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.
Thursday, March 31, 2011
It reminds me of when I was into composing and playing music. A friend told me that if I want to be in a band and write my own music, than I should go to music concerts and listen to other bands. I didn’t believe that. I don’t want to go listen to other bands. I don’t want to be influenced by other people’s music. I want my own music to be original and not a version of someone else’s.
Same thing for my books. Yes, I have talked about how much I appreciate Robert E. Howard. But I read his books over twenty years ago. I do intend to go back and read his work again, but I am not going to do it while I’m right in the middle of writing my own novels. I don’t want to be a Robert E. Howard wannabe, nor do I want my work to be compared to his.
Yet if I were asked what writer might have influenced my writing more than anyone else, I would have to say Robert E. Howard. But that's because I include tension and conflict, and in KILLER OF KILLERS, tons of action. But I wouldn't say I write like him, because no one writes like Robert E. Howard.
Still, I am convinced my writing will hold up to the scrutiny of critics. I’m sure I will get my share of bashing, as it’s been pointed out that any work of art will have those who love it and those who hate it. And I don’t care about anyone who trashes my work. There will always be haters. But I know it’s going to be appreciated, too.
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Still, it’s flattering when the chief editor of a publishing company personally invites you to submit a manuscript. I don’t even know if he read THE VASE yet, or if he assumed that since another publisher bought it that I must be a worthy writer. Whatever the reason, it’s great to have that going for you. Right now I am fortunate to have a publisher - Virtual Tales. I’ll probably submit KILLER OF KILLERS to them after THE VASE is released. That is, if my agent hasn’t sold it yet. We’ll see what happens.
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
And as an art teacher, I have learned that kids love to draw and they love to do art. I did, too, as a kid. But do kids like books, and do they like to read? Uhhmm…sure, some kids do. Like maybe one out of ten.
Let me say that I know for a fact that schools bend over backward trying to get kids to read. They have silent reading time, group reading time, advanced reading, remedial reading, reading logs, book reports, book fairs, time taken from regular class to read, time given for homework to read, it’s read, read, read, everyday encouraging kids to read. But if you were to ask your average kid if he/she likes to read, what answer do you think you would get?
I remember while growing up, I was not an avid reader, but I wasn’t averse to it. A lot of my friends sure were. My own two kids are not avid readers, either, but they do well enough when they are required to read. But I never see them seeking out books on their own to satisfy a natural need to read. It just isn’t there.
I’m not offering any solution, because there are tons of books that are aimed at kids of all ages, and it doesn’t seem to matter. We all know tiny tots love it when a parent or teacher reads them a picture book, but what happens when they grow old enough to pick up a book and read it on their own? Something happens. Is it the distractions? Video games, Gameboys, PSPs, DSs, DVDs, DVRs, iPods, and all the computers? I don’t really think it is.
Because when I was a kid when those things didn’t exist, kids were the same when it came to books and reading. As hard as schools and teachers encourage reading and promote books, most kids just don’t take to them. Again, some did and some still do, but not the overwhelming majority. They can’t stand books. Will it ever change? Probably not. And sadly, as these kids grow up, the numbers may improve somewhat, but not enough to change the aforementioned percentage of about one in ten. IMO.
That means for those of us who like to write, we are writing for only about ten percent (or less) of the US population. So if that means there are 300 million people in America, then we are writing for about 30 million people. I guest those are good enough numbers, but what if it was more like 90%, or even just 50 percent? Makes you wonder.
Monday, March 28, 2011
Friday, March 25, 2011
Thursday, March 24, 2011
Ti sent me the final chapters yesterday, and she said that the manuscript is very close. She said that it will probably be ready to be sent to the senior editing staff after only one more round. That makes me feel great, because I understood the first editor made three passes. Well, it’s not time to pat myself on the back yet. Let’s see what happens during this second round, and then we’ve yet to see what the bigwigs have to say!
