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, December 30, 2011

End of Year is Here

My goal was to finish JOHN DUNN, but I have an excuse. And it's a good one. I've found a publisher interested in KILLER OF KILLERS, my first and still favorite novel. So I took this past week to go over it with a fine tooth comb in order to maximize its chances of being accepted.

And I have made it better, no doubt. Mostly I've improved the prose as I do every time a reread one of my manuscripts. Even after having THE VASE undergo two professional edits, I recently reread that one, too, and improved the prose still again. So as I've said many times, your manuscript, really, is never finished until it's been PUBLISHED and is a PRINTED BOOK.

Anyway, I figure to finish this most recent revision of KOK, and submit it tomorrow. Maybe today.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Looking Forward to KOK Submission

I'm halfway through the reread of KOK, and I'm confident it will be finished by tomorrow. Then I'll put together the submission package to the new publisher I mentioned.

That means this weekend I'll get back to JOHN DUNN. It hurts to take time away from that one, since it's my WIP. I really don't believe in getting sidetracked. I'm the kind of man who begins something and finishes it.

But OK. It'll get finished. Very soon. And then THAT will be the one I'll be revising over and over. Just like I did with the others. I have found the revision process to be the most fun, anyway. And make no mistake... I'm enjoying this a lot.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

John Dunn Story Not On Backburner

Yesterday I mentioned that KILLER OF KILLERS is no longer on the backburner. I am reading it in preparation to submit it again. And I am very glad for that because it's a story that needs to be published.

But that doesn't mean that the JOHN DUNN story is now on the backburner. No way. I'm so close to finishing that one, and I look forward to finishing it, and getting that one published too.

I am very hopeful that in the coming year, I'll have both KOK and THE VASE published, perhaps by two different publishers. And KOK has a sequel, too.

As for John Dunn? I'll be back to work on that in a heartbeat. I figure to finish the chapter I'm on right now, which is the concluding battle of the Zulu War, and then one more chapter after that. This might be my greatest book yet. Still, KOK remains my favorite. That's all.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Renewed Interest in KOK

People who have been reading this blog for a while know that my sentimental favorite book is KILLER OF KILLERS. It's a dynamic story about dynamic characters. And with all the fuss over THE VASE of late, and with my current work in progress, JOHN DUNN, taking up most of my time, I seem to have put KOK on the back burner.

Not so anymore. I have found a new publisher who is interested in KOK. And why wouldn't they be? It's about the world's greatest martial artist, after all. The story revolves around a wonder drug that cures all disease! It includes a secret society of immortal supermen! I mean how could a publisher not be interested in that? Don't tell me they just want stories about benevolent teenaged vampires, or training schools for teen witches, I won't believe it.

No, this is no romance publisher, either. They want dark stories with cutting edge fiction. They specify speculative fiction and subversive fiction among other genres. Yes, KILLER OF KILLERS is right up their alley. It's such a great story, I love it more every time I read it. So I'm going to read KOK one more time. Polish it up, still, one more time, and send it... fingers crossed.

Monday, December 26, 2011

If You Have No Kids...

...then you probably got some writing done this past weekend. If you have no wife or visiting family, you probably got some writing done.

But I didn't get any writing done this past weekend. Because I have a wife, kids, and visiting family. OK, that's all right.

I have always marveled at those women who blog about having a supportive husband who works and supports them, while they have no job other than to write their books.

Well, everyone has their own circumstance and however they get it done is great for them. I'm almost done. Just a little bit more.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Two More Chapters

Yes, I'm on the home stretch but I think two more chapters will do it for my WIP, JOHN DUNN. The final battle of the Zulu War was at Ulundi, the Zulu capital, and this will be the climax of the story. And I have already begun that chapter. Then I will conclude the book with a chapter after that, which will contain the capture of the Zulu king, and Dunn's acceptance of a larger subkingdom from the victorious British, who at that point will be led by Chelmsford's replacement, Sir Garnet Wolseley. Maybe I can get it finished by the end of the year. We'll see.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Almost Here

Well, I wanted my WIP, JOHN DUNN, HEART OF A ZULU, to be done by the end of this year, and I am closing in on the conclusion right about now. I finished the Battle at Gingindlovu last night, and there is really only one more battle I might put in there and it's the final battle of the war, the Battle of Ulundi. Ulundi is the royal kraal where the Zulu king resides, and it was the objective of the British invasion from the beginning. Of course it wasn't as easy as they thought it would be, but after John Dunn joins the British, it did get easier. He was instrumental in the British victory at Gingindlovu, and although he didn't fight in the battle at Ulundi, I'll probably put that battle in the book, because, of course, King Cetshwayo was there, and so was Lord Chelmsford, who has become a prominent supporting character. I have to conclude the story in a good way, and that's my focus right now. The end is in sight.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Writing is the Coolest

There are a lot of things people can do in this world. Especially nowadays. With all the electronics out there now, the list of things to do is endless. iPhones, iPods, iPads, PS1s, PS2s, PS3s, xBox, PSPs, DSs, and on and on and on, let alone all the entertainment of movies, DVDs, BlueRay, and I can't even think of it all. And I do none of it. What do I do? I used to do art, and I used to do music. And both were cool ways to express my creative side. But what I've found to be the coolest is writing. You get to create your own world, your own people, your own circumstances, your own stories. And that is something that can't be beat by any of the other things out there you can do.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Not Tired of Christmas

So I prefer not the holidays because it slows down the writing process, and more importantly, the publishing process. And it doesn't matter if you have a publisher or not, because if you don't, you're looking for one, and they may or may not be using holiday time to review submissions. And if you do have a publisher, they may or may not use holiday time to further the process of getting your book published. So whatever and whichever you are at out there in the blogoshere, good luck to you. Most importantly, keep writing.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Tired of Research

It's like I want to scream for all this darn research. But, of course, I don't scream, so I won't. I hate being bogged down. I wrote the first drafts of my first three novels in three months. (Each, that is.) And right now, I'm at seven months for JOHN DUNN, HEART OF A ZULU. And I'm still not done with the first draft.

But you know what? When I reread portions of what I've written so far, I like it. Sometimes I get the notion to post segments on here. Don't know if that's a good idea. Better if I let some of those British dudes on the Zulu War forum check it out. I think that might be a good idea.

Oh well. Keep it going. That's all.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Good Writing Important, but...

I forget where I read this, but whoever it was was right when he said that good writing, as important as it is, is not what it's all about. It's about the story. Because if you have a book that has excellent writing, it won't matter at all if the story sucks.

For instance, when I was perusing excerpts from books on that publisher's list a few days ago, I came across a few stories that had excellent writing. But as I explained in an earlier post, one of them was downright disgusting and a major turn off.

Another one, despite its good writing, could have put even the most avid reader to sleep. I mean, nothing was happening. It was about a guy on a bus. And for the first two pages, the writer described people on the bus. It's like, OK, the guy is on a bus. Now what? I didn't read any further. The author gave no reason to care about the guy or the people on that bus.

And finally, there is a point of overdoing good writing. I was reading another excerpt and I couldn't even tell you what the story was about, but the writing was so intricately worded, that it reminded me of an over-decorated Christmas tree. It occurred to me while reading that particular sample that this writer was going way overboard to prove that he could really write.

OK, but it was just too much. Tell a good story, dammit. That's the bottom line.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Don't Use Roman Numerals

I used to use Roman numerals to number my chapters. But when THE VASE got edited, my editor didn't approve of that. She used the word, like ONE, TWO, etc. Not 1, 2, or I, II, and that's OK. It's not the right time to get fancy. You impress with your writing, and more importantly, the story, not by how you number your chapters.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Regret the Wasted Day

I talked about getting sidetracked yesterday, and I regret letting that happen to me. That unnamed publisher I talked about isn't for me. Like a lot of publishers, their website says to check out the books on their lists to get an idea of the kind of books they publish, or the kind of writing they like. So I read an excerpt from one of their books, and I was disgusted. I think it was an attempt at humor. I don't know, maybe it's just me, but I am not amused by nasty and disgusting stuff. Nope. Not for me. Well, if that's their idea of good writing, forget it. Man, there's that notion of subjectivity again.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Don't Get Sidetracked

I did get sidetracked last night. Went back to KILLER OF KILLERS because I found a publisher that might be just right for it. So I wrote up a cover letter aimed at that publisher. On their website, they said they are taking submissions starting this Thursday, so that's why I got busy on targeting them. You never know. I really would like to see that book in print. It's my favorite one, after all.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Those Holidays Again

The holidays are coming again. And the longest one of them all. It's a time for family and cheer, and good will. And that's a good thing, sure. But the publishing world will go on hiatus. That's not a good thing. The publishing world already moves at a snail's pace. And to take a week or two off, is needed in the publishing world as much as the proverbial hole in the head.

But that doesn't mean it's time off for the writer. I should make double progress on my WIP, and maybe I'll even finish it. That's the goal. Finish by the end of the year. We'll see if it gets done.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Goal vs. Deadline

I had set a goal to finish my WIP by Thanksgiving. I might have achieved that goal if I hadn't had to do so much research, which means a lot of reading up on the events that took place during that time period in South Africa. Mainly the events leading up to and during the Anglo-Zulu War.

And I'm still not fully researched. I'm doing it as I go along. I've got the Battle at Isandlwana completely researched, and I've got that chapter finished now too. It's been like that the whole way. Now I'm researching the Battle at Gingindlovu, and it's especially pertinent, because Dunn had joined up with Chelmsford by then. He was the one who advised Chelmsford that the Zulus were nearby, after discovering their whereabouts by swimming up a river under a fallen tree. Pretty good stuff. And all historically accurate.

It makes me wonder if I had set a deadline instead of a goal, would I have been finished by now. Maybe a deadline would have made me buckle down more with more determination to finish. Maybe. But it would have gotten me in more trouble with the wife, that's for sure.

