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.




Friday, July 29, 2011

Historical Novels, You Gotta Love 'em

As much as I love stories in literature or movies, TV or what have you, I know that I have always been more intrigued with those stories that are based on true stories.

We all know the most common ones told throughout the ages: Julius Caesar and Cleopatra, Alexander the Great, and many war stories based on truth. And of course a plethora of other kinds of stories based on real life people who lived some kind of fantastic experience. People like Henry XIII, and so many others that would fill a hundred postings.

And that's why I chose to write about John Dunn. He didn't change the world, but he did influence a region of it. And it's a story that hasn't really been done. Yes there are some books about him. But I would bet no one that has read this blog had even heard of him before learning about him from this blog.

Regardless, I am not making everything in this story 100% accurate, or even exact in its chronological order. I will stress that this is a story which is BASED on a true story. All the characters are real, and to the best of my research, I am trying to make their personalaties at least close to how they have been described.

But I have one real void. Aside from Catherine Pierce, Dunn's first wife, the Zulu wives of Dunn have not been described or talked about in any of the research I can find. But I'm tring to give them some dimension in the story. I want them to be real, not just backdrop. I can't do it for all of them. There's too many.

I have made Catherine, herself, a major player in the storyline. Every research I've seen says she was very upset with all the other wives. No duh, I know, but I am playing up on that angle. Also, I have read that she had to deal with prejudice and racism that others displayed towards her.

So here's a good angle. A woman who is victimized by racism, because she is half black, is herself victimizing others for being all black. Sounds to me like there's a lesson in there somewhere.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Debut Novel, THE VASE

I am writing my fourth novel, now, and with three under the belt already, I was thinking that it's a good thing that my debut novel will be THE VASE.

I'm an art teacher after all. I teach ceramics as well as drawing and painting. And THE VASE is certainly a subject that has something to do with ceramics. I would like to make it known to my colleagues in education about this book when it comes out. I'm even hoping it might be included in the school libraries.

I know that my other two books, KILLER OF KILLERS and KILLER EYES, would not be included in any middle school library. It's too much of an adult read. There's too much violence and sex, and too much off the wall stuff that goes on in those two.

Maybe that's why they're so good. But regardless, if my Killer books came out first, I really couldn't say too much about them at my school. Not so for THE VASE. It's a great story that does have some violence but no sex, and if you are someone who needs sex to read a book, then you'll have to wait for the other ones. THE VASE is a good clean story for almost all ages.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

How to Write When the Sky is Falling

I don't know how many writers have to write when everything around them is in utter chaos. I have a wonderful wife and two magnificent sons still in the house, aged 15 and 9, and it is not uncommon for them to be louder than one of my middle school classrooms!

My brother who is writing his first novel now, has only the wife to contend with. And he emails me complaining about the constant interruptions. I know what he means. I told him imagine how it would be if he had the kids on top of that.

So what do I do? I don't ignore the wife, that's for sure. I do want to stay married after all. And I most certainly don't ignore my sons. I have been there for them virtually every day of their lives. I must say that if there is anything I did right in my life, it was being a good dad.

But I do know when I can focus on my writing. And it takes focus. I am fortunate to have the ability to block out the distractions and concentrate on what I am doing. I think I developed that skill during my years as an artist. And now that I'm into writing books, that skill has carried over.

So if anyone out there has a problem with distractions, practice blocking everything else out. Pretend you have tunnel vision. And then one day you will see that light at the end of the tunnel!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Zulu Terms

Just thought it might be interesting to share the kind of Zulu words I'm working with in my WIP, the John Dunn story, Heart of a Zulu. So I've listed the ones from my notes and what they mean in English. I'm getting pretty good at pronouncing them, too. Just remember what I've said before, that different books have different spellings for just about every one of these words.

