Sunday, September 27, 2009

Weekend over the mountain

Last week was a killer. I'm afraid I neglected this blog as I spent as much time as possible working on my new book and getting ready for the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance (SIBA) show in Greenville, SC. We just got back late today from Greenville. It was a beautiful drive as the rain moved out and the sun moved in. Traveling I-40 across the mountains is not the most fun for the driver (me), but the scenery was gorgeous. We had thought there might be some leaves changing colors, but all of the rain over the past several weeks has left the trees with only varying shades of green.

There were enough fluffy clouds to provide an interesting contrast, with one occasionally dipping into a valley like an amorphous veil. Once in a while we would spot a lone house nestled high on the mountainside. We could only imagine what a striking view the owner enjoyed on a day like this.

For the uninitiated, the SIBA show is held annually around the South. It's an opportunity for publishers to showcase their books to independent booksellers from around the region. For authors, it's not a place to sell books except in the sense of selling the store personnel on the merits of ordering your book to sell their customers.

The Southeast Chapter of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime jointly sponsor a booth at the show and make it available for members to give away their books. It's fun to sit there and have a fairly steady parade of people stop by to get your autograph. Most of them only want you to sign your name, which means they can take it home and put it on the shelf for sale. The hope is that they will sell it and order lots more.

Fellow mystery writers signing included Deb Sharp, Kathy Wall, Cathy Pickens, Gail Oust, Alexandra Sokoloff, Darden North, and J.T. Ellison. Others helping out with the booth included my wife, Sarah, SEMWA Vice President Mary Saums, and Ellis Vidler, president of the Greenville chapter of Sisters in Crime. I'm sure I've left some off, but my brain is tired after the trip.

We had a delightful lunch on Saturday at a small restaurant called The Olive Tree, which had a mixture of Greek and Italian dishes on the menu. With two tables of author types, the conversation was lively. The tale getting the most laughs went to Cathy Pickens' recounting of a newspaper story about a man and woman assaulted by the woman's huband. She was beaten and put in the hospital. Her male friend was shot four times in the head, resulting in his being treated and released.

Yes, truth is often stranger than fiction. But these folks can make up a mean story, too.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Homecoming at a country church

I attended services this morning at a little country church that normally attracts around thirty or so people on a Sunday morning. This was homecoming, so there was more than double the usual congregation. It was the Scottsboro United Methodist Church, where my wife, Sarah, grew up. She was a Scott, for whom the community was named.

This is a rural area on the fringes of Metropolitan Nashville and Davidson County. The "business district" is the intersection of Ashland City Highway (State Route 12) and Old Hickory Boulevard, a circumferential road that runs around the outer edge of the county. It has a service station/market and a small grocery.

If you head on down Old Hickory Boulevard past the cutoff to the church, you pass through Bells Bend, one of numerous twists the Cumberland River makes on its serpentine path through Nashville. This is a large primarily agricultural area that includes some expensive homes along the river. Metro has developed two city parks in the area.

More recently, Bells Bend has been in the news over a proposal to turn a section of it into a multi-billion-dollar urban development called May Town Center. According to a website sponsored by opponents, the "proposal calls for a city the size of downtown Nashville, with 40,000 workers (downtown has 47,000 right now), 5000 condos (downtown has about 3000, with many vacancies), a 15-story hotel, and all the related amenities - all on 600 acres of cowpasture in Bells Bend."

People in the area banded together to fight the planned development and so far have prevailed. It was approved by the Metro Planning Commission staff but after public hearings was turned down by the commission. The developers are trying to get a rehearing.

The keep Bells Bend as is people say they "have a new cooperative organic farm project, an long-standing commercial turnip patch, two sod farms, free-range chicken eggs, a commercial cut flower business, a number of beef cattle, and an endless array of personal gardens. We have two knock-out city parks, and have had a rare pair of whooping cranes spend several weeks here over the last two years."

Visiting the Scottsboro church gives you an idea of what people in the area are fighting to preserve. These are down-to-earth folks who live in a small community and love it the way it is. My wife grew up with a lot of them and enjoyed revisiting old times. The choir was seven-strong, including the preacher, who joined in the anthem. Two young boys passed the collection plates.

After the service, we enjoyed a tasty meal comprised of numerous meat, vegetable, salad and dessert dishes brought in by those attending. There was enough food for twice as many people as passed through the line. My wife cheated a bit, bringing fast food chicken, but she baked the cupcakes.

You might think such churches are doomed because so many of their members are aging, but this service was attended by a number of young families with kids. It's a refreshing experience to get out of the urban area occasionally and see how life is lived at a slower pace.

