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.



Thursday, September 30, 2010

Write What You Know

I talked yesterday about why I wrote KILLER OF KILLERS. One of the wise sayings about writing is to write what you know. Well, I know martial arts, since I trained in it, but, admittedly, that was years ago. I was about to reach the level of brown belt when I quit to pursue other interests. Still, I have a great resource in that my oldest son trains in Ju Jitsu and is a black belt. I have a great access to his dojo, and the senseis (teachers) and the shihan (master teacher) have been very cooperative in advising me throughout the writing process of the book.

When I finished, I was very proud of the book, but I hesitated to delve directly into a sequel, as the writing advisors also say to not write a sequel until the first book is published. But I wanted to get busy, so I decided to write what I know. That would be Ceramics...as in clay. I am a ceramic artist and a ceramics teacher. I had this idea for a story about ceramic vases for a long time, and I decided it was time to put it on paper. Thus, THE VASE was born. It's my second novel, and it's about a Ceramicist in Israel. It's more specifically about a particular vase, thus the title of the book. The complete manuscript is on submission right now. (Fingers crossed.) I won't mind if it gets published before KILLER OF KILLERS. I won't mind at all. (Fingers crossed on other hand, too.)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Vigilante Stories

There are a lot of vigilante stories, and my debut novel, KILLER OF KILLERS could be classified as a vigilante story. I was inspired to write it because our society seems to have more sympathy for the murderers out there than for the innocent victims they murdered. Many times they are let out of prison to kill again, or acquitted outright. That isn’t right.

KILLER OF KILLERS is about a man who can’t stand murderers escaping justice. He decides to counter a corrupt legal system that sees murderers being acquitted at record setting paces. Yeah, it’s a vigilante story, but it’s not your usual vigilante story. The mc, Trent Smith, does not see his family murdered, not his girlfriend or parents. That would be Batman, the Punisher, and Death Wish, starring Charles Bronson. And there’s probably a hundred other stories that see the mc’s loved ones butchered by criminals, causing him/her to seek revenge.

No. Trent Smith is just fed up. Period. There are reasons in the story on both sides for it happening. But when it does happen, that’s when the action starts. It’s an action packed adventure of the world’s greatest martial artist who decides to put his knowledge and skill in the martial arts to good use to fill the gap created by an apathetic and corrupt society. I hope you can read it real soon. It’s a great story, if I don’t mind saying so myself. ☺

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Writing is not Easy

Writing is not easy, really. Neither is teaching. Both careers have many things in common, and one of them is that some people seem to think that one or both are easy careers. What I mean is that some people decide to leave their first or chosen career, for whatever reason, and become a teacher instead. Or a writer.

I have known teachers who quit being a teacher because it’s just not an easy career. Too stressful, they say, or too demanding, or other reasons that boil down to the same meaning. But you know what? Writing is not so easy either. I’ve been a teacher for some twenty years, and I decided to be a writer, also, after I realized the mechanics of being a writer have improved due to technology. I began writing my first novel when I was eight years old. It was pencil on paper. Longhand, they call it. But of course that was just a kid thing, and I didn’t stick with it. Forget that my mother was less than encouraging. It just wasn’t going to happen.

But as I became a high school student, and then college, all the report writing required of me was going to be longhand or typed on a typewriter. Yeah, the old fashioned typewriter – remember those? I am an old school type of person. When I went back to college to get my Teaching Credential in 1988, even then most of my reports were typed on a typewriter. It was only one report a professor required to be written on a computer and printed out to be turned in. I remember telling him I didn’t have a computer, and he made me go to the college learning lab and use one from there. He explained it was time to start doing it that way, and some people, (like me,) needed to be forced into the new age.

He was right. But it wasn’t until I went back to college, yet again, for my Master’s degree that report writing was all done on a computer. I realized then the ease of which cut and paste made revisions happen. I would never have tried to be a novelist if it required writing an entire manuscript longhand or on a typewriter. Not a chance. But with these computers, and Microsoft Word and such, it’s something that can be done with a LOT of time saved.

