Welcome to the three hundred and eighty-fifth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with ecopolitical thriller author Randy Dutton. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Randy. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Randy: My name is Randy Dutton, and I work and live with my journalist wife on our large timbered acreage on the edge of the Olympic Peninsula rainforest, Washington State, US. I’m a retired Navy Supply Corps Commander with a reputation of challenging the status quo and bureaucracy – this is reflected in my writing. I’m a skeptic and contrarian. My inclination to look at situations differently than those around me has helped and hindered my widely varied careers. Because I view most issues with a fiscal and common sense lens, I often dig beneath the surface for root causes. I’ve saved a military command from bankruptcy and a helped a Naval Shipyard to its first ever annual profit. I’ve also stirred up hornet nests by challenging OSHA’s cosy relationship with the chemical industry, coveted but wasteful military projects, and police corruption. I’ve worked in city government, within a corporation, as an entrepreneur, an inventor, a company owner, and a timber owner.
Morgen: Your life sounds ideally suited to being a writer and I described you in the introduction as an ‘ecopolitical thriller author’ – could you explain that please.
Randy: It’s a genre I combined from my skepticism of government motivation and my passion for science. I also enjoy science fiction where the science is plausible; mysteries with intricate plots and clever technique; historical fiction which makes me feel I witnessing something real; and am a softie for incorporating light romance.
Morgen: What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Randy: My first book is The Carbon Trap, part of The Carbon Series. It was released January 2012. My second in the series is The Carbon Cross, and is due out June 2012. It’s nearly complete. Parts of book 3 and 4 are sketched out. Randy is a nickname for my middle name, one I’ve been using all my life, but I’m stuck with what my parents bequeathed me.
Morgen: Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Randy: No. I started off self-publishing because I felt it was in my best interest to establish myself. Once my series is complete I may seek out an agent and book publisher.
Morgen: Or maybe if you do well, they’ll seek you out. Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions?
Randy: I haven’t submitted to any competitions yet. But next year…watch out!
Morgen: Do let me know how you get on. You mentioned that you may seek out an agent, do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Randy: I don’t think they’re vital. Still, I believe The Carbon Series would make for an excellent movie because it deals with something never before attempted, the radical changing of Earth’s CO2 levels by mankind to ecological starvation levels.
Morgen: You’ve self-published, is your book available as an eBook? How involved were you in that process? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Randy: Yes. My book is available through Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords, and my printed book is now available from Amazon and Smashwords. I did the process entirely by myself. Most of the books I read are in print, but nearly all the research and news I get is electronic.
Morgen: Me too. Isn’t the internet wonderful. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Randy: I spend about 2-3 hours a day marketing, and another 2-3 hours on continued research.
Morgen: Wow, that’s dedication. You’re underway with your second book, do you have a favourite of your books or characters? And you mentioned a movie, if any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actors?
Randy: I absolutely have a female character who I favor, but I can’t say I’ve been that kind to her. I don’t like stereotypes. Anna Picard is her name and I started her off as an extremely competent antagonist, who develops a moral crisis, and slowly evolves, with the love of a redeemer, into a remorseful but hopeful protagonist. This is not an easy transition and her psychological profile might cause many to worry about whether she’ll survive the book series. I’ve struggled to not cave in to make life easy for her. Good actresses to portray her would be Katrina Bowden or Maggie Lawson – someone with comedy experience. If it were made ten years from now Amanda Bynes would be a good choice.
Morgen: Being too easy on a character can often make for a dull story – even the nicest characters have to have flaws and dilemmas or we’d have no plot. Did you have any say in the titles / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Morgen: We have the first cover here and it’s simple but effective, I’d say. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Randy: I’m finishing up The Carbon Cross, Book 2 of The Carbon Series. Next will be Book 3, The Carbon Crash.
Morgen: Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Randy: Yes. I spend about 10 hours on the computer about 6 days per week. I have no problem writing, but sometimes when I get stuck on a plot point, I’ll jump past and work on some editing until an issue resolves itself.
Morgen: That a good idea and I’m pretty much the same. Invariably when I go back to something it’s easier to sort it out. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Randy: I roughly plot it out then start filling in plot points. But as ideas come up, I’m happy to redirect the plotline somewhat.
Morgen: As the characters invariably take over. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Randy: I get a feeling of the mood I want each character, and fill in details that are believable. I add complexity that isn’t critical to the plot. With the second protagonist (the redeemer) in The Carbon Trap, I added burdens to what some might initially think is a stereotype: good looking college quarterback, Iraqi war veteran, Ph.D. It wasn’t important to the plot but I made him an above the knee amputee to humanized him and created internal conflict. But to ensure mobility I gave him an advanced prosthetic (osseointegration prosthesis) that isn’t even approved by the FDA yet. I’m fairly sure this is the first time this advanced procedure has been used in fiction. I feel my fiction can be used to advance strong held beliefs. As a Lifetime Member of the Disabled American Veterans myself, I’m advocating the VA seriously consider authorizing this procedure that currently only is done in Germany and Australia.
