Writing on deadline

Cancer diagnosis leads to writing group, 3 novels for Cedar Rapids men

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It’s hard to find an upside to terminal cancer.

But Lennox Randon used that diagnosis to spur the writing of a slam-bang, take-no-prisoners, life-embracing crime novel. He also pulled together two other guys in a writers’ group, and they, too, have finished books.

It’s not a stretch to call that making the best of a bad situation by this 53-year-old Cedar Rapids man, who also has worked as a police officer, a technical writer and a stay-at-home dad.

Randon’s partners in crime-writing are Rob Cline, 42, the marketing director for Hancher Auditorium at the University of Iowa and The Gazette’s longtime book reviewer, and Dennis Green, 52, general manager of KCCK-FM, the jazz station at Kirkwood Community College.

Randon just published “Friends Dogs Bullets Lovers,” about a Dubuque cop who catches two hit men burying a body in an Iowa state park and has to be relocated (along with his best friend) to Austin, Texas. Cline just published “Murder by the Slice,” a zany tour de force featuring a mild-mannered (and unknowingly brave) pizza delivery driver. And Green’s “Traveler,” a science-fiction thriller about a cop who thinks his partner has died, will be published soon.

The three have been meeting once a week, off and on, for more than two years. They read and critique each other’s new pages, help each other with plot points and make sure Cline doesn’t use too many big words.

“Rob will never let me forget the time I told him that if I don’t know what a word means, it doesn’t belong in his book,” Green says with a laugh.

Randon met Cline while coaching Cline’s son in Lego League and suggested they get together to coach each other’s writing.

At first, Cline said no.

“Then Randon played the trump card,” Cline says. “He said cancer. I said yes.”

Green joined them three months later.

Cline had written five chapters in a novel 16 years ago but put it aside when his oldest child was born.

“I didn’t know what happened next,” he says. “I didn’t know the book was going to be about corporate espionage until they told me. I didn’t know who the bad guy was.”

The group helped Randon move from a chronological telling of his story to “going back and forth in time, to tease out the reveals a little differently,” Green says.

And they helped Green flesh out the story he’d mapped out. They’re still talking to him about one of his novel’s characters and her “interludes.”

“Everyone hates them,” Green harrumphs.

The small size of the group has made it work, along with all three writing in the same crime fiction genre. Plus the mutual trust and respect.

“We’re all kind of on the same level, so that’s helped,” Randon says. “We ask questions of each other and then go back and figure things out. … We plant seeds.”

“We like each other, we like spending time together, but these meetings are about the work,” Green adds. “We get down to business.”

A ‘welcome distraction’

Randon’s health, though, is never far from anyone’s mind.

Randon’s gastrointestinal cancer, diagnosed in September 2008, has metastasized. He’s been through surgeries and chemo. In December 2010, when new tumors were discovered, he and his wife, Dr. Lileah Harris, said their goodbyes. They tried last-ditch, targeted chemo that stopped the tumors from growing, but they also know the treatment typically stops working after two years.

“I’m neither an optimist nor a pessimist, but a realist. I hope for a longer life but don’t expect it,” Randon writes in his blog, lennoxrandon.com. (The blog contains a charming bio written by his daughter, Lark, when she was 11.)

Writing and experiencing reactions to his first novel, Randon says, are a “welcome distraction.” He’s still able to play tennis, scuba dive and snow ski. He’s working on his second book, “Memoirs of a Dead White Chick,” a historical fiction effort that his now-teenage daughter thinks is even better than his first book.

“I cannot tell you how in awe I am of the grace and calm that Randon brings to his condition,” Green says. “This is a guy who totally lives in the moment and takes every moment in life for what it is. If I were in his condition, I’d be a basket case every day.”

“It only hits me bad at night,” Randon says. “Also, I’ve thought about death for so long -—so many times I came close as a cop. I never expected to live past 30. I’m feeling pretty good. … So these are just bonus years for me.”

Green nods.

“Rob and I,” he says, “are learning things way beyond writing books.”

READINGS

What: Reading by Rob Cline, Dennis Green, Lennox Randon

- Cedar Rapids: 7 p.m. Thursday, New Bo Books, 1105 Third St. SE,

- Iowa City: 7 p.m. June 12, Prairie Lights, 15 S. Dubuque St., Iowa City

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