Hank Phillippi Ryan is a USA Today bestselling author of 12 thrillers, as well as the winner of the most prestigious awards in the genre: five Agathas, three Anthonys, the Daphne, and The Other Woman, the coveted Mary Higgins Clark Award. She is also on-air investigative reporter for Boston’s WHDH-TV, with 37 EMMYs and dozens more journalism honors. She’s the only author to have won the Agatha in four different categories: Best First, Best Novel, Best Short Story and Best Non-Fiction. The Murder List is an Agatha, Anthony, Macavity and Mary Higgins Clark Award nominee.
The First To Lie
After a devastating betrayal, a young woman sets off on an obsessive path to justice, no matter what dark family secrets are revealed. What she doesn’t know―she isn’t the only one plotting her revenge. An affluent daughter of privilege. A glamorous manipulative wannabe. A determined reporter, in too deep. A grieving widow who must choose her new reality. Who will be the first to lie? And when the stakes are life and death, do a few lies really matter?
A flawlessly written mystery with twists around every corner, The First To Lie is a timely story about deceit, justice and revenge.
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 beneath the author.
One funny quirky thing? There’s a whole list of them! I cannot sing at all, at least in tune. I am an enthusiastic singer but terrible. I am a pretty good cook, not using recipes but just making things up–especially during these ridiculous times, I am challenging myself to come up with something new every night. Sometimes this is successful, sometimes not so much. I am a big list maker! Sometimes I put things on my to-do list that I have already done in order to have the fun of crossing them off.
What was the very first thing—ever—that you remember writing?
The very first thing that I remember writing–this is so crazy, but it was in college. And it was a research paper on comparing C.S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet with Spenser’s The Faerie Queene. I told you it sounded weird. But honestly? That was the first time I remember understanding what analytical thinking was, and what books could do to enrich your understanding of the world. Told you it was weird!
The first fiction thing I ever wrote–I remember that, too! Way back in say, 1995? I had decided to write a mystery about the first woman golf pro in Boston. That was a disaster. (I have no idea how to play golf, that was my first problem.) I wrote six chapters of it, and sent it to my father, who was a writer and journalist. He called me and said “Sweetheart? There’s this thing called voice. You don’t have it.” I gave up writing fiction after that–for a long time.
You’re also a broadcast journalist! Can you tell us a little about why you transitioned from journalism to writing books? And why you chose the thriller/mystery genre?
I’m still on the air at Channel 7 in Boston, and I have wired myself with hidden cameras and confronted corrupt politicians, chased down criminals and gone undercover and in disguise. And I’ve won 37 Emmys for investigative reporting! But one day, I had a really good idea for a mystery. I just knew it would work!
I grew up in really rural Indiana, such a loner and such a geeky little girl, and always wanted to be a mystery writer–I just never had a good idea. And at age 55, I finally had one! And I was obsessed with writing it. That turned out to be Prime Time, which on to win the Agatha for Best First Novel. And changed my life. I guess I had found my voice.
Why did I choose thrillers? They say to write the kind of books you love to read. I can tell you–it really never crossed my mind to write any other kind of book.
How has being a bestselling, award-winning author changed things for you? Do you still write the same, or is there more/less pressure now?
I am laughing! So much more pressure, more pressure every day. I challenge myself all the time to be better, and more innovative, and have my words be more compelling. In my first book, I was so naïve, I remember, and just typed along, merrily, thinking about how good I was. Ha! Now it’s like climbing up a sheer wall of solid slate. Inch by inch by inch. I feel so much responsibility to readers, so… I love it more than ever, but at the same time it is more difficult than ever.
What are some of the book(s) that you’ve read and loved recently?
That is so difficult, right? Because in two in a day or two, there will be even more! The Last Flight by Julie Clark, sort of like The First to Lie in that it is about identity. And Now She’s Gone by Rachel Howzell Hall. I am just beginning Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, and really looking forward to that, and reading Catherine House by Elisabeth Walker, a truly unique and atmospheric novel. And I just got Elly Griffiths’ The Lantern Men. Cannot wait.
