Mystery Fest Key West: Murder and Mayhem in Paradise!

Author Randy Rawls

Author Randy Rawls is a man of mystery. He’s past-president of the Mystery Writers of America – Florida Chapter, author of the Ace Edwards, Dallas private-eye series, the Tom Jeffries South Florida PI series, and the Beth Bowman South Florida PI series, as well as short stories in various anthologies. His latest, “Justice Secured,” is a standalone featuring Josh Hawkins, ex-Army Special Forces officer and a PI in South Florida. 

Rawls is set to appear as a headlining guest at the upcoming Mystery Fest Key West, a gathering of award-winning and high profile mystery and true-crime authors, experts and fans happening June 16-18 in the Southernmost city.

The South Florida based author agreed to share some insights about his work and methods in advance of the Fest:

Q&A with Randy Rawls

Q: Your first two book series feature male private investigators. Then along came Beth Bowman. What made you decide to write from a woman’s perspective?

RR: Two things. First, the market place. Women buy the vast majority of books sold, and women read the vast majority of books read. I had finished book 6 in my Ace Edwards series and, along the way, moved to Florida. I needed to switch my locale from Texas to Florida with a new series. Second, I had recently read some female protagonist books written by “name” male authors. The best I can say is the heroines fell into one of two categories: 1) The helpless female who can’t tie her shoes without calling on her boyfriend for help, and 2) the female who was nothing more than a thinly disguised male in a skirt. I firmly believed I could do better. Thus, Beth Bowman was born. She is female through and through.

Q: What do you find most challenging about writing from a woman’s perspective?

RR: I don’t mean to sound flippant, but getting it right. When I started Beth, I was fortunate to be in a critique group with four strong women who were also good writers. I asked them to keep me on track—pull no punches. If I wandered away from the way a woman might process something or used language which was too masculine, I wanted to know. They TOLD me. Actually, I think they often enjoyed jerking me back, but they taught me, and, readers have said they taught me pretty good.

Of course, writing a female protag has also entailed some interesting research. In BEST DEFENSE (book 2), I decided to arm Beth with a pistol she could get to quickly. A purse gun or ankle gun seemed too slow. A shoulder holster just didn’t seem right for her since she runs around South Florida in T-shirt and jeans. I decided on a bra gun. When that thought came to mind, I assumed they would be commonplace—NOT. I found none. That intrigued me more, so I decided to “invent” one. I found a .22 caliber American Derringer that looked good. I made one, true to its dimensions and weight. Then, with my wife’s cooperation, we proved it could work. She then helped me handle the holster requirement, and, voilà, Beth had a bra gun. All that was left was to dress Beth in a scoop neck T-shirt, and she had a weapon she could reach in an emergency. She carries that gun through books 3 and 4 (in progress). It has surprised a few villains.

Q: To clue or not to clue? Are you a clue-dropper, or do you play your cards close to the chest?

RR: Clue-dropper. I’d like to say I plant them carefully, but that would be a lie. As I go through the story, I discover that I planted a clue many pages before that fits the twist I have in mind. When that happens, I’m surprised and pleased. Of course, sometimes I plant what I consider a clue at the time, but it turns out it was only a “red herring.” In that case, I am also surprised and pleased.

Bottom line, I suppose, is I’m never sure when I’m planting a clue, a red herring, or simply more of the story. But, it’s all fun.

Q: Write then edit? Or chronic intermittent?

RR: Edit as I go. Since I don’t work from an outline, I choose to review the previous effort before launching into new material. Naturally, as I review, I edit. So, in theory, when I reach the end, the book has been thoroughly edited. But, that’s not true either. I let the book “cool” for 30 to 60 days, then print it out and read it with my editor’s eye turned on. Hopefully, by the end of that read, it is ready. Of course, my critique group has been helping me catch my boo-boos, typos, and other assorted naughties.

Q: Have you ever regretted killing off a character?

RR: Oh, yes. In my first Tom Jeffries thriller, I killed off a good guy. I thought it had to be done or Tom’s escape from catastrophe would never be believable. Tom and I shed a tear at his loss, but moved on. Then, in book 2, I needed that character. There was simply a hole without him. He fit perfectly for the role I needed played. Initially, I struggled, trying to come up with a substitute, but finally found one that I think worked. But, zapping that first guy was a mistake I will try to never make again.

Also, in my first Beth Bowman book, I almost did the same thing. One of the nasties went down from multiple bullet wounds. A reader could easily surmise that he died. In Book 3, I needed him, so I went back and carefully read the portion where he was shot. Satisfying myself that he could have survived, I brought him back as a crippled and weakened man. He worked out great in the role I gave him.

The moral I’ve learned: be careful who you kill. You may need them again.

Q: You will be moderator of the “Where I Get My Ideas” panel, Saturday morning, 9am with John H. Cunningham, David Beckwith, Paul Sinor and Charles Todd. Can you share one or two tips on how you successfully moderate a panel discussion? Do you have any special tricks in your bag should the conversational energy dip?

RR: First of all, moderating a panel is an honor, one I enjoy and one I always approach with the panel’s best interests in mind. It is my function to put the spotlight on each panelist in equal proportion. I have moderated panels with a mixture of big names and others that have never been heard of. However, their fame is immaterial. Each of them should have equal time. How they use it is beyond my control. If I allow one (or more) to dominate, I’m being a poor moderator.

I’ve been called the “moderator from hell” and other more derogatory terms by writers who believe the hour is set aside for them only. There have been instances when I’ve been “braced” after the panel because I did not allow someone to dominate the time, perhaps by reading a chapter from his book. After all, his “fans wanted to hear from him.” My response, “Meet them in the bar.” It’s not about one, it’s about all.

I also encourage interaction with the audience. I want their questions, as long as they are not plants addressing one author only. However, the people are not always asking, so I have questions ready to keep things moving. Also, the conversation along the way generates new questions which I jot down. Hopefully, we will never have “dead air” when I moderate.

All-in-all, I’m looking forward to Key West Mystery Fest and the opportunity to moderate the panel with such a talented group of writers.

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926 Truman Avenue,
Key West, Florida 33040
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