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.



Friday, July 30, 2010

Villains Better be Worth the Trouble

When it comes to bad guys, (or girls), I think there is a distinction between the bad guys who are just plain bad, and the bad guys who are bad for a good reason.

In Killer of Killers, the main plot follows the MC, Trent Smith, who goes up against two main "villains." Neither one of them start out bad. It's the turn of events that define their "badness." Sure there are some mad dogs in there, but their parts play out in subplots.

In Killer Eyes, Trent meets a new antagonist - Ming Sang, and she is something to behold. She's an expert in Martial Arts, like Trent, drop dead gorgeous, and the leader of the Killers Guild. But who are the Killers Guild? Do they kill for the heck of it? Are they just hired assassins? Were they always like that? Who formed them and why? The answers to these questions create a three dimensional antagonist.

The bottom line is that your antagonist(s) better be worth reading about. What makes them bad? Are they evil just for evil's sake? If so, that's kind of shallow, imo. Something should drive them to evil.

It's best to remember, that your hero is defined by his enemies. A weak enemy makes for a weak hero. It may not necessarily be true in real life, but in a book or story, it's almost always true.

But even in real life, the heroes we remember most went up against impossible odds. I can think of two off the top of my head.

King David and King Leonidas.

It would have been no big deal if David slew a guy the same size as himself.

And who would have cared if King Leonidas and his 300 Spartans went up against an army that also numbered 300?

The villain(s) better be impressive, or your story won't be.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Keep on Chuggin'

Whew! Got through the road block last night. It was a struggle for a while, but when you keep on chuggin' you finally get somewhere. The trick is not to spin your wheels. Every time you write, you just gotta make sure it adds to your story SOMEWHERE.

I found that if you get clogged at one point because for whatever reason you can't figure where to go from the point you left off, go to a point somewhere else and MAKE PROGRESS. Whether it is something that you can insert in a section you already wrote, or a place somewhere further on that you haven't reached yet, go ahead and write it if you know what's going to happen then or what should be included somewhere else.

Then when you work your way back to where you left off, you may have a better perspective of the overall plot to go ahead and proceed. I think I made it happen. So back to work and let's keep on chuggin'.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Bogged in the middle of WIP

On page 195 and at 55,000 words. Sounds good right? But it doesn't reveal what happened when I strayed from the outline. I talked about it before. Yeah, the solution is write, write, write, like I said then, but wait! Don't just write for writing's sake. I caught myself doing that twice and deleted it. You've got to write for the story's sake, and make sure it brings you to the climax you need to have in your story.

I mentioned in a prior post that veering from my outline caused me to hesitate. That was serious. It put a roadblock in the plot. So why did I do it? Well, at the time, I thought it would improve the story. I still think it does. I've added subplots, fleshed out the characters, and made the book more three dimensional. All of that is very important. You don't want just a flat plot, shallow characters, and a linear story line.

So in came the additions, and I am at the point where I have to do a lot of thinking. I mean thinking about how to make it all work towards a compelling climax and conclusion. I know what I want in the end. It's just getting there.

OK, back to work.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Adverbs, Passive Voice, and those darn similes!

An anonymous commenter made a great point yesterday on Nathan Bransford's blog. He or she ranted, if you will, about the way today's writers are so trained to avoid using adverbs and passive voice. The point was that sometimes adverbs and passive voice are the better way to write a sentence, particularly when the story is being told in a way that it is better to not use too many words or take too long to make the reader understand what's happening.

I agree with that commenter. Even Nathan admitted it was true. Instead of using so many more words to describe what someone is doing or how they're doing it, a simple adverb, ie: one word, will suffice in a much more efficient manner. I agree with that.

About the passive voice, I have found in my writing that the advice is sound. That is the advice to NOT use passive voice. In a rare circumstance, a passive voice can work, but I stress, rare. Whenever I reread my manuscripts and I find a passive sentence somehow got in there, I quickly change it to active, and the prose is improved for it, I must admit. In my two plus novels, I may have a couple passive sentences. That means no more than one per book. And the reason better be a good one. Otherwise I suggest that this advice be followed.

But the adverb thing? I would say hell yes, use adverbs, but, of course, don't overuse them, don't rely on them, and always check dictionary.com for a better verb, and if it works without an adverb, then go with it.

I routinely browse through random books whenever I find myself at a book stand or bookstore. I find adverbs all the time. I also find a lot of similes. The standing orders are to not use similes. I agree with that, although using one now and then is acceptable if it's not a familiar one and the sentence is improved for it. In my two books, I might have half a dozen. That means maybe three in each. Like everything else...don't overdo it.

