather not know if there is one though because that messes with my reading. I also love watching mysteries on TV and try to figure out the endings.

Betina Krahn said...

Welcome, Hank! I hope you have a great day in the convertible!

Me? I'm not a puzzler-outer. I don't worry about the twist ahead of time. I just want to ride the ride and let the story unfold in its own sweet time. So knowing there's a "twist" doesn't necessarily help me-- may even, as someone else already said, be distracting. I don't know about promising a twist. . . could be that it heightens expectations and encourages speculations that may or may not be fulfilled. Like saying "make me laugh" to a comic. Try being funny after someone says that to you!

I, too, loved Perry Mason. Great TV in its day. The original "appointment viewing." We never missed it. I even liked the later Perries!

Best of luck with the RITA and congratulations on your series. It sounds like a real winner!

Playground Monitor said...

I rather enjoy being surprised by the twist. And I try to figure out the mystery as I read.

The DH and I love to watch CSI and Monk and either one of us is allowed to hit pause on the remote and offer forth our guess on who committed the crime. Sometimes we're right; sometimes not. But it's fun playing along.

I have a question -- I started Prime Time and had to put it aside to research something (and now I can't find my copy though I'm sure it's buried in my office somewhere - ugh). I'm curious about the first person/present tense writing style. It's not that common, or at least not in the books I've read. Is that so you're only in the heroine's head and can therefore deliver that twist with a real punch? As a newbie writer I'm curious about that.

Congrats on the Rita nods. I'll be in the audience in San Francisco. :-)


Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Debra: Thanks! I'm even letting my hair blow! Today is Marathon Day in Boston, and many roads are closed so the thousands of runners can have some room. So's its a perfect day for a convertible ride.

Amy and Ellen--I agree! When someone says, you'll never guess the twist, that's like a challenge, right?

Bettina: I'm blushing. Thank you so much for the RITA kind words. And yes, if you know there's a twist, sometimes I'm reading along saying: is this it? Is this it?
But still, when it works, IF it works, it's the best.

PGM: Gotta run to my office...back to chat soon! (Oh, it's Marathon Day. not THAT kind of running!)

Helen Brenna said...

Hey Hank! Welcome and congrats on the RITA nominations!

I love trying to figure things out as I go, but REALLY love it if I'm surprised. I'd prefer not knowing that there's a twist because then there's a better chance of me not figuring it out. If I do know, yeah, it's like a challenge has been issued.

My daughter's been known to do that to me. "You'll never figure this one out, Mom!"

Oh, yeah? Let me at it.

Cindy Gerard said...

Hey Hank. Welcome and congrats! And I've got to know - Hank? Seriously. Love it. How did it come about?

I'm a pleasure reader. I don't like to puzzle out who done it BUT if I do figure it out, I'm usually disappointed in the book. Keeping readers in the dark is a real skill and for me, the biggest compliment a reader can pay is when they tell me they were surprised.

tetewa said...

Glad you could be here today. I love reading mysteries and trying to figure out the twists. I'm glad I don't have to watch movies with you though! lol

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Playground Monitor: You can't find Prime Time, huh? Well, rats. I'll send you another one, if you like...and hey, it may be a collectible! (I mean, sort of. In a very very very low-level kind of way...)

It's going to be re-issued by MIRA books next summer--with Face Time and then the new Air Time. (Yay!) So once the edition you have is gone, there will be no more. And it's all gone from the publisher. (The good news and the bad news, right?)

As for first person present tense. So interesting! I didn't actually CHOOSE to write it that way, you know? It just came out like that.

But one of the things I love about it, and why I think it works in this case, is that you're really on the ride with Charlie McNally.

If she's wrong--as we all so often are in real life--the reader may be drawn along with her in her mistake, or they may think, uh oh, that's not how I see what's happening.

As an author, I love to play with perception, and get to write Charlie's *view* of reality when I know what the *real* reality is.

And then you can have the fun, when the true picture finally coalesces in Charlie's head, you can either say, wow, I was fooled too. Or: I knew it. And both are fun.

Is that what you mean?

amy*skf said...

Hank, sometimes I don't even read the back blurb--especially if it's an author I know I like--I want to be surprised by everything.

So the twist--well, let's just say, because I knew there was a twist with the movie "The Sixth Sense" I had it figured out far too soon, it was still a good twist and I still enjoyed the movie.

I think I have a split personality--I really like to figure things out, but I really like to be surprized as well.

Michele Hauf said...

Thanks for cruising in the convertible with us today, Hank!
I'm a twisty kind of gal, too. I like to put twists in my own stories, but I don't think I've been reading the right books, because I don't run into a lot of twists while reading. Hmm...

anne said...

