by Claudia McCants
"For a guy who's been around as long as I have, it isn't easy to condense your life into a brief paragraph," Chester told me. "To put me in my place, though, I was born in and have lived in Nashville, TN most of my 77 years. When I wasn't here, I was getting educated. For the formal part, I studied journalism at the University of Tennessee. The more intense part came in the Army (WW II) and Air Force (Korean War). I have two sons and two daughters who have supplied me with eight grandchildren. My second wife (the first died in 1998) added two children, three grandchildren and two great-
He started writing in college. "I worked as a newspaper reporter, free-
I asked him what inspired SECRET OF THE SCROLL. He said, "It came out of a trip I made to the Holy Land in 1998. On the way home, I read in an in-
Chester says his biggest supporter is his wife, Sarah. He calls her his Director of Sales. "She goes with me to writers' conferences and enjoys them as much as I do. She passes out bookmarks and talks to everybody about the book."
He told me, "My days seem to be anything but routine, though we do try to walk two miles a day at the nearby mall. When Sarah is babysitting the great-
He said, "I'm a quiet guy, not much of a talker. I have difficulty getting out what I want to say verbally, but at the keyboard I can rattle on for hours. I enjoy creating characters and challenging situations. I consider myself primarily a storyteller. As for what I like least, I suppose it would be trying to find enough time to write (like lately when I've had to devote most of my time to promoting the book just out)."
Where does Chester get his ideas? He said, "Out of my muddled brain...I've stuffed so much in it over the years. As with any writer, a lot is autobiographical. You write about what you know, embellishing as you go. Most of the places I use are real, thought I occasionally tamper with the landscape. I have a camcorder I use to tape locations I use in my stories. I bought it before the trip to Israel and came back with three hours of tape that proved quite useful for this book."
He also draws inspiration from people he has known. When I asked him who the most memorable person he has known is, he told me, "There have been so many during my newspaper and magazine days it's hard to single one out. But, on reflection, I'd have to say one of the most memorable was my high school science teacher, Miss Roberta Kirkpatrick. I still find myself using some of her favorite sayings, like "he who hesitates is lost."
Chester belongs to a small critique group that meets twice a month. He said, "We each read a chapter of what we're working on (the others have fulltime jobs so they don't always have a new chapter), and the others give their comments. It's a good way to catch simple things you've overlooked. I recently had a Hispanic girl humming a song in Spanish. One of my colleagues asked, "How do you hum in Spanish?"
He recently sent a murder mystery to his editor. It takes place at Perdido Key, FL, "where my wife and I take residence each fall and spring for a couple of weeks at my brother's condo. It's the first of a PI series featuring Greg McKenzie from Secret of the Scroll. I'm working on the next one (when I can find time), which takes place in Nashville. I like the series idea. You can keep adding new layers to your character."
His advice for new writers: "Take a good writing course. Read, read, read, then write, write, write."
Interview by Lorie Ham
We are happy to have with us new mystery author, Chester D. Campbell — in our "new voices" section.
CAFE: Tell me a little about your books and what genre they are.
CHESTER: My first novel, Secret of the Scroll, released in October, is a suspense/thriller. When retired Air Force criminal investigator Greg McKenzie is unwittingly used by a militant Palestinian group to smuggle an ancient parchment scroll out of Israel into the U.S., it touches off a nightmare that sees his wife taken hostage from their home in Nashville. It gives the coded location of artifacts from Solomon's Temple hidden in Jerusalem. The scroll holds a secret that, in the wrong hands, could start a new conflagration in the Middle East. Just as Greg appears close to tracking down the terrorists who hold his wife, radical right-
CAFE: When did you first start writing? First start publishing?
CHESTER: I wrote a mystery novel about a newspaper reporter while studying journalism at the University of Tennessee in 1947. I had just gone to work as a reporter for The Knoxville Journal and was bursting with a desire to write fiction. After a couple of rejections, though, I put the manuscript away and concentrated on nonfiction. In the 1950s I sold articles to such magazines as Coronet, The American Legion Magazine and The Rotarian. Then I started a local monthly called Nashville Magazine. I published a guidebook for Nashville tourists in 1964 and had a church history published in 1998. My first novel was finally published in 2002.
CAFE: Why do you write?
CHESTER: Primarily because I enjoy it. Achieving some critical success is good for the ego, but I wrote eight novels before the first one was published and never thought of stopping. Although I've done other things over the years, I've always thought of myself foremost as a writer. And writers write.
CAFE: Do you have a day job?
CHESTER: I tell people I'm retired, but I don't act like it. I have some rental property I look after and my wife and I volunteer at church and other organizations.
CAFE: Do you have something you wish to accomplish with the things you write? What do you want people to take away with them when they read your writing? Do you ever have a message?
CHESTER: I consider myself mainly a storyteller, and I hope people enjoy reading what I write. I don't intentionally work a message into my writing, but I try to show that faithfulness to ideals and loyalty to loved ones can carry you through the darkest times.
CAFE: What time of day do you find you are most creative?
CHESTER: I seem to get most of my writing done at night, but that's probably because so many other things seem to get in the way during the day. Each spring and fall we spend a couple of weeks at a condo on Perdido Key. Then I get to write morning, afternoon and night without all the distractions.
CAFE: What sort of things do you do for fun?
CHESTER: We eat out with friends once a week, go to plays at the local rep theatre, go on tours when we can find the time.
CAFE: Do you have a favorite author, authors?
