Thank you, Dana, for taking the time for an interview.
Dana, would you introduce yourself to the readers?
I’d be happy to. I grew up in Kentucky and dreamt of becoming an FBI agent. That dream came true when I was hired by the FBI in 1995. During my career I was assigned to four different FBI 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 undercover program. 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. I had the rare experience of working a long-term undercover investigation with my then boyfriend/now 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. I retired from the FBI in 2016 and launched my first novel, Behind the Mask. Beyond the Cabin followed in 2017 and the newest novel in the series, Below the Radar, was released August 2019. I live in Beaufort, SC and I’m working on my fourth novel.
Please introduce Lexie Montgomery.
Alexis “Lexie” Montgomery is a young idealistic FBI agent who enters the FBI’s prestigious undercover program. She’s a well-rounded, intelligent, strong character with a huge coffee addiction. She’s not perfect and makes plenty of mistakes along the way. She learns from the mistakes and with each case becomes a better undercover agent. In Behind the Mask, Lexie is sent to Los Angeles and assigned her first undercover case. She continues her undercover career in Beyond the Cabin when she is sent to the Lowcountry of South Carolina. The investigation turns into a harrowing ordeal, leaving Lexie physically and psychologically battered. Lexie returns to her home office of New Orleans to recover. Because you can’t keep a good agent down, Below the Radar picks up a few months after her traumatic experience. Against the advice of her therapist and supervisor, Lexie, who is now 33 years old, volunteers to go to the Netherlands with a male FBI partner to search for a missing Dutch constable. Because of her unique background, she is perfect for the role, but she may not be physically or mentally ready for such a dangerous assignment. I love Lexie because she’s a strong female character, but not afraid to show her vulnerable side.
Without spoilers, tell us about Below the Radar.
Below the Radar picks up a few months after Beyond the Cabin ends. FBI Special Agent Lexie Montgomery is recovering both physically and psychologically from her last mission that went horribly wrong. She has been handed the most dangerous undercover assignment of her career: infiltrate a terrorist cell in a foreign country to locate and rescue a missing Dutch undercover operative.
As a safety measure, the FBI assigns Lexie a male undercover partner who questions her loyalties and may not have her best interest in mind. During the mission, a charismatic American extremist develops romantic feelings for Lexie. Believing they are of the same mind-set, he takes her to a remote terrorist training camp for indoctrination. While the Dutch Police and the FBI futilely search for her, events spiral out of control when the cell leader reveals his ruthless and brutal nature. With all ties to the outside world cut, Lexie realizes she must rely on her undercover training and skills in order to survive.
What was your background that took you to the FBI?
I knew I wanted to be an FBI agent from an early age, so I studied Criminal Justice and Psychology in college. At the time the FBI was hiring mostly lawyers and accountants, so I went to law school and graduated in 1992. Unfortunately, there was a federal job hiring freeze in 1992 which lasted until 1995. I practiced law at a small law firm in Georgetown, SC until I was hired as a special agent in November of 1995.
I know you’ve been asked this a million times. How much of Lexie’s experiences were yours?
The character of Lexie came about because of emotions that I experienced as a new undercover agent. When I started writing, I didn’t want to write a run of the mill FBI novel. That’s been done too many times. 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 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.
Where do you take visitors who come to Beaufort, South Carolina?
My first stop is the Pat Conroy Literary Center. The Conroy Center is near and dear to my heart. His books made me want to move to Beaufort. I fell in love with the Lowcountry reading his extraordinary prose. If you’re ever anywhere near Beaufort, I highly recommend a stop at this amazing center. My second stop is the Penn Center on St. Helena Island. The Penn Center is the site of the former Penn School, one of the country's first schools for formerly enslaved individuals and one of the most significant African American historical and cultural institutions in existence today. Finally, I would end the day on our neighborhood pier and allow my visitors to experience a Lowcountry sunset. There is nothing quite like it. It’s impossible to adequately describe the beauty, so I would let my visitors experience it for themselves.
Everyone’s journey to publishing is different. Tell us about writing your first book. Was that the one that was published? How did you become a published author?
After I finished the manuscript for my first novel, Behind the Mask, I started the process of trying to find the right publisher. I was confused as to which path was right for me. As I struggled to find a balance between traditional and self-publication, I found the perfect solution . . . hybrid publishing, also known as partnership publishing. Hybrid publishing encompasses the middle ground between traditional and self-publishing and was the perfect fit for me. I made the decision to go the hybrid publishing route and signed on with Wise Ink Creative Publishing in November 2014. Wise Ink published my first novel, Behind the Mask, in April 2016 then followed up with Beyond the Cabin and most recently Below the Radar.
What books were your favorites as a child?
I wore out my copy of Where The Wild ThingsAre by Maurice Sendak. It was my favorite childhood book. I also loved Old Black Witch by Wende and Harry Devlin. As I got older I enjoyed adventure books like Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain and The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling. I loved the Hardy Boys series, by Franklin W. Dixon. Maybe that’s why I became an FBI agent. My parents never prohibited me from reading books, even if they thought they might be too old for me. My mother allowed me to read them as long as I promised to come to her if I had questions about the subject matter. I’m sure I read all the James Bond books way earlier than I should have. My mother about had a stroke when I came home from the library with Helter Skelter. I think I was in middle school. Reading was always encouraged no matter what the subject matter.
If you had to recommend 5 books for a person to read to get a feel for you and your reading taste, what 5 would you pick?
I’m a diverse reader, so this is a fun question. I would say the five books would be: The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, The Beach House by Mary Alice Monroe, and American Gods by Neil Gaiman. I’m all over the place when it comes to my reading habits. I love books of all genres.
As a librarian, I always like to ask this of an author. Tell us about a library or librarian in your life.
I grew up in a small town in Kentucky. Each week my mother took me to the library to check out books. My love of reading came from her and I looked forward to our library time together. Mom read many of the books with me so we could discuss them afterwards. I still love libraries and I still love discussing books with my mother. Some of my most successful speaking events have been in libraries. We have to take care of our local libraries because they do so much for the communities.
Thank you, Dana.
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 Maskwon 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 Cabinwas 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.
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