Saturday, October 1, 2011

A Visit with Randy Rawls

A retired career Army officer and ghost writer, Randy Rawls fulfilled his life long ambition to write novels. After six published books featuring investigator Ace Edwards, Rawls wrote his first thriller, Thorns on Roses, featuring Tom Jeffries. He's currently working on a new series with a Florida based PI named Beth Bowman.

Randy, what piqued your interest in writing? 

 Like many others, I have been a writer my whole life. My first story was written in about the third grade. As best I remember, the teacher gave me a C on it. Could have been a C- even. As an Army officer, I spent years as a Staff Officer. In this capacity, I wrote things for my superiors to claim as their own (ghost writer?). Pick a military subject, and I probably wrote a paper on it. I was also a project leader on some interesting efforts and wrote papers on those. Some of those are still circulating today, setting standards for those who followed.

And, during all those years, I started many works of fiction. A few chapters in, each one died. Life kept interfering. Finally, in about 1990, I was assigned to an office where one of the other officers wrote fiction. When his first book was published, I cheered. When his second was published, I thought, I can do that. So I clicked on the keyboard about a high school student who was a star soccer player. About 150,000 words later, I typed THE END and felt like I'd climbed Mount Everest. Little did I know that it might qualify for one of the worst books every written. Bleck!

However, that story, David's Game, planted the seed and it sprouted. Immediately, I began the second book in that series, Tim's Game. I'd like to think it was a bit better, even though it, also, was bad, bad, bad. The good news is I learned from my mistakes. I sat back and looked at what I'd written and decided I could do better and would do better. Not long after, the opportunity presented itself and Ace Edwards, Dallas PI, was born. Ace's trips to small towns in Texas took me through six books, each of which achieved its own level of success.

I believe that one of the successes of writing is knowing when you've bombed. I've bombed on several efforts. They rest on my hard drive, waiting to be saved. Maybe someday I'll get back to them. There are few bad stories, just bad writing.

How much of your protagonist Ace Edwards is autobiographical? And in what ways do the two of you differ?

Ace is part of me and a part of many people I've known over the years. To the best of my knowledge, none of my characters are autobiographical or biographical. Some of them may reflect my beliefs, but I'd like to think they are pieces of everyone I've known.

How do we differ? Ace is a smooth operator. Me, I'm a klutz.

Tell us about your latest release, Thorns on Roses.

After six Ace Edwards books and a couple of other efforts that did not get published, I decided to see if I could write something with a harder edge. Of course, it would have to meet my basic criteria—blood and guts off-page, no graphic sex, and no gutter language. As I considered the challenge, I visualized a PI in South Florida pulling up in front of the Broward County morgue, invited there to identify a teenage Jane Doe. Tom Jeffries was born.

Tom has good reason to not trust the justice system. It failed his baby sister and, Tom believes, will fail his best friend whose step-daughter's body is found in the trunk of an abandoned car—dead, nude, and the victim of multiple rapes. Tom vows to track down the people responsible and discovers the Thorns on Roses gang. One by one, he tracks and disposes of them. But the police are hot on their trail also and may overtake Tom. When he speeds up his operation, catastrophe awaits.

Has your army career served as background for any of your novels as far as violence and understanding human nature?

I don't know. My background has certainly taught me respect for weapons and proper preparation. A military operation launched in haste is doomed to failure, and failure means lives lost. I believe my military background has taught me to insure every step of my story is logical. I write as I would plan a military operation. Every possibility must be considered. To miss one minor step in the path might lead to catastrophic failure. I hope that my readers will find it difficult (hopefully, impossible) to punch holes in my plot line. I do attempt to make them so logical as to be failsafe—but not so logical they're boring.

What does writing mean to you?

Simply stated, everything. I love to write. If I didn't have it, I would be incomplete. Almost every night, I go to sleep thinking about my work in progress. Many times, I awaken in the wee hours with that WIP on my mind. Did I tell you, I love to write?

How has the ebook revolution affected your own work? And what do you foresee for the future of book publishing?

I have resisted the impulse to dive into the world of ebooks as a self publisher. Please don't get me wrong. I respect those who have epub'd books ready for publication. I am one of the original Kindle owners and have read a ton of ebooks. However, I've been burned so many times by books not ready for publication, I am now gun shy. If I don't see a publisher's name, I probably don't bother.

Yes, this sounds cruel. I don't mean to hurt the thousands of wonderful authors who are self-epub'ing their excellent books. But, as an example, recently, I was looking for a new book. I decided to search in historical fiction, a favorite genre of mine. The first two downloads I found, both with wonderful stories to tell, I dumped. In both, the head-hopping was so bad I couldn't keep up. I'm now into a third and hope it will be worth the effort. It breaks my heart that the first two didn't have the benefit of a qualified editor to fix them before they went public. They could have been very good. I am a firm believer that you only have one opportunity to win a fan. Fail, and he'll never come back.

I believe the future of book publishing is bright. Yes, we'll go through several tremors along the way, but when it settles down again, we'll have a solid ebook presence and an equally solid paper presence. I do not believe that paper books are doomed.

However, I do believe there could be a major change in the publishing world. Some of the major imprints may disappear as the big six struggle to cope with the changes.Or maybe, the big six will break up and we will once again have many publishing houses. The future of independent publishers is bright. They are the ones pushing the ebook revolution. I commend them for doing so. Self-publishing of ebooks will stay with us as long as the vendors allow it. Some will be good, but many will be bad. In some instances, as now, writers of bad books will thrive.

How did your first novel, Jake’s Burn, come about?

Jake's was born at a time I was looking for a new approach to my writing. As I mentioned above, I had written David's Game (bad) and Tim's Game (not much better) and was flailing around trying to find a fix for my many writing problems. At that time, I lived in Dallas and spent almost every Saturday in a small town in Texas participating in a bicycle ride for charity. I'd built myself up to where I could do 100 kilometers in respectable time. I went to Cisco and did the ride around Eastland County. I fell in love with the countryside and decided I needed to base a book there. Since I had a major head-hopping POV problem then, I opted to move to first person. For the next year, I read nothing but first person PI stories. During that year, Ace Edwards was born, written in first person, and coming from Cisco, Texas.

It worked. I had found my niche. I liked Ace and Ace was good for me. We went on to write five more books together. And, he's not gone yet. I'm looking at him making a cameo appearance in the sequel to Thorns on Roses. And, Ace solved my POV problem. I now write in both first person and third person and feel comfortable doing so.

Advice to fledgling mystery writers?

On the top ten of my list of advice to fledging mystery writers, the first eight are Read, Read, Read, Read, Read, Read, Read, and Read in the genre where they want to write. Nine and ten are Read and Read some more. I am a firm believer in learning from those who have done it. And mixing the pleasure of reading with the education of learning from what you read is a no-brainer. Once you know what you're doing and have decided on what you want to write, DO it. Your first effort may stink, but DO it anyway. Progress can only come by writing and learning from your mistakes.

Number eleven on that list is accept constructive criticism. If someone you respect says your manuscript is ugly, smile and say, "Thank you." Develop a thick skin and select critiquers who will be honest with you. A single "it stinks and here's why" from the right person is far more valuable than a hundred "it's wonderful" from the wrong people.

Your social media links?

Ouch! My Achilles heel. I am not good in the world of social media. All I have is my website, http://www.randyrawls.com/ and I don't claim it's very good. But I love to hear from people and WILL answer every email. Please contact me at RandyRawls@att.net

Thanks, Randy.