~~~ Interview with Randall
Linda Mae Baldwin ~~~
Hi, Randy, thanks for agreeing to do this email interview. Let me just
getting the gushing out of the way Ė I am a huge fan (and I mean that
emotional not physically! GRIN) and one of the biggest honors ever, for
me, was to talk with you at the ACRW conference last year. Thanks for
[Randy sez: Youíre welcome! Iím always excited to meet somebody who
ďgetsĒ my writing. Not everybody does. It was great talking with you
Okay, now for the interview.
Tell us a little about your background and how you came to write?
was at Berkeley, working on my Ph.D. in physics, when I started reading
thrillers. Mainly, it was a way to decompress after a long day of
studying. After a while, I started imagining that I could write better
than some of the authors I was reading.
was dead wrong. Writing is a skill, just like doing brain surgery or
being a fighter pilot. But I didnít know that, so I decided to write me
a novel. Unfortunately, my writing was awful. Thatís normal for a
beginner, but I didnít know that either. Fortunately, Iím a persistent
devil and I never give up, and I kept working on it for the dozen or so
years that it takes to break in. That is also normal, but (you guessed
it) I didnít know that either, or maybe I never would have tried to
write a book.
LMB -- I
have all your books but I when I reviewed Transgression off the ARC I
got rid of it, waiting for the book. Now, the book is in limited
quantities and itíll cost me 35 bucks to buy a used one off Amazon!
Thatís pretty cool! Youíre fan base is broad I think. What inspires you
to a certain story?
Story ideas come in strange places. I got the idea for TRANSGRESSION
while taking a shower. I wrote it down and stuck it in my ďIdea FileĒ
and then several years later, when I needed a new story idea, there it
was waiting for me. During that time, it had ripened up a bit, and
there was enough there for me build a whole story.
The idea for OXYGEN came from my buddy John Olson. He emailed me and
said he had an idea for a story about a space accident, ďkind of like
Apollo 13 on the way to Mars.Ē He told me all about it and then asked
if I wanted to coauthor it with him! I couldnít pass that one up. I
wish all story ideas were that easy to come by.
When I reviewed Double Vision I was a little taken aback at the
beginning because there is so much M-A-T-H. (I am an illiterate M-A-T-H
But, I couldnít stay away from the riveting story. My husband is a
computer geek and as I asked questions about certain things in your book
(not because I didnít believe they were real but I was amazed that these
things exist!) he was captivated by the story, too. Do you find a big
crossover in your fan base?
you mean, crossover between men and women readers, yes. A lot of my
readers tell me that their husband never reads fiction, but they got him
reading my novel and he couldnít put it down. And sometimes, a guy will
buy my book and then start telling his wife about my characters and then
sheíll want to read it too. I tend to be balanced between characters
and plot, so my books appeal to both men and women readers.
So, are you a genius?
<mysterious grin> Iíll never tell!
All your books involve some aspect of science. Why?
whole working career has been in science. I have a Ph.D. in physics and
Iíve worked as a computational physicist ever since I escaped from
school. This scares some people, until they find out that my stories
are about people, not technology. Thereís a bit of techie stuff in
every book, but that isnít what the storyís about. Some of my biggest
fans are ten-year-old girls.
How much research do you do for things like Fifth Man and the astronaut
line? Or for the off beat girl in Double Vision. Time travel for the
City Of God series? How long does it usually take for you get from
conception to final product?
do as much research as I can. For OXYGEN and THE FIFTH MAN (both books
about NASA), my coauthor John Olson and I went to Houston, toured NASA,
and talked to engineers there. We had one of the worldís leading
planetary scientists and one of the worldís most famous astronauts read
the manuscript for accuracy.
For DOUBLE VISION, I did a lot of research on the new kind of quantum
computers. (The cover story in the January 2005 issue of Scientific
American was ďUnbreakable Quantum Encryption Has ArrivedĒówhich was the
premise for my book.)
Time-travel is a little dicier. I did a lot of research on that before
starting the City of God series and I took the best option for
time-travel I could find. (There were a bunch of papers written on
time-travel in physics journals about fifteen years ago.) For that
series, though, the historical research took a lot longer than the
scientific. Iíve been researching first century Jerusalem for twenty
usually come up with an idea and let it simmer in my Idea File for three
or four years. Then when Iím ready for it, Iíll pull it out, spend six
months doing research, then write the story in a couple of months. Once
I turn in a novel, it usually appears on the shelves about a year
later. So the total time for the process can be five years or longer.
Of course, I always have several ideas going at once.
One of the reasons I like you so much is your generosity to new authors.
Your web-site is full of information to help us figure out where we are
in our careers and how to get where we want to be. Why did you decide to
can remember being an unpublished writer and wishing there were someone
who could answer all my questions. And I was too shy and intimidated to
go ask some big-name (or even little-name) author to help me. So it
took me over ten years to break in. Once I finally got published, I
decided to put some of those answers on my web site to maybe reduce the
time other writers spend in training. I think itís possible to go from
newbie to published author in about four years. Anything longer than
that is usually time wasted (though not always). And I hate to see
peopleís time getting wasted.
When you do a Google search of your name that Snowflake Method pops up!
Howíd you come up with that, and why share it free? Itís very popular
and you could no doubt sell it.
guess I always assumed everyone developed story ideas in a logical and
organized way. Then we were discussing it one day on one of my writing
email loops and I discovered that most published authors do things
differently. I spelled out my method in about tens steps, and one of my
friends, Janelle Schneider, got interested enough to ask me a lot of
questions. We went back and forth many times and I finally wrote up a
Word document with the whole thing laid out in detail. After Janelle
told a few people about it, I posted it on my web site. Two years
later, Iíve probably had eighty thousand hits on that one page. People
all around the world, including some published authors, are now using
the Snowflake to organize their story development. Itís exciting to see
donít like to charge money for such a short document. It only took me
an hour to write it down, and it doesnít seem right to sell it. I am
planning a book on the Snowflake soon, and Iíll have to charge something
for that. Also, Iíll be producing an audio CD containing a lecture on
the Snowflake, along with some extra materials that help explain how it
all works. Iíll charge a reasonable amount for those, but the basic
Snowflake document will always be free.
