Jane Ryland was a rising star in television news—until she refused to reveal a source and lost everything. Now a disgraced newspaper reporter, Jane isn’t content to work on her assigned puff pieces, and finds herself tracking down a candidate’s secret mistress just days before a pivotal Senate election.
Detective Jake Brogan is investigating a possible serial killer. Twice, bodies of unidentified women have been found by a bridge, and Jake is plagued by a media swarm beginning to buzz about a “bridge killer” hurting the young women of Boston.
As the body count rises and election day looms, it becomes clear to Jane and Jake that their investigations are connected…and that they may be facing a ruthless killer who will stop at nothing to silence a sandal.
With its dirty politics, dirty tricks, and a barrage of final twists, THE OTHER WOMAN is the first in an explosive new series. Seduction, betrayal and murder—it’ll take a lot more than votes to win this election!
How do authors come up with their ideas?
When the author is an investigative reporter with a double-armload of awards and experience in Washington like Hank Phillippi Ryan, and the book is a political thriller like THE OTHER WOMAN, it’s easy to assume that her novels are exercises in fictionalizing real life. Add in Ryan’s association with gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson at Rolling Stone magazine, and a reader might begin to wonder just how blurred the line between fiction and reality actually is.
The book’s plot sounds like it could go either way:
Jane Ryland was a rising star in television news—until she refused to reveal a source and lost everything. Now a disgraced newspaper reporter, Ryland isn’t content to work on her assigned puff pieces, and finds herself tracking down a candidate’s secret mistress just days before a pivotal Senate election.
Detective Jake Brogan is investigating a possible serial killer. Bodies of unidentified women twice have been found by a bridge, and Brogan is plagued by a media swarm beginning to buzz about a “bridge killer” targeting the young women of Boston.
As the body count rises and election day looms, it becomes clear to Ryland and Brogan that their investigations are connected, and that they may be facing a ruthless killer who will stop at nothing to silence a sandal.
I caught up with Ryan during a recent book tour in North Carolina. Over a series of emails we discussed the genesis of THE OTHER WOMAN, and whether the book was based on real people and real situations. Her answer was “yes.” And “no.”
“My first jobs after college were in political campaigns,” she explained, “so I’ve been on the inside of strategy sessions, high-level meetings, candidate interviews and meet and greets, flown around the state in helicopters and made sure people showed up where they were supposed to, gone to county fairs and written speeches and handled egos and conflicts and decision-making in crisis and under pressure.
“I then worked as a staffer on a subcommittee of the US Senate Judiciary committee—so I’ve seen how it works from the inside—how decisions get made, and how people talk, and what motivates them. I’ve also seen how the public is, well, convinced of what candidates want them to believe, what politicians think they are entitled to, what they want, and what they think they can get away with.
“Let me say that I loved it all. It was mostly inspirational, and there are so many people who are sincere and devoted to making the world a better place. But, not all of them.
“It was an amazing education. And certainly, I’ve taken the themes and realities and secrets of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences and folded them into THE OTHER WOMAN—that’s part of what makes it authentic.
“But are there characters based on real people? No. Definitely not. What’s the fun of that, if, after all these years as a journalist, I can finally make stuff up?
“That said, the idea for THE OTHER WOMAN came straight from one article I read about Mark Sanford, the ex-governor of South Carolina who told everyone he was hiking the Appalachian Trail, and was really off with his Argentinean mistress. I thought, why would someone be the other woman? It’s such a dumb idea—from Kay Summersby to Donna Rice to Monica Lewinsky—you’re going to get caught, and wear that scarlet letter your entire life. And you’re going to ruin other lives along the way, including the man you ostensibly love. What, I wondered, would motivate someone to do that?
“And then I wondered, maybe there’s a big juicy story here. Something that might explain it, something that might make a great thriller. And at the end of the article, Jenny Sanford, the left-behind wife, was quoted as saying, ‘You can choose your sin, but you cannot choose your consequences.’
“And I got goose bumps. I knew I had my book. My plots aren’t my non-fiction journalism made into fiction, not at all. They are a compilation of the behavior and schemes and passions and power that I’ve seen in real life.”
That explained the plot, but what about the characters?
“No one in my book is a real person. Not even close to a real person. And that’s part of the fun.”
For Ryan, the “fun” involves complicated characters and situations that are grounded in reality, without the looming catastrophes that are standard fare in many thrillers.
“I try to embrace that people’s lives are complicated, fascinating, and multi-layered,” she said. “And when they crash into each other—when a person wants something so badly that they’ll do anything to get it—you don’t need the plague or a nuclear bomb to make it exciting. Deceit and treachery and revenge and ulterior motives are pretty thrilling to me.”
If there’s a secret to writing a successful thriller, Ryan said, it’s knowing what to include and, just as important, what to leave out.
“Real life is amazing,” she explained, “it’s just in slower motion. If you take real-life circumstances and take out all the pauses—then you have a thriller. It has to be non-stop, high-stakes and fascinating all the time. Real life is like that, right, from time to time? So I just don’t write the parts that aren’t a thriller.
“Multiple points of view ratchet the tension. When one person knows something and the other doesn’t, and the reader can see and hear both persons’ thoughts and actions—that’s exciting! There’s a dramatic irony that comes when the reader knows something the character doesn’t, and that’s what I’m going for. So the characters do what they’re going to do, and I must say, that’s often a surprise to me. I don’t have an outline, so the twists and turns are just as much a surprise to me as they are—I hope!—for the reader.”
Ryan initially wanted THE OTHER WOMAN to be a stand-alone book, but future plans for Ryland and Brogan have changed. Their next appearance will come in THE WRONG GIRL, due for release in Fall 2013.
“It began as a stand-alone,” Ryan said, “but when my agent said she loved Jane and Jake, and could it be a series, what could I say but yes? But that meant I had to tweak what happened in the manuscript, because the characters’ lives and world will now continue.”
Maintaining continuity from book to book in a series, while still giving the characters room to grow and develop, can be a challenge, Ryan said. Writing a stand-alone poses a different set of challenges.
“In writing a series,” she said, “once you get your core characters and settings, and choose the voice and the tone, the author can concentrate on giving them new stories and new situations. The drawbacks—you have to make sure each book is enjoyable and satisfying on its own while still continuing the arc of the characters growth. You have to avoid repetition, and backstory, and those ‘remember the time that…’ paragraphs of explanation that people skip.
“In a stand-alone, the author has the daunting challenge of coming up with brand new characters and a brand new story and a brand new world each time. And brand new voices. On the other hand, a standalone has an end, a solid, final, unambiguous ending. And that’s fun.”
Ryan divides her time between work as on-air investigative reporter for the NBC affiliate in Boston and writing. She’s won numerous awards in both areas of endeavor, collecting Emmys for her reporting and an Agatha for Best First Mystery an earlier novel PRIME TIME. She also received Agatha and Anthony nominations for AIR TIME and DRIVE TIME.
To learn more about Hank Phillippi Ryan please visit her website.