Facetiously Answered Questions

(or, Answers to Questions You Might Have Asked, but, Then, Maybe Not)

How long have you been writing, particularly fiction?

A lot of what I wrote on exams in high school wasn't exactly factual, but I guess my first real fling at fiction came shortly before I was discharged from the Army Air Forces in the fall of 1945. I was an Aviation Cadet at Randolph Field, San Antonio, TX. Since the shooting had tapered off, they didn't need pilots or navigators or bombardiers anymore. I was assigned as a clerk at the Transient Bachelor Officers Quarters. Another cadet there—who had spent hard time at Yale before being called up—told me if he could start over again he'd study journalism. It sounded great to me (my Army duties had included things like raking gravel). So, to warm up for this life-changing experience, I sat down at an old Underwood and began typing a plot involving the A-bomb, which had recently halted the Far East unpleasantness. I've been writing in one form or another ever since. How long is that? Go figure.

How did you get into mysteries?                                                                          

My interest was aroused initially when I read Horace McCoy's They Shoot Horses, Don't They? and No Pockets in a Shroud, back in 1947. No Pockets involved a newspaper reporter involved in a murder case. I was studying journalism at the University of Tennessee and went to work as a reporter for The Knoxville Journal at the start of my junior year. Going to class fulltime during the day and working fulltime as a reporter mostly at night left me with so much free time that I got on my Smith-Corona portable, in the basement of the Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity house, and pounded out a murder mystery involving—guess what—a newspaper reporter. The opening chapter was titled "Murder He Wrote." The few editors who received the manuscript did not reply with great enthusiasm, so I decided to concentrate on news writing for the moment.

Writing can sometimes be controversial, has it ever caused you any trouble?

You could say that, though probably not in the way you’re thinking. My Knoxville Air National Guard unit was mobilized for the Korean War. When I returned in 1953, I married the girl I had left behind as an RN just out of nursing school and moved back home to Nashville. I tried writing short stories for a while, but when my wife began acting extremely pregnant, I took a paying job with The Nashville Banner. Writing feature stories was my forte, and soon I began submitting articles to magazines. My superiors at the newspaper didn’t appreciate this split allegiance. They suggested I go home and freelance full-time (sounds better than getting fired, doesn’t it?).

We pause here for a little sidebar.

If you'd like to see what came of that marriage, check out the picture at this link. Then come on back and hear, as Paul Harvey would say, "the rest of the story."

Did you stay at home and freelance?

I did. Sold articles to Coronet, The American Legion Magazine, The Rotarian, and others. But my wife had a bad habit of getting pregnant and freelancing didn’t pay enough to support a growing family. So I got a job in public relations. Among other things, I served as a flack for the local mayor.

This was another turn in your career?

My career path resembles a snake. I went to work next as Information Officer for the Tennessee Department of Revenue.

That meant you tackled the job of explaining the intricacies of state taxation, right?

Wrong. My sole assignment was to write speeches for the governor. I don’t remember any of them being about taxes or revenue.

So you became involved in the political arena?

Hardly. The guv was on his way out of office, and I had other fish to bake (don’t care for fried). I put together a team to publish a consumer monthly called Nashville Magazine. You talk about trouble. This was back in the days of lunch counter sit-ins and such. I dealt a little too kindly with the civil rights folks and some potential advertisers canceled their potential. But there were plenty of good civic-minded businessmen and one of them came to our rescue when the publication faltered.

Did your career as a magazine editor lead to better things?

It led to my bailing out for a job in the creative department of a local advertising agency, which paid a heckuva lot better. I wrote copy for such clients as Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut and Martha White Flour. I did commercials for the Flatt & Scruggs TV show, which was a big hit with country fans. I even wrote ad copy for a high-rise mausoleum. I did some parody ads that got lots of laughs around the agency—luckily the client didn’t see them.

When did you get back to novel writing?

In the late sixties and early seventies I scratched out enough time to write a Cold War story that took place in Iran and Nashville. We had radar sites over there keeping an electronic eye on the Soviets. My plot involved a Vanderbilt professor who was a defector with the answer to a plot that knocked our radar out of commission. It brought several rejections, but an editor at Avon kept it for six months or more before giving up trying to sell it to his colleagues.

Did that lead to more novel writing?

Not exactly. I took a job managing a statewide trade association. Getting the organization to where it needed to be was a 60 to 70 hours a week task, with a lot of travel. I also put out a bimonthly magazine almost single-handedly. My family now included two sons and two daughters and the oldest was about ready for college. I thought about fiction writing quite often, but mostly I thought I’ll do it when I find a little time. You ever go looking for a little time? It’s worse then trying to find a needle in a stack of nails with a metal detector.

