WARNING LIGHT: Five Questions with David Ricciardi


David Ricciardi Credit Mary Alice Fisher_0.jpg.png
Photo by Mary Alice Fisher


What a year for debut thrillers. First, Karen Cleveland dazzled readers with Need To Know, then Jack Carr blew the doors off the action thriller genre with his Vince Flynn-like debut, The Terminal List

Now, armed with the most polished and suspenseful debut of them all, it’s David Ricciardi’s turn to put on a show for readers when Warning Light, the first book in a brand new series starring a CIA analyst named Zac Miller, hits bookstores tomorrow. 

If Carr’s book is reminiscent of the late Vince Flynn, then Ricciardi reads like the second coming of Tom Clancy. . . but without pages of details about how submarines and nuclear weapons work. (No, that’s not a knock on Clancy, who almost single-handedly created this genre, but rather an observation on how authors’ styles have evolved over the years — with readers now typically preferring leaner and meaner stories that read fast from start to finish.) 

Warning Light is special because, unlike most debuts, Ricciardi’s first book is a true origin story for Zac Miller, who’s a desk jockey when readers first meet him — only to be thrust into the field with little to no training, armed with nothing but his wits, instincts, and the will to survive.

Consider this: Mitch Rapp was already a kickass assassin when Vince Flynn released Transfer of Power; Gabriel Allon was already known as the “wayward son of Israeli intelligence” when Daniel Silva released The Kill Artist; Scot Harvath was a decorated Navy SEAL turned Secret Service member when Brad Thor introduced him to readers in The Lions of Lucerne; Pike Logan was a former Delta Force Commander in Brad Taylor’s first book, One Rough Man; Dewey Andreas was a former Delta Force commando in Ben Coes’ highly-regarded debut, Power Down; The Gray Man (aka Courtland Gentry, aka Violator) was already a legend in the world of assassins when Mark Greaney released The Gray Man. . . I could do this all day, but you get the point.

It’s rare for an author to open a series with a true origin story. In fact, over the last two decades, it’s more common to find writers going back in time to pen a beginning story for their characters — much like Vince Flynn (American Assassin), Lee Child (Night School), and, to a lesser extent, Mark Greaney (Back Blast), among others, have all done. 

The reason it’s difficult for most writers to open with an origin story is that it’s hard to deliver an action-packed, balls-to-the-wall thriller without the lead character being a hardened, battle-tested operator. In this case, Ricciardi found the perfect recipe, because his story is predicated on the fact that Miller isn’t any of those things when readers first meet him. But, to survive, Miller must learn how to become that lethal type of hero that fans love to follow around by the book’s end, or else. . . 

The end result is a riveting, fast-paced thriller that’ll leave you breathless. Other hopeful authors should take note of Ricciardi’s style — when it comes to character development, this is how it’s done. Warning Light is a phenomenal novel that’ll keep readers thoroughly engrossed and glued helplessly to their reading chairs. 

A huge thank you to David Ricciardi for agreeing to go on the record for our Five Questions segment. See the brief Q&A below, then keep scrolling to read more about Warning Light, one of the year’s must-read thrillers, in stores tomorrow, Tuesday, April 17th. 


Warning Light: Five Questions with David Ricciardi


TRBS: Warning Light is one of the best debut thrillers I’ve read in years. . . how did you come up with the idea for the plot, and what is your writing process like?

Ricciardi: “First of all, thank you for that incredible review. It means a great deal to me coming from a man who quite possibly reads more thrillers than anyone else on the planet. The plot for Warning Light came from a number of personal adventures to which I added a geopolitical backdrop. I spent a lot of time wandering around places where you couldn’t call 9-1-1 if something went wrong, where even contacting help would’ve required a multi-day journey on foot. I loved it, but it required planning and careful execution to do it as safely as possible. I thought it would be exciting to share that feeling with readers. ‘So you’re flying somewhere, engrossed in your favorite new thriller, and your plane has to make an emergency landing. Twenty minutes after closing the book, you’re in the middle of nowhere, you don’t speak the language, and everyone around you is trying to kill you. What do you do?’

“My writing process is very much like Zac’s adventure. Everything is thoroughly planned out, but it all goes to hell as soon as I start writing and I’m forced to improvise. I wouldn’t recommend it.”

