MLC: Do you remember the first mystery you ever read? If so, what was it, and what pulled you into it?
AUTHOR: As best I can remember, I read some Hardy Boys books as a youngster, but two books by Horace McCoy, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? and No Pockets in a Shroud, got me hooked on mysteries. I read them just after going to work as a newspaper reporter in 1947. The sense of foreboding in both books aroused my interest.
MLC: When did you first decide you wanted to write a mystery, and what led you to that decision?
AUTHOR: No Pockets in a Shroud told the story of a murder investigation that involved a reporter. As a 22-year-old only a couple of years out of World War II service, I was new at the writing game, but I couldn’t resist the urge to try my hand at a novel. I worked at the newspaper in the evening and studied journalism at the University of Tennessee during the day. So in my spare time (like a few minutes here and there), I sat down at my little Smith-Corona portable and banged out a murder mystery. The first chapter was titled Murder, He Says. They changed it a little for Jessica Fletcher. Just kidding. That one got a polite rejection and went into my archives.
MLC: Do you write in any other genres? If so, which ones?
AUTHOR: All of my fiction writing has involved the mystery/thriller genre. I do occasional non-fiction articles on the subject of mysteries and writing.
MLC: Which comes first for you, the plot or the characters?
AUTHOR: That’s easy. Since I write a series, my main characters are always standing by, just waiting for a plot. It’s a plot idea that gets the action going, however.
MLC: When you are all wrapped up in the story, do you feel like you could solve the crime, or maybe even solve all the world’s mysteries?
AUTHOR: That’s going a bit far. I’m no real gumshoe, but I do manage to solve all the crimes I create. Reviewers have said my stories show how a real private investigator works. I take that as a big compliment.
MLC: Do you write every day, or what kind of a schedule do you have? Do you write fulltime, or do you have a “day job”?
AUTHOR: I’m a fulltime writer, which I have been since retiring several years ago. But I don’t work on a manuscript every day. With a new book coming out, I’ve spent a lot of time lately on promotion. Now I need to get back to writing. I’m not organized enough to have a schedule, though. I may write two hours one day and ten the next. I typically set a deadline and work toward it.
MLC: Other than your writing, what do you enjoy doing? What is the most important thing to you in your day-to-day life?
AUTHOR: I enjoy creating things. I do my own bookmarks, promotional folders, website, and recently took my first fling at a movie trailer. It’s a decent first effort, but I’ll do better the next time. The most important thing day-to-day? Get out of bed every morning, I guess. At my age, that’s important.
MLC: Who are your favorite mystery authors? Do you try to emulate them in your own writing?
AUTHOR: Robert B. Parker is one, although I haven’t read his recent books. I have patterned my dialogue after his snappy style. I enjoyed James Patterson’s early books and picked up his short chapter pattern. Others I like but haven’t tried to emulate are Harlan Coben, Jan Burke, James Lee Burke, Sue Grafton, Beth Terrell, Ben Small, Pat Browning, and Lonnie Cruse.
MLC: In your present book, is this part of a series, or is it a standalone book?
AUTHOR: The Marathon Murders is the fourth book in the Greg McKenzie series.
MLC: If you are doing a series, do you see an end to it sometime, or do you plan to go on for several years with it?
AUTHOR: I plan to stick with the series as long as readers like it and I enjoy writing it.
MLC: Do your characters ever drive you a bit crazy by going off in their own direction? If so, how do you rein them in, or do you just let them run off on their own?
AUTHOR: I’m pretty much a free-form writer. If the characters want to take off on their own, I let them go, so long as they don’t try to start a new story. I hang up an imaginary yellow tape that says PLOT LINE--DO NOT CROSS.
MLC: Do you pattern your sleuths after yourself or someone you know? If so, do you let that person know they were your “pattern”?
AUTHOR: I don’t consciously make Greg my alter image, but it’s only natural to put some of yourself into your main character. His co-protagonist, Jill, shares some characteristics with my wife, Sarah.
MLC: How long did it take you to get published? How many rejections did you have to suffer through first? Were you ever tempted to give up? What do you think made the difference when it was accepted?
AUTHOR: Counting that 1947 book and another I wrote in the 1960’s, my tenth book was the first one published. I went through four agents before I landed, unagented, with a small press. I never thought about giving up. I love to write. What ultimately made the difference was finding somebody who recognized my talent and an editor who was willing to work with me on improving my craft.