So how did you manage to start writing novels again?

Sheer burnout.

Sheer burnout?

Seems there’s an echo in here. Yeah, I got burned out at the association and decided to retire a bit early—at 62½. I told everybody I was going to write novels after I retired and, of course, didn’t want to make myself out a liar. My wife had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease a few years earlier and our traveling days were about over. So I upgraded my computer, plopped down in my swivel chair and began to write.

Did you start writing mysteries then?

Mystery/suspense. I had been a spy story fan since the early days of Helen MacInnes, then graduated to Graham Greene, John LeCarre, Len Deighton and Robert Ludlum. So starting in 1990, I wrote a trilogy involving the end of the Cold War. I had a different literary agent for each book. The first left the field, the second died and the third put my manuscripts on the shelf and let them gather dust. But I kept writing. A suspense story about a computer genius who developed a program that would emulate a person’s voice well enough to fool a voice print analysis came next. Then the tale of a former Green Beret who stumbles upon a document that unmasks a secret militia conspiracy. Following that came the story of a busload of senior citizens bound for New Orleans, shadowed by a Mafia hit squad after a passenger who had helped decimate the "family" in court.

Did all of those manuscripts end up in the garbage bin?

Heaven forbid! They resided on hard and floppy disks and in stacks of paper that lined the floor of my office, just waiting for the resurrecting moment. In the past few years, several of them have made it into publication..

Let’s get to your first published novel, Secret of the Scroll.

Yes, let’s.

How did you come up with Greg McKenzie?

I am of the Clan Campbell, of course. Not devout enough to own a kilt, I might add. Anyway, I chose another good Scottish name for my protagonist. I also wanted someone with investigative experience. With my Air Force background—after a number of years in the Air National Guard following Korea, I retired from the reserves as a lieutenant colonel—I decided a military man would present some interesting possibilities.

Your Holy Land descriptions sound authentic, have you been there?

My wife died in early 1998 and I went on a tour that November similar to the one taken by Greg and Jill McKenzie. Our guide was a woman, but she provided the catalyst for my character Jake Cohen. Two other characters, Sam and Wilma Gannon, came out of that trip.

What are you working on now?

I finished the fifth Greg McKenzie book, titled A Sporting Murder, for release in September 2010 by Night Shadows Press. Along the same time I started a second series featuring Sid Chance. The first was titled The Surest Poison, the second The Good, The Bad and The Murderous. Sid is a former National Park ranger and small town police chief, now a P.I. in Nashville.

Where do you live and write?

I have re-married and live with my wife,  Sarah in the Nashville suburb of Bellevue, where we bought a condo in 2014. Each spring and fall for several years, we spent two weeks at my brother’s condo on the beach at Perdido Key, FL, where it was easier to write without distraction (and where I came up with the locale for Designed to Kill, book two in the series). Alas, Hurricane Ivan destroyed the condo and our favorite hideaway. My wife is an integral part of my writing career, being head cheerleader and sales director. At book signings, she helps me greet people and talk about my books.

What about your four children?

As you might imagine, they aren’t kids anymore, though that’s how I still refer to them. Steve lives in Pennsylvania where he works for a company that provides computer programs for medical insurance groups. He has two married sons. The older one and his wife gave me my first great-granddaughter (they now have two). The younger, out of the Army after service in Afghanistan, has a son. Mark and his wife (from Inchon, South Korea) ran businesses that were done in by the recession. He's now a security guard and his wife works at Pensacola Naval Air Station. They have two sons, the younger in the Army, the older in Kentucky with his expecting wife and two sons. Anne is manager of an OB/GYN physician’s practice in the Atlanta suburbs. Betsy, the youngest, is raising two girls and two boys in Oak Ridge, TN, where her husband works for the Department of Energy contractor (he messes with 'puters, not plutonium). Sarah has added another girl and boy (or the mature versions thereof) to the family, plus two granddaughters, a grandson and five great-grandchildren. It makes for rather hectic—but fun—times on holidays.

What’s your advice to would-be novelists?

Don’t just sit there, write! Read all you can about the techniques of novel writing, and read lots of novels in the genre you’re interested in pursuing. If possible, get into a writers critique group, where you can share comments on each other’s work. But the most important thing is to keep at it. Write and revise and polish and write some more. Writing is an art that improves the more you pursue it. If you stick at it, you’ll probably make it. And if you're lucky, it won’t take you 76 years like it did me.