Will iconic images recorded in the grooves of an ancient vase unite the Holy Land or rip it further apart?

THE VASE

A novel by Mark M. DeRobertis

Muhsin Muhabi is a Palestinian potter, descended from a long line of potters. His business is run from the same shop owned by his ancestors since the day his forebears moved to Nazareth. The region's conflict saw the death of his oldest son, and rogue terrorists are in the process of recruiting his youngest in their plot to assassinate the Pope and Israeli prime minister.

Professor Hiram Weiss is an art historian at Nazareth’s Bethel University. He is also a Shin Bet operative on special assignment. With the help of fellow agent, Captain Benny Mathias, he plans to destroy the gang responsible for the death of his wife and only child. He puts a bomb in the ancient vase he takes on loan from Muhsin’s Pottery Shop.

Mary Levin, the charming assistant to the director of Shin Bet, has lost a husband and most of her extended family to recurring wars and never-ending terrorism. She dedicates her life to the preservation of Israel, but to whom will she dedicate her heart - the brilliant professor from Bethel University - or the gallant captain who now leads Kidon?

Harvey Holmes, the Sherlock of Haunted Houses, is a Hollywood TV host whose reality show just flopped. When a Lebanese restaurant owner requests his ghost-hunting services, he believes the opportunity will resurrect his career. All he has to do is exorcise the ghosts that are haunting the restaurant. It happens to be located right across the street from Muhsin’s Pottery Shop.



Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Vacation? No Thanks

It's almost summer time, and if that means publishers are going on vacation and slowing down the publishing process even more, then who needs summer time? For me, anyway, there's no time for vacation. Not from writing and not from the process that leads to publication. Sure I could use the time off from the classroom, but the way I look at it, it's only more time that will be dedicated to my writing. And since I've already got two completed manuscripts ready to be published, incuding one that's being seriously considered right now, I want nothing to do with vacation! It's been a long road for me at this point, and I want nothing to do with anything that will make it even longer. So when it comes to vacation, it's a word I don't need to hear.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day

It’s Memorial Day, and a salute to all those who have served in the armed forces. They are the real heroes, particularly those who have seen combat. That is the real deal. Whenever you put your life on the line, it’s an example of courage and heroism that cannot be matched by any movie stars or TV showmen.

But Memorial Day has one other significance to me. It’s the day my eldest son was born, and to this day it's one of the greatest days of my life. He just turned fifteen, and he’s a freshman in high school right now. I’m very pleased with my son. He’s a chip off the old block. He’s an athlete, an artist, a musician, and maybe he’ll end up writing novels someday. You never know.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Historical Fiction

A lot of people love Historical Fiction. You might think the words are a contradiction! No wonder it's a popular genre. You can write about a true life person from history, and make up your own version of their life. You can spin it into any kind of story you want. Thus, the fiction! And since most people prefer novels to academic reading, it's just right for them. Thus the Historical "Novel."

For my fourth novel, The Adventures of John Dunn, (working title) I will keep Dunn's achievements and the historical events accurate. It's what makes him a great source for a story. But I will need to forge a ficticious plot and subplots so as to make my novel a great read. Hey, I want people to buy it after all. Can't wait to get this research done and get on with the writing!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

True Life Hero

I like a great story with a great hero. And I like to write stories that have great heroes. In KILLER OF KILLERS, Trent Smith is the ultimate hero. He's the world's greatest martial artist, after all, and he fights for justice. But he's a ficticious character. And so what? There's a lot of ficticious characters that are great heroes. I've talked about them. James Bond, Captain Kirk, and Conan, to name my top three ficticious heroes. And more recently, I've enjoyed the stories of Frank Martin and Jason Bourne, too.

But there are heroes who really lived in real life, and were real heroes. And I have to admit, a true story has just a little more merit. Why? Well, because it's a true story. History is full of them. David, Alexander, Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, Constantine, Charles Martel, George Washington, and Audie Murphy come to mind. These are men who fought in real battles in real wars, men who put their lives on the line, and made a difference. And many of them have had their stories told, either in books, or in movies.

