Dr. Randy Overbeck is the author of the bestselling series, the Haunted Shores Mysteries, winner of nine national awards. This fall the Wild Rose Press will release his newest work, an atmospheric amateur sleuth mystery, Cruel Lessons, the first installment in a new series set in schools, “Lessons in Peril.” He is the host of the podcast, “Great Stories about Great Storytellers,” which reveals the unusual backstories of famous authors, directors and poets. He is also a speaker in much demand, sharing his multi-media presentations, “Things Still Go Bump in the Night,” “A Few Favorite Haunts,” and “Everything You Wanted to Know About Publishing” with audiences all over the country.
You are an author, but is it your day job? I served children as a teacher, a college professor and a school leader for four decades. I loved my work with children, teachers and parents and witnessed great changes in education in forty years. A few years ago, I retired from public service and began my second love, writing. Five books later including two bestsellers and ten national awards, it’s working out okay.
Did you always want to be an author? The short answer is I wanted to be a writer as long as I can remember. In fact, after taking a creative writing class in high school, I seriously contemplated trying my hand at being a full time author and writing the great American novel. However, my vocation to serve children and help them learn called me and I never looked back. But my urge to tell compelling stories never left me, it simply waited for the right time.
What is your most recent book and what inspired you to write it? My newest title is Cruel Lessons, an atmospheric, amateur sleuth mystery and the first in a new series set in schools called “Lessons in Peril.” While it is my newest title, it is also my oldest. I actually drafted the first version of this narrative almost thirty years and the manuscript has sat “in the drawer” waiting for me to mature as a writer. Although the final product is a far cry from that original version and has gone through more revisions than I can remember, the final story contains the skeleton of the origin tale I invented in the ‘90’s.
How do you hope your book uplifts those who read it? I believe as authors we have a responsibility to do more than entertain—though I recognize that’s important. I think our books can inform, inspire and educate our readers as well as entertain them. That’s why, when I wrote the novels in my Haunted Shores Mysteries, I crafted murder mysteries tied to larger social issues we as a country struggle with, such as racial injustice and human trafficking, hoping to provide new insight and understanding into these challenges. In Cruel Lessons I shaped a narrative that tackles the issue of student drug abuse. Although the story is invented and the drug in question is a fictional hallucinogen, I hope readers will see parallels between my tale and the current opioid crisis affecting children and adults.
What are you most excited about with this book? Like most other things in life, we tend to get better as we work at something, practice our craft, learning from experience, feedback and criticism. For the past several years, I’ve put in the time to learn how to use research to make my narratives authentic and believable and have worked to hone my ability to craft a captivating and engaging story, chapter by chapter. Over this time I’ve concentrated on strengthening my wordsmithing and improving my ability to write and revise and revise to make the final product the very best it can be. Cruel Lessons is the latest result of these efforts and I believe the new novel contains some of the best writing I’ve ever done and critics like the outcome. They called Cruel Lessons “one of the best mysteries of 2023”—ReaderViews, “one of the best thrillers I’ve ever read”—N. N. Light Bookheaven, and “a gripping crime thriller and amateur sleuth mystery”—Literary Titan. I’m excited to see if readers agree.
How did writing a book help your career take off? I’m not sure how to respond to this question. Even though the sales of my novels have been good, I’m not nearly satisfied. I still have a long way to go before I could say my career has “taken off.” But that only makes me work harder and keep at it.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to succeed in your professional industry? I mentored emerging authors and I’ve asked this often. The most critical needs for an aspiring writer is to believe in yourself and be willing to commit for the long term. Becoming an author and doing it right takes time. They need to be willing to put in the time to write, rewrite, and revise to make sure the work they create is the best they can do. And even though writing is a solitary endeavor, that doesn’t mean you have to do it alone. Any emerging writer should find a writers’ group, a group of fellow authors who can support his/her writing as well as provide critical feedback.
How do you handle setbacks and criticism? No one enjoys criticism or welcomes setbacks, but it’s all part of the process. I’ve had my share of both. When I can, I try to learn what I can from any criticism. When the setbacks arrive, I might allow myself to gripe and maybe have a brief pity party. Then, I pivot and do my best to move on.
Being an author today is like running a business. How do you manage all your publicity, social media and keep your engagement up with readers? This is an area I don’t do near as well as I should. When I can, I try to take advantage of others who have more expertise and knowledge in these areas. I’m still trying to expand my efforts. I do have SM platforms and try to share when I can.
How do you hold yourself accountable and achieve the goals that you set forth? I spent most of my career managing school districts and a major part of that job was setting and meeting goals for the system. I take my writing just as seriously. So goal setting is seldom a problem for me. I’m my most stern task master.
How do you structure your day and make time for writing? I have quite a number of responsibilities which vary from day to day. Most days I try to balance family responsibilities with continuing work on marketing as well as finding time for writing as well. I’m fortunate to be able to write pretty much any time I have.
What do you find most fulfilling in the career that you’ve chosen? What most excites me most as a writer is when a reader tells me I ruined their night because they started my novel and couldn’t put it down. After hearing comments like that, I can’t wait to get back to the computer.
What book uplifts you? That’s a tough question. I have so many books which have inspired me, it’s difficult to limit an answer to one book. Ken Follett’s incredible historicals starting with Pillars of the Earth have educated, informed, inspired and entertained me as well as taught me so much about writing. I believe Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the best novels in the English language and I’ve read and re-read the novel several times and learn something every time I read it. I think William Kent Krueger is writing some of the best mystery fiction today. His Cork O’Connor series has some great mysteries, skilled descriptions of breathtaking scenery, engaging and intriguing characters. He also uses his stories to reveal important truths about the human condition.
Connect with Randy Overbeck via his website.