10 QUESTIONS FOR…mystery series author Chester Campbell


Author interview with Chester Campbellpoisoncoverchesterdcampbell


Chester Campbell is the author of two series of mysteries featuring private investigators based in Nashville. He has four Greg McKenzie books, featuring a retired Air Force OSI agent and his wife. They include The Marathon Murders, Deadly Illusions, Designed to Kill, and Secret of the Scroll. The first book in the Sid Chance series, The Surest Poison, will be out in April. In a writing career that has spanned more than sixty years, Campbell has been a journalist, magazine writer and editor, political speechwriter, advertising copywriter, public relations exec, and fiction writer. He lives in a Nashville suburb.


1. Tell us about your latest book.

 The Surest Poison deals with a toxic chemical dumped behind a small plant in a rural area near Nashville. When the contamination begins to affect people’s health several years later, PI Sid Chance, former National Parks ranger and small town police chief, is hired to locate the owners of the long-defunct company to get the state off the back of the current occupant. The missing owners don’t want to be found, however, and are willing to murder those who might present a threat. Sid is harassed as his investigation begins to stir the waters. A small house owned by his sidekick, Jaz LeMieux, is destroyed by an explosion, and things turn grim as unsavory people from Sid’s past intervene.


2. How did you get started as a writer?

I studied journalism at the end of World War II and started as a newspaper reporter. I wrote my first mystery, which failed to excite any editors, while going to school and working nights at the newspaper. After dabbling at mystery writing over the years, I turned to it fulltime after retirement. I had a 54-year apprenticeship before my first book was published.


3. What does a typical day look like for you?

I’m still looking for a typical day. Each one seems a little different and a bit more challenging. At our tender age, my wife and I have taken on raising an eleven-year-old grandson, which frequently throws a kink in my plans. With a new book due out shortly, I’m in the throes of the promotion cycle (even more diifficult than peddling a unicycle). I try to walk two miles a day to keep in shape, but that doesn’t always work out, either. I write on four blog sites, try to do Facebook and Twitter. It gets crazy. I read books in snatches (currently on Jeffrey Deaver’s Garden of Beasts), and I’m working on the plot for a new Greg McKenzie mystery.


4. Describe your desk/workspace.

Messy. I have a U-shaped desk that is cluttered with piles of paper. I’m anal about some things, but not my workspace. Traveling around the U from left to right, there’s my PC, scanner, small inkjet printer, answering machine, shelves of CD programs and manuals, laser printer, wide-format inkjet printer, four-tray “in” basket that holds only a fraction of the junk that needs a home. Beyond that is a five-foot table with a large paper cutter and a double row of manuscripts, magazines, and assorted stuff that needs to be thrown away. I hate throwing away things. You never know when they might come in handy.


5. Favorite books (especially for writers).

Three of my favorite writing books are Don’t Murder Your Mystery, Chris Roerden’s advice on self-editing; The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating, by former FBI agent and veteran Florida PI Steven Kerry Brown; and Forensics for Dummies, Dr. Doug Lyle’s answers to everything you ever wanted to know about forensic investigation.


6. Tell us 3 interesting/crazy things about you.

My one-day football career pretty well sums up my luck with sports. We always had a football game going in the backyard when I was a kid. Being small, I dreamed of catching touchdown passes or being a sneaky ball carrier who dashed through holes in the defense. I could run fast, though once I fell on the driveway and chipped my two front teeth into a V-shaped opening. I had lots of dental work done in those days. When I reached high school, I promptly went out for football. The first day of practice in pads, my mouth collided with another boy’s knee. A third front tooth snapped off. Sadly, I turned in my uniform, knowing when I got home my mother would say, “No more football for you.” Which she did. I wound up with a fixed bridge covering four teeth. And no more contact sports.


A couple of things about my writing. I don’t let my protagonists smoke. Greg McKenzie is a former smoker, as am I. He kicked the habit in the first book and hasn’t gone back. I’m now allergic to cigarette smoke and can’t stand to be around smokers. I’m always being asked, “Are you Greg?” My stock answer is, “He’s bigger, bolder, and more confrontational. But we think a lot alike.”


7. Favorite quote.

Whenever I’d say “I wish” something, my grandmother would say: “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride; if turnips were watches, I’d wear one at my side.”


8. Best and worst part of being a writer.

I’d say he best part is the freedom to express your thoughts and feelings in any manner you choose; the more original your views, the better off you’ll be. For me, the worst part is the knowledge that I can never get everything done I want and need to do regarding my writing and the promotion of books already published. I’m badly in need of a day stretcher.


9. Advice for other writers.

My advice is never give up. Perseverance pays. Read voraciously in the genre you wish to write, read some of the great how-to-write books out there, then sit down at the keyboard and write, write, write. The world is full of people who want to write a book. Those who get published are the ones who stay with it till the job is done.


10. Tell us a story about your writing experience.  

When I started writing novels in earnest, I finished he first book and began querying agents. I quickly received a go-ahead from one. The young associate handling my manuscript was enthusiastic and began sending it out. But about six months into the process, she wrote that she was leaving the agency and her boss only handled non-fiction. With another book ready by then, I started the search again. This time an older agent took me on. I only heard from him when I called him every two or three months. He would tell me the market was tough. After nearly a year of this, my call was answered by his partner, who advised me that he had died. She was taking no new clients. I had the third book finished and resumed sending queries. This time I got a major New York agency interested. After considerable revision of the manuscript, I received a contract. Again, little contact from New York except when I called. I sent them the next book. By the time a third was ready, a young associate confided that they had let my manuscripts gather dust on the shelves. When the agency head died, a new owner took over and sent out my first book, getting the reaction that it was dated. After three years, duh. . . These days I deal with small presses without an agent.


Where can people buy your books?

My fourth Greg McKenzie mystery, The Marathon Murders, can be purchased at any bookstore or online. The new book, The Surest Poison, will be available in early April. Both are published by Night Shadows Press. The first three Greg McKenzie books are out of print but available at my website http://www.chesterdcampbell.com. Opening chapters of all the books can be read there. You can check out my views on writing and things in general at Mystery Mania, my blog at http://chestercampbell.blogspot.com. And all the books are available for the Kindle.






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