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.



Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Rorke's Drift

Well, if you've ever seen the movie, "Zulu" starring Michael Caine and Stanley Baker, then you have a good idea what Rorke's Drift is all about. It was a mission that the British took over as a base of operations and it's from where they launched their invasion into Zululand. At the time of the battle at Isandlwana, however, it was mostly being used as a hospital, and it's where the wounded British soldiers and those with various fevers were being treated.

About a hundred soldiers were posted there, and no one expected the Zulus to attack. The Zulu king even stressed to his generals not to attack there. But Dabulamanzi had other ideas. He was held out of the fighting at Isandlwana, and therefore had no part in the glory of that Zulu victory.

The closest place where British soldiers could be found was there at Rorke's Drift. So Dabulamanzi led four thousand Zulus across the Buffalo River and attacked it. He thought he'd get his honor from killing them all. But the British there didn't just lay down and die for him. They had other ideas. Poor Dabulamanzi. Instead of getting glory, he got a surprise.

So, yeah, the battle at Rorke's Drift will be in my story. But unlike the movie, "Zulu" which was told from the British perspective, I'm telling it from the perspective of the Zulus, particularly Dabulamanzi's.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Third Person vs. First Person

I never liked first person narrative. So I only write in third person. Heck, if I was writing my John Dunn book in first person, I don't think I could have put the battle of Isandlwana in the story because Dunn wasn't there.

I like the ability to be omniscient and third person is the only way to write for me. Actually, I detest first person narrative so much that when I pick up a book that might look interesting to me, I put it right back down when I find out it's first person.

I think that first person is disgusting. It forces you to be someone else. I don't want to be someone else. I remember when I was a kid reading Edgar Rice Burroughs. He wrote some of his science fiction stories in first person. I didn't like it then, but I was just a kid, so I read them anyway. If I was to pick up those books now I'd drop them like a hot potato. That's how much I hate first person.

Why do writers choose to write that way? I hope I never see a book written in first person again.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Finally Finished Chapter 15

Even though I didn't write as much as I wanted to this holiday weekend, I did, at least, finish chapter fifteen. That's the chapter that includes the battle at Isandlwana. It's a pretty long chapter - thirty pages. And even though the main character of the story, John Dunn, is not in that battle, or even in the chapter, a few of the other recurring characters are in there. And more importantly, I know that enthusiasts of the Anglo-Zulu War will want it in there.

So that puts me on the home stretch of this book. I have to include the Battle at Rorke's Drift, too. That was the big movie they made called Zulu. And one of the supporting characters in this story is the guy who led the Zulus in that battle. His name is Dabulamanzi. He was King Cetshwayo's brother, and he had a rocky relationship with John Dunn. I guess you could even call him one of the antagonists in the story. You see, King Cetshwayo had ordered his warriors NOT to cross into Natal. But Dabulamanzi disobeyed him. I have put together a good sequence of events that explains why he did that.

Is it the way it really happened? Not sure, really, as every reference book I read had no interview with Dabulamanzi about why he disobeyed the king. But there were inferences and speculations, and based on that, my explanation works pretty well, I think. It's historical fiction after all. And that's what happens next. On to Rorke's Drift.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving

It seems that everyone is thankful for something on Thankgiving, and I can't pretend I have nothing for which to be thankful.

Well, I do, but I don't suppose everyone out there is keen on hearing about it. I mean it's great to be thankful and to have a lot to be thankful for, but I find myself not really interested in all the things strangers have to be thankful for. And I don't want to bore anyone who happens to be reading this in that manner.

So, yeah, I'm thankful. Now back to work and get this WIP done. It's over 93,000 words right now, and I still have at least three more chapters to write. Shoot, this book is turning out to be a monster. Tell you what... I'll be thankful for when it's done!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Work Through Distractions

Sometimes life seems to just get in the way of finishing that WIP. Just when I thought I'd be sitting down and getting major work done, the water heater goes out. Then the son wants a ride to his girlfriend's house, and the wife wants to go Christmas shopping.

After taking care of all of that, I'm determined to sit down and finish chapter fifteen, which is titled, "Isandlwana." I've talked enough about it by now. I just got to finish it. It's already at 20 pages. I hope it doesn't go more than about ten pages more, or else I might have to divide it into two chapters.

We'll see.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Holiday Week and Time to Write

I am looking forward to this Thanksgiving week. Sure the Turkey will be good and seeing relatives again. But I'm getting tomorrow off and don't go back to work until Monday. I'm planning on getting a lot done.