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
I don’t write in an unusually unorthodox way or anything like that, but some parts might be open to critique. And if the senior people opt for it to be changed, then I suppose I’ll have to do it. That is if I want THE VASE published and I do.
Mostly I’m thinking about the very first paragraph. I make it known right away that the weather is unusually hot, and I use a few different ways to convey that. Now I’ve said before you don’t what to zonk the reader over the head with a description, but Ti noted right off that I used perhaps too many references to the overwhelming heat.
But right now I want it that way. I want the reader to be zonked over the head with that heat, just as the characters in the story are zonked over their heads with the heat, and I think it works.
So as the author, I would like it to stay. But if I had a large following like, say, Nathan Bransford, (over 5,000, wow) I might even go ahead and post that first paragraph and have a vote on whether to keep it or change it. I might do it anyway.
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
But in writing, it’s totally different. You had better have written a great book in the first place, and if it’s signed on by an agent, (KILLER OF KILLERS) or a publisher (THE VASE) then that’s evidence that the writing is there. And who will tout that horn? No one. Because no one out there in the general populace has read even a sample of either book.
I have no qualms about saying both books, KILLER OF KILLERS and THE VASE, are really well-written books, and each with a great story. And as such, it is a good idea that Virtual Tales offers the first four chapters to readers for free so that readers may see for themselves if they like the writing and the story, at least to that point. My book, THE VASE is still too far away from publication to have those first four chapters available now, but as I understand it, after the manuscript goes through the senior editing stage, that’s when it will be ready for that. It's a policy of Virtual Tales to promote their readership. And it’s a good policy.
Because then potential readers can find out if they like what they are going to buy before they buy it. Sounds like a real good deal to me. After four chapters, if a reader doesn’t like where the story is going, or doesn’t like the style in which the book is written, then they don’t have to spend a penny. I’m hoping that anyone who might have an interest in THE VASE, will be sold on it just as soon as they read the first chapter, let alone the first four.
And the people at VT will make the free part available not only on the VT site, but they also make it possible so that each VT author can make it available through his/her blog. But for me, we’re talking another six months or more before that happens. Still the time will go by faster than you know it. We’ve talked about that before, too.
Monday, March 21, 2011
I’ve only posted congratulations to new authors who have signed on after I did, but when I have more to say I will post more, and I certainly want to contribute as so many others do. Some people even post their personal business, and that’s OK, I figure it’s a way they can express themselves. It’s not what I would do, but, hey, only I am going to do what I would do.
I would call it a community of authors, and what these authors have in common is that they (we) are all Virtual Tales authors. I truly believe that the books offered by Virtual Tales are great books, and I will get to reading some of them soon. But right now, as most of you already know, I am 100% involved in the editing process of THE VASE, and I have time for only that.
Don’t forget, being married with kids means you have got to portion a good chunk of your time to the wife and kids. Yesterday, for instance, I spent the better part of the day helping my little son read through a kid’s version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. And then we had to write a first draft for a special type of book report assigned by his teacher. So just as soon as I have my part of the editing done, which will be soon, I will be looking forward to some of the stories my fellow VT authors have written.
I’m particularly looking forward to RIVER BOTTOM BLUES by Richard Bush. It’s a debut novel by a former teacher and current music critic about a killing in the music world. I believe it's due to be released this summer, and I should be ready to read by then. So it will be good timing.
OK. That’s all for now.
Friday, March 18, 2011
Thursday, March 17, 2011
I have found myself looking forward to all of the edits when they come in. And I dive into the process the moment they do. But I don’t go with all of the suggested edits in THE VASE. Keep in mind that I am implementing the majority of them. I would say about 75% of them so far. But not always in the way my editor suggested. I mulled them over and over, and found what I believed to be the best prose possible. And there’s always the chance I’ll improve it again the next time I revise.
And the 25% that I left alone, it’s because I truly wanted it written the way I wrote it. Maybe it’s not grammatically correct, or worded in a conventional way, but I did it for a reason. Is that called literary license? At any rate, it’s my own take on how I want it to read. I guess it can be called a personal choice. But will those “personal choices” survive the senior editing stage? We’ll see.
