Friday, February 3, 2012

My Field of View Is Narrowing

I've realized that the focus of my writing has narrowed over the years. My first three novels written in 1990-93, but never published, have a decided international flavor. The first ranges from the U.S. to Austria, Cyprus, Hong Kong, and Israel, winding up in Toronto. Book two takes us from the U.S. to Korea and China, while the third wanders among Ukraine, Iran, Belarus, Mexico and the U.S.

This trilogy of post-Cold War spy stories grew out of my love of the espionage genre, which I had followed for years with authors like Helen Macinnes, John le Carre, Graham Greene, and Robert Ludlum. The international scene was fresh in my mind from travels across Europe and around the Far East in the eighties.

While revising the books with an eye toward publication, I was reminded of how much additional research I had done in preparation for writing them. I make folders for each of my books and place all of the research material in them. Besides notes they include call slips for various books I checked out of the library. I also have a supply of maps and travel books covering the areas. The shelves in my office include books on the CIA, the KGB, and such famous spies as Harold Adrian "Kim" Philby.

By the end of the nineties, my settings had narrowed down to mostly U.S. locations. After a trip to the Holy Land in late 1998, however, I set my first Greg McKenzie mystery half in the U.S. and half in Israel. My second McKenzie book wandered off to Perdido Key, Florida where we vacationed often in my brother's condo, but since them the mysteries have all taken place around my hometown of Nashville.

I suppose this is part of the aging process, since my wife and I have cut back on our personal wanderings over the years. There's probably a bit of laziness involved, also, as it's much easier to write about an area you are intimately familiar with. I enjoy venturing out to re-check locations I haven't visited in a while, and I'll occasionally include a place I've never been before.

I still enjoy the high-octane machinations of the spy story, though I haven't read a good one lately. Who knows, I might just stumble into a dead drop  or pick up a one-time pad and get motivated to turn out another espionage tome. Meanwhile, look for the Burke Hill trilogy in the near future.

Chester Campbell
Visit me at Mystery Mania


Jean Henry Mead said...

I'm with you, Chester. I've traveled around the country, and out of it, so much during my youth and middle years that I'm now content to set my plots close to home, or in places where I've been. I use Map Quest and other online tools to refresh my memory of places I've visted in the past.

randy rawls said...

I agree, Chester. The spy genre seems to have fallen by the wayside. Perhaps they were replaced by the action/thriller terroist story. Like you, I miss the one time pad, dead drops, bugs in phones, etc.
And I, like you and Jean, write near home now.

Earl Staggs said...

A good perspective on choosing settings, Chester. Most of my writings are set in Maryland or Texas, for reasons of convenience and laziness. I'm finishing a novel set partly in Afghanistan, though, which means (arghhh) I have to rely on research since I've never been there. I think I'll stick close to home from now on.

Morgan Mandel said...

My settings depend on what inspired me to write a book. My first was a mystery, set in Chicago,where I grew up, but the next a romantic comedy, set all over the globe. Then I decided in my romantic suspense to move the setting back to Chicago.

My current thriller is set in Scottsdale, AZ, which somehow seemed the perfect setting. I'd been there years ago, before I got the writing bug, and another trip refreshed my memory and helped me add some nice details common to the area which I'd not have gotten online.

I also made the heroine a native of Tomahawk, WI, where I've visited on vacation, since our summer cottage is not too far from there. That was handy, so I didn't have to figure out as much

The sequel will be in various areas of the USA, but I don't anticipate traveling to them.

Morgan Mandel