I've already reread THE VASE completely through, since it was edited by Cogito, and yes, I've made it even better. Boy that manuscript is the definition of the word polished. Now back to the JOHN DUNN story. I wanted to get it done by Thanksgiving, but now I'm hoping to get it done by Christmas. Hey, it's longer than I thought it was going to be.

If it was the same length as my other books it would be done by now. It's over 91,000 words right now. So there you go.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Mondays

Late posting today. You can blame Monday and the new Trimester. It began today. Now that the school day is over, I have some time to write this.

It's not like I have the same students all year. As an art teacher, I get a new bunch every trimester. That's three times a year. It's great really. I get to reach three times as many kids as otherwise.

But it's hard to remember all those names. I remember faces pretty well. The only problem with that is that sometimes two kids look very much alike. And I'm not even talking about identical twins, although I've had a lot of those, too.

Yeah, it'a an interesting job. But so is writing. Gotta get back to that.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Foreign Publishers

I wonder what the consensus is about non-American publishers. I mean would you mind being published by a publisher in a different country? I don't suppose it makes a difference, as long as the country is an English speaking one.

Canadian or UK publishers shouldn't be much different than American publishers. But what would the difference be if, say, you were offered a contract by a Chinese or Indian publisher. No, I haven't been offered a contract from there. Cogito is Canadian, but they speak English. French, too, by the way. That might be a good thing. It should increase the market. And increase sales. Yeah, that would be a good thing.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Don't Royalties Make a Difference?

When I've talked with other writers who are published, it seems that they don't mind having such a low percentage of royalties. Almost always, it's ten percent. But when you think about it, a ten percent royalty is laughable.

But that's what most of the publishers give their authors. One of the reasons I signed with Virtual Tales is they gave a whopping 50% royalty to their authors. Maybe that's why they went out of business. But two of the original owners have started up their own publishing companies, and they are offering whopping percentages, too.

Makes me think. Cogito, (which is the company that currently holds my contract,) is of the ten percent variety. But I signed with them because they were well established and successful. And they get their books into book stores. That's how the people at Absolute Write Water Cooler respond when asked about a publisher. They ask, "Are their books in bookstores?"

Well, one of the first things I did was I went to Barnes and Nobles, and sure enough, I found a half dozen of their books on the shelves. That was a major factor for signing with them. But royalties and bookstores are not the whole of it. There are other factors that make a good publisher, too. Let's see how that works out.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Publishing Journey Not Easy

So there are quite a few problems in the publishing world these days. And those problems affect the writers who are trying to get published. For the unknown writer, it could be good or bad.

Good, because the mainstream publishing world doesn't have the last word anymore. They are now competing with self-publishing and independent publishers. I've always said that self-publishing is not an option for me. And it still isn't. But I would be very happy with an independent publisher like Virtual Tales or Cogito, or any of the many that have cropped up over the years. But that's where the potential bad comes in. Because these non mainstream publishers are less stable.

Well, things are happening with me and THE VASE, and I'll be more forthcoming about it in the couple weeks ahead.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Genre Preference

I guess a lot of people have a genre preference. I don't really. When I was a kid I liked science fiction, but I also liked historicals. I was into the American Civil War for a long while. Didn't read a lot of books about it though. I never even read Red Badge of Courage. But I did read a few Ray Bradbury books, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and H.G. Wells. It was when I discovered Conan and Robert E. Howard did my genre preference for Sword and Sorcery develop. But only in reading. I wouldn't try writing a story like that.

My first attempt at writing was science fiction. I didn't get too far, but I was only eight. My next effort was actually an attempt at creating a science fiction graphic novel. Got two of them completed in what was supposed to be a four part series. I hope to post them on the blog one day. But I don't suppose I'll ever get the other two done. It's not where my head is at. I'm only into the writing now. And what I like writing is contemporary thrillers, and of course my WIP which is historical fiction. But I do believe, at this point anyway, that this is an exception. Too much research involved to do this again. I should have been done a month ago.

As for art, I'm just a teacher now. I'm not even sure I want to illustrate my own covers, although a few people have suggested I do. You know, they say, "Hey, you're an artist. You should do your own cover." Maybe I will. I'm thinking about it.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Historical Novels are Longer

My WIP, the John Dunn Story, is already as long as my three prior novels. I'm at 90,000 words and on page 315. And I have three more chapters to write. Yeah, I've slowed lately, because I have been spending time researching the Battle at Isandlwana. Gotta get that right. Most enthusiasts of the period will be keen on that one. It will be a focal point of the book. And John Dunn didn't even fight in that battle.