Anyway, my goal is the end of the year now. Hope I make that one.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Gotta Keep Writing

That's my credo, but last night, life got in the way again. My nine year old needed help with his homework, and my wife made it clear that it wasn't a night to be spent in my computer room. So, had to take a night off the WIP. And tonight is my older son's high school football banquet. Hopefully I can get back to work on the WIP after that because I'm really looking forward to getting this thing completed. But you only accomplish that by sitting down and doing it.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Goal: Finish WIP by end of Year

My WIP is longer than any of my prior books. It's at 102,000 words and on the home stretch. Last night I was writing the scene where Lord Chelmsford seeks out John Dunn and let's him know how he really feels. After all, the general had just lost about a thousand soldiers at the Battle of Isandlwana, and he's not a happy camper. So he tells Dunn to help him, or else.

I've been waiting to get to this point because I have Dunn's memoir, and Dunn writes about that event. It's when he agrees to assist Chelmsford. But Dunn makes it clear in his memoir that Chelmsford is not one of his favorite people. Not by a long shot.

So, the Battle of Gingindlovu is next and then the end of the war, as the British finally overwhelm the Zulus and capture their king who happens to be Dunn's best friend. Dunn is not happy about any of it, and he never sees his friend, the Zulu king again.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Good Writing?

I read a lot of writer blogs and I read a lot of their material. I've read a lot of books out there on the shelves. Not the entire book, but I get a good sampling whenever I'm in bookstores, the library, and even Walgreens. I think I'm a pretty good judge of what good writing is, by now.

So not only do I use that ability to critique my own writing, I also use it to determine who writes well and who doesn't. And a lot of people out there do indeed write well. But, damn, a lot just don't. What really gets me is that there are agents out there who toot horns for their clients and even contest participants who just plain don't write well.

I have read some very average samples (even horrendous) in both books and contests, and I shake my head. Yet these are published works or contest winners. Just goes to show you that it's all subjective. Bad writing to one person is good writing to another. There you go.

Monday, December 5, 2011

WIP over 100,000 Words

Yikes. Over 100,000 words, and I STILL have a lot left to write. At this point in the John Dunn story, The Battle of Rorke's Drift just ended, and Dabulamanzi has joined up with Godini in the Siege at Eshowe. And that is historically accurate, too, btw. He was at the Battle of Gingindlovo, and so was John Dunn. That's the battle that took place when the British regrouped and relieved the besieged Colonel Pearson and the First Column at Eshowe. That was the first major victory for the British who went on to win every battle from then on. Like I said, Dunn was forced to join with the British. But I'm putting in my own fictional incentives. In real life, he was threatened by the British general to be tried with treason. I'm putting that in, but I'm adding a little something extra. It's historical FICTION. Gotta spice it up some. But don't worry. I'm not going overboard with it. You'll see. I hope. One day.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Big Publishers Want Piece of Self-Pubbed Pie

Well, the news is that Penguin is starting their own self publishing service. I know other big publishers have dabbled in that. And with the success of self publishing, combined with their own dwindling market, I guess it all makes sense.

I won't self-publish because I want to know that I made it in the publishing world. But that might be the wrong attitude. Having a traditional publisher publish your work, really, is only a part of "making it." The real determining factor is sales. If, say, Harper Collins, or any other of the big six publishes your book, but it doesn't sell, then you really didn't "make it" in the publishing world after all.

The bottom line is sales. Did your book sell or not? If it did, then you are successful. Doesn't matter if you self-pubbed. But if it didn't, even if it's Simon and Schuster publishing your book, then you really were not a successful novelist at all.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

THE VASE not for Christmas

Not this year anyway. When I signed that contract last June I hoped THE VASE would be out by Christmas. That won't happen. Right now I am very disillusioned with Cogito. When I signed with Virtual Tales before that, I thought THE VASE would be out in less than a year. Which means it would have been available by this Christmas. It turned out that three months later, the company folded. Now, I'm finding out that Cogito, too, is far from stable. I would like to have a publisher that is well-established. I'd like to win the lottery, too.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Rorke's Drift

Well, if you've ever seen the movie, "Zulu" starring Michael Caine and Stanley Baker, then you have a good idea what Rorke's Drift is all about. It was a mission that the British took over as a base of operations and it's from where they launched their invasion into Zululand. At the time of the battle at Isandlwana, however, it was mostly being used as a hospital, and it's where the wounded British soldiers and those with various fevers were being treated.

About a hundred soldiers were posted there, and no one expected the Zulus to attack. The Zulu king even stressed to his generals not to attack there. But Dabulamanzi had other ideas. He was held out of the fighting at Isandlwana, and therefore had no part in the glory of that Zulu victory.

The closest place where British soldiers could be found was there at Rorke's Drift. So Dabulamanzi led four thousand Zulus across the Buffalo River and attacked it. He thought he'd get his honor from killing them all. But the British there didn't just lay down and die for him. They had other ideas. Poor Dabulamanzi. Instead of getting glory, he got a surprise.

So, yeah, the battle at Rorke's Drift will be in my story. But unlike the movie, "Zulu" which was told from the British perspective, I'm telling it from the perspective of the Zulus, particularly Dabulamanzi's.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Third Person vs. First Person

I never liked first person narrative. So I only write in third person. Heck, if I was writing my John Dunn book in first person, I don't think I could have put the battle of Isandlwana in the story because Dunn wasn't there.

I like the ability to be omniscient and third person is the only way to write for me. Actually, I detest first person narrative so much that when I pick up a book that might look interesting to me, I put it right back down when I find out it's first person.

I think that first person is disgusting. It forces you to be someone else. I don't want to be someone else. I remember when I was a kid reading Edgar Rice Burroughs. He wrote some of his science fiction stories in first person. I didn't like it then, but I was just a kid, so I read them anyway. If I was to pick up those books now I'd drop them like a hot potato. That's how much I hate first person.

Why do writers choose to write that way? I hope I never see a book written in first person again.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Finally Finished Chapter 15

Even though I didn't write as much as I wanted to this holiday weekend, I did, at least, finish chapter fifteen. That's the chapter that includes the battle at Isandlwana. It's a pretty long chapter - thirty pages. And even though the main character of the story, John Dunn, is not in that battle, or even in the chapter, a few of the other recurring characters are in there. And more importantly, I know that enthusiasts of the Anglo-Zulu War will want it in there.

So that puts me on the home stretch of this book. I have to include the Battle at Rorke's Drift, too. That was the big movie they made called Zulu. And one of the supporting characters in this story is the guy who led the Zulus in that battle. His name is Dabulamanzi. He was King Cetshwayo's brother, and he had a rocky relationship with John Dunn. I guess you could even call him one of the antagonists in the story. You see, King Cetshwayo had ordered his warriors NOT to cross into Natal. But Dabulamanzi disobeyed him. I have put together a good sequence of events that explains why he did that.

Is it the way it really happened? Not sure, really, as every reference book I read had no interview with Dabulamanzi about why he disobeyed the king. But there were inferences and speculations, and based on that, my explanation works pretty well, I think. It's historical fiction after all. And that's what happens next. On to Rorke's Drift.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


It seems that everyone is thankful for something on Thankgiving, and I can't pretend I have nothing for which to be thankful.

Well, I do, but I don't suppose everyone out there is keen on hearing about it. I mean it's great to be thankful and to have a lot to be thankful for, but I find myself not really interested in all the things strangers have to be thankful for. And I don't want to bore anyone who happens to be reading this in that manner.

So, yeah, I'm thankful. Now back to work and get this WIP done. It's over 93,000 words right now, and I still have at least three more chapters to write. Shoot, this book is turning out to be a monster. Tell you what... I'll be thankful for when it's done!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Work Through Distractions

Sometimes life seems to just get in the way of finishing that WIP. Just when I thought I'd be sitting down and getting major work done, the water heater goes out. Then the son wants a ride to his girlfriend's house, and the wife wants to go Christmas shopping.

After taking care of all of that, I'm determined to sit down and finish chapter fifteen, which is titled, "Isandlwana." I've talked enough about it by now. I just got to finish it. It's already at 20 pages. I hope it doesn't go more than about ten pages more, or else I might have to divide it into two chapters.

We'll see.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Holiday Week and Time to Write

I am looking forward to this Thanksgiving week. Sure the Turkey will be good and seeing relatives again. But I'm getting tomorrow off and don't go back to work until Monday. I'm planning on getting a lot done.

I've already reread THE VASE completely through, since it was edited by Cogito, and yes, I've made it even better. Boy that manuscript is the definition of the word polished. Now back to the JOHN DUNN story. I wanted to get it done by Thanksgiving, but now I'm hoping to get it done by Christmas. Hey, it's longer than I thought it was going to be.

If it was the same length as my other books it would be done by now. It's over 91,000 words right now. So there you go.

Monday, November 21, 2011


Late posting today. You can blame Monday and the new Trimester. It began today. Now that the school day is over, I have some time to write this.

It's not like I have the same students all year. As an art teacher, I get a new bunch every trimester. That's three times a year. It's great really. I get to reach three times as many kids as otherwise.

But it's hard to remember all those names. I remember faces pretty well. The only problem with that is that sometimes two kids look very much alike. And I'm not even talking about identical twins, although I've had a lot of those, too.

Yeah, it'a an interesting job. But so is writing. Gotta get back to that.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Foreign Publishers

I wonder what the consensus is about non-American publishers. I mean would you mind being published by a publisher in a different country? I don't suppose it makes a difference, as long as the country is an English speaking one.

Canadian or UK publishers shouldn't be much different than American publishers. But what would the difference be if, say, you were offered a contract by a Chinese or Indian publisher. No, I haven't been offered a contract from there. Cogito is Canadian, but they speak English. French, too, by the way. That might be a good thing. It should increase the market. And increase sales. Yeah, that would be a good thing.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Don't Royalties Make a Difference?

When I've talked with other writers who are published, it seems that they don't mind having such a low percentage of royalties. Almost always, it's ten percent. But when you think about it, a ten percent royalty is laughable.