To keep this on the mystery subject, Scottsboro is having a Fall Festival on October 24, and I'll have a table there selling my books. It should be a fun day.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Book signing features slide show

I attended a signing last night at Mysteries & More, a great small bookstore in Nashville. I’ve been to many signings in a variety of settings where authors talk about their new books, how they came to write them, maybe even read a few pages. This one was different.

Tim Hallinan built his remarks about Breathing Water, his new Bangkok thriller, around a slide show. I haven’t read the book yet, but it sounds fascinating. Tim illustrated the theme of the book with striking photos of Bangkok, from its teeming outdoor markets and its streets clogged with creeping traffic to Patpong, the city’s infamous red light district.

The book deals with the contrasts between Thailand’s hidden elite and the underprivileged that dominate the landscape. Tim’s Bangkok thrillers are built around expatriate travel writer Poke Rafferty and his unconventional family, a former go-go dancer from the Patpong who is now his wife and a young girl from the streets he has adopted.

Tim says what interests him most is exploring the dynamics of the Rafferty family. His slide show explores the backgrounds of his characters. Wife Rose came from a poor section of the country where young girls are sold by their parents into a life of sexual slavery. Some, like Rose, go the bar girl route and travel to Bangkok where they earn money to support their families back home but are free to leave at any time.

He also showed children like those homeless on the streets by the thousands. That was the life Poke’s daughter Miaow lived before he rescued her.

Tim dealt with the secular city and the Thais’ Buddhist roots, showing striking temples and the ubiquitous saphron robes of Buddhist monks. But the main thrust of his presentation dealt with the crux of the plot in Breathing Water, the continuing tension between factions for control of Thailand. The real power in the country is wielded by a small group of super-wealthy Thai-Chinese who are prepared to do whatever it takes to remain in command.

Poke and his family are caught up in the struggle when he wins an unusual poker game. He wins the right to write the story of a flamboyant billionaire with designs to upset the power structure. But those in the dueling factions threaten Poke and his family if he writes the book…or if he doesn’t.

Read more about Breathing Water at his website, I highly recommend the series, which also includes A Nail Through the Heart and The Fourth Watcher.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The marvels of chitchat

I got a reminder today of how a little chitchat can go a long way when selling books. I was doing a signing at one of my favorite Barnes & Noble stores (the third time in the past six months). You know it's a favorite when the manager tells you on leaving, "Come back anytime you'd like."

This store has two entrances. My wife stands at one to hand out my little promo folder, while I take care of the other entrance from my table near the door. Giving my usual spiel, I asked this woman if she read mysteries. She said she wasn't a mystery reader but stopped at my table to chat after learning I was a local author. In the course of the conversation, she mentioned going to school in Donelson, a Nashville suburb across the county from my home.

I knew Chester LaFever, a high school classmate of mine back in the early forties, had one been on the Donelson High School faculty. When I asked about him, she smiled and replied that he was assistant principal when she was there. She wound up taking one of my folders with her to the cafe. A little while later, she came back with the comment, "They really sound interesting." She bought both books I had on the table.

Only a couple of people came by who had heard of me. One had bought an earlier book and promply picked up the latest. But chatting with others netted four people who bought both books.

A man with a small girl was about to pass me by when I stopped him with my usual question. He said he didn't read mysteries, but his wife did. He asked which of the books would be better for a woman. I told him the Greg McKenzie book dealt with a man and his wife who were private investigators. He looked at his daughter and said, "I'll bet she'd like that one." I signed it to her, and he went off smiling with the comment, "Our anniversary is coming up."

Traffic was slow at times, but it was a pretty good day. We sold all the copies of The Surest Poison and more than half of The Marathon Murders, a total of 20 books. Bottom line--chitcht sells.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Making the news pays off

This article appeared in last week’s issue of the I-24 Examiner, a weekly tabloid newspaper in Cheatham County, Tennessee (the county seat is Ashland City):

Cheatham County
Public Library Hosts
Nashville Author
Chester Campbell
September 5

Years after a dangerous chemical is dumped behind a small plant outside Ashland City, its toxic effects ravage the small community below the hillside location. Placing the blame for what happens is the plot of The Surest Poison, a new mystery novel by Nashville author Chester Campbell.

The Cheatham County Public Library will host Campbell for a book signing on Saturday, September 5, from noon to 3 p.m.

