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.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Break is Over - New Computer

Break is over and it’s back to the grind stone, otherwise known as my classroom, and back to being with some 900 plus middle school kids running around everywhere. It’s like a small city, this school campus. When I was a kid, I went to a school where there was one class for each grade, you know one 1st grade class, one 2nd grade class, etc. Well this school has up to six classes of each grade, albeit the grades begin with Fifth Grade, and up to Eighth. That’s a lot of kids.

But I had a good break. Took the family to the snow, near Pinecrest Lake. The kids played in the snow, and because I’m no skier, I was pelted with snowballs non-stop.

When we got back, the most significant happening was Dave, the top man at Virtual Tales, had assigned me an editor, and as I’ve already talked about in last week’s posting, the editing has begun.

But there was one more happening, something that kept me occupied all of Friday, most of Saturday, and a little bit of Sunday. My computer malfunctioned. Now for a writer, that could be a crisis, even a tragedy, if his/her work is lost. But that didn’t happen. First let me say I will never buy an HP computer ever again. About two years ago, I grew weary of my old Dell being such a slow computer. So I went to Fry’s and told them I wanted their fastest computer. They sold me the HP m9650f desktop computer. And for the first six months, I loved it. I use my computer for writing books, of course, but also for researching everything I need to know about to write said books. That’s why I want fast action. Of course, I use Dictionary.com, and all the other online resources a writer needs at his/her disposal. And again, I want fast action. And the HP m9650f gave me that fast action.

But after that six month honeymoon, the HP started freezing up on me. Every single darn day. I would start it up, and sure enough, ten minutes later it would freeze, or it would crash right to blue screen. Now after restarting the thing, it was back to normal, and wouldn’t freeze or crash again for the rest of that day, but the next day, it happened all over again.

A computer-wise friend solved the problem for a while, but a few months later, it started happening again. So, I just dealt with restarting the computer ten minutes after working, being sure to have saved anything that needed to be saved. But last Friday, another problem started happening. The screen image distorted for seemingly no reason at all. Have you ever seen it? The image seems to stretch horizontally, and also gets all fuzzy or blurry.

A new video card my friend said I needed. You know what? Forget it. I’m not going to deal with this thing anymore. So off to Fry’s I go, and right now I have a brand new Sony Vaio J Series. Talk about superior. No more tower, no more wires, no more cables. It’s the way a writer is meant to work in this 21st Century.

So heed my advice. Never buy an HP computer, unless you are going to use it for parts. That’s all.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Editing Begun

Sent my latest and most polished ms to Ti last night. I also sent the answers to some questions she had to help her begin the process. Questions that will help her understand the kind of writer I am, and what I might be expecting, and to help her understand where the ms is at this point. She replied today, (which I appreciate) and told me what to expect next. This is great. She is terrific.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Characters, THE VASE - The Villains!

So now we talk about the bad guys. Every story has bad guys, no? Well, then, almost every story does, and THE VASE certainly does. And who can be worse bad guys than terrorists? After all, they’re murderers. Child killers even. And that’s about as low as a bad guy can get. And the terrorists in THE VASE are all of that. We see in a flashback the results of an uprising they caused, and the tragedy it truly is. Several lives are lost and several more are impacted horribly. Fathers lose sons, husbands lose wives, and hatred escalates out of control.

So we have Hakim Khaleel, himself a tragic figure with a tragic past. Raised in a slum, that later became a state park, he holds no warmth to anything Jewish. To him, Jews are oppressors, who have occupied Palestine, his homeland, and rule with no regard to Palestinian interests. He is Hamas, at first, but rebels against his own leader when he makes peace with Israel. To bring home his fight, he plans on assassinating the Israeli prime minister, the visiting Pope, and even his own Hamas president. He has a gang of six wayward individuals, which includes his right hand man, Rashad Aziz, and together, they recruit youngsters as suicide bombers.

So that’s all scumbag stuff. Or is it? Consider he doesn’t do it for money. He doesn’t do it for fame. And he doesn’t do it for advancement within any organization. His ultimate purpose? To liberate Palestine from Israeli control. But do his means justify his end? Certainly not to any reasonable person. But who said he was reasonable? In his mind, he’s perfectly justified. But is he living a dream…or a nightmare?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Editor Assigned!

I know I said yesterday that I would talk about the bad guys in THE VASE. But today marks the second most important day in my journey to publication, because today I officially have an EDITOR. (The first being the day my manuscript was accepted!)

