Thursday, July 30, 2015

It's Great When Readers 'Get It'

It's always a pleasure when readers "get it," that is, when they totally understand what the author is trying to say in a story. That doesn't always happen. In the case of Hellbound, my latest crime novel and first standalone, the reviews on Amazon indicate that it happened this time. There aren't many, only seven, three 5-star reviews and four with four stars. Most of the reviewers are identified as VINE VOICE, which indicates they are among Amazon's most experienced reviewers.


One of them, Susannah St Clair, top Amazon reviewer, captured the essence of Hellbound in the following three paragraphs:


Who would have thought a trip with a bunch of oldies (us folk who want to hear all that 50’s music) on a big Greyhound bus would be entertaining? I certainly wasn’t too sure about it but I am glad I took the time to read Mr. C.D. Campbell’s “Hellbound”. Entertaining it is with a nice bit of humor and a touch of romance thrown in. Mr. Campbell definitely knows his way around the English language and writes a very good narrative along the way. His characters are nicely drawn and fun to “meet”.

Pulling a hurricane into the story along with the Mafia chasing their unknown quarry through New Orleans was a nice touch making things more scary to all aboard the bus and you the reader. Mr. Campbell has written several other books and it shows in the crafting of this one. Only saw one editing mistake, at least that I noticed. (But then I am a senior too..;<) )

If you're looking for a cute,  fast read, then this book is for you. Even more so if you're over 60. You may see yourself in one of these well etched characters!


My thanks to Ms. St. Clair for her comments. Those who have read my PI series know I attempt to portray older people in a favorable manner. As one who has been in those ranks for many years now, I know most "senior citizens" are just normal people who have passed the age of retirement. Many of them haven't retired but continue to perform valuable service to their communities.

Hellbound was a fun book to write because most of the colorful details of the scenes came from an identical bus trip my wife and I made with our church group back in the late nineties. Fortunately, we were not hounded by a gang of thugs as were the characters in the story, but the places they visit are as we saw them. Right up to the hurricane, that is. The trip we took went from New Orleans to Bellingrath Gardens near Mobile, then up I-65 home to Madison (Nashville).

You can read more about Hellbound on it's Amazon page or my website.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Digging into the Past

There's no telling what you'll turn up if you go shuffling through files you haven't delved into in years. I discovered the  results the other day while cleaning out a filing cabinet. What I came across was a sheet of background information on my first two published novels. I had forgotten about compiling the data.

The first interesting fact I came across was when I started working on Secret of the Scroll and when the book finally made it into print. I began the writing process in January of 1999. The end came three years and nine months later when I received my first copies—October 2002. I typically do a dab of research before starting to write but complete the bulk of it along the way.

Checking my notes, I read numerous books on biblical archaeology, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the Bible Codes. My interviews included one with a professor at Emory University, the Special Agent in Charge of the OSI detachment at Arnold Air Force Base, Tullahoma, Tennessee, and a United Methodist preacher I had known from my church in Madison. I dug through lots of internet articles on such subjects as the Bible Codes and Shin Bet, the Israeli Secret Service. I  consulted Israeli tour books and the Royal Jordanian Airlines inflight magazine from which I gleaned the idea for the book.

With all the research along the way, I finished the writing part in eighteen months. Then I sent out query letters to thirty agents. I got one request to see the manuscript and mailed it to the agent in  December 2000. On her advice I sent Secret of the Scroll to a professional editor, received some valuable feedback, revised the manuscript, getting the final edit in June 2001. I sent it back to the agent and heard nothing until December when I received a call from her husband, who headed a small press. He offered me a three-book contract.

I started book two in  the Greg McKenzie Mystery series, Designed to Kill, in October 2000 after completion of the first book. Most of the research and part of the writing took place while my wife and I stayed at my brother's condo at Perdido Key, Florida, site of most of the action. I didn't have anything published at the time, but I didn't hesitate to interview people like a law enforcement ranger at the Gulf Islands National Seashore, a sergeant and an investigator with the Escambia County Sheriff's office, an official in the Building Inspections Department, and a forensic investigator and an Associate Medical Examiner with Florida's First District.