But that's what most of the publishers give their authors. One of the reasons I signed with Virtual Tales is they gave a whopping 50% royalty to their authors. Maybe that's why they went out of business. But two of the original owners have started up their own publishing companies, and they are offering whopping percentages, too.

Makes me think. Cogito, (which is the company that currently holds my contract,) is of the ten percent variety. But I signed with them because they were well established and successful. And they get their books into book stores. That's how the people at Absolute Write Water Cooler respond when asked about a publisher. They ask, "Are their books in bookstores?"

Well, one of the first things I did was I went to Barnes and Nobles, and sure enough, I found a half dozen of their books on the shelves. That was a major factor for signing with them. But royalties and bookstores are not the whole of it. There are other factors that make a good publisher, too. Let's see how that works out.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Publishing Journey Not Easy

So there are quite a few problems in the publishing world these days. And those problems affect the writers who are trying to get published. For the unknown writer, it could be good or bad.

Good, because the mainstream publishing world doesn't have the last word anymore. They are now competing with self-publishing and independent publishers. I've always said that self-publishing is not an option for me. And it still isn't. But I would be very happy with an independent publisher like Virtual Tales or Cogito, or any of the many that have cropped up over the years. But that's where the potential bad comes in. Because these non mainstream publishers are less stable.

Well, things are happening with me and THE VASE, and I'll be more forthcoming about it in the couple weeks ahead.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Genre Preference

I guess a lot of people have a genre preference. I don't really. When I was a kid I liked science fiction, but I also liked historicals. I was into the American Civil War for a long while. Didn't read a lot of books about it though. I never even read Red Badge of Courage. But I did read a few Ray Bradbury books, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and H.G. Wells. It was when I discovered Conan and Robert E. Howard did my genre preference for Sword and Sorcery develop. But only in reading. I wouldn't try writing a story like that.

My first attempt at writing was science fiction. I didn't get too far, but I was only eight. My next effort was actually an attempt at creating a science fiction graphic novel. Got two of them completed in what was supposed to be a four part series. I hope to post them on the blog one day. But I don't suppose I'll ever get the other two done. It's not where my head is at. I'm only into the writing now. And what I like writing is contemporary thrillers, and of course my WIP which is historical fiction. But I do believe, at this point anyway, that this is an exception. Too much research involved to do this again. I should have been done a month ago.

As for art, I'm just a teacher now. I'm not even sure I want to illustrate my own covers, although a few people have suggested I do. You know, they say, "Hey, you're an artist. You should do your own cover." Maybe I will. I'm thinking about it.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Historical Novels are Longer

My WIP, the John Dunn Story, is already as long as my three prior novels. I'm at 90,000 words and on page 315. And I have three more chapters to write. Yeah, I've slowed lately, because I have been spending time researching the Battle at Isandlwana. Gotta get that right. Most enthusiasts of the period will be keen on that one. It will be a focal point of the book. And John Dunn didn't even fight in that battle.

But Dunn did fight in the Battle at Gingindlavo. That was when the British regrouped and returned for payback. And the British general, Lord Chelmsford forced Dunn to contribute to the effort or face charges of treason. You know what that means... a noose around your neck. But in my story, I'm giving Dunn a little more motivation than just the preservation of his life. It'll make it more interesting.

Anyway, I hope to keep this under 100,000 words. It's a good thing historical novels are expected to be longer than your thrillers or suspense novels. But publishers aren't too happy if your manuscript is too long. I think I can do it. We'll see very soon. The end is in sight.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Veteran's Day

Another holiday here in the U.S. and Veteran's Day really should be honored. I mean what greater sacrifice or contribution can someone make than to dedicate their life to their country?

My father and his two brothers fought in WWII, and even though I never served in any armed forces, I have a great deal of respect for anyone who has.

Interestingly, I am writing about the Anglo-Zulu War in my WIP, right now, and I found out that a lot of people in England still have a lot of interest in that war, even though it occurred over a hundred and thirty years ago.

I wonder if England has a similar holiday. I suppose I can google that and find out. But I'd rather work on my book. With no school today, I'll have some time to do that.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

What About the Middle?

Talking about beginnings and endings, don't forget about the middle of a novel. Sure the beginning has to hook a reader and get him or her interested in reading onward, and the ending should be one that wraps up the story in a satisfactory way, be it sad or happy. But the middle has to get a reader from one to the other. And it does that by keeping the reader interested.

I've read a lot of blogs that complain about the middle. Writers sometimes say they get bogged down in the middle, almost as if they run out of things to happen. I don't think they should really worry about that. Not if they have a good plot, anyway. Because if you establish a good plot, you've got a journey going right there. Take your journey home, that's all. Once you know how it will end, you just write it through.

The key is complication and conflict. Every story must have complications develop and conflicts to be resolved. And that should take care of any problems concerning the middle. That's the body of the work, after all, and without it, your story will be just a head and tail!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Beginning a Novel

Since I expressed my feelings about endings yesterday, I thought I'd mention a thing or two about beginnings. Because, as all editors and literary agents know, it's the beginning that can make or break a book.

Even I will put a book down and forget about it if it doesn't hook me almost right away. Perhaps not if I have a particular interest in the subject matter, but if I pick up a novel off a bookrack, and start reading it, that first page is super important if I'm going to buy it or even keep on reading it.

And you know what? Most of the time I won't keep on reading. I'll put it right back and move on to the next one. It's weird, really, You'd think that most books would have that hook. But no. I rarely get hooked. Maybe I'm just hard to hook. That must be it, even though I never saw myself as being particularly picky about anything.

But it's true I'm not an avid reader. I don't read a new book every month. Heck, I've been reading Washing of the Spears for the last six months. But to be fair, I'm not just reading it. I'm actually studying it, not unlike a text book. It's the perfect reference book of anything Zulu. Heck, by the time I'm done with it, and finished with my WIP, I'll be close to an expert on the Zulus and the Zulu War.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Good Endings

I think the ending to a story, whether it's a book or a movie, is every bit as important as the beginning. Maybe even more important. And there are many different ways to end a story. Personally, I like happy endings. Well, they don't have to be giddy-type happy, but what I don't like is the kind of endings that make you feel like crap.

Stephen King did that in his story, THE MIST. I mean it made you feel like crap. Spoiler alert here if you haven't seen it. Monsters were killing people in this seemingly endless mist and a group of five people were trying to escape by driving through the mist in a car, but it ran out of gas. They had one gun with four bullets. So the guy takes the gun and shoots the other four people, to save them the misery of being killed by the monsters. But just after the deed was done, the U.S. army arrives to save the day.

I haven't read the book, but if it has the same ending as that movie, what's the point of that? Why did King feel the need to make his readers feel like crap? I would rather the movie ended by making me feel good. Maybe it's just me, but I don't like feeling like crap.

No, I'd rather come out of a book or a movie feeling great for the time I invested in it. I mean, is there anyone out there who likes to feel like crap? I suppose there might be stories that demand a sad ending, like LOVE STORY with Ryan O'Neil and Ali McGraw. But even though that had a sad ending, you still felt good about the story overall. It's OK if a story is like that. But THE MIST wasn't like that. It's like King just decided, "You know, I'll make everyone feel like crap at the end of this story."

On the other hand, King's Shawshank Redemption was a great ending. It made me feel good. I think it's better if endings make you feel good, even if they're sad.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Need to Read

I'd rather write than read. But sometimes you just gotta read. I have not had a story grab my interest in a long time that can rival the interest I have in my own writings. The book I'm reading now, The Washing of the Spears, by Donald Morris is interesting to me because it chronicles the rise and fall of the Zulu nation. And the Zulus are a focal point in the John Dunn story, which is my WIP.

Fortunately, Donald Morris has a lot to say about John Dunn and chronicles his association with the Zulus, especially since he was there in a big way when they were invaded and destroyed by the British. But there was another factor in the downfall of the Zulus, according to John Dunn who knew them better than any other white man. More on that tomorrow.

Friday, November 4, 2011

When Time is Short

Since I have a full time teaching job, and a full time family of five, (including the mother-in-law,) time becomes sparse, and that means time to sit in front of a computer and produce is limited. Extremely limited. It's over the summer vacation I get the most work done, and that's when I was able to write my first three books. (The first drafts, I mean.)

But the John Dunn story took a lot longer and even though summer vacation ended two months ago, I'm still not finished. It's because I had to read and research about the time period and about the events that took place in the story I'm writing. Yeah, it's historical fiction, but I am fully aware that the Zulu War enthusiasts out there will expect a semblance of historical accuracy.

So I'm chugging along, inch by inch, and getting closer to the end every day. I used to pump out as much as five thousand words in a day over the summer. Now I'm lucky to get five hundred down.
Still, it's five hundred more than the day before. Just keep it going, and the time will pass, and the book will get done, but only if you stick to it.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Editing and Writing

I reread the last two chapters of my WIP and edited them as I read them. I usually do that, and I was very satisfied with the polished result. I found myself thinking that those two chapters might make a good sample when the time comes to submit.

But no, agents and most publishers are pretty firm in seeing the first chapter(s) of a manuscript. I'm sure it's because they want to get a feel for how your story starts and if it will hook a reader. But that's OK, at least for my WIP. The John Dunn story begins with the Zulu Civil War. Near 40,000 Zulus were massacred by Prince Cetshwayo, including several of his own brothers.

What makes this story even more interesting is that my main character, John Dunn, fought on the side that lost. He fought against Cetshwayo, killed a lot of his warriors, barely escaped with his life, and then he goes and visits him afterward. He might have been executed on the spot. But instead, Cetshwayo becomes best friends with him and rewards him with a kingdom of his own. Who'd have thunk it? You could write that story and people would say, Come on, that's ridiculous. But hey... that's what really happened. Yep, sometimes truth is stranger than fiction!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

How Much Action?

