John DeDakis is a novelist and writing coach living in the Washington, D.C. area. He’s the author of four novels in the Lark Chadwick mystery-suspense-thriller series. John’s protagonist is a feisty young woman who finds her niche in journalism. DeDakis is a former senior editor for CNN’s “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer.” During John’s 45 years in journalism (25 at CNN), he was a White House correspondent, reporter, writer, and editor. He also interviewed Presidents Reagan and Carter, as well as legendary film director Alfred Hitchcock. DeDakis retired from CNN in 2013 to write full time. He leads writing workshops around the country and abroad. He’s also taught journalism at the University of Maryland-College Park and at American University in Washington, D.C.
Congratulations on the release of your latest book, Bullet in the Chamber. When did you start writing and what got you into writing mysteries?
I actually stumbled into the mystery-suspense-thriller genre. My first attempt at writing for publication was in the early 1990s when I began researching a biography about a friend of mine who was murdered. But the project was incredibly time consuming, expensive, and my research turned up information that caused much consternation in his family. So, I shelved the story and folded some of my research into a novel.
The novel went through fourteen major revisions before it found its footing— and its genre.
I got some invaluable feedback from a publisher who rejected it. He told my agent, “It’s not a mystery, it’s not literary, it’s not a romance. Frankly, I don’t know what niche it falls into, so I don’t know how to market it.”
I took the manuscript to a book club that met in our neighborhood in suburban Atlanta. Twenty-five women read the story over the summer and then let me sit in on their critique. Daunting. They took it apart. But I learned many important lessons.
The key thing I learned, which is relevant to your question about genre, is that I realized I had three subplots that I didn’t need. I extracted them from my next rewrite. The result: Fast Track (my first novel) went from a 150,000-word mishmash to a tightly written 76,000-word mystery. I found my genre (which has taken on aspects of a thriller in subsequent novels).
What is your book about?
Bullet in the Chamber is about journalistic integrity— and skullduggery— at the highest level: covering the presidency. My protagonist, Lark Chadwick, is at the pinnacle of her career as a White House correspondent for the Associated Press, the nation’s leading wire service.
Professionally, Lark’s immediate supervisor seems to be trying to undermine her at every turn. Personally, Lark’s love life is in peril. It’s her first day on the beat when the executive mansion is attacked. As Lark scrambles to cover this deadline-a-minute crisis, a mysterious tipster puts her on the trail of the real story.
What was your inspiration for it?
As much as possible, I try to draw on personal experience for my inspiration. In the case of Bullet in the Chamber I drew upon my own experience as a White House correspondent covering the last three years of Ronald Reagan’s presidency.
I also draw upon my grief following the fatal heroin overdose of my youngest son, Stephen, 22, in 2011. The book’s title and the cover image of a bullet in a syringe reflect my belief that a pusher who sells a fatal dose of heroin should be charged with second-degree murder because it’s like selling a pistol with one bullet in the chamber to a person who will use it to play Russian roulette.
What type of challenges did you face while writing this book?
Probably the biggest and most obvious challenge for me in writing Bullet in the Chamber is that the heroin subplot was emotionally wrenching to write. But it was also a catharsis.
I had to come to grips with the distinct possibility that people will judge my son and define him simply by how his life ended – and judge me as a parent for allowing it to happen. I’ve come to accept that I can’t control the varied reactions and judgments of other people. If they choose to judge me as a parent, then they need to get in line because I got there first.
What do you hope readers will get from your book?
I hope readers will see that nowadays heroin addicts are often good, talented, productive, and engaging people (like my son Stephen), who made an unwise choice to take a substance that hooks and kills.
I also hope readers will get a better sense of what goes on behind the scenes in journalism. All too often, people who’ve never set foot in a newsroom or never bothered to get to know a reporter, blithely pop off at the “lamestream media” as if it’s some sort of monolithic coven conspiring to mislead voters.
Are journalists biased? Of course! They’re human. But what I hope readers will come away with is a better understanding of how the good journalists (and their numbers are legion) struggle to be accurate and fair. I hope readers will also see that some journalists do indeed play fast and loose with the truth.
How do you define success?
As I writer, I define success in a number of ways.
First, and foremost, success is when a writing professional (like an agent and a publisher) believe your work is good enough to make available to people who are willing to pay to read it.
To be sure, success can also have a monetary dimension, especially if you’re writing to support yourself, but this has not been my experience. Yes, people buy my books, but I’m no financial threat to John Grisham.
Instead, I define success as that deep satisfaction that comes from knowing I’ve written the best story I can and it’s been read and enjoyed by others. A fringe benefit is all the wonderful people I’ve met and opportunities I’ve had to teach and encourage struggling writers based on what I’ve learned (and continue to learn) along the writing path.
Do you have a website or blog where readers can find out more about your work?
My blog and information about my books and my writing services can all be found on my website: John Dedakis.
Authors Den is another site where I’ve posted my short stories, a few poems, and some articles, plus my official in-depth bio.
You can also find me on Facebook and Twitter (@johnDeDakis).
Where is your book available?
Check with your local bookstore or library. If they’re not carrying it, please ask them to
This link is the most reliable avenue to get all my books.
What is your advice for aspiring authors?
Perfect your craft. Go to writing conferences. Don’t give up.
Photo and cover art published with permission from the author.