Meet Ralph Pezzullo.
This novelist and screenwriter has also worked as a freelance journalist and a playwright. Ralph has lived all over the world, including New York City, Washington DC, and Bolivia, to name just a few locations. Now based in Los Angeles, Ralph has recently released Hunt The Wolf - a SEAL Team Six novel - coauthored with Don Mann. Together Ralph and Don have also penned Hunt The Scorpion and Inside Seal Team Six.
Ralph talked to us about his career and life in the City of Angels.
How did you get into writing? Was it something you always wanted to do or something you developed later in life?
My childhood friends tell me that I always talked about wanting to be a writer. I guess I did. But I had no idea how to get started. My father was a US diplomat, so I grew up all over the world in countries like Mexico, Vietnam, Bolivia, Colombia, Guatemala, Uruguay and Nicaragua. When I went to college, I majored in International Relations. But instead of following in my father’s footsteps, I drifted into journalism. Then I became interested in theater and started writing plays. I’ve had over a dozen produced in New York City and around the country. From playwriting, I expanded into writing for film and television. I also did a lot of advertising copywriting to make a living – commercials for Sports Illustrated, the NBA, the NFL, the NHL, etc. I’ve also written poetry, radio dramas, campaign speeches and ten or more books.
Do you remember the first thing you wrote? What was it about?
When I was in sixth or seventh grade our English teacher asked us to write a short story. Mine was a stream-of-consciousness piece from the point of view of a New York City cab driver. It had him cursing, laughing, wrestling with his own fears, and at one point, pissing in a bottle. My teacher was convinced that I had copied it verbatim from a magazine like Playboy.
How do you feel your writing has evolved in the past several years?
The great thing about being a writer is that you’re always learning, and there’s always lots of room for improvement. Over the last couple years, I think my writing has become leaner, more refined, and sharper. I’m fortunate that I’m able to make
my living as a writer, and have for most of my adult life. But that means I have to adapt to needs of the marketplace. In other words, produce the kinds of book that big commercial publishers think they can sell. I feel that over the last five or six years, I’ve learned to do that better.
What is it about your writing that sets it apart from everyone else out there? What makes your work unique?
The thing that a book can do better than a film or a play, is put you in the head of a character. I believe I do that well. Whether I’m writing fiction or nonfiction, or the lead character is a CIA agent, New York City detective, a Navy SEAL, or someone else, I think I can give the reader a clear sense of what that person is thinking in a particular set of circumstances, and what it’s like to be in that person’s shoes. Because of my background growing up in so many interesting places overseas, I feel that I’m also good at creating setting. In a few short words or paragraphs, I hope to give a reader a sense of place, culture, history, etc. – whether I’m writing about New York City, Afghanistan or Haiti.
Tell us about the newest book you worked on, HUNT THE WOLF. What’s it about and what can the reader expect when they open it up?
I’m often approached by people with interesting stories. About two years ago, I heard from a longtime Navy SEAL, who has been a member of SEAL Team Six and has participated in all kinds of unbelievable adventures all around the world. He wanted to collaborate with me on a series of thrillers based on some of the top-secret operations he’s been involved in around the world. The first of these books, called HUNT THE WOLF was recently published by Mulholland/Little Brown. The second HUNT THE SCORPION comes out in December. HUNT THE WOLF has been described by a female reviewer as “an incredible novel full of action and suspense.” It’s about an assault team of five SEAL Team Six members who are sent into Pakistan under the cover of professional mountain climbers to assassinate a high-level al-Qaeda leader. Readers can expect great characters, lots of high-octane action and a plot that starts in Norway and takes them to Pakistan, France, Oman and, ends with the SEALs trying to chase down and stop a bomb-laden tanker in the Persian Gulf.
Good three-dimensional characters often write themselves. Was that the case with the characters in HUNT THE WOLF?
The characters of the SEALs are based on real people, which made it easier for me. I very much enjoyed writing the repartee between them. They’re the most lethal, highly-trained soldiers on the planet, but they also have wives and families. I want the reader to get a sense of the real men, what they go through while they’re on a mission, how they prepare, what they think about, how they work together, the specific duties of each man on the team, etc.
How did you get hooked-up with Don Mann and what is it like working with him?
Like I said before, he found me. He’s been the best collaborator any writer could hope for – open, friendly, and very appreciative of what I do. When I ask him for information, he’s always forthcoming. I’m proud to say that he’s my friend.
You’ve worked with him on a few projects, right? What is one of your fondest memories of working with him?
We’ve worked together on four books now, and have a few more in the works. The four that we’ve finished so far are INSIDE SEAL TEAM SIX, which came out last December and was a New York Times bestseller, HUNT THE WOLF, which was just released, and HUNT THE SCORPION, which will be published in early December of this year, and the NAVY SEAL SURVIVAL HANDBOOK, which is being published this August.
My fondest memory? I would say that has to be traveling to Virginia last summer and spending a week with him and his wife Dawn. They were gracious, warm and a lot of fun.
Co-authoring a book can’t be easy. What are some of the challenges as a co-author that you didn’t anticipate?
I’ve been fortunate to work with a number of interesting co-authors, including CIA operative Gary Berntsen, Steve Hodel and Don Mann. Working with anyone presents certain challenges. I try to be understanding of their concerns, honest, and very professional. Don Mann is a great guy to work with. In fact, he’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. The one thing neither one of us anticipated was having the publication of INSIDE SEAL TEAM SIX held up for two months while it was redacted by government and military censors. That turned out to be real headache for both of us, our agent, and our publisher Little Brown.
What can we expect to see next from you?
I also write a hardboiled mystery series featuring an ex-NYPD officer turned private detective named Smokey Annicelli. The second book in the series, BLOOD OF MY BLOOD, is being published this summer. And I wrote a film adaptation of Jim Thompson’s thriller RECOIL, which will start filming late this year with James Foley directing. I’m planning to start another very interesting non-fiction project soon.