Hank Phillippi Ryan is the USA Today bestselling author of 13 thrillers, winning five Agathas, the Mary Higgins Clark Award, and 37 Emmys for investigative reporting. Her psychological standalone The First To Lie (2020) garnered a Publishers Weekly starred review and is nominated for the Anthony Award and the coveted Mary Higgins Clark Award. Her Perfect Life publishes September 14, and received starred reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly, which called it “A superlative thriller.”
Her Perfect Life
Everyone knows Lily Atwood—and that may be her biggest problem. The beloved television reporter has it all—fame, fortune, Emmys, an adorable seven-year-old daughter, and the hashtag her loving fans created: #PerfectLily. To keep it, all she has to do is protect one life-changing secret.
A stunning, wonderfully tense thriller about deceit, grief, fame and perfection, and the secrets we carry beneath our skin…. Read full review
Author’s Corner – Interview with Hank Phillippi Ryan
Thanks so much for being on Author’s Corner! Can you tell us one funny, quirky thing about you, something most people might not know? An interesting hobby or funny habit, something so readers can get to know the person behind the author.
Oh, I so love being here—thank you! I am such a fan. Quirky? I know it sounds impossible, but I am the world’s worst typist. I know you’re thinking —how can that be? She types every day! And that is true. But I took typing in high school, and instead of learning how to type without looking at the keys, I would memorize the paragraph and then look at the keys. So that was my first problem.
Now, as an author, sometimes my brain goes faster than my fingers can type the words I’m thinking, so I always have to write my books twice-once as they are initially typed, and then corrected so I can actually read them.
I also am the world’s worst singer. The worst. If I sang a song for you, you might not even know what song it was. But I can also sing songs using only the first letters of each word. Like: OSCYS would be “Oh, say can you see.” This is not a very useful talent.
What’s your perfect lazy day and where would you have it?
Oh my goodness, just about anything sounds wonderful. And I can barely imagine it these days. But my husband and I go to an island called Nevis, where we sit on the beach, miles of white sand, with books, and watch the brown pelicans skim across the turquoise Caribbean water. It is mesmerizing. And sometimes in our backyard, we get out the pool floats, and just drift around the pool with books and lemonade, and look up through the leafy green sugar maples at the clear blue sky. It is incredibly peaceful.
Nevis sounds amazing, I love the Caribbean! As a thriller author, what scares you? Do you ever find yourself scared by what you’ve written?
As a writer, what scares me is not knowing what comes next! I’m not talking about the joy of writing suspense, I’m talking about…the blank page. Since I don’t use an outline, there are often moments when I think: uh-oh, now what. I am trying to train myself to just persevere and fix it later.
I don’t read books that are gruesomely scary, and I can reveal to you that when I come upon a scary part, I just skip it. And I don’t write graphic-scary either. I think it’s a lot more frightening to hear about to read about mind games and gaslighting and deception–and the dramatic chill the reader gets when they know something the character doesn’t.
I don’t use an outline either, so I know that fear well! Who is your favorite crime hero or detective?
This is a tough one! I have a huge crush on Inspector Morse, as my friends know. And Lord Peter Wimsey. Sue Grafton‘s Kinsey Millhone. I am now reading Anthony Horowitz’s A Line to Murder, and it is so hilarious – – so meta, with a fictional detective in partnership with the writer Anthony Horowitz. Who could think of such a clever thing? And it is a wonderful book.
What are some authors you draw inspiration from?
Whenever I start feeling mopey or uninspired, I look at Stephen King’s On Writing—I just pick it up and read from anywhere. Same with Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. I open it at random. Somehow those books always present exactly what I need to know. Or hear. At exactly the right time.
I need a book like that in my life, so will look them up. How has the pandemic affected your writing or writing schedule, or has it?
The pandemic-you’d think, wouldn’t you, that those of us who are writing would just keep writing. But for the first couple of months, truly, I was so terrified that there was a layer of fear that seemed to blanket it all. I finally decided: it’s always safe inside a book, and always safe inside a manuscript, so I focused on putting myself in a fictional world, with someone else’s problems.
And that seems to help. I think the whole thing is so much still in process, don’t you? I keep a chart of my words per day, and it is fascinating to see the days I worked like crazy, and the others that are just…blank. But one thing I’ve tried to learn in the pandemic is to give myself a little break. We are all so unsettled and disturbed, aren’t we? And that is to be expected. So—be kind.
Writing Her Perfect Life
Let’s talk about your book Her Perfect Life. Can you tell my readers a little about it?
Oh, the most difficult question! It’s about sisters, betrayal, guilt, fame, and revenge. Everyone knows television reporter Lily Atwood, and that may be her biggest problem. She has fame, fortune, and beloved daughter; and her devoted fans have even given her a hashtag: #PerfectLily. But Lily also has one life-changing dark secret—and if anyone finds out, she fears her career and happiness are over. Problem is: how do you keep a secret when you’re always in the spotlight? And when an anonymous source begins to tell Lily secrets about Lily’s own life-she learns the spotlight may be the most dangerous place of all.
