The westerns found me instead of the other way around. The first book I wrote was set in the Mexican Revolution. Kensington agreed to publish it if they could market it as a western. They actually had one of their western writers who didn’t deliver a book they had a contract on, and they needed a western to complete their list. This was a lucky break for me, and the first book did well. Kensington then gave me a contract to write a second book. You guessed it: the contract was for a second western novel.
2) Have you ever wanted to write something other than westerns? Short stories? Romance? Mysteries?
Yes, I have written several more novels that are more mainstream, historicals. They are typically harder to get published than genre fiction. I’m now writing another western, primarily because they are easier to get published, and sell rather well.
3) What has surprised you most about being an author?
I don’t know. Not much has really changed in my life. For all but a few, well known best sellers, writing is a lot of work and worrying, for little monetary gain. I guess I would say, somewhat disappointingly, that I was surprised to learn the book publishing industry is more of a business than a form of art or expression. Beforehand, I looked at writing the other way.
I like to write books that are set in a different time, theoretically, around some major event, a war, or a tumultuous time, etc. The book I’m working on now is set around the building of the Transcendental Railroad. Fiction should take the reader somewhere else, a place or time he can’t go to by getting in a car or on a plane. When a writer fictionalizes these events, the reader can see them through the eyes and ears of the people experiencing them as opposed to just a bland historical overview.
As far as plotting and creating a story, I get ideas from everywhere: books, movies, make them up, etc. I’ve done the plotting in a number of ways. Several times I’ve plotted most of it out in advance, and other times, I’ve found my way through as I write. The key, I think, is to always make sure there’s plenty of suspense, tension, conflict, etc. I’m always going back and adding this if I think there are stretches of the narrative that are lacking here.
5) If you could go back and talk to yourself when you were a beginning writer, what advice would you offer?
This is kind of back to the first couple of questions. It’s my opinion that is much easier for new writers to break in writing genre, mass market fiction, or something that is hot – or maybe something that might appeal to a regional publisher. Whatever is selling is the easiest to publish. Young Adult appears to the new fashion. Thrillers are also big right now.
Looking at the market instead of the product is very difficult for all writers, but it is very important to write what the publishers want. I read Richard Curtis’s book. Richard is one of the most respected agents in the business and broken in many new writers (never met him). He said he takes on new clients based solely on whether he can sell their books, with very little consideration given to how good the book is, or how well it’s written. Beginning writers should not fight this, but use it to their advantage, but this is contrary to all of us.
I do read a fair amount of work from beginning writers. They almost all make the same mistakes. Most tend to over write - say way too much about a character or setting or background, input too much non relevant information than is required to tell the story. Many new writers write from too many viewpoints, or try to tell the story from the omnipresent viewpoint, like a camera filming a movie. Tell the story through the character’s eyes. That’s the truest form of literature.
6) Do you or have you ever had a critique group? If not, who are your early readers?
I try to get as many critiques as possible. I caution everyone to be leery about friends or non writers, or people who won’t give you the bad news. Don’t think I’ve ever used a critique group. People who are writers are the best, and my agent it really good at this. I’m always thinking who I can get to read something. I usually have to return the favor.
7) Many writers describe themselves as "character" or "plot" writers. Which are you? What do you find to be the hardest part of writing?
I started out as clearly a character writer, but I am now much more of a plot writer. The character writing is a more pure form of expression, but the public likes the good story, the page turner.
It’s probably easier for most of us to character write, a more natural form. We are, after all, characters. As I study some of the big sellers, I find I get away from the character writing. I now find myself having to go back add more character writing because I’ve skimped on it.
8) What are your goals for the future? Do you have an agent who is involved in career planning?
I’d certainly like to publish some of the works I’ve recently completed and write some more novels outside the western genre. I do have an agent who works very hard for me, but the current economy is making the industry very difficult for writers. My agent, probably like most, who is a business person trying to make a living, would like me to write whatever is the easiest for him to sell. I’m kind of doing a mix right now of what I want and what he wants. We’ll see how it works out.
9) You have a full time job so how disciplined are you when it comes to writing? Does your job play any part in your writing?
Day job contributes little to the writing – just pays most of the bills!! Actually, I’ve found that writing doesn’t take that much time. A few pages a day can add up soon. Strangely, after I worked on my first novel for years, I was required to write the second novel in 90 days, and it turned out fine!! It’s the critiquing and editing that takes much more time, at least for me.
10) What do you like to do when you’re not writing? Favorite pastime?
I’m a pretty typical guy. I play golf, work, and like to travel if I have time.
11) How much research goes into the writing of your books?
I do quite a bit of research that I enjoy. Since I write mostly historicals, there’s often a general study of history, but I find personal accounts to be the best sources of research and inspiration. When I wrote the Savage Breed that was set in the Mexican-American War, I read a remarkable book by Samuel Chamberlain who fought in the War called My Confession. Amazing book, Sam’s insights and embellishing are better than fiction. Cormac McCarthy says that when read this book it motivated him to write Blood Meridian, which is considered one of the greatest works of fiction in the last fifty years.
12) How do you edit and how much editing does your editor provide?
Maybe I’m lucky, but my editors haven’t done that much to my work. Mostly, they touch the writing, maybe remove some curse words, etc., that the book distributors think are too much. My editors have mostly given guidance on things like length and title, etc. The title’s got to match their marketing aim, and I’ve quit fighting with them about these things. It’s a battle I can’t win.
13) What is your favorite part of writing a novel?
Writing is hard, tedious work, especially the careful reading and editing. It can be a grind. My favorite part of writing is finishing and thinking it’s good. Reading a good passage is rewarding. Reading a bad passage is disheartening, but the culmination of all of it is rewarding.
14) What kind of marketing/promotion do you do? Facebook, Twitter, websites? What’s best in your opinion?
I have a web-page. Marketing and selling books is a grass roots effort. I’ve gotten lot of mileage out of libraries, speaking at them, etc. Everyone has their own niche. Book fairs and conferences are good – anything where you can get your face in front of readers, meet booksellers, or reviewers. I’m not that big on this new digital age and internet marketing, though it has worked for many authors. I can see its advantages for non fiction.
Elmer Kelton, probably the most successful western writer since Louis Lamour, told me once that he told his publisher about every book signing he went to in his early career. I extrapolated from this that is important for publishers, readers, booksellers, etc., to think you are a good publicist for your work. Actually being a good publicist may not be as important having people think you are.
15) Tell us what’s next for you and how we can find your books. Point us to your website so we can keep an eye on you.
My website is www.randydenmon.com. Probably the best place to find my books is Amazon or another online bookseller. There may be a few in the stores, but typically they only stay in the stores six months to a year after publication.
Many thanks to Randy for answering my questions and sharing some of his writer-wisdom. We'll be waiting and watching for that next book!