Will iconic images recorded in the grooves of an ancient vase unite the Holy Land or rip it further apart?

THE VASE

A novel by Mark M. DeRobertis

Muhsin Muhabi is a Palestinian potter, descended from a long line of potters. His business is run from the same shop owned by his ancestors since the day his forebears moved to Nazareth. The region's conflict saw the death of his oldest son, and rogue terrorists are in the process of recruiting his youngest in their plot to assassinate the Pope and Israeli prime minister.

Professor Hiram Weiss is an art historian at Nazareth’s Bethel University. He is also a Shin Bet operative on special assignment. With the help of fellow agent, Captain Benny Mathias, he plans to destroy the gang responsible for the death of his wife and only child. He puts a bomb in the ancient vase he takes on loan from Muhsin’s Pottery Shop.

Mary Levin, the charming assistant to the director of Shin Bet, has lost a husband and most of her extended family to recurring wars and never-ending terrorism. She dedicates her life to the preservation of Israel, but to whom will she dedicate her heart - the brilliant professor from Bethel University - or the gallant captain who now leads Kidon?

Harvey Holmes, the Sherlock of Haunted Houses, is a Hollywood TV host whose reality show just flopped. When a Lebanese restaurant owner requests his ghost-hunting services, he believes the opportunity will resurrect his career. All he has to do is exorcise the ghosts that are haunting the restaurant. It happens to be located right across the street from Muhsin’s Pottery Shop.



Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Progress, part 4

In LA right now, and my kids are playing with their cousins, quite loudly. Didn't keep me from writing another 5,000 words last night and today. Over 25,000 words now. Just finished Chapter 8, and on page 92.

I can't believe Trent had sex with that girl. (She drugged him after a brutal fight in the "Death House," but hey...)

The next three days we'll be in Disneyland and I doubt I'll have time to write during that stretch, but maybe.

Hope everyone else is having a great time.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Progress, Part 3

Over 20,000 words. Trent is up against the Killers Guild. I know it sounds like a redone TV show. I remember the League of Assassins in the Wild, Wild West. But I figure for a man known as the Killer of Killers, there's just gotta be some kind of organization like that somewhere along the line. And since I'm not sure if I'll write another sequel past this one, I better get them in there now. That's why I call it Killer Eyes. A beautiful Chinese woman is the head of the guild, and she's got the hots for Trent.

BTW, I have my second song on reincarnation up on the lyrics website. Hope you like it. I'll be on vacation starting tomorrow. Taking the family to Disneyland. Be back after the 4th of July. I might use my son's laptop while we're there. I plan on continuing my WIP, but maybe I'll blog. But if I don't, that's why.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Progress on Killer Eyes, part 2

On Chapter Six, and near 16,000 words. Of course it's a first draft. I remember my first draft of Killer of Killers surpassed 100,000 words, but after multiple passes of revisions, it ended up at 89,000. So you never know how much stays and how much goes until you get past the major revisions stage.

Right now, Trent is back in Japan, revisiting the Tokyo Dojo. His Japanese sweetheart has been kidnapped along with her grandfather, Trent's mentor, and he is there seeking clues. But while he's there, we see flashbacks of his past experiences. He did spend 20 years of his life there, after all and so reflections of those times are inevitable as he goes back for the first time.

I love sequels. So much of Trent's background is revealed. It's a great time to learn more about your MC. Even stuff you (the author/creator) didn't know. Like I didn't know that when he reached the Judan level of black belt, the other Judans put him through..."The Ordeal"...I din't even know what that was at first. But now I do.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Something Different

Put a link to one of my songs today. Actually, it's not the music, it's just the lyrics I wrote years ago to a song called Soul of Liberty. (I wrote the music too, but I still need to get it recorded by a band with modern technology. Right now it's still on cassette. Yeah, I'm from the old days.)

Anyone out there believe in reincarnation? How about the afterlife? Ever give a thought to what comes next? I don't get into religion...I just write about the what ifs and sometimes I write about logical (to me) explanations to all of the spiritual stuff.