Still, it doesn’t mean writing is any easier. You still need talent, you gotta have the know-how, and even with that, there is no guarantee. I have discovered, and not from personal experience, but from all the reading and research I have done, that talent alone is not enough. You could be a far superior writer, with far superior talent, with better ideas, and better prose, etc, than many published writers, and still never make it. Why? Because, in the publishing business, like in art and in acting and in music, if you have no name and/or no connections, then the chances of being discovered and “making it” are so heavily against you, it’s near impossible.

Sad, but true. Not impossible, but near impossible. Perseverance may make it happen. Without it, forget it.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Writers

Writers have to be some of the most intelligent and decent people on the planet. I mean nice and polite kind of decent. Intelligent because they know so much about the world and about people. They have to if they want their writing to make sense.

I've been on other blogs and forums, and I have found a lot of great people out there. But on some forums I've found a lot of downright vile people. I mean really mean people. Rude and insulting comments result from the most innocent of comments. Take sports forums, for example. On a sports forum, if someone doesnt' agree with you, they think they have the right to question your intelligence or even your sanity. And not just in a joking way. They really mean it. It's as if the anonymity of the internet makes it OK for them to be a jackass.

The only other type of forum that brings that mean kind of attitude is political forums. I am appalled at the rudeness, the meanness, the downright vile and insulting responses political discussions evoke on like forums. From both sides of the aisle. I won't ever say anything political on my blog, nor will I ever talk about sports.

No, on this blog, it's all about writing. As you know by now, I am a teacher. An art teacher, mainly, but I have taught other subjects, among them, English, Language Arts, and Literature. I have taught the writing process, and I have been evaluated on my teaching methods while teaching the writing process. Passed with flying colors, and it was before I decided to try my hand as an author.

For my Master's Degree in Education, I wrote many reports, essays, and research papers. The professors liked my writing and said so. One of them asked to put two of my essays in his next book, which was about the educational process. So, I do have something published, actually. But it's under his name. Of course, he gave me credit for the essays in his book. But I still don't point to that when I submit to publishers. I call myself an as yet unpublished author. Hope that won't be the case for much longer, though.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Friday Inservice

Teacher Inservice today. That means no kids, just teachers. It's a good time to hone your teaching skills in collaboration with other teachers. We bounce ideas off of each other and come up with new strategies. It's something like writing groups, when writers get together and bounce their work off of each other and supply constructive criticism toward a better product. Yeah, teachers have a lot in common with writers. Glad I'm both.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Your Characters

Say you're a published author and you have a great character that has appeared in several novels, and/or short stories. But then say you die. What then? Would you care to have your character live on, as in being featured in additional books and/or stories written by another author? That's a tough question.

I suppose no one would mind as long as the new author of your character's stories is a great writer. But even then maybe it wouldn't be such a good idea.

I've talked about Robert E. Howard, maybe a little too much at this point, but this is a great time to bring him up. Robert E. Howard died at a very young age. He was only 30. Sadly he didn't have to die, but that's another discussion. He did. But when his character, Conan, took off in popularity, several writers took up the slack and wrote additional stories of Conan's adventures. Among them include L. Sprague de Camp, Lin Carter, Poul Anderson, and Bjorn Nyberg. As good as they might be as writers, none of them were near Howard's level of literary genius. Some even seemed to take over Conan as if Conan was their own. de Camp especially. He tried to fill in the gaps of Conan's life, and tried to put his own signature on the Conan character.

But I don't know one Conan fan who appreciates it. If that is what is in store for other authors who pass on, then I don't think it's a good idea. A character that you create is your baby. If it is possible for another writer to keep that spirit going in your image then I guess it would be a good thing. But if another writer tries to make your baby into HIS image, then it's a bad thing. That's what happened to Conan.

