Saturday, April 13, 2013

Evolution of a Novel by Earl Staggs


Earl Staggs earned a long list of Five Star reviews for his novel MEMORY OF A MURDER and has twice received a Derringer Award for Best Short Story of the Year. He served as Managing Editor of Futures Mystery Magazine, as President of the Short Mystery Fiction Society, is a contributing blog member of Murderous Musings and Make Mine Mystery and a frequent speaker at conferences and seminars. Email: Website:

by Earl Staggs

Like most writers who’ve been around the block a time or two, I can produce a new book from start to finish in several months, a year at the most. I’d like to tell you a story, however, about a book that took much longer to write. How long? Ten years. That’s right. Ten years.

I didn’t work on it full time for that long. It took me that long to get it right

The idea for the book came to me not long after the horrendous incident we now refer to as 9-11. Terrorists killed three thousand innocent, unsuspecting people that day and left a scar across the world that will never heal. Like most people in the world, particularly Americans, I was deeply affected. I wanted to rush out and kill terrorists. I couldn’t do that for real, of course, but it occurred to me I could do it in a book. That’s how it started.

I came up with a fictitious secret agency which tracks terrorist groups. If the agency determines the group has definite plans to kill innocent people, it steps in and stops them with extreme prejudice. That usually means the terrorists are killed.

I gave the book what I thought was an appropriate title. JUSTIFIED ACTION.

I needed a central character and came up with the name Tall Chambers.

After twenty years in the Army, most of it in Special Services, Tall joined the agency.

While I admit, in the wake of 9-11, I enjoyed writing about saving innocent lives by taking out those who would kill, I soon realized an entire novel of that would not be interesting for long. I put the book aside and worked on other projects.

Tall Chambers never really left my mind, however. He took shape over a period of time until I knew him as a friend, someone I liked. I formed ideas of what kind of man he would be, what were his goals and ambitions, and what did he want for his life.

While Tall remained a fixture in my mind, I occasionally went back to the book. This time, the business of tracking and dealing with terrorists became only a background on which Tall’s personal life played out. I liked the story much better this way, but still didn’t stick with it full time. I’d put it on a back burner from time to time and write other things. Eventually, his story, a personal one played out on the stage of international terrorist activity, became more clear and fully developed.

And Tall definitely had a personal life. He met the ideal woman, fell in love, and married. He’s also a man of action and, since I love writing action scenes, there are plenty of them in the book.

But his life did not become a happily ever after story. Everything changed when a murder turned his life completely around. After that, Tall has only one goal in mind: find the killer and set things right. In the process of doing that, he comes to a hard-earned decision about the path his life will travel from that point on.

Eventually -- and the process actually did take ten years -- I finished the novel, completely satisfied with how it all came together. I’m as proud of it as anything I’ve ever written.

I recently announced the debut of JUSTIFIED ACTION, a Mystery/Thriller novel, in both print and ebook form. But then came that nail-biting, can’t-sleep, why-did-I-ever-become-a-writer, what-made-me-think-that-book-was-good-enough-to-publish, suppose-everyone-hates-it phase. That’s the period when you don’t breathe, the hands of the clock don’t move, the sun never rises or sets but just hangs over you, and you wait for reviews.

Happily, the reviews were as good as they could be.. All Five Stars.

Feedback included comments such as:

“Couldn’t put it down.”

Read this book. You'll be glad you did.”

“. . .a strong emotional impact and a satisfying ending.”

 Action and suspense without all the gore.” 

“When I got to the last page, I wished for more.”

Can’t ask for better than that. Two major hurdles are now in the rear view mirror – getting it published and receiving great reviews. It feels good, especially when I think about how long it took to write this book.

I’m also excited about the cover. I wanted a particular mood and attitude on the cover. I wanted it to speak in a voice filled with suspense and tension and say, “Get ready. Here comes trouble.” It took a while, and I had help from a good friend, but the perfect cover eventually came around. The cover is. . . . But, wait. Instead of talking about it, let me show it to you. Here it is.

Cover by Carole Ryan

You’re invited to read Chapter One of JUSTIFIED ACTION and meet Tall Chambers. I hope you like him as much as I do. You’ll find it at

And that’s the story of a book that took me ten years to write. Thank you, dear Kaye, for letting me tell it here.




Kevin R. Tipple said...

Good book and very much worthy of your time. 1656

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Earl, Darlin'! Welcome Back! It's always fun to have you here - and especially proud to have you here when you have a new book out - Yay, You!!!!

And it is a GREAT book. I hope to see more of Tall Chambers in the future.


Kevin R. Tipple said...

The cool thing is Earl is working on a sequel where Tall is teamed up with fellow agent, "Short Magnum."

Anonymous said...

I've already told Earl my reactions to this book --- and am yelling and screaming for more of Tall!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I hope one of the Big Six ( or is it Five?) will pick up this great book and publish it under their logo!!! Thelma in Manhattan - where the trees are delicately flowering

Earl Staggs said...

Short Magnum! Cute, Bubba, real cute. HehHehHeh

I'll fix you. Next murder mystery I write, the victim will be named Kevin. That'll teach you.

Earl Staggs said...

Kaye, It feels great to be here at Meanderings and Muses again. Thanks for the GREAT for Justified Action. Tell you what. I promise more Tall Chambers if you'll promise more of Whimsey. Deal?

Earl Staggs said...

Thelma, you're such a sweetiepie. Thanks for the shout out for Tall. You will see more of him.

If a major publisher wants to pick up Justified Action, I'll be happy to talk about it.

My best to you, my friend.

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...


Kevin R. Tipple said...

That won't teach me anything at all, Earl. A better name would be Johnny Shell. I also would advise you should have a hot woman by the name of Trixie Gunpowder.

Earl Staggs said...

Thanks for the suggestions, Kevin. When Tall gets too old to chase the bad guys, I'll change his name to Spent Cartridge.

Kevin R. Tipple said...

It was my understanding that Spent Cartridge was his brother's name and Barbara Buckshot was his sister's.