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 as an Army officer. 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.
Beth Bowman, a PI in South Florida, is invited to a meeting by the Chief of Police of Coral Lakes. They have a history from the kidnapping case Beth called BEST DEFENSE. There are other places she’d prefer to be at nine AM, but such an invitation cannot be ignored. Chief Elston explains that his department has the goods on Roger Adamson, a dirty politician; however, he knows Adamson has additional information that could bring down a drug lord and disembowel his organization. He asks Beth 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.
Why don’t you begin by telling us a little about your writing background?
My writing background is tied to my reading. I have been an avid reader my whole life. Books have been the outlet that allowed me to be anyone, anywhere, at any point in time. What more can a person want than that? During my earlier life, I started writing many books, but the press of daily life caused me to abandon them. Then, in the early 1990’s, I started and finished one. That was the catalyst that screamed, “You can do it!” I haven’t stopped writing since. That will continue as long as the stories form in my head, begging for release.
When did you decide you wanted to become an author?
The first story I wrote was when I was in grade school. I can’t say it convinced me I wanted to be an author, but it did light a fire that smoldered throughout my life. When I finally finished that first book, the flame soared and is now a true conflagration in my mind and heart.
Do you have another job besides writing?
No. I am fortunate enough to be retired. However, I am involved in so many other activities I may as well have another job. One of those, I’m proud to say, is as President of the Florida Chapter of the Mystery Writers of American. But there will always be those private moments for writing.
YES! I well remember the small one-room library in my hometown. The librarian took me under her wing and introduced me to the glories of reading. I followed her lead and read anything and everything. I knew nothing about genres; I only knew stories I enjoyed. And she was select in what she recommended. Thanks to her and all the wonderful books I’ve read over my lifetime. I only shun one genre, romance. I’m sure there are great romance stories, but my time is spent in others. Probably because of that background, I write mysteries, thrillers, mainstream, and historical. No sci-fi yet, but I won’t say it can’t happen.
Tell us a bit about your latest book, and what inspired you to write such a story.
My latest is DATING DEATH, book 3 in the Beth Bowman series. I decided to write Beth stories after moving to South Florida. I wanted a female protagonist in an area where there is no fiction—anything you write is happening, will happen, or has happened. I have six books (one unpublished) set here, and I know I have not stretched the facts of the area. Another aspect of the Beth Bowman series is her support by a homeless group. The homeless of the world are truly sympathetic. I don’t mean those who feign homelessness in order to solicit our money on street corners, but those who truly have fallen out of mainstream path of society. In my Beth series, including DATING DEATH, we meet some of the homeless and learn their stories. To me, they are real, and I hope it will make you think when you see the next person wandering forlorn along the street.
How would you describe your creative process while writing this book? Was it stream-of-consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline?
I envy those who can sit down and knock out an outline of their books. I was not gifted with such a talent. I come up with a crime, my protagonist, and a tie-in for my protag. From that point forward, the story drives the story. Sound stupid? I agree, but it’s true. I liken it to reading a good book. We never know what will happen next, but we’re satisfied when it does. Makes the writing process fun for me.
Did your book require a lot of research?
I don’t think so. It’s not something I give a lot of thought to. When I hit a point in the story where I need to know something specific, I research it, then move on. By the time I finish the book, I might have taken several “research breaks,” but they don’t register as such. I remember that in DATING DEATH and the previous Beth Bowman books, I researched such diverse things as pistols, cars, bra holsters, specific locations in South Florida, and probably many other things. But my research is “as needed,” not something I line up in advance.
What was your goal when writing this book?
My goal was to write a story that readers could enjoy. Call it a Beach Read, if you choose. My goal is always to entertain the reader for a few hours. I have no visions of being another Tolstoy. I’m Randy Rawls, and I want to entertain you.
Who is your target audience?
I hate this question. And yes, I’ve faced it before—poorly. I suppose the most honest answer is that my “target audience” is I. I write a book I enjoy and hope others will enjoy it, too. Based on past comments, my writing appeals to those between 16 and 96. When told that, I shrug and say, “Thank you.” The key thing is to bring a smile to the face of the reader, not matter what audience they come from.
What will the reader learn after reading your book?
To go back and get all my books and read them. J Okay, bad answer. They will learn about one of the most pressing problems of our society, homelessness. I don’t mean the touchy-feely homelessness the media loves to force down our throats. I mean those who are homeless because events in their lives have forced them into it. Read about Dot and why she is homeless. Read Dabba’s story and Bob’s story. Each of them is a result of things that happened long ago. Maybe you’ll view them a bit less harshly the next time they cross your path.
What type of writer are you—the one who experiences before writing, like Hemingway, or the one who mostly daydreams and fantasizes?
Oh, nasty question. But to answer it as honestly as I can, I fall into the daydreams and fantasizes column. Of course, my life experiences form foundations for the stories, but the rest of it spins out of my imagination.
