ONE WRONG WORD: 5 Questions with Hank Phillippi Ryan



One wrong word can . . .

Let’s face it: there are many ways to finish that sentence. But for Arden Ward, the protagionist of Hank Phillippi Ryan’s latest thriller, well, one wrong word can ruin your life.

A “fixer” who specializes in handling public relations for those in a full-out crisis,  Arden’s spent her whole career helping others avoid being canceled or helping them find their way back after the fact. Then, suddenly, her whole life is turned upside down when someone makes damning allegations about her—leading her boss to give her an ultimatum: fix things in two weeks, or find a new job. Of course, it’s not altogether that simple for Arden. Losing your career is one thing, but losing your reputation is something else entirely. And something you can never get back.

Thankfully, just ahead of her February 6th release, Ryan was kind enough to go on the record for our Five Questions segment, where she dishes on her writing process and even drops some big news. Read the full Q&A below, then be sure to pick up your copy of One Wrong Word the second it hits bookstores.



TRBS: First and foremost, congrats on the release of your new book, ONE WRONG WORD. I loved this book, and I know Book Spy readers will also. Where did the story idea for this one come from?

RYAN: Well, that is the magic question. You know I love cat and mouse thrillers, and I am fascinated by the psychological damage people can do to each other–the violence that comes when someone wants something, so passionately, that they will do anything to get it. 

We also all know how it feels to have someone say something about us that is completely and devastatingly untrue–how do we fight back from that? (Something like that happened to me, long ago, and it left a powerful mark.) 

I’m also fascinated by the people who make their living convincing others what to think—the public relations people, the crisis management experts, the spinners and the fixers. I’ve worked with them for years as a reporter. And found some who are honorable and wise, others… not so much.  I also know how one wrong word can ruin your life. So I knew weaving all that together could be an intense and compelling story. What if a crisis management expert had to manage a scandal in her own life? And as a result, what if she had protect a murderer?

Scandal, rumors, greed, power, and revenge.  And that became One Wrong Word. And oh, thank you for the incredibly kind words! 

TRBS: What is your writing process like? Do you work from an outline, or are you a pantser? Do you try to hit a word count goal each day? Do you take days off? Take readers inside your process and how it may or may not have changed over the course of your career.

RYAN: When I started writing my first book, 15 books ago, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. The level of my naïveté was immeasurable! What kept me on track was that after 30 years in television back then, I figured knew how to tell a story– after all, my TV stories had to keep the viewers from changing the channel. 

So, I thought: just do that on paper. Easier said than done, of course. My first draft of my first novel was 723 pages. (A lot of editing ensued.)

And yes, I’m an experienced pantser.   Remember, as a television reporter, I don’t know the end of my story—if I did, the story would be wouldn’t be new.  So, as I am working on my investigations, I am out in search of the story. And I’m comfortable with that. That’s exactly the same way I work on my novels–I start with my one gorgeous gem of an idea, and I type the words “Chapter 1”, and I say to myself: okay, let’s see what happens now.  What does someone want, and how far with they go to get it? And I go in search of the story. I do try to set a word goal each day (and yes, I actually keep a chart), to encourage myself to keep the manuscript moving forward. I even have a yellow sticky on my computer that says advance the story. 

I’ve learned I know I need to power through the days of fear and panic to discover what the whole story is, right to the very end. And I’m always surprised about the end!  Then I can go back to the beginning and fix it.  I don’t take days off. I know I should. Someday, maybe. But no, my process has not changed over the course of my career—well, wait. Yes, it has. Now I am more likely to recognize the parts that I’ll eventually cut. 

TRBS: You’ve done and achieved so much in your lifetime, spanning across multiple careers. At what point did you know you wanted to be a novelist, and what made you finally take the plunge and start writing your first book?

RYAN: When I was a little girl, I knew I either wanted to write crime fiction or be a detective. Either be Hercule Poirot, or write about Hercule Poirot. But I couldn’t decide. So, for the first 30 years I worked as reporter, I would periodically check with myself about whether it was time to write a novel. And my brain would say: no, not quite yet. Then, one day I had what I knew was a good idea. I knew it! I remember it perfectly.  I was sitting at my desk at Channel 7, and the idea struck me: secret messages in computer spam! And I thought: wow. That would make a terrific thriller. 

I went home and told my husband: “I have a great idea for a book! I’m going to write a book!” I can hardly describe the affectionate skepticism in his voice, but he said, “Great ,honey. Do you know how to write a book?” And I remember, so purely, I said, “How hard can it be? I’ve read a million books.” I soon learned how hard, of course (see above, 723 pages), but I was obsessed, and compelled and passionate and determined—and that turned out to be Prime Time, my first novel, which won the Agatha Award for Best First Novel.

TRBS: When you’re not writing, what are some of your hobbies, and who are some of your favorite authors to read?

RYAN: Hobbies. Hobbies? I fear I have no hobbies. I love to cook, and I love to walk in the garden, and I love to arrange the flowers that come from there. And I can sing all the fabulous Broadway musicals. (Badly.)  But I fear I am not a hobby person. 

My favorite authors. Yikes. I just burst out laughing at the question. Impossible!  I would never miss a book by Lisa Jewell, or Lisa Unger, or Lisa Scottoline, or Cara Hunter, Sherry Lapena, Heather Gudenkauf, Ruth Ware, Mary Kubica. See? If I start listing them, I will never stop. Oh, Janice Hallett. Joe Finder. Michael Koryta. Megan Miranda. Sulari Gentill. And now I have left people out, and I am doomed forever.   As formative writers? Tom Wolfe, Thomas Wolfe, Hunter S. Thompson, Shakespeare, Edith Wharton and Mark Helprin.

TRBS: Lastly, now that ONE WRONG WORD is finally in bookstores, what’s next for you?

RYAN: Oh my goodness, first, I am so happy. And so thrilled.  And I am on the road for… I think six weeks! Maybe more. It’s a national book tour, all of which is listed on my website,, and I hope all our TRBS friends will come see me!  And, breaking news, I have just signed a new contract with Forge Books for books 16 and 17. Book 16 is called ALL THIS COULD BE YOURS, a thriller about a novelist on national book tour, who, after making a Faustian bargain, realizes she has a dangerous stalker out to destroy her career and devastate her family. (Uh-oh. But I won’t think about that now.)

Anyway, I’m incredibly excited, and so honored to be chatting with you today! Again, thank you for your wonderfully supportive enthusiasm about ONE WRONG WORD. 



Praised as “One of the hardest working, most thoughtful, and fairest reviewers out there” by New York Times bestselling author Lisa Scottoline, Ryan Steck has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). Steck also works full-time as a freelance editor and is building a growing community on Twitch. His debut thriller, FIELDS OF FIRE, which #1 New York Times bestselling author Jack Carr says “will leave you speechless and begging for more,” is now available. His second novel, LETHAL RANGE, is also in bookstores, and his third book, OUT FOR BLOOD, comes out on June 4th. For more information, be sure to follow him on Twitter and Facebook. To interact with other readers and talk about your favorite books and authors, join The Real Book Spy’s Discord server.


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