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Interview with Randall Reneau, Author of ‘Deadly Lode’

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ReneauRandallRandall Reneau has been a professional geologist since 1974. He holds a BA in Geology from Central Washington University. He spent nearly 20 years in uranium exploration, followed by three years in Liberia, West Africa exploring for diamonds and gold. After the outbreak of civil war in Liberia, Mr. Reneau managed a gold exploration project in Mali, West Africa. He later managed silver and copper exploration projects in Mexico. In 2004, he co-founded Uranium Energy Corporation. In 2006, he co-founded Strategic American Oil (now Duma Energy) Corporation. Mr. Reneau served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam and Cambodia, and he was awarded a Bronze Star and two Army Commendation Medals. Today, Randall lives with his wife, Lynne, in Austin, Texas.

Welcome, Randall. I come from mining territory in Upper Michigan, so I’m interested in hearing more about your mining mystery, Deadly Lode. For starters, will you tell us a little about your main character Trace Brandon, who he is, and how he gets involved in mining?

Trace is based on my career as a geologist, and my tenure as CEO of several small-cap mining companies. During the span of some 36 years, I met most of the characters in the book. From the drillers to the “Virus.” We even had a shareholder who turned out to have ties to the mob, but that’s another story, for another book….

What about Trace do you think makes him an appealing main character whom readers will like?

Trace is a hard-working, well-educated geologist, but he doesn’t take himself too seriously. And he has a sense of humor, albeit sometimes at the expense of his adversaries. I see Trace as an “old school” guy. He says “yes sir,” and “yes ma’am,” and likes John Wayne movies. He’s a guy women are attracted too, and that men like to hang out with.

The primary villain in the novel is, Cyrus “the Virus” McSweeney — I love his nickname. Will you tell us a little about him and how he tries to thwart Brandon’s plans?

Cyrus is a compilation of Vancouver, B.C. penny mining stock promoters I met during my career. When doing reverse-mergers with publicly traded shell corporations, listed on the Vancouver Exchange, it is, as Forrest Gump would say, “like a box of chocolates, you never know what (or who) you’ll get.” Cyrus is always looking for an angle, some way to improve his equity position in Trace’s company (Montana Creek Mining). Or more often, how to exploit a weakness. This usually means “shorting the stock,” and at the worst possible time for the company.

Brandon’s mine focuses on extracting uranium. Can you tell us a little about how you decided on the setting?

deadlylode I located the fictional Sullivan Mine in north-central Washington State. Just north of the small town of Winthrop. At one time, this area was a booming gold, copper, and silver mining district. And there have been persistent rumors over the years, of a “lost” gold mine. I grew up in this area of Eastern, Washington, and explored many of the abandoned mines. Later, I got my geology degree from a local university (Central Washington University), and did a bit of prospecting in the area of the “Sullivan Mine.”

The Sullivan Mine would have originally been mined for gold. The early miners recognized the associated uranium, but at that time it was an unwanted, valueless, mineral. And unknown to the miners, a potentially deadly commodity. Later, high-grade uranium ore would become extremely valuable.

For those of us less knowledgeable, would you tell us why uranium is so valuable and what it’s used for?

In the past (1950s), the rush to find, and mine uranium, was to provide enriched uranium for weapons. Today, it’s mainly for fuel for nuclear reactors and power generation. Especially in Europe, China, and Russia. However, rogue nations (Iran, North Korea) are building stockpiles of weapons-grade material. A dangerous, and potentially destabilizing situation. The value of uranium, is basically the result of supply and demand. The demand is high, and economic ore deposits are scarce, and often located in unstable or environmentally sensitive areas.

Since you’re a geologist yourself, Randall, I imagine you were largely writing about what you already knew, but what kind of research if any did you have to do about mining or other aspects of the novel?

The mining operations, drilling, and public company aspects, were from first-hand experience. However, I did a lot of research on the discovery of radiation, historic recessions (called Panics in the old days), offshore-trading, especially in the Cayman Islands, exotic poisons, airport configurations, airplane spec’s, the mob, and law enforcement. From my Google searches, I fully expected the FBI to show up on my doorstep!

I understand that when Brandon’s shareholders start dying off, the FBI gets involved. Can you tell us a little about one of the deaths and why it becomes a reason for concern on a national level?

When the Pantelli crime family sends the “Chemist,” to dispatch one of Brandon’s shareholders, Richard Rosenburg, the assassin chooses an organophosphate poison. Originally developed as an insecticide, in the 1950s, it soon became apparent to the U.S. government that the compound could be upgraded to a lethal chemical weapon (VX Agent). After the “Chemist” uses VX to kill Rosenburg, in Vancouver, alarm bells go off with the Canadian authorities, who immediately contact the FBI.