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
I rewrote and rewrote and rewrote, and hashed it about, changing sentences, changing the whole paragraph, leaving some sentences alone, changing others, changing them back, and found myself starting over from scratch several times. After a couple hours, it was back to the same original paragraph. Finally I combined a couple of sentences, and deleted some, and it started to work. By that time, four hours had passed!
Today, I went back to reread it, and it still looks good. I have found that if you stick to it, if you don’t give up, eventually you come up with something that not only works, but is a truly superb example of writing. And when you achieve it, you'll know it when you see it.
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Since I found out how good a real editor can be, it makes me wonder even more how the senior editing will go. Maybe those optional edits won’t be optional anymore? It’s logical. At this stage, as Ti told me, the edits are optional. I can take them or leave them. Mostly I take them, although it’s true, sometimes I don’t. Which makes me think that when the MS is in the senior editing stage... We’ll see.
Monday, March 14, 2011
At this pace, we'll be through the first round in no time, and I understand there will be about three rounds. That's with Ti. Then the "senior" editing happens. But again, we're doing it like greased lightning. I couldn't be more satisfied with the process. So far I am very pleased with my Virtual Tales experience.
Friday, March 11, 2011
Whenever I read parts of the manuscript that have been changed, it feels strange because I’m so used to reading the original version. But as I made the changes, I knew the prose was better, and some of the sentences made more sense. Some of them fit better. And some of them have better research supporting the information.
I have said that I didn’t change everything Ti suggested. Whenever I thought it better to leave it as is, for whatever reason, I was fully cognizant of the fact that I might change it anyway later on. Now is the time to see if it happens. If not, there will certainly be other reads.
I’m eager to see how it sounds. I know the changes I did make will stick, unless I change them again; not back to the way they were, but improving them even more. That’s happened a lot. It means the manuscript is getting better and better.
It’s thrilling to me, really, because I know when this book is done it’s going to be a superbly written work. It will be like when I finished a great painting or sculpture. But I’m betting it will be an even better feeling than that. We’ll see.
Thursday, March 10, 2011
But then I realize that it would not have worked if I wrote to get published at an earlier age. But wouldn’t it have meant sooner success in regards to being a published author if I started sooner? Perhaps, but at what cost?
I have to look at it this way. Right now, I have accomplished all the important things that I need to accomplish in life. I have come to realize that all the decisions I made up to now have been the right decisions in order to do that. I’m talking about an education, a marriage, kids, and a career...
If I was writing novels, something would have suffered. Either the writing or those other things. Had I been holed up in a room writing all day and night, then no way would I have had the time to meet my wife, date her and marry her, and have the two sons I have. If I was spending 24/7 at a computer writing a novel, I would have missed the most important time in my kids' lives.
And I also needed to spend time learning the ropes of being a good teacher in a classroom full of students. After twenty years, I have that down. But if I was distracted by writing novels, I might not have become the teacher I am today. And it’s a career that is both rewarding and necessary to support my family.
So now I spend a lot of time writing. It’s true my wife thinks I spend too much time doing it, but it’s really nothing different than what she has known since she met me. In the beginning, I was doing art, then I was in the music phase. Now it’s writing, and as I said in an earlier post, it's even more complex and time consuming, thus the reason for today's post. But hey, I need to be creative. Just like all writers, and artists, and musicians.
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
I left out a lot of details that added to the scariest day of my life, but I will cut to the point where he turned out fine, and I am so thankful that both of my sons are healthy, energetic, and happy little youngsters. Well, my oldest is 14. I suppose that’s still a youngster, but he’s not so little anymore! Even Michael is growing fast. Time sure flies. You know, that's worrisome, too!
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Then again, with drawing and painting, you need the skill to make a two-dimensional work look three-dimensional, but there’s a science to that. A science you may ask? Well, yes. A science. You learn it in college if you are lucky enough to have had the right instructor. The method was invented by a great artist from the past. The one and only Leonardo Da Vinci.
