Friday, July 15, 2016

An Interesting Time To Be a Writer

A while back, I read an article that said Ernest Hemingway wrote A Moveable Feast after going through notes he had accumulated during his time in Paris 30 years earlier. I wish I had been that meticulous during my early days. Or even later ones. Notes from my newspaper days ended up in the trash bin after I wrote the stories.

I have found one period, though, in which my activities are well chronicled for posterity, if old Pos is ever interested. It’s the years 1963 through 1969, during which I was founder and editor of Nashville Magazine, the city's first slick paper monthly. All of its issues are stacked on a shelf at Nashville's main library, unless they were discarded after digitization. I wrote many articles for the publication, though quite a few didn’t carry my by-line. Each issue included a feature at the front of the book titled “Scene About Town.” I modeled it after The New Yorker’s “The Talk of the Town,” which back then included mostly short often humorous or whimsical vignettes about life and events that took place in the city.

We had several covers created by local graphic artists, including one for the first issue, shown above, by Dave Baker. The L&C Tower was the only "skyscraper" back then. The skyline has changed dramatically over the past 53 years.

My monthly musings about people and places and what went on around town bring back memories of how life was lived in those days. Looking back over a few issues (I have them all), I realized I’d forgotten how nice the perks were for a magazine editor. I was invited to all manner of dinners and parties and meetings. While attending, I picked up all sorts of little tidbits to put in my column.

At a United Givers Fund (now United Way) luncheon, a voluble advertising guy commented:

“Talk about your all-time salesman, I nominate the man who sold restaurants on putting parsley on every plate. Created a whole industry out of nothing. He should be sought out and recognized with a medal.”

I constantly had visits from strange people who would wind up in the magazine’s pages. Like the young lady named Sue Silber, who wrote poetry and observed her fellowman with a humorous perspective. At concerts, she watched as much as she listened.

“Audience-watching,” she said, “is a delightful sport in itself. Most audiences can be classified into various categories. First, there are the tappers. This classification can be further divided into the foot-tappers, the finger-tappers, and the hand-tappers. And then the last two can be further categorized as to what they tap.

“Some finger-tappers tap their chin–or chins, some their cheek, some their thigh, some tap their knee, some their program, some their cigarette pack, and some women tap their purse. Then there are, as it were, the back-seat conductors. These wave their hands in time to the music, sometimes quite broadly. Occasionally they even go so far as to use a rolled-up program for a baton. The musicians–foolish men–ignore these geniuses in favor of their own conductor.”

The pages revealed other such dramatic events as a cocktail party The Oertel Brewing Company held to announce its new “real draft beer” in cans. My comment: “This was akin to producing the real Jane Mansfield in a trenchcoat.”

I wrote about such things as traveling up the Cumberland River on a barge towboat, sitting in on a recording session at RCA’s now-historic Music Row studio, working backstage at a theatrical production, and watching them make Goo Goos at Standard Candy Company.

It was an interesting time to be a writer.

Now, approaching the age of 91, I find it interesting just to sit back and watch the world spin around me. Not that I'm the center of the know what I mean.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Nashville, My Writing, My Idols, My Favorite Food

This is an interview I did with Julia Buckley back in 2006 that I really like. I can't believe it's been ten years, but I mention having spent most of my 80 years in Nashville. It's been 90 years now and the city has changed dramatically in the past few years. I hope you enjoy it.

Hi, Chester. Thanks for chatting with me. You live in Nashville. Are you a country music fan? Whose music do you particularly like?
I cut my musical teeth on the big bands of the thirties and forties. I also loved balladeers like Perry Como and Andy Williams. So my country music tastes favor the old timers in the style of Eddy Arnold and Ray Price. My wife is a pure country fan, but I'm not too familiar with the current scene. Music City references in my books are more generic to the broad picture along Music Row. There's a lot more recorded in Nashville than country.

