Dear Friend and Reader,
I want to start by saying thank you. I’m so appreciative to you for sticking with me. Blood is Black has gotten off to a good start, and the new Dillard novel, Last Resort, is poised to have a phenomenal release.
I feel like I owe it to you to explain how this Dillard book came together and all of the variables involved. The year was 2020. After our struggles with finishing Blood is Black and admitting it would be best for someone else to come in and help us complete the manuscript, Dad’s younger brother, Dan, and I circled back to Dillard. Considering where Dad had left the characters at the end of Due Process, we knew we had to write another one. And based on conversations I’d had with Dad about Joe’s future before he died, I knew he planned this 10th book as a sort of conclusion to the Joe Dillard saga. We had lost Mom, and Dad didn’t think he’d be able to continue writing the series without her. Besides the actual despair of her passing, Dad felt like he lost the soul of the Dillard books when he lost his real-life Caroline.
And so, even though we knew it would be enormously painful and difficult, Dan and I set out on a journey to do this Dillard book together using the same plan we initially had for completing the Presley Carter book – I plot the chapters, he writes them. We thought it would be easier this time around because 1) we were starting with a blank canvas and 2) we were both so intimately familiar with the Dillard characters – they’re family. Literally and figuratively. We met up for a weekend at a remote cabin with the sole intent of fleshing out a full outline and left with the framework for a compelling story.
Unfortunately, we ended up doing the same dance to the same song that we had done with Blood is Black. Dan works full-time as a pastor, and aside from continuing to promote and drive Dad’s book sales, I was still a part-owner in a local baseball business. I had also gotten married, and was working with writers on finishing Blood is Black and Dad’s biography. Close to a year passed, and we had about three chapters of the new Dillard book written. At that rate, it was going to take us a decade to finish the novel. Considering it had already been two years since Dad had left us, we both accepted reality and realized we needed help.
This would be a good place to address a message I’ve gotten from several people over the past few years: “You’re a decent writer, Dylan - why don’t you just pen it yourself?” Aside from the previously-mentioned time constraints from my other commitments, and while I had a fair grasp on plot, character, and story structure, and was intimately familiar with the Dillard characters, writing a novel is a different ballgame. I’ve always believed there’s a huge distinction between being a good writer and being a good storyteller. Crafting sharp dialogue, pacing, building suspense, knowing when to let the reader up for air and when to put your foot on the gas – developing these skills takes time. Like any other craft, mastering storytelling requires seasoning and practice, and I wasn’t willing to use the Dillard book as a training ground to develop my storytelling chops. Dad’s readers, his characters, and his legacy deserved the practiced hands of a professional rather than the fumbling keystrokes of a novice. Not to mention, writing about criminal procedure was second nature to Dad, but for me, capturing the subtleties of that world, despite having grown up around it, would have been a significant challenge. Could I have done it? Maybe. Would the finished work have met Dad’s standard for a great Dillard novel? I doubt it.
After doing some research, I discovered an entire ecosystem of writers I never knew existed - professionals who write in the crime/thriller genre for a living that are familiar with the intricacies of criminal procedure. This was the route I decided to take to honor the Dillard legacy and create the best possible novel.
Then I had another decision to make – do I find a co-writer to be alongside Dad’s name on the cover or go with a ghostwriter? After an excruciating amount of thought, especially knowing this book would be an ending of sorts to the Joe Dillard Series, I decided I wanted the entire series to belong exclusively to Dad. So, ghostwriter it was. I connected with a brilliant writer, and he and I got to work on producing the novel. As previously mentioned, Dan and I already had a solid outline, fully fleshed-out character arcs, and some chapters written, so the writer wasn’t starting from scratch. He immersed himself completely in the Dillard books and came out the other side feeling like he would be up to the challenge.
After a year of hard work and several rounds of revisions, we had a finished manuscript. Our collaboration was the most brutally difficult, heartbreaking, and important work I’ve ever done, especially since those labors were taking place in the shadow of Dad’s massive legacy. That being said, I’m immensely proud of what we were able to accomplish.
Now, to address the creation of the J.D. Pratt pen name. Originally, I intended for this book to have Dad’s name alone on the cover – the entire Joe Dillard Series would belong exclusively to Scott Pratt in perpetuity. However, after sending the book to one or two close friends, one bit of feedback was clear – since Dad passed nearly five years ago, readers are going to wonder: Who wrote this book? Since most people familiar with his work know he’s been gone for some time, it could be confusing. I agreed – there needed to be a second name on the cover.
Even though this last book in the Joe Dillard Series would no longer be solely Dad’s name, I still wanted the name alongside his to represent him and our family. So, I decided I’d create a moniker with Pratt as the last name. What should the first name be? Arthur, since that was Dad’s first name (Scott was his middle name)? S.K. to represent Scott and Kristy (my mom)? Kris? Since this project was so collaborative between me, Dan, the writer, and Dad’s spirit, I eventually landed on a pen name that encompassed all of those elements and was a tribute to Dad’s legacy. J.D. Pratt was born (J.D. = Joe Dillard).
I want to finish by once again saying thank you for staying the course with me. The last five years have been a tumultuous cacophony of sleepless nights, grief, stress, and self-doubt, complete with a side of imposter syndrome. Hell, I even broke out in shingles during the week leading up to Blood is Black’s release (I’m in my mid-thirties). Still, even through all of that, I’m proud of this book. Dad would be, too.
To you, dear readers and friends: I’m sorry it took me so long. You have my eternal gratitude for sticking with me. You won’t be sorry.
To my Uncle Dan and those who helped me finish what Dad started: I owe you a debt I’ll never be able to re-pay. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.
To my sister, Kody: You’ve been a light in the darkness as I’ve navigated this stormy sea of loss and despair. My rock. I love you more than words can express.
To my wife, Kadey, and my son, Jett: You are the anchors that keep me tethered to this world. My sun and my stars. I love you both more than you can possibly imagine.
To my parents: I gave it my all. I hope you’re proud. I loved you both before I was born, and I’ll love you both after I’m long gone.
-Dad, Mom, and my sister, Kody
-My wife, Kadey, and my son, Jett