Interview with Randy Sue Coburn, Author of A Better View of Paradise

Randy Sue Coburn, the author of A Better View of Paradise, also wrote Owl Island, the 2006 novel described by Kirkus as “beautifully realized” and “a perceptive assessment of what women do in love.” A former journalist, her screenplays include Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle, a film about Dorothy Parker that premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. Randy Sue’s film projects and ten-year stint as a writing instructor with The University of Washington subsidized the completion of Owl Island as well as Remembering Jody, the 1999 first novel hailed by Booklist as “a wry and compassionate emotional rollercoaster from a master storyteller.” She was born in Chicago, raised in South Carolina, and now lives in Seattle. Find out more at her website,, or her Facebook page,

Welcome to The Writer's Life, Randy Sue. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?

Randy Sue: Although it took me a while to work up nerve to write fiction, I’ve been supporting myself as a writer almost since I graduated from The University of Georgia—first as a reporter with The Washington Star (one of my entry level classmates at the Star, Maureen Dowd, is still a pal), then as a freelance journalist, then a screenwriter. Writing screenplays emboldened me to commit myself more fully to make-believe, and in doing that, I realized why journalism had become so frustrating for me. When you toss “what really happened” out the window, you can often come to truths much fuller and richer than reality allows.

Can you please tell us about your book and why you wrote it?

Randy Sue: A Better View of Paradise is a novel about love, death, and baseball—with a little intervention from Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes, to spice things up. Stephanie Pollack, better known as Stevie, is a landscape architect who’s been calibrated to achieve by Hank, her difficult, demanding father. When Hank is diagnosed with a terminal illness, she drops everything to be with him at her childhood home on the island of Kaua`i. Hank’s impending death, on top of her recent career catastrophe and romantic disaster, force Stevie into finally trying to live up to her secret Hawaiian name—Makalani, eyes of heaven. Along the way in this shared journey of contention and healing, grief and resurrection, Stevie’s heart opens not only to her father and the eccentric cousin she never knew she had till now, but to a man who challenges all her constricted notions of intimacy and life’s possibilities. As for baseball, Hank is a lifelong Cubs fan, and one of Stevie’s dreams for her father is that before he dies, he’ll see his team play in the World Series. Like Hank, my own father was a lifelong Cubs fan, and in the aftermath of his death, I wanted to focus on the father-daughter bond, and its profound influence on a woman’s life.

What kind of research was involved in writing A Better View of Paradise?

Randy Sue: I interviewed several women who are noted in Stevie’s field of landscape architecture, which was a big help in writing about the professional crisis that coincides with her personal crisis. And since Japhy, the man Stevie becomes involved with, is a vet, I quizzed my own vet, too. Because Stevie grew up on Kaua`i, where much of the novel is set, I read lots of books set on the islands, from fiction to memoir to non-fiction dealing with Hawaiian culture and myths. Before beginning the book, I’d been to Kaua`i half a dozen times—often staying in old plantation workers’ cottages that had been spruced up for visitors—and I returned again for research purposes after I began writing. Luckily for me, one of my best friends lives on the Big Island of Hawai`i, so I could also visit her, hit the best bookstores there for Hawaiiana, and not only learn some authentic hula from her fabulous teacher, but over-indulge in my favorite part of the research—going to restaurants for local food!

Has it been a bumpy ride to becoming a published author or has it been pretty well smooth sailing?

Randy Sue: Pretty bumpy with the first novel, which my then-agent gave up on after several tries. I almost lost heart myself, but eventually pulled up my socks, wrote another draft, and ended up very happy that an editor the caliber of Kent Carroll published it at Carroll & Graf. After Kent sold C&G, he was very helpful in finding me a wonderful agent who brokered a marriage with Owl Island and Ballantine Books.

For this particular book, how long did it take from the time you signed the contract to its release?

Randy Sue: I had a two-book contract with Ballantine, signed before the publication of Owl Island, which was about four years ago.

Do you have an agent and, if so, would you mind sharing who he/is is? If not, have you ever had an agent or do you even feel it’s necessary to have one?

Randy Sue: My aforementioned agent, who’s been a terrific ally, is Suzanne Gluck at William Morris. I also work with Erin Malone, formerly Suzanne’s crack assistant and the first reader in that office of Owl Island. I had sold my first novel to Carroll & Graf on my own, but that would not have been possible if didn’t already know him from my days as a journalist. Even some prestigious smaller houses are reluctant to look at unagented work these days, so if you’re not going to self-publish and don’t already know people in the business, an agent seems necessary.

Do you plan subsequent books?

Randy Sue: Yes, and more than that, I’m too suspicious to say!

Can you describe your most favorite place to write?

Randy Sue: In bed, on an old computer incapable of going online, with my dog’s head on my feet. I find it conducive somehow to write in the same place where I sleep and dream.

If money was no object, what would be the first thing you would invest in to promote your book?

Randy Sue: An assistant. Because if I were ever fortunate enough that money was no object, I would certainly need one! But then, this is what I pray for—a better class of problems.
How important do you think self-promotion is and in what ways have you been promoting your book offline and online?

Randy Sue: Promotion is crucial. But the trick is finding the balance between what you’re comfortable with and what drains you. I’m an introvert by nature, and a poor multi-tasker, so my work is to get better at setting aside a certain amount of time for marketing on a regular basis. Most of my promotional effort for this book is going into readings, signings, and blogging. I’m also part of a newly formed group of local authors, The Seattle Seven, that is planning events to present outstanding literature to the community while raising money to help support book and reading-related organizations.

What’s the most common reason you believe new writers give up their dream of becoming published and did you almost give up?

Randy Sue: Frustration. It takes a lot of dedication and persistence for a new writer to develop a novel to the stage where it’s ready to be read by agents and editors—especially in today’s tough market, when it’s not enough for your work to have a lot of juice. That juice has got to be chilled, in the glass, and ready to serve. I’m tenacious by nature, but I did almost give up with my first novel before I found a freelance editor to work with on another draft, and she was like a magical midwife—pulling out the baby that was already in me, but that I couldn’t deliver on my own.
Any final words of wisdom for those of us who would like to be published?

Randy Sue: Three words, actually, all the same—persevere, persevere, persevere.

Thank you for your interview, Randy Sue. I wish you much success!

Randy Sue: Thanks for inviting me—I enjoyed it.

1 comment:

  1. Love this interview and the book sounds great. Thanks!


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