I did research at the Pensacola Historical Society archives, a Biloxi, Mississippi casino (that's fun research), and with several engineering friends. The book was released in March 2004.

I've had eight more novels published since then, and there are many more stories connected to them. I don't know what else I might find in the files, but I'll glean a few more thoughts to use in future blogs. Stay tuned.

Incidentally, I've just redone my website. Take a look at chesterdcampbell.com.

Friday, March 27, 2015

What's Behind Mystery Writer Chester Campbell

I often hear that readers like to know personal stuff about authors, so I thought I would put together a few significant background bits about myself. The things we write about, the ideas we share, the events we describe come out of the knowledge and experiences we have gained over the years. For me, that adds up to 89-plus. Rather than use the old I pronoun, which would make it sound too self-centered, we'll switch to third person, the POV used in six of my novels—all but the Greg McKenzie Mysteries.

● Campbell graduated from East Nashville High School in 1943. He received the Overall Medal
as the city's outstanding ROTC cadet in his junior year.

● After enlisting in the Army Air Forces Reserve just out of high school, Campbell was called to active duty in January 1944 and served a year and ten months in the Eastern Flying Training Command during World War II.

● As a member of the class of 1949, Campbell was among the first to complete the new journalism curriculum at the University of Tennessee.
 
● Campbell began his writing career as a reporter for The Knoxville Journal while in his junior year at UT.

● Campbell received the Bronze Star Medal in the Korean War as a captain at Fifth Air Force Headquarters in Seoul. The citation said he "performed exceptionally meritorious service in support of operations in Korea as an Intelligence Officer in the Estimates Division, Directorate of Intelligence."

● During a brief stint as a freelance magazine writer, Campbell had articles published in such national publications as Coronet and The American Legion Magazine.

● As a copywriter for a Nashville advertising agency, Campbell worked on ads for such accounts as Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pizza Hut. His crowning achievement was keeping a straight face while working on full page newspaper ads for a high-rise mausoleum.

● Campbell was founder and editor for six years of Nashville Magazine, the city's first slick paper consumer monthly.

● Campbell served eighteen years as executive vice president of the Tennessee Association of Life Underwriters, a 4,000-member trade association. He was recognized by the National Association of Life Underwriters (now the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors) in 1980 with the C. Carney Smith Award as outstanding association executive of the year.

● Campbell holds the coveted CAE (Certified Association Executive) designation conferred by the American Society of Association Executives.

● After service in the Tennessee Air National Guard following the Korean War, Campbell retired from the Air Force Reserve as a lieutenant colonel.

● Campbell's first published book was titled The Best Is Yet To Be, a history of the first 150 years of City Road Chapel United Methodist Church in Madison, Tennessee. He has had ll mystery, thriller, and suspense novels published since then.

● Campbell's first wife died in 1998 from complications of Parkinson's Disease. He and his current wife share six children, 11 grandchildren, and 10 1/2 great-grandchildren.



Friday, February 13, 2015

Sorry, Grammarly, You Got It Wrong

I've been aware of a website called grammarly.com but had never checked it out. When I did, I found it provides a platform for writers to vet their compositions for grammatical errors. It's a great resource for writers unsure of their knowledge of the rules of grammar. It advertises: "Instantly find and correct over 250 types of grammatical mistakes." My attention was drawn to the website after receiving an email from Grammarly's Nikolas Baron offering an article titled "Fifty Shades of Grammar (It's Not as Bad as You Think)." Here's the link.

According to the blog, the Grammarly team reviewed E. L. James' Fifty Shades of Grey "for spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors, and learned that — although there were some mistakes — the errors were in alignment with similar gaffes in celebrated romances." They detailed nine Fifty Shades' mistakes that were also found in several classic novels (or plays) by such authors as Hemingway, Shakespeare, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Boris Pasternak. I agreed with about a third of them, such as leaving out a comma in a compound sentence. But the rest I would term nitpicking.

