Tuesday, February 16, 2010

It's A...Whaddaya Call It

Question for Hank Phillippi Ryan from Joshua:
"In writing a series which firmly adheres to two genres - romance and mystery - do you ever find yourself creatively constricted by the expectations those genres set?

HANK: This is one of those times when it helps to be naïve.

Digression. I got my first job in broadcasting the same way. By having no idea what I was doing.

It was 19—70 something. Maybe 71. And I was about 20 year old. I had worked in a political campaign in Indiana, and we were valiant but utterly defeated. When the election was over, I was out of a job.
So I went to he biggest radio station in Indianapolis, my home town, (WIBC fifty thousand watts of power!) and got myself an interview with the news director.
"I want to be a radio reporter," I told him.

Hmmm. He replied. And I do think he kind of looked like Lou Grant, although that may be my memory making the moment more interesting. I do remember he constantly jangled the change in his pocket.
Anyway, he said: Do you have any reporting experience? Even been a reporter? Hey, ever take any journalism classes?

Drat. No, I had to admit. I hadn’t.
But, I persisted. I’ve just worked in a political campaign and I know what reporters want. I’ve lived in Indianapolis for years, and I know where the streets are and who knows who and how people got where they are and how Indy politics works.

Then I paused. Plus, I said, this station’s license is up for renewal at the FCC, and you don’t have any women working here.
The next day I had my first job in broadcasting.

So. It shouldn’t have worked. But it did, because I was so young and naïve, I didn’t know enough to be afraid.
Now. It’s been along time since I was a new kid, that’s for sure, after now more than 30 years as a TV reporter. But as the new kid in writing mystery fiction, again, I didn’t know enough to be afraid.
So mixing two genres, Josh, as you ask, mystery and romance? The clash of the expectations? Let me admit that I had no idea about the “expectations” those genres set.
I did know about the “expectations” in telling a story. After all, I write stories for TV every day!
So I had my own expectations, and, just like writing for TV news, they had to do with writing a compelling, interesting, unique, and original story. A NEW story. With a great character who you cared about. And an important problem. And getting justice in the end.

But now, after several years in publishing–world, I finally now see the critical importance of how a book is branded. Is it a mystery? Or is it a romance? I get emails from readers, saying things like ”I found PRIME TIME and FACE TIME in the romance section of the bookstore, FACE TIME in mystery, and DRIVE TIME in new fiction. What’s up with that?”

So yeah, what’s up with that. And are mystery readers put off by the faint scent of romance? Are romance readers put off by the mystery-puzzle? Ah, I wish I knew.

But was it Nora Roberts? (Do you all know?) Who said she doesn’t think of her books as romance or suspense or mystery—they’re just good stories. So I’m with her. It just might make them tough to find.
(That's Nora in the flowered dress at the Harlequin party at RWA. On the other side of me is the fab Barbara Vey from Publishers Weekly.)

But from the beginning, I thought of myself purely as a mystery author. No idea about romance. But in learning about the romance writers world, I was introduced to an amazingly talented group of people, who, to my delight, seemed to love the books. So now I’m living, happily, in both realms.

I’m just as likely to appear and speak at a romance convention as a mystery convention…and you’ll also see me hanging out with the thriller writers. As I’ve said for the past 30 years in my role as a TV journalist, I’m always just looking for a great story to tell. And that’s the same, no matter what you call it.

PRIZES TODAY!! Let's see--how about a signed copy of DRIVE TIME, and in honor of the topic, a copy of Nora Roberts' HIGH NOON. Both will go to one lucky commenter!


Meredith Cole said...

A dash of mystery... A dollop of romance... Sounds like a recipe for a good book to me! But it must frustrate your fans not to be able to find your books all in one place.

BTW, I had no idea Nora Roberts was so tiny! I've met her brothers (a story for another day) and they were not at all small.

Unknown said...

After reading your job interview for the radio station, Hank, I cannot resist:

"You know what? You've got spunk...."

I'm going to forgoe the rest of the line....:)

Anonymous said...

I'm happy to read from both sides of the fence, although it would be frustrating to have to go looking in both places. That is common for many writers though between Fiction and Mystery I think. My experience is in libraries and we were constanting having people ask, why do I find this or that author in both mystery and fiction. Loved the Lou Grant-like story.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Ha..William, you are too much! (What did MAry say? I HATE spunk? Was that the rest of the line?)