Actually, last night is when I received the email from the top man at Virtual Tales advising me of this, but today I received my first email from her.

I suggested she stop by the blog for a quick familiarization of THE VASE, and she said she would do that, and she might even be the first person to read this post. If that's the case, HI TI!

In any event, it will be a great experience for me. I've heard nothing but great things about Ti, and I will be thrilled to get this ball rolling.

So tomorrow then, I'll talk about the villains in THE VASE. But keep in mind, in THEIR eyes, they are not villains. It's all about point of view. You'll see.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

I'm Back

Back from vacation just now, no photos, as that's the wife's hobby. I do everything else. Including driving, so I am in need of some rest. I want to get back to the blog, but I will start tomorrow. And tomorrow I will talk about THE BAD GUYS - yes, the VILLAINS from THE VASE.

Til then.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Going on Break

Here's an atypical Saturday post to let it be known that because Winter break is here, there will likely be no posting on Monday and Tuesday, as I'm taking the family to the snow in about one hour. Hopefully everything will go well, the kids and wife will have a good time, and I won't miss being on this computer, revising my manuscripts, but I already know I will.

So until Wednesday, everyone have a good break.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Characters, THE VASE - The Ghost Hunter

I think a great story, no matter how serious or dramatic, should have an element of comedy. Enter Harvey Holmes, the Sherlock of Haunted Houses and host to the Reality TV show, Harvey's Haunted Hunts. There's only one problem. The show's ratings. They're in the cellar. And as the story unfolds, we learn that the director of Harvey's Haunted Hunts, Melvyn Bloomberg, makes the tough decision. The show is cancelled. Well, this leaves Harvey in a lurch. He's no longer a hot commodity, and despite the recent popularity of Ghost Hunting shows, he finds himself unemployed.

But he gets a lucky break. A particular restaurant in Nazareth's Old City Market experienced an unsettling incident of unexplained apparitions. So what can the restaurant owner, Achmed Arabis, do when his establishment is cursed by the local holy men? Seek out the ghost hunter most likely to bring about a resurgence of his business, that's what. Harvey's show, like so many today, was broadcast across the world via satellite feeds, and Achmed just happened to be a viewer. So off to Hollywood he goes, and since Harvey is now available, the ghost hunter agrees to exorcise the ghosts at the restaurant. It makes for an interesting subplot, and an integral element to the main plot as the different plotlines converge in the story's climax.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Characters, THE VASE - Mary Levin

Today I get to talk about Mary Levin, the beautiful assistant to the director of Mossad. I mean what good is a story without a beautiful girl, right? And Mary Levin is just that; a very beautiful girl. But make no mistake about it she is a capable woman. She’s an army veteran. A former captain in the IDF. But she is retired from the military. And the director of Mossad, Ari Abrams, would rather have a competent and reliable beautiful woman as his assistant, than a competent and reliable old or plain woman, (or man,) as his assistant.

Now Mary is a widow, childless, and has suffered more than her share of loss during the continuous conflicts that plague the region. Her priority is the defense of Israel, and as such, was not averse to a role in Mossad. In fact, one of her jobs is to recruit potential candidates to serve as Mossad, and that’s just what she did with Professor Weiss. Though Weiss is somewhat older, Mary is infatuated with him. Not only is he dedicated to Israel, as is she, he still has what it takes to attract a woman, as he is still in good shape, and he hasn’t lost his hair.

And Mary can have any man she wants, right? Well, Professor Weiss has something else in mind besides romance right now. Revenge. But he might be better off to remember the old adage: if you snooze, you lose, because a much younger and equally handsome man is vying for Mary’s hand: Captain Benny Mathias, the fellow Mossad operative, who is also the head of Kidon.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Characters, THE VASE - The Captain

The potter, his family, and Professor Hiram Weiss may be the premiere characters in THE VASE, but other characters weigh in, as well.

There is the captain, Weiss’s fellow Mossad operative. But Captain Benny Mathias is much more than that. He is an active captain in the IDF, and he also is the head of Kidon, which as some of you may know, is the division of Mossad in charge of assassination. Yes, Captain Benny Mathias is a war veteran, and he is a killer. But his experiences have taken a toll on the man. He has lost all faith in god. What with the rampant killing in the region, that includes innocent women and children losing their lives, he cannot fathom a world with such atrocities being permitted by a higher power. No, Captain Mathias is an atheist, and nothing short of a miracle would ever change his mind on that.

