The Last Best Book — The Other Woman, by Hank Phillippi Ryan

Occasionally — meaning, when I remember — I tell you about the last best book I read. (Montanans will recognize the echo of an unofficial state slogan, “the last best place.”)

This one, I gotta tell you about. I’ll remember it for a long time–and I’m sure you will, too.

Hank Phillippi Ryan’s new book, The Other Woman, is the perfect read for campaign season.  TV reporter Jane Ryland finds herself disgraced and dismissed–and sued for a million bucks–after refusing to reveal her source for a story.  In her new job as a newspaper reporter, covering a hotly contested Massachusetts Senate race, she uncovers an even bigger story. Are the two related? Is there a “Bridge Killer,” killing young women and leaving their bodies near Boston bridges, or is Detective Jake Brogan right when he insists otherwise? Will Jake solve the killings? Will Jake and Jane get together? And what about her intriguing new boss?

The only question I’ll answer here is “Should I read this book?” You bet. Pour a glass of wine and sink into a comfy chair, because this is a fast-paced thriller you won’t want to put down. 


Plus, it’s more fun than any old political debate!





(P.S. — no free review copies here. I checked this book out of the Flathead County, Montana Library.)



A Mystery Update

I don’t talk much about my fiction here, but do want to give you an update. The first book in The Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries now has a title: Death al Dente. 

When Erin Murphy returns to her Montana hometown from Seattle to manage the Glacier Mercantile — aka The Merc — a market specializing in local foods, she anticipates her biggest challenge will be finding early tomatoes and consistently yummy chocolates–and keeping a close eye on her mother, Fresca, whose pastas and sauces built the business. She never imagines she’ll find the Merc’s former manager dead in the alley behind the shop–on the opening night of Erin’s first big splash, the Festa di Pasta, an Italian food festival kicking off summer. Or that the suspicions of the deputy sheriff–once her best friend–will focus on Fresca. Erin must solve the crime to save her mother and the family business–and stay alive.

The Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries are set in Jewel Bay, Montana, a lakeside resort community on the road to Glacier Park, and will debut from Berkley Prime Crime in August 2013.

My characters blog at KillerCharacters, a group blog “where cozy characters do the talking,” on the 27th of every month. Last month, Erin Murphy wrote in her journal about a summer visit home — and her longing to return. Today, her sister Chiara Murphy Phillips, an artist and gallery owner, emails Erin about the beauty of autumn in the Village–illustrated with a copy of her latest painting. 


Flathead River Writers Conference — Oct 6-7

The Authors of the Flathead sponsors the Flathead River Writers Conference October 6-7 in at Flathead Valley Community College in Kalispell. I’ll be speaking, along with keynoter Mark Coker of Smashwords, writers John DeDakis and Kathy Dunnehoff, online marketing expert Roxanne McHenry, and agents Jeff Herman and Regina Brooks.

Saturday, I’ll be talking about my own writer’s journey and about fact & fiction — why getting it right matters, how to research, when to stop, and other research tips. On Sunday, we’ll spend our first hour building character — both fictional and real-life — with writing exercises.  In the second hour, we’ll review Ten Common Mistakes Writers Make About the Law, and talk briefly about getting unstuck.

From reader to writer … .

Stupid Criminal Tricks #3 — check your pockets!

A Montana burglar used a credit card to pick a lock. Unfortunately, it was his own credit card — and he left it behind. Plus, the homeowner was at home, and spotted him. The Associated Press reports that he’s been arrested and charged with felony attempted burglary and misdemeanor disorderly conduct.

No charge for criminal stupidity — that’s free.

Character motivation: belief or disbelief in a genetic predisposition to violence

Is there a genetic predisposition to violence? Some studies suggest there is. So, if a defendant–a diagnosed psychopath–has the gene, should he be given a lighter sentence on the theory that he is not as morally or personally responsible for his crime as others might be? Or a stiffer one, on the theory that he is more likely to re-offend, and only a longer sentence can protect the public?

Last month, NPR reported on a study published in the August 17, 2012 issue of Science magazine that asked judges to review facts–based on a real case–then compared their hypothetical sentences. (Here’s the abstract – full access is restricted.) The judges given a report detailing the neurobiological basis for the psychopathy gave shorter sentences–an average of 13 years compared to 14 years without the report.

As the NPR reporter said, “Our sympathy for the idea that biology might be responsible for criminal behavior is powerful.”

How will that sympathy affect your characters–or not? How will their different opinions influence their thoughts and dialogue, their actions and their relationships? What conflicts will result?

A guest post & a guest excerpt

This week, I’m visiting the lovely group blog, The Birth of a Novel, to talk about what I learned while racing to the deadline for my first mystery.

And visit Sandra Carey Cody’s blog for an excerpt of Books, Crooks & Counselors, talking about evidence.


Character motivation: a witness to a murder speaks about internal conflict

I talk a lot here about character motivation–what drives our characters, and how unexpected factors shape their actions. This piece from NPR’s Storycorps project, broadcast in August 2012, struck me as a powerful illustration of how a violent event can affect a person–and drive her to unexpected actions.

As a teenager, this woman witnessed her boyfriend commit a racist murder of an Ethiopian immigrant. The experience and its aftermath led her to deliberately raise her own children very differently, and eventually to get a degree in social work and start working with at-risk youth. But, she says, even though she knows she’s changing the cycle, “I just still feel like not a good person,” she says. “And I don’t forgive myself.”

Every character–like every person–has internal tensions that drive them to act, often in unexpected ways. Is a character in your story driven by a brush with violence? How has she been affected by denying it, keeping it secret, confronting it? What price has she paid–in the world, and in her own life? How does that emerge in the story you’re writing?