This past weekend, I finished the first draft of my sixth manuscript in the Cameron Ballack Mystery series. That means I'm rounding third base and heading for home, because the seventh installment of the disabled, agnostic St. Louis sleuth will be the last volume.
That reality has brought on its fair share of nostalgia, for a couple of reasons. First, closing out the Cameron Ballack series, from the planning stages of the final novel to the last word written in revision, will have the feel of saying goodbye to an old friend. Investing that much time in creating, sustaining, and breathing increasing life into a character makes them somewhat a part of your own identity.
But the other reason focuses on the future, because once I'm done with the CBMS, I won't (indeed, I can't) stop writing. I will always possess the desire to create new worlds. Yet that raises the question, "What will those worlds look like?"
Thought you'd never ask! I have a number of ideas for future writing projects banging around in my head, but here are the top four:
(1) Historical fiction set in World War I: I love the Great War, as it is known in Europe. While WW2 inflicted more lasting physical damage and shifted the political chess board of Europe significantly for the next half-century, the Great War made a more lasting worldview impact on the populace of the entire planet. It brought a halt to the school of progressivism (at least to the idea that thought it really had a grip on what human nature was) and introduced the cold reality that humanity is brutal and capable of much evil. The lack of geopolitical trust has run in the veins of the world ever since. The texture of that world draws me to one day write a novel set in that time, with recapturing and redemption at the heart of the story. In fact, I've already begun research on it!
(2) Revisionist sports history: I've always admired Harry Turtledove for his novels of alternate history (e.g., Hitler's War exploring what would have happened if Chamberlain stood up to the Fuhrer). The more I thought about it, I began postulating "What if you could do this in the sports world?"...I've being thinking about the "what ifs" of sports, particularly the 1981 major league baseball players strike. The work rupture forced league executives to declare that the division leaders in the first half of the season in each league would play the second-half division leaders. The winner of each series would play the others for the league championship, and those teams would move on to the World Series. Intriguingly, the National League East winners were the Philadelphia Phillies (first half) and Montreal Expos (second half) and the West matched the Los Angeles Dodgers (first half) vs. the Houston Astros (second half). In truth, though, if you combine the records of both halves of the year, the best overall records belonged to the St. Louis Cardinals (East) and the Cincinnati Reds (West)! In fact, the Reds had the best overall record in baseball, but neither they nor the Cards made the playoffs. What if the league execs decided against this double-division format? Who would end up in the Series? That would be an interesting exploration!
(3) Speaking of sports, it's clear that college football has become a big time multi-million dollar business. Is there anyplace where the purity of decent, sportsmanlike competition still reigns? Look no further than the New England Small College Athletic Conference, an alliance of smaller schools in the shadow of Ivy League-land. In the NESCAC, the athletic programs are strictly overseen, student-athletes are part of the ordinary tapestry of academic and social life of each campus, and athletics is part of the overall academic mission (that is, books over ball). I have thought it would be great to take September through November off one year, go to New England, and travel to the campuses of Amherst, Bates, Bowdoin, Colby, Hamilton, Middlebury, Trinity, Tufts, Wesleyan, and Williams; to attend practices, meet with student-athletes--particularly football players--and coaches; to immerse myself in the spirit of smaller town Yankee life; and to tell the story of an eight-game season in which the purity of the sport trumps any win-at-all-costs desire. Yeah, with my schedule, it's a pipe dream, but I can hope, can't I?
(4) Finally, I have given thought to staying in the mystery genre while de-emphasizing the murder aspect. The British school of the cozy mystery has always held a certain appeal, and my latest favorite author in this tribe is James Runcie (son of the former Archbishop of Canterbury) and his volumes of The Grantchester Mysteries. I'll be doing a review of his latest effort, Sydney Chambers and the Problem of Evil, but for now suffice it to say Runcie has inspired me to try my hand at the novellas-within-a-volume approach, where a book contains loosely connected short stories. Runcie's clerical gumshoe, Sydney Chambers, is able to go where the police cannot, and so I've thought one could do the same with a prep school chaplain if the ingredients were stirred together in the right proportion. There are possibilities here...
At any rate, those ideas are well down the road of coming to fruition. But it's nice to know the creative waterfall is not running dry.