Agatha Christie got her best ideas while eating green apples in the bathtub. Steven Spielberg says he gets his best ideas while driving on the highway. When do you get your best ideas and why do you think this is?
This truly fits under the Huh? aspect of writing. Green apples? Driving on the highway? No way. My ideas come to me from all over and at any time. Recently, some lowlife hacked my email. Ah ha, I said, “There is a story there.” My problem is I can’t write fast enough to accommodate all the story ideas that are triggered by events around me.
Do you get along with your muse? What do you do to placate her when she refuses to inspire you?
Ah, I suppose I get along with my muse. Not something I’ve considered. There is always another book to be written. So I guess the answer is yes, I get along with my muse and she has not yet refused to inspire me.
From the moment you conceived the idea for the story, to the published book, how long did it take?
This is my Achilles heel. Somewhere between a year and a year and a half. No matter how hard I think I am pressing, it comes out to a time span in that area. Those who can write more quickly amaze me. I have friend, a successful author, who has turned out two books a year for many years, and has now stepped it up to three books a year. Zowie!
Describe your working environment.
I’m not a good source for this question. My working environment is wherever I am. If I’m using my PC, it’s in my office. If I’m using my laptop, I might be kicked back in my recliner, a hotel room, the library, McDonald’s, any place I happen to be. If the next step in the story comes to mind, I boot up the laptop and let fly. Works for me.
What types of scenes give you the most trouble to write?
Scenes that require the repetition of things that have been visited earlier. I’m always torn as to how much to repeat and how much to expect the reader to remember. As a reader, I’m insulted when the author gives me a word for word do-over. As a writer, I don’t want to offend anyone.
Do you write non-stop until you have a first draft, or do you edit as you move along?
I definitely edit as I go. Whenever I open my manuscript, I reread the previous chapter, editing as I do so. My primary reason for doing this is to anchor myself in the story. I won’t trust my memory to tell me the story flow. By rereading, I’m up to date. And, of course, I’m not about to reread it without “improving” it.
They say authors have immensely fragile egos… How would you handle negative criticism or a negative review?
Oooooh, another nasty question. Yes, I’m probably overly sensitive about criticism of my writing. Over the years, I have tried to develop that proverbial “thick skin” so I can shrug and say, “Thank you.” Trust me. It’s not easy. Having someone come up and give me negative feedback or a negative review is the equivalent of walking up to a woman pushing a baby carriage and saying, “My, you have an ugly baby.” Yeah, it hurts. An advantage I have is the critique group I’m in. We are brutally honest. If the scene needs help, we say it. That has helped me (forced me) to accept criticism better.
As a writer, what scares you the most?
That day when I have no new stories to write.
When writing, what themes do you feel passionate about?
I don’t write out of passion, I write to entertain. Okay, I did write one book, a historical, out of the passionate urge to tell the “true” story. It is DOWN BY THE RIVER and takes place in a small southern town in 1955-1956. So much of that era has been distorted by the media that people today accept those distortions as fact. As with everything in life, it’s not only blacks and whites, there are many shades of gray. I attempted to present the facts as I lived them.
My mysteries and thrillers are entertainment. Some accuse me of occasionally climbing up on my soapbox, but I try not to. If you catch me up there, let me know about it.
Are you a disciplined writer?
No. I’m a retiree who writes for the joy of it.
How do you divide your time between taking care of a home and children, and writing? Do you plan your writing sessions in advance?
No. See previous answer. I’m a retiree who writes for the joy of it.
When it comes to writing, are you an early bird, or a night owl?
Depends on the mood and the story flow. I might wake up with it, or I might want to take it way into the night. The story drives me, not some arbitrary schedule.
Do you have an agent? How was your experience in searching for one?
This is my most significant failure. No, I do not. In spite of publishing a dozen books, I have not convinced an agent that I’m worth the effort. Why? Beats me.
Do you have any unusual writing quirks?
Heck no. Of course, if you ask those around me, you might get a different answer.
What is your opinion about critique groups? What words of advice would you offer a novice writer who is joining one? Do you think the wrong critique group can ‘crush’ a fledgling writer?
I am totally, 100 percent in favor of critique groups. BUT, you must thicken your skin and develop a healthy skepticism. First, explain to the others that you are there to improve your work, but DON’T MESS WITH MY VOICE OR STYLE. They are your exclusive property. Second, keep your mouth shut while others are critiquing your work. Simply nod and say, “Uh-huh.” Third, if all you get are pats on the back, IMMEDIATELY look for another group. If all you get are frowns and criticisms, find another group. Don’t expect to always be perfect, but you won’t always be bad either. Fourth, leave your group with their comments in your back pocket, then wait at least 24 hours before revisiting them. Depending on the group, 48 hours might be better. And fifth, if you’re lucky enough to fall into a good group, cherish them. Be honest with them and stay with them forever.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? What seems to work for unleashing your creativity?
