Rick Pullen is an award-winning investigative reporter and magazine editor who lives in Fredericksburg, Va. When he was a kid, Rick wanted to be Perry Mason. He carried the dream to the University of Richmond where he quickly learned clients of defense lawyers weren't always innocent and lawyers didn't always win their cases.
Later, at the University of Tennessee, he discovered investigative reporting. It was the era of Watergate for, and he was hooked. Who needed the law, he figured, when an investigative reporter could be judge, jury and prosecutor?
He started writing fiction in 2011. NAKED AMBITION, published in 2016, was the first in his "Naked City Series" of thrillers and immediately became a bestseller. NAKED TRUTH, the sequel, about the murder of a supreme court justice, is scheduled for release Sept. 24, 2018.
How did it feel to release your first novel, NAKED AMBITION, out into the world? Have your feelings changed now that you're getting ready to release your sequel, NAKED TRUTH?
I had no expectations, although I was hopeful it would do well. I’d never done this before, so I really was absolutely clueless. The first few days in May 2016 after NAKED AMBITION was released, I sold a dozen copies a day and thought, well, that was it. And then something happened.
I sold 40, then 50, then 100 books in a single day. Each day the numbers grew. I was told word of mouth was taking over.
Now remember, I’m a nobody. No name recognition. Nothing. I’d never been published before. And then I hit the top 100 in thrillers, then the top 20, and finally I hit number one in just over two weeks! I was speechless.
My friend, Publisher Ron Sauder of Secant Publishing, explained to me that I was one in a million. Today, I’m still dumbfounded. I had hired Penny Sansevieri at AME to market NAKED AMBITION and also had the full weight of Amazon behind me. (My publisher at the time was Kindle Press.) Ron always reminds me that Amazon is a marketing machine. He sure made me a believer.
I am again clueless as I await the release of NAKED TRUTH. I am no longer with Amazon’s Kindle Press. (They had some sort of super secret restructuring so KoehlerBooks picked up my series.) But I have hired Penny again. I keep hearing conflicting reports about how sequels fare. Like my first novel, I remain clueless how NAKED TRUTH will do. So really, nothing’s changed since 2016!
What was one of the most surprising things you learned writing NAKED TRUTH?
I love rewriting! To me, that is real writing. All the rest is plotting.
Have your feelings about writing or the writing process changed between writing and releasing your three novels?
NAKED AMBITION took me five years from start to publication. NAKED TRUTH took me less than a year to write. I think I’ve figured it out. NYT bestselling thriller writer Steve Berry preaches to write a novel a year and I’ve listened. That’s what the business demands if you want to be a success.
What do you consider your biggest writing success right now, at this very moment?
No doubt it’s NAKED AMBITION. To hit number one with your first novel as a complete unknown, that’s pretty big.
“Readers tell me my plots are amazing. They have no idea how I struggle to pull them together and make them sing.”
What project are you currently working on? Can you give us a sneak preview or any details?
Working title: BORDERLINE. A standalone thriller about bioterrorism. I have a great beginning and cool twist for the end. I’m a Mickey Spillane fan. He said you get readers to read your novel with a great opening and get them to read your next novel with a great ending. So right now, I’m trying to figure out the middle.
This is where I struggle every time trying to weave a great plot together. Readers tell me my plots are amazing. They have no idea how I struggle to pull them together and make them sing. This ain’t bean bag.
What challenges or fears do you face in your writing routine and what steps have you taken--or do you take--to overcome them?
Plots are my nemesis, yet they are a huge strength of my thrillers. My novels have all types of unexpected turns. My readers love my plots and constantly point out how they are surprised by unexpected twists. Getting there, getting the right twist, is the most difficult part of my writing process. My daughter, Jill Howard, and I often discuss plots. I couldn’t do this without her. She is my plot mentor.
If you could go back 10 years and give your future writing-self one piece of advice, what would it be?
Start writing fiction earlier. I did not start until 2011. I wish I’d been writing fiction 20 or 30 years ago, although, I will admit, I didn’t have the skills then. I’m retiring early from my magazine editing job so I can write full time. I love it that much!
“That edit was a complete education in how to write a novel.”
How has working with Lorin or having her as an instructor benefited your work? How would you describe its overall effect on your professional/creative trajectory?
OMG. I owe Lorin everything. (Read it for yourself in the acknowledgments in NAKED TRUTH.)