You got the mystery-writing bug early, and wrote a mystery while you were still in college. Did you have a sense then that you'd write more seriously one day?
Hey, I was dead serious back then. I was a fulltime journalism student during the day, worked a full shift as a reporter on a morning newspaper in the evening, then sat down at my little portable typewriter in my basement room in the fraternity house, whenever I could find time, and banged out the novel. Seriously, I always kept in the back of my head (is that where our memory chips are located?) that I would someday be a published novelist.

You've mentioned that your wife is a great supporter of your work. Does the rest of your family help to sell the books?
Not as much as I'd like--I need all the help I can get. (Just kidding, I think). They do promote the books among their friends and colleagues. Now if I could just get my daughter with two girls in Girl Scouts to sell books like she sells cookies, I'd have it made.

The New Mystery Reader has referred to your work as nothing less than "Campbellish." Are you pleased with the fact that they had to create this word to describe the essence of your books?
I'm thrilled at all the nice things reviewers have to say, like "this is one author a reader can count on," or "he continues to write fabulous mysteries," and "the plot is fast-paced, and the writing is top-notch." Hopefully all my readers will find that "Campbellish."

Tell us about Greg and Jill McKenzie.
The McKenzies have survived nearly forty years together. He's a little past 65, while she's just under that milestone. Greg came from a middle class family in St. Louis--his father was a master brewer for Anheuser-Busch. By contrast, Jill's father was a well-to-do life insurance salesman in Nashville. Both are college graduates. Greg started out as a deputy sheriff in St. Louis County, then enjoyed (more or less) a full career as an Air Force Office of Special Investigations agent (think Air Force detective). Jill studied aeronautics and operated her own charter air service during Greg's military gig. As an investigator, Greg is a no-nonsense, no-compromise, put the blame where it belongs kind of guy. The series starts after Greg is retired, and in book three he and Jill go into the PI business. She's a caring, understanding, non-judgmental person who is especially good at getting information out of women. The really fun part of writing about the couple is doing the occasional humorous digs between them.

Your Greg McKenzie novels take place in Nashville. What makes Nashville a good place to set a mystery?
Having spent most of my 80 years in Nashville, I have watched the city grow from a leisurely-paced town that proudly called itself the "Athens of the South" to a moderately-paced city (we're not New York or LA yet, thank God) known as "Music City U.S.A." Nashville is schizophrenic enough to cling to the old image while beckoning newcomers by smiling through its modern face. It offers lots of contrasts to play with while creating nefarious plots. I put the McKenzies' home in the Hermitage suburb and their office on Old Hickory Boulevard, both references to President Andrew Jackson, who lived nearby. But the stories take them to locations like bustling Music Row and the ultra-modern Opryland Hotel. You can read an article I wrote for Mystery Readers Journal on Nashville as a setting by going to

Like many writers, you have some manuscripts that were never published. Is there one of those in particular that you would really like to see in print?
Funny you should ask. I have one titled Hell Bound that has been making the rounds lately. I wrote it just before tackling Secret of the Scroll, which became my first published novel. Hell Bound takes place in 1999 and involves a busload of seniors on a church trip from Nashville to New Orleans. One of the passengers, living under an assumed name, is a former Mafia investment counselor who testified against the mob. He is tracked down by a hit squad that doesn't know his current identity but is determined to single him out from among the male passengers. If there are any agents or publishers looking in, it's available!

Among many other jobs, you once worked as an ad executive. What's the best ad you ever created?
I worked on several national accounts like Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut and Martha White Flour, but nothing I did really stands out in my memory. One of the most challenging was full page ads for a local undertaker who decided to build a high-rise mausoleum. When we got through, I had a great time creating a parody using all the old death clich├ęs I could unearth. Some of my colleagues were afraid the client might see it.