But Dunn did fight in the Battle at Gingindlavo. That was when the British regrouped and returned for payback. And the British general, Lord Chelmsford forced Dunn to contribute to the effort or face charges of treason. You know what that means... a noose around your neck. But in my story, I'm giving Dunn a little more motivation than just the preservation of his life. It'll make it more interesting.

Anyway, I hope to keep this under 100,000 words. It's a good thing historical novels are expected to be longer than your thrillers or suspense novels. But publishers aren't too happy if your manuscript is too long. I think I can do it. We'll see very soon. The end is in sight.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Veteran's Day

Another holiday here in the U.S. and Veteran's Day really should be honored. I mean what greater sacrifice or contribution can someone make than to dedicate their life to their country?

My father and his two brothers fought in WWII, and even though I never served in any armed forces, I have a great deal of respect for anyone who has.

Interestingly, I am writing about the Anglo-Zulu War in my WIP, right now, and I found out that a lot of people in England still have a lot of interest in that war, even though it occurred over a hundred and thirty years ago.

I wonder if England has a similar holiday. I suppose I can google that and find out. But I'd rather work on my book. With no school today, I'll have some time to do that.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

What About the Middle?

Talking about beginnings and endings, don't forget about the middle of a novel. Sure the beginning has to hook a reader and get him or her interested in reading onward, and the ending should be one that wraps up the story in a satisfactory way, be it sad or happy. But the middle has to get a reader from one to the other. And it does that by keeping the reader interested.

I've read a lot of blogs that complain about the middle. Writers sometimes say they get bogged down in the middle, almost as if they run out of things to happen. I don't think they should really worry about that. Not if they have a good plot, anyway. Because if you establish a good plot, you've got a journey going right there. Take your journey home, that's all. Once you know how it will end, you just write it through.

The key is complication and conflict. Every story must have complications develop and conflicts to be resolved. And that should take care of any problems concerning the middle. That's the body of the work, after all, and without it, your story will be just a head and tail!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Beginning a Novel

Since I expressed my feelings about endings yesterday, I thought I'd mention a thing or two about beginnings. Because, as all editors and literary agents know, it's the beginning that can make or break a book.

Even I will put a book down and forget about it if it doesn't hook me almost right away. Perhaps not if I have a particular interest in the subject matter, but if I pick up a novel off a bookrack, and start reading it, that first page is super important if I'm going to buy it or even keep on reading it.

And you know what? Most of the time I won't keep on reading. I'll put it right back and move on to the next one. It's weird, really, You'd think that most books would have that hook. But no. I rarely get hooked. Maybe I'm just hard to hook. That must be it, even though I never saw myself as being particularly picky about anything.

But it's true I'm not an avid reader. I don't read a new book every month. Heck, I've been reading Washing of the Spears for the last six months. But to be fair, I'm not just reading it. I'm actually studying it, not unlike a text book. It's the perfect reference book of anything Zulu. Heck, by the time I'm done with it, and finished with my WIP, I'll be close to an expert on the Zulus and the Zulu War.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Good Endings

I think the ending to a story, whether it's a book or a movie, is every bit as important as the beginning. Maybe even more important. And there are many different ways to end a story. Personally, I like happy endings. Well, they don't have to be giddy-type happy, but what I don't like is the kind of endings that make you feel like crap.

Stephen King did that in his story, THE MIST. I mean it made you feel like crap. Spoiler alert here if you haven't seen it. Monsters were killing people in this seemingly endless mist and a group of five people were trying to escape by driving through the mist in a car, but it ran out of gas. They had one gun with four bullets. So the guy takes the gun and shoots the other four people, to save them the misery of being killed by the monsters. But just after the deed was done, the U.S. army arrives to save the day.

I haven't read the book, but if it has the same ending as that movie, what's the point of that? Why did King feel the need to make his readers feel like crap? I would rather the movie ended by making me feel good. Maybe it's just me, but I don't like feeling like crap.

No, I'd rather come out of a book or a movie feeling great for the time I invested in it. I mean, is there anyone out there who likes to feel like crap? I suppose there might be stories that demand a sad ending, like LOVE STORY with Ryan O'Neil and Ali McGraw. But even though that had a sad ending, you still felt good about the story overall. It's OK if a story is like that. But THE MIST wasn't like that. It's like King just decided, "You know, I'll make everyone feel like crap at the end of this story."

