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.



Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween

I don't know what they do in other countries, but here Halloween is kind of a big thing. Mostly for kids, but adults get in the spirit of Halloween, too. Many grownups dress up in costumes to go to work and that's true even at schools. I don't. Once, I taught at a school that required the teachers to dress up in a costume, and even though I went ahead and did it, I wish I didn't.

Why? Because, imo, it's a kid thing. I think teachers should teach and dressing up for halloween detracts from that in a classroom. But that's me. I go to the bank and to the grocery store and the employees are dressed in costumes. Whatever. I think going to a costume party is more the appropriate time and place to do that. I might be a prude, but the work place is a different element. Hey, don't get me wrong, I still take my kids out to trick or treat. Well, my nine year old anyway. My fifteen year old hasn't dressed up the last couple years. He's too old for that now. Sigh. How the years fly by.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Back to research

Pausing once again to firm up the research on these battles. Because the Battle of Isandlwana was not the only one happening. There were three of them happening almost simultaneously. As I've said, there were three British columns invading Zululand all at once. The Zulus stopped all three of them. The Central Column was destroyed, the Left Column was stopped at Hlobane and pushed back to Kambula, and the Right Column was stopped and besieged at Eshowe.

So I am researching the details of all three battles, just to make sure I get them right, and to figure out how much of them I want to actually put in the story. I have a lot of subplots that take place in these battles. For instance, not only does John Dunn fight in the battle to relieve the besieged Brits at Eshowe, two of Shepstone's sons fight at Isandlwana and one of them gets killed. It's some very interesting reading.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

WIP at 82,000 words

82,000 words for my WIP right now and I'm not even close to done yet. THE VASE is 88,000 words, and KILLER OF KILLERS is 89,000. It''s looking like JOHN DUNN will exceed 90,000 and might even reach 100,000 by the time it's finished. That's OK for historical fiction, I think. Right now in the story the Dunn clan has just crossed over into Natal to sit out the war.

After that, Lord Chelmsford's third column will cross into Zululand. Colonel Wood has already invaded, and Colonel Pearson goes the next day. Then I'll put in the scene where the Zulu king Cetshwayo is planning his counterattack. The Battle of Isandlwana will come after that. It's a fast ride and it's picking up speed right about now.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Battle of Isandlwana

The first major battle of the Anglo-Zulu War was the British disaster at Isandlwana, which ranks as the worst-ever defeat of a modern army by a primitive one in the history of warfare. It’s the British version of “Custer’s Last Stand” but much worse.

After the British invaded Zululand, the top guy, Lord Chelmsford, AKA General Thesiger, decided to camp his center column at the base of a mountain called Isandlwana. Of course he wanted to make sure no Zulu army was around that might attack him, so he ordered Major Dartnell to scout ahead. Dartnell encountered Zulus and sent word back for permission to attack them. Thinking it was a big Zulu army, and not wanting to be left out of the fight, Chelmsford rode out with half of his force to reinforce him. This left the camp at half-strength and under the command of the inexperienced Major Pulliene.

But the main Zulu army was hiding out of sight in a low ravine, and they attacked, catching the camp unprepared. When Chelmsford returned, the camp had been wiped out. Over a thousand British and their native allies were massacred. News spread fast, and the world was shocked. They didn’t think that was possible.

The thing is that the Dutch-descended Boers who had been living in South Africa for hundreds of years and fighting the Zulus for just as long, had warned the British not to underestimate the Zulus. But the British didn’t listen. And that's what happened.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Chapter Outlining

So I’m nearing the conclusion of my WIP, John Dunn, which includes the Anglo-Zulu war and its aftermath. But there are so many subplots and characters involved I’ve decided to outline each remaining chapter.

First, there’s the chapter when the war begins. It begins, of course with the British invasion into Zululand. John Dunn, trying to remain neutral, undertakes an exodus of thousands of the people who live under his autonomous rule in the part of Zululand called Dunnsland.

This exodus also included upward of 3,000 head of cattle. The British, fearful that the thousands of Zulus who live under him might join the Zulu side, promise to provide food and shelter. But once Dunn brings them into Natal, not only do the British break their promise and provide nothing, they take all of their guns away, to boot.

But the invasion does not go as planned for the British. No spoiler alert needed because it is a historical fact that the first invasion ended in disaster for the British. They invaded with three separate columns which were supposed to converge on the Zulu capital, but all three columns were defeated, one being destroyed, and the other two stopped.

So Lord Chelmsford, who is in overall command of the British forces, comes to Dunn and this time forces him to join the British side instead of just being a bystander. It’s also true history that after he left his Zulu homestead, rogue Zulus burned down his house and the surrounding villages where his people lived.

And there is quite a bit more going on in the story, some of it fiction that I’ve added to spice it up, but all the characters are real and these main events are all true to history. It’s a great deal of fun, just too much research involved for me to ever want to do it again.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Chapter Length

Since I started writing novels, I have been interested in chapter length. More so than before, because when I read a novel, I never even thought about it. In KILLER OF KILLERS, I have short chapters, as few as four pages, and long chapters, as many as thirty-some pages. I know that other novels by other authors also vary in chapter length. I've read novels where chapters are as long as forty or more pages. And I've picked up books where every scene change is a new chapter, and very short ones at that.

In THE VASE, I've averaged my chapters to be about twelve pages or so, with some that do exceed twenty, and I think that's about right. But in JOHN DUNN, HEART OF A ZULU, the chapters tend to be long. The opening chapter is twenty-six pages, and some are well over thirty and even forty pages long. It makes for a book with not so many chapters.

I pick up books in the store and see books that have over FIFTY chapters! Forget that. It's like an endless chapter-filled story. My books have more like twenty chapters, or even fewer. And that's the way I think it should be. I mean if you have a new chapter after every scene break, and each chapter only three or four pages long, that makes for a lot of white space. I know white space is necessary, but I think a chapter break should be worked into the story. When you have a good place to end a chapter, then do it, but I don't think a mere scene break necessarily qualifies as a chapter break. But maybe some people disagree. That's OK.

Friday, October 21, 2011

New Writing Contest

My favorite writing contests are held by Literary Agent Janet Reid because they are short, (100 words or fewer,) and must contain preselected words. This time the words were unforsaken, witch, ghost, deadly, slay, and decay, with an optional word which was "insalubrious." I don't believe I ever heard of that word, but I managed to use it. Hope I used it correctly.

So no, I don't expect to win, and I didn't enter the contest to win anything, but you know what? It was fun. It didn't take a lot of my time, and figuring a short little segment with those words was a minor challenge. OK. Now back to the WIP.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Middle East Turmoil

Since my book, THE VASE, takes place in the Middle East, I have been keeping an eye on the happenings over there. I see that Gadhaffi has been killed now. This follows the killing last May of Osama Bin Laden, and before that, Saddam Hussein, and a few other high profile Middle East leaders. It is an example, among other things, of the turmoil that embroils the region.

THE VASE takes place in a calmer Israel, but even Israel has known its share of turmoil, and the story revolves around that turmoil. The advice given by experts for a novel to be interesting is to have tension and conflict on every page. Well, the Middle East is a setting that provides it. In abundance.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Platforms Effective?

I use this blog as a "platform" and I have Facebook, but only as a "platform" but I'm not sure just how effective they are or will be as "platforms." Sure more people know about me and my books now than before I did them. But how will that translate into sales?

Since my books are not even available right now, that's impossible to gauge. I suppose I will have more sales than I would otherwise. I'm just not sure if I started this blog and FB too soon. I mean I started this blog a year and a half ago. It was when I was writing KILLER EYES. Then I went back and did some more revisions on THE VASE. Then THE VASE sold. Then it sold again. And that's a good thing, but it wasn't because of the blog or FB.

But when you are submitting, the publishers are typically glad that you have some kind of "platform" and blogs are at least a beginning. So, again, we'll see how it all pans out.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Climax for WIP

So you build your story and it's all supposed to come to a climax. That's the normal way a story ends, and of course with a wrap up after that called a denouement. And in my WIP, the climax will be an all out war between two completely different peoples. I mean, how much different can you get? You have the white people, the English, who have colonized that part of Africa, and then you have the black people, the Zulus, who are native to the area.

To say the least, it makes for a great climax. And I'm just now beginning it.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Family Matters

Didn't get but a paragraph done this weekend on my WIP, because I spent both days with the family. I figure it this way: the manuscript will always be there, but the kids will grow up and move out, and then what? So even though I feel guilty for not getting a lot done, I really don't. There's always tomorrow. Just make sure you don't say that every day!

Friday, October 14, 2011

THE VASE - to be released...soon

So my debut novel, THE VASE, is supposed to be published sometime within an 18 month period from the day I signed the contract with Cogito. Since I signed the contract on June 1st of 2011, that means it could be released as late as December of 2012.

Yikes. That's still another 14 months from now. But I've read some blogs where they are promoting their books that won't come out until the summer of 2013. Sheesh, that's even longer. So putting all this in perspective, I guess I'm right in the middle of the norm.

Cogito hasn't given me a release date yet but I wish they would. Maybe they will soon and I can relay that information onto this blog. I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Beta Readers

I have written three books at this point, with my WIP, the John Dunn story being my fourth. One of them, THE VASE, is under contract to be published by Cogito, and has already undergone two complete edits, albeit by two different publishers as chronicled on this blog.

And I am content that THE VASE is ready to be read. My first novel, KILLER OF KILLERS, yet to be sold, is ready, I think, because I've revised it so many times. Sure it will have to be edited by a publisher too, but I really like the way it reads by now.

KILLER EYES has only gone through two drafts, and I know it still needs a lot of work. That's why I would say it's not ready to read. And of course John Dunn, Heart of a Zulu is not even through the first draft yet.

But my brother, a writer, too, wants to read it when he visits at Christmas time. The question is, will it be ready? I let him read my first two books, but both weren't in their present form. I have come to wish I had waited. But maybe for a beta reader it doesn't have to be finished. Still, I hope it can be a more polished draft than those first two were when he read them. That's all.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Enthusiasts

I have come to learn that, just as many Americans are Civil War buffs, there are many Anglo-Zulu War enthusiasts, as well. I know because of that forum I joined. It's a forum, mostly of Englishmen, who like to talk about that war, share what they know about it, and even make efforts to divulge new information about it.

They also advertise, or promote books about it. John Dunn is a topic that is often brought up. Mostly they find him an interesting part of that era, and he certainly played a role in the happenings before, during and after the war.

Im my story, Dunn is the central figure, or main character, with King Cetshwayo another main character. Catherine Pierce would probably be labeled a supporting character, although I did try to make her story equally compelling. But there just wasn't enough information about her in my research. I made up a subplot for her, which may or may not be an accurate description of her situation. I think what I've written about her is realistic, at least.

So I'm at 78,000 words now, and back in the swing of writing. I feel good about my progress to this point. Can't wait to finish.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Ultimatum

When the authorities of Natal gave the Zulus their "ultimatum" in which they said peace could be maintained, it was a big time meeting between the two peoples. But neither the governor of Natal nor the king of the Zulus were present. Instead, the Secretary of Native Affairs represented Natal, along with a group of other high ranking whites, and for the Zulus, three of the king's principal inDunas (Zulu officials) and eleven chiefs were present.

Each group had a bevy of attendants present, too. Interesting to me and pertinent to my story was the fact that both sides asked John Dunn to be there. And he was there, but he chose to represent the Zulus, and stood with them during the proceedings. He was the only literate person who reported to the Zulu king, and he received the official letter that the whites read to the Zulu officials.

And unlike the Zulus, he saw the ultimatum for what it was. A deliberate act on the part of the whites to make war with the Zulus. He knew that the British were not expecting the terms to be followed, and he knew they would invade with their army of infantry, cavalry, artillery, and their new Gatling Guns. But he also knew it would be no breeze for the Brits. He knew the fighting might of the Zulus, and he was right. It would be no easy war.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Revision Revisited

Am I glad I reread my WIP, the John Dunn story, because I finally got where I left off, and it is all good right now. I think I subconsciously felt that it needed fixing, and so from the beginning I read it through. And it was near where I left off it got choppy. I smoothed it out last night, and it's good to go. Can't wait to get home from work to continue. I'm at the point where the white people deliver an ultimatum to the Zulu King Cetshwayo. What they were really doing is starting a war with the Zulus. They wanted no more independent black state smack dab in the middle of their confederation of African colonies. And the only way to fix that was by starting a war. So that's what they did.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Setting a Goal

I am setting Thanksgiving holiday as my deadline to complete the first draft of my WIP. That doesn't mean that if I'm not done by then something bad is going to happen. I'll just keep plugging away until I am done. But with this research nearly completed and the rereading done, I should get back to work full swing very soon.

The Anglo Zulu War has so many different aspects to it, that I really can't include them all. I'm hoping, however, that the enthusiasts of that period will be satisfied in the way that I do portray it.

For instance, there were many factors that contributed to the outbreak of the war. And many different personalities were involved. I have trimmed it considerably, and limited the cause to the two major factors. I think it's enough. Maybe some purists will disagree. So I better get used to the idea that you can't please everyone.

That's all for now. I'll know more when I'm actually done.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Revising While Writing

I've been revising as I reread my WIP, and now that I'm at the point where I left off, I find myself making some major revisions there, too. I'm not sure that's a good idea. It has delayed my progress. But overall, it probably is a good idea. It will ensure the flow is smooth, and the events are properly placed.

Because it will have to be done anyway. So getting these particular revisions done now means I won't have to do them later. But then again, I might have been finished with the first draft by now if I didn't go back to reread and revise.

Nevertheless, time will go by and the work will get done. But only if you keep on writing. My advice is don't stay away from a WIP. If you do, you may lose touch and it will be harder to get back into the feel of the story. And you don't want that to happen. So if you do take a break from writing it, go ahead and reread it. You'll be glad you did.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

No Surprise Ending

Well, I've just about caught up in my rereading of my WIP, John Dunn, and I am relieved to find it flowed smoothly enough. It didn't get bogged down, and the conflict is building up well. I should get to page 265 tonight, which is where I left off and the war is about to start.

But I don't think there will be a surprise ending. Everyone in Natal, well, the white people, anyway, knew there could only be one ending to that war. They would win it. It's why they went to war with the Zulus in the first place. I don't suppose anyone would go to war if they thought they would lose it. But history is full of examples of losers starting wars.

But not this time. Of course, the British did get a shock at the start of the war. Known as the Battle at Isandlwana, it was the first major battle of the war and a resounding defeat for the British. But they doubled their efforts, and won the war in the end. As they expected.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Killer Elite - Great Movie

I took my sons to the movie KILLER ELITE Sunday night. Normally I wouldn't do that on a school night, but what the heck, I wanted to see the movie and so did they. And it was a great movie. I like Jason Statham as an actor in action movies, and I like Clive Owen as an actor, too. Both actors were great in this movie.

One of the first things I noticed was the name of the movie, of course. KILLER ELITE. I remember a movie with the same title from the seventies, I think. But I can't even remember if I saw it. All I remember is that it had James Caan in it. But I don't remember what it was about or anything else. I do remember that I thought it had a cool title, though.

It's reminiscent of my own book's title: KILLER OF KILLERS. I mean, if you're a killer of killers, doesn't that qualify you as a killer elite? I would think so. So, yeah, I always liked that title, and now I can say I liked the movie. A great plot, a great story, great acting and directing, and my two favorite actors, Statham and Owen, had great roles.

Maybe I should rent that movie from the seventies. It would be interesting to see if it was the same plot, or a completely different story. I liked James Caan movies, too, after all. He was great in THE GODFATHER and even better in ROLLERBALL.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Are They Snobs?

I read a lot of writer's blogs, and there are some different categories of them. There are the blogs by writers who aspire to get published, and blog their journey to publication. This blog, THE VASE, is one of those. I was a writer aspiring to get published and this blog chronicled that journey, which is still mid-journey, by the way.

Then there are the blogs of writers who are already published. Some are self-published, and some are published by independent publishers, (of which I hope to enter into that category very soon, having signed a contract with CogitoMedias, an independent publisher in Canada.)

And then there are the blogs of those who are published by what is referred to as mainstream publishers, or one of the "Big Six" publishing houses in the United States. Some of these blogs, to me, have an air of snobbery about them. What I mean is they seem to have an attitude that says, "Well, I've made it and you haven't." It's as if only those writers who have been published by a mainstream publisher are writers who are truly successful, and the rest of us just don't measure up. Otherwise, we'd be published by a Big Six publisher, too.

No, not every single one of them. But I have been put off by a lot of them, and I don't read their blogs anymore. It's also true that I have come to dislike some of these "agent" blogs. Some I still read for the information. But the personalities that they convey, to me, just irk me. And I don't think it's just me feeling that way.

Whatever. It's not like I'm friends with any of them. I guess that's the beauty of blogging and reading blogs. You learn about people. Just like in the real world. Some you like. Some you don't. That's all.