Monday 20 December 2010

Dancing With Myself: KATHLEEN A. RYAN interviews KATHLEEN A. RYAN

Here's another Monday post from the body of Discount Noir. What a collection of talent to find all in the one place.

Today, please welcome Kathleen A Ryan, a very busy lady indeed.

You were a music teacher before becoming a cop. Any other professions?

I’ve been a babysitter, bakery clerk, gal Friday, deli clerk, letter carrier, record store manager, and a waitress. In the early 80s, I worked for the Street Pulse Group. I called radio stations to obtain their playlists, to predict and project record sales. When my boss, Mike Shalett, moved his business to Connecticut, he offered me a job, but I declined. He revolutionized the music industry by tracking retail sales; he developed SoundScan, and later, VideoScan and BookScan (maybe I should have followed him).

What made you turn to writing full-time?

After 21 years with the Suffolk County Police Department, I retired in 2007 to spend more time with my family and pursue writing full-time. After a breast cancer diagnosis in 2004, I underwent a mastectomy, chemo, radiation, and breast reconstruction, but continued working throughout. After breast cancer claimed the lives of several friends, leaving nine children motherless, I decided to retire.

What do you write?

I have been writing since I was a child; as a teenager, I had 50 pen pals around the world; in junior high, I worked on the yearbook and newspaper staff. I wrote poetry, lyrics, and kept an occasional journal. As a cop, I wrote reports every day. In Public Information, I wrote press releases; in Crime Stoppers, I took anonymous tips from the public, regarding homicides, robberies, narcotics, larcenies, and many other crimes; I wrote Crime Alerts and Wanted profiles, and articles for several police publications.

I write on two blogs: Women of Mystery ( with fellow members of NY/TriState Sisters in Crime, and my personal blog, From Cop to Mom and the Words in Between (

I’m active on Twitter (

I enjoy crime fiction, flash fiction, and hint fiction.

I have written a true crime memoir (which I am currently revising, before sending out for agent queries).

What is this true crime memoir about, anyway?

At the heart of the story is the unsolved 1955 hatchet murder of a taxi driver on Scudder Avenue in Northport, Long Island. My grandmother, an armchair detective who lived two miles from the scene of that crime, used to talk about it often during my childhood. She died when I was 13, unaware that I became a cop in the Northport/East Northport area. I met a volunteer fireman (my future husband), Joe Ryan, at my relief point. I learned that he grew up on Scudder Avenue. I mentioned the taxi driver murder — and let’s just say, with good reason, he knew about it.

Fourteen years later, I had the unique opportunity to review the 47-year-old case, the first murder in the history of the incorporated village of Northport. On my own time, I tracked down witnesses, family members of the victim, and interviewed several of my own relatives with connections to the case. One of the original detectives told me I had gathered more information than four agencies in five decades.

What were some of the most memorable moments on the job?

The tragedy of Flight 800. As a PIO (Public Information Officer), I worked with the worldwide media for eight weeks at the East Moriches Coast Guard Station.

The Katie Beers kidnapping; it was a rare, happy ending, in which the ten-year-old victim was found alive after being held in a dungeon for 16 days.

Regarding the death of two young brothers that has haunted me since 1996, I wrote, “Playing With Matches,” which appears in W.W. Norton’s Hint Fiction: An Anthology of Stories in Twenty-five Words or Fewer, edited by Robert Swartwood.

I wrote a personal essay, “The Watcher,” about a 911 call I handled in 1989. Frank McCourt prompted me to write it after I shared the story in his memoir workshop in 2007. It won a Creative Non-Fiction award from the Public Safety Writers Association in 2009, and was published in The Southampton Review in March 2010.

I write about lighter moments on the job on my blog (From Cop to Mom), in my “War Story Wednesday” segments.

Is it true, you had a drink with Billy Joel when you were 19?

In 1980, Billy Joel came to listen to his favorite Long Island band, the New Day Band, at the Lion’s Cage in Huntington ~ my hometown. Billy sat alone at the end of the bar, while patrons stood, stared, and whispered nearby. I sat right next to him. I could have talked about so many things ~ he had just appeared on the cover story in Rolling Stone, Glass Houses was released earlier that year, and here I was — a music major in college — but I remained calm and spoke with him as if he was a regular guy. He offered to buy me a creme de menthe; he said, “They smooth me out,” but I asked for a Seven-up instead (I wish I could turn back time and take him up on that). He bought a shot for the barmaid, too. He left in a Mercedes Benz limo, and the other patrons crowded me, asking me what it was like to speak with Billy Joel.

True or False: You named your daughter after the Miranda warnings?

Miranda, my miracle IVF baby, was named after the admired Miranda in Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

This year, you traveled to Florida (twice), Maine, Canada, Las Vegas, and San Francisco. Where else have you been, and where would you like to visit?

I’ve visited Germany, Austria, Ireland, St. Thomas, the Bahamas, Bermuda, Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Arizona, every state on the eastern seaboard and more. I dream of visiting England, Italy, France, and Greece, and I’d like to return to Ireland.

How have you survived the loss of your brother?

