Welcome to Readers Write to Know! I asked you, my readers, what questions they would ask their favorite authors if given the chance, and the authors visiting my blog answered them! This week, I’d like to welcome Randall Allen Dunn. I LOVE movies, especially action movies. I can tell, as I compiled this interview, that Randall and I have very similar styles in how we process entertainment and let that translate into our own works. Randall is a Christian thriller author, who listens to movie soundtracks to help him dramatize his scenes. I really enjoyed his interview, and am so excited that he’s giving away a paperback to one lucky winner — a reader’s choice paperback. You get to pick from three books he has available! Read below to see how to enter.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. I’ll be married for 20 years this September. My wife and I have 2 adopted children, a ten-year old daughter and 6-year old son. I’m fifty years old, but I look like I’m about thirty and I think like a teenager. I still enjoy listening to the latest rock music, from both Christian and secular artists, though I spend most of my time listening to movie soundtrack scores that help me think up dramatic story scenes.
I write action thrillers that read more like blockbuster movies than novels. Action-packed, fast-paced & fun, with larger than life heroes facing off against diabolical villains and deep moral dilemmas.
Tell us about your current release. My latest novel is Den, an action thriller that fellow author Thom Reese described as “a one-person Hunger Games.” Amy Raven is a 20-year old basketball star who gets framed for using steroids and expelled. She takes a dead-end job at Grater Gameland, a refurbished theme park, to try to start over.
But it’s all a trap set up by the park owner’s son, Gunther Grater, a brilliant, infatuated game designer who’s rigged every ride to trap Amy for himself. He’s challenged other “Stalkers” to a violent all-night game, competing to win Amy as their prize.
Armed with a backpack of tools, Amy must fight her way through the park to escape the Stalkers, clear her name, and, most of all, survive.
What do you think is lacking in Christian Fiction? I feel the Christian market needs a more open mind regarding fiction and how it can be used. That includes publishers, writers, and especially the readers who set the demand for what’s published. When we look at classic fiction that presented Christian messages, like The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, A Christmas Carol, and so on, we see that ghosts & witches & elves can be used in fiction to help people discover the gospel. But today, people think a story with those elements can’t possibly be godly. Even classic horror stories like Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde, The Invisible Man, and Frankenstein, teach great morals about good and evil and the choices we make, and can easily be told from a Christian perspective.
Some Christian readers avoid all horror, because they think “horror” means all those gory movies that get promoted at Halloween. They don’t recognize that they’re already reading horror by Frank Peretti about demons invading a town, or that classic horror movies like “Jaws” teach great lessons about taking responsibility for a problem. They denounce Harry Potter, but happily accept the witchcraft of the Enchantress in “Beauty and the Beast” who curses a prince and all the servants in his castle. The value of that awesome Disney movie is that it demonstrates the power of transforming love. The fairy tale witchcraft in it – which we find in tons of fairy tales and cartoons and thrillers – is just a means to tell the story. We can enjoy these stories for the great lessons they teach, without fearing we’ll corrupt ourselves because we read a story like Narnia that involves fictional magic.
If I pitch a story to a Christian publisher about a cruel man who learns to be kind and selfless by a conversation with a pack of ghosts, they would never publish it because their readers would be too offended. Yet those same editors and readers would praise A Christmas Carol for its message. We need to learn how to discover the value of great stories now, not several decades from now. The church needs to take a leap forward and stop judging things by their outward appearance and the package it comes in, so they can find out what’s actually inside that package.
Who was your first Screen/Musical Crush? I grew up reading comic books in the ‘70’s, so my natural crush was Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman. I used to feel bad about that, because she is often seen as just a sexual fantasy character, until I learned more about what sets Wonder Woman apart from other heroines. She’s one of very few heroes who shows genuine mercy to her enemies, to the point that she has reformed some of them. The only other hero I have seen demonstrate this quality consistently is the Doctor from the “Doctor Who” series, always ready to forgive and restore villains who were trying to kill them and everyone else.
I’m so excited about the new Wonder Woman movie coming out next year, and how perfect Gal Gadot is for the part. After all the Wonder Woman bashing and failed attempts by writers and producers who didn’t get what the character was about, it’s great to see that they’re doing it right. Gal Gadot is stunning, but no one would watch those film previews and consider her a sex object.
What is your personal, most effective way to get past writer‘s block? I don’t believe in Writer’s Block. If my mind and hands work, then I can physically write my name and address and other random things, so I’m never “blocked” from writing. However, I believe many people suffer from Perfectionist’s Paralysis, which makes them believe they can’t write because it won’t be good enough.
I learned to lower my expectations after reading Joel Saltzmann’s book, If You Can Talk, You Can Write. The first time I write anything, I expect it to be awful. So I’m not disappointed or afraid when it turns out bad. Because it’s normal for a first draft to be bad. That’s why we re-write, to fix the problems.
When I get stuck on what to do with a part of a story or I need to do more research for it, I make a note of what is needed, mark the spot with three asterisks so I can easily find that spot later, and keep writing.
I also don’t start a new story until I have a good idea of how most of it will come together. If I don’t feel I’m generally ready to write the whole story, I wait on it. I have such a big pile of stories waiting to be written that I can pick and choose that way.
What made you take the plunge and finally do it? A few years ago, I asked God what I could do to make extra money. Writing wasn’t working out for me and I even wondered if I was wasting my time doing it. I felt that God told me to do 2 things: get up at 5am in the morning, and do e-books. I wasn’t too consistent with getting up at 5am, but when I did, I had time to read my Bible and do some solid writing.
At that time, an agent felt sure she could sell my Indiana Jones-style adventure thriller, High Adventure, so I held off on self-publishing it. She shopped it to every major Christian publisher I had ever heard of, and it sat with them for almost a year before they all rejected it.
Meanwhile, I had another idea for a story about a 16-year old Red Riding Hood fighting werewolves. I was inspired by the “Red Riding Hood” movie and by “Once Upon a Time”, which turned Snow White in a Robin Hood-type outlaw living in the woods. The agent loved that idea, but I already planned to self-publish it. Even if a publisher contracted it the next day, they wouldn’t release the book for a year. I couldn’t wait that long, because I knew some other writer would land on the same fairy tale action thriller idea and claim I was stealing their concept. So I started self-publishing.
Do you have your plotline and character development already laid out before you begin writing a book, or do they develop as you write? I get an idea and make notes of scenes and aspects of the story. I also create my own pseudo-soundtrack CD’s for my novels and listen to them while I’m driving around, using the music to write out scenes in my head.
When I gather enough scenes and ideas that I feel ready, I start writing the first draft from the beginning, inserting the scenes I’ve already written and revising them to fit.
After I finish the draft, I create character profiles for all the main characters, and at least some of the minor ones. This helps me figure out their background, and most importantly, their relationship to other characters in the story.
Then I write the 2nd draft, using the details I’ve learned from my character outlines to fill out the story, making it more real. Then I find people to read it and give feedback. I tweak the story based on their responses, proof it some more, and then I’m done.
Who were some of your favorite authors as a child? I didn’t read much growing up. I watched movies and TV and read comic books.
I started reading more in high school and especially after college. My favorite author is Ian Fleming. People who have only seen the James Bond movies don’t realize how good a writer Fleming is. He uses a lot of symbolism and he’s a master of suspense. I’ve applied some of his techniques to my own writing.
I also enjoy reading classic literature, to discover what made it classic. I started this after an ex-girlfriend told me how shocked she was that I graduated with a theatre degree and wanted to be a writer, but I hadn’t studied much Shakespeare. That challenged me to read more classics and learn from the pros. Not Shakespeare and Jane Austen that she would have considered true classics, but the classic authors that would help me improve, like H.G. Wells and Edgar Allen Poe. Again, some people would dismiss these authors, instead of recognizing that Poe invented the short story and the concept of detective stories, even before Sherlock Holmes, and that H.G. Wells actually dreamed up all the science fiction concepts that are now cliché – time travel, an alien invasion, mutating people and animals, and invisibility – and he did it brilliantly. Those books are still great suspenseful reads.