But many of them haven't, and John Dunn is one of them. He was a real hero. He was known for his skill with a rifle as a hunter and a fighter. He was tall, muscular, daring, and courageous. You gotta figure living as the only white man amongst Zulu tribes has got to take some guts. He even calloused his feet instead of wearing shoes, like all Zulu warriors. And just to give a clue how special he was, he became the Zulu King Cetshwayo's best friend. I talked about how he was forced to fight on the side of the British, during the Anglo-Zulu War, but afterwards he saved Cetshwayo's life. How? When the British forces defeated the Zulus, the commanding British general was going to hang the Zulu king. But it was John Dunn who intervened by convincing the general that he couldn't execute Cetshwayo without a trial. The general couldn't deny the truth of it, so he sent Cetshwayo to England, where he became a celebrity. (And wasn't executed.)

Sadly, the two never saw each other again, and Cetshwayo never realized it was Dunn who saved his life, and he harbored a resentment for Dunn taking sides with the British. He had already forgiven him once for taking sides with his brother during the Zulu Civil War. Talk about angst. I already knew it was a great story. And I'm learning that there's even a lot more to it.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Settings

I mentioned historical settings yesterday, obviously because that’s exactly what my next project will be featuring. It’s a nineteenth century story set in Sub-Saharan Africa. Much of the story will take place in the Kraals of the Zulus, and right now I’m submersing myself in books, DVDs, and online sites that have to do with anything Zulu.

For those of you who are not familiar with the term, a Kraal is like a small village of a native African tribe. It’s a circular formation of hive-shaped huts made from tree saplings and grass thatching with floors of clay and cow dung, and in its center is the cattle pen, which is the livelihood of the tribe.

But there will be other settings as well, like battlefields in the open plains, and when this story is done, it will feature, not only the friendship between John Dunn and the Zulu King Cetshwayo, but it will also involve a very large conflict with Dunn’s white wife centered around her disapproval of his 48 Zulu wives. Yes, I think this will be a very intriguing story indeed.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Know Your Stuff

I’ve talked about the necessary things you need to write, and the most important thing is time. But if you are going to write about something other than what you're used to, you have to be able to write about it so that it makes sense.

For instance, if you're a construction worker, but you're writing about doctors in a hospital, you'd better be able to make it sound like you've been a doctor in a hospital.

Or if you're writing about a particular time in history, you’d better have a good understanding of how people lived in that time if you want it to be believable. It’s all common sense, really, so don’t take any shortcuts. Do your research.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Writing Interruptions

My brother is back to writing his fantasy novel. He began it several years ago, and now, he is taking my cue of getting novels completed, so he is set to complete his. But he complained to me last night that he gets interrupted every fifteen minutes by people who don't seem to think he is focused on something. He asked if that ever happens to me. I told him that I have two young sons and a wife, and so it absolutely happens to me. And I don't appreciate it when it happens, so I make that clear. Then it gets a little better. But only a little. The ideal time to write is when I'm home alone, but that's not often. Still, I'm able to focus through the distractions, and I get a lot done.

I've mentioned before how I've read about so many people who seem to have the support they need from their family members or spouses. That is something I absolutely don't have. A wife who supports me? Nope, not for my writing and not financially, either, as I"m the breadwinner. And my two sons are too young for anyting like that. But despite it all, I get my writing done. It's something I've always been able to do no matter what it is. Once I set my mind to something, it gets done. Call it a character strength. And it's a good one.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Research

Well, the research into the adventures of John Dunn will take some time. I have enough books to last me several weeks of reading. I am eager to continue writing, and make progress, but I want to get most of the details right. Even though it's historical fiction and it doesn't have to be accurate, I'd rather have the time line correct.

Sure I'll add romance since he did have a faithful white wife along with 48 black ones, but it's the conflict on which I will concentrate. And besides the wars in which he fought, there's plenty of conflict right there. I mean, if your husband had 48 additional wives, are you telling me there wouldn't be conflict in that element alone? There was!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Adventures of John Dunn

Well I think I have decided on which book to write next. Tuesday night I started the manuscript on John Dunn, and I’m over a thousand words into it now, so that’s what it will be. Don’t have a title for it yet. John Dunn, the White Chief of Zululand is already taken. That’s the name of the biography written by Charles Ballard. And what I would give to get a copy of that. Still looking.