Morgen: They’re strong countries to follow. Do you write any non-fiction, poetry or short stories?
Randy: Not yet but give me a year and I’ll probably have a couple short stories.
Morgen: I mainly write short stories and love them. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Randy: The need to do editing reduces as my writing progresses. But I’m always tweaking dialog, timing, and minor details.
Morgen: You said earlier that you do 2-3 hours research a day, that sounds like hard work.
Randy: My books are tech-heavy because I want them to be as believable as possible. As a former candidate for the Washington State Legislature I had a very technological platform for solving fiscal problems to the point that my opponent told the press, “if they wanted facts and details, ask Randy.” She still won because the press wasn’t really interested in reporting facts, just in maintaining the status quo.
Morgen: What point of view do you find most to your liking?
Randy: I mix first and third person. I’m dialog heavy.
Morgen: Dialogue does up the pace and I have to say I prefer it to description (unlike the poets in my writing group). I glaze over if there’s a chunk of description. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Randy: Yes. In writing my first book I came up with ideas for at least ten more books. I’ll never have the time I need to complete those, and the ones that spin off later.
Morgen: Maybe you could do a James Patterson and have co-authors. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Randy: My life is fantastic because my wife, a professional science journalist, and I work from our large office in a custom built house. It’s in the middle of 124 timbered acres.
Randy: The downside is I get caught up in writing and don’t get outside as much as I want or need.
Morgen: I know that feeling, although mine’s more writing-related than writing. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Randy: Write about what you know. Write from passion.
Morgen: Passion’s my middle name. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Randy: Samantha Brown (she’d ensure nobody got too serious), Steven Pressfield, and Michael Crichton. Everyone loves Italian.
Morgen: I do. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Randy: “If not now, When? If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, When?”
I’ve got two favorite words, the first, ‘precipitevolissimevolmente’, which is the longest non-technical word in Italian and is an Italian tongue twister. Ironically it means “hurry up.” I learned it from my Italian language instructor when I was stationed in Naples, Italy, and I could easily say it whilst my Italian staff could not. The other is “Integriful” It’s a word I made up long ago. It means a person with integrity.
Morgen: I like it. Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Randy: I am politically active, helping candidates for local office and one for Congress. I’m also a frequent contributor to the local county newspaper. The managing editor called me his first source for a conservative perspective in the county.
Morgen: What do you do when you’re not writing?
Randy: With 124 acres I’m frequently fixing things, cutting something down, tracking our few head of cattle, and apologizing to my neighbour if the cattle don’t respect the fence.
Morgen: As they’re bound not to do. Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful?
Randy: I frequent LinkedIn discussion groups.
Morgen: Which is probably how we met. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Randy: I follow several forums on LinkedIn, and I’m forever having articles sent to me.
Morgen: What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Randy: Competition is getting tougher as real unemployment and the ranks of retirees increase. Many writers have given up trying to find a salaried job.
Morgen: I’ve given up mine and it surprisingly hard finding a replacement – I quit October 1st and left mid-March! And I was only a secretary. Crazy. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Randy: Be a sceptic and never trust the media. Do your own research, grit your teeth and move forward with what your gut instinct tells you.
Morgen: And it’s usually right. Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Randy: Know any good movie agents, preferably one who likes Michael Crichton type plots?
Morgen: Unfortunately I don’t but the Writers Market (or in the UK the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook / Writers’ Handbook) should list some. Preditors and Editors is also a good place (http://pred-ed.com). Thank you, Randy, and good luck.
I then invited Randy to include an excerpt of his writing…
Breathing hard, Anna rounded the corner of the narrow pathway, two large Rottweilers close on her heels. Her running shoes made a rapid soft padding sound on the stony concrete as she went full out, her sun-streaked blonde ponytail bouncing wildly with each long stride. She sprinted, the crashing surf just 30 meters below the lethal cliff edge to her left, the ancient Cap Ferrat Cemetery wall on her right. Just another 400 meters to the gate. Can I make it in time?
Less than a minute later, she rounded the hard right turn into the gate and stopped abruptly, then quickly side-stepped to her right. She clicked her stopwatch. Perses and Styx dashed in immediately past her. “34:08. Good run guys!” she exclaimed, panting for breath. “But next time let’s beat 10 klicks in under 34 minutes, okay? You guys just don’t drive me hard enough,” she chided them affectionately as they continued trotting towards their water bowls. A clang came from the gate as she swung it close. An additional click sounded from the electronic cipher lock.
Randy Dutton is a retired Navy Supply Corps Commander, an inventor and former vice president of a high-tech packaging company. He has worked as a supervisor at the Port of Long Beach and owned Creative Solutions, a management consulting company. In 2008, Randy ran for the Washington State Legislature in an effort to improve government efficiency, something he was able to do successfully in the military units in which he served.
Working from their large timbered property on the edge of the Olympic Peninsula rainforest, he and his science journalist wife spend much of their time reading and writing about new technology. He has been engaged in the community for the past several years, having served as Scoutmaster for his identical twin sons, now both Eagles, who are serving in the Air National Guard while attending college.
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