I'm trying to determine how many of the Anglo-Zulu War battles I should include in my story. The most famous ones are the Battle at Isandlwana and the Battle at Rorke's Drift. They're famous because both have been made into movies. One was ZULU DAWN, starring Burt Lancaster and Peter O'toole, and the other was ZULU, starring Michael Caine and Stanley Baker. They were both good movies, and I liked them when I saw them so many years ago.

But I realize now that neither one was completely true to history. I suppose had they been books, they would have been designated historical fiction. So that's all right. So is my WIP, John Dunn, Heart of a Zulu. You don't refer to them for historical facts. They were interesting because they were based on true history, but that's it.

It kind of reminds me of that HBO miniseries a while back called ROME. I really liked it. It was based on the real historical events surrounding Julius Caesar and others during that time period, but it contained an awful lot of things that just didn't happen. Thus, historical FICTION, to be sure. But entertaining, yes.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

New Research = New Subplots

When I continued my research on the Anglo-Zulu War, I learned about the three sons of Shepstone who had joined the armed forces that were gathering to fight the Zulus. And because Theophilus Shepstone is a major player in my storyline, I figured to use this in the story.

You see, for many years, Theophilus Shepstone had played the part of an advocate for the Zulus, since he was the Natal Secretary of Native Affairs. Like John Dunn, he spoke fluent Zulu, and other native African languages, too. The Zulus came to trust him, and looked up to him. But he had always wanted a land of his own to rule. It's one of the reasons he didn't like Dunn, who was given a land of his own to rule in Zululand by the Zulu king.

There was a border dispute between the Zulus and the Boers, which had been going on for a long time. And for a long time, Shepstone sided with the Zulus on that issue. But an opportunity arose for Shepstone to become the ruler of the Transvaal Republic, which was a Boer colony. He grabbed it, and now that he was the president of the Transvaal, he reversed himself and backed the Boers on the border issue, forsaking all the years of support he had given the Zulus.

What a guy. So yeah, since the war is starting, and three of his sons participate, I have an opportunity to make this storyline even more interesting than it already is. Cool.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween

I don't know what they do in other countries, but here Halloween is kind of a big thing. Mostly for kids, but adults get in the spirit of Halloween, too. Many grownups dress up in costumes to go to work and that's true even at schools. I don't. Once, I taught at a school that required the teachers to dress up in a costume, and even though I went ahead and did it, I wish I didn't.

Why? Because, imo, it's a kid thing. I think teachers should teach and dressing up for halloween detracts from that in a classroom. But that's me. I go to the bank and to the grocery store and the employees are dressed in costumes. Whatever. I think going to a costume party is more the appropriate time and place to do that. I might be a prude, but the work place is a different element. Hey, don't get me wrong, I still take my kids out to trick or treat. Well, my nine year old anyway. My fifteen year old hasn't dressed up the last couple years. He's too old for that now. Sigh. How the years fly by.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Back to research

Pausing once again to firm up the research on these battles. Because the Battle of Isandlwana was not the only one happening. There were three of them happening almost simultaneously. As I've said, there were three British columns invading Zululand all at once. The Zulus stopped all three of them. The Central Column was destroyed, the Left Column was stopped at Hlobane and pushed back to Kambula, and the Right Column was stopped and besieged at Eshowe.

So I am researching the details of all three battles, just to make sure I get them right, and to figure out how much of them I want to actually put in the story. I have a lot of subplots that take place in these battles. For instance, not only does John Dunn fight in the battle to relieve the besieged Brits at Eshowe, two of Shepstone's sons fight at Isandlwana and one of them gets killed. It's some very interesting reading.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

WIP at 82,000 words

82,000 words for my WIP right now and I'm not even close to done yet. THE VASE is 88,000 words, and KILLER OF KILLERS is 89,000. It''s looking like JOHN DUNN will exceed 90,000 and might even reach 100,000 by the time it's finished. That's OK for historical fiction, I think. Right now in the story the Dunn clan has just crossed over into Natal to sit out the war.

After that, Lord Chelmsford's third column will cross into Zululand. Colonel Wood has already invaded, and Colonel Pearson goes the next day. Then I'll put in the scene where the Zulu king Cetshwayo is planning his counterattack. The Battle of Isandlwana will come after that. It's a fast ride and it's picking up speed right about now.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Battle of Isandlwana

The first major battle of the Anglo-Zulu War was the British disaster at Isandlwana, which ranks as the worst-ever defeat of a modern army by a primitive one in the history of warfare. It’s the British version of “Custer’s Last Stand” but much worse.

After the British invaded Zululand, the top guy, Lord Chelmsford, AKA General Thesiger, decided to camp his center column at the base of a mountain called Isandlwana. Of course he wanted to make sure no Zulu army was around that might attack him, so he ordered Major Dartnell to scout ahead. Dartnell encountered Zulus and sent word back for permission to attack them. Thinking it was a big Zulu army, and not wanting to be left out of the fight, Chelmsford rode out with half of his force to reinforce him. This left the camp at half-strength and under the command of the inexperienced Major Pulliene.

But the main Zulu army was hiding out of sight in a low ravine, and they attacked, catching the camp unprepared. When Chelmsford returned, the camp had been wiped out. Over a thousand British and their native allies were massacred. News spread fast, and the world was shocked. They didn’t think that was possible.

The thing is that the Dutch-descended Boers who had been living in South Africa for hundreds of years and fighting the Zulus for just as long, had warned the British not to underestimate the Zulus. But the British didn’t listen. And that's what happened.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Chapter Outlining

So I’m nearing the conclusion of my WIP, John Dunn, which includes the Anglo-Zulu war and its aftermath. But there are so many subplots and characters involved I’ve decided to outline each remaining chapter.

First, there’s the chapter when the war begins. It begins, of course with the British invasion into Zululand. John Dunn, trying to remain neutral, undertakes an exodus of thousands of the people who live under his autonomous rule in the part of Zululand called Dunnsland.

This exodus also included upward of 3,000 head of cattle. The British, fearful that the thousands of Zulus who live under him might join the Zulu side, promise to provide food and shelter. But once Dunn brings them into Natal, not only do the British break their promise and provide nothing, they take all of their guns away, to boot.

But the invasion does not go as planned for the British. No spoiler alert needed because it is a historical fact that the first invasion ended in disaster for the British. They invaded with three separate columns which were supposed to converge on the Zulu capital, but all three columns were defeated, one being destroyed, and the other two stopped.

So Lord Chelmsford, who is in overall command of the British forces, comes to Dunn and this time forces him to join the British side instead of just being a bystander. It’s also true history that after he left his Zulu homestead, rogue Zulus burned down his house and the surrounding villages where his people lived.

And there is quite a bit more going on in the story, some of it fiction that I’ve added to spice it up, but all the characters are real and these main events are all true to history. It’s a great deal of fun, just too much research involved for me to ever want to do it again.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Chapter Length

Since I started writing novels, I have been interested in chapter length. More so than before, because when I read a novel, I never even thought about it. In KILLER OF KILLERS, I have short chapters, as few as four pages, and long chapters, as many as thirty-some pages. I know that other novels by other authors also vary in chapter length. I've read novels where chapters are as long as forty or more pages. And I've picked up books where every scene change is a new chapter, and very short ones at that.

In THE VASE, I've averaged my chapters to be about twelve pages or so, with some that do exceed twenty, and I think that's about right. But in JOHN DUNN, HEART OF A ZULU, the chapters tend to be long. The opening chapter is twenty-six pages, and some are well over thirty and even forty pages long. It makes for a book with not so many chapters.

I pick up books in the store and see books that have over FIFTY chapters! Forget that. It's like an endless chapter-filled story. My books have more like twenty chapters, or even fewer. And that's the way I think it should be. I mean if you have a new chapter after every scene break, and each chapter only three or four pages long, that makes for a lot of white space. I know white space is necessary, but I think a chapter break should be worked into the story. When you have a good place to end a chapter, then do it, but I don't think a mere scene break necessarily qualifies as a chapter break. But maybe some people disagree. That's OK.

Friday, October 21, 2011

New Writing Contest

My favorite writing contests are held by Literary Agent Janet Reid because they are short, (100 words or fewer,) and must contain preselected words. This time the words were unforsaken, witch, ghost, deadly, slay, and decay, with an optional word which was "insalubrious." I don't believe I ever heard of that word, but I managed to use it. Hope I used it correctly.

So no, I don't expect to win, and I didn't enter the contest to win anything, but you know what? It was fun. It didn't take a lot of my time, and figuring a short little segment with those words was a minor challenge. OK. Now back to the WIP.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Middle East Turmoil

Since my book, THE VASE, takes place in the Middle East, I have been keeping an eye on the happenings over there. I see that Gadhaffi has been killed now. This follows the killing last May of Osama Bin Laden, and before that, Saddam Hussein, and a few other high profile Middle East leaders. It is an example, among other things, of the turmoil that embroils the region.

THE VASE takes place in a calmer Israel, but even Israel has known its share of turmoil, and the story revolves around that turmoil. The advice given by experts for a novel to be interesting is to have tension and conflict on every page. Well, the Middle East is a setting that provides it. In abundance.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Platforms Effective?

I use this blog as a "platform" and I have Facebook, but only as a "platform" but I'm not sure just how effective they are or will be as "platforms." Sure more people know about me and my books now than before I did them. But how will that translate into sales?

Since my books are not even available right now, that's impossible to gauge. I suppose I will have more sales than I would otherwise. I'm just not sure if I started this blog and FB too soon. I mean I started this blog a year and a half ago. It was when I was writing KILLER EYES. Then I went back and did some more revisions on THE VASE. Then THE VASE sold. Then it sold again. And that's a good thing, but it wasn't because of the blog or FB.

But when you are submitting, the publishers are typically glad that you have some kind of "platform" and blogs are at least a beginning. So, again, we'll see how it all pans out.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Climax for WIP

So you build your story and it's all supposed to come to a climax. That's the normal way a story ends, and of course with a wrap up after that called a denouement. And in my WIP, the climax will be an all out war between two completely different peoples. I mean, how much different can you get? You have the white people, the English, who have colonized that part of Africa, and then you have the black people, the Zulus, who are native to the area.