So if you ever find a Conan book in your hands, make double sure it's written only by Howard. If any of the other names I mentioned above are on that book, drop it. Don't even open it. It's NOT the real Conan. And I would thank you.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Reading as a Youth

Last night I was helping my eight year old son with a book report for his third grade class. It reminded me of when I was in school and all those book reports they made me do. Well, you know what? I didn't read any of those books. I laugh at it now. I had no interest in reading any of the books they made us read. And even the times when the books were ones that students could choose...I didn't choose any.

As I think back on it now, I didn't have any interest in the Hardy Boys or any of the Middle Grade books that targeted my age group when I was in elementary school, nor did I have any interest in the Young Adult books that targeted high school students. I confess now that I only completed the assigned book reports from reading the cover flap copy.

I think I only read one book that was assigned in my entire formal education. CHILDHOOD's END. And I really didn't even like that book. I don't know why I read the whole thing. Probably because it seemed interesting while I read it, but the end, to me, was so-so. No big deal. So the human race joined with some eternal god-like force of which the devil-looking aliens couldn't be a part. Big deal.

I guess you might say that about any book. It depends on the reader.

As a youth, I did read some books on my own that weren't required, but I didn't do book reports on them. The ones that I remember are the H. G. Wells books. You know, War of the Worlds, The Invisible Man, The Time Machine. Some Edgar Rice Burroughs books. But only a couple Tarzans. I already talked about the Custer book. That's the first book I think I read cover to cover.

It wasn't until I read Howard that I really took off on reading books. It was Robert E. Howard, really, who got me into reading books. HIS books.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Heroes or No Heroes

I made a reference yesterday to my MC in my second novel, THE VASE. I said he wasn't really a hero. Well, maybe he is a hero in that story. What makes a hero? Does he have to fight insurmountable odds and achieve something that no one else had achieved? Or does he have to give his/her life for a cause that makes everything better for everyone else? Surely, those are things that define a hero.

But there's more to it, right? A hero might be something else. Maybe, like, a different kind of hero. Isn't a father who works his butt off to support his family through thick and thin, despite constant setbacks, and recurring disasters, also a hero? I think he is. A father who doesn't give up and throw in the towel when life deals him repeated bad cards? A father who provides for his son no matter what else happens?

This is a hero, imo. And that's the kind of hero my protagonist, Muhsin Muhabi is in THE VASE. He is a Palestinian, living in Israel, and he is a Ceramic Potter. It's a hard job, really. He depends on tourism to get by. That means he has to sell his vases, his pots, cisterns, and anything else he can spin on his throwing wheel.

But throughout his life, he has to deal with recurring wars, rebellions, uprisings, fanaticism, demonstrations, extremism, and all on both fronts...from the Israelis to the Palestinians, to the religious fundamentalists on both sides. And through it all...all he wants to do is support his family.

His eldest son is killed in one rebellion. His wife leaves him shortly thereafter, and he is a single father trying to make a life for himself and his younger son, who is now fourteen. The problem is that his first son was fourteen when he got involved with extremists and killed by the IDF. Will it happen again?

Yes, a father who is committed to his family...to his children, to his livelihood...this is a hero. Maybe not to you...or to me, personally. Maybe not to his country. But to the people who depend on him, he is a hero. And that applies to all fathers...and mothers...who stick by their kids...through thick and thin....no matter the circumstances...to be there...for keeps.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Interesting Topics

Isn't it strange, or at least it is to me, that mundane topics such as a teen with angst, or a familiy that encounters trouble become great books? Neither topic motivated me to read those books. Now, Salinger's Catcher in the Rye is considered one of the greatest books ever written, and Franzen's Freedom is all the rave. I haven't read either one.

How can that be? you may ask. Well, I understand that a lot of people read Catcher because they were required to do so as a school assignment. For some reason, that didn't happen to me. Or if it did, somehow I dodged the assignment. As a teenager, I had my own angst to worry about, and I never cared to read about anyone else's. To this day, I haven't had any interest in reading Catcher in the Rye.