You've authored some interesting articles, including one about the trial of Charles Manson and his murderous followers. This trial went beyond the bizarre shenanigans of even the O.J. trial; what was it that made you want to write about it?
When the editor of Web Mystery Magazine contacted me about writing an article, she gave me a list of possible subjects, including such famous trials as the Lindbergh kidnapping. I did a little research and was intrigued by Manson's background and the shocking way he manipulated people. There is a subplot in Hell Bound about a mass murderer, where I had mentioned Manson, but I had never looked into his character. One of my earliest non-newspaper jobs was free-lancing for national magazines. This gave me a chance to tackle non-fiction once more.

You've met a lot of other writers in your travels. Is there a writer you haven't met, but would really like to meet?
There are two whose writing I have admired and have heard speak at conventions or conferences but never met. They are James Lee Burke and Robert B. Parker. Maybe I like them because I also use a middle initial with my writing. Actually, Burke's sense of place and Parker's dialogue have inspired me to work harder at my own.

You'll be at Bouchercon in the fall. Do you know what panel you will be on?
I have corresponded with Jodi Bollendorf, one of the programming chairs, about some ideas for panels, but I've heard nothing definite yet. Incidentally, my closest contact with James Lee Burke came at the 2003 Bouchercon in Las Vegas. I was a newby then with one book out. After my panel, I sat at my table in the signing room like the Maytag repairman. Next to me a long line trailed out into the corridor. The table, unoccupied, bore no name. When I departed without signing a book, I inquired about the line. "James Lee Burke is coming," I was told.

I think many of us can relate to the Maytag Repairman analogy. What are you currently writing?
I have just finished the fourth Greg McKenzie mystery titled The Marathon Murders. It involves a bit of Nashville history and a fictional ninety-year-old murder. The Marathon Motor Works built a popular touring car in Nashville between 1910-1914 before falling victim to mismanagement. I've also just written my first mystery short story titled Double Trouble. The protagonist finds a look-alike to take the rap for a murder he plans. I'll soon be working on the fifth McKenzie book. What it'll be about is a mystery to me.

If I were to be invited to your Nashville home for dinner (hypothetically) and you and your wife were going to prepare me your favorite food, what would it be?
The menu would likely include chicken breasts cooked in sherry, green beans, corn, tipsy sweet potatoes (spiked with Jack Daniel's), yeast rolls, and green salad (made with lime Jello, cottage cheese, chopped celery, and pecans). We would drink fruit tea, my wife Sarah's (and Jill McKenzie's) concoction made with peach-flavored instant tea, pineapple juice, and Marachino cherry syrup. We'd have coffee (decaf for us) with the pecan pie dessert. Y'all come.

Thanks, Chester. That sounds fabulous. :)

Friday, June 3, 2016

Covers Sell the Book, They Say

The cover is the first thing a potential reader sees when he/she encounters a book. In a store, if the cover is intriguing enough, they'll probably leaf through a few pages, maybe check the blurb on the back. But it's the design of that front cover that first catches their eye. I have some pretty good covers in my two PI series, but I'm happier with those on my last four books, the Post Cold War Political Thriller Trilogy and my first standalone, Hellbound. These were all produced by talented designer Stephen Walker of Atlanta.

Each cover is based on the story in the book, though, of course, it won't be obvious until you read it. But Stephen has put together the story elements in an exciting way. Here's a rundown:

The first book in the trilogy, Beware the Jabberwock, deals with an attempt by ex-Soviet hardliners and discontents in the U.S. to restore their hold on power through a shocking action in Toronto. The cover features American and Soviet symbols along with a mortar firing in front of the Toronto skyline. Burke Hill, ex-FBI agent who becomes clandestine director for a Washington PR firm that's a CIA spinoff, appears in all three books.

For the second book, it's a black cover that highlights a night view of South Korea's National Treasure No. 1, Seoul's Great South Gate. The title at the top—The Poksu Conspiracy—includes the Korean word for "vengeance." It has a different meaning in Chinese, which you'll learn in the book. Just beneath the photograph are the hangul (Korean) characters for poksu. The plot involves vengeance taken upon civilian leaders in South Korea who favor close cooperation with America.