Terms
iziBongi – Praise Singers
amaDlozi – ancestors
amaShoshozelo – loyal supporters
Ubuntu – to share or to be humane
inDaba – meeting with important people
Inceku – house servant
izAnusi – diviner
iNyanga – witchdoctor/diviner
ukuThakatha – to use supernatural forces for evil purposes
umThakathi – a person who uses supernatural forces for evil purposes
inDuna – advisor or an official of the king of chieftain
intangas – female troops or regiment for marrying the male troops
isiCoco – the head ring for mature males
Beka – to proclaim as heir to the king
Bayede – royal salute
uThulwana – Mpande’s regiment which Cetshwayo was in
uSuthu – Cetshwayo’s army
impi – Zulu warriors
Mathambo – the place of bones – the battle site of enDondakusuka
iziGqoza – Mbuyasi’s army
inKozikasi – the Great Wife at center hut behind cattle pen
inKhohlwa – left side of kraal ruled by the First Wife
inGqadi – right side of Kraal ruled by the substitute Great Wife
isiGodlo – king’s harem
isiCholo – wide straw hat warn by mature women
isiDwaba – goatskin skirt worn by women
uhbulahlu – beadwork in headdresses and necklaces
amabheshu – the backward apron worn by men
iziNhloli – advance scouts

Monday, July 25, 2011

Movie Versions

I have made it known that movie versions of books, even comic books are usually nothing more than a bad joke. Of course there are exceptions. But usually movies do no justice to their source, if that source is a book or comic book.

And comic books get the worst of it. Lately, I've taken my sons to see the new X-Men, Thor, and Captain America movies. The kids like them, because they never read the comic books. (They haven't taken to reading yet. But I'm sure they will as they get older.)

But for someone like me, who has read them all, I just can't give these movies my stamp of approval. Almost always they are cast wrong. Almost always, the movie writers change the concept or storyline of the origins.

I mean, as an example, the X-Men movie. It was supposed to be about, Cyclops, Jean Grey, Beast, Iceman and Angel. But only Beast was there. And come on... the Beast didn't have an opposing thumb for his big toe.

OK, there was an Angel in it, but Angel was a guy in the comics, with the wings of an... ANGEL... not a girl who was a stripper with bug wings. They should have called her Bug Girl, not Angel.

Oh well.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Writing About Real People

You know what? I've been getting weird feelings the last couple days writing about real people. It's one thing writing about people I made up like in KILLER OF KILLERS and THE VASE. But John Dunn, Cetshwayo, and all those people I'm writing about now, well, it's different. I hope they're not looking down from heaven or anything like that. But in case they are, I hope they realize I'm putting them in a good light. Really.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Be Flexible When You Write

I have found that I have to go back and add stuff to prior chapters to make the later chapters relate to them better. For example in my WIP, I never established that John Dunn, even at a young age, had acquired a good amount of money through trading cattle. He would buy a team of trained oxen and then trade them for two "unbroken" teams and then he would train them, himself and repeat the process. Two separate sources have confirmed that he used this method to become a wealthy man.

So now I am in chapter six, and he has taken his first Zulu wives, and of course must pay the lobolo, which is a dowrie. But I never established that he had the means to do that. So now I will go back and find the best place to insert that with some dialogue where it makes sense for the subject to be broached. This way, the reader won't be thinking something like, 'since when did he have all that cattle to pay as lobolo?"

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Best photo yet of John Dunn in prime


Well, here he is. The MC of my WIP. It's actually a lithograph of a portrait photo, but regardless, it's a much better version of the poor quality photo I posted a week ago, and therefore a better opportunity to see what he looked like before he got old and lost his hair.

So does this guy look like he could have 49 or 65 wives? I'll leave that to the ladies to decide. But aside from being a lady's man, he was a father of many, many children. Sources vary, as I wrote about yesterday, but some say he had 117, and other sources say over 150!

The strange thing about it is that none of these sources, not even his own notes, mention much about his family life. I mean the different books and websites confirm that he had all the wives and all those kids, but none of them say much about them, except that he built each wife her own house, and provided for all of them.

But there is one episode where he mentions that his eldest son was ill, and that the Zulu king sent his witchdoctors to cure him, (and they did!) But that's pretty much it.