But he’s not looking for any miracle. It is for Israel he fights. His entire life is dedicated to the preservation of Israel, and he has had no time for love, no time for marriage, and no time for a family of his own. But it doesn’t mean he has no feelings. The beautiful assistant to the director of Mossad has caught his eye. And she's been a widow for many years now. Will she return his affections? Or will she reserve her ardor for the professor from Bethel University?

Tomorrow, we’ll talk about Mary Levin, a former IDF captain, herself, and current personal assistant to Ari Abrams, the director of Mossad.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Characters, THE VASE - Professor Weiss

Professor Hiram Weiss is an art historian. He has full tenure at Bethel University in Nazareth. Sure Bethel University is a ficticious university, but I thought it preferable to go that route instead of using a real university. When he lost his wife and son to the region's conflict, he was quick to accept an offer from Mossad. They needed an expert on vases to monitor the pottery shop where the professor's son lost his life to terrorists who were hiding in there.

Weiss is a good man, a dedicated Israeli, and he believes wholeheartedly in the Jewish faith. But he is obsessed with hatred. Hatred for terrorists and anything that has to do with Arabs. That would include Muhsin and his Pottery Shop. You see, not only is the pottery shop run by a Palestinian, but the clay delivery men are the terrorists. At first they are Hamas, but when the Hamas leader negotiates a peace treaty with Israel, the terrorists disavow their leader and go rogue. So, in this story, anyway, the terrorists are a splintered group, no longer a part of Hamas or any other faction in the region.

And Weiss is not going to let any peace agreement interfere with his revenge. In fact, nothing will stop him from attaining it. Not even a special vase, of which he is the only one to figure out why it's so special. But does it cost him his life? Or does it save him?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Main Characters in THE VASE

Unlike KILLER OF KILLERS, my first novel, (yet to be published) which has only one main character, Trent Smith, the greatest martial artist in the world, THE VASE revolves around several main characters.

Today, I’ll talk about Muhsin Muhabi and his son, Naji, because the story begins with them. Muhsin is a hard-working Palestinian who makes a meager living as a potter in the old city market of modern day Nazareth. He’s a Muslim, as Muslims are the majority in Nazareth, but Muhsin doesn’t go to the mosques or bow down at the call for prayer. He knows his heritage, and knows his place in the world. For him, his place is with his son, Naji, a fourteen-year old boy who knows only the pottery shop, since he doesn’t go to school, and their life is in Nazareth, where Muhsin and Naji were born.

Despite the Palestinian unrest in Israel, Muhsin doesn’t protest, nor does he partake in riots or demonstrations, or pickets, or anything that brings any attention to him. All he wants to do is make vases, pots, and amphorae to sell in the market and take care of Naji. He’s a single father, because his wife Sanya had left him and Naji three years prior after their first born son, Ali, was killed by IDF soldiers during what came to be known as the Ramadan Rebellion. Sanya is not Palestinian. She’s Syrian and she returned to her parents in Syria to escape the strife she came to know in Israel.

Naji, like any fourteen year-old boy, is growing fast and is taken by the unrest that surrounds him. He is easily influenced, and much of that influence is from the wrong corners of the town. He questions his father’s simple ways, and hates his mother, Sanya, when she returns to Nazareth to be reunited with her family.

Once they are together again, all they want is to be left alone and be a happy family. Unfortunately for them, others make for a difficult intrusion into their lives, mainly the terrorists who are recruiting Naji to partake in a plot to assassinate the Pope and Israeli prime minister.

But Mushin, Sanya, and Naji are good people. An innocent family caught up in the conflict, and they respond, I believe, as any good family would. One thing that really does impact their circumstances is the very old vase that Muhsin has kept in his basement. It's part of a collection that belonged to his father. You'll have to read the book to find out more about that.

Tomorrow, we’ll talk about Professor Hiram Weiss.