Imagine my shock when I browsed through a random book and found SEVEN similes on the first page alone!! I didn't bother checking out page two. Sheesh, was that some bad writing. And it was published. Go figure.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Trent Smith, the Killer of Killers

He was the world’s greatest martial artist – a master of the world’s deadliest art. Once revered, he became feared, and for that he blamed his homeland. America was no longer the land of the free and the home of the brave. It had become the land of murder and the home of corruption. But for a man like Trent Smith – it was the perfect hunting ground.

That might be the jacket copy of my debut novel, Killer of Killers, repped by Ange Tysdal of AKA Literary. I haven't talked too much about it in this blog, as I have mostly discussed the sequel, Killer Eyes, which is my WIP.

Even though Trent Smith is an American, he lived and trained in Japan for over twenty years. During that time, American chemists invented a drug that would revolutionize the medical field. But the side effects were murder - literally, which led to repeated acquittals, and the aforementioned corruption. Trent runs into trouble in Japan, and he decides to take it out on the perceived source - walking killers.

Trent spent a decade as an undefeated martial arts champion, so he figures no one can match him in a head to head fight. With that in mind, he goes home and becomes a vigilante. Everything goes as he expected until he meets two special women. Ah, but love has got a lot to do with it. So does sex...and so do drugs.

Although Trent begins his path of Justice in a somewhat naive manner, he quickly learns the ropes on American streets. He changes by the end of the story, but in two ways he doesn't.

1-No one can match him in a fight
2-Justice remains his top priority

Here's hoping you can read about Trent Smith and his amazing journey that takes place across America and in Japan.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Female Villains??

I was just thinking about the heavies in stories. It seems that with all the stories out there, most villains have been male. The villains in both of my prior books were male. Sure, there's the fairy tale villains from Snow White, Hansel and Gretel and Cinderella who were female. But unless it's a wicked witch or evil stepmother, the villain is usually male.

In Killer Eyes, I make it clear from the start, the main antagonist is female. Chinese, too. Off hand, I can't think of any story where the main villain is a Chinese woman. But I haven't read every book or seen every movie, so I'm sure my story is not the first. But she is an impressive woman. Not only is she extremely beautiful, but she's very deadly, both in hand to hand combat, and with a bevy of special tricks, including fingernails, each dipped in a different kind of poison. So one scratch from one fingernail might not kill you, but in combination with scratches from other fingernails, her scratches can kill you, or render you unconscious, or paralyzed, or put you in a daze, or put you under her control.

So watch out for strange women. She has already taken advantage of Trent in this way. But now he knows what to watch out for. This book is a lot of fun. Yep, Trent Smith is my all time favorite character. Not just because he's the world's greatest martial artist and a master of the world's deadliest art, but because he is unrelenting in his pursuit of justice. And the road he takes to achieve it is filled with people like Ming Sang. You can't judge a book by its cover. Or can you? Maybe sometimes.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Kings Will Rise Up

The sixth of ten songs on Rockin' the Afterlife. Gettin' there.

As for Trent Smith...he's working out at Joe's Workhorse Gym right now, and just gave a free demonstration of his martial arts expertise at the expense of an overconfident braggart. Needless to say the braggart is no longer overconfident nor is he still a braggart. Joe's gym is in downtown Manhattan. (Originally it was in LA, but too much is coming down in the Big Apple, so Trent's got to stay put on the east coast.)

In my outline, I had him in California all this time, and I was at a crossroads to figure out why would he be zipping back and forth so many times in such a short span of time. My conclusion was to have him just be in New York and NOT be going back to California. But I had to rewrite all those LA scenes to take place in NY instead.

I also had to change an LA baseball team into a NY one. It makes more sense anyway, since the ballplayer on that team is supposed to be under the East Coast honcho's umbrella. That's why we got to be flexible. We're writers, after all. You understand. It's the greatest thing. We're literally world builders. We create characters...events...problems...solutions...we have all the power.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Revising

Man, I just put in three hours of revising what I had already written. Normally I wouldn't put such an effort in revisions so early, but when I redirected my plot at this point, I had to go back and make the build up to it fit. Otherwise it would have been how is all that happening in New York when Trent Smith was in Los Angeles? I had to go back and change three prior chapters to make it so that the events in the story didn't conflict. Very important. Without consistency and logic, you lose your readers. Don't want that to happen. It won't make editors happy, either.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Curve Ball

So I'm following this outline, which as I said earlier, was the process I used when I wrote THE VASE. It worked like a charm for THE VASE. Sure I added a few new elements and plot twists, but generally, the story stayed true to the outline.