I wrote an entire album of songs (ten) that tell a story of reincarnation. It's something I find intriguing. Don't know if I believe it necessarily, but these songs do explore it. I figure to post another song every day or so, until all ten of them are linked.

You know...just for something different.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

So Who's All That?

Sometimes I believe that writing is the best thing in the world. I've read so many great essays, articles, novels, short stories that truly impressed. And guess what. They aren't even published. They aren't even agented.

As I've said before, I have also read stuff that made me shake my head at how lousy it was. And yeah...it's agented...and published. Yeah, I don't want to beat a dead horse, but this is an issue. Hey, I don't know how to solve it. I wish I did. I believe a lot of it is timing...AKA pure luck. If it's something that an agent or an editor is looking for at the moment it crosses his/her desk, then that writer is in luck.

Of course, if the writing is not good, then that's that. Or is it?

I remember reading an agent's blog about a year ago, and she posted some paragraph from somewhere, and she was just gushing about how great the writing was. I read it. There was a good first sentence, to be fair...but I swear to goodness, the balance of the paragraph was just not good writing. Period. This agent said that she wished she could represent the person who wrote that paragraph, but unfortunately for her, he was already agented. OK. Good for him. I mean it. Good for him...I hope he gets published, and if he is already published...well, good for him.

But I am dead serious. I just didn't see what this lady was raving about. It was, to me anyway, nothing near as good as a lot of stuff I read on the blogs from writers still looking for representation. Someone even commented, (not me) on that particular blog post that he didn't think that it was good writing at all. He pointed out the flaws, and I found myself agreeing with everything he said. I felt like putting up a comment of my own in support of his comment, but I refrained. He already said it. The point was made.

So there you go. Right back to the subjective thing. But if you don't think it's true, you'd better think again....it's also about timing, and just plain luck.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Keep it Interesting

I talked about outlines yesterday, and I am glad I am following one for Killer Eyes, but as I write, I find myself bringing in so much more than what is on that outline.

For instance, my MC, Trent Smith, was trained in Japan by a man I revealed in my first book, Killer of Killers, to be a World War II veteran. Yes, he is very old now, pushing ninety, but still healthy and active, and although his appearances in KOK were in flashbacks, he has an active part in Killer Eyes.

What I didn't know until just now, however, was that he was at Nanking those many years ago. Yes, a Chinese Kung Fu expert, a woman, and one of the antagonists in Killer Eyes, (actually it is she from whom the title is derived,) has just infiltrated the Tokyo Dojo and attacked him, revealing, in her dialogue, that he was there, at Nanking, and she is not happy about it.

And all this time, I thought Shoji was a real nice guy with a sterling past. Goes to show what even an author may not know about his own characters until the sequel is written. Hoo boy.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Progress on Killer Eyes

On chapter four, page 33, and near 9,000 words. Man, I tell you, once you are inspired, let it flow. I figure to write 25 pages a week, and that means by the end of the summer vacation, I should have the first draft completed. That's how I did it with my first two books, Killer of Killers and The Vase.

Then I used the next nine months to revise each one. However, KOK took me, really, another year to revise, because, as I explained in an earlier post, it was my first novel.

But now, my third novel is going so well I doubt the revising effort will be as intense as either of the first two. I have a nifty ending already in mind. Not like for the first Killer book. I wrote that one without even knowing what was going to happen. It all fell into place as I wrote it, though...almost as if the story wrote itself. But I have read blogs where authors claim to outline their entire book before they write it, and then there are some who claim they don't.

Well, for KOK, I didn't outline, and it really turned out great. At least that's what everyone said who read it. Including literary agents, one of whom signed me to a contract. Fingers crossed. Hope she can sell it.

Then, for The Vase, I outlined it. I had a great idea, and went about writing the first draft following the outline pretty closely. It seemed a lot different knowing the events before I got to them.

Both ways are good, but I would recommend outlining. It's like reading a map that has a distinct route that you are following. Otherwise, with no outline, it's like you get in your car and you start driving without even knowing where the heck you're going. With KOK, I ended up in a good place, but man, I wouldn't suggest it. You might get lucky once or twice even, but don't push your luck. That's my advice, anyway.