The last book in the trilogy, Overture to Disaster, has a cover that features two images that relate to the plot. The one that fills most of the area shows a row of cannons firing, with a hammer and sickle showing faintly in the darkness above, covered in part by a large "DISASTER." At the top, beside a smaller "OVERTURE," flies an Air Force MH-53J Pave Low III helicopter. All of these images tie into the story, which involves a faction of former KGB operatives carrying out a disastrous scheme in Washington as part of an effort to revive the old Soviet Union.

The cover for Hellbound, my favorite, shows the back of a bus in flames, partially covered by the title in small-to-large letters. In  this dramatic scene, the plot is capsuled in smaller letters: "The Mafia targets a busload of seniors..." The plot involves a bus full of seniors from a suburban Nashville church, which, unknown to the other passengers, includes a man who years before decimated a Mafia "family" with his testimony in federal court.

It is certainly logical that the cover sells the book, but the cover must be seen to be sold. Unfortunately, these days most of us don't find our books on the shelf in a store. Our covers aren't seen unless we get them out there in some sort of promotion, like on BookBub or Freebooksy or Awesome Gang or you name it. Twitter, Facebook, etc. But I'll keep going for great covers and hope they're seen.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

A Memorable Tour of the Holy Land

One of the most interesting trips I've made took place late in 1998 when I visited the Holy Land. Being a mystery writer, though not published at the time, I viewed most places on the trip with an eye to how they might be used in a novel. I bought a camcorder just before heading to the Middle East and took about three hours of videos during the tour.

Traveling by Royal Jordanian Airlines, we flew into Amman and spent a day cruising by bus through the mostly desolate Jordanian desert to visit two interesting sites. We stood on Mount Nebo where Moses gazed across the Jordan River before his death. Then we toured the ancient city of Petra, made famous by one of its striking building fronts carved out of rose sandstone being used in the climax of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

Our first taste of the dichotomy between Israel and its neighbors came as we approached the Allenby Bridge over the Jordan River. It’s called the King Hussein bridge on the east side. We had to leave the Jordanian bus and board an Israeli bus for the crossing.

Jericho provided our first taste of the Promised Land, the same as Joshua in the Bible. Billed as the world’s oldest and lowest city (820 feet below sea level), its ancient tel, or archeological site, has been peeled back to reveal 26 layers of civilization dating back to 8000 B.C. Heading on to the Holy City, we checked into our hotel in East Jerusalem, the Arab district.

Our savvy Nashville travel agent, who joined us on the tour, booked us through a tour company run by two Palestinian brothers (who, incidentally, attended the University of Tennessee). He said we wouldn’t have any trouble in the Palestinian territories as they knew the bus was owned by Arabs.

For the next few days, we shuttled around various Jerusalem sites, plus Bethlehem, the Dead Sea Scroll caves at Qumran, the Dead Sea shoreline, and Masada. We were advised to steer clear of the West Bank hotbeds of Hebron and Ramallah. We visited such fascinating spots as Hezekiah’s Tunnel, dug 1,500 feet through the rock from both ends at once in 700 BC. We also toured the Shrine of the Book, which houses the Dead Sea Scrolls; Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum; the Temple Mount with its striking Dome of the Rock; the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, built on several levels and occupied by several different religious groups.

One of the more interesting stops was an Arab market filled with small but colorful shops. We had to stop and try the Israeli’s favorite fast food, a falafel (spiced chickpea fritter) tucked into pita bread.

During the next week, we traveled north through Samaria, with a stop at Jacob’s Well, heading into the fertile Yizreel Valley. We visited Mount Meggido, called Armageddon in Revelations, walking among the ruins, including a trip down 183 steps to see the historic water tunnel. Then it was on to the Sea of Galilee, where we stayed in Nazareth. We sailed on the sea in a fishing boat allegedly like the one Jesus rode in. They dipped in a net, but it came up empty.