Not something I buy into. If you hit a point in the story where you can’t go on, put it aside. Whether you believe it or not, the world is not waiting for you to finish that story. Try writing a short story. Try editing an older story that you haven’t sold yet. Writer’s block is your myth. Don’t let it overcome you.
Technically speaking, what do you have to struggle the most when writing? How do you tackle it?
The “saggy center,” without a doubt. I approach a new story with an opening in mind, so I put it down, spend some time sharpening it and am ready to move forward. That might be as much as the first 10 to 15 chapters. By the time it’s the way I want it, I usually have an idea of the ending of the book. However, there is a long way between J and U and that’s the “saggy center.” The challenge becomes how to fill that space AND keep the reader engrossed in the story. I don’t buy into the theory “throw in another body.” I look for character development and plot development that supports the story. And, that is my biggest struggle. I don’t want to cheat my reader.
How was your experience in looking for a publisher? What words of advice would you offer those novice authors who are in search of one?
Finding a publisher requires thick skin, tenaciousness, and, most of all, patience. In our modern world, you can always cut the search short and self-publish. But is that the best thing to do? Each writer must make his own decision, but it’s not right for me. So, I shop and query, look and query, always starting with the toughest market—finding an agent. After that, I look at publishers on the Mystery Writers of America approved list who do not require an agent. If that fails, I go after other publishers. To date, I’ve been lucky enough to find a publisher before the string ran out.
So, new author or old, be patient. Don’t sell yourself short. Believe in your book and keep your chin up, no matter how many rejections roll in. Of course, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work to improve it—you should always be considering changes to strengthen the manuscript. Remember, if you run out of patience, you can always self-publish. It’s a much friendlier world today.
What type of book promotion seems to work the best for you?
Promotion is one of my weaknesses. While I enjoy speaking in front of groups or appearing at a signing, I find it hard to “blow my own horn.” My upbringing screamed “be modest,” and I can’t seem to break out from that. For DATING DEATH, I hired a publicist, Maryglenn McCombs. I’ve used Maryglenn before and she is a dynamo of promotion.
What is(are) your favorite book/author(s)? Why?
I have too many to list. Since I’m an avid reader, the books and authors stack up quickly. However, I do have three books I reread every few years. OLD MAN AND THE SEA by Earnest Hemingway. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee. And, don’t laugh now, ALICE IN WONDERLAND by Lewis Carroll. Each of these books gives me a different story every time I read them. For example, in OLD MAN AND THE SEA, it might be the travails of Santiago with his failures, which will disappear if he can bring the fish to market. It might be the boy, Santiago’s only friend in the village. Or, it might be the plight of the fish—hooked and not able to spit it out. Fighting until it was total exhausted, the will to live gone. So many nuances within the same story. And the same applies to the other two. I challenge anyone to ignore the Hollywood approach and read these books. You’ll be pleasantly pleased at what you find.
What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
I’ve been fortunate enough to get advice from many wonderful writers and readers. But perhaps the best is to write Randy Rawls stories in the Randy Rawls voice and style. Don’t attempt to write like anyone else.
Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?
My website is www.RandyRawls.com. It needs work, and I hope to update it soon. I don’t have a blog, but make myself available to those who do. I enjoy being a guest blogger for someone else.
Do you have another book on the works? Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects?
Of course. Doesn’t every writer?
I have a standalone that I call JUSTICE SECURED that I’m shopping. It is a soft thriller featuring Josh Hawkins, a PI in South Florida. Josh is recruited by a federal task force to neutralize a crime lord the legal system can’t touch. Josh lives up to the challenge.
Then, I have a fantasy that I’m working on. Several years ago, I wrote a story in my Ace Edwards, Dallas PI series called JINGLE’S CHRISTMAS about the plight of Santa’s Chief Elf for North Texas Operations. Well, the elf has now been promoted to the SEIC (Santa Elf in Charge) for the SBI (Santa Bureau of Investigation) for the southeaster district of the U.S. He has a problem beyond his capabilities and seeks out Nep Thomas and Cassandra (Cassie or CC) Casey. I’m still early in the story, but you can imagine Nep’s reaction to having an elf interrupt his enjoyment of the scenery on a South Florida beach in late November.
I also have a suspended mystery featuring Nep and his investigation of the death of a young man who fell from an eleventh story balcony. The police ruled suicide. The father says no and hires Nep to prove them wrong.
Short stories are always in my repertoire, and I recently turned in A SIMPLE CASE OF STALKING for the Happy Homicides anthology series that will be published this summer. Before that, it was THE LEATHER JACKET for the Happy Homicides 2, a Valentine’s Day story. Ain’t love grand?
As an author, what is your greatest reward?
That’s easy. Having a person tell me they enjoyed my story. What a wonderful feeling.
Anything else you’d like to say about yourself or your work?
Yes. I promise my readers the best read I can produce with each and every story. I’m not saying it’s be best that others could produce, but the reader can rest assured I won’t shortcut them in any way. I don’t hop on the latest writing fad.