Friday, February 11, 2011

New Text Under Blog Header

You may notice the spiel under my header is more detailed in its description of my novel, THE VASE, and it introduces some of the characters by name. I'm not sure if I should be so wordy right there, but I didn't know where else to put the back cover copy. Maybe I will revert to the more simplistic version I had before. You may remember it went like this:

The Vase, a novel soon to be published by Virtual Tales


A simple merchant in the old city market
An art professor who moonlights for Mossad
An IDF veteran, now the head of Kidon
A reality TV host whose ghost-hunting show just flopped

I have another version of back cover copy, but it's on my teacher's website. I like it better actually, but I thought different ones for different sites are preferable because then people won't be reading the same thing all over again. As for which one makes it onto the actual back cover of the book, or onto the Virtual Tales site description of the book, I would think it would be the other one. This one here looks more fit for a bullet type format. But both give the reader a better idea of what THE VASE is about.

On Monday, I'll talk about the characters in more depth.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Time Frame to Print

So how long does it take for a book to get published once a contract has been signed? From what I’ve read and researched, a reputable publisher will get your book published in about a year from the point your contract has been signed. Any less time than that would be indicative of a lesser quality publication. The publisher and author must go through a few rounds of edits, which, in itself may take several months. There is the copy-editing, there is the cover design, there is the proof reading, there is the marketing and promotion strategy. I can see how it will take a year.

And that’s just what Virtual Tales has told me. In about a year is when I will see THE VASE in print. OK, so that jives with my information. So I don’t know if I should keep saying “…soon to be published...” Is a year considered soon? I supposed that’s a relative question. Relative to never, or yet to be sold manuscript, I guess it’s acceptable to say soon. But not so soon as in a couple months. Yet the months do go by quickly, and with that in mind, then, again, soon can be used appropriately in my promotion of the book.

Since I signed in January, I’m hoping THE VASE will be released in time for Christmas. They haven’t made mention of that yet. I am a newbie, after all, one of the latest kids on the Virtual Tales block, so I can’t be pushy. I will go with the flow, and trust the words I have received from other authors at this point. They seem to genuinely love being Virtual Tales authors, and I like what’s happened so far, which really isn’t a lot. I expect the editing to begin shortly, it’s what they said. So, like I’ve said, I will keep every step of the way chronicled right here on this blog. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

New to the Game

Since I call this blog my journey to publication, I think I'll continue to chronicle every step of the way. From writing the book and revising it, to querying, to finding interested publishers asking for partials and fulls, and onward to being accepted by Virtual Tales.

Well, lately, I've been working with the Marketing and Promotional Director at Virtual Tales. She's working on the news release of THE VASE, and getting everything ready for my introduction to the publishing world. You know, the author's bio. They need a photo for their website, and one for the book itself. What I didn't realize was the high standard of everything digital that is required for the printing press. It just goes to show how much I have to learn on that side of the road, and I will share it all right here for anyone who wants to take these steps with me.

I had already sent photos that I thought might make a good impression of me, but then I found out that there is a strict guideline for that. Photos for the printing press must be at least 300 dpi, which stands for dots per inch, (thank you answers.com,) and 1868 pixels wide and 3114 pixels high, which I learned was the equivalent of 3 inches by 5 inches. I've got nothing on my computer that matches that.

Looks like I'll have to mail her a photo the old fashioned way. I guess in some ways I'm still in the twentieth century. Just like Professor Weiss in THE VASE. But you'll learn about that when you read the book. Well, I hope you read it. That's all.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

TV time - The Cape

Sometimes when their homework is done, and their rooms are clean, I'll sit down and watch a TV show with my two sons. We've started watching a new TV show called The Cape. It's a show about a superhero, like in the comics, and I thought it might be a good "Boy" show to watch with my boys.

Well, it's OK, but I was really astonished at all the holes in the plot, and the overall lazy writing. So what am I expecting? It's basically a Batman-like superhero, a regular guy (an ex-cop) with no special powers, who trains with some circus leader to use a special cape made out of spider silk. He was framed by the main villain, and presumed dead, and now fights crime as the latest "caped" crusader.

But when obvious holes are left in the plot to where you're asking what about this or what about that, it makes you wonder just where are they getting these writers? I've always been disappointed with Holywood's take on superheroes. I've always thought that the TV shows and movies would be so much better if they just went with the original stories from the comics.