We toured biblical sites around the Galilee, also known as Lake Kinneret, including the Mount of the Beatitudes, Capernaum, and churches dedicated to various incidents such as the multiplication of loaves and fishes. We visited the attractive Kibbutz Ein Gev and traveled up the steep slopes of the Golan Heights to an old artillery emplacement looking down over the kibbutz where Syrian gunners fired on the Israeli settlers.

Our tour began to wind down with a visit to Mount Carmel, where Elijah vanquished the priests of Baal. Then we headed for Israel’s third largest metropolitan area, Haifa. The hillside Baha’i Shrine and Gardens provided a striking panorama, as did a view of the Haifa port. Afterward, we headed south along the Mediterranean to the historic city of Caesarea, built by King Herod.

At the outdoor Roman Theater, our guide stood on the stage and showed how a normal voice could be heard all around the seating area. We also checked out the ruins of Herod’s hippodrome, which had seating for 20,000 people. Then we toured the remains of the king’s port, now part of the Crusader city. Just beyond this stood a Roman aqueduct built in the A.D. 100’s. It had steps leading up so we could walk along a section of the monstrous project.

After overnighting in a seaside hotel at Netanya, we headed into Tel Aviv, the country’s commercial center. Our final stop was the old port city of Jaffa on Tel Aviv’s south side. Old Jaffa had a special attraction for me, with its warren of stair-step streets through the reconstructed ruins of Turkish palaces, flanked by pastel colored artist’s studios, galleries, and outdoor cafes.

In fact, the experience led me to open the first chapter in Secret of the Scroll, my initial Greg McKenzie mystery, in Old Jaffa.

On our flight home from Amman, I read in the Royal Jordanian magazine about an archeological dig at Bethany in Jordan, the area where John the Baptist preached. It mentioned finding caves that had been occupied by monks in the early centuries. I thought what if someone found an ancient scroll in one of those caves. After I got home, it quickly developed into a plot. Happily, I had my videos to help out.

I used much of my travel experience to tell the story, sending Greg and Jill McKenzie on an identical trip. Many of the locations appear just as they did to me. You can read the opening chapters on Amazon at this link. Give it a moment to switch to the Look Inside.

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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

On Series Writing and Small Presses

I've done lots of interviews over the past decade-plus, but one I particularly like appeared in Poe's Deadly Daughters, which has since been discontinued. The interview was done about the time I started my second PI series with The Surest Poison. It includes some views on series writing and the pros and cons of small presses. The interview was done by Sharon Wildwind; "PPD" stands for Poe's Deadly Daughters.

You now have four books in your Greg McKenzie series. Why did you decide to write another PI series with a different type of protagonist?

I enjoyed writing about Greg and Jill McKenzie, a pair of sleuths in their late sixties. Writing their snappy banter was particularly enjoyable. Several reviewers referred to them as cozies. I didn’t think of the books that way, but they’re certainly not hard-boiled, and I felt I’d reached the place where I wanted to strike out on a bit edgier path.

The Surest Poison deals with the dumping of a large amount of a toxic chemical behind a small plant in a rural community west of Nashville. When the state comes after the plant’s current owner, PI Sid Chance is hired to find the real responsible party. He soon finds himself, and his associate, Jaz LeMieux, beset by three seemingly unrelated murders, an explosion, and shadows from Sid’s past.

I gather Sid has—what’s the current term—issues?

He was formerly a National Park ranger, then spent ten years as a small town police chief. After he was disgraced and forced to resign, he spent three years roughing it in a hillside cabin in the woods fifty miles from the city. Jaz got him out of that cabin, back to Nashville and into the PI business.

Jaz is sharp, sexy, and fourteen years younger than Sid. Do we see romance ahead?

A. Sid has never been married, or even had a serious relationship. He and Jaz clash now and then, but they’re obviously coming closer. Who knows what may lie ahead?

Where did the plot for The Surest Poison come from?

I have a friend in Nashville named Norma Mott Tillman who is a private investigator specializing in finding missing persons. She’s pretty well known, being on Oprah and several other shows. She told me about a case she had investigated in West Tennessee a few years ago that involved a similar scenario. I saw the possibilities, moved it closer to Nashville, and the story took off.