But in KILLER EYES, which is at the midpoint of the story right now, I am finding that this story is taking me somewhere else. It's like I'm on a roller coaster, and the tracks are being laid only moments before the ride takes me there.

What I'm saying is that this outline is NOT what's happening now. The first half of this book was pretty true to the outline. But now the second half has veered from it, and I don't even know how I will get to the climax from where I'm at now. It's like the story is writing itself, which really doesn't surprise me. It's exactly what happened in KILLER OF KILLERS. I used no outline for that one. The story wrote itself. I love that story, but figured an outline was the safer route. I didn't want to tempt providence a second time. (Anyone recognize that line? The black fisherman from the movie Dr. No said that.)

Anyway, an outline got me halfway through, but I'm not going to be rigid. So much more is going on in the story now than what is in that outline. My advice to anyone listening, (or reading) is to let your own instincts prevail. Be flexible. I think the story that's happening now is a hundred times better than the one I had in the outline. Now I can't wait until tomorrow, to keep this thing going. Too bad we have to sleep. I would very much like to keep writing. But then I won't be able to cook breakfast for my kids tomorrow morning. My wife will be at work, and it's just me and my two sons.

Now you know why I get most of my writing done at night. The wife's asleep...the boys are asleep, and FINALLY I have peace and quiet and NOBODY calling me for this or for that. Ah, yes...it's just me and my writing. That's a wonderful feeling. Into the wee hours of the night. Been at it for almost four hours now. Better get some sleep.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Moving right along

I call it half done...the first draft, anyway. Which means that my WIP is really only about a quarter done. Because even when you're done, you're only half done. Yeah, I would say that when the first draft is done, it's about half way through the process, and maybe not even that much.

But, OK, nothing gets done unless you get that first draft down, from beginning to the end. A novel's completed first draft is still something about which any writer can cheer. It's like I said before...it's getting all the pieces of a puzzle on the table, and after that you can fit them together as you like.

It's a great feeling, anyway. Even to have half of it in front of you.

Yeah, so how do I know it's half done. Like I mentioned before, I target my novels to be about 85,000 to 90,000 words and somewhere over 300 pages. Killer Eyes is now at 42,500 words and page 151.

My first novel, Killer of Killers was over 100,000 words at the completion of the first draft. But your manuscript always ends up less words for all the revising. You end up deleting a lot of unnecessary words here and there...sometimes whole sentences, and even sometimes whole paragraphs. That's the second half of the journey. I think it might even be the part I enjoy more. Well, I don't know. Both are fun. Oh, well, can't start thinking about that yet. I still have over 40,000 words to go. Sheesh, I don't like looking at it that way. Let me go back to the way I started this post.

Yeah, I'm half done...42,000 words down and on page 151. (Yeah, that sounds better.)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Sequels

In my WIP, I'm trying not to repeat the events that made Killer of Killers great. The series of events in Killer Eyes have led me to a place in which I had already been with the first book. But I have to avoid a rehash. No one would like reading the same thing over again in a different book, not readers, not editors, and certainly not me. So I am making sure that in this similar situation my MC finds himself, what actually happens is NOT what happened the first time around.

I'm right in the middle of it now. So it's time to make something different happen, while at the same time make it believable and within the scope of the character's personality. Yes, a sequel may contain the same character(s), and be in the same universe, but it absolutely must be a different story or at least involve separate events.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Son's Football and Dreams

Yesterday I was out with my two sons all day. My oldest is in his first year of high school, and is on the Frosh-Soph football team. Their first practice game was today, and I took my little son with me to watch him play. He caught three passes, one for a TD. It was great. I'm glad I was there. I hope he appreciated his old man watching him play in his first organized game.

Yeah, it brought back memories of my football days. I was a pretty good player myself. I was a DB/Safety, and played some QB, as well. I had some good speed. You know, I still have dreams of playing football...wow, all these years later. It's one of two recurring dreams I seem to be having through the years of my life. The other recurring dream is that I am flying. Not falling, mind you...actual flying. No, not in an airplane, but just me flying in the air...no parachute, no glider wings, no skydiving...nothing like that. But not like Superman either. It's really weird. Mostly it's weird because, like I said, I keep having this dream, but in different scenarios.