But the reason I’m choosing that story is because of all the tension, conflict and the improbable success John Dunn achieved. I mentioned in Tuesday's post the fact that Dunn’s story contained a lot of conflict. Well, check this out. Not only was he stuck between the black/white tension of the time, and all the conflict that came with that, but he was involved in two major Zulu wars. The Anglo-Zulu war which I mentioned already, and the Zulu Civil War that took place twenty-two years before that. So here we have a guy involved in two major African wars in his lifetime, and both in the prime of his life. He was twenty-three years old when the Zulu Civil War ended, and forty-five when the Anglo-Zulu War began. So this will be the time span of my book.

The story will begin in 1856, when the Zulu king Mpande was getting old, and two of his sons, Cetshwayo and Mbuyasi vied for the right to succeed him. And the issue was not decided with any kind of chivalry. It was an all out war. I’m talking to the death. Not only for one of the brother princes, but of thousands of their followers, too.

Now I’m not sure if John Dunn had met Cetshwayo at this point in time, (still researching that) but I do know that he sided with Mbuyasi, even though Cetshwayo had a much larger army. Maybe it was Mbuyasi who solicited John Dunn’s support, (and the guns to which he had access) and that’s how he got Dunn on his side. But regardless, after a horrible toll in terms of the lives of their warriors and of the massacres of women and children, as well, Cetshwayo won the war, and John Dunn barely escaped the deciding battle with his life.

He dived into the Thukela River (which at that point was red with the blood of thousands of slaughtered Zulus. I found in my research that as he struggled to keep from drowning, he clutched onto the nearest floating object and discovered to his dismay that it was a woman’s dead body, and her baby had been impaled onto her before being thrown into the river by Cetshwayo’s victorious troops.

So yeah, it’s going to be a fascinating story. But still got a lot of research to do. Can’t wait.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Idea #2

As I said yesterday, it’s time to write my fourth novel. And if I don’t write the historical novel about John Dunn, I am thinking about a novel of suspense. It would involve a man who has nightmares of battles. He sees them as if he were a participant. The only thing is he was never in the military. And the battles were past ones. Like way past ones. I’m talking ancient Greece here. And ancient Rome.

What’s happening is the man is reliving past lives in his dreams, and through hypnosis or some other means, he is able to reveal those experiences in some detail.

Now, again, I'm not sure. It sounds like a fun story, but I have a lot of things to work out. Like where is the conflict and the tension? What will be the plot? What is the main character’s objective? How do I resolve it? How much paranormal stuff should I put in there? Should I put any paranormal stuff in there at all? Yeah, it’s only in the thinking stage right now. But I better figure this thing fast. Summer is almost here.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Summer Coming! It's Time...

Summer is approaching, and that means it’s time to write my fourth novel. I have two ideas and I’ll talk about one of them right now. Like THE VASE, it’s a story that’s been brewing in my head for a long time. But unlike my fiction stories, it’s actually a TRUE story. Thus it would be a Historical Novel, also known as Historical Fiction. You know the old saying that sometimes truth is stranger than fiction – or more interesting, anyway, for the mere fact that it’s true, and there are a lot of true stories that are quite fascinating.

And one of them is the story of John Dunn. If you never heard of him, go ahead and Google him. He’s a 19th Century white man who lived in Africa. And even though he was white, (Scottish descent,) he became best friends with the Zulu king, Cetshwayo, and rewarded by Cetshwayo with his own Zulu sub-kingdom. So yeah, he was actually a white Zulu king, with near fifty Zulu wives and he fathered over a hundred Zulu kids. (He also had a white wife, and she wasn’t so fond of sharing him with so many black ones. But, hey, he was a king!) I’m telling you it’s a true story. Otherwise, I wouldn’t dare think of such a premise.

This man, John Dunn, has a story worth telling, and though his biography was written already by Charles Ballard, I would like to tell it in a novel-type format. You know, focusing on the adventure and the conflict. (He was thick in the middle of the Anglo-Zulu war, which, for him, was a horrible situation. After all, his ethnic ancestry was from the UK, (Scotland) but his allegiance was to the Zulus. (Again, he was a king!)

But even though he was a Zulu king, he was no fool. He knew the British would win that war, and if he sided with the Zulus, guess what would have happened to him afterwards. The British would hang him for treason! (They told him as much!) So what would you do? Right. That’s what John Dunn did. He sided with the British. But he didn’t forsake the subjects of his sub-kingdom. He took them (near ten thousand) to the British side of the Tugela River.

