Rick Pullen on Writing, Detective Novels, and Washington D.C.
Rick Pullen, author of impossible-to-put-down suspense novels, writes with a sharp wit and even sharper observations into the human psyche. He’s not only a brilliant author, he’s an all-around great guy. He graciously took time out of his schedule to answer some of my questions about his next book, Naked Truth, due out on September 24th. I can’t wait to find out what Beck Rikki discovers this time! Alison: Can you set the stage for Naked Truth? Rick: Naked Truth is the sequel to my first novel, Naked Ambition, which became an Amazon bestseller. Talk about shocked! I was not expecting that. Actually, I didn’t know what to expect because it was my first novel and I was a complete unknown. While both are considered political thrillers, Naked Truth is more of a murder mystery combined with a conspiracy. The chief justice of the Supreme Court asks former investigative reporter Beck Rikki to meet with him. Just before they sit down for breakfast, the jurist is found dead. Beck has no idea what the chief justice wanted to tell him, so he spends the rest of the novel trying to find out. I love intricate characters, and twists and turns. My novels have lots of that. My biggest influence is Scott Turow’s thriller, Presumed Innocent, absolutely the best legal thriller I’ve ever read. To me, thrillers are not about stunts and violence, but about intrigue, sleight-of-hand and treachery—with sex thrown in for good measure. I don’t do horror or serial killers. In that sense, I’m a wimp. But there is usually a murder or two in my books—most of them off screen. You might call Naked Truth a foul-mouthed cozy with naked people (although it moves faster and is more sinister). Alison: You’ve lived in the Washington D. C. area for quite a while. How much of your fiction is based on what you’ve experienced in real life? Rick: I was born in DC. I’m one of the few natives. Everybody in Washington seems to be from somewhere else. I grew up in the outer DC suburbs, so I was always watching politics on the news—it was our local news. I find it fascinating and appalling at the same time—especially today’s political Washington. It reminds me of Watergate. (I was in college at the time.) When you live around it, you see a lot and learn a lot. I have. I know how politics works and how government really works (and doesn’t). In the end, politics is all about money and power—and absolutely nothing else. That makes for a very strong character motivator for a novel. I obviously haven’t lived a lot of things in my novels, but I’ve observed a lot as an investigative reporter. I do make things up. But I know people who know people and there are a lot of great stories hidden from the public in the nation’s capital. I love the old joke: How do you know a politician is lying? When his lips move. My version: How do I know a politician is lying? When he waves the flag. That’s what I write. Alison: I love Red. Can you tell us a little about how you came up with this particular character, without spoilers, of course? Rick: I was looking for something different for my protagonist. I figured Red would make my protagonist’s weaknesses stand out. (A reporter who can’t write? Red can take care of that.) Red also gives my protagonist a foil to play off of when no one else is in the scene. So Red serves a duel purpose to move the story along. Alison: This is your third political thriller. How was writing it different from writing Naked Ambition and The Apprentice? Rick: Naked Ambition took four years from start to publication. I didn’t know what I was doing when I began. I was a writer, but I was a journalist. Switching from nonfiction to fiction is extremely difficult. It took me a while to find my voice and understand the different structure of fiction. I read 40 books on fiction writing and attended lots of conferences to figure it out. Once I did, I was on a roll. My second novel, The Apprentice, took just six months, but it’s a short book, the first in a serial. Naked Truth, a full-length novel, took me a year. My goal now is a book a year, which Steve Berry taught me I needed to do to keep publishers happy. I don’t see any issues meeting that goal. I’ve got a lot of ideas on the backburner. Alison: It must be an interesting time to be writing political thrillers. Do you think there are any challenges unique to this moment in history? Rick: OMG, yes! I think people are sick of politics and it probably will affect book sales. You won’t see “political thriller” on my cover, but the art says it. In a way, my books are detective novels involving very powerful people.