Of course, even with an outline, during the course of writing the novel, you get new ideas, and the story can twist and change. That happened to a degree with The Vase, and it will probably happen with Killer Eyes. But that's why you write the book, no? It could always take an unexpected turn, and there you are...with an even greater story than you figured. That's why writing novels is such a great thing to do. Man, I,m having the time of my life. But that's what I thought when I wrote music, and when I did my art.

It's what I thought when I had kids, too. Yeah, I had a happy Father's Day. I love my two sons so much. I am one lucky dad.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Killer Eyes

This is the working title for the sequel to Killer of Killers. I'm still in the beginning stages right now. I think I'm only on page 15. That's a little over 3,000 words or so. It will be weird if I finish it before the first book is published. If that happens, then you can bet there won't be a part 3. My MC, Trent Smith, is back to making Justice a reality in America. Of course, there are people out to stop him. Elements of the first book drive this one home. Back to work.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

It's all Subjective

One thing of which I have to keep reminding myself is the subjective nature of this writing business. It is really a tough factor. I have read many excerpts of many authors, and I am amazed at how they are still unpublished, and even unagented.

Likewise, I have read (and with every benefit of the doubt) excerpts that strike me as average writing, or just plain bad, only to learn that the author is agented, and the writing is actually published.

What can be more subjective? Music certainly is. How many times do we hear how so and so hates this music or that music, even music you love? I would say music and writing are two of the most subjective things out there.

Of course, there must be exceptions. Who hates the Beatles? Anyone out there hate the Beatles? I grew up thinking they were great when I was in elementary school. But then my taste veered to the likes of Paul Revere and the Raiders, as they became my favorite band when I was in Junior High. Then in high school, I found myself attracted to the harder sounds of bands like Led Zeppelin, Montrose, and Deep Purple.

But the epiphany for me was the first time I heard Black Sabbath. I was still in high school, and a friend put on a tape that played the song, "Sweet Leaf." I was blown away immediately with those awesome heavy guitar sounds. The next song, "After Forever," blew me away even more. I asked, "Who are these guys?" I had never heard anything like that before. It was the dawn of heavy metal and Black Sabbath was leading the way. They became my favorite band at that very moment.

And to my question, my friend replied, "Oh, these guys are Black Sabbath, and I don't even like them. In fact, I can't stand them."

To my dismay, I found that everyone in my high school hated them. The local radio stations hated them, too. Here in the San Jose/San Francisco area, Black Sabbath NEVER received any airtime. It's why I had never heard their music.

I was in a rock band, myself, at this time. Our lead guitarist had an older sister who was a DJ for the rock radio station, KOME. I asked her why they didn't play any Black Sabbath. She answered, as I said, that they all hated them. It seemed that the new heavy metal sound that was invented by Black Sabbath's guitarist, Tony Iommi, was so new, so different, so unorthodox, that it was just hated by the mainstream music crowd. Thank God the executives at Warner Records had the vision and the guts to recognize a great new sound. Black Sabbath was truly ahead of their time.

Because today, it's heavy metal music that is the mainstream of rock. After Black Sabbath, bands like Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, and Metallica took up the torch and carried on with the sound. Into the 90s and the 2000s, Godsmack, Static X, Soul Fly, and others have joined Black Sabbath as my favorites. Kids who haven't fallen in with RAP appreciate the greatness of Heavy Metal and the many sub genres of the Metal sound...Death Metal, Black Metal, etc. but to me it's all about the sound. I love it.

Yet there are still those who hate it. Just as I hate RAP or Hip Hop. Can't stand it. Don't even consider it music. But hey...it's all subjective, right?

