Decorated journalist and USA Today bestselling author Hank Phillippi Ryan debuts her 12th novel August 4th. Set in the high-stakes world of the pharmaceutical business, The First To Lie is a fast-paced, tumultuous psychological thriller following a young woman’s path to justice after facing a devastating betrayal. Here, Ryan discusses her upcoming novel, her viral TED Talk, and her vast career as a reporter for Boston WHDH-TV.
What was the inspiration behind writing this book?
I’ve been a reporter for 43 years; I’ve wired myself with hidden cameras, and gone undercover and in disguise. And I wondered, what would happen if an undercover reporter preferred to be the person she was pretending to be? All of us have some essence of pretense in our lives, and I wanted to ramp this up to the highest level. How could you change your life by being someone else, and if you were on a path to revenge, how could you use that as a weapon?
How did you go about developing the setting for this story?
I start with this gem of a gorgeous idea, and I don’t know what’s going to happen until I write the next sentence. That’s what gets me to the computer every day—I need to know what happens next, and the only way to find out is to write it. In writing fiction, your subconscious brain is telling you a story. If you are open to it, that brand new world can unfold on the page. Sometimes I look at what I have written, and think, “Wow, I wrote that! Where did that come from?” Our imaginations are really profound entities and as a writer, one of my joys is to be able to tap into that.
How has your background in journalism influenced your writing career?
My fiction writing career could not exist without my background in journalism. For the past forty years, I’ve learned how to tell a story. That understanding of structure and compulsion is what leads me to be able to tell a fictional tale. I don’t want you to turn the channel when you’re watching my [news] stories on TV, and I don’t want you to be able to put my books down. That relentless desire to uncover what’s around the next corner—that’s the engine that drives investigative reporting, and that’s the engine that drives my thrillers.
How would you describe your writing process?
My writing process is clawing my way up a stone mountain, step by step and word by word. I’m eager to get to the end of my first draft and begin the glorious task of editing to reveal the book I meant to write. It’s almost as if I have a surprise package for myself at the end. In a standalone like TFTL, the reader has no expectations except for the power of the author to pull the rug out from under them at any moment. My job as an author is to misdirect them and deceive them and surprise them. They say to write the kind of book you love to read—that’s exactly what I do.
Is there anything else you wanted to touch on?
I am the poster child for following your dreams in midlife. I didn’t start writing until I was 55 years old, after I had already won 33 Emmys. At a time where people might think “You’ve had a great career, just sit back and do nothing now,” I set off on a new path having no idea whether or not it would be successful. I’m the proof that it’s never too late to follow your dreams. I couldn’t have written my novels the way they are and become a USA Today bestselling author if I had started at any different time. When it was time for my writing career to begin, my entire being understood that. I was compulsively driven to write that first book, and that knowledge changed my life.
Photography by: Iden Ford