Do you write your books for your own enjoyment or more for what you think people would want to read? Mainly for myself. I write the kind of stories I would want to read. I love action thrillers and movies, and I was always frustrated when I tried to read an action-adventure novel and found it contained almost no action. I expected an “action” novel to be packed with the same kind of scenes found in action movies.
I use films as my model for writing more than novels, because they do a better job of following the principles of classic storytelling, such as “show, don’t tell”. Movies have no choice but to follow that principle, because you can’t “tell” a movie. You have to show it through action. But many novels detail a character’s life story instead of letting the reader discover those details through action. I want every part of my books to draw the reader along, and I sometimes re-read sections of my stories just for fun. I know it sounds arrogant to enjoy your own work, but why would someone write something they don’t love? To me, writing is like reading your favorite story, except that you’re in control of it.
Which of your characters most reflects your personality? Jack Benjamin, from High Adventure. He’s a cross between Indiana Jones and George Bailey from “It’s a Wonderful Life”, feeling like he’s stuck in life, unable to pursue his own dreams. I’ve felt like that so many times, discouraged at my state in life, the way George Bailey was. But then I ultimately find encouragement, reminding myself that real life isn’t about the big successes but the small ones. Staying loyal to your friends, supporting and protecting your family, living an honest life. It’s easy for me to get caught up in the struggle of publishing success, and forget to spend time with God, with my wife and kids, and with friends. I also have a terrible habit of running late, which I made part of Jack’s character, along with a sense of feeling defeated and trapped in life, not recognizing how much he’s helping others. There’s a part of my personal experience in each of my main characters – times I’ve felt isolated and accused by everyone, felt like a hopeless failure, felt ashamed for how I’ve treated someone or disappointed them. But I think I packed most of my flaws into Jack Benjamin, to culminate his sense of feeling defeated, in spite of his awesome skills.
Which is another way he’s like me. I like to drive fast, and I’m very good at maneuvering through Chicago traffic while staying safe. When I was young and foolish, I drove much faster and more recklessly. I learned in my research that, for a biplane like Jack’s to take off, it had to reach a speed of 80 mph. And I thought, “Heck, I’ve done 80!”
The character I’m least like is Helena Basque – the Red Rider. She’s young, impetuous, daring, and constantly getting in people’s face, with no plan for how to get out of it. Kind of like James Bond, who should be quietly spying in the background instead of walking right up to the head villain and saying, “I think you’re behind all this. Now let’s slug it out.” I love Helena, but she’s a little crazy that way.
I assume when you start a book, you pretty much have the plot laid out. Do you ever change your mind later on in the book, and go in a different direction? I have a very clear idea of how a story will flow when I start it, with a general outline in my head of most major scenes. However, I discover and create some things as I’m writing. I might have planned to do a scene one way, but when I start to write it and see where the characters are positioned, I realized my initial plan doesn’t work and I have to adjust it.
In The Red Rider, the writing flowed more easily than anything I had ever written. I knew what would happen in every scene – except for the final climactic chapters. I had no idea exactly how it would all end, and it made me nervous, because I had so many great scenes in the book, I needed to create something colossal for the ending, and I had nothing. I toyed with two or three different ways to end it, with different types of battles in different locations. I finally got my climactic chase-battle-showdown that I wanted, and I’m really happy with it. But sometimes, you’ve got nothing, and you need to do the best you can and try to improve on it later.
Find Randall on his website.
Find Randall’s latest release online:
One lucky reader will win a paperback of your choice of either Den, The Red Rider, or High Adventure: The Solomon Ring of Kilimanjaro! Check out the Rafflecopter to see how to enter.
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