Which brings us back to writing. I swear, I have read some really bad stuff. Where? In actual published books, that's where. What the heck. I am really astonished at the vulgarity sometimes, where the author, and I guess the publisher, too, must think how clever it is to use "fuck" in the prose, where, to me it wasn't necessary. Look, I'm no prude, not even close, but what are they trying to do, mimic The Catcher in the Rye? It's not necessary. In dialogue, of course you use it, (I have) if a character talks like that, but in narration? IMO...it just sounds vulgar.

I suppose, like for music, there's enough people out there to like whatever it is that's out there. What's good to you won't be good to others. What's good to others, may not be good to you. It's the way the world works. And it's the way publishing works.

So good luck to all of you writers out there. May you find the right agents, editors, and publishers who have the opinion that your work is what they like. Whatever words you use...even if it's "fuck."

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Added to Website

Worked on my website today. Got some more of my artwork on there. I figure if my main job is being an artist and art teacher, might as well focus on that. Got paintings, drawings, and sculptures on there now. Even a self-portrait. Now before you start thinking anything, I just want you to know it was required in Mr. Stewart's class. Every "Final Exam" in his class was a self portrait. So that's me way back when.

Did one of my wife, too, later, but it got knocked over during a party, and it wasn't covered in glass yet because I had just finished it. The chalk smudged all over. Felt real bad. If you're an artist, you know what I mean. For those of you who are writers, think of it this way: You just finished, say, a short story, but then your computer crashed and you didn't back it up. No, that's not really a good analogy. But it's close. It's not like you lost a whole novel. Now that would be a disaster. Hope that never happened to anyone.

The statues were fun. I was supposed to sell them to Paramount, but after they approved the quality, it turned out they already sold the copyright. Maybe I can sell them to whoever owns the copyright.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

My Website

Put a link to my website yesterday. If you ever wondered who I really am, this is where you find out. Still putting up my artwork though. Only got a few on there now. But the link to it features a portrait I drew of my favorite rock band, Black Sabbath. Drew it years ago, when I was in high school. It's weird, really. I drew that picture before I learned how to draw. I posted about my college experience already.

Got a lot more of my students' work in there. They're only Sixth Graders. My Eighth Graders are in my sculpture class. Don't have any photos of those yet. Hope to soon.

Monday, June 14, 2010

THE VASE - DONE!!

I am thrilled right now, because I just finished my second novel, THE VASE. I fine-toothed it over the weekend, and I just feel that it is done. I emailed my agent telling her this, but I only attached a synopsis. I told her to let me know when she has time to read the full and I'll send it right away.

You know...I'm always afraid that I will make changes after I send it, even though I think it's done. That's what always happens, so I want to wait until the last possible second to send it. In the meantime, I will keep poring over it.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Fine Tooth Comb on The Vase

Well, just finished my final read through on The Vase last night, and I was going to send it to my agent, but I didn't do it. I remembered my own advice from just yesterday morning. That a novel is never done...that whenever I read through one of my manuscripts, I always find a way to make it better.

So...I will read through it one more time this weekend. As I said yesterday, every time I read through my MS of Killer of Killers, I continuously improved it. But that was my first novel. I made a lot of first time writing a novel mistakes. And it took me a long time to correct them. The Vase, being my second novel, didn't have those mistakes, so I don't need as many read throughs as Killer of Killers needed, but regardless, I know that every time I sent in KOK to my agent, I always wished I had waited just a little bit longer, because there I was making more changes, and having to send another copy.

One more pass through The Vase. Then I send it to Ange on Monday.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Finding an Agent, part 2

I was browsing through the blogs of random bloggers as I often do, and read about many frustrated writers and their efforts to find an agent. It reminded me of my search that I found frustrating to a point, so I thought I might talk about that today.

The first thing I want to stress is this: Don't count on writing being your main income. Get a job people. Better still, get an education, and then get a job. If you choose writing as your career, don't expect to be a successful novelist right off the bat. Start out as a writer for a newspaper or something like that. Write, write, and write. It was the same thing when I studied art. Didn't matter who you drew or painted for....just keep doing it. The old adage is true...the more you do something, the better you get at it. It is most definitely true for art...and most definitely true for writing.

