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Hank Phillippi Ryan and other bestselling authors come to the Big Book Getaway

By Rick Koster

Publication: The Day

Published February 20. 2014 4:00AM   Updated February 20. 2014 10:35AM
Best-selling thriller writer Hank Phillippi Ryan's latest novel is "The Wrong Girl."

Hank Phillippi Ryan and her thrillers land regularly on the New York Times Bestseller lists, and that includes her latest, "The Wrong Girl." It's the second in her Jane Ryland series after "The Other Woman," which won the Mary Higgins Clark Award from the Mystery Writers of America as well as Anthony, Agatha and Shamus nominations. Ryan is the author of four earlier Charlotte McNally mysteries as well.

But Ryan is also an unabashed fan of other writers. This was charmingly evident a year ago when she moderated a panel during the Big Book Getaway at Mohegan Sun. Ryan took the time to write clever bio questions about each of the other panelists and started the session with a sort-of audience-participation Trivial Pursuit.

In that spirit, Ryan is looking forward to participating in this year's Big Book Getaway. It takes place Friday and Saturday at the Mohegan Sun Casino and features headliners Debbie Macomber, Sarah Addison Allen, P.J. O'Rourke, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, Pete Hamill, Eloisa James, David Handler, Charlotte Rogan, Jane Green, Kitty Pilgrim, and over 70 bestselling writers.

Friday's kick-off events include a romance and erotica panel and a Literary Libations cocktail party.

Most of the events take place Saturday, including Ryan's participation in the "Whodunnit? Mystery and Suspense" panel at 3 p.m. on the Main Stage in the Convention Center. Joining Ryan are Jennifer McMahon, Julia Spencer-Fleming and Rosemary Harris.

Other panels and events include those about military literature, "Men in Journalism and Fiction," Broadway, witches and the occult, Christian writers, international thrillers, travel and culture, food and cookbooks, Connecticut, biography and memoirs, and historical fiction.

"I embrace these events so fully I can't begin to tell you," Ryan says by phone last week from her home outside Boston. "Writing a book is very solitary - hours and hours and weeks and weeks at my desk. So getting out in the real world and meeting readers and other authors is the biggest treat in the universe - and I'm just as interested in the other authors as the audience is."

Plenty of her own loyal followers will line up to hear Ryan discuss "The Wrong Girl." In the book, Ryland, a Boston newspaper reporter, gets a tip on a story from an ex-colleague trying to locate her birth mother. Ryland starts to investigate and suspects a prominent adoption agency is reuniting parents with the wrong children. Meanwhile, police detective Jake Brogan, whose relationship with Ryland is of escalating heat, is dealing with a domestic violence homicide and two young children sent to foster care. Pulling their respective strings, Brogan and Ryland begin to believe their cases overlap.

The Ryland novels are considerably different from Ryan's earlier Charlotte McNally books. Ryan had been wanting to write mysteries for years in addition to her multi-Emmy-awards career as an on-air television reporter for Boston's NBC affiliate, and she says she was only waiting for the ideal plot to occur to her.

"One day in 2005, the idea hit me, but I needed a main character," Ryan says. "Then I thought of Charlotte, a television reporter worried about getting too old for TV. I wonder where that came from?"

All of the subsequent McNally books were written in the first-person voice of the protagonist. When Ryan conceived of Jane Ryland and "The Other Woman," she knew the scope of the novel and series was much bigger, and would require multiple points of view.

"It was fascinatingly different to write that way," Ryan says. "It still has the Hank-ness, I think, and my readers say they can tell I wrote it, but it was very challenging to get inside five different characters. As the author, you have to BE all of those characters. It's the literary equivalent of method acting."

Interestingly, Ryan doesn't outline her novels.

"I don't have the story planned when I start to write," she says. "When readers tell me the ending of 'The Wrong Girl' was a surprise, I get it. It surprised me, too! Every day, I sit down at the computer and watch the story unfold as my characters do what they do. It's a strong motivation to keep writing; the only way I can know what happens in my books is to write them."

The Big Book Club Getaway, 7 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. Saturday, Mohegan Sun Casino; $45 Friday, $65 Saturday, $100 two-day package; http://www.thebigbookclub.org/.

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