Bulletin News

Crime does pay for mystery author


Over the last decade, the former “Voice of Red Dragon Football” has expressed himself as a dark storyteller, self publishing some 40 thriller and mystery books.

That means Dan Padavona ’91, who left a career in meteorology to thrive in the world of fiction, writes a complete novel roughly every three months.

“I never imagined making a living off my writing,” Padavona said. “I just wanted to entertain people, to show something to my friends and family.”

Most of Padvona's books are set in the Finger Lakes. That makes sense because this Cortland, N.Y., native is the adopted son of heavy metal music icon Ronnie James Dio, a Cortland legend.


Fictional towns in the region were the setting for Padavona's Wolf Lake series, which featured a detective with autism. The setting's the same region for his latest series, which kicks off with a new mystery suspense thriller coming out at the end of March, Secrets Never Sleep.

“That’s the first book in the new (P.I.) Nia Carter series, based in a fictional Finger Lakes town,” Padavona said. “It’s set in our area, which is going to be a lot of fun.”

At SUNY Cortland, the former broadcast communications major was dubbed the “Voice of Red Dragon football”’ on WSUC-FM, where he also was sports director, music director and summer station master.

“That was like playtime for me, standing there with a microphone and calling a football game that everyone in Cortland wanted to be at,” he said.

That was when the station had just begun to cover the sport, Padavona said. The aspiring broadcasters watched a mediocre team of 1987 metamorphosize into a powerhouse that captured some of the greatest Cortaca Jug games ever played, the 1988 Game of the Century at Davis Field, and the rematch on South Hill in the Eastern Region final.

“I had a love for telling stories,” said Padavona of his youth. “I never imagined it would be something I would do later in life.”

After graduation, Padavona followed another passion: weather. He earned a degree in meteorology from SUNY Oneonta and had a successful first career from 1994 to 2021 with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Weather Service.

“Although I enjoyed my job, something was eating at me that I wasn’t creating, wasn’t doing something I loved,” he said of turning 46 and trying creative writing again.

In 2014, he wrote Storberry, a vampire tale that pays homage to Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot.

“I had a little following, but it was just enough money for buying pizza on a Friday night,” he said. “I used to joke with my wife (Teresa “Terri” Musci Padavona ’92, M ’96), that if I ever got to the point that my earnings ever replaced my income with the National Weather Service, I’d just retire.

“It took a lot of time and self-sufficiency, and I would get home from work and want to relax but I would have another chapter to write.”


Things started to change in late 2018 to early 2019 with his Scarlett Bell FBI series, which somewhat resembled the “Criminal Minds” TV show. Then he released another book, Dark Water Cove, and the Wolf Lake series, which were set in the Finger Lakes.

“I went from making next to nothing to all the sudden my (day job) income was matched by writing income,” he said. “I had this one Wolf Lake series that people would read, and it just brought a lot of other people into the fold. When my older books started to sell, it just put me over the edge.”

Months later, earning twice as much from book sales as from meteorology, Padavona gave notice to NOAA.

“By the time I walked out the door on Sept. 12, 2021, my income was triple what it was in my government job,” that is, $300,000, said Padavona, who still chases and photographs severe weather events as a hobby. “I think it would have hurt my career if I had stayed. I had more time to write and devote to creativity.”

At 55, Padavona writes and edits his manuscripts for about two hours a day and works on marketing his work for another hour, promoting his newsletter and answering fans’ emails.

“After that, I really have the rest of the day to myself. It’s a blessing. I get to do the things I never could in a structured work environment. I didn’t miss a single Cortland State football game last year.”

Padavona said he has become a student of things he didn’t go to school for, like the criminal profile.

“I need to know enough about crime to be dangerous,” Padavona said. “I don’t have to be an expert in it, but you do have to read up and research on forensic sciences and police procedure, so you at least know what you’re writing about and can create as much realism as possible.”

On the other hand, “at the end of the day, people go to these books because they want a story,” he said. “They want to escape. The people who would get upset about not everything being exactly right are probably just a few.”

Padavona, who’s moving to his dream location in Ithaca, N.Y., next year after Terri retires from teaching middle school Spanish in Vestal, said his secret to success is taking his second career seriously.

Padavona self-publishes. But after his own careful proofreading, he turns the manuscript over to a professional editor to catch more typos, plot omissions and character development problems.

From his website, he sells courses for aspiring novelists, Let’s Sell Your Book and Sell your Books Now/Amazon Ads Liftoff.

“Something I teach in my course is that you can’t be a serious self-published author if you don’t do all the things that traditionally published authors do, and that includes having an editor and a good proofreader,” he said.

Just before publishing, a few trusted confidants give a final read-through.

“I think that in order to survive in any creative endeavor, you have to have entrepreneurship,” he said. “It’s not enough to be a great painter or singer or writer. Eventually, somebody must find out who you are.”

IMAGE AT TOP: Dan Padavona '91 and Teresa "Terri" Musci Padavona '92, M '96 relax at Taughannock Falls State Park, in a region where many of Dan's dark thrillers and mysteries occur.