John Ridley was born and raised in Milwaukee. He moved to New York to study East Asian languages and culture at New York University before trying his hand at comedy. Part of his distinctive voice as a writer is an instinct for comedy that he developed while performing as a stand-up comic. His talent eventually led him to appearances on shows such as Late Night with David Letterman and The Tonight Show. He continued to pursue stand-up comedy after moving from New York to Los Angeles in 1991, but also started writing. He landed his first network writing job in 1993, working on the hit sitcom Martin. This led to writing for other hit shows, such as The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and Third Watch.
During this time, Ridley was also working on material that would later become his first novel, Stray Dogs (1997). Upon publication of this noir mystery, Ridley established himself as a major literary talent. The San Francisco Examiner praised, “Ridley’s brisk dialogue and gritty descriptions bring to mind the works of Raymond Chandler and Elmore Leonard. Yet Ridley has his own unique voice that is a rich addition to the genre.” The book was subsequently made into the film U-Turn, directed by Academy Award winner Oliver Stone. Ridley continued his work in film, writing and directing his first original screenplay, Cold Around the Heart. The film won Ridley the best director award at the first Urbanworld Film Festival in New York. He also wrote the critically acclaimed film Three Kings, starring George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg.
Though Ridley has attained success in television and film writing, being a novelist is where his real ambition lies. “Writing for TV is mindless factory work . . . Writing for movies is just a little better,” remarked Ridley. “Novels, on the other hand, are theater of the mind and offer an unparalleled level of freedom.” Nevertheless, movies have influenced Ridley’s writing. As a child, he accidentally tuned in to the Barbara Stanwyck classic Double Indemnity. “I didn’t know film noir,” said Ridley, “but it was great.” The film noir sensibility is certainly evident in his two other hard-boiled novels, Love Is a Racket (1998) and Everybody Smokes in Hell (1999). The Los Angeles Times wrote that “[His] writing is vivid and funny. Ridley has a sharp eye for detail and an ear for offbeat speech.” The thirty-five year old author is at work on his next novel. He lives in Los Angeles and is married to a professional gambler.
Ridley’s other screenwriting projects include the adaptation of Lorenzo Carcaterra’s Apaches; the original screenplay Formula One; Blades, a helicopter thriller; and The Seekers, a tale of bounty hunters.
Excerpt from Stray Dogs (1997)
The house was more than John had expected; big, ranch-style. Santa Fe decor in and out. It looked as much a part of the desert as cactus. Expensive cactus. It was an oasis; a place to land away from the heat, and dirt and sweat and dryness. It was cool and clean and . . . safe. Yeah, that’s what that feeling was. Safe. Here he didn’t owe anybody anything, and nobody was trying to take anything from him. Not money, not . . . His hand started to hurt again, or at least the memory of it.
Grace poured Jack a glass of lemonade, led him to the master bedroom, then disappeared somewhere into the house. Occasionally John heard a sound; something moving, a laugh . . . ? Other than that, Grace ceased to exist; gone like a wet-dream fantasy driven away by the morning light.
He let his mind get comfortable in the thought of the house again. As much as he hated what he’d seen of this patch of dirt, as much as he couldn’t stand the thought of being there just for the day, John figured he could get used to the house . . . to Grace. To Grace being in the house when he came home at night, or the middle of the day, or basically her just being there for him.
Yeah. John dug that idea. He slipped it on and walked around in it for a while. A body like that, a place like this . . . What’s not to like?
He unwrapped his bandaged hand, stripped, went into the bathroom. Turning on the shower, he stepped under it. The water was cool, and it ran streaks of clean down his dusted body. It should have relaxed him, but it only reminded him of the rain. The rain reminded him of . . . John’s mind hit rewind.
Selected WorkThree Kings (Writing credit) (1999)Everybody Smokes in Hell (1999)Love Is a Racket (1998)U-Turn (1998)Stray Dogs (1997)