There is a great feeling you have when you complete a great drawing, painting, or sculpture. And it’s just as great when you write a great song. I’ve had original tunes buzzing in my head since I was a kid. Often I would play them on the piano, but since we had no recorders, they would be forgotten and lost.
But when the electronic keyboards came out with those floppy disc drives attached, it made writing music easy, since you could record so many tracks and layer them over each other. It would sound like a band playing. You could go back and change something if you decided to.
Which is like writing a book. But to me, writing a novel length book is the most complex art form yet. The characters, the plot, the storyline, the buildup, the complications, the climax, the denouement, it’s all so very important for it all to meld. Not unlike a great song. More like a symphony, really. Yeah, that would be the right comparison. Writing a great book is like writing a great symphony.
But forget the symphony. I’ll stick to writing books.
Monday, March 7, 2011
Now we're on chapters 5-10, and I've made my first pass through chapter five, six, and I've started chapter seven. But it doesn't mean I'm done with them. I thought I was done with Chapters 1-4, but I went back over them, and sure enough, I made some more changes. Some changes I changed back. Then I changed them again. Then I changed them a different way. Writers know what I mean. And through it all, it is a lot of fun. A different kind of fun than art. It's more similar to writing music. You might write a song one way, and then decide to change it to another way.
Last week, I said I was going to talk about that. I think I'll post something about it tomorrow.
Friday, March 4, 2011
Fortunately for me, I have the ability to focus on what I’m doing. It’s the way I have always been. When I used to paint and sculpt, I would get into that “zone” and stay there for hours. Yeah, it drove my wife crazy, but she understood it. And when I composed and played music, I would be at that electronic keyboard for hours on end, completely oblivious to the outside world.
The thing about me is that there is ANOTHER world. A CREATIVE world. And my entire life, be it art, music, and now writing, I have been completely focused on whatever it is that I’m doing until I have completed what I set out to do. And right now, for THE VASE, I am in THAT world. This past week, so many things were happening that might have otherwise taken up my mental space. But once I sat down in that chair in front of my brand new Sony Vaio, I was transported to Nazareth, Israel, and into the lives of the Muhabi family, Hiram Weiss, Captain Mathias, Harvey Holmes, and Mary Levin.
I was absorbed by my characters' current situations, and even their past ones, as those first four chapters contain two flashbacks to events that happened three years prior.
And as I sit content for how it turned out, I find myself itching for Ti to send the next four chapters so I can dive into those. Was art and music ever this much fun? Yes, but it’s apples and oranges. One day I will try to explain how these different creative experiences compare. Maybe real soon.
Thursday, March 3, 2011
And there are parts where she suggested a change might be needed, but did not offer an alternative, which is cool, because I take that as her believing I'm capable of finding a workable alternative on my own.
Interestingly, there was a part where I really didn't think my writing worked, but in my countless revisions of the ms, never did I change it. She caught it on her first pass. And as I went over her edits, I got busy on making it work. Now the ms is a lot better for that, and for the other edits.
And it's very possible, that the parts I left alone may still get revised. This is, after all, only the first round of edits. But I gotta tell you. It's a lot of fun.
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
So what words conjure an image of a blazing sun? A merciless sun? A hot sun? A sun that takes no prisoners? Take into account there is a potter who works outside with no roof over his head. I thought that, to him, it would be a spiteful sun. Yeah, that’s it, a spiteful sun. So bingo, I nailed it. My first three words are: A spiteful sun. But again, I want my readers to picture those white lines that shine from a spiteful sun. What words would conjure those white rays you see when you squint your eyes at the sun?
White-hot tendrils. That’s what they are.
Now that I’ve established a reference as to what kind of day it is, I wanted to establish a point of reference as to where these white-hot tendrils are taking the reader. And what do these white-hot tendrils do when they get there? They shimmy, I believe, and the rolling hills of Galilee is where this story begins. So my first sentence reads like this:
A spiteful sun sliced the cloudless sky in white-hot tendrils that shimmied over the rolling hills of Galilee.