To say the least, it makes for a great climax. And I'm just now beginning it.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Family Matters

Didn't get but a paragraph done this weekend on my WIP, because I spent both days with the family. I figure it this way: the manuscript will always be there, but the kids will grow up and move out, and then what? So even though I feel guilty for not getting a lot done, I really don't. There's always tomorrow. Just make sure you don't say that every day!

Friday, October 14, 2011

THE VASE - to be released...soon

So my debut novel, THE VASE, is supposed to be published sometime within an 18 month period from the day I signed the contract with Cogito. Since I signed the contract on June 1st of 2011, that means it could be released as late as December of 2012.

Yikes. That's still another 14 months from now. But I've read some blogs where they are promoting their books that won't come out until the summer of 2013. Sheesh, that's even longer. So putting all this in perspective, I guess I'm right in the middle of the norm.

Cogito hasn't given me a release date yet but I wish they would. Maybe they will soon and I can relay that information onto this blog. I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Beta Readers

I have written three books at this point, with my WIP, the John Dunn story being my fourth. One of them, THE VASE, is under contract to be published by Cogito, and has already undergone two complete edits, albeit by two different publishers as chronicled on this blog.

And I am content that THE VASE is ready to be read. My first novel, KILLER OF KILLERS, yet to be sold, is ready, I think, because I've revised it so many times. Sure it will have to be edited by a publisher too, but I really like the way it reads by now.

KILLER EYES has only gone through two drafts, and I know it still needs a lot of work. That's why I would say it's not ready to read. And of course John Dunn, Heart of a Zulu is not even through the first draft yet.

But my brother, a writer, too, wants to read it when he visits at Christmas time. The question is, will it be ready? I let him read my first two books, but both weren't in their present form. I have come to wish I had waited. But maybe for a beta reader it doesn't have to be finished. Still, I hope it can be a more polished draft than those first two were when he read them. That's all.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


I have come to learn that, just as many Americans are Civil War buffs, there are many Anglo-Zulu War enthusiasts, as well. I know because of that forum I joined. It's a forum, mostly of Englishmen, who like to talk about that war, share what they know about it, and even make efforts to divulge new information about it.

They also advertise, or promote books about it. John Dunn is a topic that is often brought up. Mostly they find him an interesting part of that era, and he certainly played a role in the happenings before, during and after the war.

Im my story, Dunn is the central figure, or main character, with King Cetshwayo another main character. Catherine Pierce would probably be labeled a supporting character, although I did try to make her story equally compelling. But there just wasn't enough information about her in my research. I made up a subplot for her, which may or may not be an accurate description of her situation. I think what I've written about her is realistic, at least.

So I'm at 78,000 words now, and back in the swing of writing. I feel good about my progress to this point. Can't wait to finish.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Ultimatum

When the authorities of Natal gave the Zulus their "ultimatum" in which they said peace could be maintained, it was a big time meeting between the two peoples. But neither the governor of Natal nor the king of the Zulus were present. Instead, the Secretary of Native Affairs represented Natal, along with a group of other high ranking whites, and for the Zulus, three of the king's principal inDunas (Zulu officials) and eleven chiefs were present.

Each group had a bevy of attendants present, too. Interesting to me and pertinent to my story was the fact that both sides asked John Dunn to be there. And he was there, but he chose to represent the Zulus, and stood with them during the proceedings. He was the only literate person who reported to the Zulu king, and he received the official letter that the whites read to the Zulu officials.

And unlike the Zulus, he saw the ultimatum for what it was. A deliberate act on the part of the whites to make war with the Zulus. He knew that the British were not expecting the terms to be followed, and he knew they would invade with their army of infantry, cavalry, artillery, and their new Gatling Guns. But he also knew it would be no breeze for the Brits. He knew the fighting might of the Zulus, and he was right. It would be no easy war.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Revision Revisited

Am I glad I reread my WIP, the John Dunn story, because I finally got where I left off, and it is all good right now. I think I subconsciously felt that it needed fixing, and so from the beginning I read it through. And it was near where I left off it got choppy. I smoothed it out last night, and it's good to go. Can't wait to get home from work to continue. I'm at the point where the white people deliver an ultimatum to the Zulu King Cetshwayo. What they were really doing is starting a war with the Zulus. They wanted no more independent black state smack dab in the middle of their confederation of African colonies. And the only way to fix that was by starting a war. So that's what they did.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Setting a Goal

I am setting Thanksgiving holiday as my deadline to complete the first draft of my WIP. That doesn't mean that if I'm not done by then something bad is going to happen. I'll just keep plugging away until I am done. But with this research nearly completed and the rereading done, I should get back to work full swing very soon.

The Anglo Zulu War has so many different aspects to it, that I really can't include them all. I'm hoping, however, that the enthusiasts of that period will be satisfied in the way that I do portray it.

For instance, there were many factors that contributed to the outbreak of the war. And many different personalities were involved. I have trimmed it considerably, and limited the cause to the two major factors. I think it's enough. Maybe some purists will disagree. So I better get used to the idea that you can't please everyone.

That's all for now. I'll know more when I'm actually done.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Revising While Writing

I've been revising as I reread my WIP, and now that I'm at the point where I left off, I find myself making some major revisions there, too. I'm not sure that's a good idea. It has delayed my progress. But overall, it probably is a good idea. It will ensure the flow is smooth, and the events are properly placed.

Because it will have to be done anyway. So getting these particular revisions done now means I won't have to do them later. But then again, I might have been finished with the first draft by now if I didn't go back to reread and revise.

Nevertheless, time will go by and the work will get done. But only if you keep on writing. My advice is don't stay away from a WIP. If you do, you may lose touch and it will be harder to get back into the feel of the story. And you don't want that to happen. So if you do take a break from writing it, go ahead and reread it. You'll be glad you did.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

No Surprise Ending

Well, I've just about caught up in my rereading of my WIP, John Dunn, and I am relieved to find it flowed smoothly enough. It didn't get bogged down, and the conflict is building up well. I should get to page 265 tonight, which is where I left off and the war is about to start.

But I don't think there will be a surprise ending. Everyone in Natal, well, the white people, anyway, knew there could only be one ending to that war. They would win it. It's why they went to war with the Zulus in the first place. I don't suppose anyone would go to war if they thought they would lose it. But history is full of examples of losers starting wars.

But not this time. Of course, the British did get a shock at the start of the war. Known as the Battle at Isandlwana, it was the first major battle of the war and a resounding defeat for the British. But they doubled their efforts, and won the war in the end. As they expected.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Killer Elite - Great Movie

I took my sons to the movie KILLER ELITE Sunday night. Normally I wouldn't do that on a school night, but what the heck, I wanted to see the movie and so did they. And it was a great movie. I like Jason Statham as an actor in action movies, and I like Clive Owen as an actor, too. Both actors were great in this movie.

One of the first things I noticed was the name of the movie, of course. KILLER ELITE. I remember a movie with the same title from the seventies, I think. But I can't even remember if I saw it. All I remember is that it had James Caan in it. But I don't remember what it was about or anything else. I do remember that I thought it had a cool title, though.

It's reminiscent of my own book's title: KILLER OF KILLERS. I mean, if you're a killer of killers, doesn't that qualify you as a killer elite? I would think so. So, yeah, I always liked that title, and now I can say I liked the movie. A great plot, a great story, great acting and directing, and my two favorite actors, Statham and Owen, had great roles.

Maybe I should rent that movie from the seventies. It would be interesting to see if it was the same plot, or a completely different story. I liked James Caan movies, too, after all. He was great in THE GODFATHER and even better in ROLLERBALL.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Are They Snobs?

I read a lot of writer's blogs, and there are some different categories of them. There are the blogs by writers who aspire to get published, and blog their journey to publication. This blog, THE VASE, is one of those. I was a writer aspiring to get published and this blog chronicled that journey, which is still mid-journey, by the way.

Then there are the blogs of writers who are already published. Some are self-published, and some are published by independent publishers, (of which I hope to enter into that category very soon, having signed a contract with CogitoMedias, an independent publisher in Canada.)

And then there are the blogs of those who are published by what is referred to as mainstream publishers, or one of the "Big Six" publishing houses in the United States. Some of these blogs, to me, have an air of snobbery about them. What I mean is they seem to have an attitude that says, "Well, I've made it and you haven't." It's as if only those writers who have been published by a mainstream publisher are writers who are truly successful, and the rest of us just don't measure up. Otherwise, we'd be published by a Big Six publisher, too.

No, not every single one of them. But I have been put off by a lot of them, and I don't read their blogs anymore. It's also true that I have come to dislike some of these "agent" blogs. Some I still read for the information. But the personalities that they convey, to me, just irk me. And I don't think it's just me feeling that way.

Whatever. It's not like I'm friends with any of them. I guess that's the beauty of blogging and reading blogs. You learn about people. Just like in the real world. Some you like. Some you don't. That's all.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Conflict: The Key to Success

As Donald Maass says in his book, How to Write the Breakout Novel, conflict and tension is key to keeping a book engaging. Maass says to have tension on every single page of your book. Now I'm not even sure that's possible, but according to him, if you manage to do it, then that will virtually guarantee the reader will keep turning the pages, and you'll have a successful story.

With my first two completed novels, KILLER OF KILLERS and THE VASE, there surely is a lot of conflict and a lot of tension, and almost on every single page. I suppose the pages that don't are pages where the conflict and tension is building up. So maybe I did succeed in that regard.

And in my WIP, John Dunn, Heart of a Zulu, I think I've succeeded even more. Because of the circumstances. There's tension in every facet of the story. Tension between the races, black and white, tension regarding how other whites view John Dunn, a white man married to a colored woman, and to fifty plus black women. Tension in the national relations between white controlled Natal, and the independent and militaristic Zulu nation.

And then there's the tension between Catherine Pierce, Dunn's first wife, who relates to her white half, and the Zulu wives of Dunn who know only their Zulu world. And there is the tension of the culture clash in every aspect.

Not to mention a full out war that breaks out. The story is set during the height of England's Imperial Empire, and there's tension brewing with the various natives, the Boers, and even among themselves in the way they proceed with colonization.

I've said before, if I included every character and every event that happened in real history, I'd have a very long book. Too long. But I don't want to write a thousand page book here. I will deliberately abridge the events and the people involved. I want to keep this thing underr 100,000 words, and under 400 pages.

That's all.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

It's a Long Road

Much has been said about the publishing process being a long road. And it sure is. First it takes a year to write the book, and maybe another year to make revisions. Then another year to find an agent or a publisher. And then once you've signed a contract with a publisher, guess what? It'll be another year before you see your book in print! Wow.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Review Time

Yesterday, I reread my WIP from the beginning. I am preparing for the climax and conclusion of the John Dunn story, and while I'm researching the British invasion of Zululand, I decided to reread what I've written so far.

I got to page 110, and it read great. It flowed well, and was engaging. The side story of Catherine Pierce was very well established, and there is ample time remaining to finish her ordeal, although she has already come to terms with her husband's additional wives by now. (By now, I mean where I've reached in the story, which is 75,000 words.) Still she will have a major role when Dunn evacuates his people from Zululand.

I hope it stays just as engaging. I'll find out tonight.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

No Time to Read for Pleasure

With all my reading for research, and writing my manuscripts, and revising them, too, I realized that I haven't read for pleasure in quite a while now. I can't even remember, off hand, the last time I did read for pleasure.

It's not like I'm one of those types of people who reads a new book every week or every month, but I have been known to read a book now and then. But since I became an author, that doesn't happen any more. And you know what? I do miss it. A little.

So will I ever get back into the phase of reading for pleasure? Probably. But it depends on whether I will keep writing my own books. And I'm not sure I will. Since I started my first book, I have been gung ho for writing. My first novel, KILLER OF KILLERS, which I love, by the way, I was fully charged. That mode was in full force for THE VASE. I just loved the concept, or the premise for that story, and of course, I still do.

Then for the sequel to KOK, KILLER EYES, I kept that phase alive, with the further exploits of Trent Smith, and possibly the conclusion to the Trent Smith story. (Because it won't be continued, unless it gets PUBLISHED!

And for John Dunn, Heart of a Zulu... Well, let's just say, since it's based on a true story, I felt that it was a story worth telling. It's been told before. The biography, John Dunn, The White Chief of Zululand, is out of print. I can't find it anywhere. Yeah, on Amazon, there's one copy available but for over four hundred bucks. Forget that.

And there was another book, I've heard, that featured the story of Dunn, by a writer named Oliver Walker, published in the 1940s. I finally ordered it. It's coming from South Africa and hasn't arrived yet. I'll see how that one differs from mine. But will it be reading for pleasure or research. Um... maybe a little of both.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Summer Over

I wanted to have the first draft of John Dunn done by now, but too much research prevented that from happening. I still have to finish reading about the war to really get a good feel of how I want to make it a part of the story, and a part of the story it really is.

Dunn had to fight with the British, and I want to make it a crunch time decision for him, but also a motivating one. Something has to happen to make him get off the fence. Yes, he wanted to stay neutral, and that is historically documented. Yes, he sided with the British, and yes they threatened him into doing it.

But to make the story more interesting, I am planning on a fictional event that really propels him to the British side, on top of the other stuff. But first... finish the research.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Back to Research

The one disadvantage of writing historical fiction, is you have to do a lot of reading before you write. I did the research on John Dunn's life in South Africa during the nineteenth century, and then I wrote the story including many of the events that have been documented. I used John Dunn's own notes, and even Cetshwayo's, but most of the information came from Donald R. Morris and his book called The Washing of the Spears.

And now that I am nearing the conclusion of my manuscript, which is the Anglo-Zulu War, I really better go back to Morris and absorb what he wrote about the British invasion into Zululand. I certainly am not getting everything that really happened into my book. There are so many characters involved on all sides, and a lot more factors that led to the war than what I'm putting into my story.

Because if I put everything in there, and everyone, it would distract from the story of John Dunn, and it would probably make my book over 600 pages or more. Forget that. I am striving to focus on Dunn's story, which of course does involve the war in a big way. But I want to be close to the historical truth, so I'll be back to reading for the next couple weeks, and then I'll finish my book.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Tragedy in Stories

A great story has tragedy. Usually, I would think, it's in the middle somewhere to keep the reader engaged and solves the problem of a story bogging down at that point. Unfortunately, a tragedy involves the untimely death of a beloved character. Not always, of course, there are other kinds of tragedy.

In KILLER OF KILLER and in THE VASE, there are tragedies, and yes, right about smack dab in the middle of the story. So those stories don't bog down. In the John Dunn story, there is tragedy, but it's really in the end, when the war is going on and the book concludes. But it's not just a beloved character that dies, it's a whole bunch. Kind of like what happens in the beginning.

So, the John Dunn story begins and ends with the tragedy of war. I guess it's the opposite of the other stories. When I'm finished with this, I'll see how it compares. Maybe I'll change it. Bottom line, will it keep a reader engaged, will it make sense, and will it flow smoothly? We'll see.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Real Plots

I've heard the saying, "Truth is stranger than fiction" several times, and I think I've even used it on this blog. Of course, with fiction an author can make up anything, and make it as strange as he/she likes.

I think, however, that when something happens in real life that is just so out of the ordinary, that it seems like it just shouldn't have or couldn't have happened, that's when you might think that a writer could never have thought that up. But they can.

Still, in real life, when a person accomplishes something so off the wall amazing, it has a greater appeal to me. And there are so many examples. George Washington's story is one of them.

No, I'm not going to write a novel about George Washington. I'm writing about John Dunn. He was not a general, he was not a president. But he fought in a war against the future king of Zululand, became his best friend, became a white chieftain with ten thousand Zulu subjects of his own, and saved most or all of them during the Anglo-Zulu war in which he also fought.

That's some amazing stuff, too.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

It's Not Always Good vs. Evil

In most stories, whether in a novel or a movie, you have the good guys and you have the bad guys, or at least the MC is usually the good guy and the antagonist is bad. But really, it's not always as simple as good vs. evil.

In my WIP, John Dunn, Dunn is the good guy, and the Zulu king Cetshwayo, being his friend, is another good guy in the story. The Natal Secretary of Native Affairs, Theophilus Shepstone, is the bad guy. But I wouldn't call him evil. He conspires against Dunn, and turns on Cetshwayo by siding with the Boers against the Zulus in the border dispute, but really, is that evil?

Cetshwayo, truth be told, was responsible for the deaths of an awful lot of people. His own Zulu people. For instance, when he called for his armies to report for duty, a lot of them failed to appear, claiming illness. So the king sent out his elite force and killed every man who had stayed home pretending to be sick.

Another time, when a female regiment refused to marry the men Cetshwayo told them to marry, he had them executed. So I ask, which man was really good and which was evil? But who's to say? Shepstone tried to force the Zulus to stop their executions. They didn't appreciate that. They felt that the Europeans had no business coming into their country and trying to tell them what to do and what not to do. It was one of the many factors that led to war.

Is it all subjective? Who is right? Who was good and who was evil? Well, you'll just have to read the book. This is going to be a good one. It better be. Otherwise, I wouldn't be writing it!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Emails - A great method of communication?

I think emails are a great method of communication, but what about when the person you email never answers. It's no problem when you're not asking a question or requesting information, but don't you feel weird when you are and you get no answer? I do.

I suppose the same thing could happen with regular mail. Who said a letter gets answered every time? No one, I guess. But aren't emails easier to answer? Don't you just click on reply and then send? Of course you have to type something in between. But how hard is that?

Well, the world isn't perfect. Neither are people. I wish they could be polite, though.

Friday, September 16, 2011

TIme is the Precious Commodity

As I sit here in my classroom this morning, I have some time to write this post. It's just a small window in my day before the kids arrive for class, I can write something for the blog. During the school day, there is no time for that. And it's only after I get home do I find any time to write my books.

But that time is limited, too. Taking my sons here and there and picking them up cuts into that time. I'm not complaining. I relish every moment that my sons are still young enough to be living with me. I rue the day they grow up and move out. That will be tough.

And when the wife gets home, it's time for her. There just isn't enough time in a day to get as much done on my manuscript that I wish I could. As I think about it, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Reread as you write

It's good to go back and reread as you write, just to make sure what you wrote is what you remember writing. For a while I was thinking that my WIP was becoming disjointed, that I was jumping from one event to another without a smooth flow.

But last night I went back and reread earlier portions of my WIP, John Dunn, and found that the story was flowing well. I added another thousand words in there, and I figured out where I might insert another thousand words or so, to tie things in better. And I came out of it with a better feeling for what I had written than I was feeling before.

Of course, I'll be rereading it over and over again when I finish the first draft, but now when I do that, the revisions won't be as major as they would have needed to be otherwise. That's all.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


So John Dunn will be presented with a major problem pretty soon in my WIP. The Zulu War is about to begin, and he has lived as a Zulu for many years at that point. He has Zulu wives, Zulu children, and Zulu subjects who live under his rule.

And although he is a chieftain of his own subkingdom in Zululand, he is still under the Zulu King Cetshwayo as all Zulu chieftains are, but he is a close friend of the king. And Cetshwayo tells Dunn at the start of the war to stay out of it, that he should remain neutral rather than participate in the killing of his own people. (Ethnically speaking, that is, since Dunn never lived in the UK. He was born and raised in Africa.)

And remaining neutral is just what Dunn wants to do. But the British aren't so cool about it. Especially after they lost the first major battle at Isandlwana. Smarting from that defeat, the British commander, Lord Chelmsford tells Dunn that he canNOT remain neutral, that he better help them (the British) or he will be tried as a traitor!