And I even have a family connection to that book. My aunt-in-law, (is that a legitimate term?) who is 92 years old and still healthy, bless her heart, both mentally and physically, is the person who edited that book. It's true. She and a team of editors considered the book for publication, and she was on the side who recommended publishing the book. Yes, there were those who opposed it. But my aunt-in-law and those who sided with her prevailed.

Still, I have no desire to read it. I really don't have any interest in reading about a teenager who questions his purpose in life. Now maybe I'm missing out. I have to believe I am. But still, I have no interest.

And Franzen, the celebrated author, writes about things of which I don't care to read. But a lot of other people seem to.

So what do I care to read? Action stories that involve great heroes - men, or women who take on great odds for great reasons, and reach deep inside themselves to great accomplishment. I remember when I was a kid, I read about George Armstrong Custer, I loved that book, and I loved Custer's story. I think I read that book three times. Yeah, he lost his last battle, but talk about going up against the odds. He had something like a hundred or two soldiers fighting over three thousand Indians.

OK, so it wasn't like Leonidas and his 300 Spartans fighting a half a million Persians. But it was still a great story. I also enjoyed reading Edgar Rice Burroughs and his many stories of great heroes. I enjoyed all of the Robert E. Howard stories, about which I have written recently. H. G. Wells and Ray Bradbury's science fiction stories were fun. These are stories about great heroes who fight evil and overcome great odds.

This is why I write about great heroes. Trent Smith would qualify. And what about THE VASE? Well, that book is kind of like an off the wall story. It's about a vase maker and his vase. Is he a great hero? Not really. But the story is great. At least I think so. More about that later.

Friday, September 17, 2010

SHE


In KILLER EYES, something happens to the MC, Trent Smith, that gives him longevity, and it’s not what he wanted. I got the idea from the old movie, SHE, starring Ursula Andress as an ancient Egyptian queen who achieved eternal youth when she bathed in the blue flames of a magical meteor. The male lead, (I can’t remember his name,) was cajoled into bathing in the flames, also, when it reappeared in modern times. Ursula bathed in the flames with him, but unknown to poor Ursula, a second time in the magical fire REMOVES the spell of eternal youth, and as the guy reveled in his newly acquired immortality, he got to watch his woman age in seconds to look her real age, which was thousands of years. She died in mummified dust, and he realized that being immortal was not what he wanted after all. A sad realization, when you’ve only been immortal for a minute at that point.

Anyway, it’s all a completely different story in KOK and KE, but the feelings Trent entertains are the same. I think it makes a great story. Hopefully, people will be able to read it. Hopefully.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Verses

There was a time the fields were green and water flowed so pure.
The air was smooth, the sun was bright and no one needed cure.
The days were fun and fickle girls would play and tease for more.
But since those days, disease prevailed with death and blood and gore.

From KILLER EYES, Book Two of the Trent Smith saga.

Yesterday, I started inserting verses from Trent Smith’s story. I think they sound better as poems, and I admit I got the idea from Robert E. Howard, who began each chapter of his first Conan story, Phoenix on the Sword, with a poem. I will never hope to approach any level of Howard’s talent, but I like the idea, and thought it might work for Trent Smith, introduced in my first novel, KILLER OF KILLERS.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Wednesday!

I’ve lived a thousand lifetimes in this place a sullen husk.
I cannot die from bullets shot or knives a foe will thrust.
The sky is dull, the ocean black, the clouds are heaving lead.
The children who inherit earth have found it mostly dead.

From KILLER EYES, Book Two of the Trent Smith saga.

Wednesday is hump day they say, and no one knows hump day better than a teacher. Wednesday, of late, seems like midday. What I mean is, at this time of my life, the weeks go by so fast, it’s like a week is what a day used to be. A month is equal to a week, and a year is like a month. It’s like a decade is what a year had been, and then…

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Neverending Revisions

Last night was Back to School night, and as I prepared my classrooms, (Two of them, one for Ceramics and one for Cartooning,) I could only think about the latest revisions I’ve made to both of my novels – KILLER OF KILLERS and THE VASE.

