On the Side

At first, Ken Merrell pursued his unlikely passion at night after working all day as CEO of Cobblecrete International, the Orem, Utah, concrete-stamping company he'd founded and built into a 25-employee, $2.7-million business. Then he started stealing moments out of his workday. Finally, he took a year's leave of absence, so great was his need to finish writing his first suspense novel.

Many an entrepreneur writes -- or at least produces an as-told-to business book. Few, however, write fiction. Merrell is an even rarer breed, the equivalent of a mountain climber with a fear of heights: a dyslexic author who can't read his own work in public. "I'm so embarrassed to read," he says, "I turn beet red." In junior high, he became physically ill before English class. In college, before he dropped out, he prevailed upon others to write his papers. Still, he was a riveting storyteller, and as his 40th birthday approached, he felt a best-seller swirling inside his head. To relieve the demons, the father of six began to write. Horribly, at first. In the same way that he'd disassembled and rebuilt car engines as a 12-year-old, Merrell wrote and rewrote. He studied and learned from Grisham and Hemingway and Dickens.

When he finally finished his book, he founded his own company, Kay Dee Books, to publish it. In March 2001 he printed 50,000 paperback copies of his thriller, The Landlord, and then another 75,000 copies, many of which were given away at TCBY frozen-yogurt stores along with the company's new frozen drink as part of a "Buy a Chiller, Get a Thriller" campaign.

Last year Merrell sold his concrete company but quickly started making plans for another business, Line-A-Bed USA, a maker of equipment and supplies for spraying urethane liners onto truck beds. He now bookends his long start-up hours with early-morning and late-night writing sessions. His second novel, The Identity Check, is now out in hardcover, written like his first "at 21 words a minute," Merrell says. "That's as fast as I can type with two fingers."

The Inc Life

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Published on: Aug 1, 2002