Author of the Month: Bonnie Randall – Unmasking Halloween chills in her new book, ‘The Shadow Collector’
Discover her advice for writing memorable and haunting stories this spooky season.
The plot of The Shadow Collector held my interest from the first page to the last. I was left in suspense after reading each page.– The Avid Reader
Welcome to a must-read interview with Tellwell author Bonnie Randall, a contemporary writer with a unique perspective that traverses both the traditional and self-publishing realms. Known for crafting mysterious and eerie tales, Bonnie Randall has left a trail of suspense with her books, Divinity & the Python, Within the Shadow’s Summit, No Vacancy, and her latest offering, The Shadow Collector.
The Shadow Collector has reached remarkable heights, achieving the coveted #1 spot on Amazon.com’s Ghost Romance chart. It has also peaked at #2 in Canada and reached an impressive #19 in Paranormal Suspense on Amazon.uk.
Today, Bonnie Randall generously shares her insights into the art of writing gripping stories and making the most of self-publishing.
Q: What inspired you to delve into the supernatural thriller genre, and how do you keep it fresh and exciting for your readers?
Hey, I’m a Scorpio! I was born into the supernatural thriller genre!
As for keeping a story in this category fresh and exciting, it can be a tall challenge! A lot of what we define as “paranormal” spins out of legends and folklore that are so old—the roots of those tales stretch right back into ancient tomes like the Torah and Bible. As such, there are fields of tropes and clichés you need to either embrace or avoid when creating your own story, because you definitely don’t want your reader to feel like they’ve already seen this book a million times. But you also want to deliver the thrill they’re expecting and hoping for. So how do you turn the key in such a way that it unlocks something unexpected? Well, how about a graveyard that’s haunted not by ghosts, but by tangible memories only your heroine can see? Or what about little phantasm children who, instead of innocent victims, are perhaps wiser (and certainly wilier) than the adults?
Oh, and how about a haunted house that is the safest place your protagonist has ever known, a place her heart longs to be? That’s The Shadow Collector in three pithy lines, but beyond that, what keeps this story exciting are characters who are deeply human, who take you to their emotional place and make you care about them, root for them.
Q: You’ve created a captivating series of supernatural thrillers. Can you tell us what it takes to plan and execute a series like yours, and you go about it?
Wine. A lot of wine. Or maybe it’s “whine.”
Just kidding. The Shadow Collector is the first in what will be a four-book series whose overarching question, “Where did all the children go?” is currently answered via a blizzard of Post-it notes that serve as a storyboard in my writing room. And, just like any individual title, it is divided into Acts I, II, and III, so too is an entire series—except on a far more protracted scale. As such, Book II and Book III ostensibly serve as Act II of the entire series, and right now I am writing them simultaneously due to the amount of cross-pollination of clues and secrets revealed within each of these stories.
Beyond plotting and process, though, another important element in a series’ execution involves staying true to the voice of each character. This series has a big cast, and each book will feature a different leading man and lady whose points of view will propel the narrative drive. To that end, one of my many jobs in crafting these novels will be to respect each character’s individual personality, their back-story, and their unique voice, which my readers have now come to know and recognize from Book I, The Shadow Collector.
Q: Your books often mix romance, mystery, and danger. What advice can you offer to writers looking to incorporate both elements and maintain an effective balance?
First and foremost, always—and I mean always!—stay true to reactions and emotions that are consistent with whatever your protagonist is facing in each individual scene. For example: if your character is facing off with the phantom in the graveyard, she will not be thinking about how sexy the hero is (even if he is). Conversely, if your hero is flashing his adorable dimples at her while she is trying to be serious—dang! She’s gonna notice those damn dimples, and become aware of a whole clutch of other, even naughtier thoughts that will upend her too.
In short, a romantic thriller is, essentially, two stories about the same people happening simultaneously: it’s a love story and a mystery. So to keep those pages turning, use the romance to create barriers that keep your protag from solving the mystery, and use the mystery to create barriers that keep your protag from connecting with their love interest.
Q: Can you tell us about your experience working with Tellwell, and how self-publishing compares to traditional publishing?
I have had a variety of publication experiences! First, I had a project traditionally picked up by small press Panverse in California (Divinity & The Python, 2013); next, I self-published with no assistance (Within The Summit’s Shadow, 2019); and now I’ve chosen the assisted-publishing route with Tellwell’s contribution to The Shadow Collector.
Each experience has benefits and challenges: going the traditional route can result in a publisher taking on the “heavy lifting” of cost, distribution, and some marketing, but trad publishing also involves querying and uncertainty. Will an agent or editor even be interested in my project? Or will they take a pass?
Self-publishing comes with the benefit of getting your project into the hands of readers, but indie authors still (sadly) face a lot of stigma: some readers (and other writers) assume your work is substandard, amateur, or even “illegitimate.” With that reality in mind, I strongly recommend that any author going the self-published route does it well: make the investment and use assisted publishing to help craft the best-looking product you can produce, because like it or not, we do judge a book by its cover, so yours needs to shine! Don’t believe me? I’d be only too happy to share the dramatic difference in sales between my unassisted self-published novel Within the Summit’s Shadow and The Shadow Collector, which I created with Tellwell.
Next: use an editor. No, seriously, use an editor! If you have a professional editor, great. If you don’t, and the assisted-publishing company you’ve employed offers editing as part of their service, purchase it!
Yikes! That turned into a bit of a lecture, didn’t it? Let me sum up with this: my Shadow Collector journey with Tellwell has been top shelf; the formatting, the cover art design, and (perhaps especially) the marketing coaching has, without a doubt, been a massive part of what has propelled The Shadow Collector into the top 50 in its Amazon categories eight separate times since its release in May. I am so thrilled and grateful to be working with such a great partner!
Q: Could you share some of the books and authors who have inspired your writing journey?
I read so much and from such a wide variety of genres, anyone who looks at my Goodreads list probably thinks it’s been compiled by a dozen different people! But certain authors inspire me more than others: Lucy Foley and Shari Lapena are pacing and plot twist queens! For the creepy factor, though, I adore Jennifer MacMahon, but I (obviously) love me some sweet magic too, so for that I pick up everything by Sarah Addison Allen and Heather Webber. When I want my prose to lean a little more into the poetic and imagery-rich side of life, Ann Marie Eleazer’s poetry gets me there, but if I really want my paranormal possibilities to crackle and creep you out good and proper, I dive into the blacker-than-midnight rabbit holes of the late indie journalist David McGowan!
Q: What’s your favourite way to celebrate Halloween?
I’m glad you asked, but you might not be! Aside from giving out stellar loot bags (no candy corn or witch’s kisses from this house, baby! Here it’s chips & chocolate all the way!) I, unlike The Shadow Collector’s Natalya, actually enjoy a stroll through the cemetery—especially on Halloween. In fact, an abandoned graveyard where I used to live had headstones that would appear then disappear depending on who was looking at them, and what angle they were looking from. And yeah, I write fiction, but I am not making that up.
Pick up one of Bonnie’s books this Halloween. Just click the image below.