We’ve all been wrong about something in our lives, and author Hank Phillippi Ryan can sympathize with that. To celebrate the release of her newest book Her Perfect Life, she shares the story of two of her biggest mistakes and helps us remember that no one is perfect.
by Hank Phillippi Ryan
Have you ever been wrong about anything? Of course you have, we all have. And if we are lucky, the mistake doesn’t matter, and if we are even luckier, no one will ever know.
Think about how difficult it is to live your life without error. Every single decision you make–you have a choice, you take action, and then, there’s a result. And you cross your fingers that the result is a good one.
Now imagine being a reporter working on a story. You’re doing interviews, tracking down clues, following leads, gathering information and doing research and in the end, writing a story, and putting it on the air.
Putting it on the air. In front of hundreds of thousands of people. Now think about making a mistake.
Now it’s not just you. Now, if someone else is harmed, every television viewer heard it and saw it. Now it’s on tape. Now you are embarrassed, and angry, and your TV station gets sued for millions of dollars.
As a television reporter for the past 40 years, I know that the daily pressure, that absolute necessity never to make a mistake, is relentless. I can never choose the wrong word, never miscalculate, never call someone the wrong name, never make an inaccurate statement, never misunderstand a statistic.
I can never be one second late. And I have to try to do the whole thing— often in front of a live camera–with perfect hair and make-up, and with hundreds of thousands of people watching and listening and judging.
I’ve made two big mistakes on the air. Happily, neither were career-ending errors. In fact, they were both pretty funny. And more about that in a minute.
But the pressure to be perfect–whether on TV or in your personal life–is never-ending. And think about it, a person in the spotlight is always in the spotlight. Recognized. So any error they make–at any time of the day, no matter where they are–might be magnified and amplified and weaponized.
And under that constant spotlight, what if you were trying to hide something?
Fictional television reporter Lily Atwood, the star of my new thriller HER PERFECT LIFE, is seemingly so perfect her fans have made a hashtag for her, #PerfectLily. She has a beloved seven-year-old daughter Rowen. She has a devoted nanny, a devoted producer, and fame and fortune and Emmys. She also has a big ugly dark secret.
And to keep her perfect life, that secret must be kept. But every day, and in every place she goes, someone is watching her. That’s part of the spotlight, of course, but it is also part of the danger. Because it’s not just “her public” that’s watching her. It’s one person in particular. Or maybe–two. And they know her perfection is just a fragile perception.
If Lily makes a mistake–if she trusts the wrong person, if she reveals the wrong information–her own perfect life will be threatened.
That constant fear, that constant scrutiny, that constant pressure to be perfect—that’s the focus of HER PERFECT LIFE. Because of course the title is ironic, and a little sinister. No one can be perfect. And Lily soon learns the spotlight may be the most dangerous place of all.
My two errors? I’ll confess them now. But don’t tell, because I’m hoping everyone who witnessed them has forgotten.
The first was an investigation we did looking into the safety of labs that stored radioactive material. Turned out the security was very lax, and a quantity of the radioactive isotopes they held were unaccounted for. (And lots of changes ensued after our story aired. Hurray.)
However. One of the radioactive ingredients was the element krypton. But in my story, I called it kryptonite. Yes, kryptonite. Like in Superman. Two editors read the story, and they did not catch the error. Dozens of scientists did.
After it went on the air.
It was before the days of email, but my phone seemed to never stop ringing. I could hear the laughter even before my callers started talking. “Have you been reading too many comic books?” they would ask.
I still feel myself blush when I think of it.
The other time? I was filling in as an anchor person one Saturday night. It was back when the scripts were not on computers, but were only typed on special paper, which, through a complicated system of mirrors and conveyor belts and scotch tape, was rolled in front of the lens for the anchor person to read.
The mantra from the producers was: just read the prompter. Read the prompter. No matter what it says on the back-up printed script you’re holding, read what it says on the prompter.
When it came time to say good night, my co-anchor, R.D. Sahl, read the prompter, as instructed, and said, “Good night everyone, I’m R.D. Sahl.”
And, then it was my turn. I looked into the prompter, smiling, and read what it said. And to hundreds of thousands of people, I said: “And I’m Kate Sullivan.”
I stopped, surprised. And, live on the air, I burst out laughing. I had called myself by the wrong name.
Hey. Like the book says. Nobody’s perfect.
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN is the USA Today bestselling author of 13 psychological thrillers, winning the genre’s most prestigious awards: five Agathas, four Anthonys, and the coveted Mary Higgins Clark Award. She is also investigative reporter for Boston’s WHDH-TV, winning 37 EMMYs. Book reviewers call her “a master of suspense” and “superb and gifted storyteller.” THE FIRST TO LIE garnered a Publishers Weekly starred review and is nominated for the Anthony Award for Best Novel and the Mary Higgins Clark Award. Watch for HER PERFECT LIFE on September 14, which received starred reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly, which called it “A superlative thriller.”
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