While these may have been grammatically incorrect, strictly speaking, I saw them as stylistic or deliberately expressive use of language. One in particular that falls into this category was sentence fragments. I use them often for emphasis or to highlight a dramatic moment. I studied under a strict English teacher in high school and served some time as a copy editor during my newspaper days. I think I have a pretty good grounding in the rules of grammar, and when I have doubts, I check reliable sources such as Strunk and White.

But I do not believe fiction writing is a place to get overly concerned with the strict application of grammar rules. Regarding comma misuse, Grammarly said many writers forget to use a comma where one is necessary, or include a comma when it is not necessary. I sometimes use commas to show readers how I would like them to read a sentence. A comma means to pause your thought. I put in a comma to show where I want you to pause, even it's not technically required.

Another "mistake" cited was use of colloquialisms. "Although it is largely stylistic, the choice to use informal language -- including contractions -- can diminish the perception of your writing" was the comment. Their examples included changing "don't blush" to "do not blush" and using "it does not sound" instead of "doesn't sound."

My comment: Ridiculous!

Except for people who speak in strictly formal terms, everybody uses common contractions in conversation as well as in mental musings, otherwise known as introspection. Saying it might diminish the perception of your writing in a modern novel is hogwash. Maybe that term diminished your perception of my writing?

Another subject for Grammarly's ire is "Prepositions." They say prepositions help to show where (or when) one thing is in relation to another. Correctly using prepositions helps readers to better visualize what is happening in your writing. The "error" they cited was from Shakespeare's The Tempest. The Bard wrote: "We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep." To which Grammarly says delete "as" and insert "on which."

Change The Tempest to "We are such stuff on which dreams are made on?" I can see old Will stomp his foot and shout, "Out, damned spot!"

One last diatribe. (Sorry, Grammarly, that's a sentence fragment.) Mistake No. 7 is "Determiners," which is explained as words such as "a," "an," and "the" help writers to be specific about what they are talking about. This "mistake" was attributed to Pasternak in an example from Doctor Zhivago. Here's the quote:

"You and I, it's as though we've been taught to kiss in heaven and sent down to earth together, to see if we know what we were taught." Grammarly says Pasternak should have inserted "the" before "earth." How many earths do we have here? Would adding "the" make it any more specific? Why not add "the" before "heaven?" The sentence reads perfectly well and understandably specific just as Pasternak wrote it.

I have had a few people write reviews on Amazon and complain of the grammar in one of my books. Now I know who they are—disciples of Grammarly.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Ukraine Events Spotlight Overture to Disaster

My final book in the Post Cold War Political Thriller Trilogy, Overture to Disaster, highlights skullduggery in former republics of the old Soviet Union, not unlike what is taking place today in Ukraine. In fact, the book opens in an area of Ukraine where an army unit is training. Former KGB agents are involved, just as former KGB Agent Vladimir Putin is knee deep in the current debacle.

The book, only available as an ebook for the Kindle, will be free to download on Amazon through Monday, July 21. Just click on this link to get your free copy. It presently ranks #7 in free books on Amazon, #1 for Espionage Thrillers.

Previous blogs give more info on the book, and there's lots more on my website at www.chesterdcampbell.com.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Unscheduled Trip Down Memory Lane

We're painting the inside of our house. The biggest challenge is my office in the bonus room over the garage. It's packed with the clutter of 15 years of the writing life. The main problem is I've found it virtually impossible to throw anything away. You never know when it might come in handy, I've always contended. In the process, things kind of get piled up here and there (think everywhere).

But the painter must be able to get to the walls to paint them. So last week we started digging into the clutter. My wife would pick up something and say, "Can we throw this away?"

You can't go around willy-nilly throwing stuff away. It might be something of infinite value to posterity. Or at least something worth showing to a curious great-grandchild. To prevent such a tragedy, I would begin to read. I found it's like doing research for a book. When you get onto a fascinating subject, it's difficult to stop.

