Author Dana Ridenour talks about her career at FBI and what motivates her to write crime thrillers.
Can’t you just relax and do nothing? I get asked that question frequently since I retired from the FBI three and a half years ago. Given that I’ve written and published three novels during that time, I guess the answer is no. The better question is, Why do you have to write?
After over twenty years as a special agent in the FBI, I retired in 2016. I launched my first novel, Behind The Mask, the day I retired. The book led to a second book, Beyond The Cabin, and I’m currently on a book tour with my third novel, Below The Radar. So how did this happen and why? To fully understand why, I need to tell you about the series and my main character.
The three novels chronicle the undercover missions of Alexis “Lexie” Montgomery, a young idealistic FBI agent who enters the FBI’s undercover program. She’s a well-rounded, intelligent, strong character who’s not perfect. She makes plenty of mistakes along the way and has a pretty severe coffee addition. Lexie learns from her mistakes and with each case becomes a better undercover agent.
Like Lexie, I was an undercover FBI agent. My first long-term, deep-cover undercover case required me to infiltrate a radical animal rights group. This experience served as the basis for the three books in the Lexie Montgomery series. During the time I worked undercover, I kept a journal hidden in the ceiling panel of my undercover apartment.
…[my] three novels chronicle the undercover missions of Alexis “Lexie” Montgomery, a young idealistic FBI agent who enters the FBI’s undercover program.
I documented my emotions and some experiences along the way. During one of my many moves, I found and leafed through my journals. I realized that I could write a realistic FBI undercover novel based on events, feelings and emotions which I’d recorded in those journals. I knew I didn’t want to write an ordinary, run of the mill, FBI novel.
There are already too many of those books in the world. I wanted to use my personal experiences as an undercover agent to capture the psychological toll that undercover work has on an agent. When an agent works long term, deep cover investigations, he or she is changed at the end of the case. You lose a little piece of yourself with every long-term case.
The FBI is hardly ever portrayed factually in novels, television, or movies. My firsthand knowledge of undercover work allowed me to write a novel that not only has a thriller element, but also delves into the psychological impact that undercover work has on the agent.
I fall into the category of writers who write to express themselves and inform readers. But I also want to entertain readers. By fictionalizing many of my own experiences, I can both inform readers as well as entertain them. I grew up with a mother who read to me and took me to the local library, so I was exposed to storytelling from an early age. After college, I worked on tour boat for a captain who was also a remarkable storyteller.
I’m able to really get to know and connect with people on a level that I was never able to do while I was working as an FBI agent. Within the pages of the novels…
The captain weaved his tales of history, mystery and romance to the delight of his passengers of all ages. I envied his flawless technique and wanted to entertain people as he did. Now, with my own stories, I am able to make this dream a reality. The books have given me a vehicle to connect with so many people. I speak for charity events, talk to book clubs, and teach at workshops and conferences.
I’m able to really get to know and connect with people on a level that I was never able to do while I was working as an FBI agent. Within the pages of the novels, my memories are preserved and that is something pretty special. My books share a theme of learning from mistakes and recovering from loss.
Our world is not black and white. There are many shades of gray and sometimes a writer has to color outside of the lines. To me this is what makes a book interesting. I hope readers enjoy my stories, but I also hope they discover something about the FBI that they didn’t know before. So, the next time someone asks me why I just can’t relax and do nothing, my answer will be, because there are still so many stories to write and people to meet. I’ll do nothing when all the stories have been told.
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 lives in Beaufort, South Carolina where she is working on her fourth novel.
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