Uh oh. So which POV do I take? The Zulu POV or the British. It's kind of like the dilemma that faced Dunn. I will try to convey both POVs. And like in all wars, each side believes they are in the right. The Zulus are defending their land from invaders. But the British believe they are launching a preemptive strike against a hostile enemy. Ultimately, it will be Dunn's POV, because as the MC, the story follows his perspective. So here we go.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


When my WIP, John Dunn, Heart of a Zulu, is finished, I'm considering querying for an agent again. My last experience with agents really wasn't a good one, and I don't have an agent right now. I figured I didn't need one, as I did a better job of finding a publisher for THE VASE than my agent did for KILLER OF KILLERS. And I still believe that KILLER OF KILLERS is the better book. But that might just be a personal preference thing.

My whole agent experience was just another example of luck gone awry. An agent has got to love your book in the first place, and my first agent did, but as I've chronicled on this blog, she retired within months of signing me. The other agents who took over, I have to believe, did not feel the same, and I am doubtful they even read the darn thing.

A good agent is supposed to take care of their client, and the thing that bugs me the most about the agents who took over my case, is that when I told them about my next book, (THE VASE) they had zero interest in representing it. They didn't even bother reading it. It's like, what the heck? It's not like I was someone off the street. I was already a signed client! Who needs agents like that? No one.

So, I have it in my contract with Cogito that they have the right of first refusal for the next book I write, which is going to be John Dunn. I'll tell them about it, and they may well be interested. I'll also tell them about KILLER OF KILLERS. But if THE VASE is the only book of mine that they publish, what then? Hhmmnn. I think I'll query an agent.

Monday, September 12, 2011

John Dunn at 70,000 Words

My historical novel, JOHN DUNN, Heart of a Zulu is at 70,000 words, now, and the "Sihayo Incident" is happening. Those who are familiar with that part of history know that the "Sihayo Incident" is one of the key factors that led to the Anglo-Zulu War.

Sihayo was a Zulu Chieftain in the disputed territory along the Blood River, and two of his wives, after being caught cheating on him, fled into the white colony of Natal to escape capital punishment. But Sihayo's sons went in there and dragged them back into Zululand and killed them.

The British used that as an excuse to launch an invasion into Zululand, thus starting the Anglo-Zulu War. But they were looking for any excuse to do that, so even if that didn't happen, something else would have happened and the war would have started anyway.

I would compare it to the "John Brown Incident" that was a prelude to the American Civil War. The Civil War would have happened even without John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry, just as the Anglo-Zulu War would have happened without Sihayo's sons crossing into Natal.

But that's what gave the British the green light to invade. So, the sparks are flying now. Looks like I'm on the home stretch. The war is about to begin and John Dunn is caught right in the middle of it.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Self Publishers vs. Traditional Publishers

I have made it known on this blog that I would never resort to self-publishing. Because when I first decided to become an author, I wanted to be accepted by a traditional publisher as proof that my writing was good enough and my novels were, too.

I soon realized that there were other factors involved than just good writing and good stories. And probably the biggest factor was just pure luck. It became clear that finding an agent or a publisher if you were an unknown, was a very difficult thing. If you don't have luck going for you, it could well be impossible.

But there are two other things. One of them is persistence. I know that frustration can lead to quitting. It is human nature. But that way you only guarantee failure. Not that persistence guarantees success, nothing can do that. But it's your only hope of finding that one moment, that one circumstance that puts your manuscript in front of an editor who is looking for just what you wrote.

And that's called timing. So there you have it. Persistence, timing and luck. Yes, those are necessary factors to getting published. So good luck, everyone. You will need it.

Except if you go the self-publishing route. And I am not so down on that route anymore. Thankfully, I did get my little share of luck and found a traditional publisher for THE VASE. There was some bad luck in there too, but it turned out good. The first publisher that I signed with for THE VASE went out of business, but like I said, it turned out good, because another publisher wanted it, too. And the second publisher seems to have a better business going for themselves, and ultimately, for me, too.

But self-publishing, I have come to believe, is a good thing. Sure the stigma is there. And I still don't want to be associated with the stigma of being a self-published author. But once someone is published with a genuine publisher, I think they have removed themselves from that stigma and can self publish without it.

And that's not to say that if someone doesn't get published first traditionally, they are stuck with that stigma. Too many self-published authors have proven that. Thanks to them, it's a viable option. And options are a good thing.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Online Platform

I remember when I first heard the word, "platform" in regards to being an author. I didn't even know what it meant at first, but I figured it out soon enough. I suppose one way to put it is your platform is how you promote yourself. Your accomplishments, your positions, your way of doing things, and your method of selling books.

I guess the reason I do this blog is to establish a platform, otherwise no one out there would even know a thing about me or my soon to be released book, THE VASE. But this blog is not just about THE VASE or me. It's about writing and getting published. Most people who write, I think, also write blogs. It's part of their "platform."

And it could be true that an online platform, like blogs, is the most effective. I know from the stats page on this blog that people all over the world have read some of my posts. For instance there are readers in China, India, Malaysia, Ukraine, Germany, France, England, Canada, even Arabia, and South Africa.

Here's hoping that when THE VASE is finally out, some of them will buy it. That's the bottom line of having a platform in the first place. Can't wait to find out.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Paranormal is not for me

So I don't write paranormal stuff, because I don't like to read paranormal stuff. It's true my debut novel, THE VASE, might have an element of paranormal in it, but I would stress the word, MIGHT. It's really up to the reader to decide if what happens there in the end is a paranormal happening. Because it might not be at all.

But in all my life, I can't remember reading any paranormal books ever. Not even one. I remember a student once loaned me Interview With a Vampire. But after beginning it, I never got very far, and I never picked it up again. Not even to return to her. That wasn't deliberate. I can't even remember her name. I just remember mentioning I liked the movie, and she brought me the book to read. Next thing you know the school year was over, and I got a job at a different school.

So, yeah, for some reason I can handle paranormal movies. I've seen most vampire movies, but I don't watch the TV series about vampires. I have always watched the horror movies, especially the classics, but I don't watch many of the newer ones. Forget Jason, Freddie, and that Halloween guy. Not into that kind of stuff. Never saw a single SAW movie, either.

And I never read them. I haven't been reading much lately besides the research on John Dunn, which by the way is at 66,000 words. The Zulu king is getting fed up with the English, and it's leading up to the war. It's interesting that I haven't really read many historical novels. But it was a historical novel that was the first book I ever read, as I just commented on Nathan's blog about it. Custer's Last Stand. I happened to find it in the school library and read it. Now I'm writing one. It's interesting how those things happen.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Books vs. Movies

The advantages that books once had over movies have been evaporating over the last few years. It used to be that books were much more convenient. You could take them with you and enjoy them on a bus or plane. Well, with laptops, you can take your movies and do that, too. You could put a book down and continue reading it later. Well, you can do that with movies, too.

On Amazon you can buy pretty much any book or pretty much any movie. Actually, I can't think of any advantages books have over movies right now. I think they have caught up in every category. But wait a minute, there's one thing movies don't offer. A chance for you to use your imagination. That's one advantage books will never lose.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor Day

So it's Labor Day today, and America is on holiday. But I know that some readers are in other countries. That makes me wonder what do they do on Labor day. I suppose it's just another day at the office for them.

Which means my publisher, being Canadian, is probably back to work. I know that they are busy right now working on getting a book on the Norway massacre published. I hope they get it done ASAP. I don't mean to sound selfish or anything, but I hope they are back to work on THE VASE, too.

That's all.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Instability in Publishing?

There has been an increasing amount of instability in the publishing world lately that it makes me concerned. First, you have literary agents bailing from their careers. Everyone knows at least one agent who bailed, and I seem to learn of new ones every other week who also stop being agents.

That sends a signal. At least to me. Yeah, they say it's not because of anything negative, like a dismal future in the business, but I am really wondering if the self-publishing phenomenon is taking a toll. You have the big publishers making compromises lately. Like making deals for print only, whereas the author retains full ebook rights. That's a sweet deal for authors. And being an author, I like that.

When I first decided to write novels, I was convinced that I didn't want to be a self-published author because, and I'll be frank, I didn't want the stigma that went along with it. You know, that anyone can write a lousy book and get it self-published. I didn't want to pay some scam publisher money to print a dozen books that never sold even two copies.

But I'm thinking that the stigma has been lifted because of some of these self-published authors making it big. And then the big publishers come calling them instead of vice versa. It really is an interesting time to be an author. That's for sure. We'll see what's next.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The New Conan Movie

I meant to talk about that new Conan movie that came out recently. I finally saw it with my two sons. As some readers here may know, Robert E. Howard is my favorite writer/author and the character he created, Conan, is my favorite of his many great characters. It was the Conan stories that hooked me and they were the ones that convinced me that Howard was the best writer of stories.

And when the first movie Conan came out, it was NOT Conan. Yeah, they called it Conan, and it was supposed to be Conan, but it was nothing like the character Robert E. Howard created and wrote about.

So what about this latest one? Well... it was better, but that's all. Was it the Conan Robert E. Howard wrote about? Not really. Again Hollywood missed the Bulls Eye. But I won't go so far as to say they missed the entire target like the first one. But they really only just barely hit it.

Yeah, Conan was born on a battlefield, as Howard did make that reference. But come on... I didn't buy into his father cutting him out of his dying mother's womb, like a crude Caesarian Section! That was ridiculous to me.

And I still don't get why they can't dye an actor's hair black. I do believe that Jason Mamoa can be a decent Conan, but they need to look at that Frank Frazetta painting, and pay a Hollywood make up man. It just can't be too hard to figure out.

As for the story... it was nothing like any Robert E. Howard story. They probably think it was, it had a sorceress, but not a very good one. Some kind of evil guy, but not a very convincing one. The dialogue was very poor at times, and the acting was just as inconsistent.

