Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Too Wacky for TV?

I love this Grand Master thing! Thanks CMers, for inviting me. (And look for today's contest giveaway below!)
Rebecca wants to know:

What's the wackiest thing that you reported on that is simply too crazy to use in fiction?

HANK: Oh, every day there's something where I wonder: could I put his in a book?(The constant and never-ending test.) And so often the answer is : no way. Most often, it has to do with coincidences--someone being at the same place at the same time as someone else.

Sometimes it's people's personalities or lifestyles that are too out there (so far) to put into my not-really-violent mysteries. The man who was convicted of first degree murder for killing his wife, cutting out her lungs and heart, and then putting them in his back yard with a stake through them. There was another convicted murderer who said he had to run over a jogger with his car, just HAD to, because he said he'd gotten a message to do that from a candy bar wrapper. Sad, maybe. Scary. But certainly not book-usable. It's just too--weird.

Recently I got a call from a viewer who told me he had the scoop on why a certain building exploded in a Boston suburb. I said, okay, great, that's interesting , tell me more. Why did the building explode? (It was a big story, everyone covered it, and finding the reason would be a nice scoop.)

It had a big underground laboratory , he told me. And what's what blew it up.

Huh, I said. How do you know that? (I'm thinking--well, sounds unlikely, I suppose that could be true.)

He said--"An organization I work with does inspections of companies like that, and we've found underground laboratories are common in that kind of industry. "

Okay, I say, still hesitant. I mean, it's probably not true, but if it is, and it winds up on channel 5 instead of on my channel 7, I'm doomed.

So I say, Okay, sir, what organization is that?

And he says: The Ashtar Intergalactic Command.

Okey dokey then. Not going to go into the next Charlie McNally Mystery. (No offense to those of you in the Command, really, I'm sure it's all wonderful and you do a great service.)

Although you've got to admit--it's pretty amazing that one of the key mysteries in DRIVE TIME is all about dangerous recalls.

Sophie asks:
Hank, your series protagonist Charlotte is in a fast-paced job, with a high-profile life, and the books' pace is breakneck. How do you build a series character arc against such a thrilling backdrop?

Well, thank you! (Readers tell me they miss their stop on the subway because they're reading the books--that's a huge compliment.)

And in writing a series, of course, the main character, say Charlie, can't get her heart's desire or learn the biggest lesson at the end of book one, because then there's nowhere to go.

And in fact, I started writing PRIME TIME as a standalone. When I realized it was a series (about halfway through, it crossed my mind: FACE TIME! AIR TIME! and there I was...) I had to go back and rethink the story, considerably, to take out the nicely wrapped up big-picture ending.

They all must have satisfying endings, of course, but just like real life there's a tomrorow and a future. I love that, I must say.

The character arc--again, it's because I had no idea what I was doing, as we were chatting about yesterday. In TV news, as in fiction, the main character of a story has to be someone you care about.

In fact, I work with a station executive, who will remain unnamed, who's always asking "Why do I care, why do I care" when anyone pitches a story.

And that person is so right. If you don't care about the character, it doesn't matter how good the plot is. (Does it?) You're not going to want to be on the train with the person. And you're going to get off at the next chapter. Or even before.

So I just try not to try--you know? I want to make the story evolve from what the character is thinking and doing and caring about and wanting..and the plot and action develops from there. Just like what would happen in real life.
Even if it's the Ashtar Intergalactic Command calling.
PRIZES! Your choice of the TIME books! Plus a cool black canvas tote bag. And to honor one a TV pioneer, an autographed copy of Barbara Walter's book, Audition. Winner's name will be chosen at random from the comments!


Meredith Cole said...

I love your anecdotes about news stories too odd to go in a book, Hank. How often do you run into the opposite? Stories that are perfect for a book, but everyone would know it wasn't fiction. I know it's not just me thinking that this case in Alabama of the professor who shot her colleagues after being denied tenure reads too much like a book. She even had secrets in her past, had killed her brother, and was a suspect in a bombing...

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Hi Meredith!

Listen, if there was a TV story that I thought would be perfect for a novel, I'd be the first (I hope!) to take that and twist and tweak it into my next book. Absolutely.

I've got a huge file of newspaper stories (remember, you can actually read a real newspaper, and then "clip" articles from it and save them. weird, huh?) and I always look through them for ideas.

Most often, I dont take a direct quote or incident from that compost file, but I get get..hints. Clues. Pathways.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Yes, and someone was saying this morning--if she accidentally shot her brother twice, was the second shot really an accident?

Mare F said...

Hank, I love the Ashtar Intergallactic Command, but I can understand Charley not hopping into that one. LOL

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

It was tempting, though...and you knw, what if it's real? I think it is...

L.J. Sellers said...

Thanks for making me laugh. Love the sci-fi nuts!

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Thanks, LJ! Yes, it's never a dull moment. I always fear, though, that they know something I don't know. Wouldn't that be ..interesting??

Roberta Isleib said...

Why should I care? thanks for that idea Hank--I'm going to tape that one over my desk.

And hey it's fun to see a blogsister over here on criminal minds--all the new things I'm learning about you Hank!

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Hey Roberta! Lovely to see you! Yes, seriously, that's such a pivotal question. And it really helps me to think about it.

Over my typewriter now is: Leap and the net will appear. Eeessh. That's a toughie.

Jan Brogan said...

Hi Hank,
This is Jan from the Ashtar Intergallactic Non-Defamation League and we appreciate your sensitivity in not exploiting our secret mission for your own fictional purposes.

Especially since we can tell you have MUCH better ideas in your books!!

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

I knew it, I knew it, I KNEW I'd get backlash.
Hey,Jan! Let me know when the next meeting is--I'd love to come see what you AIC folks are up to...

Hallie Ephron said...

Laughed out loud, Hank! But you know, that guy who impaled his wife's heart on a stake in his garden was angry because she burned the ziti...just Google and the news stories pop right up. Afterward he took his daughter out to an ice cream stand (where I think he was picked up by the police.)

I was thinking about him when I wrote a paranoid computer game gugu in my book DELUSION. Of course I had to tone him down to make him believable.

PS love your new book!

Hallie Ephron said...

Oops - I mean to say just google ZITI HEART STAKE MURDER and up pop those news stories.

Shane Gericke said...

The Ashtar Intergalactic Command called me, Hank. They're angry with you for outing them, and wanted me to kill you in my next book. But I said no, you're a friend. Now I'm on their hit list too. We must put on our tinfoil hats quickly to escape their Q-rays ...

The funny part of these whackadoodle stories is occasionally they're true--I mean, who woulda thunk the professor would have accidentally shot her brother three times with a shotgun, then run away and hold up an auto dealer for a getaway car, then escape, then get caught, then not be charged with anything, THEN several years later belt a woman in the chops for taking the last booster chair in a restaurant and get only probation, THEN start mowing people down when she didn't get tenure ...

She must be the High Exalted Mystic Supreme Racoon of Ashtar.

Shane Gericke said...

Also, did you know the newest Barbie is ... wait for it ... TELEVISION ANCHOR BARBIE?

You know, just like Hank!

Terry said...

I think you blew it with the Ashtar Intergalactic Command. I just know you're going to get scooped by channel 5.

Kelli Stanley said...

Ashtar? Ash-tar? Please. Everyone knows the only Intergalactic Command that controls underground labs is ISHTAR Intergalactic Command.

Sheesh. Misinformation abounds. ;)

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

You and Warren Beatty, Kelli.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

I think someone could totally use that bit about the lungs and the heart in the back yard with a stake in them. It's not quite a Hannah Vogel book, but man the possibilities...

Congrats on getting your own Barbie line! I think "writer" and "technical writer" Barbies are a long way in the future. :)

Thanks for the fun answers, Hank!