MLC: Do you ever attend any conferences? If so, which ones?
AUTHOR: I have attended dozens of conferences. My favorites are SleuthFest, Magna cum Murder, Cape Fear Crime Festival, Mayhem in the Midlands , Emerald Coast Writers Conference, and Murder in the Magic City . I’ve also attended Bouchercon, Left Coast Crime, and Malice Domestic, but I prefer the smaller venues.
MLC: Do you have to promote your own work, or does your publisher do that for you?
AUTHOR: Like most people who write mysteries, I do the promotion. But, mostly, I enjoy it.
MLC: If you have to do marketing, what methods have worked the best for you?
AUTHOR: My website and book signings are the main avenues. At signings, my wife hands out promotional flyers and directs people to my table. I also send out a quarterly newsletter. I have stuff on my website that explains how I promote.
MLC: Do you have any idea how your book is selling?
AUTHOR: Since it’s just out (Feb. 11), I have no idea. However, with my new publisher I’ll get regular sales reports.
MLC: What has been the best review you have gotten, and why?
AUTHOR: I’ve received so many great ones it’s hard to pick a “best.” One I really liked was by Shelley Glodowski, a Senior Reviewer for Midwest Book Review. The essence of it was “ Campbell has his own unique style of writing that is both dashing and touching . . . (he) obviously has many stories to share, and he continues to write fabulous mysteries.” Makes you want to take a bow.
MLC: Have you won any awards, either as an author or for your books? Please tell us about them.
AUTHOR: My first book in the series, Secret of the Scroll, won second place in the Bloody Dagger Awards for Thrillers in 2003. It was also a finalist for ForeWord Magazine’s Mystery Book of the Year.
MLC: Is there any one certain thing that a reader has written to you that made you just want to jump up and shout “Yes!!!!”?
AUTHOR: I got an email from a woman who was new to Middle Tennessee and picked up one of my books at the library. “I have a new favorite author: YOU!” she wrote. “I’m hooked.” She had recently moved here from Montana and said, “Your descriptions of the Nashville area has made it feel more like home. God bless you—I’m going to wave my banner for you on my ‘blog.’” And she did.
MLC: What is your next project, and when will it be out?
AUTHOR: I’m in the revising process for the first book in a new series about a PI who specializes in missing persons. It’s titled The Surest Poison and involves a long-defunct company whose chemical spill causes havoc with a rural area’s water supply. The book should be out in the fall.
MLC: If you could write anything at all, ignoring what editors and publishers say they want, what would it be?
AUTHOR: Actually, that’s what I’ve been doing. It’s probably why I’ve found it necessary to stick with small independent publishers. I’ve just changed to a new one called Night Shadows Press.
MLC: Do you have any words of wisdom for aspiring mystery authors?
AUTHOR: I suspect most of the wisdom on this subject has been dispensed already by those more illustrious than me. However, I will venture that new writers should study all the books they can find on mystery writing, read novels by good writers in their genre, then plop down at the computer and start writing. This is an art that improves with experience. They more you write, the better you’ll get. When you have something worth reading, join a critique group and get others’ input. Then make sure it’s the best you can do before submitting it for publication.
MLC: Do you have any teasers for your readers and fans about the next book?
AUTHOR: The next book would be the one just coming out, The Marathon Murders. It deals with the ultimate cold case, a murder that happened 90 years ago. It involves a company that built a popular touring car in Nashville from 1910-1914 named the Marathon for the 1904 St . Louis Olympics. The current scene deals with three murders in a one-week span in a small county east of Nashville that hardly has one murder in a year. In a new turn for Greg McKenzie, he gets into trouble with his wife when a shapely socialite makes a play for him.
MLC: If a genie suddenly appeared and said they would grant you just one wish for your books, what would you wish for?
AUTHOR: I’d wish they could get exposure to every reader who likes fast-paced mysteries with intelligent plots, peopled by mature characters who have learned to stay productive and enjoy life in the years past retirement. I believe the books would sell like the proverbial hotcakes.
MMLC: Please give us your website url and your email address where people can contact you.
MLC: Thank you so much for giving us a little glimpse into your books and your life. We look forward to a lot more books from you.