Fictional Clement County, in eastern Kentucky, is small in size, but it continues to generate big problems. In 2014, it was besieged by rival bigfoots, drug lords and government corruption, as documented in the novel, “Shadows Over Banshee Ridge,” by Quinn MacHollister.
Once that mess was cleaned up, a bigger one developed the following year involving international espionage at an Army depot, historical mysteries dating back to the Civil War, a labor strike, serial killers, and even aliens. All of this strangeness has been reported in “Wicked Design,” MacHollister’s latest novel.
MacHollister is actually the pen name of five past and present EKU professors collaborating on creating chaos in Clement County. The authors have backgrounds in English, communication, and law enforcement.
“We each have such diverse interests that we don’t have to do a lot of research,” said Mason Smith, a senior lecturer in English, and one of the writers. “I confess, I watch ‘Ancient Aliens’ and ‘Finding Bigfoot’ on TV. The other authors, Charlie Sweet, Hal Blythe, Rick Givan and Marie Mitchell, are walking encyclopedias about old Westerns, spy thrillers, weapons, comic books, gadgets, the Boston Red Sox, classic movies, and World War II.”
The authors meet twice a month to discuss plot and characters. Then they divide into teams, Sweet and Blythe as one, the husband-and-wife team of Mitchell and Smith a second, and Givan on his own, to write chapters about specific characters. There are lots of surprises along the way since there is no set outline of what needs to happen in each chapter.
“We’re just as much in the dark as the rest of you about how things are going to turn out until it happens,” said Sweet, who co-directs EKU’s Teaching & Learning Center with Blythe. “We like to let the characters evolve on their own without trying to coerce them into behaving a certain way. It’s more fun that way.”
“As long as we can get all the key characters to the same place at the same time for the climax of the book, we’re OK,” said Blythe. “But logistics and consistency can be challenging, and sometimes we have a few stragglers to contend with. Somehow, though, it all seems to work out.”
The authors added two new features to “Wicked Design” not found in their first book, “Shadows.” One is a Cast of Characters since there are so many to keep straight. Another is periodic newspaper articles that report on the unusual events occurring in Clement County. Mitchell and Smith, former journalists, produced those for the fictional “Woodhole Gazette.”
“It was a nice way to frame some of the information we needed to reveal without having to create extra scenes with lots of dialogue,” said Mitchell, who teaches part time in the Department of Communication.
You can’t include serial killers in a book without expecting a high body count. But there are some characters you just can’t kill off. “We each have our favorites whom we try to keep alive,” said Givan, professor emeritus of criminal justice and police studies. “So there’s some serious negotiating going on toward the end.”
The characters who survive might just end up in the next novel, “What Rough Beast,” which is nearly finished. It features werewolves, unethical animal testing, chop shops, drug dealing and Indian lore. The two earlier books, “Shadows Over Banshee Ridge” and “Wicked Design,” are both available on Amazon. The authors will also be autographing their books at the Kentucky Book Fair, Saturday, Nov. 14, at the Frankfort Convention Center.