On the other hand, King's Shawshank Redemption was a great ending. It made me feel good. I think it's better if endings make you feel good, even if they're sad.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Need to Read

I'd rather write than read. But sometimes you just gotta read. I have not had a story grab my interest in a long time that can rival the interest I have in my own writings. The book I'm reading now, The Washing of the Spears, by Donald Morris is interesting to me because it chronicles the rise and fall of the Zulu nation. And the Zulus are a focal point in the John Dunn story, which is my WIP.

Fortunately, Donald Morris has a lot to say about John Dunn and chronicles his association with the Zulus, especially since he was there in a big way when they were invaded and destroyed by the British. But there was another factor in the downfall of the Zulus, according to John Dunn who knew them better than any other white man. More on that tomorrow.

Friday, November 4, 2011

When Time is Short

Since I have a full time teaching job, and a full time family of five, (including the mother-in-law,) time becomes sparse, and that means time to sit in front of a computer and produce is limited. Extremely limited. It's over the summer vacation I get the most work done, and that's when I was able to write my first three books. (The first drafts, I mean.)

But the John Dunn story took a lot longer and even though summer vacation ended two months ago, I'm still not finished. It's because I had to read and research about the time period and about the events that took place in the story I'm writing. Yeah, it's historical fiction, but I am fully aware that the Zulu War enthusiasts out there will expect a semblance of historical accuracy.

So I'm chugging along, inch by inch, and getting closer to the end every day. I used to pump out as much as five thousand words in a day over the summer. Now I'm lucky to get five hundred down.
Still, it's five hundred more than the day before. Just keep it going, and the time will pass, and the book will get done, but only if you stick to it.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Editing and Writing

I reread the last two chapters of my WIP and edited them as I read them. I usually do that, and I was very satisfied with the polished result. I found myself thinking that those two chapters might make a good sample when the time comes to submit.

But no, agents and most publishers are pretty firm in seeing the first chapter(s) of a manuscript. I'm sure it's because they want to get a feel for how your story starts and if it will hook a reader. But that's OK, at least for my WIP. The John Dunn story begins with the Zulu Civil War. Near 40,000 Zulus were massacred by Prince Cetshwayo, including several of his own brothers.

What makes this story even more interesting is that my main character, John Dunn, fought on the side that lost. He fought against Cetshwayo, killed a lot of his warriors, barely escaped with his life, and then he goes and visits him afterward. He might have been executed on the spot. But instead, Cetshwayo becomes best friends with him and rewards him with a kingdom of his own. Who'd have thunk it? You could write that story and people would say, Come on, that's ridiculous. But hey... that's what really happened. Yep, sometimes truth is stranger than fiction!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

How Much Action?

I'm trying to determine how many of the Anglo-Zulu War battles I should include in my story. The most famous ones are the Battle at Isandlwana and the Battle at Rorke's Drift. They're famous because both have been made into movies. One was ZULU DAWN, starring Burt Lancaster and Peter O'toole, and the other was ZULU, starring Michael Caine and Stanley Baker. They were both good movies, and I liked them when I saw them so many years ago.

But I realize now that neither one was completely true to history. I suppose had they been books, they would have been designated historical fiction. So that's all right. So is my WIP, John Dunn, Heart of a Zulu. You don't refer to them for historical facts. They were interesting because they were based on true history, but that's it.

It kind of reminds me of that HBO miniseries a while back called ROME. I really liked it. It was based on the real historical events surrounding Julius Caesar and others during that time period, but it contained an awful lot of things that just didn't happen. Thus, historical FICTION, to be sure. But entertaining, yes.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

New Research = New Subplots

When I continued my research on the Anglo-Zulu War, I learned about the three sons of Shepstone who had joined the armed forces that were gathering to fight the Zulus. And because Theophilus Shepstone is a major player in my storyline, I figured to use this in the story.

You see, for many years, Theophilus Shepstone had played the part of an advocate for the Zulus, since he was the Natal Secretary of Native Affairs. Like John Dunn, he spoke fluent Zulu, and other native African languages, too. The Zulus came to trust him, and looked up to him. But he had always wanted a land of his own to rule. It's one of the reasons he didn't like Dunn, who was given a land of his own to rule in Zululand by the Zulu king.

There was a border dispute between the Zulus and the Boers, which had been going on for a long time. And for a long time, Shepstone sided with the Zulus on that issue. But an opportunity arose for Shepstone to become the ruler of the Transvaal Republic, which was a Boer colony. He grabbed it, and now that he was the president of the Transvaal, he reversed himself and backed the Boers on the border issue, forsaking all the years of support he had given the Zulus.

What a guy. So yeah, since the war is starting, and three of his sons participate, I have an opportunity to make this storyline even more interesting than it already is. Cool.