Taking some papers from Sarah, I found I was looking at notes I'd made from my trip to the Holy Land in 1998, the venture that led to my first published mystery, Secret of the Scroll. I took several hours of videos with the new camcorder I bought before leaving, and I looked through a partial script I wrote for an edited version I presented to my Sunday School class. Unfortunately, I loaned the tapes to someone who lost them.

It brought back memories of our tour starting in Jordan, where we visited Petra, the remarkable town carved out of reddish sandstone cliffs. Its best known site is the striking face of the Treasury, featured in the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. We walked through the narrow 250-foot high sandstone slot canyon called the Siq where Indiana burst into the open facing the vivid facade of the Treasury.

In Israel, we spent nearly two weeks taking in everything from the stark, windswept heights of Masada to the multitude of historic sites around Jerusalem, up through Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee, the Golan Heights and the port of Haifa, then back down the coast to Tel Aviv and the ancient port of Joppa. That's where Secret of the Scroll opens.

I decided to keep these few sheets of paper and followed my wife's urgings to move on. The next slowdown came at a pile of magazines with colorful covers. It was my complete collection of
Nashville Magazine issues over the nearly seven years I served as editor. I started the magazine in 1963 and struggled to keep it afloat all those years.

After putting down the few issues I thumbed through, I resumed the trip down memory lane. I sifted through a stack of newspaper clippings of reviews for my earlier books. This was back in the days when our local paper and those in smaller towns where I did signings printed such things. There were also posters from bookstores about my appearances, something I no longer do now that my sales are mostly online. Reluctantly, I decided the lot of them were of no value to anybody but me, and I no longer had room for them.

File 13.

A little later, I found another itinerary for a trip through Europe Sarah and I took shortly after we married in 1999. Starting in Amsterdam where we watched a flower auction, we made a stop at the Luxembourg American Cemetery where World War II soldiers including Gen. George S. Patton, Jr. were buried. Then we toured Paris―the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Louvre, Montmartre―and continued through Germany and Austria. We visited Vienna and such interesting sites as the Swarovski crystal headquarters.

Most of the tour was spent in Switzerland. We ranged across the country from Zurich to Geneva, plus soaring to the Alpine heights around 10,000 feet aboard a cable car where we looked across at of the magnificent Matterhorn peak. In the Montreux area along Lake Geneva, we toured Castle Chillon, location for Lord Byron's The Prisoner of Chillon Castle.


After all that reminiscing, I was forced to detour off Memory Lane and get back to the cleanup. But, alas, we're not finished yet.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Payoff to The Review Chase

In my last blog, I wrote about the chase after reviews, in particular one for my final post Cold War political thriller, Overture to Disaster. I talked about using Story Cartel to go after reviews. Well, it paid off. The first review, which just showed up on Amazon, is a doozy. It was written by Charles A. Ray and is quoted here in full:

Overture to Disaster by Chester D. Campbell is a post-Cold War political thriller that, in light of current events in Ukraine and other parts of the former Soviet Union, reads as if it could have been taken from the headlines or the lead story on CNN. I received a free copy for review, and found myself immersed in a story that rivals the best Tom Clancy novel.

This novel has everything – rogue former KGB agents who are determined to bring the U.S. to its knees through the use of stolen nerve gas with the help of the Peruvian terrorist group, Shining Path; senior U.S. officials who put profit and position before honor; and a few daring individuals, Russian and American, who are willing to put their lives on the lines to preserve peace and order.

Campbell’s knowledge of weaponry, tactics, and bureaucratic and political doings is first-rate, and he weaves it all together with characters that, while true to life, seem larger than life. The suspense is drum-tight, and the odds are astronomical, as a wrongly cashiered Air Force special operations pilot and a dedicated Russian criminal investigator race against time to prevent what could tip the world into a catastrophic confrontation with no winners.

Don’t even think about reading this book unless you have several hours to devote to it, because once you start reading, it’ll suck you into a world of betrayal and intrigue, and not let you go until the end.

I reserve five-star reviews for only the best of books, but if I could, I’d give Overture to Disaster six. Don’t let this one pass you by.

( End of Review)

An almost 6-star review. Can you top that? Check it out on Amazon HERE.