What do you do to get the creative juices flowing?
Oh my goodness, you know, Stephen King said “The hardest part is just before you start.” And I so agree! As soon as I put my focus on writing, I am immersed. And the more I write the more submerged I become in the story, and the more the ideas flow. But wow, that moment of starting. Very difficult. Talk about a quirky thing: I set a timer to 34 minutes so I am promising myself I will not do anything else for those minutes but write. It’s kind of like being a five-year-old again.
If you could invite five people (dead or alive) to a dinner party, who would they be and why?
You, okay? Because I adore your books, and I adore your mind, and I would love to brainstorm with you.
Stephen Sondheim–is there anyone who is more clever and talented?
Talking about a fantastic brain. Agatha Christie, of course! How fascinating it would be to talk with her.
And Shakespeare, whoever that was–talk about brilliant.
And maybe… Paul McCartney? When I was 14, I was president of the Midwest chapter of the national Beatles fan club, so I of course was madly in love with him. It would be so much fun to meet him. Although I would still be completely speechless.
If I could write like one other author it would be __________, because___________?
If I could write like one other author it would be–oh, impossible again! I guess… Stephen King? He is such a fabulous storyteller, with books you cannot put down. I would not be as creepy/scary as he sometimes is, but he has such a powerful command of the page.
Writing The First To Lie
Let’s talk about your book The First To Lie. Can you tell my readers a little about it?
Can we do the five things? A devastating childhood betrayal. The passion to have a family. A gorgeous sailboat on beautiful Chesapeake Bay. Doctors who make promises. And two women, bent on revenge. But which one is the cat, and which one is the mouse?
And thank you! I was so honored that you read it! It was very nerve-racking to think of you reading it, I must say.
I absolutely loved The First To Lie, it’s so juicy and twisty with so many layers, I couldn’t put it down! Where did you come up with the idea?
Thank you! (Again.) The idea sprang from my experience in going undercover, and I wondered what would happen if a reporter got so far undercover she decided to actually become the person she was impersonating. That isn’t exactly what happened in the book, but that was the beginning of the idea. I also wondered what it would be like to know a massively important and massively dark family secret–and what it would take to give you the courage to tell it. No matter what the personal cost.
Describe The First To Lie in three words.
Motherhood. Obsession. Revenge.
Wait, wait. Betrayal. Clearly I can’t do three.
What do you think readers will love about The First To Lie?
One of the fabulous things about reading a book is that it makes you able to live someone else’s life, and make someone else’s choices–decide what they would do and decide what you would do-and see if you agree with what happens. I know my readers will love Ellie and Nora, and be engaged and sympathetic with what they’re obsessively seeking. I also think–crossing fingers–that they will be delighted with all the twists along the way.
What scene did you enjoy writing most?
Two of them, I have to say: The scenes on the sailboat, and then the one backstage near the end. More I cannot say.
I love how The First To Lie explores the devastation wrought by a large pharmaceutical company and the family that owns it. Was that intentional from the beginning or did it develop organically as you wrote?
Thank you! I think the devastation is personal, you know? The ethical dilemmas that come when something might help a lot of people-but destroy the lives of a few. What if it was your family who was getting rich from making some people miserable? What would you do about that? That, along with the undercover element–the two key parts of The First to Lie. But well, it was completely organic! I never know what is going to happen next in my books, so even the ending was a complete surprise
What’s next for Hank Phillippi Ryan?
Are you working on a new book? Can you tell my readers a little about it, a blurb, potential release date, etc? Where did you get the idea?
My next book? Ha. Please pause now to laugh with me. Yes, I am working as hard as I can on it, and I am absolutely thrilled with it. It is about the same, and privacy, and the veneer of pretty perfection that a person in the public eye has to constantly maintain. And when a parent is in the public eye–how does that affect or endanger their children? I got the idea from how often I am recognized, say, in the grocery store. After 40 years in television, there are always people who recognize me–that’s fantastic, but it is also potentially a little scary.
Get In Touch
Hank loves connecting with readers. You can get in touch with her at: