D. A. Randall
This week's featured author is D. A. Randall, ThrillerWriter. He writes fantasy and action thrillers that read like blockbuster movies with action-packed fun and inspiring heroes who square off against diabolical villains while facing their own moral dilemmas. He also writes action-adventure and suspense thrillers under his given name, Randall Allen Dunn.
What drives you to write?
I write because I almost can’t help it. I have more ideas in my head than I can ever get written down. And I’m pretty good at it. If you’re good at something and it fills your mind with ideas and imaginary people that keep you awake at night, make you laugh or cry spontaneously so that your friends and family question your sanity, you should at least make some money from it.
The fourth book in your Red Rider Saga releases May 15. Tell us a little about the series!
[The series is about 16-year old Helena Basque, whose] face was marked with triple scars from a savage wolf attack when she was seven years old. She grew up bullied and terrified, as her parents tried to protect her from any further wolf attacks. But when the attacks continued, she insisted on learning how to hunt, fight, and ride a horse. She discovered the wolf attacks were directed by the Lycanthru, a cult of wolf-worshipping sorcerers who actually transform themselves into wolves.
In Red Rider Reviled: Book 4 of the Red Rider Saga, we see Helena finally [face] her war against the Lycanthru wolves. [She] discover[s] there is another faction of Lycanthru wolves in a neighboring province, DeSarte, an unsettling place that she is warned not to visit...but as she searches and encounters the DeSarte Lycanthru, her stories sound too wild to be believed. It appears that Helena could lose everything, including her freedom, if she can’t convince her friends that the DeSarte Lycanthru are real.
How do you choose names for your characters?
Names are critical to me, and I almost always create symbolic names. The Red Rider Saga is a bit different, because I came up with general names and then found a French name that sounded as close to that as possible.
Names for me are like genres and book titles to publishers. The names help me and my readers identify that character instantly. So Helena’s boyfriend, Pierre Leóne, takes the French name for Peter—as in “Peter and the Wolf”—to be her ally, and his last name sounds like “lion”, because he’s a much more fearsome hero than he appears to be.
And as for Helena Basque (and this is the funny part), I wanted to create a name that would feel correct for readers, as the name of Little Red Riding Hood. We always picture her having the red hooded cloak and a basket of goodies, so I gave her the French surname of “Basque”, like basket. If you sound out her name, it sounds almost like “hell-in-a-basket”, which is what she becomes to the wolves she’s fighting. Hahaha!
What’s your craziest, off-brand story idea, the one you want to write even if “no one wants to read it”?
It’s a crazy dream, because it would likely be impossible to do it, but I would love to write a genuine sequel to It’s a Wonderful Life. It’s my favorite movie, along with Star Trek II: the Wrath of Khan, and I consider both films to be highly underrated. Even people who love those movies don’t often realize how outstanding they are.
But I came up with a legitimately cool idea for a sequel that continues with George Bailey and his friends, and I would love to write it one day, but it might only happen as fan fiction. And I would be okay with that, if that’s all I can do with it. As long as people get to read it.
Out of all the books you’ve read, which had the most unexpected twist and what was your reaction to it?
Oddly enough, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I’ve since heard others say they weren’t at all surprised that Snape wasn’t the real villain, but only a red herring. (Spoiler Alert! Snape wasn’t the villain! Another Spoiler Alert! And then he was, and then he sort of wasn’t, and then – I’m not exactly sure what he was. Also, Darth Vader is Luke’s father!)
Reading the story and being led by the nose to assume Snape was behind everything, I was stunned that it was someone else who was easily overlooked. I had a novel series in mind at the time, with a secret villain planted among the heroes. After reading that Harry Potter book, I realized that it was obvious who the villain in my series was, and I needed to up my game. I learned to be careful about my writing, to always work at doing what readers won’t expect, the way J.K. Rowling did in her books.
And I’ve patterned some characters in the Red Rider Saga after some of Harry Potter’s relationships.
"I learned to be careful about my writing, to always work at doing what readers won’t expect."
What’s your writing process?
Whenever I have a new story idea, I think it over, imagining what could happen. Then I start picturing certain scenes and characters that sound cool. Then at some point, I find some action movie soundtrack pieces that fit certain scenes I have in mind. I often listen to them as I’m driving, working through the scene details in my mind. Eventually I put together my own personal soundtrack of selected songs for the novel.
When I’ve figured out enough scenes, I make an outline of all the story events that will happen. Then I write the story straight through, using the outline to know what to write next.
When the first draft is done, I start the long and tedious process of character bios. I list extensive details of all the major characters—physical description, birthdate, major life events, relationships with family and friends and what has shaped them, current address and significant past addresses, and so on. I also list some details for minor and supporting characters, and the few details needed for walk-on characters.
I dread this stage, but it’s the most important one. It’s like doing hard exercise. You hate it when you’re doing it, but you get great results later.
Because once I finish all the character bios, I write the second and final draft, and it’s a breeze. The character bios stage helps me troubleshoot any story problems or plot holes, so there’s nothing nagging at the back of my mind when I start the second draft. I’ve answered all the questions that can come up. Plus, the second draft is far more believable. Because the details make all the difference...in one of my Red Rider books, [I realized in the backstory] I had a couple marrying each other when they were twelve years old (which seems a little weird)! So I adjusted several timelines to make the history work.
But in this final stage, I don’t have to think about them. I just write, and it’s fast and easy. Then I send it out to beta readers and incorporate their feedback as needed to fine tune the story, but it’s essentially finished and ready to publish.
It might seem quick, but this is basically a modified version of Stephen King’s process that he described in his book, On Writing. He always does two drafts and a polish, to fine tune any details, then moves on to the next story. I simply incorporate a clear outline to start and the character bios stage to ensure I don’t need anything more than two drafts and a polish.