Anyway, I haven’t decided yet. I’m only thinking about it. But as I do, I’m buying as many books about John Dunn, the Zulus, and Cetshwayo as I can for research, particularly the autobiographies of both men. Certainly, I want to stay true to the real events within the story. So yeah, it’s a story that needs to be written by someone. Maybe it’ll be me.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Ultimate Achievement from Thursday

Something happened to Google Blogs Friday, and the Thursday posts from several bloggers (including mine) disappeared. But I think my Thursday post was worth salvaging, so I am going to repost it. It's not word for word, but it was about what might be considered the ultimate achievement for an author. I made the point last Wednesday that getting your book made into a movie would be a great event. And for many authors that is true. But I don't believe it's an ultimate achievement.

So what might be considered an ultimate achievement for an author? Some people might say that being considered the greatest writer of your time is the ultimate achievement, or perhaps writing a book that is considered a truly great book which catapults an author into the ranks of great writers is the ultimate achievement. And who could argue that if you were considered an equal to the likes of Melville, Dickens, Hemingway, Wilde, Dostoyevsky, and Tolsoy, that it wouldn't be an ultimate achievement?

Sure writing books like War and Peace and Moby Dick might be just the achievement needed to qualify, but is there anything else? How about creating a new ideology? Ayn Rand did that. How about creating a new genre? Robert E. Howard did that.

How about changing the world for the better? How about writing a book that made people change their negative behavior? A book that made society change for the better? Is it possible for a book to bring peace to the world? You would think that religious books, like the Bible or the Qur'an would bring peace to the world. Nope. Is it possible? I wonder.

It would be nice if it was possible. Don't you think?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Essentials for Writing (And what happened to yesterday's post?)

Besides time, what do you need to write? A quiet home? Solitude? Encouragement? I have none of that. With two sons who are anything but quiet, I have learned to filter out the noise when I write. And I am hardly ever home alone. But I still get the writing done. I am able to focus through all of the diversions.

And what about encouragement? How about support? I am amazed when I read so many blogs by writers who rave about how much their spouses support and encourage their writing. Well, I’m not so lucky. But that’s OK.

Because I would say time is the only thing I need. And a computer. It’s an amazing tool. Especially for writers. If it wasn’t for the computer, I know I would never have written my novels. It is truly an amazing invention. Hooray for the computer.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Frank Miller

Getting your book made into a movie has got to be a great event for an author. Or is it? Well if you care about money, it is. But is money all you care about? (I see you nodding over there!) But seriously, there are some writers who actually care more about their stories than money.

And Frank Miller is one of them. His success began as a comic book artist, and he was a very good one. Then he went on to write comic book stories, too. His first break into Hollywood (I think) came with the screenplay he wrote for Robocop III. I don’t think that endeavor made him into a hot commodity for the big screen, because I know he went back to comics. That was his bread and butter.

And like a lot of comic book talent, he branched off into his own comic line. Big names in comics did that, like Jim Lee, (Wildcats,) and Todd McFarlane, (Spawn) to name a couple.

But Frank Miller was tops in the genre. And he had a lot of fans, one of them a Hollywood director, Robert Rodriguez, who approached Miller with an offer to make his graphic novel, Sin City, into a movie.

Now Frank Miller knows that movie people have an arrogant attitude. They believe that they are superior to comic book writers, and they think that they have to change the stories and the characters to be worthy of the big screen. And almost invariably, the stories and the characters suffer as a result.

So Frank Miller said no. He didn’t care how much money Hollywood threw at him. Money was NOT his objective. His story was ultimate in his mind. Now how about that for a writer with integrity!

But Rodriguez told Miller that not only would he not change Miller’s story, but that he would let Miller co-direct the movie so that he would know first hand that his story was not going to be stained. Only then did Miller agree. Now there’s a writer’s writer. I never did read the graphic novel. (I haven’t read a comic since my first son was born fourteen years ago.) But I saw the movie, and it sure was great.

Frank Miller. Kudos to you.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Indie Publishers Fill a Void

Everyone knows that big publishers usually don’t want to take a chance with an unknown writer. But it really is true that unknown writers have great stories to tell. I think there are more of them than people realize. Going by the writing blogs alone, there are tons of writers out there. For them, getting published by a big house publisher is next to impossible.

