Name: DIXON BENNETT RICE
Age: OLD ENOUGH TO KNOW BETTER
Where are you from: KALISPELL, MONTANA, U.S.A. – in the gorgeous Flathead Valley of the Northern Rockies, a stone’s throw from Glacier National Park, with some of the most dramatic mountain scenery in the world.
A little about yourself, i.e., your education, family life, etc.: I SPENT EIGHT YEARS in US Army Intelligence, where I learned how to interrogate my children. (This was back when we devoutly followed the Geneva Convention.) I’ve also been a funeral director, investigator, office manager, payroll manager, shipping clerk, insurance agent, and retail salesman. I’ve jumped out of perfectly good aircraft. I’ve gone into jails as a literacy volunteer, and also not so voluntarily.
My father was a Naval officer and I was born on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. Like most military families, we moved around a lot, and my siblings were born here, there and everywhere. I graduated from Mercer Island High School (a Seattle suburb) and the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma WA. At one time I had aspirations of going to law school, but decided to spare the planet one additional attorney.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
MY SECOND NOVEL, “MONTANA IS BURNING,” is near completion. I had planned to release it as a Kindle e-book, like my first thriller, “THE ASSASSINS CLUB,” but my critique group has convinced me to try traditional publishing.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I’VE DABBLED IN SHORT STORIES and poetry as long as I can remember. It became more serious when I started making up bedtime stories for my children, and they wanted them written down, and sent to publications. Unfortunately, some did get published, and my interest evolved into an addiction. I’ve been writing adult market novels for the past decade.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
MY FIRST SUBMISSION.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
IT WAS A LARK. I got the idea for a fantasy about a wizard’s apprentice. It was full of clichés and forgettable characters.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
I LIKE TO THINK I’M having a conversation with both my readers.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
TWO VERY DIFFERENT KILLERS are featured in my first published novel, set in 1970. One of them, Tyler Goode, “accidentally” becomes a serial killer when he’s forced to take out members of a murderous family of rednecks out of self-preservation. After a few killings, Ty finds he’s “hooked” and can’t quit his new hobby, so he focuses on ridding the planet of a few of its most despicable residents. One day, he’s approached by two friends who happen to be deputy sheriffs. “We know what you’re doing, Ty,” one says. He figures he’s headed for prison until the other says, “And we want in on it.” Thus was born “THE ASSASSINS CLUB.” (Both my fans loved it.)
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
THINGS AREN’T AS THEY SEEM.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic?
MOST OF THE SCENES TAKE PLACE in northwest Montana, although a few locales are fictitious, and I hope they feel realistic.
Fiona: Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
I LIKE TO TAKE PEOPLE I’ve bumped into, and ask myself: “What if I completely reversed their best and worst qualities?” So a saintly benefactor becomes a greedy villain, and a rapist becomes a protector defenseless women – but their other personality characteristics are unchanged. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most?
WRITING DIALOGUE WAS DIFFICULT for me at first. Reading the crime novels of Robert B. Parker, Elmore Leonard and Richard Price helped me overcome that problem.
Fiona: If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
DENNIS FOLEY IS A NOVELIST and screenwriter now living in Whitefish, Montana. He wrote and produced TV shows in the 1980s & 90s such as China Beach, Airwolf, Cagney & Lacey, and MacGyver, and has also written some excellent novels, the most recent being “A REQUIEM FOR CROWS.” Dennis has devoted many volunteer hours, giving talks on the craft of writing to the Authors of the Flathead, and mentoring beginning writers.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
“A GAME OF THRONES” by George R.R. Martin.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
PAUL D. MARKS, AUTHOR OF “WHITE HEAT” (which takes place against the backdrop of L.A.’s Rodney King riots) and Kathy Dunnehoff, author of “THE DO-OVER,” are amazing talents, and I expect big things from them both.