Welcone Hank!
I love reading mysteries and suspense since they provide me with the thrills and surprises that I enjoy and expect. Ejoyed your comments and entertaining introduction.

ruth said...

Thanks for being here Hank.
I enjoy twists which are totally unexpected. This contributes to the riveting quality of many mysteries that I read and appreciate.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Helen: Congratulations to you,. too. I loved you post about the RITAs, and am so eager to meet you.

Lois and I had a wonderful time at RT by the way--and I'm posting a very wonderful and slinky photo of her (what other kind could there be?) on our blog Jungle Red Writers
Http:// later this week! (There are already some cool RT photos posted there by Roberta Isleib...)

amy*skf--really? You figured out Sixth Sense? You take the prize...we are not worthy.

Ruth and Anne, thanks! There is a cool twist in the new Air Time. But by the time that comes out, you'll forget I told you.

And Michele--it's lovely to be here! Love riding with you guys.

diane said...

Hi Hank!
Your blog was unique and lovely.
I read mysteries for fun and twists are always welcome. Predictability is not permitted.

Playground Monitor said...

That's what I meant. :-) I figured the first person/present was so we'd only be in the heroine's head with nothing else to blur things up.

I'm digging out my office as we speak and if that copy of Prime Time doesn't turn up, I may take you up on that offer.

Marilyn -- off to tackle the pile in the southwest corner of her office

CrystalGB said...

I love reading mysteries and trying to figure out the twists. I am always pleasantly surprised when I totally wrong.

Anonymous said...

it doesn't make any difference:

I read for:

I used to 'figure them all out' as a kid, however...I have a wonderful Medical Coding job, in which I do that every day. I enjoy being entertained by a "master" at dialog, plotting, timing, and great writing of characterizations. My needs are few, and I appreciate Charley McNalley! gis600 or **re
I believe I guessed the correct answer...abt. Perry Mason...I emailed it to 'cozy'. LOL ..ty

Wendy said...

Hi, Hank!

I like figuring out the twists as well and sometimes when I'm reading a book or watching a movie, it's just so obvious who did it, or who's gonna die that it's a bit boring.

I like it better when I don't have a clue what's going to happen and next thing you know, bang! someone's dead. :)

Great post!

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Diane: "Predictability is not permitted" --my new motto. I may make a needlepoint pillow. (ah, or maybe not...) But definitely it goes on my bulletin board.

Marilyn: Just let me know--click on contact on my website!

**re! Thanks for the kind words about Charlie. So nice of you!

Anyone else besides **re know which TV case Perry Mason lost? Before I reveal it?

Crystalgb: You're so right. Being wrong is the best.

Wendy: Yeah, but when it's SO bad, and so predictable, don't you get a tiny kick out of predicting it? I've turned to Jonathan and said: page 43. He says: Page 43 what? And I say: that's when I knew who did it. (Never in a book he's also planning to read, of course.)

And hey--you can all meet Jonathan at Malice!

petite said...

The Case of the Terrified Typist was the one case Perry Mason lost.
I was riveted to this show.
I love msyteries which leave you guessing and have a shocking denouement.

Shane Gericke said...

I had the pleasure of hanging out with Hank at last week's RT convention. If you ever get the chance, do--she's funny, classy, smart, and a helluva writer. You'll like her lots.

Shane Gericke

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Shane, you're so sweet. I'm sure it was the Johnny Walker, but I'm flattered anyway. And I'm so thrilled to be a colleague of yours. Let us know when the new book comes out...and whether Blood Hammer turns out to be the title!

Listen to this. I too, thought it was only the Case of the Terified Typist that Perry lost. But going on line to confirm--breaking news--turns out he lost two!

Apparently, he also lost The Case of the Deadly Verdict. (Which aired, by the way, on my
14th birthday.)

flchen1 said...

Hi, Hank! I really used to love Encyclopedia Brown mysteries as a kid, but now I tend to read and watch simply for entertainment so I tend to not try very hard to figure anything out--just along for the ride, so to speak, unless the mystery is bonk-me-on-the-head easy. And if there are twists, sure, let me know, since I'd never figure it out otherwise!

I really enjoyed your post today--thanks!

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Hey flchen: Thanks for the kind words! I always thought Encyclopedia Brown was the best name. Although I can't spell "encyclopedia" without singing it like they did on Mickey Mouse Club. Do you, um, remember that?

Anonymous said...

This is just too funny and too much like watching movies at my house. It's nice to know that I'm not alone and I'm sure my other half feels the same. LOL

Virginia Lady said...

Well, I'm always wrong when I try to guess the outcome and whether it has a twist or not doesn't seem to matter, so for me, knowing there's a twist or not knowing is irrelevant. I just want a good story!

Great blog!