But once you do have your first manuscript completed, don't just think it is completed. Keep revising it. Even while you are submitting to agents. When I finished KOK, I thought, wow, what a great story I just wrote, and after spending some time in the blogoshere to learn how the query process worked, I started querying. I got some nibbles right away. In my first round of querying agents I got three requests for partials and two requests for a full. I was thrilled. I had read, even back then, (about a year and a half ago,) that the process to find an agent was near impossible, and here I am, right out of the gate, and getting these responses. Most gave me the usual, "not for me" response, but of the two who asked for a full, one offered representation. Before signing I researched the agency and found that Absolute Write/Writer Beware did not recommend signing with them. I won't get into the reasons, but I figured to wait and see what might happen with my other submissions. The other agent who read the full said that the storyline was terrific, but the writing needed to be strengthened, and I knew he was right.

So I went over the MS and over it. I focused on strengthening the writing...I polished the prose, as they say...over and over and over again. All the while I kept submitting. My second round of queries also resulted in requests for partials, and one request for a full. I got some polite constructive criticism, but no takers yet, although the agent who requested the full hadn't responded. I didn't sit still. I pored over that MS, I rededicated myself to improving the writing. I spent every spare minute on my keyboard, now not only improving the writing, but finding ways to improve the story, too.

My third round of queries didn't even get any nibbles. I started to get depressed. This is what I saw in my browsing yesterday. Some of the writers expressed their feeling of not being recognized as the great writers they felt they were. To them, what I have to say is this: You may be a great writer. But never forget that it is a subjective thing. What you consider great might not be great to someone else. I am never going to forget that, because I realized that no matter how good I thought my writing was, whenever I reread it, I always, and I mean always found ways to make it better. And I kept on.

Then one day, when I was teaching my art class, the phone in my classroom rang. I answered it. The lady said, "This is Anita Kushen, and I'm calling about Killer of Killers. I loved it."

I was astounded. I had to get my classroom full of sixth graders to quiet down so I could hear her. She said to make one more pass through it and send it to her. I did, and I also researched her. Absolute Write/Writer Beware said that this agency was relatively new, but there was no reason not to sign. They had a record of success. She offered representation. I signed the contract and am now represented by her agency. Anita retired a few months later, but I still have a great agent in Ange Tysdal. She is tireless in her efforts to get my novel published.

So, don't give up. Keep writing, and keep revising that MS. No matter how good you think it is, it can always get better. Keep querying and take advice to heart. Like they said in Galaxy Quest: "Never give up...Never surrender!"

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Still Revising The Vase

Found a couple snags last night during what I thought would be a final pass through The Vase. The first was another paragraph that needed a facelift. Even more than the one I wrote about yesterday. The second was a spot of dialogue inserted to make the feelings of my mc more clear. Before I left it to the reader to understand the sentiments of the mc, but I thought it might be too much of a stretch. So without overdoing it, just a few lines of dialogue between the mc and his wife, to make the situation more realisic. Who knows. When I reread it tonight, I might delete it. We'll see how it sounds after it sits for a day.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Almost Ready

So I figured I was finished with The Vase, and I wanted to send it to my agent. But just one more reread, I thought, before I did. So while doing so, I found a paragraph that either didn't need to be there, or needed some good revising to make it fit better. I ended up deleting about half of it, and revised the other half to make it relevant to the story as a whole and to the particular scene in which it was located.

Just goes to show, like I've written before, no matter what you think, a novel isn't finished until it is published. And then maybe not reallly.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Outline Done

Finished the outline for book three, and started right away. Right now, I've written over 2000 words, which takes it to about page eight or nine. My working title for the book is "Killer Eyes." It's a sequel to Killer of Killers, and Trent is up to his neck in trouble.

In the meantime, I am reading through The Vase one more time before I send it to my agent. Can't wait until she gets it into the submission stage. I think it will have a broader appeal than Killer of Killers, and therefore will place faster. We'll see.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Book Three

Can't help it. I know the people in the business will tell you to wait until your first novel is published before you write a sequel to it. Well, I took that advice when I was ready to write my second novel. I refrained from writing the sequel to Killer of Killers, and went in another direction. I had this idea for The Vase a long time ago, and so I thought, well, why not finally write that story. So I did.