Overall I would give the movie a C minus. Which by comparison to the first movie is stellar, since that one got an F minus. But if, say, Peter Jackson had done it... in the same way he did Lord of the Rings... then I believe it would have been an A.

Oh, Peter Jackson, where for art thou?

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Writing For Yourself?

So why do people write? A lot of people say they write for themselves. But really? Why? Because they enjoy it? I suppose that could be the case, but speaking for myself, I'm not so sure I write for myself. I actually want people to read what I write. Otherwise, why write?

I suppose one could say one writes because it's fun. But so are a lot of things. So why do people write? Besides the fun, it's a form of being an entertainer. Stories or books, should be entertaining. Thrillers should thrill people, mysteries and romance should be such that one is entertained by them.

I guess it's not so different than the other things I've done, like artwork, music, and even athletic endeavors. They all entertain people. So, yeah, writers are entertainers. Just behind the scene type of entertainers. That's all.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


So do you get emotional when you read? Do books evoke emotion from you? One thing that I like about some movies is that they do succeed in drawing out emotions, even from me. I'm not really an overly emotional guy, but I do have them. I figure everyone does. And when a story can pull emotion from you, then I think it's a well told story.

But a book has never done that to me. Except my own books. Every time I re-read KILLER OF KILLERS and THE VASE, there are parts in there where I feel emotional. I don't want to insert a spoiler here, but they are parts where something tragic happens, and I feel my emotions stirred. And I must have read those parts near a hundred times each, yet I still feel it when I re-read them.

I have to believe I wrote them well. I guess I'm more in touch with the characters I created and the stories I wrote than I ever can be with another author's characters and stories. What else could it be? I said it happens to me in movies, but I think it's good acting that gets the credit for that.

And I think it is a good sign of writing if you can do it in a book. Maybe I should read more.


Monday, August 29, 2011

Don't Fear the Middle

I've read about so many writers and their loathing of the middle section of their book. And I've even heard about readers not liking the middle. As a reader and as a writer, I never experienced that. The middle has got to be there by its definition, but the complaint is that a story bogs down in that part of a book.

Well, it didn't in my first three books, but I am experiencing a slowing in my writing endeavor during my WIP, John Dunn. Not for lack of material or for lack of story. There are specific events that are true, and that I want to get in there, but I have a life of my own, and that's what has slowed me down at this point.

No, the story has not slowed down, as Cetshwayo has just been crowned king, Shepstone is acting on his plans to bring down Zululand and Dunn with it, and the Anglo-Zulu war is imminent.

If anything, the story is picking up. I just need to get back to full writing mode.
That's all.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Each sitting

When I sit to write, sometimes I write as many as five thousand words at a time, and a complete chapter or more. I don't really put a limit or a minimum goal on myself for each sitting, but I can be satisfied with at least one thousand words. Because if you look at it this way, that would be 90 days or sittings for a 90,000 word manuscript.

But life is full of distractions, and sometimes I can't even achieve that. But usually I do which means my WIP, John Dunn will be done in about a month. Whatever the amount is, the bottom line is to keep going, and don't get away from it. If you lose sight of your story, then that means you're not excited about it, and how can you expect readers to be if you're not? That's all.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Zulu War Imminent

So 61,000 words into my WIP, John Dunn, Heart of a Zulu, the year is 1873, and Cetshwayo has just been crowned king of Zululand. But it's a short reign. It's no spoiler, it's history after all. In five years Cetshwayo will find his country being invaded by the British Empire. And it's sad, really, because he had always considered the British as his friends.

It was the Boers on his northern and western borders who were trouble for the Zulus, and Cetshwayo considered the English colonists to the south in Natal the friendlier neighbor.

But although the Boers and Zulus were in constant disputes over land issues which broke into vicious fighting now and then, they never really had an all out war. Leave that to the English who declared war against the Zulus in 1878. Poor Cetshwayo. He tried his best to get along with the English, but they had other ideas: The fall and subsequent annexation of Zululand.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

WIP 60,000 Words

Well, I hit the 60,000 word milestone for my WIP, John Dunn, Heart of a Zulu. I wanted to get there by last Friday, but it's only four days later, so I can be content with my progress on that. And Cetshwayo, the first born son of King Mpande has finally been crowned king of all Zululand.

To his credit, he never tried to kill his father. He killed a lot of his brothers, but he left the old man alone. And when King Mpande died it was a natural death. A lot of things happened in the meantime, which kept the story moving along.

And it's historical FICTION, so I threw in some things to embellish the action. It's a novel after all, I want it exciting. And there is a lot of that.

So I figure I'm about two thirds done. I'm targeting 90,000 words, but that's not a certain thing. Once I get all the events in, and the conclusion, then it will be done. Of course.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


I started talking about characters last week, and I thought I'd elaborate on the main character, also known as the protagonist and antagonist. I mentioned that the reader has got to be made to care about him or her. At least that's what the writing books will tell you.

The reasoning is if a reader doesn't care about the main character, or about what is going to happen to him/her, then the book is put down and no one reads it.

So what makes sympathetic main characters? Well, they can be nice, caring, or interesting persons. In my debut novel, THE VASE, the main characters are Muhsin Muhabi and Hiram Weiss. Muhsin is a Palestinian potter, and Hiram Weiss is an Israeli college professor. Both have lost sons to the conflict in the region. But that's about all they have in common.

Muhsin is an unassuming merchant in the old city market of downtown Nazareth. All he wants to do is support his family. But scheming terrorists interfere in his life, and Weiss blames him for the death of his only son. Even though a storm of hatred and revenge swirls around him, he remains focused on running his pottery business.

Weiss is part of that storm. Absorbed with vengeance, he plans to destroy Muhsin's shop, and everyone associated with it. But with all storms, the winds settle, and vision clears. What's left of their lives is where the story leads.

Monday, August 22, 2011

First Day of School

Getting ready for a classroom full of 7th and 8th Graders. Everyone who ever taught school knows what that is like. So please excuse this brief post, and we'll get back to writing tomorrow.
Until then, tally ho.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Character in Novels

Novels, imo, are about characters. Sure some are about events or plots, but all my novels are more about the characters. And if you want a great novel, which I'm pretty sure you do, you have to have great characters, like Trent Smith in KILLER OF KILLERS, or very interesting characters, like Hiram Weiss in THE VASE, or sympathetic characters, like Muhsin Muhabi in THE VASE.

You have got to make the reader care about them. That's some common advice any writer will learn before too long. I believe that all three of the characters I mentioned will attract the interest of the reader. The reader will want to know what happens to them. And because of that, the reader will read on.

And don't forget the bad guys, the strong female, and the supporting cast. I'll talk about them next week.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Writing and the Waiting Game

All aspiring writers probably know about this ridiculous waiting game. Writing a novel is already a time consuming experience. I truly believe it takes a full year to write a good novel. Sure, a writer can probably write an entire first draft within a three month period, if they can put the hours in everyday to get it done. I've done it myself. But it certainly doesn't mean a novel is finished.

To have a good novel you absolutely have to reread it over and over again. And each time you have to revise it and make it better. That will take the rest of the year. I'm talking about ten drafts or so.

And once that manuscript is polished into the semblance of a very well-written novel, you enter the waiting game. As if the long wait for completing the novel wasn't enough already. You have to wait for agents to respond. And if you're unlucky enough, none of them will, or they won't respond positively. Especially if you are an unknown person.

And then there is the waiting game of finding a publisher. Mostly they won't respond either. But if you are lucky enough, as I was, to find a publisher who wants to publish your novel, then you have to wait again for them to finally get it done.

There's no solution to the waiting game. Just have a life, and have a career, have a family, and live to the fullest. Get other projects done. The time will pass, and you have a lot to look forward to. That's where I'm at right now.

It's just the way it is.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

School Begins

For teachers, that is, school begins. The kids come back on Monday. So even though I didn't reach my goal of 60,000 words for my WIP, I did get to 55,000, and I can be happy with that. Mostly this past week I was reviewing what I had written and making sure it all connected and flows smoothly. It does now. OK, back to work

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Blogging Blues

For some reason my blog is malfunctioning. I can't comment as myself on my own posts in my own blog! And I can't do the short cut edits!

For instance, if I want to respond to a commenter, my comment is made as an anonymous. If I want to edit a post, I have to re-sign in and go to the comments site, and hit the edit and then hit edit again.

There used to be a pencil icon on the main page for those shortcuts. But it's not there anymore. But the feature that enables it in the settings page is still activated.

On my work computer it's not like that. So since school starts next week, it won't be a big deal. but the thing is, my home computer is a Sony Vaio J series, and a far superior computer.

So why is it doing that? Oh well, back to writing.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Moving Right Along

OK, this new week brings the end of summer vacation, and my two sons are getting ready to resume school. My oldest is entering his sophomore year in high school, and it's amazing how fast and how big he has grown.

My youngest is still a little guy, nine years old, and entering the fourth grade. It's really great still having a little one. Because high school gives you football, a more stressfull grading system, and... girlfriends.

Oh well. Back to writing.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Contest Entry

I'm smack dab in the middle of my fourth novel. It's historical fiction, and my other three were fiction thrillers. Although none of them would be classified as humorous novels, I do incorporate humor into the storylines. All of them have scenes that are funny.

And I truly believe that's the way real life is. We've all had a good laugh that resulted from random events that happen now and then. And a great story really should have some lighter moments in it.

But I chose not to use any excerpts from my novels for the contest. I would have had to abridge them to meet Nathan's 350-word limit guideline. So I wrote a brand new scene which comes from no work I've ever done. It's just for the contest.

I want to clarify that my stories are nothing like this sample, btw. This could be a scene from a kind of 'Animal House' type story. But I figure it will qualify as humorous. So here is my sample:

Sample has been deleted.

Ok, that's it. It clocked in at 348 words. It's weird that several entries far exceeded that guideline. But most of the people who entered could count. So I made sure I could too. I don't expect to win. But it was fun. That's good enough for me.