Randy Rawls lives in Delray Beach, Florida, slap-dab in the middle of paradise. Not only is the weather perfect, but the writing environment is wonderful. In fact, it’s so good you can’t cross the street without bumping into an author.
Before retiring in Florida, Randy grew up in North Carolina, then spent a career in the Army. After retirement, he went back to work with the Department of Defense as a civilian, the aspect of his career that led him to South Florida. Somewhere along the way, he fell in love with writing. The writing was a natural progression since he has always been an avid reader.
Q: Congratulations on the release of your latest book, DATING DEATH. To begin with, can you gives us a brief summary of what the story is about and what compelled you to write it?
A: Here’s a brief summary of the book I prepared for the cover: “The Chief of Police of Coral Lakes, FL has the goods on Roger Adamson, a dirty politician; however, the chief knows Adamson has additional information that could bring down a drug lord and disembowel his organization. Chief Elston asks Beth Bowman, a South Florida PI, to assist by becoming Adamson’s consort/bodyguard while Adamson parses out data. Beth agrees, not realizing multiple homicides, a kidnapping, a tight frame for murder, and the loss of the man she loves await her. If not for Beth’s homeless friends, all might be lost.”
My stories come from the headlines. While I’m sure South Florida does not have a corner on the market of politicians who, shall we say, look the other way, anyone who follows the decisions made by these same politicians might find reason to wonder. So, I decided it was time for Beth to take on a dirty politician. That’s where DATING DEATH begins. Once she meets Roger Adamson, the story took on a life of its own.
Q: What do you think makes a good mystery? Could you narrow it down to the three most important elements? Is it even possible to narrow it down?
A: A mystery is (throw out all the frills) a whodunit. With that in mind, the three most important elements are the protagonist(s), the clues, and the red herrings. Everything else is icing on the cake. We must have a competent protagonist(s) who will eventually solve the riddle. We must have clues for our protagonist to find. And, equally as important, we must have red herrings to challenge both our protagonist and the reader.
Think Sherlock Holmes. Yes, we enjoy the relationship between Holmes and Watson, but is it critical to solving the mystery? In my opinion, no. The critical element is Holmes fantastic deductions. But, he must find something to cause him to make those deductions—clues. And, so his life isn’t too simple, Arthur Conan Doyle planted red herrings to keep Holmes from solving the case too quickly. Bingo, we have a good mystery.
Q: How did you go about plotting your story? Or did you discover it as you worked on the book?
A: I started with Beth and Chief Elston’s request that she “babysit” Roger Adamson, the dirty politician. Beth took it from there, narrating the story faster than I could capture it. Many times, I had to ask her to slow down so I could catch up.
Q: Tell us something interesting about your protagonist and how you developed him or her. Did you do any character interviews or sketches prior to the actual writing?
A: Beth revealed herself to me as I wrote her stories, similar to learning about a friend in real life. First, she was simply a PI in South Florida, who had run from her ex-husband in Texas because—in her words, “Texas wasn’t big enough for both of them.” Then she told me about her mother who still resides in Richardson, TX and raised Beth and her brother alone after Beth’s father died in a bungled burglary. As we spent more time together, she shared other tidbits of her life—her brother in Wisconsin with the “perfect” marriage, per her mother’s words—the stalker from whom she saved her mother—the retired Dallas policeman who had been her mentor, trainer, and protector when she was on the Dallas force—the man of her dreams—her friends in the homeless community, etc. One of the joys of writing Beth’s stories was getting to know her in depth. She’s a fascinating character.
Q: In the same light, how did you create your antagonist or villain? What steps did you take to make him or her realistic?
A: Similar to how Beth came about. A basic idea that grew as the story unrolled. In DATING DEATH, I knew there was someone behind the dirty politician. But I didn’t know who or how when the book opened. Then I discovered Zachary Zogby, a seemingly honest and successful businessman, known as Mr. ZZ on the criminal side of his empire. Then came his associates and the rest of the villains, large and small, who fill the pages.
I try to make them realistic and enjoyable to read by giving them one or more specific personality trait(s). Everyone we know has something that makes him/her stand out in our memories. That’s what I tried to do with the villains.
Q: How did you keep your narrative exciting throughout the novel? Could you offer some practical, specific tips?
A: This is always the challenge to a writer. How to keep the “saggy” middle from sagging. What to introduce to keep the reader reading. In DATING DEATH, I kept the tension about Beth’s future high. She is being sought by the drug lord and, after certain events, by the police. She has no choice but to hide out from both, even as she works to clear her name. Hopefully, the reader will share her desperation and keep flipping pages.
Q: Setting is also quite important and in many cases it becomes like a character itself. What tools of the trade did you use in your writing to bring the setting to life?
A: With all my books, setting is a major character for me. In the Ace Edwards Dallas PI series, each story was set in a small town, and I integrated some history of the town/area into the story. For Tom Jeffries and Beth Bowman, it is South Florida. It would be difficult to write any story set in South Florida without the setting emerging as a major player. In DATING DEATH, everything from the Everglades and canals to I-95 and the Florida Toll Road enter the story, not to mention warehouse areas, well-known local businesses, and amphitheaters. Yes, South Florida is a major player in my stories.
Q: Did you know the theme(s) of your novel from the start or is this something you discovered after completing the first draft? Is this theme(s) recurrent in your other work?
A: Not exactly sure what this question is seeking, but the theme of all my books is “good triumphs over evil.” With that in mind, I knew that Beth would win in the end. The problem was how to work her through the multiple dangerous situations and have her come out on the top.
Q: Where does craft end and art begin? Do you think editing can destroy the initial creative thrust of an author?
A: Every author brings three things to the table: style, voice, and vocabulary. The style and the voice are unique. The vocabulary is shared by the world and is an ever-changing thing. Editing can destroy style and voice by imposing the editor’s whims. An author has to defend his work and be proactive in protecting his voice and style. Good editors recognize this and are careful. After all, it was that same style, voice, and vocabulary that attracted the editor.
Some would say the author brings a plot to the table. That’s true, but there are so few plots in the world that uniqueness cannot be claimed.
Q: What three things, in your opinion, make a successful novelist?
A: A fertile imagination backed by a willingness to learn and tenaciousness. Without any one of them, failure to is a given. The imagination is obvious. The writer must dream up a plot that will interest the reader. Willingness to learn: Becoming an author is an acquired skill. The writer who is not willing to adjust and learn the “tricks of the trade” will not be successful. And tenaciousness: Nothing comes easy in this business. The writer who tries, then walks away will fail.
Q: A famous writer once wrote that being an author is like having to do homework for the rest of your life. What do you think about that?
A: Yes, I can identify with that. Each chapter is a teaching point that must be worked through carefully. Rushing or doing sloppy work is an invitation to failure.
Q: Are there any resources, books, workshops or sites about craft that you’ve found helpful during your writing career?
A: Oh, yes. As I said above, writing is an acquired skill. No matter the skill level of the presenter, there is always something to be learned. Writers’ conferences are especially helpful. One gets to interface with everyone from the beginner to the proven author. Listen and learn, and you will be stronger for it.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share with my readers about the craft of writing?
A: Yes. The secret to writing is reading. Every author should read, read, read. Through osmosis, he will absorb some good traits, while hopefully rejecting the bad. I’ve heard some writers say they won’t read while writing a book. They are dooming themselves to long-term failure.