So from my first sentence, the reader already knows it’s day time, it’s a sunny and hot day, and it’s somewhere in the Galilee region of Israel.
Next, I want to give a more specific reference to what the place looks like, and what’s happening there. Well, most of the downtown buildings in Nazareth are roofed in red tile, and the streets are paved in black basalt. And at this point, the main idea I want to convey is the horrible heat baking the place. So my second sentence reads like this:
Red-tiled roofs and black streets of basalt scorched in dismay to the stellar onslaught.
By my third sentence, I want to introduce the main character, and his thoughts of the unusual conditions. So I went with this:
Throughout the region temperatures soared, and Muhsin Muhabi knew well it wasn’t normal for this time of year.
So let's put them together. Here we go:
A spiteful sun sliced the cloudless sky in white-hot tendrils that shimmied over the rolling hills of Galilee. Red-tiled roofs and black streets of basalt scorched in dismay to the stellar onslaught. Throughout the region temperatures soared, and Muhsin Muhabi knew well it wasn’t normal for this time of year.
Now as the editing process continues, some of that or maybe all of it may change. Hey, it's what revisions are all about, right? Let's see if they stick.
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
In KILLER OF KILLERS, weather was not really a factor in the story. It takes place during the summer, and on both of the American coastlines, the weather is not so extreme. At least, not so much as to influence the storyline. The days are sunny, it’s not raining, and the night stays warm.
But in THE VASE, weather plays a huge role in the storyline. As a matter of fact, it’s because of the weather that the events unfold the way they do. My book begins with extreme heat in the area of Nazareth, Israel, which is not normal, because all my research has indicated that this area has a mild climate in the Spring. But I make it clear from the get go that the temperatures are NOT normal. The sun is acting up, and it’s because of the solar maximum phase that is taking place when my story starts. You see, the sun, (in real life, and in my story,) undergoes an eleven year cycle of what scientists call a solar maximum phase. And guess what, we are currently undergoing a solar maximum phase right now, this very year of 2011. The last one was in 2000 and 1989 before that, and so on.
But what happens during this solar maximum phase, and what does it have to do with my novel?
Well, during solar maximum phase, sun spots are increased. They can range in the dozens to the hundreds during solar maximum. Solar activity is increased along with the sun spots. Solar flares are more numerous and much larger, too. And with these solar flares, a lot of solar material is projected into space. This material includes dangerous radiation that travels across space via solar winds, and they do impact the atmosphere of earth. Fortunately for us, earth has its own magnetic field that deflects most of the dangerous material, but the magnetic field is affected by the radiation, resulting in what scientists call geomagnetic storms.
And during these storms, electromagnetism is affected. And what are among the things controlled by electromagnetism? The sounds and images that are recorded onto vinyl and DVDs, that’s what. (And in my book’s case, hardened clay.) So without this solar maximum effect, and the solar flares, and the resulting geomagnetic storms, the events in my story wouldn’t take place.
That’s why the weather plays a huge role in THE VASE. And I begin my story laying that foundation. It’s a very hot day in Nazareth, and Muhsin Muhabi is well aware of it as he sits on his outside pottery wheel getting ready to throw a vase.
For those of you who are not familiar with the ceramic term, “throwing a vase,” it doesn’t mean he is literally throwing his vases into the air or against a wall. The term “throwing” means when you put a clump of wet clay onto a circular surface, and that surface spins around or rotates, powered manually, or these days powered by a small electric motor.
Since it’s the 21st Century, Muhsin has the electrical kind. Now I have heard some writing advice that says don’t start your story by describing the weather. But weather is the whole premise of my story. So I do start that way. I mean, only the first two or three sentences, I make it clear that the weather is unusually hot, and then I introduce Muhsin, who he is, and what he’s doing. Tomorrow I'll give you an idea how I introduce the weather along with my main character. You’ll see how it turns into an extremely intriguing story.