A few months ago, I had the privilege of reading and reviewing the novel The First to Lie by Hank Phillippi Ryan. It was a book I had obtained from NetGalley, and I really enjoyed it. It was so much fun to read! I loved all the twists and turns in this book and vowed to read more by the author. I had the opportunity to attend a virtual book launch event for the book, and I really enjoyed it. Hank is such a nice and genuine person and leads a very interesting life as a journalist in addition to her work as an award-winning author. She commented on an Instagram post I made about The First to Lie, and I reached out to her for an interview. She was happy to oblige. So please enjoy… below are more details about Hank’s bio along with my interview with her. I definitely look forward to reading more of her books!
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN is the USA Today bestselling author of 12 thrillers, winning the most prestigious awards in the genre: five Agathas, four Anthonys, the Daphne, and the coveted Mary Higgins Clark Award. She is also an on-air investigative reporter for Boston’s WHDH-TV, winning 37 EMMYs. Book reviewers call her “a master of suspense.” THE MURDER LIST (2019) won the Anthony Award for Best Novel, and is an Agatha, Macavity and Mary Higgins Clark Award nominee. Hank’s newest novel is THE FIRST TO LIE. The Publishers Weekly starred review says “Stellar… Hank Phillippi Ryan could win a sixth Agatha with this one.”
GVP (girl vs planet): So far, I’ve only read The First to Lie, but I loved it and definitely want to dive in! What book of yours do you recommend I try next?
HPR (Hank Phillippi Ryan): Oh, so lovely to hear! Thank you! I’ve written three kinds of books, so you decide. My first set of books, a series of 4 that begins with PRIME TIME, are first-person fast-paced mysteries set in Boston—about an investigative reporter tracking down cases, and who discovers, in Prime Time that annoying spam clogging your email might be carrying secret messages! It won the Agatha Award for best first novel, and if you like Lisa Scottoline’s Nunzio and Rosato series, or Tess Gerritsen’s Rizzoli and Isles, you will latch right into the Charlie McNally Prime Time series.
My second series of five books, featuring reporter Jane Ryland and Detective Jake Brogan, are more exciting investigative thrillers, with multiple points of view. So if you like Harlan Coben or Lisa Gardner, those are the books for you. That series begins with The Other Woman, which won the Mary Higgins Clark Award! My most recent books are psychological standalones, for fans of B. A, Paris and Ruth Ware and Megan Miranda and Mary Kubica. The most recent one before The First To Lie is The Murder List, which won the Anthony Award for Best Novel.
GVP: How did you come up with the idea for The First to Lie?
HPR: That is an interesting question, because it’s hard to target that precisely. As an investigative reporter, I have gone undercover and in disguise, and have done stories undercover in doctors’ offices. So that was certainly one of the elements that inspired it. I was also fascinated by the idea of becoming someone else—what if being someone else could get you what you want? I also thought about what a member of a family that owns a huge pharmaceutical company might do if they knew their affluent powerful family was hiding a deadly secret—would they tell? And also I was thinking about how unhappy a woman a person might be if all they wanted in life was to have a family, and someone took that from them.
GVP: How do you keep everything straight in The First to Lie? There’s a lot of twists and stuff going on!
HPR: How do I keep everything straight? I’ve been telling stories as a reporter for 40 years, isn’t that amazing? So I think one of my skills, maybe, is to take something very complicated and make it compelling and entertaining. So I have to say it’s just all in my head—I don’t use an outline. Which means I don’t know what the end is when I am writing! I don’t even know what’s going to happen next. So that’s what gets me to the computer every day—I think oh, I have to find out what happens! And the only way I can do that is to write it.
GVP: Do you relate to any of the characters in The First to Lie?
HPR: Do I relate to any of the characters? Yes, actually, all of them! I’ve become the character when I’m writing, sort of like method acting so I try to draw on my own emotions for each of them. How would somebody really feel, what would they really think, what would they really want, what would they really do.
GVP: Which book of yours have you enjoyed writing the most?
HPR: Oh my goodness, impossible! I adored writing my first book PRIME TIME because nothing was at stake, you know? No one was waiting for it or cared about it or even knew about it except for me. So there was a sense of joy about that. But in each of my books, I challenge myself to be better and better and better—more compelling, more riveting, and a better writer. So there is a joy in each of them as I developed from writing mystery series to thriller series to psychological standalones. I keep trying to raise the bar on myself!
GVP: What do you do when you’re not writing?
HPR: What do I do when I’m not writing? I worry that I’m not writing.
GVP: How do you develop your strong female protagonists?
HPR: I just become that person, in a way. I ask myself: who is this woman, what does she want, and how far will she go to get it. And why? And it grows from there. I’m very conscious of having the character control the action, make decisions, have agency—rather than have things happen to her. I want her to act, not react. And have clear motivations. And oh, thank you for seeing that!
GVP: How do you balance your job as a journalist with your job as a novelist? What do you like best about each one?
HPR: It’s all about storytelling. For 40 years as a reporter, I‘ve done stories with a problem that needs to be solved, with a character that you care about, where the good guys win and the bad guys get what’s coming to them, and in the end, you change the world a bit. And get some justice. I love that as a journalist and I love using my imagination in a different way as a novelist. I’m just a storyteller at heart, I guess. I love to see the stories come to life.
How do I balance? Not very well! But it’s fun to try.
GVP: Is there a story or genre of book you’ve thought about writing but haven’t done yet?
HPR: Oh, I thought about writing historical fiction, maybe a novel of suspense set partly in contemporary times, and partly in the 30s. But I don’t know. I love what I do now.
GVP: What is in the works for you next?
HPR: My new book is almost completely finished! And it does not have a title yet, we’re working on that, but it will be published September 14! It’s about fame, and celebrity, and the vulnerability of a person who is in the spotlight all the time—not only her own vulnerability but her young daughter’s. Someone asked me to describe it in 10 words and I said: Fame. Fortune. Your perfect daughter. Can you keep one secret?
I am also thrilled that my book The Murder List just won the Anthony for best novel of the year! So I am still floating about that. And the trade paperback of The First To Lie comes out at the very beginning of January, so that is incredibly exciting. It will be everywhere.
Happiest of New Years—we are all ready for some good news—and good books—right? And as I always say: It’s always safe inside a book. Thank you so much for these wonderful questions!