Friday, October 8, 2010

Entertainer or Philospher?

By Chester Campbell

It may be a bit simplistic, but basically that's the question we face as mystery writers. Do we want to write stories that keep the action going and entertain the readers, making them frantic to turn the next page? Or do we want to philosophize a bit, educate people as to what's wrong with the way life is going on about us? Sure, some writers do quite well combining the two. Betty Webb created quite a stir in Arizona and Utah with her novel about bigamy among a Mormon sect.

I consider myself a pure storyteller, an entertainer, if you will. A  little philosophizing might creep in on occasion, but it's never the central theme. In the first Sid Chance mystery, the case involves a toxic chemical spill behind a small plant. Sid, a former National Park ranger, is concerned about the environmental impact and interviews people who have suffered from the water contamination. However, he spends most of the book chasing down the people responsible for the spill.

My characters deal with the emotional impact of murder and such personal characteristics as greed, hunger for power, and total disregard for the welfare of others, motivations that lead to mayhem. In the new book, A Sporting Murder, Greg and Jill McKenzie are grieved by the slaying of a young German friend. Gambling plays a key role in the story, but I deal with it only as it relates to tracking down the killer. I don't have my characters fretting over whether gambling per se is good or bad.

A little enlightenment on a particular problem is okay by me, but I prefer mysteries that deal with raw emotion, putting the protags in peril and letting them claw their way out of the corners I lead them into. I'll leave the philosophy to the literary types who like to spend page after page telling us all about the characters and how they got themselves into whatever mess they're dealing with.

If readers see one of my stories as a microcosm of some larger social problem, great. It just means I told a good story. And for a storyteller, what more can you ask?

Visit me at Mystery Mania

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