Please enjoy this interview with La Crosse native, John DeDakis.
La Crosse native John DeDakis is the author of mystery-thrillers Fast Track, Bluff, Troubled Water and his most recent and award-winning thriller Bullet in the Chamber. The fourth novel to feature his protagonist Lark Chadwick, a young strong willed and strong minded female protagonist trying to make her way in the world as a journalist. DeDakis himself was a journalist for over 40 years, 25 of which were spent at CNN working on news programs such as Daybreak and The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer. Since retiring in 2013, DeDakis writes full time as well as edits book-length manuscripts and leads writing workshops across the country. DeDakis now resides in Baltimore.
Your newest novel Bullet in the Chamber is your fourth novel featuring protagonist Lark Chadwick. For the readers who are unfamiliar with your work, can you give us the basic premise of the series?
The series is about a young woman who is trying to figure out what to do with her life. It starts with her as an English Major nearing graduation at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After a near sexual assault by one of her professors, she drops out and tries to write the great American novel. In the search for answers about her past and the death of her parents, she forms a friendship with local newspaper editor Lionel Stone and thus launches her career as a journalist.
The first book in the series, Fast Track, took ten years to publish and underwent 14 revisions. Can you take us through that process and how you felt when Fast Track was finally published?
The rejections weren’t as traumatic as they may seem because I felt like I was learning from each one. I took my manuscript to a local book club with 25 women where they said I had 3 subplots that I didn’t need. After revisions, the novel went from a 150,000-word “mish-mash” to a tightly written mystery suspense novel. If you set out to make a million dollars or be a best seller, the rejections will be discouraging. The reward is when you learn enough to reach a level where people other than your loved ones start to enjoy your writing.
What were your favorite memories growing up in La Crosse?
La Crosse was a great place to grow up. It’s not so small to be monotonous but not so big to be overwhelming. My favorite activity in the summertime would be to water ski on the river. I get back every year or two since I still have friends in the area.
You describe yourself as a “just-the-facts-ma’am” journalist and your Lark Chadwick series has a reoccurring theme of journalistic integrity. What are your thoughts on journalism today when terms like “Fake News” are thrown around?
Honestly, I am quite discouraged at the way that television journalism is being practiced and that includes CNN. I think that television journalism is turning into “info-tainment” that is designed to get as many viewers as possible. CNN does it’s best to be balanced with representation from both the left and the right on their panels, but they are shouting at each other. A lot of the fact-based journalism is lost in the shuffle.
Where do you get your news then?
I get my news from the Associated Press, New York Times, and the Washington Post. As far as broadcast journalism is concerned I think that NPR (National Public Radio) and PBS (Public Broadcasting Station) are the best.
Your newest novel is based in part on your son Stephen’s fatal heroin overdose in 2011, can you take us through that time in your life?
I started writing the novel about 8 weeks after Stephen’s passing. I immediately had the idea for the cover image with the bullet in the syringe like a bullet in a chamber to show the Russian Roulette nature that is heroin. In the story of Bullet in the Chamber, one of Lark’s close friends has issues with drugs which is where I draw on my experience with Stephen. You could say that I was dealing with grief by writing this novel.
A lot of the reviews of your book praise Lark Chadwick’s authenticity as a female protagonist. How did you go about crafting Lark to make her believable and lovable?
The thing is, emotions are not gender specific, so I’ve taken emotions that I am familiar with and put them into a female. In my experience, females are more nuanced and articulate in the way they express those emotions. The way I tried to make Lark authentic is by having many women in their early to mid-twenties read the manuscript. I was at CNN for 25 years which means 25 years of mostly female interns. They would tell me their stories about their boyfriends, friends, families and careers and I would internalize those stories. What amazes me is how difficult it is to be a woman in a man’s world and how on guard women must be to navigate through their careers.
What is some advice that you can give to young aspiring writers at this point in their life?
Number one is don’t give up. Especially if you have a story that is nagging at you to tell. Also, allow for procrastination and rumination. A lot of people feel that they are not “writers” if they are not at the computer hammering out 1000 words a day. If you are thinking about it, say in the car or at work or on the treadmill, you’re writing.
Lastly, what is next for John DeDakis?
That’s a great question [laughs]. I am working on the fifth novel with the working title of Fake as in “Fake News”. It explores the idea of truth and how we discern what is true and what is false. I am also leading a lot of writing workshops and I am also doing a lot of speaking on grief and the opioid crisis. I want to be a helpful and hopeful voice in this sad situation.
John’s latest novel Bullet in the Chamber is available on Amazon and at major book retailers. You can catch John at the 29th Annual UW-Madison Writer’s Institute Pathway to Publication Workshop April 12-April 15 in Madison, Wisconsin.
Also, make sure to check out his website: www.johndedakis.com