In case you haven’t figured it out yet, being a published author is my dream job. Ten years ago, when I first started writing, authors were my rock stars. I read their bios with devotion, poured over their acknowledgements hoping to find a tidbit more of their personality, and pretty much daydreamed like a gushing fan girl about meeting one someday. Ten years later, I still squee on the inside, but I’m way better at taming my idol worship into a poker face. I’ve also met a few. Turns out, they’re a lot like you and me. At the beginning of my brave year, I noodled the idea of a six-week series interviewing authors. Fun, right? The rest is history. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have!
Today I’m interviewing Dennis Ricci. I met Dennis years ago at Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference. He’s the kind of man who makes you feel safe and valued just to be in his presence. He has a huge heart and loves to give his wisdom away freely. I’m thankful to have Dennis for a friend.
Rachelle: Tell me a little about yourself. What makes you tick?
Dennis: I’m a man who’s lived enough to know that the most important part of this life’s journey is to discover what makes you come alive, and give that to the world. Few of us find what really make us come alive, and few of those who do find it develop what God put inside them to its fullest potential. Whatever years I have left, I want to spend pushing the limits of what makes me come alive and give that away. A big part of that is helping people discover what makes them come alive and go for it, and also helping them get rid of what hinders them from living fully alive.
Rachelle: The last few years have been full of fun firsts for you—agent, publishing contract, Perilous Judgment‘s debut. Tell me all about it. How did it feel to get that agent call? The publishing deal call? Hold your book in your hands?
Dennis: Each of the moments you mention—the agent offer, the publishing contract, holding the book—are wonderful, but the lasting joy is in the journey. The milestones help you memorialize your progress, yet the deep satisfaction comes from the daily investment in the work. Novels are a vehicle for me to look at life and our world, imagine what could be, and express it through the vehicle of story. I think every artist believes their work can inspire, challenge the status quo, provoke thought and emotion. I’m the same. I want my stories to be entertaining and at the same time provoke thought and steer my readers’ imaginations toward their own journey of considering how life could be.
Rachelle: You published with Amazon. For all of us new to Amazon publishing houses, tell us more about how that works.
Dennis: Amazon Publishing is the full service, royalty publishing subsidiary of Amazon.com. They evaluate and select manuscripts, acquire the publishing rights, develop and produce the book, and distribute it through their Amazon retail channel and to other channels through wholesale distributors Ingram, Baker &Taylor, and Brilliance. Their marketing and sales engine is Amazon.com-centric, and that’s a good thing, particularly their ability to target potential readers in your genre through the Kindle platform. I’ve been very pleased with the support they’ve given me as an author and for the promotional boost they’ve given Perilous Judgment. Ultimately, the best promotional vehicle for fiction is still word-of-mouth. The quality and entertainment value of your story will always be the single biggest determinant of sales.
Rachelle: When did you first start writing? Tell me a bit of your journey from blank screen to published work.
Dennis: Word craft has always been a big deal to me. During my last two years of college, many of my professors would comment on how well written my assignments were. Ever since, I’ve been writing professionally for more than twenty-five years. My first “write-for-pay” piece was writing a video script for a sales channel presentation by a senior leader of a top-ten global corporation. I didn’t have any experience writing scripts, but I did have the marketing and sales experience needed to write effective content, and it turned out well.
Rachelle: Will you share a favorite piece you’ve written Why do you love it?
Dennis: One of my favorite pieces is a short story I wrote in 2009 called Angelique Outside. It’s based on a true-life interaction with a middle-aged woman I and our team ministered to during a missions trip in France in 2007. I initially wrote it as an exploration of how deep wounding manifests hopelessness, and how God wants to interrupt and redeem the pain. I entered it in a weekly writing challenge contest on Faithwriters.com, and it did well enough to become one of their weekly feature stories. I’ve revised the original story multiple times since, and I now use it as an example in my writing workshops of how you can portray an arc of profound change in a character in a short story under 1,000 words.
Rachelle: What’s your writing process? Has it changed from Perilous Judgment to your current work in progress?