I love this hook! So you’re a broadcast journalist like Lily. Did your experience affect the creation or development of this character?
In so many ways! I’ve been an investigative television reporter for more than 40 years now, yikes. And I’m still on the air in Boston. But many years ago, when I was just starting as a television reporter, I went to the laundromat. (Very exciting, right? Glamorous.) And a woman came up to me and said ‘Oh, you’re Hank from television!” And she proceeded to tell me about a story she wanted me to do. I listened politely, but I went home and called my mother and said–can you believe it? Someone came up to me in the laundromat! And my mother paused, and then she said: “You chose the life in the spotlight. Welcome to the spotlight. And I never want to hear you complain again.” And that has truly stuck with me.
It’s also a huge responsibility. You can never be wrong! Never make a mistake, never use the wrong word, or call someone the wrong name, or miscalculate, and never be one second late. And you have to do the whole thing with perfect hair and make-up and a hundred thousand people watching. All part of the job.
And although Lily has many fans, she also has a lot of enemies. And I’ve been stalked, followed, yelled at, threatened,–had people come to my house, and harass me on the phone. As Lily learns, that antipathy goes with the job, too.
But my family did not choose that spotlight. What if that makes them vulnerable, too? So much for the perfect life.
My editor says—HER PERFECT LIFE is my most personal book yet.
Well I’ve read and loved it, and it does seem like it is very personal to you, which is always amazing as a reader! Can you describe Her Perfect Life in three words?
Suspenseful. Surprising. Heartbreaking. (Ooh, and twisty, and revealing, and thought-provoking.)
What do you think readers will love about Her Perfect Life?
Well, I can tell you what I know they love! Since I am hearing from early readers already. They love the entrée into the dark side of fame, and they say they will never watch a television reporter the same way again. They love the tense relationship between Lily and her missing sister Cassie-and the surprise when we find out what really happened to her. (Which I have to say I did not know until I wrote that part! So it was a surprise to me, too!) They love the mysterious producer Greer, and seven-year-old Rowen, Lily’s adorable daughter, whose voice just came out so sweetly!
What was your favorite part of writing this book?
It’s a writer answer, but my favorite part was when I finally figured out how it would all end. I don’t use an outline, so I’m writing along, happily, and the story is emerging–if I am lucky–but there is some point in the book where you have to find the answer! And it was very difficult this time. I walked around and walked around and got to the point where I thought – I can’t do this. I have no idea. And then, at some point, it just appeared to me. And when I figured out the end, I stood up and applauded. You have to picture this, because I was by myself. But I stood up and applauded.
That moment where a writer figures out the end is an applaud-worthy moment, I agree! Where did the idea for Her Perfect Life come from?
When I worked in Atlanta, in the 80s, I was anchoring the weekend news. I came home after the late news one night, around midnight or later, and my house was surrounded by police cars. Someone had broken into my house. The police caught him, and he confessed to them that he had chosen my house to break into because he knew I was live on television. Isn’t that chilling?
Because he knew where I was, he knew where I wasn’t. That understanding of the deep vulnerability of being a television reporter haunted me. And that was the beginning of the story.
And led to the irony in the title.
That’s terrifying, and really does factor into the story so well. One of my favorite things about Her Perfect Life is the relationship between Lily and her daughter. You have a way of making your characters so completely relatable, which I find really important in thriller. How do you do this and what sort of focus do you put on character development in your work?
Oh my goodness! Thank you! I love Lily and Rowen too, and those scenes were so much fun to write. I hope this isn’t a bizarre answer, but the characters are very real to me, and as they develop in my writer brain, what they say and how they feel comes from them, not from me. I ask myself as the book begins: why is she doing this? What would make her choose this path? How does she make this decision? And that reveals who my character is. And from then on, if I am lucky, they take over.
I am already getting fan letters for Rowen–people say they wish smart, spunky, and not-quite-obedient Rowen was their own daughter.
What’s Next For You?
Are you working on a new book? Can you tell my readers a little about it, a blurb, potential release date, etc?
Yes, yes. I am working on a new book. I am right in the middle of it, and at the point where I think-see above-I have no idea what this is about! It should be out this time next year, crossing fingers. But it’s about friendship, the power of friendship–and what happens when someone weaponizes friendship.
What better way to get someone to do what you want–no matter what it is-than if you pretend you’re their friend? And how deep is the emotional distress when you feel friendless? Friendship is such a tricky bond-different than marriage, or dating, or professional relationships. What would you do for your new best friend? And what might they do to you? And as a result, it’s called HER NEW BEST FRIEND.
And because it’s a Hank book, you can rely on this: it’s a high-stakes cat and mouse thriller—but which character is the cat, and which is the mouse?
Get In Touch
Hank loves connecting with readers. You can get in touch with her at: