Interview With The Author: Dana Ridenour
by John Dwaine McKenna
The MBR is honored to speak today with author, and retired FBI agent, Dana Ridenour, who spent the majority of her 20 year law enforcement career as an undercover operative. It is some of the most dangerous work in the world . . . and a testament to her dedication, courage and bravery. Here then, is Ms. Ridenour, and the most compelling interview we’ve ever done. Our first question is:
Why do you write?
The FBI is hardly ever portrayed factually in novels, television, or movies. I wanted to write a realistic FBI undercover novel. My firsthand knowledge of undercover work allowed me to write an FBI undercover series that not only has a thriller element, but also delves into the psychological impact that undercover work has on the agent. After three novels, I can’t imagine not writing. I’m the happiest when I’m in writing mode.
What do you write about?
I’m a retired FBI agent. I spent most of my twenty-year career working in an undercover capacity. All three of my novels are fiction, but loosely based on real cases that I worked. I spent several years infiltrating domestic terrorism cells, many like the ones portrayed in my novels. My mother encouraged me to keep a journal when I became an FBI Agent. I started keeping a journal when I began working undercover. I kept the journals hidden in the ceiling panels of my undercover apartment. I documented feelings and experiences along the way. These journals were a big part of formulating my Lexie character.
Are any of your characters autobiographical?
The main character in my series is Lexie Montgomery, a female undercover FBI agent. The character of Lexie came about because of emotions that I experienced as a new undercover agent. Undercover agents have to learn to compartmentalize their emotions. When an agent is new to working undercover, it can be difficult to not get lost in the role. The dangers that I faced in my career made me the person that I am today. Those experiences make up the character of Lexie Montgomery. So, even though the books are fiction, the characters and cases are based on many of my real-life experiences. At this point it would be impossible to separate Lexie’s emotions from my emotions. She has in a sense become my alter-ego. I’d like to think that Lexie is a better version of me.
Who’s your favorite author?
I’m a huge Pat Conroy fan. I fell in love with the South Carolina Lowcountry from reading his lyrical prose. I’ve read all of his books–many times.
Do you plot-outline or wing it?
For the most part, I wing it. I do a loose outline, but nothing detailed. I like my characters to surprise me and I don’t want to be tied to a detailed outline. When the books morphed into a series, I had to develop a character bible to keep the characters straight from book to book.
Where do you get most, some, or any your story ideas from?
Because of my experiences in the FBI, I have a wealth of information to draw from when I sit down to write. During my twenty years as an FBI agent I was assigned to four different Field Divisions and had the opportunity to work a wide variety of cases to include multi-faceted narcotics investigations, domestic sex trafficking of minors, and violent crime. Eight years into my career, I was selected for the FBI’s prestigious undercover program. My first long term, deep cover undercover case required me to infiltrate a radical animal rights group, which served as the basis for both Behind The Mask and Below The Radar. I had the rare experience of working a long-term undercover investigation with my husband who is also a retired FBI agent. We were a couple playing a couple. It was an incredible experience and became the inspiration for my new novel, Below The Radar.
What’s your advice for aspiring writers?
It’s a long and sometimes rough road to publication, so be patient. You want your novel to be perfect when it is published, so don’t rush through the editing process and don’t make any rash publishing decisions. Make sure your manuscript is as clean as you can get it before you pitch your project to literary agents. I would also recommend attending writers conferences. I’ve learned so much from conferences and workshops and have made some great connections. Attend conferences, meet people, and pass out your business cards. Even if you don’t have a novel ready to pitch now, you probably will in the future. It never hurts to make and nurture those connections. Some of them will turn into lifelong friendships.
Do you have any other comments, suggestions, tips, anecdotes, quotes or inspirational material you’d like to share?
I’ll share an interesting detail that not many people know. All of my manuscripts have to be approved by the FBI before I’m allowed to publish. This pre-publishing review process protects trade secrets. I’m also held to a different standard because of my affiliation with the FBI. For example, I was not allowed to use a photo of the FBI seal on any of my book covers.
Where could you be reached on the World Wide Web?
Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/danaridenourwriterpage/
Wow! Many thanks for sharing your time and thoughts today Dana. And, please, keep the MBR up-to-date about Lexie’s next adventure!!
Dana Ridenour is a retired FBI agent and author. She spent most of her career as an FBI undercover operative infiltrating criminal organizations including the Animal Liberation Front, an organization of domestic terrorists. Dana’s first novel, Behind The Mask, is fiction but based on her personal experiences working as an undercover agent. Behind The Mask won numerous literary awards and was named one of the best indie books of 2016 by Kirkus Reviews.
Dana’s second novel, Beyond The Cabin, was released on August 1, 2017. Beyond The Cabin, the second novel in her FBI undercover series, is set in the South Carolina Lowcountry. Beyond The Cabin was awarded the 2018 Royal Palm Literary Award for Best Thriller or Suspense.
Dana’s third book, Below The Radar, was released on August 13, 2019.
Dana lives in Beaufort, South Carolina where she is working on her fourth novel.
Please follow Dana on the following sites: