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, September 30, 2011

Conflict: The Key to Success

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

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

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

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

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

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

That's all.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

It's a Long Road

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

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Review Time

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

No Time to Read for Pleasure

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 26, 2011

Summer Over

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

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

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

Friday, September 23, 2011

Back to Research

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

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

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

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Tragedy in Stories

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Real Plots

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

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

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

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

That's some amazing stuff, too.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

It's Not Always Good vs. Evil

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 19, 2011

Emails - A great method of communication?

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

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

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

Friday, September 16, 2011

TIme is the Precious Commodity

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

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

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

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Reread as you write

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

POV

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Agents

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 12, 2011

John Dunn at 70,000 Words

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 9, 2011

Self Publishers vs. Traditional Publishers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Online Platform

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Paranormal is not for me

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Books vs. Movies

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

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

Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor Day

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

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

That's all.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Instability in Publishing?

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The New Conan Movie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, Peter Jackson, where for art thou?