I’m delighted to be hosting Hank Phillippi Ryan today who is chatting to us about The First To Lie.
The First To Lie by Hank Phillippi Ryan is available to purchase in hardcover. Paperback publishes January 2021.
We all have our reasons for being who we are–but what if being someone else could get you what you want?
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?
Hi Hank, welcome to Jera’s Jamboree.
Please summarise THE FIRST TO LIE in 20 words or less.
Two smart women play a cat and mouse game, getting revenge after a terrible crime. Which one is the cat?
What was the inspiration for your novel?
I have been an investigative reporter on television for 43 years, and am still on the air in Boston. I have wired myself with hidden cameras, and gone undercover and in disguise.
For one story, I posed in a doctor’s office as a woman who wanted to have a baby, to see whether he would lie to me about his medical records. He did. As a result of the story, the laws in Massachusetts were changed, and I won an Emmy. That moment though, when he was lying to me and I was lying to him, made me realize the clash of ethics and morals and reputation and money, and the decision about who would be the first to lie could be the core of a chilling thriller.
Who are the main characters Hank?
The main characters are Ellie Berenson, a determined investigative reporter. Nora Quinn, a gorgeous and manipulative pharmaceutical company sales person. Meg Weest, a television producer who has no scruples about getting the big story. And Lacy Vanderwald, a society wannabe who knows how to get what she wants.
Another way of putting it is: an undercover reporter who is in too deep. A double-dealing corporate executive. A social climber who needs a family to solidify her place in the world. And a young widow who must create her new reality.
Does your book tackle a social barrier?
Yes, they all do. Not as a hit-you-over-the-head theme—but I do think it’s important to give the reader some insight into a new world or a new situation.
In THE FIRST TO LIE, one of the themes is medical ethics – – if a drug works extremely well for many people, but it is life-alteringly devastating to a few others, how do companies decide what to do about that? How do doctors decide what to do about that? How much do patients really know about the drugs they are taking?
I’m also examining how so many women focus on having a child, crave having a family, and build their lives around that. How devastating would it be for that to be taken away?
Since THE FIRST TO LIE came out, I’ve heard from many women who have been on this journey, and I am gratified that they are touched by the authenticity of the book.
What was the most fun part of the book to write?
Late in the book I realized I needed to have some chapters that revealed a critical occurrence that took place in the past. When I figured out what those scenes might be, I plunged myself into them, and wound up writing as fast as I could. It’s so fascinating to me how many readers point to those very scenes—that take place around the Chesapeake Bay–as the ones they enjoy reading.
People have always told me when you are passionate about what you’re writing, that will come through, and readers will feel equally passionate. I think that happened here.
What scene was the hardest to write Hank?
The very last scene was the hardest, because that’s such a critical part of the book. Every single loose end must be tied up, in a seamless and natural way. And the journey of the main characters must also be resolved, in a way that is surprising but inevitable and meaningful. I always know when it works because I burst into tears.
Did you do a lot of research?
Since the book takes place in the milieu of the pharmaceutical industry, and in the financial and ethical calculus that takes place in deciding what medications will be approved and eventually be prescribed, I immersed myself in that world. In not only in the laws and regulations, but about the development of drugs, and pharmaceutical sales, how doctors make decisions, and how patients are affected.
And then when I started writing the book, I put all of that away, and simply wrote the book, by putting myself in that world. I only want the research to show by making the book feel authentic and genuine. As I said I am a reporter, so I’ve been researching the reporter scenes for decades!
How do your characters come into existence Hank? Do they have a bio?
No, I have to say, they don’t. I know some authors make elaborate biographical sketches for their characters, but I don’t do that. My characters revealed themselves to me as they make decisions along the way—what they do when faced with an obstacle or a choice. That’s what reveals their personalities and their histories. I do know what they want at the beginning of the book, but then I have to write the book to see whether that turns out to be what they actually wanted, or how their desires and passions changed. It’s the joy of writing when a character comes to life on the page.
Pantser or plotter?
I am a definite pantser. I have no idea what is going to happen next in my book, until I write the next sentence, or the next paragraph, or the next scene. So when readers say to me: wow, THE FIRST TO LIE or THE MURDER LIST surprised me on every page I say, yes, me too! And talk about surprise twists, I often surprise myself. And that is the magic of writing.
Can you share with us what you are currently working on?
I wish I knew. I am 70,000 words into a new book, and I think it is about the dark side of celebrity. Cross your fingers
Do you have a most creative time of day?
Yes, absolutely. I am the best in late afternoon and into the evening. I think that’s because of my years of being on television, getting ready for the 6 o’clock news, and then the 11 o’clock news. My brain just races along with that journalism metabolism. I know lots of authors write in the early morning. If I tried that, you would find me asleep at the computer.
What authors have influenced your writing?
Edith Wharton, Tom Wolfe. Stephen King, Shakespeare. In contemporary times, Lisa Gardner, Ruth Ware, Sherry Lapena, Elly Griffiths, Andrew Wilson, Christina McDonald, Louise Candlish.
Do you have a favorite book Hank?
My favorite book of all time – – that is too difficult! Possibly Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin. Possibly Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens. Possibly The Stand by Stephen King. Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton. They are all riveting and important stories by incredible storytellers.
What has been the worst part of your writing journey so far?
When I am in the middle of writing the first draft of every book. The middle of the book – – that is the worst! But the fun part is the moment the story comes together. And so far, every time, that has worked! Again, crossing fingers.
And finally, what has been the best part of your writing journey so far?
Oh my goodness, the incredible letters I get from readers who enjoy and understand the books! Sometimes the things they say, so thoughtful, and so intelligent, and so wise – – I feel like I should give them a standing ovation.
Thank you for being my guest today. Wishing you success with all your writing projects.
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN is a USA Today bestselling author of 12 thrillers, winning the most prestigious awards in the genre: five Agathas, three Anthonys, the Daphne, and 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. Book critics call her “a master of suspense.” Her previous novel, THE MURDER LIST, is an Agatha, Anthony, Macavity and Mary Higgins Clark Award nominee. Hank’s newest novel: THE FIRST TO LIE. The Publishers Weekly starred review says “Stellar… Hank Phillippi Ryan could win a sixth Agatha with this one.”