Fiona: What are your current projects? POLISHING “MONTANA IS BURNING,” getting “THE ASSASSINS CLUB” ready for paperback release, and plotting its sequel.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
CRITIQUE GROUPS ARE ESSENTIAL for authors, especially beginners, and I can’t imagine the embarrassing errors that would have slipped by without the sharp eyes of my local group. My two fans appreciated the editing.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
STRANGERS WILL ASK YOU, “What do you do?” If you reply, “I’m an author” – then that’s what you are. Keep saying it, and you’ll come to believe it.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
ONE MORE SEX SCENE might have got me “banned in Boston” – the extra publicity would have been nice, and both my fans enjoy stories full of sex, drugs and violence.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
FROM READING. But “interest” is a far way from “doing.” I doubt if a week goes by when I don’t meet somebody who’s thinking of writing a book. Most of them never get past the interest stage.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
“MONTANA IS BURNING” takes place in the 1970s, like my first thriller. Paul Longo, a city-raised and city-trained detective, comes to a rural Montana county to wrestle with his demons (he accidentally killed a child during a drug house shootout). He gets a detective job with the local sheriff’s department, which is wracked by dissention since the Sheriff is running for re-election against the Chief of Detectives. When an abortion clinic is firebombed with fatalities, Paul is the only detective not embroiled in politics, and so the crime in dumped in his lap. He must deal with local cops who don’t trust his metropolitan ways, federal agents trying to take over the investigation, a violent militia group, fanatic religious nuts who think the firebomber didn’t go far enough, and an ex-lover who’s now a muckraking TV journalist.
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing? I’M TOO MUCH A PERFECTIONIST and find it hard to keep on writing, instead wanting to stop and correct all the inconsequential typos and spelling/grammar errors.
Fiona: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
THAT’S A TOUGH ONE. I’d say Walter Mosley, author of over 30 books, mostly hard-boiled novels. He’s best known for two series: the Easy Rawlins and Leonid McGill novels. Although I’m not black, I admire the way Mosley makes the African-American experience an integral part of his stories, much the way Tony Hillerman wove Native American cultures into his Navajo mysteries. Also, all aspiring authors should own a copy of Mosley’s “THIS YEAR YOU WRITE YOUR NOVEL.”
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
A little. In my first novel, a crucial scene takes place near the remote township of Polebridge. After finishing the first draft, I drove over 40 miles up a dirt and gravel road to make sure I had a feel for the place. I’m glad I did. There’s no electrical service within 25 miles, and so the Polebridge Mercantile depends on a generator to keep the beer cold.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
I’M REALLY PROUD of the cover created by Suzanne Fyrie Parrott of Unruly Guides. We talked about the story, setting and characters, and then Suzanne sent me about a half dozen draft concepts. We picked one we both loved, and fine-tuned it through 4-5 different versions. You can find details about the formatting and cover creation of “THE ASSASSINS CLUB” in the Unruly Guides portfolio at http://tinyurl.com/cays5j6 and the evolution of the cover on my Wredheaded Writer blog at http://tinyurl.com/d6l9wjd
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
CRACKING THE WHIP ON MINOR CHARACTERS. One of my two serial killers thinks he’s Jesus Christ. (He isn’t, but he truly believes he is.) His most loyal disciple is Sarah, a 20-something girls who’s experienced way too much drugs, sex and disappointment in one short life. She’s a great character – lots of fun to write – but she kept trying to take over the story. I had to keep her on a very short leash.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it? I LOVE MY CRITIQUE GROUP but a couple members had different visions of where the story should go, and kept trying to steer it away from my vision. I learned that authors needs to understand the heart and soul of their books, and sometimes must defend them against well-intentioned meddling. But that’s okay, because the result is a stronger novel.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
WRITE UNTIL YOU’RE SICK of writing, and then write through your anger, apathy and confusion. (2) If you can’t find a critique group, start one of your own. (3) Help and support other authors, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised how your efforts are repaid.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
THANKS TO BOTH OF YOU – you keep my butt in the chair, churning out my silly little stories.
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
I’D HAVE A LOT more time to develop into less of an idiot when I referee soccer matches, and to exercise so I can keep up with the teenagers.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it? WREDHEADED WRITER BLOG can be found at http://wredhead.blogspot.com/ and I’m on Twitter as MTDixonRice.