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, March 31, 2014

A Blog for Writers or Readers?

A Melange-Books author made a comment on the Melange-Books author's page that made sense. The comment had to do with writer's blogs. And this blog, right here, happens to be a writer's blog--meaning it's a blog written by a writer.

But the point of the other author's comment was to whom do you target your blog? To writers? Or to readers? The point was that if a writer's blog targets other writers by giving writing suggestions, or habitually posting about how to write, or giving tips about writing, etc., then you are targeting the wrong audience. You should be targeting READERS, because it's readers who would be the most likely people to actually buy and read your book!

And I agree with that comment 100%. Other writers, I've learned, have zero interest in reading another writer's books. ZERO. I'm not criticizing, I'm just pointing out a fact. So if a writer's blog is attracting other writers to their blog by posting about things other writers would be interested in, then don't expect any sales of your book to result. And maybe that's been one of my problems.

I say that because often I post about stuff only writers would be interested in. Not always. But often. And in doing that, I'm promoting a blog for writers not readers. I will need to stop posting things for writers, because writers aren't going to be buying any of my books. Readers will. This is just plain logical, common sense. It wasn't rocket science to figure that out. But sometimes you can be blind to something that's staring you right in the face.

And it's something I already knew, anyway! I've even posted about that. Yet I still blogged about writing and targeted an audience that would be writers. I hope I can stop that. I have to keep in mind to write for READERS, not writers. And that will be my focus from now on.

One thing I wanted to do, and said I would do, is post some excerpts to my two published books. That would be more suitable to readers, I would think. It might even prompt some sales. Maybe I'll begin tomorrow. Starting with Killer of Killers. OF course, the beginning of both of my books can be read already, on the publisher's websites, and on Amazon. Still, no reason not to include it on my blog, too.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Characterization and Events Should Make Sense

I've been revising Killer Eyes, and editing it at the same time, making sure all POVs are correct and making sure all plot holes are filled, and that's where I've hit a snag. I touched on this slightly in a previous post, but when a writer writes a story, everything should make sense. Sure, I've seen or read many stories where the writing was lazy, and some of the things in a story did not make sense. That's not a reason to let it happen in one of my stories, however.

No, I want everything to make sense, and when someone does something, especially something major, something that takes a lot of effort and has major consequences or ramifications, then he better have a good reason for doing it. And those reasons better not be in conflict with other things he's doing at the same time. And that's where I am with Killer Eyes. I've been correcting all POV issues, doing some necessary editing, and found that I had a problem with one of the subplots.

It doesn't have to do with Trent Smith, the main character, whose quest for justice in book one, Killer of Killers, is continuing in Killer Eyes. Trent Smith is straightforward, and his beliefs and principles are never in doubt. And they always make sense. No, it has to do with a supporting character, one who is acting behind the scenes, and I can't give any more details without giving away spoilers. And since the book's not out yet, I don't want to do that.

Suffice it to say, that after the great success in the completion of Killer of Killers, and it's even more successful second edition, I want the sequel to KOK to be just as successful in terms of the story line, characterizations, and subplots that take place. I don't want anyone to say, "Well, if this guy is doing this, then why does he end up doing that? It doesn't make sense."

Since I've been revising/editing Killer Eyes, that's just what I found myself saying. And right now, I'm calling it a snag, meaning it's holding me up, preventing completion, and it has to be fixed. Either by giving that supporting character another life changing event to make it happen the way I have it happening, or changing the character to another character who is doing the particular deed in question. Sorry to sound so ambiguous. But I can't give away any spoilers. At least not yet.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Books and Movies--Which is Preferable?

Well, which is preferable for story telling--books or movies? I've never been an avid book reader myself, opting for movies, but that might be the result of many different reasons. Most people, I think are like that. Meaning, most people watch movies rather than read books. And I would guess the main reason is sheer laziness. It takes more of an effort to read a book than to watch a movie. In addition to that, the dazzling visuals in movies make it a preferred medium. You don't have to come  up with any visuals in your mind for movies, despite how well a book may be written in the description of like events. In movies, it's all automatic. Varoom, the visuals are there, the scenes, the action all laid out for anyone to simply watch.

Reading books takes an effort, but people who prefer reading books might say it's because their imagination is unlimited, and, unlike movies, events and characters in books can be whatever they want them to be. For instance, a character will look like however a reader will want him or her to look like, within, of course the parameters of the author's description of the character. And this could very well be, in my opinion, at least, the one thing that does make books better. That is, movies often get it wrong. By that I mean characters in movies are often miscast. They get the wrong actor to play the part.

