Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Monday, August 29, 2011

Interview with Randy Rawls

Today, I interview author Randy Rawls. He writes mysteries featuring detective Ace Edwards and most recently, a mystery/suspense, called "Thorns on Roses". I can't resist a book that has the word "rose" in the title as I grow roses. Thankfully, Randy agreed to an interview, so here he is.

What prompted you to write THORNS ON ROSES?
I'd written six Ace Edwards, Dallas PI, mysteries, which I'm told are cozies. I wondered if I could write a thriller, something with a harder edge. When I saw Tom Jeffries entering a morgue to identify a body, I knew it was what I had been looking for. THORNS ON ROSES was born.

Why did you decide to write?
Wow, tough question. Kind of like asking why I chose a career in the Army. I just did. That's the best answer I have. I didn't sit down and weigh all the pros and cons, ups and downs, or any of the other measurement tools we're taught to use. I enjoyed my time in the Army so I stayed in. I enjoy writing so I write.

How much research do you do?
I do enough research to make sure my facts are correct. If I choose to use a particular weapon, I research that weapon and make sure I use it correctly. It drives me nuts to read about a safety on a revolver—ain't no such thing. Same with a cylinder or a clip on a semi-automatic pistol.

Research today is made simple by the vast amount of information on the Internet. Unfortunately, some of it is not accurate. A writer owes it to his reader to make doubly-dang sure that what he writes is correct.

What’s your favorite method for researching?
Consult an expert. If I happen to know an expert on a subject, I pick his or her brain. If not, I go to the Internet and find one or more.
Do you have a favorite theme or message for your readers?
Yes. Read, read, read. There are so many wonderful writers in the marketplace today that deserve to be read. Find them and read them.
When do you write/what is your writing day like?
When the story grabs me, I am absorbed by it. I am so intent on getting it on my hard drive I ignore everything around me. This is not always good since My Honey might say, "Dinner's ready," and I completely miss it. If that happens, she is not pleased.

What is the best advice someone has given you about writing? The worst advice?
Best advice. Write what you like to read. Yeah, that might seem simple, but I know people who attempt to write what is popular, whether they like it or not. Vampires are hot—they write a vampire story. Werewolves—yep, a werewolf story. However, the downside is they never write a good story, only what they think the reader will want to read. And they don't enjoy their writing experiences as much as I do.

Worst advice. Just write it, the Agent/Editor will fix it. I still hear this from would-be writers. Horrible advice that should never be repeated. I've never heard this from a published writer.

How do you approach a new book? Outlines? Just an idea?
An opening. I see an opening and let the story take me where it will. For example, I just started a new book, another thriller. I saw a confrontation in an alley between the protagonist and two thugs intent on molesting a teenage girl. Not real sure where the story will take me, but I'm sure I'll enjoy the ride.

Outlines. Bah humbug! I still shudder at the thought of outlining. A thousand or so years ago when I was a student, the teacher would insist I turn in an outline with my paper. I did it by writing the paper, then writing the outline. I hope no one ever asks me for an outline again.

How do you develop your characters?
Basically, I see them and see the actions they're involved in. That's good for me, but not always good for my readers. I've been told I don't describe my characters enough—you know, height, weight, hair color, etc. However, I always hope my words cause the reader to create their own visions of the characters.

Who are your favorite authors? Have any authors inspired you or influenced your work?
Too many to list. I just read John Hart's new book, IRON HOUSE. He is undoubtedly one of the best, if not the best, wordsmith in the business today. Definitely high on my list of favorites. P.J. Parrish, Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, Harlan Coben, Ken Follett, Bill Crider and many other NY-published authors. Then there are many small press authors that I enjoy. I'm an avid reader, never go anywhere without book. To get on my list of favorites, all an author has to do is write a good story.

Every book I read influences my work. I'm always looking for what makes this author so good, how does he/she express him/herself? I'm a firm believer in learning from the best, and that's what I try to do as I read.

What makes a great book in your opinion?
One criteria: Good writing. I can tolerate a weak story if the writing is good. I cannot and will not bother with any book that is poorly written, no matter how wonderful the plot might be. And that includes those books whose authors try to impress me with how much gutter language they can put on the page.

If a reader took away one thing from your book(s), what would you like that to be?
That I love to write, and that I take my writing seriously.

Do you have any tips for aspiring authors?
Yes, one tip that will never lead you astray. Read, read, read, and learn from what you read. Then read, read, read some more.

Where do you see yourself as an author in five years?
Not much different from today. I've accepted that NY is never going to gobble up one of my books and turn me into an instant millionaire. I'll keep writing and keep working with small publishers to turn out the best books we can.

Where do you see the publishing industry going in the next few years and where do you see yourself within this industry?
A year ago, I would have said the ease of publishing ebooks would cause the influence of the big publishers to wane and the huge conglomerates that control the industry might well break up. The role of Agents would also shrink. That was last year.

This year, I'm not so sure. The explosion of self-published ebooks threatens to kill the golden goose. The marketplace is suffering from a plethora of bad, bad ebooks. With no gatekeeper to screen what is published, "writers" are putting out manuscripts that aren't ready—far from ready.

This is fine for the writer's ego, but what about the reader? The reader now finds himself having to search through a ton of books, all with wonderful "reviews" to find something worthy of reading. Some of those readers, and I am one, will not waste the time required to find that one gem in a dumpster filled with broken glass. This will result in the reader returning to the tried and true, published by real publishers, large and small. So, instead of seeing the demise of publishers and agents, they will maintain their influence in the marketplace. This last year of unbridled self-epublishing has proven that gatekeepers are a necessary evil.

* * * * *
Thank you, Randy. I was particularly fascinated with your views on where the industry is headed. It is a time of vast changes, both good and bad, but in the end, I think readers will find they have more choices than they used to have and can find those gems, despite the broken glass.


Sylvia Dickey Smith said...

Thank you, Randy. Great interview. I enjoyed reading your take on writing, and on the state of publishing. I am not one of doomsayers predicting the demise of the printed book. That day may come, however, I'm not losing sleep over it. I am confident that 'story' will always be with us. Who doesn't stop and listen when a story is being told by a fabulous story teller.

And, I have read Thorns on Roses--it is indeed a page turner.

Earl Staggs said...

I agree with you, Randy, about the screaming need for a gatekeeper. I don't see how one can emerge for self-pubbed books. There are simply too many of them. I also don't think NY agents and publishers will (or should)regain their omnipotent status. I'm suggesting that a few small publishers will become diligent and conscientious enough to publish only first class books and the public will come to know and rely upon them. But that's only my thinking, subject to change from time to time.

Randy Rawls said...

I hope I didn't come across too negative. As long as there are story tellers, there will the recording of those stories. The carrier might change, but not the stories. I love ebooks and hope they flourish. I love paper books and hope they flourish. What I do not love is bad writing -- in any form. And ebook self publishing has opened a huge door to bad writing. There are those who say, "Download a sample and if you don't like it, don't buy it." I say yes, but that download and the reading to make that determination takes MY time. And I'm very jealous of my time.