Yeah, my agent has KOK on submission, but I couldn’t help giving it another pass and, of course, I made wholesale changes in the prose. Not just here or there, but everywhere!

I did it for THE VASE, and found myself making drastic improvements to the prose throughout. But when I finished, I considered KOK. Since it hasn’t sold yet, I figured I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. So I began to read it again, and even though I was still impressed with the storyline, the premise, the characters, plot and writing, I still found myself making drastic improvements everywhere. Although I am only about half way through it, I know I will continue to improve it straight to the end.

Then I’ll have to send it to my agent again. Hope she isn’t too annoyed. But I’m glad I did it.

Why not? If you can make it better, I say go for it.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Tony Iommi


Last week I talked about Robert E. Howard, and how he doesn’t get the recognition he deserves for being the great writer he was. He was a man, who not only was a great writer, but a writer who invented a genre: Sword and Sorcery.

Many imitators followed. But Howard was the first, and it’s a shame when someone is so original, and so unique, and such a magnificent talent, that they are dismissed by others who can never hope to match that talent. But Howard’s not the only one. Tony Iommi is another inventor of a genre, a true innovator, and a fantastic talent.

Tony WHO???

I am a musician and songwriter in addition to being a writer of novels, and I thought I’d bring up my favorite band again. Black Sabbath. The reason is because Black Sabbath’s lead guitarist, Tony Iommi, like Howard, invented a new genre. In his case a new genre of music. Heavy Metal.

Both men invented something new…something original…something that took off and exploded with popularity. And that’s a mark of greatness.

But even though both men are acknowledged by their peers, they are still amazingly unknown to the general public. I pointed that out last week concerning Howard.

Today, Heavy Metal is the mainstream of Rock music. But when Tony Iommi was the first to play it forty years ago, he was reviled. Now, it’s the in-thing and the musicians who play it KNOW he was first. They give him props. But most rock music fans have no clue who Tony Iommi is.

So here’s to the men who not only became great at what they did, but actually invented the thing that they did. Robert E. Howard – the inventor of Sword and Sorcery, and Tony Iommi – the inventor of Heavy Metal.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Great Characters of Robert E. Howard

"Hither came Conan, the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feet."
— Robert E. Howard, The Phoenix on the Sword, 1932.

I wanted to finish the week with a shout out to Robert E. Howard and the great characters he created, of which Conan stands first and foremost. I understand another movie is in the works, but I have no idea how good, or bad, it will be. My guess is that it will be bad. Just don’t want to get my hopes up.

I understand Jason Mamoa will be cast as Conan. Don’t know a lot about him, but he looks to fit the role better than Arnold anyway. I still don’t understand why they won’t give him the black hair of which Howard described Conan as having. I mean, even Arnold played a brown haired Conan, and now according to photos from the internet I've seen, Mamoa is sporting his natural brown hair for the role. Like, how hard is it to dye an actor's hair black, for crisakes? Or put on a black wig?

Anyway, more important is the screenplay, and if the new screenplay is anything like the movie Milius made, then all bets are off. The movie will suck.

For those of you who don’t know, Conan did NOT grow up a slave, as Milius portrayed. Conan did get captured as a young fighter, but he killed his captors and escaped by his own cunning, not freed by the sympathy of a slave master, a la Milius.

Conan was intelligent and a highly adept strategist, not a bumbling oaf, a la Milius. I mean, I could go on, but you get the point. May John Milius’ movie be forever forgotten. And that is why I hedge to consider this new movie. If it is anything like the prior one…well, I don’t want to use foul language on my blog. I know other bloggers do, but I don’t. However, if I did, this would be the spot I would do it.

I just found out that Barack Obama is a Conan fan, and still has his collection of Conan comic books. It says that on Wikipedia. Well, whataya know! I can say that the comics, unlike the movies and TV shows, have stayed pretty true to Howard’s character. I have my own collection, so I know.