CHESTER: I particularly enjoy Robert B. Parker, James Lee Burke, James Patterson, Barbara Parker, Sue Grafton, Nelson DeMille and Jack Higgins.
CAFE: A book or author that influenced you a lot? Personally or professionally?
CHESTER: Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith. I loved his descriptions, his use of simile and metaphor. This book as much as anything inspired me to get back to fiction writing.
CAFE: Favorite mystery movie?
CHESTER: I'm not much of a movie buff, particularly in recent years. I would have to go back to something like Rear Window or Sorry, Wrong Number.
CAFE: Those are great movies Favorite mystery TV show?
CHESTER: Can't say that I watch a lot of TV, other than news shows. I see more of The District, I guess, since it's one of my wife's favorites.
CAFE: How do you feel about writing? And how does it feel when you are writing? Excited, frustrated, is it just business?
CHESTER: As I said earlier, I enjoy writing. I get frustrated when I'm working on a book and get interrupted or can't find time to get back to the keyboard. Since I don't do a lot of complicated plotting, I'm often as excited as anybody to find out what's going to happen next.
CAFE: What type of book promotion do you feel has worked best for you?
CHESTER: I have cards with the cover printed on one side. On the other, I print a blurb from my best review, a paragraph on the plot and basic information on the book plus my web address. That's on the left. On the right, where the address would go if used as a postcard, I print a box with four more review excerpts. At book signings, my wife asks people who come into the store if they like mysteries. Those who do get a card and she points out that the author is signing books at the table. When they come to me, I show them the book and tell a bit about it. We sell lots of books this way. I have done two signings at the local Books-
CAFE: Can you ever see yourself not writing anymore?
CAFE: Pets? Types and names, please.
CHESTER: Sorry, I'm one of the few mystery writers who doesn't house or write about pets.
CAFE: That is unusual, isn't it? What part of you shows through in your writing? What does your writing say about you?
CHESTER: I think all writers put some of themselves into their characters, particularly regarding their likes and dislikes. My main characters are involved with their church, as I am, which my editor cautioned might turn off some readers. I hope not. I don't dwell on particular tenets of religion, just on the importance of their faith.
CAFE: Sounds like something I'd love to read. Where do you get your character names?
CHESTER: Since my heritage is Scottish, I wanted a good Scot name for my protagonist. For others I check the phone book, sometimes look at magazine staff names. I keep a list and try to use a letter only one time to start last names. In one book, I used last names of those who attended our high school class's 50th anniversary dinner.
CAFE: What about writing is important to you?
CHESTER: Publication. It's an indication that you have written something of significance, something worthy of other people reading.
CAFE: Advice to an unpublished writer?
CHESTER: Don't give up. Keep writing. It may take awhile-
CAFE: Anything that you would like to add?
CHESTER: I belong to several writers organizations, like Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime, and I have joined several internet writers groups, like DorothyL, All About Murder and Murder Must Advertise. All of them welcome you with open arms and readily share any information they have. It's great to belong to such an unselfish fraternity.
CAFE: Website URL?
CAFE: Thanks for joining us here at the Cafe, Chester. Come back again soon.
by Carolyn Chambers Clark
Carolyn: Tell me about your new mystery, its title, where it’s set, what it’s about, who’s publishing it.
Chester: Secret of the Scroll is the first book in my Greg McKenzie mystery series. Most of the story takes place in Nashville and Israel. A retired Air Force OSI agent, Greg joins his wife Jill on a trip to the Holy Land, hoping to put some distance between himself and problems with the Metro Nashville Police. But his troubles rapidly escalate when he brings back a “souvenir” Dead Sea Scroll. Agents of a Palestinian terrorist group invade his home, taking Jill hostage. He finds himself with an ancient Hebrew scroll worth millions, wanted by the Palestinians and a radical far-
Carolyn: What obstacles did you have to overcome to write this story and how did you do it?
Chester: Obstacles sounds rather formidable. I don’t know that I would call it an obstacle, but I had to do a lot of research on biblical archeology, the Dead Sea Scrolls and Bible codes. I also interviewed the OSI Special Agent in Charge at Arnold Air Force Base to get the inside scoop on how they operate. I had made a trip to the Holy Land in 1998 so had plenty of background on the area.
Carolyn: How do you breathe life into your characters and make them seem real?
Chester: When you live with characters for a year, which is the normal time it takes me to finish a book, you get to know them pretty well. Knowing their backgrounds, you have a sense for how they talk, how they react in certain situations, little things that bug them, big things that challenge them. People are sometimes amused when I talk about Greg and Jill as if they were real people, but in my mind they are.
Carolyn: What is it about writing mysteries that appeals to you?
Chester: I like the ability to see that the bad guys get what’s coming to them. Sometimes they appear to get away, but you can take care of that in the next book. The other things I like about mysteries is setting up a puzzle, then solving it.
Carolyn: What else would you like to tell readers about your book?
Chester: If you like to read series mysteries, this is the place to start. Secret of the Scroll provides a lot of background on the characters. They will be developed further in future books. The second, Designed to Kill, will be published in March 2004. It involves Greg being called on to solve a murder on Perdido Key, Florida.
Carolyn: Do you have a web site where readers can find out more about you and your book?
Chester: It’s www.chesterdcampbell.com. You’ll find sample chapters, reviews, photos and a bio of sorts under F.A.Q. (Facetiously Answered Questions). I have a ball writing. I hope you get the same kick out of reading.