But the common element is that I have this ability to just let myself rise into the air, almost as if I can defy gravity just by concentrating, and up I go. It's not like I'm soaring like an eagle. I just hover, but I can direct myself to go somewhere if I choose to...but not very fast. Like I'm floating in the wind, but I can change direction and land unharmed.

There is something to be said about dreams. Sometimes I have dreams I can actually interpret, which brings me to writing. When I started this post, I didn't even plan to talk about dreams. I just went off on that tangent. But coincidentally, I just wrote a dream sequence in my WIP tonight. Trent had just been clobbered by this big guy, but saved by a woman who digs him. When she brings him back to his hotel room, he sleeps it off, and has this dream. It involves the leading ladies from the fist novel, Killer of Killers. And it has a very important connection to the plot in this story, which is the sequel to KOK.

I have read where agents or whoever frown on dream sequences in stories. I agree to not open a novel with a dream, but they can play a very important role in the advancement of your plot, and in the portrayal of a character's personality or even physical traits. Of course, like I said with humor the other day, you have to be careful with it. You have to put it in the right place, and write it well. And don't overdo it...like The Sopranos did.

That's all.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Time in the Sun

That's the title of the fifth song from Rockin' the Afterlife. It's up now. I still plan on linking the music. It's only half of the product when just the lyrics are posted without the melody. One day.

But my focus right now is writing KILLER EYES. It's at 36,000-plus words, page 128, and I'm rockin' the keyboard every day. This is why I'm a writer. Nothing stops you but yourself. Don't need band members, don't need microphones or musical instruments, (although I've got all those anyway...just not the band members.)

I suppose I could link somehow the music from my Yamaha synthesizer...since it synthesizes all the other instruments, but it won't sound as good as the real thing.

But all you need to write a book is you and your computer. Of course being hooked up to the internet is a great help. You know...for research. At the tip of your fingers. No more library excursions...phone calls...interviews...although I have done all of that anyway. When I wrote KILLER OF KILLERS, I interviewed the Shihan from my son's dojo. My son is a black belt in Kenpo Ju Jitsu, (the art I studied myself when I was younger) and I also interviewed some of the senseis there.

In case you're wondering, Sensei is the Japanese term for teacher, and Shihan is the lead teacher, or maybe like the Principal, if comparing it to an American school. They agreed to interviews whenever I requested them, and made available to me a ton of literature. But I'd be less than truthful if I didn't admit to using the internet, as well. I most certainly did. Same thing for THE VASE.

So yeah...no reason to be held back from writing. Unless you're just not in the mood. If that's the case...writing ain't for you.

Now, back to KILLER EYES!!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

"The"

I have found during my writing experiences, that the word "the" finds its way into my manuscript more than I like to see it. Sometimes a sentence will be flooded with it. There is an easy solution. When you find a sentence with too many "the(s) delete the the(s) and see where it still works. Of course, it will often be the case that it will be absolutely necessary to keep the the, and it'll have to stay. But I have found that often it is not necessary, and, even though it is still grammatically correct to use it, it will also be grammatically correct to not use it, and the sentence will read better without it.

I have deleted so many "the(s) in my revisions I'm sure I can go back and find an example, but you get it. Delete the the. If the sentence still works, leave it deleted. If it doesn't work put it back. That's all.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Humor? Sure, but...

I put in a scene in my WIP that I thought was funny. But after reading it, I thought I should take it out. It's a funny scene, but it's not a funny book. I do use humor in my stories, but you got to be careful with it. It works often, even with dramatic or heavy duty stories, if it's done well, and at the right time.

I did it in KOK, and I think it works. I did it to a lesser extent in THE VASE, and it works there, too. But when I reread this one in Killer Eyes, I think that I will take it out. It's just not the right time for it, and the overall tone of the story really doesn't call for it.

So, yeah, humor is great...but it's about timing and placement. Be careful. If it's not right it will make your story worse.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Don't worry, just write

OK, that's more like it. Killer Eyes is now on page 105, and over 30,000 words. That would put it at about one third done. I like to target 300 pages or at least in that vicinity. That would put the word count at about 85,000 words. According to many editors and agents, they like a novel to be in that range. KOK is 89,000 words, and The Vase is 87,100. Both are slightly more than 300 pages. KOK is 334, and The Vase is 323.

Anyway, I found myself worrying about the outline fitting all the elements of what I wanted to put in the story. I am featuring many characters in here, many good, many bad, and many just plain weird. But each has a specific role in the story, and as I figured out new things to do with them, I got too caught up in making it all meld so that it made sense in the end.

