Friday, February 13, 2015

Sorry, Grammarly, You Got It Wrong

I've been aware of a website called 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

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.

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Review Chase

It's generally accepted that reviews help sell books on Amazon. Since that's where I sell virtually all of my books, I'm constantly on the lookout for venues to get reviews. The best place I've found is BookBub. I've put several on the site as free books. They racked up 30,000 to more than 40,000 downloads. That brought a large number of reviews, though subsequent sales didn't bring in much more than the cost of the promotion.

My last book published, Overture to Disaster, final book in the Post Cold War Political Thriller Trilogy, available as an ebook on Amazon, has sold a modest number of copies but has no reviews.

I'm reluctant to go the free route anymore at BookBub, but the price for paid books is pretty steep. Promoting a mystery that costs $1.99, for example, means a fee of $930. They promote it to 930,000 subscribers, but to break even I'd have to sell about 668 books. I have difficulty imagining that. On the other hand, a thriller priced at $1.99 would cost $660 with the promotion going to 820,000 subscribers.That would require 475 sales to break even. It might be worth a try.

Meanwhile, I'm trying something new to get multiple reviews. There's a site called Story Cartel where you pay a small fee and they put up a page for your book. Readers can click on a link and get a free copy in exchange for writing an honest review. It stays up for three weeks, during which Story Cartel promotes it, and the writer is urged to do the same. They say you can expect as many as 100 reviews from the promotion.

I put up Overture to Disaster a few days ago and am working to promote it in such places as Twitter, Facebook, and various listserves. If you'd like to try it free in exchange for an honest review, just click on this link.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Winter, Too, Must Pass

One form of writing I haven't discussed here before is poetry. That's mainly because it's something I haven't indulged in for many years. I wrote a bit of poetry in my younger days and published one or two when I was running Nashville Magazine back in the sixties.

This was our second issue, dated February/March 1963. The cover is described this way on the Contents Page:

"After the pure havoc created by the weather in Nashville during January, we chose the serenity of a rural view for this month's cover. Called 'Valley in Winter,' the Edward W. Redfield painting hangs in the Main Gallery of the Parthenon in Centennial Park. It is part of the James M. Cowan Collection, donated in 1927, which has been called one of the finest small collections of art in America."

The magazine's graphic logo at the top, created by Art Director Hermann Zimmermann, is a representation of the front of the Parthenon. An exact replica of the Athenian temple, it was built originally for the Tennessee Centennial Exposition in 1897.

The Redfield painting is wider than shown on the cover. It's full width is shown on a two-page spread inside, followed by smaller winter photos and my poem:


The sky glistens in the winter night
like frost crystals
reflecting from a darkened pane...cedar smoke, sweetly piquant,
spices the heavy cold, conjuring up wistful scenes
before an open fire...but every silent breath
hangs in the air like a frozen sigh.

The night wind brushes icy fingers
across a reddened cheek...gaunt, bare arms
of once-stalwart oaks shudder in the maddening chill,
and warmth seems all but lost save in the memory
of a summer past.

Can life, once so vibrant, so compelling,
so filled with quenchless thirst be forever
locked within this bleak and frigid vale?

No: winter, too, must pass...dreams frozen in their prime
by the icy grip of fate
shall be revived as the sap of life
flows once more—
even through the bitterest night
the spark still glows,
for in the unfailing promise of spring
dwells winter's lingering hope.

The poem was not signed. This is the first time in fifty-one years that I have acknowledged authorship. I might look around and see if I can find some more.

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Other Stuff to Write

Today's guest post is by Nikolas Baron, who says he has the pleasure of being tasked with talking to writers, bloggers, teachers, and others about how they use Grammarly’s online proofreading application to improve their writing. Nikolas discovered his love for the written word in Elementary School, where he started spending his afternoons sprawled across the living room floor devouring one Marc Brown childrens’ novel after the other and writing short stories about daring pirate adventures. After acquiring some experience in various marketing, business development, and hiring roles at internet startups in a few different countries, he decided to re-unite his professional life with his childhood passions by joining Grammarly’s marketing team in San Francisco. His free time is spent biking, travelling, and reading. Here's Nick:

You need to be honest.  Years have passed; the novel has not materialized. You have not written it.  The little that you have written is sitting in a file “in the cloud” taking up a pitiably small portion of its virtually unlimited storage.  You are not going to write that novel, are you?  Well, if not, do not just sit around gathering dust.  Write something else.  Use that A+ that you received in English Literature.  What can you write other than that thing that you obviously are not going to write?  Here are some ideas that will put your atrophying creative voice to work.

  • Short Stories
            If you already had an idea in mind for a novel, you have a great start for a short story.  Consider a short story as a brief episode in one of your character’s lives.  Are you familiar with Winesburg, Ohio written by Sherwood Anderson?  This collection of short stories focuses on the inhabitants of a small town; I will let you guess where.  The characters interact with each other, so the stories overlap.  Sherwood Anderson compiled the stories into one book.  I am not a huge fan of short stories, but I loved this book because of how the stories relate to one another.  Take one of your characters and develop a story around a major theme in his life.  Before you know it, you may have populated a small Midwestern village with characters as interesting as those in Winesburg!

  • Blogs
            Blogs kill two birds with one stone.  On one hand, you are exercising your writing muscles.  You can write about your life, travels, and interests.  Blogs are a vehicle for sharing writing tips with others.  As followers give feedback, you discover what your readers really want to read.  When you are ready to tackle “the Great American novel,”  you have built a fanbase eager to hear your story.

  • Poems
            Those who write stories are not necessarily talented at writing poems.  Poems require a different set of skills.  Trying your hand at this art form will bring a refreshing change to your routine.  As an added bonus, magazines often accept submissions of a single poem.  

  • Product descriptions
            Would you like some extra cash?  Companies pay freelance writers to describe their minventory.  Companies rely on product descriptions to inform the public of product features and to entice them to buy.  Often, you will need to learn how to use SEO, or search engine optimization.  Take a class in this skill online.  

  • Reviews
            A lot of online articles about writing encourage new writers to read many different types of novels.   While reading, why not write a review?  Your analyses will teach you what makes a novel fail.  When you write, you will know what to avoid.  Furthermore, reviews are also great content for blogs.

  • Grants/Proposals
            If you want to support a non-profit organization, donate your writing talent to help them to gain funding for special projects.  Otherwise, grant writing is another way to generate income from your writing skills.  You will need special training because grant writing requirements are very specific.  

  • Query Letters
            Do you work best under pressure?  If a publisher accepts your proposal, it will obligate you to start writing.  Use the loads of templates available to give you ideas.  Do not copy them, not even brief phrases.  Many publishers use plagiarism checkers to ensure that content is original.  Any suspicion that it is not equals an automatic rejection.  Besides, if you cannot write a simple letter, you have no business proposing to write a novel.

In addition to what I have already mentioned, there are tutorials, screenplays, and dozens of other writing options to explore.  A masterpiece of a novel could be a part of your future, but you still need to be busy now.  Experiment with other writing styles and genres.  What a great way to get your mind moving again!