TRBS: One of the things that makes Warning Light so unique is that readers get to see Zac Miller’s origin story, which is pretty rare in debut thrillers nowadays. Typically, new authors introduce a hardened hero, but you opted to take readers along for Zac’s first mission. It all worked brilliantly, but I’m curious, why did you choose to go about it this way? 

Ricciardi: “I really wanted readers to be able to identify with Zac. He’s outdoorsy and in good shape, but aside from that, he pretty much has no idea what he’s doing. He has to figure it out as he goes along. I thought it would be great to strip away the luxuries and technology that we all take for granted and see someone who has absolutely nothing, not even a pair of shoes, thrown into a fight for survival.    

“His mind and his determination and the only things that are going to get him out of the mess he’s in, and hopefully he develops and matures in the process – kind of like life.”

TRBS: There is so much detail in this book, from locations to, well, how to travel from country to country under the radar. How much research did you have to do before actually sitting down to write this book?

Ricciardi: “My family and I were once backpacking through a high-mountain desert when my son said, ‘I don’t understand why you would do this if you weren’t forced to.’ That sums up my preliminary research – I’d done enough oddball things to have a lot of vague concepts floating around in my head. The real research began once I started writing. I put myself in Zac’s shoes and said, ‘OK tough guy, now what?’ I tried very hard to keep it realistic. No superhuman feats, no special-mission-unit training, just a guy who absolutely refuses to give up. I’d estimate that I spent a third of my time on research, but I actually stripped out a lot of details when I felt they were slowing down the pace.”

TRBS: What is it like working with an editor like Tom Colgan, and how does it feel when your work is compared to Tom Clancy’s early Jack Ryan books?

Ricciardi: “A good editor is a critical part of the writing process. For me, there is no suspense in what I’m writing. It’s exciting when the words are flowing easily and I know it’s going to be a good scene, but when I need to change something I can search a 100,000-word manuscript for a certain phrase, knowing that I used those three words only once in the entire piece. I know the action, the thoughts, the predicament that will only become obvious ten chapters from now. Creating a novel is a process, a long process. Tom Colgan has an incredible ability to not only spot the plot holes, the dull parts, etc. but also to recommend strong fixes. My agent once told me that if I was accepting less than 80% of an editor’s suggestions then it probably wasn’t a good fit between writer and editor. I’ve probably accepted 95% of Tom Colgan’s ideas and I’m sure I was wrong about the other 5%. 

“In terms of Warning Light being compared to Tom Clancy’s early Jack Ryan novels… I’m honored and humbled. As far as I’m concerned, The Hunt for Red October created the techno-thriller genre… I read Red Storm Rising once a year for probably eight years… I have a friend whose son is named Jack Ryan (almost as hardcore as you, Steck!). That it would occur to someone to even mention my work in the same sentence as Tom Clancy’s is flattering. The fact that one of those people was Tom Clancy’s editor leaves me nearly speechless and incredibly grateful.”

TRBS: Lastly, when can readers expect to see Zac Miller again?

Ricciardi: “He’ll be back next year. Unfortunately, despite all the experience he gained in Warning Light, things don’t get a whole lot easier for Zac…”


Warning lightNo one knows what CIA desk jockey Zac Miller is capable of–including himself–when a routine surveillance job becomes a do-or-die mission in the Middle East.

When a commercial flight violates restricted airspace to make an emergency landing at a closed airport in Iran, the passengers are just happy to be alive and ready to transfer to a functional plane. All of them except one . . .

The American technology consultant in business class is not who he says he is. Zac Miller is a CIA analyst. And after an agent’s cover gets blown, Zac–though never trained to be a field operative–volunteers to take his place, to keep a surveillance mission from being scrubbed.

Zac thinks it will be easy to photograph the earthquake-ravaged airport that is located near a hidden top-secret nuclear facility. But when everything that can go wrong does, he finds himself on the run from the Islamic Revolutionary Guards and abandoned by his own teammates, who think he has gone rogue. Embarking on a harrowing journey through the mountains of Iran to the Persian Gulf and across Europe, Zac can only rely on himself. But even if he makes it out alive, the life he once had may be lost to him forever . . .



Praised as “one of today’s finest book reviewers” by New York Times bestselling author Gayle Lynds, Ryan Steck (“The Godfather of the thriller genre” — Ben Coes) has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.



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