A total of 38 agents turned down NAKED AMBITION and I was seriously considering self publishing. But I’d been told over and over to never submit your book until it is absolutely the best you can do.
I reread my manuscript and decided this was not the best I could do. I asked Lorin for a line edit. That edit was a complete education in how to write a novel. It was brilliant. It was so detailed it took me three months to go through the entire manuscript and make changes she suggested. When I was done, I reread my manuscript and OMG, it read like a real novel! I was stunned at the difference.
If I have anyone to thank for my success, my writing career, it’s Lorin.
What advice do you have for writers in terms of seeking out editorial services or determining what workshops or conferences would best suit their needs?
Go to as many workshops and conferences as you can afford. Network. Talk. Absorb everything you can about writing AND the business. At some point, “you get it.”
At that point, and it varies for everyone, hire a good editor to help with your manuscript. But don’t do it too early. Get to the point where you start to understand writing and, just as importantly, the publishing business. Otherwise, you might be wasting your money and your editor’s time.
It took me some time—years to understand fiction writing, and I had been a journalist writing nonfiction my entire life! If you saw my original manuscript for NAKED AMBITION, it was s**t. But any smart person who works hard, can learn the craft.
What I see out there is a lot of lazy people who whip out a manuscript without first learning the craft and then complain when their careers don’t take off. Even those who get it and put in the time, sometimes fail. But most people who put the work it—rewriting their manuscripts over and over—eventually get published.
Butt in the chair is so true and important.
“It’s not rocket science. It’s butt in the chair.”
What advice do you have for writers who are juggling work, their personal lives, and writing?
I was never a morning person, but I am now. I get up at 5 a.m. every day and write, rewrite or edit for two hours before I get ready for my day job. I also work on weekends. Same time. It’s not rocket science. It’s butt in the chair.
What does your dream writing retreat look like?
Sitting in the same room with my daughter Jill Howard and talking plots. Location doesn’t matter. When we get together, we accomplish a lot. She has a fabulous imagination and gives my plots just the right kick they need.
What outside hobbies or interests feed your writing?
Politics and power have always fascinated me, and I think make great backdrops for thrillers. And being a journalist, I read a lot of newspapers and monitor the news constantly. I’m a news junky, which is why my protagonists are always current or ex-newspaper reporters.
I love conversation over several beers and cigars, I love solving the world’s problems (The beer helps a lot. The cigars just taste good.). I also love building stuff, like landscaping and houses. I need to do something other than sit in front of a laptop for hours. So, I’ve built a lot of stuff.
What is your next goal in your writing career?
I’ve nearly published three novels, NAKED TRUTH (Sept. 24, 2018 release), NAKED AMBITION (May 3, 2017) and THE APPRENTICE (Dec. 26, 2017). Kindle Press published THE APPRENTICE and NAKED TRUTH. Because of commitments I already had with Kindle Press when I signed with my agent, John Talbot, he was not involved in publishing these books.
So now I’m writing a standalone thriller for him to test the waters in New York, his specialty. I will complete it by next summer and then I will once again be clueless as to what happens next.
Each step in my writing career has been different, exploring a new angle of the publishing industry. Because of commitments to my current publisher, KoehlerBooks, I can see myself working with several publishers in the future.
What are you currently reading?
Michael Connelly’s THE NARROWS, Ken Follett’s EYE OF THE NEEDLE (again), Steve Berry & M.J. Rose THE MUSEUM MYSTERIES and Laura Lippman’s SUNBURN.
If you could enter the world of any novel, which would it be?
The world of Nick and Nora Charles in Dashiell Hammett’s THE THIN MAN. I love wit. He wrote the best dialogue. When it comes to witty conversation, Lawrence Block’s burglar series is today’s Dashiell Hammett. Simply brilliant.
Do you write to music, or do you prefer silence?
Both the sounds of silence and the sounds of Sirius XM.
Are food or drink do you fuel your writing with?
Hazelnut coffee all morning long. If I’m writing in the afternoon (rare), a Padron cigar and several Corona Premiers.
CLIENT AND STUDENT SUCCESS STORIES
- Lana Fox. Lana's mystery novel, THE TRUTH WILL SET YOU FREE, is a finalist in the Colorado Gold Writing Contest.
- Robin Gainey. Robin's novel, LIGHT OF THE NORTHERN DANCER, is a finalist in the 2018 WILLA Literary Award.
Big congrats to all!
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