I think it's arrogance really, is why they don't. Hollywood believes that comics writers are so beneath them, but imo, the opposite is true. If the movies went with the original stories as written in the comics, they would have been ten times better. So that tells me the comics writers are the superior writers. At least when it comes to their own characters. That's all.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Holidays and Super Bowls

I don't know which is worse. Holidays or Super Bowls. I have an interest in holidays, being a father and family man. I want my two sons to have a great childhood, and I want my wife to stay happy. So we celebrate holidays as a family and make the most of them. But when so much focus is drawn for the super bowl, it makes me wonder. I have little interest in these types of events. Make no mistake, I do like to watch a good football game, but for me it's not an all-encompassing event. I would much rather be sitting at my computer writing my newest book or revising my already written ones. That's all.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Book Covers

Because I’m an artist some people who know me think I should illustrate the cover to my own book. Well, I don’t want to do that. And the reason is because I don’t want my cover to be an illustration. I said before that I want a photo. A photo of a vase. Maybe even the same photo that I use here at the top of my blog. That will do. A simple black and white photo of a simple and plain vase. Of course, the caption is the key. I’ve changed the caption to my blog a few times in the short while that I’ve called it The Vase.

It’s got to be something catchy, and something that reveals the spirit of my story. I’m not sure the current caption does it. "Conquering armies and ultimate faith recorded in clay." Before it was "Three warring faiths and a thousand year conflict recorded in clay." Not sure which is better really.

Maybe some kind of combination would be good. Maybe "Timeless aggression and ultimate faith recorded in clay," or "Eternal conflict and the Son of God recorded in clay." I suppose I will leave it to the marketing and promotion director at Virtual Tales to weigh in on that. But it’s got to hook potential buyers. It’s got to be something that convinces browsers to buy the book, therefore, it has to send the message that this is a book you want to read.

So the question is, what will evoke interest from buyers? What do they want to read? Are they interested in conquering armies? A thousand year conflict? Warring faiths? Ultimate faith? What would make a buyer interested to read a novel about something recorded in an ancient vase? You'd think the Son of God might do it, no? But that might be giving too much away. Since no one but the Virtual Tales Board of Directors has read the story at this point, (with the exception of a couple beta readers,) I don’t want to give too much away by what’s on the cover. But if it makes people buy the book, maybe I do. This is serious, and I hope to figure it out.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Evoking Emotion

When you watch a movie or a TV show, and the actor or actress can evoke emotion from you, that's some good acting right there. Well, the same thing is true for writing. When I was rereading THE VASE last night, in my last ditch effort to prepare it for my editor, I reached a part where the professor was remembering the day his wife died. It's a flashback, and it recounted the events of that particular day. It brought tears to my eyes. Now I must have read this thing near fifty times already, and every time I find my eyes welling up when I read that part and one other part when one of the characters gets killed. If your writing can do that, then that's some good writing right there.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Keep Characters True

While revising the last portions of THE VASE last night, I came across a part where one of the main characters, the professor, made a statement that, when I first wrote it, I thought was an attempt on his part to be sarcastic. But when I reread it last night, I came to realize that it was really out of character for him, and especially during that moment, which was a pretty heavy duty moment.

As such, it would have been a time for seriousness, as the story was building to its climax, and so I rewrote it without the sarcasm. Besides, this guy was never sarcastic before, so why would he be sarcastic at that point, when the soberness of the situation called for crystal clear focus?

Just goes to show how important revisions are, and like I've said a million times already, every time you reread your work, it's going to result in a better story.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Community of Writers

As part of the Virtual Tales publishing experience, I was invited to join the Virtual Tales Contributors Group, which is sort of like a fraternity of authors, all of whom are published by Virtual Tales. It's really an exclusive membership, because if you are not contracted by Virtual Tales, as I understand it, you are not able to join.

Anyway, it's like a forum kind of setup, just like you have on the Absolute Write Water Cooler, which, btw, is one of the most helpful forums I have ever used. I've talked about it before, and I hope any author seeking representation or publication refers to it.

Now the Virtual Tales Contributors Group will be my source of information and advice, but I will still be dropping in on the Absolute Write Water Cooler now and then. It's the one site where anyone can go and feel like a writer, even if you're not published. Heck, you can go on there and feel like a writer, even if you never wrote anything. That's how great that site is.

As for the Virtual Tales Contributors Group, it's something that helps you along as a first time published author, like me, without feeling like an outsider. It's cool, especially since I've already made a connection with another author. Interestingly, it was from Absolute Write that we first made contact. Yes, authors really are some of the most helpful and honorable people with whom I have ever had the pleasure to know. Not once have any writers reduced themselves to petty behavior, in my experience. I think it's because we don't compete with each other. That's a great point.