And that’s why independent publishers have been cropping up all over the place. They give the unknown writer an opportunity. It’s got to be tough, not only for new writers, but for new publishers, too. Yet some of these new authors and new publishers are making it big. They succeed because they know their craft.

I have to believe that publishers who succeed know how to succeed. It’s a business after all. And they have got to be good businessmen to succeed. Like an author, they have to work hard and they have to be dedicated. They have to be selfless and put their business first. If you aren’t willing to do that, then most likely you won’t succeed no matter what you’re trying to do.

That’s most definitely the way it is for writers, and I bet it’s just as true for publishers. It’s just the way it is for most everything.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Time Flies - But Not Always

Here it is the second week of May, and the school year is almost over. It’s been flying by faster than any year I've ever experienced. But the last two weeks have been crawling like a snail.

It’s because of the exclusive submission of THE VASE. This is the second time I have agreed to an exclusive submission. The first time, it was accepted but the publisher went out of business and the contract was voided.

Now I’m about two weeks into the second exclusive submission and the time is moving slower than ever. It’s because I think this publisher is even better. We'll see. Talk about pins and needles!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Conflict in a Novel

A novel needs conflict to make it interesting. Most if not all 'How to Write Novels' books say you need a bunch of it. Even on every single page. Well, THE VASE has plenty of it. It takes place in the Middle East, after all. And there seems to always be conflict over there. It's a great setting for a novel.

But there are different kinds of conflict. Internal, external, and THE VASE has it all. Even conflict within a family, and THE VASE has that, too. It's about a family with a fourteen year old son. And I happen to know about having a fourteen year old son. Because my oldest son is fourteen right now. So I know what comes with having one. A lot of conflict, that's what.

Yes, not only am I an expert in ceramics, but I am an expert in fourteen year old sons. So THE VASE is a book that deals with both. Yeah, it's a great book. Hopefully it will be published soon.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Celebrities

So the people who get instant book deals, no matter what the content, (heck, even before they wrote a book,) are celebrities. Not just movie stars and politicians, pro athletes and radio talk show hosts, but anyone who was married to one. Even people who just KNEW a celebrity can get an instant book deal.

And some of them might just have an interesting story to tell. What gets me is the part about getting a book deal before you even wrote the book. Now how sweet is that? I've heard about publishing companies giving six and seven digit advances to people like that.

For the rest of us, it's write a great book. But even that guarantees nothing. So who said the world was fair, anyway?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Edits and Revisions

Last night I just finished the umpteenth revision of THE VASE. Talk about edits. I changed a lot more than I thought I would for what I thought was just going to be a fine tooth combing. Oh, I didn't change the story or anything like that, nor the characters and not the sequence of events. I polished the prose big time, more than I thought I would have needed to. But it's sure polished now. You need to read it with sunglasses!

And I made some necessary changes for the sake of continuity. I can't believe I didn't see it before. I would like to talk about it, but then it would be a spoiler. Can't have that. I mean, it's not even in print yet, and to spoil it now? No way. So I can finally leave it alone . When a publisher is ready for it, it's ready, too. Wow. Is it ever!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Short Stories

Many authors take time from their novels to write short stories. It gets their name out there when they get their stories published in magazines or anthologies.

I wrote one or two, but that was way back when I was in school. I really don't have the desire to write short stories right now. Still, it would be wise to do it.

You know, to get your name recognizable, like, 'Hey, that's the guy who wrote that short story I liked in such and such book.' It's part of building a platform.

Maybe I'll try it again one day.

One day.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Indie vs Self

So if you are self-published, does that make you an indie author? Some self-published authors seem to think so. But I don’t think that’s right or fair. I think you are an indie author if you are published by an indie publisher.

It makes me think that self-published authors want to trick readers into believing they are actually published by a real publisher. So they call themselves indie authors to give that impression.

I want to be published by a real publisher. But not so badly that I will self-publish and then call myself an indie author.

Imo, if you don’t want to be viewed as a self-published author, then don’t self-publish your book. If you don’t mind being viewed as a self-published author, then go ahead and do it, but then call yourself a self-published author.

That’s all.