The Surest Poison is the first book in the Sid Chance Mystery Series. Chance is a Nashville private investigator, formerly a Green Beret in Vietnam, a National Park ranger and a small town police chief. It was just voted best book and received the Falchion Award at the 2009 Killer Nashville Mystery Conference.

The state comes after the plant owner to pay the enormous cleanup cost, but the pollution occurred before he bought the property. Chance is hired to find who was responsible since the original company disappeared a dozen years ago. The guilty party doesn’t want to be found, however, and three murders occur, one of them an Ashland City man, as Chance pursues the investigation.

The book features many Ashland City locations. The main characters visit the newspaper office, and a news story leads to one of the main clues in solving the mystery.

The Surest Poison was published in April 2009 by Night Shadows Press. Campbell has also written four books in the Greg McKenzie Mystery Series, set mostly around Nashville. The books include The Marathon Murders, Deadly Illusions, Designed to Kill and Secret of the Scroll. They will also be available for purchase at the library signing.

Campbell is a former Nashville newspaper reporter, magazine editor, advertising and public relations writer. He retired as executive vice president of the Tennessee Association of Life Underwriters.

A portion of the day’s sales will be donated to the Friends of the Library. For further information, contact Library Director Brooke Mulligan.

End of story

The signing event turned out quite well. The newspaper story brought in several people, including one woman who had the clipping stuck in her pocket. The interesting part is that the newspaper printed the story word-for-word as I submitted it, right down to the headline (and the misspelling of the library director's name, which should have been Mullican). You may have heard this before and wondered, but here's living proof--small newspapers love to get ready-to-print copy. If you can write a decent news story, send it in. Note I began with the chemical pollution angle, a familiar subject these days.

If you're doing a small town signing, take advantage of the opportunity for a news story. It can pay off.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Information Age run amuck

If you still harbor any doubts as to whether the information age, techno dominance, or whatever you choose to call it, has fully encompassed the younger set, I witnessed the unequivocal answer this morning. Our twelve-year-old grandson went to the bathroom and used his cell phone to ask his grandmother for a roll of toilet paper. Is that a giant leap for mankind, or what?

He has so many gadgets there’s hardly room for a bed in his bedroom. A TV came first, or course. Then he needed a Play Station and a DVD player. To hook all that up and make it work properly required a spaghetti-like heap of wires and cables and adapters. When I got a new computer a couple of years ago, I gave him my old PC with a flat screen monitor and inkjet printer.

Meanwhile, in order to play games on the go, he needed a Game Boy, then upgraded to a PSP (that’s Play Station Portable to the uninitiated). When Comcast came out with its On Demand setup at no extra charge, we ordered it so Sarah could get the Hallmark Channel with its family-friendly movies. Justin discovered it had all sorts of cool features for replaying recent shows and bouncing about the channels. We got tired of switching back and forth from On Demand to the regular remote, so moved the OD box to Justin’s TV.

He really needed an iPod, and somebody gave him one for his birthday a year ago. It didn't take too long to lose it, as small as they are. He recently got another one, but I think he's left it somewhere he doesn't remember.

The burgeoning array of electronic devices soon required a corner computer desk. That further limited the space in his room. As with all kids, I guess, he chooses to refer to his “wants” as “needs.” The next mantra became “I need a laptop.” Every kid in his class has one, he claimed, without any evidence to back it up.

My current laptop is a Gateway that I bought on sale a couple of years ago. I use it on the road and when writing in the living room seated in my recliner. After his endless agitating, we told Justin we’d give him some money on his birthday and he could take the rest out of his savings and buy a laptop. He “had” to have a Gateway, of course. When Tennessee had it’s annual sales tax holiday prior to school opening last month, we found a Gateway on sale at Best Buy.

The first week he carried it around the house with him. He wanted to take it to the store and to church and anywhere else, but we put the kibosh on that. Now I have to get a parallel-to-USB adapter cable so he can print from the laptop. Oh, the joys of technology.

His friends are now using some new kind of PSP-type gadget. He needs one, but that has been sidetracked temporarily by his latest fascination. He’s taking band this year and just acquired a snare drum and kit. In addition to the snare and sticks, it includes a small xylophone. It’s probably the only non-electronic thing he’s become fascinated with lately.

Oh, that cell phone he used in the bathroom? His mother, whom he sees infrequently, gave it to him on his birthday. He gets the Internet and all that good stuff on it. I’m not sure how long she’s going to be willing to pay the phone bill. We’ll see. Meanwhile, we try to monitor his forays into cyberspace as much as possible, though it ain’t easy. He’s on Facebook and no telling where else. Last night he showed me a website he’s set up.

Hang onto your cyberhats.