I should have given Ralph Waldo Emerson credit for the title, but I don’t guess he’ll complain. He wrote an essay in The Atlantic back in 1862 in which he said substances like prussic acid and strychnine “are weak dilutions: the surest poison is time.” I thought it fit the story. The actual poison took years to affect the community, while time took its toll on the characters.

The Surest Poison is published by Night Shadows Press, your second small publisher. What are the pluses and minuses of going with a small publisher?

I’ve heard a lot of New York editors are only concerned with acquiring manuscripts. With a small press, I got to work closely with my editors. I learned an awful lot from my first editor.

I’ve also been fortunate that my editors have stuck with my suggested titles. The only change in mine was with the first book, which I called The Secret of the Scroll. I was rightfully told to leave off the first “The.” Covers involve another plus. I have had total input on all my covers. An additional favorable aspect is production time. From the time I sent the manuscript to the editor, it was no more than nine months until the release date.

On the minus side, the chief problem is distribution. The books are available through Ingram and Baker & Taylor and can be ordered through any bookstore. However, the stores do not routinely stock them. They will only be on the shelf at places where I have done signings. Also, the major review sites mostly ignore small publishers. Library Journal is the only one that has reviewed some of my books. However, respected review sites like Midwest Book Review and Crimespree Magazine always come through.

I’m not telling secrets to say that loads of us in the mystery community envy your ability to do top-notch book signings. Got tips for the rest of us?

I’m always looking for any kind of venue where I can sell. One of my grandsons’ school has a Market Place. I went there and to a street fair in a small town not far from here. My book launch for The Surest Poison will be at my church. Church members are always asking, “When will your next book be ready?” So I know I’ll sell a bunch of books there. I do some signings in larger chain bookstores as well, and we have a small mystery bookstore in Nashville that pushes my books and has ordered several copies of the new one.

I’m pulling out all the stops for this new release, primarily on-line. With the economy as it is, I’m cutting back on travel this year, spending more on venues where I can sell books. I’ve recently done the Southern Kentucky Book Fest, and will do the Kentucky Book Fair in November. I’ve always done well at book fairs.

So I guess my tips are get on the road, do bookstore signings when you can, and constantly keep your eye out for other places to sell. Build a team. I’m very fortunate that my wife plays such a big part in all of my appearances. She’s my shill: she passes out small promo folders and directs people to where I’m signing. If you’re not as lucky as I am, with a ready-made co-conspirator, build a team to help you sell.

It sounds like retiring to write books has been very rewarding.

I’d say there are several rewards. The first is that I simply enjoy writing mysteries. I wrote eight before the first one sold, and I guess I’d still be writing away if none of them had. Another is the satisfaction I get when readers tell me how much they enjoy reading my books. And being a bit vain as we all are, I get a charge out of reading a good review, like the one Jon Jordan wrote in the current Crimespree Magazine that ended, “A top rate mystery by a gem of a writer.”


Monday, April 18, 2016

Wrtiing the Private Eye

The Private Eye Novel has been a favorite of American reading audiences since back in the thirties. Its early popularity grew out of such characters as Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade, Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer, and John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee. Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon has become an American fiction classic. There is no shortage of definitions for the detectives who populate these stories. Probably the most definitive is the one used by the Private Eye Writers of America in picking winners for its annual Shamus Awards.

They define a “private eye” as any mystery protagonist who is a professional investigator, but not a police officer or government agent.

I had no idea of creating a PI when I started writing about Greg McKenzie, a retired Air Force OSI agent, the protagonist of my first four mystery novels (plus a later fifth). In fact, I wasn’t even thinking series. The first book involved a hostage taking, and I wanted a character with investigative experience who would have all the tools he needed to compete with the bad guys and rescue his wife. While working on that story, I consulted with the Special Agent in Charge of the Office of Special Investigations at Arnold Air Force Base.