Dennis: When I wrote the first draft of what became Perilous Judgment, I meticulously plotted the story and outlined each scene. Outlining was critical to my business and marketing writing because I had to nail every piece with only one or two drafts, so that felt like the natural way to approach a novel. Once I had a complete first draft, though, I began to sense that the developing story more organically worked better for me, and I wrote all the new material for subsequent versions (eight complete rewrites) organically, or “seat of the pants.” I’m doing that now with my current work in progress.
Rachelle: What’s the one thing you know now that you wish you knew when you started?
Dennis: The value of critique, even if it’s harsh. Story is powerful, and readers have been well-trained to expect quality. They don’t care about what authors go through to make stories, they care about their experience reading them. And when we let readers down, we need to know why. I learned about “thick-skinned critiques” studying the craft with Jerry Jenkins, and while that’s true, it’s also about “humbly received” critique. One of the most startling self-revelations I experienced was when I realized I would reject input from people whom, in my opinion, knew less than I did. Ouch.
Rachelle: What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done as a writer? Or in life?
Dennis: As a writer, I’d say one of the bravest things I’ve ever done was my first story pitch at a writer’s conference. I had tons of experience selling in business, but pitching a novel was a completely different proposition. The first couple of pitches didn’t go well, but eventually I got traction with the agency I ended up signing with and some great feedback and encouragement from the editors. In life . . . I’d have to say the three businesses I started. The first one didn’t pan out, the second was more of a stopgap freelance gig during a period of life crisis, and the third and final was my copywriting/consulting business, which ended up being lucrative and helped to set me up for what I’m doing as an author.
Rachelle: What keeps you inspired?
Dennis: For sure great books on the writing craft. Right now, I’m reading Story: Style, Structure, Substance, and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee. I’m a big believer and practitioner of synthesis, exploring the depths of the art and craft of story from multiple masters, putting them into practice, and then out of that experience developing my own viewpoints on the craft. Visiting art museums also gets my creative juices flowing, I recently took in a retrospective exhibit of Pablo Picasso and Diego Rivera that was a facsinating study of how each artist’s beginnings in classical form and style developed over their careers into vastly different forms of expression. Reading great thrillers keeps me fueled too. Recently “domestic thrillers” by Harlan Coben and John Lescroart gave me some fresh insights and ideas.
Rachelle: What’s your most vulnerable moment as a writer? Why did it feel so exposing?
Dennis: My creative journey started in poetry . . . I always considered myself a left-brained numbers guy, but when my life started to crumble in the mid 90s I started writing what I called “left-brained art” to process what I was going through. After I’d written about a dozen of these intensely personal pieces, I decided to show a few of them to a friend, who told me they were moving. Whether that was truthful or not didn’t matter . . . what did matter was that it was an important first move to share what I’d written as a way to understand my pain.
Rachelle: What quirk does the greater public not know about you?
Dennis: I like binge-watching shows on Netflix and Amazon Prime. Right now I’m going through the TV series 24, which I’d never watched before. I’m also a big fan of Bosch, and my wife and I are enjoying a Masterpiece show called Mr. Selfridge, about an American entrepreneur who opens a grand-scale department store in London.
Rachelle: Let’s finish up with a rapid-fire favorites round. What’s your favorite:
Color—British racing green
Food —Grilled chicken
Book—Clear and Present Danger by Tom Clancy
Vacation spot—Clear Lake, CA
Favorite writing spot—My home office
Thank you so much, Dennis! I thoroughly enjoyed your answers.
Visit Dennis on his website and buy his debut novel, Perilous Judgment.
Federal judge Edward Lamport is no stranger to controversy and danger. Nine months into his tenure, he’s received two death threats and is under the protection of US Marshals. But when he receives a plea for help from a woman with whom he had a brief romance twenty-five years earlier, he must face a peril of a different sort, one that involves his long-lost son, Carlos.
While working for a bank in his native Mexico, Carlos discovers an international money-laundering scheme. Now he’s on the run from those who want him dead. To get the young man asylum in the United States, Lamport appeals to his highest connections in Washington, only to find puzzling dead ends at every turn. Caught between law and love, he’s forced to take the matter into his own hands. With only his faith in God to guide him, how far is he willing to venture into the dark recesses of political corruption to save his son?