Meanwhile, I landed an agent for Killer of Killers, and finished The Vase. But I have had the story for a sequel to KOK in my head ever since I finished the first one, so even though KOK is still in the submission stage, I have started to outline the second phase of Trent Smith's story. Once finished with the outline, I will not hesitate to begin the manuscript. Any author or any artist in general knows that when you have the inspiration to produce, you go for it. That's where I'm at. It's a story that needs to be told, and even I need to know how it ends.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Finding an Agent

Finding an agent is a tough task. Everyone knows about rejection and the difficult search for representation. But I found an agent for KOK. Her name is Anita Kushen, and after requesting the full ms. she called me directly, and told me that she loved it. She offered representation. That was a great moment. An author spends so much time on his book, puts so much of himself into that book, it is great to hear when someone else loves it, too. Especially if that someone is a literary agent. She was actually the second agent to offer representation and send a contract. I chose her based on the phone call and her better track record of sales.

But then she retired, and agent Ange Tysdal of Anita’s agency took over. She is a hard worker and a committed literary agent. I mentioned the other day how much I appreciate the work she put in on my behalf. I am lucky to have an agent. I know that.

Thanks again, Anita, Ange, and everyone at AKA.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Great Action Heroes

One of the reasons I wrote Killer of Killers is because I have always been a big fan of action heroes. In movies, the hero who comes to mind is James Bond. No one could have been a better fit to play Bond than Sean Connery. I don't mind Daniel Craig, but everyone in between fell short of the standard Connery set. Other movie heroes I appreciate include Jason Statham as Frank Martin in the Transporter movies, and Matt Damon as Bourne. These are guys who can kick ass, and the actors who play the roles actually look like they can kick ass.

TV had many great heroes, too, but my all time favorite would be the great Captain James T. Kirk from the original Star Trek series. Honorable mentions include Robert Conrad's James West from The Wild, Wild West, and Vic Morrow's Sergeant Saunders from Combat.

When it comes to books, there is one hero that stands above the others - even above Ian Fleming's James Bond. No one touches Conan, as created and written by Robert E. Howard. Please do not entertain images of Arnold in those two horrible Conan movies. Instead of furthering the Conan mythos, those movies all but destroyed it.

No. Conan, as written by Robert E. Howard, was the ultimate hero, and he takes the top spot of all time. Nevertheless, these were all great heroes whose stories will endure in their respective format.

I wanted to write a story about a hero who worked for no throne, for no government, and for no fleet. A man who worked for himself but toward a greater goal. And this is the difference that I have instilled in my story of Trent Smith. Conan was a mercenary who became a king in prehistory. Bond, as we all know, was a secret agent. Kirk, of course, was a starship captain.

Trent Smith is a martial arts champion, who went on to champion a cause for justice in a society that no longer cared about it. But as long as one man did, and to the point that Trent Smith did, one man can make a difference. In my debut novel, KILLER OF KILLERS, represented by Ange Tysdal of AKA Literary, LLC, Trent Smith is that man.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

More About The Vase

My second novel, The Vase, takes place in contemporary Israel. Nazareth, to be specific, and it revolves around a Palestinian potter. Throw in a Jewish Art Professor, an IDF captain, and several other characters, and you have a story you won't forget. I don't want to tell too much about it. The only other thing I'll say is there's a very special vase.

Book Two

Back to work on my second novel. It's called THE VASE. Rhymes with face. Don't really care for the pronunciation that rhymes with gauze or pause. But that's trivial. I'm kind of excited about this one. It's not a sequel to Killer of Killers, and even though KOK will always be my favorite novel, with my favorite character, Trent Smith, the Martial Arts Champ, The Vase is something special in its own way. Not because I wrote it. But because it has a universal message. OK, so a lot of books do. If I have time today, I will get back to tell you more about it. If I don't, then tomorrow. Or the next day.