It wasn’t until the end of the second book that I realized Greg and his wife were perfectly suited to get into the private investigation business. The last three books have dealt with cases they took on with unexpected results. A few reviewers referred to the books as cozies, though I didn’t see them that way.

If you’ve never been in law enforcement, how do you learn the basics of writing about private investigators? It helps if you’ve been a newspaper reporter. They use some of the same techniques as detectives. Also you read a lot about PIs, both in fiction and fact. I have two books about private investigation written by two working pros I know personally.

I was surprised when I got a review of the third Greg McKenzie book that started out, “If you’re interested in seeing how a real private detective works try Chester Campbell’s Deadly Illusions.”

That was only topped by a review of the fourth book that began, "The Marathon Murders is a skillfully woven tale that shows detective fiction wannabes how it’s supposed to be done.”

Although I enjoyed penning the exploits of Greg and Jill McKenzie, I wanted to try my hand at a more gritty private eye story. So I conjured up Sidney Lanier (Sid) Chance, a Green Beret in Vietnam, a National Parks ranger for 19 years, and a small town police chief for another 10. He left the NPS after being shot and quit his police job over false accusations of bribery.

Sid is the protagonist in The Surest Poison and The Good, The Bad and The Murderous, the two books in the series. Apparently I succeeded in telling a more hard-boiled tale since one reviewer said I was channeling my love for the written word “into the kind of fiction writing that those with a penchant for Lawrence Block can enjoy.” If you don’t know Larry Block, he writes really hard-boiled stuff and is one of Mystery Writers of America’s Grand Masters.

So what’s the secret to writing believable private eyes? In my view it’s keeping your detective’s eyes and ears tuned to pick up any lead, whether it be a phone call, a scrap of paper found at a crime scene, a casual observation by a witness, and following it wherever the trail takes him. And you’d better obstruct the trail with plenty of boulders and booby traps.

The early PIs were strictly loners, but as the twentieth century wound down, it became popular to give private investigators sidekicks. Jasmine (Jaz) LeMieux fills the spot for Sid Chance, though she’s not like any sidekick I’ve encountered before. She’s rich, being majority owner and board chairman of a chain of truck stops, but followed a pretty weird path in getting there. After quitting college over a disagreement with her basketball coach, she served in the Air Force Security Police, was a professional boxer, and worked as a Metro Nashville policewoman.

Barbara Norville, in her book Writing the Modern Mystery, says “the primary attribute of the private eye is his unique sense of justice, and this is the theme of all private eye novels.” I agree, and it’s the raison d’etre for my PIs. As we learn about Sid Chance, “the possibility of taking a twisted situation and making things right was the lure that kept him in the business.”

Check out my books on the website HERE or on Amazon HERE.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Surest Poison's Jaz LeMieux Talks

The Surest Poison, first book in the Sid Chance PI series, involves Sid’s efforts to locate the man responsible for a toxic chemical dump behind a plant near a small town west of Nashville. I wrote this for another blog shortly after the book came out. I think it's still just as relevant now, particularly if you're new to the series. In The Surest Poison, the current owner of the toxic dump area faces the costly cleanup of the mess caused by a previous occupant years ago. Three seemingly unrelated murders occur as Sid is tailed and threatened. When his part-time associate, Jasmine LeMieux, offers her help, she is awakened by an explosion behind her mansion. A lot of readers tell me they like Jaz better than Sid. She's quite a character. I hope you enjoy the interview.

Chester: Would you state your full name and occupation?
Jaz: What is this? Are you trying to play detective?

Chester: Just answer the question, please.
Jaz: Oh, all right. I’ll play along. My name is Jasmine LeMieux, a.k.a. Jaz, and I’m chairman of the board for Welcome Home Stores, a chain of truck stops headquartered in Nashville. I’m also a newly-minted—licensed, that is—private investigator.

Chester: And a very attractive one at age forty-five.
Jaz: Thanks, I guess, but you didn’t have to go into that age business. A lady needs to keep a few secrets.

