What Scares You, Hank Phillippi Ryan?

I’m so thrilled to welcome one of my favorite people to this blog today. Master storyteller, talented reporter, and seriously one of the nicest and most generous people I’ve ever met, Hank Phillippi Ryan is a true force. Only my 9-year-old son has more energy than her. Her newest thriller, Her Perfect Life, was released this month and already went into a second printing. So there’s plenty more copies for you to order!

She also, as you’ll read below, shares my fear of being too optimistic. Among other things. I think you’ll enjoy hearing what scares this phenomenal woman, so let’s get to it…

What is your greatest fear?

That is such a strange question, because it seems like that should be easy. But I think my greatest fear is that some kind of buggy leggy antenna-waving creature will crawl on me. I know that’s ridiculous. I fear grasshoppers, when they leap up and jump on you. I also fear being old and alone. I can almost not face even the idea of that. Oh, also. Making a mistake. That haunts me. Or saying something inadvertently that hurts someone.

What is the scariest thing you remember from childhood?

Watching The Twilight Zone. For some reason my parents let us watch it, and I loved it, but the episodes about the zoo, and the astronaut, and the cookbook…oh, I can’t even think about it. Even though I was so enthusiastic about it, I was way too young to watch that!  I was also too young to watch that movie with the pod people. Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Someone told me the story of it at night, over a campfire at Girl Scout camp, and that was traumatic enough, but then the counselors tried to convince us THEY were pod people, and that was lastingly terrifying.  I saw it anyway, peer pressure, and I can still envision it.

“Someone told me the story of Invasion of the Body Snatchers at Girl Scout camp, and then the counselors tried to convince us THEY were pod people, and that was lastingly terrifying.” 

Is there any fear you’ve overcome?

Yes. I used to be ridiculously frightened of flying. Isn’t that crazy, knowing how my life is now? And I can tell you I once went to the extent of taking the train, 23 hours, from Boston to Chicago in order to avoid flying. I understood the physics. I took a few flying lessons. Even that didn’t help me get over it. But you know what? On my first book tour with Prime Time I had to fly somewhere. I had no choice. But I was so happy about doing it that I think the joy erased the fear. And now, I fly all over the place–in the before times at least–and the fear does not cross my mind.

What is your weirdest fear?

Comes right out of flying, see above. I am afraid that if I say something hopeful or optimistic or specific out loud, it will jinx it. This is a very difficult way to live. And I try to avoid it. And now I have said it and now it is out there.

 Do I believe in ghosts?

 Sure. Not like Casper, but emotional ghosts? The ghosts of trauma or sorrow or even happiness? Of loved ones? That a place could be –for better or worse–possessed? Absolutely.

What’s something that most people are afraid of that you are not?

Heights. Heights are fine, I love looking out over things from a high vantage point, and looking down is fascinating. (Looking up from depths is not as fascinating, and I would avoid that.)  

A recurring nightmare?

Like so many of us, I used to dream constantly about missing the test, not being able to find the classroom, not being able to get where I needed to go, all those psychological/physical manifestations of stress and ambition. Then I dreamed, an outgrowth of that I think, that I was in a play, a musical, and I did not know the song or the steps. And then in my dream I said to myself: first, this is a dream, so it doesn’t matter. And second, I do know the songs and the steps, so just wake up. And I have not had that dream again. 

Have you ever had any paranormal experiences or premonitions?

Yes, absolutely, and I honestly think that part of my success as a reporter comes from that. Maybe it’s better described as very strong intuition, but it feels like more than that. How do I deal with it? I embrace it like crazy. 

Is there anything you are terrified of eating?

Definitely. Anything with tentacles, certainly. And baked beans— they look like they taste awful, and I say: forget about it.

Do you enjoy scaring other people?

Absolutely not. No. In fact, I really am annoyed when people try to scare me. Please don’t do that. It’s not funny, and it is certainly not fun. I don’t even like to be surprised, let alone scared.

What scares you most about the writing process?

Besides the blank page, which I try to look at as “full of possibilities” instead of blank, I fear that I will never have another good idea. I fear this every day, which proves how wrong I am, and yet, it doesn’t matter. It could happen.

What is the scariest book you’ve ever read?

Bram Stoker‘s Dracula.  I remember reading it in college. When my professor told me that it was frightening, I thought: it’s just a book. How can it be frightening? So much for that. Terrifying. Also, “The Cask of Amontillado.” Yeesh.

In which post-apocalyptic scenario are you most likely to survive and thrive: 28 Days Later (zombies), The Stand (sickness kills all but a few), or The Last Policeman (asteroid hits Earth)?

The Stand is one of my favorite books of all time. (I once called in sick to work because I had to keep reading it.) I have no idea how to deal with zombies, and “asteroid hits Earth” seems unavoidable. So I’ll go with The Stand, and get vaccinated and wear a mask, and know I am supposed to find mother Abigail. 

Which is scarier, a dark alley in a big city or a dark open cornfield?

It is scaring me even to even consider this.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN is the USA Today bestselling and five-time Agatha Award-winning author of 13 thrillers, winning 37 EMMYs for investigative reporting. THE FIRST TO LIE is an Anthony and Mary Higgins Clark Award nominee. HER PERFECT LIFE published on September 14 with starred reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly, which called it “A superlative thriller.”