Where I Am
Rick is the author of fifteen novels and a memoir. His books have been published in over thirty languages and have earned numerous accolades and awards from around the world. His young adult novel, The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp, was named a "Best Book of the Year" by Publishers Weekly and was nominated for the Carnegie Medal. In 2010, Rick received a Michael L. Printz Honor for The Monstrumologist. The sequel, The Curse of the Wendigo, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. His latest novel, The 5th Wave, the first in an epic sci-fi trilogy, made its worldwide debut in 2013, and will soon be a major motion picture for GK Films and Sony Pictures.
How I Got Here
Rick was born in Miami, Florida on a Sunday. Three days later, his new parents drove 225 miles from their hometown of Lakeland to meet him. Their first impression must have been all right, because they decided to give him a home and raise him the best way they knew how. They named him John Richard, but nobody ever called him John except teachers on the first day of school and, later, credit card companies and banks and people from the government, like DMV clerks. They called him Rick, after the judge who arranged the adoption. Growing up, though, Rick thought his dad didn't like the name, because he rarely used it. Most of the time, he was called "little man" or "my son" or the name that drove him crazy, which was "Jay," the name of Rick's older brother. To even it out a little, Rick's dad would call Jay "Rick." Rick's dad was a lawyer and politician, and Rick often wondered why he wasn't better with names.
Rick grew up in a three bedroom rancher on Staunton Avenue. In central Florida, the summers are hot and last longer than northern summers. There were a lot of kids in the neighborhood and everyone hung outside well past dark, until screen doors slammed open and a half-dozen mothers' voices called everyone inside. Rick's house was the center of activity because it had the biggest yard and there was a carport for shelter in bad weather. There were trees good for climbing and a swing-set and a large table of mysterious origins set up in the backyard with a marble top that made for an excellent stage. A stage was a very good thing to have for a kid with a hyperactive imagination.
Rick loved to read from an early age and his father bought him many books but never could seem to buy them often enough, so Rick read his favorites over and over. Dr. Seuss when he was younger, then Hardy Boys and Sherlock Holmes and Lord of the Rings. Back then there were about four channels on television and his parents didn't like TV much anyway, so reading topped his list of ways to escape his worries, of which thankfully there were few.
Rick's father wanted him to be a lawyer. This was never made explicit, but it hung in the air like an old lady's perfume. Sometimes his dad would laugh at something clever Rick said and respond with something like, "You'd make an excellent attorney!" He praised lawyers for the roles they served in creating a "civilized society," a phrase he used more and more often as the Sixties came to their explosive end. Every day he went to work in a crisp white shirt and a perfectly tied tie and shoes shined to a mirror finish. Everybody in town seemed to know him and like him. He ran for state representative, then state attorney, then state senator. He won every time. He was a big man with a big personality and Rick adored him but was a little afraid of him, too. His dad also was a very good singer. At political events, he always sang; it was the highlight of the evening.
When Rick was about eight or nine, his dad took a big chunk of his savings and bought 200 acres of land deep in the central Florida swamps. The land was cleared of palmetto bushes and the ground plowed and grass planted and a barn built and cows trucked in and the Yancey Family Farm was born. Rick began working there as a teenager every weekend and during the summer. The days were sauna-hot until the afternoons when the big summer thunderstorms roared in from the east and lightning cackled like witches, and the cattle stood stock-still in ankle-deep water with heads down in the driving sheets of gray. Rick sweated a lot and got deep callouses and bad sunburns and daydreamed constantly, because the work was hard but not very mentally challenging. His father noticed and said things like, "Get your head out of the clouds and concentrate on what you're doing." Rick tried; he didn't succeed very often.
First Interest in Writing
Rick wrote his first short-story for an assignment in his seventh-grade English class. He wrote the story in longhand and his mother, who was a legal secretary, typed it for him. He got an A. Rick was not the worst student at Crystal Lake Junior High, but he wasn't the best either. He didn't make a lot of A's, so this one meant a lot plus the fact that he really liked writing the story. It was supposed to be five pages long; Rick's story turned out to be twenty-five. He wrote a note to his teacher: "I'm sorry about the length." His teacher wrote back, "Never apologize for something you should be proud of." That was the day Rick thought he might like to become a writer.
Rick graduated from Lakeland Senior High School (home of the Fighting Dreadnaughts). By that time, he had fallen in love with the theater and had appeared in a couple of plays. He thought he might like to be playwright, so he wrote some plays and even had one produced at the local community college. He decided to go to college in Lakeland, the same college where his father graduated. He majored in communications, which his dad thought would be an excellent degree for anyone who was thinking about being a lawyer. Rick wasn't. He was thinking about being a writer.
After a year at Florida Southern College, Rick decided to transfer to Florida State University. After a year there, he moved again, this time to Chicago, where he attended Roosevelt University, graduating from there with an English degree, which, in his father's opinion, would be an excellent stepping stone toward a law degree. Rick decided to move back to Florida after four years in Chicago. The winters were unbearably cold and he didn't have a very good job and life in the big city wasn't the grand adventure he imagined it would be.
He enrolled in law school.
It was the same law school his father had attended. Rick lasted a year. He called his father and said, "Law school isn't for me." And his father said, "No, I didn't think it would be."
Rick taught some English classes, did some acting and directing at a local community theater, even returned to the ranch for a while, the swampy breeding grounds of his elaborate daydreams. In 1991, he answered a newspaper ad for a government job that turned out to be with the Internal Revenue Service. He worked there for the next twelve years, first in Florida, then in Tennessee. He fell in love, got married, raised a family of three boys (who believed, when they were younger, that their dad moonlighted as a superhero), and wrote screenplays in his spare time. He had this very strange idea that he could break into the movie business from Knoxville, Tennessee. His wife – who is also his best friend – told him one of his screenplays would make an excellent book and one day he decided maybe it would, so he wrote the book and called it A Burning in Homeland and for the next ten months tried to find someone to publish it. Finally, in 2001, he did.
He left his job in 2004 to write fulltime. He wrote Confessions of a Tax Collector about his days at the IRS. He wrote the Highly Effective Detective series about a bumbling PI based in Knoxville. He wrote the Alfred Kropp series about a big kid who saves the world with King Arthur's sword, Excalibur. Then he wrote The Monstrumologist series, in which a 19th Century doctor and his young apprentice race around the world chasing – and being chased by – monsters. Now he's writing a series called The 5Th Wave. It's about aliens and the end of the world, two things he thinks about probably more than is good for him. He writes almost every day because that's what he should be doing. That's where all the daydreams were trying to lead him.
Now he's back in his native state with his true love and youngest son and a two-year old doodle named Max that he now wishes he had named Yankee or maybe Ramen. When he isn't daydreaming, he likes long walks with his wife and taking trips to Georgia's Golden Isles and doing projects around the house because writing doesn't seem like real work, or at least not the kind of rough, callous-producing work you do on a cattle ranch.