Not one of his scripts has made it to movie houses yet, but Rick Ramage isn't worrying. After all, his new job—screenwriting—pays better than his old one. Selling tractors is what the Northglenn, Colo., resident was doing when, frustrated and nearly broke, he applied to the one-year screenwriting program at L.A.'s prestigious American Film Institute. "I basically dared them to take me, because I didn't have a college degree, "says Ramage. The acceptance, which came on his 28th birthday, was his ticket to a new life. Since he graduated, Ramage's scripts have earned him more than $3 million.

Credits: His first screenplay, Shakespeare's Sister, is now shooting with stars Kenneth Branagh and Madeleine Stowe. Biggest payday: $2.5 million from Savoy Pictures in 1994 for his yet-to-be-made, virtual-reality tale Killobyte.

First person: "I'm obsessive about my work," says Ramage, who keeps a 4 a.m.-to-noon writing schedule. "I feel if I'm sleeping past 5 in the morning, I'm getting lazy."

Vitals: Born in Fargo, N.Dak., he moved to Colorado as a child with his mother after she and his father, an attorney, divorced. An above-average high school student, he took the tractor-selling job, provided by his stepfather, after graduation. Separated from wife Tina in 1991 after seven years of marriage, he shares custody of their son Ryan, 9.

Spoils of success: Five-bedroom home abutting North-glenn's country club, plus nearby houses for his mother and his wife. Last year, Ramage founded a children's theater company in Denver. Its first production was Ichabod, a musical adaptation of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" he wrote specifically for Ryan. "A lot of dads go out and buy their kids a pony," he says. "I went out and wrote my kid a play."

Hero: Gustave Flaubert, author of Madame Bovary: "He wrote great women, which is a fascination of mine."

Most thrilling moment: Meeting Steven Spielberg to talk about Shakespeare's Sister. "And that same morning," he adds, "I met with Sydney Pollack. Can you believe it?"

Old aspiration: Ramage took flying lessons as a teenager, but "it didn't work out," he says. "I tend to daydream. That's good for writers, bad for pilots."

New aspiration: To write novels. "I want someone to hold my words," he says.