Oh well, it's things like this that make me glad this is a NOVEL I'm writing.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Conflicting Sources?

I'm rolling along with John Dunn, Heart of a Zulu, and I am finding a bunch of conflicting information in these different books and internet sites. Some describe real people in one way, and other sources in another way. Some say this about a battle, but other sources say that about the same battle.

And don't even mention spelling. Uh oh, I mentioned it. When it comes to Zulu words, not one of the four books I have is consistent with another. It seems that every different source, online sites included, have their own way of spelling every single Zulu word!

I've counted up to four different ways Cetshwayo is spelled. At least John Dunn is the same everywhere, but it's all different with everything Zulu.

So I'm going with what works. As long as my book is consistent with itself, that's what matters. So for instance, Cetshwayo will be spelled like that every time. Same with every other Zulu word.

And when it comes to the events, which are also different in every book, well, hey, it's a historical NOVEL, so that one's going to be my call.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Considering New Title for WIP

I'm over 30,000 words into this now, on page 105, and I would say that would put me about one third of the way through. And it's only now I think I have a title. As you know my working title is John Dunn of Zululand. But I've also said that I don't want a title like that.

Heart of a Zulu. I like it. It's not definite yet. I remember for my first two novels, KILLER OF KILLERS and THE VASE, both of them had different working titles at first. But when I came up with those titles, I was sure about them. Right now, I like Heart of a Zulu. It has a good ring to it.

I was writing the scene today (finally) when Cetshwayo, the Zulu king meets John Dunn. And it becomes evident to Cetshwayo that Dunn is the kind of guy that he likes. He sees in him the bravery, the guts, the gall, and everything else that he requires in his Zulu warriors. So Cetshwayo says to his advisors after Dunn leaves that he has the 'heart of a Zulu.' And then I thought, Hey, yeah. That could be the title right there.

I'll sleep on it.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Character Driven Novels

I am smoothly proceeding with John Dunn, and it's because I am totally into the setting and characters right now. It's like the story is writing itself. And that's the way it was for KILLER OF KILLERS and THE VASE.

In KILLER OF KILLERS, Trent Smith was the world's greatest martial artist, and everything fell into place as the story progressed.

In THE VASE, Muhsin Muhabi was a simple Palestinian merchant. And he just happened to be in the middle of the conflict that overtook his entire family. As I wrote it, everything fell into place for that one, too.

That seems to be what happens when you're writing character-driven stories. Sure both stories have strong plots, too, but you follow the characters right through to the end. I love both stories. I would love for KILLER OF KILLERS to be my next published novel. But I won't get ahead of myself here. I'll let THE VASE make it to print first, and then I'll worry about KOK.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Fourth Novel Going Well

As my debut novel, THE VASE, is rolling along toward publication, I have made good time this summer with my fourth novel. John Dunn of Zululand. For those of you who are not familiar with the man, he is a real life hero who lived in Africa during the 19th Century and fought in both the Zulu Civil War and in the Anglo Zulu War.

Aside from his personal accomplishments of which I have already chronicled on this blog, he is noted for being a close friend of the Zulu King Cetshwayo. Dunn was so trusted by the African king that he was the only man who could enter the king's royal hut without first having to be announced. To put that into perspective, even the king's own sons had to be announced.

Right now I'm into Chapter Five, over 23,000 words, on page 81, and Dunn hasn't even met Cetshwayo yet. This might be a long novel. And yes, it's a novel. A historical novel. The events are true and historically accurate, as are all the players. But hey, they weren't videotaped. I have to make up the dialogue and fill in a lot of gaps. But it's still a true story. Just a little fiction mixed in. That's all.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Sample Covers Sent Yesterday

Yay. Cogito sent me some sample covers yesterday. It was great seeing my debut novel, THE VASE, starting to take a real shape of a book, even if only as a cover right now.

There were four samples, but since I couldn't download them, I'll try to describe them.

The first three samples were mosaic designs. They were really interesting really. All three were from the same source and featured a lion-like figure, which I liked, but again it was a mosaic, and there are no mosaics anywhere in my story. So I think the three variations on that particular design will not be appropriate.