Here is the best artistic rendition of Conan I have ever seen. It’s a painting of Conan by the greatest artist of the Twentieth Century, Frank Frazetta. (Click on the picture to see it enlarged.)




All any movie director has to do is look at this painting and order the make-up department to make their actor, whoever it is, look just like that.


On another note, I mentioned on yesterday's post that my other favorite Robert E. Howard character is Solomon Kane. I understand that a movie of Solomon Kane is also in the works. All I know so far is that I like the actor they cast for the lead. His name is James Purefoy, and he's known to me from the HBO miniseries a couple years ago called ROME. (I know - Milius again - but that's another story.) Purefoy played Mark Antony, and he was PERFECT for that role. Here’s a picture of Purefoy as Solomon Kane. Not bad. I do have higher hopes for this one. Whereas Conan's adventures took place in prehistory, Solomon Kane's took place in the 1600s. Missing from this picture is his Pilgrim hat. But all the pictures I found where he's wearing the hat, you can't see his face very well. That's why I selected this shot.




You know, the bottom line is READ THE BOOKS. Do not depend on these movie makers to introduce you to Conan or Solomon Kane. Let the man who created them do that. Please, before these movies can destroy your vision of Conan or Solomon Kane, and ultimately, Robert E. Howard, read the books. You'll be glad you did. It’s writing at its best.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Robert E. Howard



Yesterday, Nathan Bransford asked his readers an interesting question: If you could meet an author, one alive and one dead, who would it be? I was somewhat disappointed that in over 200 comments, no one selected Robert E. Howard as the writer who was dead. Is he that unknown? Or that unappreciated? Is it that his most famous character, Conan of Cimmeria draws unmistakable images of an oafish Arnold Schwarzenegger?

Is it the male chauvinistic stereotype that such an image evokes?

I think Howard gets a bad rap, and I blame John Milius, the Hollywood director who made that horrible movie, Conan the Barbarian. If that is your only reference to the character of Conan, then you still have no clue about this great character. John Milius effectively destroyed the character of Conan. It was a disaster to have him make that movie. And it was a bad decision to cast Arnold in the role. It was his first major role, and he got it only because of his bodybuilder’s physique. Well, he certainly didn’t get the role for his acting ability, and not for any other resemblance to the character.

Sure, Howard’s limited descriptions painted Conan as a big guy with muscles, but Conan was no bodybuilder. He was a warrior who stood taller than most others, and he was from the Northern countries, which, today might be somewhere in Northern Europe. His tanned skin and blue eyes stood out, however, as did his jet black hair.

Anyway, it’s Howard’s writing that I really want to stress here, not just his most famous character. Howard wrote about a lot of different characters. Conan is one of my favorites, but another one of my favorites is Solomon Kane. I must admit that my own character, Trent Smith has a trait or two in common with Solomon Kane. One of those traits is his tendency to be a loner, and another, his tendency to be an extremist. In Trent Smith’s case, he was an extremist when it came to justice. In Solomon Kane’s case, he was an extremist in terms of his Puritan philosophies. But both had a sense of righteousness, and it’s what drove them onward in their respective stories.

Robert E. Howard is the best writer of fiction ever, imo, and that says a lot, obviously, since there are so many great, great writers out there. But he writes so well, that his prose is like poetry, and yeah, he wrote a lot of poetry, too.

Every story Howard wrote is like a masterpiece unto itself. It was Howard who invented the genre of Sword and Sorcery. I bet most of today’s aspiring writers have never even heard of him. But they’ve all heard of Rowling and Meyer, neither of whom can hold a candle to Robert E. Howard. I guess that’s what a bad movie can do to a great writer. Man, oh, man.

Here's what the Italian book reviewer, Mario Guslandi had to say about Howard:

Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan the Barbarian, Solomon Kane and other memorable characters, has such a reputation as a master of heroic fantasy that it's easy to forget that his huge production (over a hundred stories within the space of only 12 years) includes a number of strong, colourful horror pieces. Never a refined stylist, Howard displayed an energetic and vivid type of storytelling also in his horror fiction which tends to feature brave, strong-willed men fearlessly facing alien forces and evil creatures.

And:

Robert Ervin Howard (1906-1936) is best remembered for his classic sword and sorcery tales of the brawny Cimmerian swordsman Conan, though he wrote stories in a number of genres: horror (Pigeons from Hell, Worms of the Earth), oriental adventure (The Lost Valley of Iskander, Swords of Shahrazar), westerns both humorous (A Gent from Bear Creek) and conventional (The Last Ride, The Vultures of Whapeton), boxing (The Iron Man), and others. Howard's tales of Conan, Kull, Bran Mak Morn, Turlogh O'Brien and Solomon Kane created and defined the sword and sorcery genre, leading to innumerable pastiches and outright ripoffs of Howard's characters.

For Guslandi's complete review go to: http://www.sfsite.com/03a/rh291.htm

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

What a Nightmare

Wow, had a nightmare this morning. Woke up from it just before the alarm clock sounded. Have you ever been glad the dream you had was just a dream? I don't even want to describe it. I guess it really wasn't that bad as dreams go, but still...it just goes to show, no matter how bad things may be for you, it could be worse. I'm glad for what I have, and I'm glad that was just a dream. Whew!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Reasons for Entering Writing Contests

The reason for entering writing contests is because it's fun. It's challenging. And it's practice. The more you do something, the better you get, no matter what it is. It was my driving force with Art. The more I drew, painted, or sculpted, the better I got. And I got real good just from practice. Then, as I chronicled in an earlier post, I actually learned the science of art from Professor Stewart at San Jose State. Yeah, believe it or not, there is a science to drawing and painting. It was developed by Leonardo da Vinci, and it's no secret to anyone in the know.

As for writing, there are formulas, like you learn from Donald Maass in his book Writing the Breakout Novel, and many others, and there is countless advice on how to write well, but I'm not sure it's a science. It's such a subjective thing. How many times have we heard that? That's the difference between Art and Writing. Sure, in art, there is the abstract movement, and all the variations of it in today's modern art world. (Actually, modern art dates back to the Nineteenth Century, but it has evolved in many subjective ways of its own.) But so many rules are broken in writing, that the subective nature of writing is way over the top. You know...you can have sentence fragments, you can use bad grammar, you don't even have to use punctuation...etc., etc...

But for the most part...the more you write the better you get. And as far as entering writing contests, even if you never win, you will still become a better writer for doing it. And, like I said...it's fun.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Writing Contest Again

I hated missing Janet Reid's last writing contest. But she has one today and I just put in a paragraph. Again, what I like about her contests is that she limits them to just one hundred words. So you don't have to spend a lot of time writing a full page or more. Just one paragraph or so. Takes hardly any time.

Another thing I like is that she requires five preselected words. That inhibits the use of a pre-written paragraph from someone's already in-existence writing. I suppose someone could get an already written paragraph and just substitute the words she requires. But overall, I think, it forces people to come up with something on the spot, and I think, mostly that's what happens.

Sadly, she said this is the last one of the Summer. I hope she has more in the Fall, and Winter, etc. We'll see. I've only had the opportunity to enter once until now, and this is my second try. It's my own fault. I should be more consistent in reading her blog.

Her five words today are: Java, Labrador, Miracle, Devotion, and Serve.

They didn't reach out and grab me like the five words of the first contest I entered. But still, I wanted to play. Here's what I came up with:

It was a long day in Java when the cuckoo failed to fly. But that’s what happened when the Labrador got loose. No one expected a miracle. Every time Lanier escaped, another bird would disappear. Still, the king had just arrived and nothing stopped the show. He loved his royal animals. The lions, trained to sit and stare, always had it easy, but the dogs would leap through rings to serve with absolute devotion. The young monarch loved just one thing more than his pack of dancing canines – his flock of feathered friends, and the cuckoo was his favorite.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Comic Book Heroes and favorite things

I used to read comics. Don't anymore. But when I was a kid, comic books were like another dimension. I was twelve years old when I bought my first comic book. I bought four of them. I didn't know much about comics then, just saw some that other kids brought to school. I saw Batman and Superman on TV, but never read the comics. But when I chose four at the local drug store, I really chose at random, based on what I perceived as "cool" covers.

They were all Marvel, and they were Superhero Groups. The Avengers, The Fantastic Four, and the X-Men. The fourth one was a comic book satire called Not Brand Echh. It was volume no. 1.

Well, the FF, and the X-Men have become movies by now, and I understand The Avengers will soon be a movie too. It was the X-Men that I liked best. Just something about it gave me a sentimental attachment. It was weird. Because a couple years later, it was cancelled. Talk about weird. All my favorite things got cancelled.

At that time, my favorite TV shows got cancelled. I talked about the Wild, Wild West already, but another favorite TV show, Star Trek, also got cancelled. Then the comic book, The X-Men got cancelled. A few years later, my favorite rock band, Black Sabbath, broke up. That was the worst.

But Star Trek came back as movies, although they all sucked, and the X-Men came back as the new X-Men. Even though it took off in popularity, I still had that sentimental attachment to the original X-Men. It's weird. I seem to always like the original thing better than the new thing. I'm old school.

I was charged when Black Sabbath reunited for their live tours. I was at every one. At least every one that was in California. Front row seat every time. Still, I am disappointed they won't put out a new studio album. It seems even when there is good news, it has a cap on it. Such is life.

Oh well. Time for work.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

How Many Blogs are Enough?

All teachers at my school were attending an inservice yesterday, and we were given a lesson on a new computer program, or whatever, which accesses student scores and can do a bunch of other things, too, at the click of the mouse. It also includes a bunch of features that were very much like Facebook, emails, chatrooms, and even a blog.

After a few fun online "chats" with other teachers, I zeroed in on the blog feature. Being a relatively new blogger, I started to write my first post on a new blog site. I wrote about 800 words, mostly about teaching, and then hovered over the publish button, but then I decided, "Naah..." and deleted the entire thing.

Why? Well, I've already got a blog. I've been writing this blog everyday since last May, except weekends, and although I focus mostly on my writing journey to publication, I do touch on other things now and then, like right now. I have browsed other blogs, and I have noticed many people do write more than one blog. But I also noticed that many people are very inconsistent with them. Some have forsaken one for another. Some are consistent in regular posts, and some aren't.

I am a very busy person. With a family, a full-time teaching job, writing, music, and art, I hardly have time for everything I want to do. I decided not to commit to a second blog. This one will do fine, thanks.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Hullabaloo

I've been inundated with the hullabaloo over Jonathan Franzen's new book, Freedom. Never read anything by him. I understand that he won book of the year nine years ago for a novel called The Collections. Hhmmnn.

From what I understand, the book, Freedom, is about a family that moved from St. Paul to Washington and failed in their endeavors over there. It's about how the freedoms in America can lead a family down the wrong road, or something like that. Hhmmnn. It makes me wonder how agents would have responded if someone with no name had submitted query letters for a story like that. I'm betting a bucket full of rejections would have ensued. I'm betting that an unpublished author would have no takers. And yes, probably for the same book, word for word.

But the man won book of the year for a prior novel, so he's in an entirely different place. Don't know anything about The Collections. But I did go to Amazon and took a look inside the book, Freedom. They allow you to read the first six or seven pages, and I did. It was nothing particularly good. Not to me. The first five pages were all backstory about a couple who lived in St. Paul who renovated their own house. The woman was young, the man from rural origins, and both Liberals.

OK. So what? By the time the story actually started, on the sixth page, what was happening was a meaningless discussion at a women's get-together concerning a problem the MC had with her son. I remember being criticized by an inexperienced agent for having a page of backstory near the beginning of my book, THE VASE. (Actually, she was an agent's assistant.) I wonder what she'd have to say about Freedom's five-page backstory beginning.

I will have to go check out The Collections. That must have been some book.