Yes, Meredith, Nora is about a size zero. And really really fun--very generous and gracious and a true participant. And a hard worker. (I love when you talk about "my fans." That's such a funny concept to me.)

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

And KAY! You're the winner of DRIVE TIME from yesterday's blog!

Just email via hryan at whdh dot com and send me your address!

More prizes today...just leave a comment.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

No, wait, William. It's Lou who says "I hate spunk." Right?

Unknown said...

Here you go, Hank. All answers begin at 2:28!


Anonymous said...

Yea! Thanks so much!

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Oh, my gosh, William. That is TRULY funny. ANd incredibly nostalgic. (How do you always find these things??)

And additionally hilarious--my "Mr Grant" also asked me if I could type. Of course I could , but I said no.

Terry Stonecrop said...

Loved your story.

I'm a mystery fan and yes, the scent of romance turns me off. Visions of loin cloths and cleavage.

But then the mystery I'm writing has sex in it, maybe not romance, but sex, as do a lot of mysteries. So I've been thinking about giving your genre a try.

And not just because I want to win your book;)

Sophie Littlefield said...

ah....and here is my big hot button, and you've resolved it perfectly! As the president of an RWA chapter who writes pretty much everything but straight romance, I'm fanatical about getting people to stop drawing boundaries and start noticing the unifying ideals and practices that make a great story no matter what the genre.

okay hopping off soapbox now. :)

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Terry! THAT PHOTO! :-)

I thnk--you cant have a book about real people without some kind of "romance"--even if it's LACK of romance. Otherwise, the characters aren't real people. You know? So I do agree!

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Sophie, move over on that soapbox---I'm with ya!

Shane Gericke said...

Sometimes it's like giving kids ground-up fruit, telling them it's fairy sugar, and trying not to smirk as they pronounce it the best darn sugar they'd ever eaten and gee can we have some more ...

My first thriller, Blown Away, won the RT award for best debut mystery. That's RT as in "Romantic Times," which covers, of course, the romance novel industry. I wasn't aware I'd committed romance between the shootings, explosions and hangings, but a kindly RT type explained: "If there's a strong human relationship in there, that counts."

It was revealing, and my first clue that most readers will like what you write if you can talk them past the labeling, which is all about marketing and sales, not storytelling.

As for getting that job, Hank--way to go! Labels can keep good people from getting jobs in which they'd excel, every bit as much as labels on books can turn away readers who might otherwise love what you write. I wish the world was label free.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

You are a force of nature Hank, and I bet your Lou Grant was very happy with his decision! Lucky for all of us.

I do agree that story is story and pigeonholing it is an interesting intellectual exercise but shouldn't be a strait jacket.

Great to see you here in 7Criminals this week! Am loving your posts.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Aw, thanks Rebecca. And in fact, my Lou Grant was really weeet wehen I left he station to move to Washington DC. They had a big party, and gosh, I wish I could rmember more about it. But he always called me Brenda Starr. (And back then, that was socially acceptable!)
I owe him a lot...

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Shane, fairy sugar? You're so funny...

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Hi all! I'm off to a fundraiser-booksigning with Lee Child, Tess Gerritsen,Jo Finder and Michael Palmer--what fun! (Even though it's pouring down snow here in Boston!) I'll come back and visit as soon at the event is over..and post photos on my website.

Shane, no poking Sophie. Meredith and CJ, be nice to each other, and share your Barbies. Josh, sit in the back, read your Mad magazine, and don't make me stop this car.

Rebecca, Im going to rely on you to tell me the truth about what happened while I was gone.

Shane Gericke said...

Awwww, Maaaaa, you never let me do anything funnnnnn ...

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Shane, you're grounded. (Actually, I used to love that. Got to stay in my room and read, and no one would bother me....)

Tomorrow...too wacky for TV? Rebecca asks the tough questions...and Sophie gets serious.

Kelli Stanley said...

I'm finally back from the road tour -- we rushed home at 75 mph along 101 because my mobile wasn't working and damn it, I have to read Hank's posts!! :)

Hank, I can't imagine anyone ever saying NO to you--I agree with Becky--you're a force of nature, and boy, I'm glad we've got you. :)


P.S. Loved the coin jingling detail!!