Your City of God series has such a strong Jewish thread in it. How did
you come to know so much about the Jewish religion?
Well, that was hard. I had to relearn a few things. Iím a Christian,
and I was raised in a very conservative church, so Iím very familiar
with the Bible. The Bible is a Jewish book, so I just assumed that I
would automatically know about Judaism. Wrong!
The Bible is a Jewish book, true, but I had been reading it all my life
through Christian eyes. When I got the idea for the City of God series,
I decided to learn more about Judaism. I joined the Jewish Book Club
and bought a bunch of books and that really opened my eyes. Then I
started attending a Messianic Jewish congregation in
I was hoping to learn some Hebrew, and I did, but I also made a number
of great friends who helped me unlearn things I thought I knew about
Judaism. Thirteen years later, Iím still there. After all this time, I
think Iíve finally learned a bit about how Jews think.
the way, one thing I learned early was that Messianic Jews are kind of
controversial. Controversy makes for good fiction, so I threw some of
that into my story. I also learned a whole lot about Jewish-Christian
relations over the centuries, and it wasnít very pretty. So I threw
that in, too. I guess the biggest thing I learned was to respect
Judaism on its own terms. Of course, I threw that into the story too.
LMB -- Do
many people of the Jewish faith read your books? Ari is such a strong
character, how do Jewish readers respond? (This question may not be too
clear, sorry about that, Iím trying to ask if Jewish people are put off
because of the Christ message in your books.)
donít know. My books are published by Christian publishers, so my main
readership is Christian. My Messianic Jewish friends are big fans of my
books, but I donít really know how the books are received in
conventional Jewish circles. I would hope Jews would read my books in
the same spirit that Christians read Chaim Potokís books.
Your last book in the series, Retribution, is very powerful. Especially
the one scene near the end. Was it difficult to write? Draining
emotionally? What did you do to get back from the edge?
RETRIBUTION is the book that hit me the hardest. That scene youíre
talking about was very intense, and I never did quite get over itóI was
never able to edit it intellectually without getting emotionally
entangled in the story. Iím afraid to admit this, lest the Authorities
come and take away my Guy Card, but every time I read that scene, I
cry. After I finished that book, I needed something a bit lighter, so I
was very glad to do DOUBLE VISION, which was a complete change of pace,
with a lot more humor.
LMB -- I
heard your talk about how men think at the ACRW conference last year and
I still hear a bit of buzz about it! Are you glad you did the talk or do
you wish youíd not? (I thought it was great!)
That talk was a lot of fun! Iíll be giving it again at a couple of
conferences in this coming year. I have no regrets on it at all. I was
afraid the ladies at the conference might be aghast to learn ďhow guys
thinkĒ. But it turned out that the ladies already had strong
suspicions! What they really wanted was to understand why guys think
like that. And I was able to tell them in a way that made sense. That
talk was the runaway best-selling CD at the conference. So far as I can
tell, nobody was offended.
Whatís next on your agenda?
2005 is my year to break out as a writing teacher. Iíll be teaching at
five different writing conferences across the country. Also, as I
mentioned earlier, Iím working on some new materials on how to write
fiction that Iíll be posting soon on my web site. Some of this will be
free. Some of it (such as audio CDs), Iíll have to charge money for.
March, 2005, Baker Books will be producing a book of science fiction
short stories for kids. The title is EAT MY MARTIAN DUST, and Iíll have
two stories in it. Itís a fun book, a nice change of pace from some of
the heavy things Iíve done lately.
Iím also in the middle of writing another contemporary romantic suspense
novel, DOUBLE CROSS, which will be out in 2006. And I have a couple of
other projects in the pipeline that I could tell you about, but then my
agent would have to kill me, and that would be kind of inconvenient.
Anything else you want to add?
People often imagine that published authors just magically ďknew all
alongĒ that someday theyíd get published. This is not true. Most all
of us started life as voracious readers who never thought much about
where the books come from. Then at some point, we got it in our heads
that we wanted to write a novel.
But the process of getting published wasnít magic for any of us. We had
to plant our butts in that hard, ugly chair every day after work and
type a bunch words that just seemed to lie there dead on the page. And
weíd do that every day, year after year, without ever knowing if it was
going to pay off.
did it for TWELVE YEARS before I saw my first novel on a bookstore
shelf. I have a friend who did it for TWENTY-SIX YEARS. There is no
magic in that. There is only hard work and a refusal to give up the
dream. Writing is what happens between the cracks of regular, ordinary
life. You do it because you love itóor you give up. Eventually, if
youíre talented and persistent and lucky, you get published.
Everybody has a dreamósome secret thing they would do if they could.
When youíve got a dream, you should ask yourself two hard questions:
Does this dream match my talents?
I really LOVE following this dream?
the answer to both questions is ďyes,Ē then follow that dream! You may
never catch it, but youíll always be glad you tried. And some people do
catch their dreams. They catch it, because they faced that hard, ugly
chair for years and years and years and never, ever gave up.
May each one of you choose a dream appropriate to your talents and your
desires, and may you pursue it till you catch it!
Randy, thanks so much for doing this interview. I am thrilled you will
be profiled on our website in March 2005
Linda Mae Baldwin
Inspirational Review Coordinator for