But you know what? It got me snagged. It slowed me down. Yeah, I wanted to blame the vacation and distractions, but no. It was me getting worried about all of it fitting like a puzzle. Don't let that happen to you. It's like, how can you worry about fitting the puzzle together if you don't even have all the pieces yet.

So don't let uncertainty slow you down. Keep writing. Then when all the pieces are in front of you, that's when you put them together and make it work.

Keep writing.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

No More Breaks

Took a break from Killer Eyes. It's not something I normally do. When I begin something like a book, I keep going til I'm done. But the vacation, the songs, the blog, the kids, the wife, now my brother from Hawaii is here. Still got some done. I'm at 27,000 plus words, and on page 98. I realized I had to veer from the outline. I got some new ideas and I wanted to put them in, so I have been reworking the outline first to see how it pans out in the big picture.

When you realize you have other elements you can put into your story to improve it, I recommend to put it in your outline first, and then you can see how it impacts other elements in the outline. Otherwise, those things that need to be changed to accommodate the other changes might get overlooked. At least until a read through, and then you'll probably catch it, so it probably doesn't matter in the long haul.

This is my second novel I'm writing from an outline, and I still think it's the best way to go. I want to get back into Killer Eyes. I plan on having the first draft finished by the end of summer vacation. I will spend less time browsing through other peoples' blogs. Nathan Bransford asked once do you read more or write more. Definitely, I write more, unless it's reading what I wrote, then it's even. That's how I answered the question on his blog.

I hope to get a buyer for Killer of Killers and even The Vase sometime soon. I would like to see Trent's adventures continue beyond book two. But just in case it is his last story, I will write the ending I have planned for the end of the series right now. If it shows up in Killer Eyes...so be it.

Heck, what's with this negative thinking? I'm usually more optimistic than that.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Song #4 - Drum Beat

Just posted one of my personal favorite songs. But they're all my personal favorite songs, really, since I wrote them all. You don't write a song you don't like, because if you do, you scratch it before it gets written.

It's like would you write a book you don't like? Of course not. If you don't like what you wrote, you delete it and go again.

I write and I write. If I reread it, and find I don't like it, (and yeah, that has happened,) I delete it and rewrite it.

Being a late night person, it is not uncommon to be in a zone. But it can be a GREAT zone, like you're in cruise control. Or that other zone. The zone that is mysterious like automatic pilot. What's the difference? Well, cruise control, you still see where you're going. Automatic pilot, you don't. You can write something you think is great, but then the next day, it's like, WTF??? DELETE!!!

Anyway, these songs were not written in the zone. They were written with care and insight...from the soul after I wrote the music.

Talking about the past...and I do in these songs...is like reading history. I like history. I like these songs. I hope to get that band together.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Song #3: Not Your Show

Got to get that band together so I can post the music to these lyrics.

In case you don't know what I'm talking about, they're the lyrics to my 13th volume of original songs I composed years ago, and since I am only recently adept at this blogging thing, I am only now posting them...but not all at once. I should have the ten songs from Rockin' the Afterlife down soon enough, and whether I post any of the other 12 volumes remains to be seen.

Got to get the band back together...sheesh, I sound like those guys from The Blues Brothers. Didn't really like that movie, btw. When it comes to movies, I seldom like comedies but there are some that I think were good. I have a couple posted in my favorite movies section in my profile. I think I'll list the only movies that made me laugh.

In order of how much they made me laugh:

1-Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
This movie was ahead of its time. It's a satire based on the movie, Failsafe, starring Peter Sellers in three separate roles.

2-Galaxy Quest
This movie busted me up so much, it took over for a couple others that maybe should be in this spot.

3-It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
This movie from the 60s features just about every big name comedian from that decade.

4-Up in Smoke
This was Cheech and Chong's first movie, and the only one that made me laugh. Boy, did it ever make me laugh.

5-Which Way is Up?
Richard Pryor's best movie, imo. He was at the top of his game in this one.

Anyway, time to get back to Killer Eyes...WHAT? It's 1:35 a.m. Sheesh, maybe I should go to sleep. Naw...

Monday, July 5, 2010

I'm Back

The wife is cooking, the kids are unpacking, and I am on this computer, back to writing! Disneyland was fun, mostly for the kids, but I made the best of it, managed to write a little at night, and when the wife visited her relatives. I rewrote the scene about "The Ordeal."

Killer Eyes now is at 27,000 words and 95 pages. I will download to my desktop in about a minute. Just glad to be back on my HP...whatever this thing is.

More soon.