Tuesday, March 31, 2009
The Nashville I Write About
By Chester Campbell
I write mysteries set in and around Nashville. But it isn’t the Nashville that most folks are familiar with. You’ve probably heard about it primarily as Music City USA, home of the Grand Ole Opry, the number three recording center in the country. A place where names like Taylor Swift, Kenny Chesney, Brad Paisley, and Keith Urban are tossed about. And, of course, the home area of Mylie Cyrus (alias Hannah Montana) and her dad, Billy Ray.
If you're a sports fan, maybe it's the place where the Tennessee Titans play, or home of the Nashville Predators NHL team.
The music industry merits an occasional mention in my books, but the locations I use are seldom connected to it. The last Greg McKenzie mystery, The Marathon Murders, deals with a part of town that hasn’t had the best reputation in recent years. The plot is built around the old Marathon Motor Works just beyond downtown, in an area where a low-rent housing project became such an eyesore it was demolished.
When a Type A entrepreneur bought the badly run-down buildings of the auto maker that went out of business in 1914, he had to clean up the debris left by years of homeless squatters. A cop told him he’d better carry a big gun if he wanted to survive around there. After all the restoration work, it’s a neat place, housing studios for artists, photographers, and musicians. The housing project has been rebuilt as modern multi-family houses.
The entrepreneur, who renamed his venture Marathon Village, scoured the country and found a couple of rebuilt 1912 and 1914 Marathon touring cars and put them in the old showroom. That’s where I had my launch party for The Marathon Murders.
I visited the opposite extreme in that book with a couple of characters who live in the city’s most posh suburb, Belle Meade. In that case I alluded to an old sobriquet for Nashville—the Son-in-Law Town. Years ago when I was publishing a local magazine, the popular refrain referred to young out-of-towners who came to Vanderbilt University, stayed on and married girls whose dad’s were captains of industry. When the dads retired, the sons-in-law took over the businesses.
In the new Sid Chance series, the main character comes from my side of town, a traditional middle class area. His sometimes associate lives in a mansion among the upper crust, just across the line from Williamson County, one of the highest income counties in the nation. It provides an opportunity to show some contrasting lifestyles and the possibility for conflict that brings.
My aim is to get beyond the stereotypes and show the city as it really exists where the people live. I’ve only scratched the surface so far, which leaves a lot more to tell.
The Surest Poison will be out in a couple of weeks. Keep an eye on my Mystery Mania blog and my website for news about the book launch.