Tag: Rick Pullen

Rick Pullen

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. 

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Back to School

I’m feeling just ever-so-slightly anxious. No, let me rephrase that: I’m a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown (to borrow a phrase from Pedro Almodóvar’s fabulous film). Every few minutes I take deep belly breaths to loosen the knot in my stomach. I’m doing guided meditations with embarrassing frequency so that a woman with a soothing British accent can advise me to “watch difficult emotions without resistance.” I’m drinking copious amounts of tea because holding a warm mug makes me feel a little calmer. Why? My revisions for Blood Atonement are due uncomfortably soon. I’ve been diligently working for weeks without feeling at all nervous. I set up a schedule, made a plan and have been (mostly) disciplined. Yesterday, though, I looked at the calendar and became overwhelmed with a jumble of distinctly unpleasant feelings. With the help of that disembodied British voice from my meditation app, I acknowledged my anxiety and put it in perspective. Getting a revised manuscript to one’s editor is not a life-or-death problem after all. I know that, but the knot in my stomach doesn’t seem to. Rather than letting myself sink into the quicksand of nervousness, I decided to take a cue from the season and become a student. I’m going to learn from other writers about how they approach their craft (and, I hope, learn something to help me get through the next few weeks). So, I’m dedicating this week to going back to school.  Tomorrow morning, I’ll get a lesson in political thrillers from Rick Pullen. In the evening, I’ll be attending fellow Miss Demeanor and USA Today bestselling author Cate Holahan’s book launch for Lies She Told. (If you’re going to be in New York on Tuesday, September 12th, I’ll see you at the Mysterious Bookshop on Warren Street at 6:30 pm!) Wednesday morning, I’ll pass on what I learned from Cate about how she comes up with her spellbinding psychological thrillers. Thursday, I’ve got a tutorial with Daphne-Award winning writer S.B. Woodson. On Friday, I’m attending a master class taught by my fellow Miss Demeanors about how to work through the anxiety that comes with writing.  … gotta run. I hear my tea kettle.     

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Talking Political Thrillers with Rick Pullen

Rick and I met in a master class at ThrillerFest when I first got to read the beginning of Naked Ambition. I was hooked. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one. Rick already is following up his debut novel with Naked Truth. On top of that, he’s working on another series. I managed to steal some of his time to ask him about how he got started, what he’s up to now and if he has any words of wisdom for writers who are just starting out. I think of Naked Ambition as a political thriller. How would you describe it? Rick: Beck Rikki is a newspaper reporter investigating a corrupt politician. His investigation soon elevates into something much broader than he ever suspected. His efforts are complicated when he meets a woman whose motivations clash with his and he is torn about what to do. Just when he thinks he’s figured it all out, he realizes he hasn’t. You have an interesting story about how your first novel was published, and where that took you. Can you tell us a little about that? Rick: I’m a huge fan of Mary Buckham’s writing books on active setting. We became email friends and I told her if she was ever on the east coast to speak to a group, I wanted to meet her. She was speaking to the Virginia Romance Writers in November 2015 so I contacted the chapter president and she allowed me to attend. I was one of two men in a room of 60 woman writers. They introduced me and explained I was writing a thriller. At the end of the day I was standing in line to purchase some of Mary’s books when a woman tapped me on the shoulder and asked if she could read my manuscript. I said sure. Then she told me she was a reader for a New York agent, and I said SURE! That was Saturday evening. On Monday morning I emailed her my manuscript. That afternoon she emailed me back saying she hadn’t finished it but it was one of the best she had read. I thought, yeah right. I had already been turned down by 38 agents. She said she would give it to hers. She did. He got back to me two months later. He liked it a lot but said it wouldn’t be a breakout novel so he declined to rep me. That did it. I’d had it trying to find an agent. I needed to jumpstart my writing career. A niche publisher friend of mine, Ron Sauder, recommended I try the Kindle Scout program. You sign up with Kindle Press and they put a few chapters on the Scout program webpage to gauge support and find future book reviewers. After 30 days, they offered to publish my novel, Naked Ambition. It was published May 3, 2016 and hit number one May 20 in three different Amazon thriller categories. My sales attracted the agent’s attention again and he signed me. That took place at ThrillerFest 2016. This year at ThrillerFest I met another publisher who has asked me for a book proposal for a new series. If the deal goes through, that will be published in 2019. In the meantime, Kindle Press is publishing a new series of mine, The Apprentice, this fall and Naked Truth, my sequel to Naked Ambition, is schedule for January publication. So now I have two series in the works and a request for a third. I will be busy. Is there anything you know now that you’d like to have known when you were starting your writing career? Rick: I know how difficult it is to both find a publisher and an agent. I found you sometimes have to go an unconventional route to get someone’s attention. Kindle Press opened up opportunities for me. I got an agent after selling a lot of books and I’m talking seriously to another publisher about a new series. What is something about you that would surprise us?  Rick: When I was young I struggled to read. I was very slow and slightly dyslexic. It still sometimes juxtapose numbers. It’s a damned good thing I didn’t take over my Dad’s accounting firm! I didn’t become a real reader until college and then I gobbled up everything. For a while I was a typical male and read only non-fiction. I thought reading fiction was a waste of time. Then I read Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent and that changed my life. I think it is one of the most brilliant novels ever. I’m still not a speed reader, but when you read for a living eight hours a day, it doesn’t really matter. 

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