Now the fourth sample had potential. It was a great photo of a collection of vases, looking down on them, as they were set on the ground. And even better, the vases were not glazed, which is how my "vase" is described in the story. So I would choose that one from the four examples they sent.

And that's what I told them in my reply, but I also invited them to check out this here blog, and maybe get an idea from my header photo up there. I thought that since the title is THE Vase, and not, The VASES, maybe it should be a close-up of just one vase, like in that picture I have there.

I also made some suggestions about what else might be included. Like maybe that subtitle in my blog's header would be good to put in there, too. Maybe even that logline I have underneath the photo would work, too. And for the back cover, I think the four blurbs of the characters I have up there would be good.

Anyway, there is no doubting the importance of a cover, as I've blogged about that before. A great cover can result in a lot of sales, just by itself. So this is going to be a very important step in the publishing process. And I'm so glad that they are including me in the decision.

If you are reading this Gratia, let me thank you again for your efforts on this. And if you are reading this, Alecs, let me thank you, too. And if Pierre is reading this, it's like, thanks man, for everything. So, it's on with the show, so to speak.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

More Photos of Dunn



As I posted yesterday, here is John Dunn when he was in his prime, probably in the early 1860s. He had just moved to Zululand and began his tenure as a Zulu chief.


Here is an older John Dunn, and I do believe the woman is his first wife, Catherine Pierce. The group of Zulu men pictured below, I believe, fought with Dunn during the Anglo Zulu War.


And here is their first born son, Robert Newton Dunn, (named after John Dunn's father.)


And here is one of his Zulu wives, but I couldn't tell you her name or which number of his 65 wives this one actually was.

I have no doubt John Dunn had no trouble remembering each one's name, and also each one of his 117 surviving children's names, as he named them each in his will.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Young John Dunn


I've finally found a photo of a young John Dunn. Here he is at about aged thirty, I should think. (Did I just say, "I should think?" Sheesh, I'm doing so much research and reading about this period, I'm beginning to talk like them! Next thing I know, I'll be saying, "Tally ho!" and "By Jove!")

Anyway, I had to get this from a larger collection of photos, and then crop it for the individual shot. As for my book, I have at least a working title for it, now. John Dunn of Zululand. I know it sounds plain and it's not original, but it's one that makes sense. The story features John Dunn in Zululand, after all.

I'll try to get more photos posted this week. Virtually all photos of him are in his older years, but that's proabably because that was when photography was becoming more available. This is the only one that I can find when he was still in his prime.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Into Chapter Three

On page 47 and over 13,000 words, and still no title for my historical novel. But John Dunn will have a title. I'm thinking the title should have the word Zulu in it somewhere or somehow. So something like Blood of Zululand. That might work. or High Road to Zululand. That's kind of catchy. I do want to get away from things like John Dunn of Zululand, or the White Chief of Zululand, because those are taken.

I'll keep thinking. Meanwhile, I'll keep writing, too. But today most of my time was spent reading the books I have on the man, and serfing the net in research mode.

Not sure if that forum is going to help. So I emailed Dan Dunn. He's a direct descendant of John Dunn. He's a tour guide over there in South Africa. Hopefully he'll respond with some positive vibes and some info I could use. We'll see.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

New Resource for John Dunn Book

I just found and joined a new forum today. It's a forum that deals with the Anglo-Zulu War, and there are some threads that deal with the topic of John Dunn. Mostly the members there have a positive opinion of John Dunn, and I was glad to see that.

My first post was to ask what does John Dunn's Zulu name mean. The Zulus called him Jantoni, and I have to believe it was some kind of complimentary name. Because Dunn was considered a good guy to them. I mean, he was best friends with their king, after all. So I want to get the English meaning right. This is one of the items that needs to be accurate. And unfortunately, none of the four books I have say what Jantoni means.

