Saturday, May 28, 2011

Ray Dix - The Best Defense

Ray Dix is a man who still believes in heroes. As an assistant public defender, he represented individuals who could not afford attorneys. As an assistant capital collateral representative, he reinvestigated convictions and wrote death row appeals. As a writer, he created Woody Thomas, a character he describes as a champion for our time. "Woody is square," he explains. "He believes in truth, love, and a fair fight. He has a code of honor, and he'd be willing to die for it. And he believes in justice - he just doesn't believe he's seen it lately."

Dix did not set out to become a writer. A graduate of Salisbury State College in his home state of Maryland, he spent some time repairing copiers and computers, building boats, and running a boat shop. It wasn't until he was 40 years old that he decided to pursue a legal career. He earned his law degree from Maryland School of Law and began practice as a public defender. He was struck by the strangeness of the job. "When you work on death row, I don't care which side you're on, you're on the fringe because it draws so much emotion from you. You struggle with some really heavy stuff. You take it to bed with you each night, and it never goes away."

For Dix, journaling was one way of coping. He started his journal in 1972 as part of a college English assignment. The class ended, but the journal kept going. It has since grown to over 45 volumes and has become a treasury of story ideas. "Lawyers love to get together and tell war stories, and I was no exception," he says. "I come from a family of storytellers, and people kept telling me I should write a book. I had an idea, and I had a beginning and an end. I figured all I needed was a middle." He started his first novel, Death Row Defender, in 1996. It went through 11 rewrites before its release in October, 2005. The book, praised by the Richmond Times as "a cut above the average," became its publisher's second-highest seller for 2005 and went on to win an EPPIE "Best Mystery" award.

Death Row Defender tells the story of Woody Thomas' attempt to save the life of a down-on-his-luck young man sentenced to die for a rape-murder. After examining the case, Woody comes to believe the young man has been framed. He relives the trial through the transcripts, then locates and questions the witnesses. The case looks solid, but federal agents begin to follow Woody, local police try to frame him, and someone tries to kill him. The novel takes readers on a compelling and harrowing journey through the labyrinth of our legal system. According to Dix, "Nothing happens in the book that hasn't happened somewhere in the country. I wanted the reader to see what really goes on." And what really goes on is extremely unsettling.

Dix's second novel, Tampa Bay Blues, is set for release in December 2011. The idea for the story came to Dix while he was reviewing case law for a Pinellas County court case. The story centers around the murder of Woody's good friend. Woody agrees to represent the confessed murderer, a mutual friend from Alcoholics Anonymous. The novel gives an in-depth look at police interrogation techniques, courtroom tactics, and the relationships within Alcoholics Anonymous.

Dix has also completed his third Woody Thomas novel, Panama City Jump. It grew out of unresolved issues in Death Row Defender and examines how revenge and anger change people. In the story, an enemy from Woody's past seeks revenge by destroying and killing that which Woody loves. Always a defender at heart, but still a former military intelligence agent, Woody knows that often the best defense is a good offense. But is he willing to lose his soul if that good defense becomes murder?

Dix acknowledges that his dual role as lawyer/writer poses a unique set of challenges. "The hardest part of writing for me is finding the time. The first ten pages of a book are hell. But the best part is when it's over and you can look back on what you've written. There's nothing like it." He hopes to retire from full-time law practice soon so that he can spend more time wrtiting and doing other things he enjoys - like sailing, meditating, and walking the beach with his wife, Cynthia. His goal for the future is "to produce one good mystery/suspense novel a year for the next 20 to 30 years." To Dix, there is a clear connection between being a lawyer and being a writer. "We become lawyers because we see things that need to be fixed," he says. "We become writers because we can't always fix them."

For more about Ray Dix, visit his website at

Next: Dorothy Francis - Cozy Up With a Good Mystery


  1. Good writer AND a nice man! Great profile of Ray Dix, Jackie.... keep up the good work exposing folks to some of Florida's many fantastic writers (must be something in the water here!)

  2. It's so nice to have recommended reading on local authors. Thanks for keeping up this blog!