Off the Page: Rick Pullen

A Young Female Protagonist Who Uncovers Truths

I had just completed my manuscript for Naked Truth, the sequel to my first political thriller, Naked Ambition, when Donald Trump came into the picture and changed everything. Many say fiction can’t get any stranger then the reality now in Washington, but I hope to change a few minds.

When I was considering my next political thriller, things in Washington were changing rapidly, lurching in one weird direction after another. It made me think of the Netflix series House of Cards. I wondered if I could write a book series, or rather an old-fashioned serial, mirroring the crazy times in our nation’s capital.

Donald Trump’s television series The Apprentice was the first thing that came to mind. I saw it as a perfect analogy for what was going on at the moment. Trump, for all of his bravado, business experience, and expertise in commercial real estate, was really a novice—an apprentice—when it came to politics. Of course the outstanding question was: Would he eventually get fired?

I realized my protagonist for my other novels had too much experience as an investigative reporter to fit the title, THE APPRENTICE, of my new serial. I needed a new protagonist. And for it to work, my new lead had to be a much younger, less seasoned reporter. This would allow me to explore the story through a fresher pair of eyes. That would give me the opportunity to better explain the crazy world in Washington since much of it would be new to my protagonist. This was just the opposite of what I had been writing in my other series.

One of the first things I try to do when developing a character is to find a perfect name. There is a young woman in my office (I’m a magazine editor) whose name is Tish. I love the name. I hadn’t really considered a female protagonist, but then I had never ruled it out either. She’s young, attractive, and smart—all the things I needed in a reporter character. So that’s how I came up with a young female reporter, not long out of college, who is thrust into the limelight covering a rookie president. The idea worked. I had one apprentice investigating another.

I told Tish about my idea and asked if I could interview her. She readily agreed. I needed to understand how a 20-something thinks. My magazine has also written a lot about the millennial generation and its impact on culture and business. So I have some knowledge about the younger generation’s mindset.

Over lunch I discovered Tish is biracial. That’s a nice element, I thought. I picked her brain about it, and found it wasn’t a big deal to her or her friends.

I decided to make my protagonist a little nerdy and serious so I wouldn’t have to deal with a lot of age-appropriate trendy millennial stuff. Part of being a male writer creating a female lead is trying to understand where you should and shouldn’t go. My daughter, Jill, and wife, Cherie, are my beta readers. They are constantly correcting my female characters in my draft manuscripts. I have very strong women in my life and my novels.

But that said, my protagonist has just recently landed her dream job at a big city newspaper, which is intimidating for anyone—female or male. And most women I’ve met in the workplace are pretty honest about their insecurities while my male colleagues just don’t talk about them (or hide them completely). Being able to build those traits into the character makes her more believable and more real to my readers.

So Tish had to have her share of insecurities and be somewhat intimidated by what happens all around her. Yet at the same time, she’s no pushover. After all, she got a coveted job at a great American newspaper because she earned it. What is different about her is she is thrust into a story not of her choosing almost immediately, so she questions if she is ready to take this on. Here, she acts like a man, not telling anyone of her doubts, except for the reader.

Rick Pullen

Tish’s last name is Woodward. Her boyfriend, a freelance photojournalist who helps her investigation, is a Bernstein descendent. Watergate fans will recognize the connection. She just got her first apartment, graduating from living with roommates. So she is growing and suddenly facing the most powerful human being on earth. And she comes to realize her newspaper colleagues have her back. That also empowers her.

Because I’m trying to create an on-going narrative—the second book will pick up where the first one leaves off—I don’t want to reveal all of Tish in the first book. And I don’t get into a lot of race issues (possibly the second book). There is time.

Book one is about Tish’s new world and the adventure she stumbles into. She resolves a mystery and still ends up in hot water to carry the story forward. I’m now working on the second episode of this adventure, which will reveal a lot more about her.



Rick Pullen is the author of THE APPRENTICE, published on December 26, 2017.



The columns "Off the Page," "Author Guided Tour," "Get It Right," and "Inside Creativity" are open to author members of ITW to write. For more information on submitting a column, email

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