My only brother, Ernest, was 37 years old when he was killed in a motorcycle crash, four days before his fifth wedding anniversary, in May 2001. His 30-year-old widow was left to raise their five-month-old son alone. I am extremely close with my nephew, who just turned ten. Several things helped: first, I attended a bereavement group with my mother and sister-in-law. Second, my mother found an audiobook, called Life Lessons: Two Experts on Death and Dying Teach Us About the Mysteries of Life and the Living by Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler, and immediately shared it with me. It literally saved my life, and explained the meaning of life and death. For Christmas that year, I ordered 30 copies of the book as gifts. I often recommend it to those grieving the loss of a loved one.

Three months after the death of my brother, I attended a taping of Crossing Over with John Edward. A strong spirit, my brother came through loud and clear, and did so again during John’s appearances at the Huntington Hilton and the former Westbury Music Fair. My brother has sent me awesome signs that are impossible to deny.

Since the moment a show called The Seinfeld Chronicles appeared on TV in 1990, my brother, a fellow TV and movie nut, asked if I was watching it. I hadn’t. He bugged me for two years about it. Finally, I caught my first episode: “The Contest,” which later won an Emmy. I called my brother. “I finally watched it ~ I understand.”

Every time I watch Seinfeld, it’s as if my brother’s in the room, laughing alongside me.
It also helps to hear songs from artists we both admired, such as Bruce Springsteen, the Police, and Genesis. I took Ernest to see The Boss at the Nassau Coliseum when he was 17 and I was 19. The last birthday present my brother gave me was a ticket to see Sting. Our sister and my husband joined us for that phenomenal concert at Jones Beach theatre.

What else are you doing, since retiring?

Besides being a full-time mom to two teenagers, I volunteer with Crime Stoppers of Suffolk County, Inc. It’s our job to promote awareness of the program and raise funds to pay the rewards to the anonymous callers whose information leads to an arrest. I am a Reach to Recovery volunteer with the American Cancer Society. I speak with recently diagnosed patients who express a desire to talk to a survivor.

I participate in a writers group that meets once a month; I belong to NY Sisters in Crime and the newly formed chapter, Long Island Sisters in Crime; the Public Safety Writers Association, and MWA.

I do tons of reading and writing. I’m thrilled that my flash fiction piece, “Secret Identity” (which won a flash fiction award from the Public Safety Writers Association this year) appears in DISCOUNT NOIR, edited by Patricia Abbott and Steve Weddle.

Thanks, Nigel, for allowing me to “dance with myself.”

Kathleen’s work appears online at:
A Twist of Noir
Flash Fiction Chronicles
Misfit Salon
Six Word Stories

In print or e-book:
“Fraternization” appears in 6S: The Love Book
“Autumn Reckoning” appears in 6S: Volume III
“The Watcher” appears in The Southampton Review
“Secret Identity” appears in Discount Noir
“Playing with Matches” appears in Hint Fiction: An Anthology of Stories in Twenty-five words or Fewer


  1. In Royalty some, like hereditary kings, queens and emperors are born to the purple. In the hierarchy of contemporary writing and writers Kathleen has earned (with a capital E) her place every step of the way. Thanks for the thoughts and the inspiration.

  2. Great interview, some of the things I already knew from previous conversations but it was nice to hear so much more. I hope you finish that book about the unsolved murder, it sounds damn good.

  3. Don't you want to have a cuppa with this woman after reading this. Thanks, Kathy and Nigel.

  4. Nice insight from a skilled interviewer..

  5. Dear Nigel ~ Thanks again for this wonderful opportunity ~ I'm so grateful. You're such a kind soul.

    Dear AJ,
    I'm so touched by your kind words! Thank you for stopping by today to read my interview and for posting such sweet comments :-)

    Dear Matthew,
    Hey buddy ~ it's been so much fun getting to know you and reading your work. You've developed into quite a writer ~ I'm proud of your success. Thanks for your support ~ it means the world to me. You'd better hold on to your seat when my book becomes a's wild!

    Dear Patti,
    Aw, thank you, dear lady! I'd love to have a cuppa with you, too :-) You are a treasured friend in this fabulous crime fic community. Thanks to you, Steve, and Stacia for doing such a wonderful job with DISCOUNT NOIR. I'm so very proud to be among the contributors of this fine e-book.

  6. Good interview, Kathy and Nigel! As always, I get exhausted just looking at what Kathy's got in-process. And she keeps onward and upward!

  7. Dear Clare,
    Thanks, my divine Sister-in-Crime! I hope you are enjoying your holidays so far. I look forward to 2011 at Women of Mystery ~ I enjoy our blog so much. Thanks for visiting Sea Minor today, and your kind, generous comments :-)

  8. A wonderful interview. Kathleen, your book sounds so intriguing. I hope you finish it soon. Best of luck.

    Thoughts in Progress

  9. Smashing interview, smashing woaman. I look forard to Kathlen's book.

  10. Dear Mason,
    Thank you for your support and good wishes ~ you are a wonderful friend :-)

    Dear Paul,
    Thanks for visiting and reading my interview. I appreciate your incredibly kind words, Paul. I'm a big fan of your work!

  11. Author M.M. Gornell enjoyed this interview so much, she requested a follow-up, and had additional questions. She refers and links to Nigel's blog in our conversation, which can be found here: