Will iconic images recorded in the grooves of an ancient vase unite the Holy Land or rip it further apart?
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, October 29, 2010
This time the words were Paris, Temple, Kids, Loathing, and Cullen. At first, my reaction was...WHAT?? They didn't grab me like some of the preselected words in her prior contests, but she hinted that they all had something in common, and whoever guessed what they were would get bonus points.
So, OK. My entry is as follows:
Paris, 2099. Two decades since the Eiffel Tower fell. Matt Cullen viewed the temple that replaced it, and he barely remembered the once-great, metal-laced landmark. Kids threw rocks in the pits where studded concrete bared ambition, greed, and glorified decadence. He considered the good times when people cared, but those days were done. Now, just a loathing of anything capital drew societal nods. In a few short years, the world had plunged from the heights of private self-sufficiency to the lower depths of state-run depravity. But the reavers in the street didn’t mind. Their time had come.
No, I don't expect to win, but that's OK. My satisfaction comes from putting the five words into a paragraph that, to me, anyway, tells a great story in one hundred words or less.
Thursday, October 28, 2010
It's when the writing suffered during the third season, that's when the plug was pulled on the series. Sure there were some good episodes in the third season, a couple really great ones, but overall the writing suffered and the show ended. Of course we all know what happened next. From reruns, a new generation fell in love with Star Trek, and then the movies came back with the original cast.
But the movies sucked. I was astonished at how horrible the first one turned out. You would think with an opportunity to reclaim a place in Sci Fi annals, they would put their best foot forward, but no. They rehashed an old plot, and played up a romanctic angle with some newbie character, and thought it would fly.
Sure the audience came, after over a decade of waiting, and the success of Star Wars, they were bound to come. But the bottom line was it was a lousy movie, a lousy plot and lousy writing. In my opinion, all the Star Trek movies were bad, and that goes for the latest reboot, too.
Don't even get me started on the Next Generation show. Yuck.
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
I don't doubt that the future of publishing is electronic. I still remember that Star Trek pilot episode, "Where No Man Has Gone Before" when Gary Mitchell, played by Gary Lockwood, was recovering from that psychic shock, and he was reading at super fast speeds. Well, the books he read were on a computer monitor. Even back in 1966, Star Trek had it right about the future of books on a computer screen.
Yet I also remember another Star Trek episode, the one called "Court Martial" where some old school lawyer had filled Captain Kirk's quarters with old-fashioned style books. And he raved about his preference of them over computers. Yes, as right as Star Trek was about books being on monitors, they also allowed for the still-in-existence old-fashioned paper-bound books.
I hope they got that right, too. Like I said, I don't doubt the future of publishing is electronic, but I hope, like Star Trek portrayed, that the good old-fashioned paper bound books don't go the way of the dinosaur.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
For the rest of us, it's about the writing. We invent the story, whereas memoirs, like that of Keith Richards, lived the story. It could be true what they say, that truth is stranger than fiction. But I believe it's up to the writer. I believe it's very possible to write a fictitious story that's even stranger than truth. Ha, ha.
Monday, October 25, 2010
With Absolute Write, you have a forum of writers, both established and prospective, who offer advice and information to anyone who seeks it. If you take the time to check out either one, before or after you query, you can get the lowdown on any agent or publisher. My advice is to check one or both of these sites before signing with any agent or publisher.
Friday, October 22, 2010
I didn't comment, but I felt validated when other people commented with the same opinion I had. One commenter even said that the small part she talked about was in common use in her country. It was really just an ordinary use of words, and overall just an ordinary paragraph. I've seen/read great writing. That sample did not qualify. But, once again, we have an example of subjectivity. Was it great writing? It was in one person's opinion. Maybe that's all it takes.
Thursday, October 21, 2010
Maybe I should have discussed it with them before I wrote it. I think the "Middle East" scared them, but the gist of the story requires it to take place there. It makes it more interesting, more relevant to the story. And as far as the paranormal part, it might not be paranormal at all. I don't want to get into the details, but it's up to the reader to interpret, and that "element" doesn't even happen until the very end.
So I'm submitting it to publishers who don't require agents. Meanwhile, my agent(s) told me they were committed to Killer of Killers. OK. It will be interesting to see which book gets published first.
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Still, there was a point where I left KOK alone and concentrated on THE VASE completely, until I completed the first draft. Then I would volley between the two, giving a full reread on one, and then the other. Once both were "done" I started planning the sequel to KOK. It's still my sentimental favorite. Maybe because, as a first novel, a lot of "me" is in there. I read somewhere, I forget once again who, but it was someone who knew about writing and writers. This person said that an author's debut novel will contain a MC who is based on themselves. I think it's true that a lot of Trent Smith's personality traits are indeed based on my own.
For example, Trent Smith is a loner. I like to be a loner, although with a wife and two sons, I'm not so much a loner anymore. Trent Smith hates cigarettes and drugs, especially recreational drugs. In fact, he despises them, and so do I. Trent Smith is roughly the same size person as I am, too. He's quiet and opinionated, but keeps his opinions to himself, until drawn from him by circumstances.
So, aside from the fact that I've never killed anyone, I'm a lot like Trent Smith, or vice versa.
In THE VASE, there is no one like me. But that was the point of the article I read. It's the debut novel that contains the like character. So now that I'm on my fourth book, it's no longer happening.
Just hope that working on multiple projects doesn't affect the quality of the material.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
I should probably read the book as if it's someone else's diary. That way all the first person perspectives make more sense. But I still don't take it that way. When I read a book, I like to pretend I'm watching a movie. I know a lot of movies are narrated, as in first person, but that way seems different. I know in both cases, you have a narrator telling me their story. It's just that, to me, anyway, when I read it, instead of hear it, it turns me into that person.
I write in third person, and I think the advantages of third person outweigh those of first person. A year or two ago I read someone's blog which was about all the reasons why they hated first person. I wish I could remember who that was and link to it, because I was nodding my head in agreement. Every point they made was right on.
For the YA novel I'm planning, I considered writing it in first person. Don't think I will, though.
Monday, October 18, 2010
And who can blame them? They aren't in the business to produce great literature, after all. Nope. None of them. You could write the greatest book in a long time, and the chances of never getting it published are against you, if only because no one ever heard of you. If it's your debut novel, finding a publisher is like finding the proverbial needle in the haystack. The only chance you have of finding that needle is if you keep looking. Eventually, you may find it. You may not, but you'll never know if you don't at least try.
The time spent in trying might stretch beyond your tolerance. You may throw your hands up in frustration. Especially when you see less talented people find that publisher, and reap the rewards of recognition. You might say to yourself that your book is way better, your writing superior, your ideas, more clever, and you're probably right.
So persevere. It's the only chance you have. And when it does happen, don't pat yourself on the back too much. In my opinion, it was more about luck and timing. You already knew your writing was excellent, your book, great. That was required from the start. Without that, you shouldn't be writing a book. No, it was timing and luck. Here's to wishing all of you that luck, and may your timing, also, be right.
Friday, October 15, 2010
Anyway, the argument against it is that authors such as J.D. Salinger were very reclusive, and they didn't need to do any of that. But now, the trend is to be outgoing, get known to as many people as you can BEFORE you are published, and I admit I have fallen for that concept, and I'm not sure I am right to do so.
I was a lurker for a long time on many blogs, learning about the publishing business, and I learned a lot. Then I started commenting on one or two, and then, finally, (last May) I started my own blog. But I am not sure I agree with the necessity of it. I mean, authors were successful before the internet. They didn't rely on cyberspace.
But then again, I'm a guy who didn't get a computer or even a cell phone until years after they became available. I'm an old school type, but I eventually get with the program. I suppose it's called progress.
Thursday, October 14, 2010
Even Reed Richards, himself, has powers that are not original. His stretching powers were first possessed by DC's character Plastic Man, and I believe a second character called Elastic Man, as well.
Let's take a look at literature. Shall we visit TWILIGHT? You've got vampires and werewolves. Now, how original is that? In Harry Potter, sorcerers and magicians are not so original, but maybe the concept of the school setting is, yet, maybe not. That concept was done in The X-Men comic. Yes, it was a school for youths with special powers that was the setting for the X-Men. These were kids who were born with their powers, unlike the typical superhero who acquired them somehow.
Like Spider-man who was bitten by a radioactive spider, or Captain America who was injected with a special serum, or Superman, who came from another planet and attained his superpowers from the rays of our yellow sun, or Green Lantern who gets his powers from a special ring, etc...
No, in the X-Men, they were born with their powers, (original idea) and then recruited by a professor to his boarding school, where he not only educated them, but trained them in the use of their individual powers. Sounds to me like that's where J.K. Rowling got her idea.
Batman is original, no doubt. A man whose parents are murdered, and then he trains himself to be a crime fighter. With no special powers other than his own commitment, he becomes a superhero. But the characters who copied that blueprint are countless.
Maybe originality is not key. Maybe it's more about the writing, the plot, and the details surrounding the character. Or maybe it's all about timing and plain luck.
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
I discovered the greatness of comics when I was twelve, and there were some genuinely great comic books back then. I don't read any now, and haven't bought one since my first son was born 14 years ago. That's OK with me, because I don't think comics are as good now as they were then, and I don't miss them.
But back in the day, the Marvel brand was tops. It was when DC had sunk to the level of Television's portrayal of Batman starring Adam West. But Marvel enjoyed a true Golden Age, even though they referred to it as their Silver Age.
Back to the point of Female superheroes. Besides Wonderwoman, it seemed that all the writers back then would just make a female version of the popular male superhero. You had Superman, so they made Supergirl. You had Batman, so they made Batgirl. Marvel checked in wtih Spiderwoman and She Hulk. To me, it was ridiculous and lazy. I have nothing against female superheroes, but it was really a horrible idea to just make a female version of a male superhero.
The superhero groups did it better. In the Fantastic Four, you had Susan Storm, who became Mrs. Richards, but she was no Female clone of a male superhero. She was original. The Avengers had The Wasp, Janet van Dyne, who became Mrs. Henry Pym. (Henry Pym was Ant Man.)
In The X-Men you had Jean Grey, AKA Marvel Girl, (which name was dropped) and she was an original character. It's the X-Men that really took off with female heroes, by adding Storm, Rogue, Jubilee, Psylock, and The Scarlet Witch, (who actually never was an X-man, because she started off as an innocent inductee to Magneto's Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, and when she turrned to the good side, she became an Avenger.)
Originality is the key. Sure there will be fans of the female copies of male superheroes, just like there are people out there who like anything, even those gawdawful Conan movies, but who would argue besides them that an original character tops the carbon copy gender bent hero?
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
But when I asked my friends if they read any books, it was almost a given that they would say no. I told some of my friends about some books that were great, and it was like I was asking them to go to the dentist. One friend even told me he didn't read books because there were no pictures.
So no wonder publishers are more prone to publish books for women. If your name isn't established already, like Patterson or King, it will be a long road to publication if you write books for an adult male audience.
Monday, October 11, 2010
I've talked about that before, but I want to cover something I haven't previously discussed. Generally speaking, I know that very good writing is not good enough for a new author seeking his/her first deal. It has to be absolutely great writing. Of course, it's all subjective, right? How many times have we heard that? Yet many works are published without being great writing. Or even good writing.
I don't want to harp on Stephenie Meyer, and I am glad she is successful, but I have heard so much criticism about her writing. No, I haven't read her books, so I can't offer my own opinion on her writing. But here's where I'm going with this. Stephenie Meyer and so many other first time authors seem to be finding their success in the YA or MG genres. Indeed most debut novels being published are those of authors of MG or YA books. Of course, Meyer and J.K. Rowling are the current giants in that field. But my question is would they have found that success if they tried to write books for adults.
My guess is no. So those of us who are finding success so elusive might follow their lead. Therefore, I am considering writing an MG/YA book. No, it won't feature vampires or wizards. But it will be just as interesting. My hope is that it will be more interesting. I’m going to shoot for fascinating. I'll just have to keep reminding myself to write it for teens. Shouldn't be too hard. I'm surrounded by Middle Schoolers everyday, after all. Like almost a thousand of them. Everyday.
Someone told me to use that as an inspiration. She was right.
Friday, October 8, 2010
Have you ever seen the movie, Dr. Strangelove? Have you ever heard the term, “Dr. Strangelove” mentioned by someone in reference to politics or policy? It’s a hilarious movie that Stanley Kubrick made the same year as Henry Fonda’s movie, Failsafe. Failsafe, as you may or may not know, is a movie that offers a possible consequence of an accidental nuclear attack by America against the Soviet Union.
In Failsafe, the American president, played by Fonda, orders a nuclear bomb to be dropped on New York City, to prove to the Soviets that the bomb dropped on Moscow was an accident. I suppose the reasoning was that one city wiped out in each country was preferable to an all out nuclear war. I don’t agree with that solution, but whatever…it’s just a movie.
So, anyway, Kubrick‘s movie starred Peter Sellers in three separate roles, and he played each role with hilarious precision. He played the president of the United States, who had to speak to the Soviet premier via hotline in an effort to convince him the imminent attack is an accident. Second, he played a British officer stationed at the American Air Force base from which the attack was launched. And third, he played Dr. Strangelove, an ex-Nazi weapons expert, who is now an advisor to the White House.
In Dr. Strangelove, as in Failsafe, the bomb gets dropped, and a Soviet city gets destroyed. But I must admit the solution in Dr. Strangelove is preferable to the solution in Failsafe. Of course, the conditions are different in Strangelove, as the Russian ambassador divulges some pertinent information that redirects the thought processes of the men meeting in the war room.
I won’t spoil it for you, because if you haven’t seen it, do so, and you’ll be glad you did. It’s a comedy after all, and you’ll find out why the alternate title makes sense: “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.”
Thursday, October 7, 2010
I mentioned that I began writing my first novel when I was about eight years old. My brother was about ten, and he gave me the inspiration because he was writing his own stories. Now, he’s a lawyer, and he writes legal stuff. I’ve been writing teacher stuff for twenty years, but only in the new millennium have I been on a computer.
I would love to quit this day job, like most aspiring writers and put all my time into writing. I have a rough draft to clean up, KILLER EYES, as I had documented on this blog while I wrote it. I have other ideas for other novels, and I wish I could just bury myself in writing them, and revise what I’ve written.
You know, I probably would if I was still single. But that’s not an option anymore. The biggest problem is that when I come home from work, I am not in the mood to write. I find myself in the right mindset in the evening, after I’ve unwound and settled in to being home again.
But then the kids are home, and the wife gets home, and for the distractions, I am hard-pressed to make progress. Still, KOK and TV got done. So too will KE. As long as I get something done each day, I can feel contented to a degree. It’s when I get nothing done, that’s when I can’t shake that empty feeling. Writing a daily blog helps that feeling to produce. It’s writing, after all.
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
Yesterday, I talked about how Ayn Rand started a new philosophical movement. Before that, I mentioned how Robert E. Howard created a new genre. I consider both authors to be among the best of all time. Sure there's a long list of great authors. Melville, Dickens, Hemingway, and Twain are only a few off the top of my head. But how many really were as original, as unique as Rand and Howard? To actually create a new philosophy...to create a new genre...man, it doesn't get too much better than that.
As for me, I'll be happy to just get published. When/if that happens, only then will I be concerned about how my work affects the world. I hope to increase awareness for victims's rights in KOK. I hope to increase awareness for intercultural understanding in THE VASE. But that's more like an awareness day. Like the NFL last Sunday was breast cancer awareness day. All the football players wore pink to promote it. That's great. The more people who are thinking about that, the more people might get checked, and maybe some lives are saved.
But what about art for art's sake? Sure. I can remember reading Howard and being blown away by his great writing, his use of prose and poetry to bring the adventures of a prehistoric barbarian into my home. It didn't save my life, but it sure entertained me. That is something that deserves credit unto itself. Even if a life isn't saved, or health improved, great writing, great stories and great characters are worth reading.
The key is the writing. Literary agents almost always talk about "voice." And every time they try to explain what "voice" is, they really don't. They say they're looking for a great voice...a unique voice...a voice that grabs them, pulls them in, a voice that hooks them.
You know what I call it? I call it great writing. If it's good, or great writing, then you've got a good, or great voice. It's as simple as that. What a crock, this "voice" thing. Just call it what it is. That's all.
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Ayn Rand is mostly known for her two great novels, THE FOUNTAINHEAD and ATLAS SHRUGGED. She wrote other novels, of course, but these are the ones that began an entire movement. Objectivism. She wanted to call it Existentialism, but, as she explained, that title was already taken.
To quote Wikipedia:
“Objectivism holds that reality exists independent of consciousness, that man has direct contact with reality through sense perception, that one can attain objective knowledge from perception through the process of concept formation and inductive and deductive logic, that the proper moral purpose of one’s life is the pursuit of one’s own happiness or rational self-interest, that the only social system consistent with this morality is full respect for individual rights, embodied in pure laissez faire capitalism, and that the role of art in human life is to transform man’s wildest metaphysical ideas, by selective reproduction of reality, into a physical form – a work of art – that he can comprehend and to which he can respond emotionally.”
To quote Ayn Rand:
“My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.” Ayn Rand, ATLAS SHRUGGED
You know what? To me it sounds like common sense, yet there are factions out there that are natural opponents to Objectivism. But I don’t want to get into politics on this blog so I'll stop right there.
The reason I even bring it up now is to point out how some writers can breach the philosophical gray areas, and from a work of fiction, promote a viewpoint that will affect the world around them.
In my books, KILLER OF KILLERS, and THE VASE, the viewpoints I want to promote boil down to Justice for each individual and Peaceful Coexistence for the world at large. If my books can help even in the slightest toward one or both, then I have succeeded in my effort.
Monday, October 4, 2010
“…If creative fiction writing is a process of translating an abstraction into the concrete, there are three possible grades of such writing:
1-translating an old (known) abstraction (theme or thesis) through the medium of old fiction means, (that is characters, events, or situations used before for the same purpose, that same translation) – this is most of the popular trash;
2-translating an old abstraction through new, original fiction means – this is most of the good literature;
3-creating a new original abstraction and translating it through new, original means. This as far as I know, is only me – my kind of fiction writing.”
Ayn Rand, 1946
(I added the numbers to separate the distinctive classifications.)
I think all novelists should consider their novels in the context of Ayn Rand’s grades of creative fiction writing.
My first novel, KILLER OF KILLERS is basically a vigilante story, and that’s certainly an old abstraction (theme). But there is more to it than just the vigilante element. If I were to use the same old, ‘family gets murdered, so hero gets revenge’ theme, then KOK would fit into the popular trash grade. But that’s not my MC’s motivation. He is motivated by a constant and continuous societal injustice. Sure, at one point, he gets confused with a drive for revenge. But that’s just a complication in the plot which he has to work out in the heat of the action. There are additional abstractions that are also very old – The quest for immortality, the formation of exclusive fraternities, the relevance of drugs, sexual freedom, loyalty, and betrayal.
But I believe I use new original fiction means, which I hope make my book “good literature.”
My second novel, THE VASE, also uses old themes, like a father seeking revenge, a merchant seeking neutrality, and an army captain losing his faith during war. But I think I also use an original abstraction, and I translate it through new original means.
It's a combination of themes that lead to a peaceful coexistence and a promotion of intercultural understanding through the revelation of historical truth. Has that been done before? If it has, then I believe it has not been done the way I did it. So if THE VASE doesn't qualify for number three, I'm confident it qualifies for number two.
I am certainly not putting myself on the same level of Ayn Rand, just as I would never put myself on the same level of Robert E. Howard. I am not that good, not even close. But I believe it’s a good way to assess your writing. Only well-read readers would know for sure.
Friday, October 1, 2010
Walt Disney made a TV show about him and called it The Swamp Fox. If you were alive in the sixties, and watched any Walt Disney TV shows, you might remember it. It starred funnyman Leslie Nielson as The Swamp Fox, but it was very early in his career. He's best known now for his comedies. Actually, Nielson’s best movie, imo, is the Disney movie, Forbidden Planet, which is one of my favorite movies. I should list it as such in my profile, because it’s a terrific Science Fiction movie, loosely based on Shakespeare’s story, THE TEMPEST.
The second reason I call my blog The Swamp, is because it’s a blog in the bog, as it says in the subtitled description under the header. I believe I blog from the bog, meaning I’m in writer's nowheresville. How long will I be stuck in the limbo of the writer’s world, who could say. I suffered through the pangs of finding an agent like most people, but I got lucky and found one.
But that doesn’t mean I’m clear of the bog. No, I’m still there. With apologies to The Doors, I don’t have time to wallow in the mire, but regardless, I’m there. Until a publisher believes in my stories and publishes them, I will remain in the Bog.
My plan is to change the name of my blog when I get a book published. Then, depending on which book is published, that will be the new name of my blog. Killer of Killers, or The Vase. You know, to promote the book. It’s why we blog in the first place, right? To form a platform. Writers are encouraged to establish a platform. Get your name out there. Get the name of your book out there. It’s why writers blog…no? Oh, yeah, there’s another reason. We love to write.