But I did find out some other things on this forum today. One of those things was that Dunn had more than the 49 wives most sources say he had. He actually had a total of 65 wives. It was just that when Dunn died, he was survived by 49 wives, and accounted for them in his will. So that's where that number came from.

It makes sense. It's likely that Dunn may well have lived longer than some of his wives. I found out that Dunn was very much into abiding by Zulu laws, too. And one of those laws was execution for any wife who committed adultery. From what I learned today, out of his 65 wives, two were unfaithful to him, but it was the last mistake they made, if you know what I mean. Such was life in Zululand!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Research Nearly Complete

Don't ever cut your research short. Especially in historical fiction. I mean you better have a very good understanding of the time period, and if you are writing about real people, you should get them right, too.

Now everything doesn't have to be accurate to the last detail. It's called historical FICTION after all. And even though all of the characters and the major events in my story about John Dunn are true, I am taking the liberty to spiff it up somewhat.

Because if you want your story to be read by anyone, it better be exciting and full of tension. And in 19th Century Africa, there's plenty of that. Heck, the story starts and ends with a war. But there are a lot of little things that you have to get in there, things like interpersonal relationships that the research doesn't really divulge.

For instance, none of the research gets too much into John Dunn's wives. Other than the fact that he had 49 of them, I mean. So I'm spiffing that part up, and as I mentioned yesterday, one reason is because I need a strong female character, and I'm quite sure that some of them were very strong characters. Especially his first one.

It's time to move ahead full steam.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Don't Forget the Strong Female

As I wait for the next phase of the editing process for my debut novel, THE VASE, I'm keeping myself busy with my fourth novel. I've outlined most of the book, and synopsized the first few chapters. So I have a very good idea where I'm going with this story. I have my main character, John Dunn, the main antagonist, Theophilus Shepstone, some supporting characters in Xegwana, Bishop Colenso, and Captain Walmsley, and of course, King Cetshwayo.

But I most certainly will not forget a strong female character. Anyone who's read any writing blogs lately knows that strong female characters are pretty much required in novels these days, and I don't just mean Chic Lit.

Nope, and if an author has any savvy in the craft of writing novels, he better not forget that fact. So, what do you do when the setting is in the 19th Century, and in Africa? Doesn't matter. You get a strong female character in there.

And I have one. It's John Dunn's first wife, Catherine Pierce. She married John Dunn at age fifteen, (he was eighteen,) and ran off with him into Zululand where they lived off the land, (and mostly John's hunting,) for two years. They returned to civilization when the Natal Border Agent, Captain Joshua Walmsley happened to run into them, and seeing their sorry state, offered to let them move in with him. (They had two sons by then.)

So they moved in with the captain and his wife, and Catherine became good friends with the older, but childless Mrs. Walmsley. Now this was an important friendship because Catherine was considered a "colored" woman, meaning she was half white and half black. And Maria, (Mrs. Walmsley,) was not prejudiced or racist in any way towards her. But Catherine did have to deal with a lot of that from the other people in the colony.

It was not uncommon for a white man to marry a black or colored woman, but it was also not uncommon for said man to abandon his black woman and colored children for a white wife to make himself acceptable into the white society. But when John Dunn faced that crossroad, he scoffed at the notion of leaving his wife and kids. To him, skin color was not a factor.

But in dealing with this issue, Catherine Pierce needed to be a strong character. Now, she didn't fight in any of the wars, but she did fight her personal war. (Racism.) And it's worth mentioning that although John never did marry a white woman, he did marry several black ones. So these will be some of the sub-plots. Yes, it's all coming together. I'm over 10,000 words into this, and only mid second chapter.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Holidays Again

I've grown to not like holidays because that slows down the publishing process. But since my new publisher is Canadian, maybe that means they go to work today.

Regardless, Happy Fourth of July to anyone reading this. I hope you can understand that with my book, THE VASE, finally having found a home, I am really focused on seeing it through to print, and I am not fond of anything that might hold it up. And that includes holidays.

And of course, in the meantime, I'll be working on my fourth novel, John Dunn. You know, I've really got to think of a better name for that. I'll be working on it. See ya.