Chester: Sorry about that. I hear you’re working with another local PI named Sid Chance. Is that correct?
Jaz: I wouldn’t call it working, exactly. It’s more like a lark to me. It’s a chance to play cop.

Chester: Weren’t you a Metro Nashville policewoman at one point?
Jaz: Until my mother died and my father was nearly killed in a car wreck. I quit the force to help nurse him back to health.

Chester: Your career choices up to that point caused a bit of consternation with your family, didn’t they?
Jaz: You’re being kind. Actually, I was kicked out of the family. My mother was a snobbish Southern Belle. She went ballistic when I dropped out of college and joined the Air Force. I was young at the time and quite determined. I had been a star point guard on the basketball team. When they brought in a new coach who berated my style of play, I got mad and quit. In the Air Force I was assigned to the Security Police under a sergeant who was a former Golden Gloves champion. He worked out regularly with me in the gym. When I left the service, he offered to train me as a boxer. I went professional, and my mother erased my name from the family ledger.

Chester: Didn’t you become a lightweight champion?
Jaz: I did, but it didn’t pay enough to live on. That’s why I became a cop.

Chester: From the looks of this French Colonial mansion you live in, I’d say you weren’t hurting for money now.
Jaz: I’m doing okay. My dad came to Nashville as an ambitious young French Canadian. He built Welcome Home Stores into a lucrative business. When he regained his health after the accident, he asked me to come to work for him. I went back to school and got a computer science degree, plus an MBA. He left me controlling interest in the business when he died.

Chester: How do you find time to play cop, as you call it?
Jaz: I keep close tabs on the company, but I’m not involved in day-to-day operations.

Chester: Weren’t you responsible for getting Sid Chance in the PI business?
Jaz: I was looking for somebody to run an investigation for Welcome Home Stores, and a mutual friend told me about Sid. He had a wealth of experience in law enforcement but got shafted by small town politics. He’d run off to a cabin the woods and was playing hermit. I looked him up, talked him into coming back to take my company’s case. He did such a great job with it that I offered to help him get into the PI business.

Chester: Did you have anything to do with Sid’s taking on this toxic chemical pollution case?
Jaz: I recommended him to a lawyer who does work for my company.

Chester: It sounds like you think pretty highly of Mr. Sidney Chance. True?
Jaz: If you mean do I think he’s one very sharp detective, quite true. He’s also one gorgeous hunk of a man, a little rough around the edges, but honest as the day is long. He’s totally devoid of pretense, someone you can always count on to come through for you.

Chester: In addition to your helping with Sid’s case, he got pretty heavily involved with your problem at home, didn’t he?
Jaz: Yes, there’s a dear couple who lives with me. They’ve been family employees since I was a kid. When their grandson got into trouble, Sid came to the rescue.

Chester: Do I detect something a little more than a purely business relationship?
Jaz: We’ve become very close friends. And this part is off the record. I wouldn’t object to pushing the relationship to a new level, but I think Sid needs to find some inner peace before he’s ready to break out of his shell. He needs to come to terms with his past.

Chester: Didn’t you introduce him to some good law enforcement contacts?
Jaz: You refer to the Miss Demeanor and Five Felons Poker Club. We meet irregularly with a Metro homicide detective, a patrol sergeant, a retired newspaper police reporter, and a former Criminal Court Judge. They’re great friends, and Sid has found they can be quite helpful.

Chester: And what’s in store for Jasmine LeMieux as a private investigator?
Jaz: That depends on Sid. I’m only interested in working cases where he needs my help. I have resources he doesn’t possess, including computer savvy to dig out information not easily accessible.

Chester: I’m sure he’ll find ample opportunity to use your services in the future. Thanks for talking with us, Miss LeMieux. I wish you much success.
Jaz: Hey, speaking of which, you won’t mind if I succeeded in selling a few books, would you?

I guess I could use her help as well as anybody else's. Anyway, that's all for now.