The novel also involves some international criminals, including one from China. I always wonder whether authors are concerned about who they make into the criminals in terms of people’s nationalities. Why did you pick a Chinese criminal?

I chose Lei Chang as one of the antagonists because of the Chinese governments’ insatiable appetite for uranium. And because they don’t play by the rules, to get what they want.

Why is China so interested in uranium, in real life or your book, or both?

Power generation. The Chinese cannot continue to burn fossil fuels at current rates. Not only is it not sustainable, from a resource point of view, but the greenhouse gas generation is choking their atmosphere. The only short-term answer to their massive power generation needs is nuclear power. With limited uranium reserves within China, they are forced to seek sources elsewhere. And, as in Deadly Lode, they are aggressively acquiring reserves around the globe.

What would you say was the most difficult part of writing a mystery — is it to keep the reader turning the page, or not giving away everything until the end?

Both. A buddy of mine, who has written more than 20 mystery/thrillers, gave me some good advice early on, “Pull the readers in, and don’t let them come up for air.” Also, I like to use a number of sub-plots, it’s more work for me, but it keeps the reader on his toes.

Were you a big fan of mysteries before you decided to write one, and would you say there are any other mystery authors, or films or TV shows that have inspired or influenced you?

Absolutely. I read everything in my genre I can get my hands on. I would say that I have been most influenced by James Lee Burke, and his Dave Robicheaux novels. Also, Randy Wayne White, and his Doc Ford novels. I also love the writing style of Wilbur Smith, especially his mining (diamond and gold) novels.

Another large influence on my writing is having pretty much lived the stories I write. I spent a good deal of my life exploring for the same minerals, in similar situations, as my protagonist, Trace Brandon. And running into the same nefarious, and sometime dangerous, characters, as in Deadly Lode, and the soon to be released, Diamond Fields.

Since you know so much about mining, Randall, did you worry about including too much information and boring the reader, or not enough information so it didn’t seem plausible?

Good question! I had to watch it, not to go overboard on the mining/drilling parts. I wanted to give readers enough information, so they had a good feel for the process. But not so much as to bore them. I wanted parts of the book to be a kind of “primer” on the exploration/mining business. Hopefully, the reader will come away with a general understanding of mining, as well as how the penny-stock markets really work.

Do you have plans to write any other books, and if so, would you give us some idea of what they might be about?

Yes, I plan on a series of Trace Brandon novels, and have just completed the sequel, titled Diamond Fields. It will be available on Amazon, Kindle, etc., this spring. Diamond Fields takes Trace and company to Liberia, West Africa, in search of alluvial diamonds. They find some spectacular diamonds, but also a nasty civil war. The book is based on my three years exploring for diamonds in Liberia. And my run-in with Charles Taylor, and his band of immortals (rebels).

The third installment, will bring Trace, et al, back to Washington State. This time the query is silver. And the Pantelli crime family will be back, along with a local antagonist, or two…

The fourth installment will take the crew to Mali, West Africa, on a gold venture. This one is based on my two years in Mali, exploring for gold. Antagonists will include Tuaregs rebels, and a notorious arms dealers, named Little Baba.

The fifth installment, will hit uranium…again. But, this time in South Texas. And again, based on my experiences exploring for, and mining, uranium, in the Lone Star State.

Wow, that’s a lot of books planned, Randall. What about writing mysteries do you find so appealing?

I enjoy taking the readers on a roller-coaster ride, with a lot of twists and turns, and unexpected outcomes. It keeps me on my toes, as a writer, and I hope it keeps the readers engaged.

Secondarily, I think it’s because I get to re-live my real-life experiences, whether in the boardroom, or in the field. And I get to make the ore richer, the women prettier and more seductive, the bad guys nastier, and the geologist taller and better looking.

Thank you again, Randall, for the opportunity to interview you today. Before we go, would you tell us about your website and what additional information we can find there about Deadly Lode?

My pleasure. And yes, please visit at my website. Readers will find updates on upcoming novels, as well as reader-reviews, our Facebook link, and other information.

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About Tyler R. Tichelaar

Tyler R. Tichelaar, 7th generation Marquette resident, spent thousands of hours researching and writing The Marquette Trilogy: Iron Pioneers, The Queen City, and Superior Heritage. Tyler has a Ph.D. in Literature from Western Michigan University, and Bachelor and Master’s Degrees from Northern Michigan University. He has lectured on writing and literature at Clemson University, the University of Wisconsin, and the University of London. Tyler is the regular guest host of Authors Access Internet Radio and the President of the Upper Peninsula Publishers and Authors Association. He is the owner of Marquette Fiction and Superior Book Productions, a professional book review, editing, and proofreading service. Tyler lives in Marquette, Michigan where the roar of Lake Superior, mountains of snow, and sandstone architecture inspire his writing.