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
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
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?
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.
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?
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 http://www.chesterdcampbell.com/Articles.htm.
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
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
Among many other jobs, you once worked as an ad executive. What's the best ad you ever created?
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
clichés 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?
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?
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?
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. :)