Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Writing at a Snail's Pace

By Chester Campbell

I’m in the process of working on my fifth Greg McKenzie mystery. So far it has been moving like a snail racing across the street. Matter of fact, I wrote something about creating the plot on my personal blog (Mystery Mania) back toward the end of February, and I'm now only a third of the way through the writing. I suppose the problem is still as I characterized it earlier: "the old gray matter, she ain't what she used to be."

When I began working on the plot, the first idea out of the box did not deal with character or setting or plot action. Well, setting, in one of its narrow aspects. We're talking about time. The series has been moving at a leisurely pace through the calendar. Designed to Kill took place at the first of November, Deadly Illusions followed with the first blush of spring (does spring really blush?), and The Marathon Murders sweated out the steamy days of August. So, I reasoned, the next adventure should occur at Christmastime.

Wouldn’t you know, in Greg years, it’s still 2004. If I could do that, I wouldn’t be quite 80 yet. However, it presents a few problems in keeping the details straight. For example, the plot involves professional sports. In 2004, the arena where the Nashville Predators NHL team plays was called the Gaylord Entertainment Center or "The GEC" (pronounced Geck). Now it is the Sommet Center. So in the book it's only referred to as the "arena."

Anyway, back to the plot. As a seat-of-the-pants plotter, I had a basic idea, but I needed a cast of characters to do the work. I didn't want to get stuck with doing all that work myself. I had my main characters, Greg and Jill McKenzie, my indefatigable pair of senior sleuths, but a bunch of people was required for them to bounce off of.

I quickly came up with job descriptions for four possible bad guys or gals. And just as quickly I spotted the one who really “did it.” I picked an age and began to delve into the person's background. What would make this an interesting character? How did the killer become what they were today?

Okay, this is a mystery, and I’m not giving you any clues. I did a lot of Googling and bounced around the Internet quite a bit to track down some facts. Hmmm, come to think of it, back when I first began searching for stuff online, Yahoo was the big thing. But you don’t hear of people Yahooing. They’ve been sort of left in the dust, I suppose.

The subject of the plot is not one in which I’m particularly well versed, so I also searched about for some basic information on the business. Since it involves a conflict between people involved in two different sports, basketball and hockey, I decided my best bet was to talk with a TV sportscaster. Both Greg and I interviewed Rudy Kalis, sports director at Nashville's Channel 4, WSMV.

So far, Christmas has been sort of incidental to the action, but who knows how it will play out. A Christmas party provided an opportunity for Greg to get some information he needed. I suspect there's more to come.

Sometimes I start a book before I’m ready with a full-blown plot by sitting at the computer and writing a first page. It may not be the same first page I end up with, but it gets the window open and the curtains blowing. That's what happened this time. And after five books, it's my first experience with a murder on page one.

So after eight months of dilly-dallying around, promoting the heck out of my latest book and finding places to sign and sell all five current titles, I'm faced with the necessity of locking myself up (would be nice, but won't happen) and knocking out another 50,000 words in the next couple of months.

Wish me luck. And let me know how you're doing on your latest masterpeice.


Sheila Deeth said...

Wishing you luck. I've finally got an ending for my "masterpiece." It's bubbling around in my mind, waiting for me to put in on paper - or on the computer screen. And it keeps me awake at nights. I need more hours in the day...

Jaden Terrell said...

Chester, I'm struggling with the same issues you are: marketing, editing the last book, and trying to get the third one written. This one is a lot more challenging, and it's slow going.

Helen Ginger said...

I do that sometimes too. I write the opening, sometimes the entire first chapter, even though I may not be sure where it's going after that.

Straight From Hel

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