Chester D. Campbell is the award winning author of the Sid Chance mystery series, and Greg McKenzie mysteries. He is currently the Secretary of the Southeast Chapter of Mystery Writers of America and President of the Middle Tennessee Chapter of Sisters in Crime. Campbell shares what he believes makes a good mystery, offers insight into his own writing journey, and explains why it’s important for aspiring writers to develop a thick skin. He will be presenting at Killer Nashville 2010 this weekend.
PC: As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
CC: My burning ambition was to be an airplane pilot. I tried to follow that dream by volunteering for aviation cadet training in the Army Air Corps. In the process, I got steered toward journalism and ended up a writer.
PC: What do you think makes a good mystery?
CC: A good mystery should have a protagonist people want to cheer for and plenty of pitfalls that challenge his or her mettle as they struggle toward solution of the crime. And that solution, of course, should be totally believable, preferably surprising.
PC: Are your characters real to you?
CC: Some reviewers say my main characters are like the people next door. Not to me. They live in my house.
PC: Are there messages in your novels that you want readers to grasp?
CC: Nothing obvious, but I’d like readers to come away feeling they’ve experienced a journey with people who don’t let age interfere with living life to the fullest.
PC: What do you see as the influences on your writing?
CC: I have been influenced by several writers whose prose I admire. Things like short, snappy dialogue by Robert B. Parker. And I’d have to give my first editor credit for turning me toward a spare, fast-paced style.
PC: How do you develop your plots and characters? Do you use any set formula?
CC: I start with a basic idea for a plot and do character sketches for the people who will be getting the story in gear. Then I start writing and let the characters move the plot toward the ultimate goal, a solution to the crime.
PC: Will you share a little of your journey into writing with us?
CC: My journey took more twists than a slithering snake. I started out as a newspaper reporter. Excluding time out for the Korean War, I was involved in magazine free-lancing, public relations, speechwriting for a governor, advertising copywriting, magazine editing, trade association management, and, since retirement, fiction writing. It’s been a real trip.
PC: What dreams have been realized as a result of your writing? Where do you hope to take your writing in the future?
CC: As with just about every writer, my chief dream was to be published. As of next month, I’ll have six mystery novels in print. Five in my Greg McKenzie series and one Sid Chance mystery. I have some standalones in mind, along with more books in the series.
PC: What advice would you share for aspiring writers? What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers?
CC: Read the kind of books you want to write. See how the pros do it. Study some good books on writing, take a course if there’s a good one available. Then write. The more you write, the better you become. Find some knowledgeable critics and get them to read your work. But most of all, keep writing. I was 76 when my first book was published. It’s never too late to start. But the real key is to keep at it.
PC: What cautionary advice do you have for writers?
CC: Develop a thick skin. Learn to take rejection and move on. You can’t please everybody. Write for readers who like the same things you do.
PC: What are you reading now?
CC: I just received two books from a talented lady named Hank Phillippi Ryan, a Boston TV journalist who writes mysteries about someone who does what she does. Prime Time is my next read.
PC: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in any of your books?
CC: Probably. One of the most difficult things is to do is finally say “:this is it,” quit revising, and send it off.
PC: You’re attending Killer Nashville this year, what sets it apart from other conferences?
CC: It’s large enough to attract great speakers and plenty of good authors but not too big to lose the camaraderie of fellow authors and interested readers.
PC: What is your favorite aspect of attending?
CC: Besides picking up useful ideas to improve my writing, I love the chance to rekindle old friendships. Mystery writers are some of the most giving people I know. They’ll do anything to help you out.
Visit Chester Campbell at: http://chesterdcampbell.com/