And I can think of several examples of movies or TV shows that got the wrong actor to play the part, but, on the other hand, I can think of several where the actor was perfectly cast.

Let's start with positives, and one of my all time favorite characters, James Bond. It is universally agreed that Sean Connery was the perfect actor to play James Bond. But on the other hand, none of the actors since Connery were anywhere close to being right for the part. At least, not compared to Connery. As for one of my other all time favorite characters, Conan the Barbarian, described so perfectly by Conan's creator, Robert E. Howard, neither Arnold Schwarzenegger nor Jason Momoa were right for the part of Conan. Nor were those Conan movies anywhere close to representing the real Conan as written by Howard. They were horrible movies, as opposed to the books, which were nothing short of magnificent.

As for TV shows--I'll refer to some of my all time favorites. William Shatner was perfect for the role of Captain Kirk in Star Trek. Ditto with Leonard Nimoy as Spock. But the reboot movie Star Trek? Nope. I'm sorry, but Chris Pine as Captain Kirk? Wrong. He portrays nothing of the character traits that were Captain Kirk. But Zachary Quinto, interestingly enough, was the right call for Mr. Spock.

Let's move on to another childhood favorite. The Wild, Wild West. Robert Conrad was the perfect actor for the role of James West. But the movie version? Will Smith? It's like WTF? What were they thinking? I don't even want to begin with all the many reasons why that was just plain wrong.

But take a classic book like Moby Dick. Who could have been better for Captain Ahab than Gregory Peck? And an even better example might be The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Every actor for every role, to me, seemed spot on. The LOTRs movies were movie making at its best.

Lastly, I'll mention another childhood favorite. The comic book X-Men. I loved that comic book, and it was my favorite of all comic books, topping Superman, Batman, Captain America, the FF, Ironman and all the rest. But the movies? Every single part was miscast. Well, two were acceptable. The first was Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. He wasn't perfect. He was too skinny, too tall, and too handsome. Wolverine was supposed to be a short guy, stocky, and very rugged looking. Hugh Jackman is the opposite of all of that. But even so, he did carry the part well. He worked as Wolverine.

And the second was the villainess Mystique, played by Rebecca Ramijn-Stamos. Actually, the movie take on Mystique was even better than the comic book. Rebecca Romijn-Stamos nailed the part. And the studio decision for her costume, or lack of costume was brilliant. A rare example of something the movie people did, not just right, but even better.

But none of the other characters worked at all. Not even close. James Marsden was too short and too soft looking for the part of Scott Summers, (Cyclops) and Famke Janssen was too tall and too old for the part of Jean Grey. Halle Berry was too short and too American-looking for the part of Storm, who was supposed to be a tall and regal looking African woman. Patrick Stewart was too old, and too British for the part of Charles Xavier, and Ian McKellen was too old, too skinny, and too short for the awesome character that was Magneto.

Back to books. In books you don't have to worry about any of that. Every character will look just right, act just right, speak just right, and portray every trait just right. Every scene will look just right and sound just right. That's because in your mind, nothing can look, act, or sound wrong. And it's the winning argument that, overall, books are better. Maybe I should start reading more. Maybe.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Weather in Stories-Is it Important?

How many times do you remember the weather being a factor in a story? Some stories are focused on the weather, like The Perfect Storm. I never saw that movie, but going by the title, I would think it was a story that was based on the weather.

And then you have several disaster movies that are based on extreme weather conditions that cause tornadoes, earthquakes, and volcanoes. But in only two of my books are weather conditions a factor. Those two books are The Vase and John Dunn, Heart of a Zulu.

Well, The Vase more so because the weather conditions during that story are unusual. The region is suffering from an unusual heat wave that is. And I make that happen because at that time there is a solar maximum phase going on. The eleven year cycle of solar maximum is factual, and it's during one of those periods the story takes place.

Not always are unusual heat waves the result of solar maximum phase, but I chose to make that the case in The Vase as a way to convey that the solar maximum phase is affecting the region where the setting takes place. And that would be Israel. What happens during solar maximum phases is an increase in sun spots, solar flares, and solar winds. And it's the solar winds that impact the story to The Vase. Solar winds cause geomagnetic storms in the space around earth, and these geomagnetic storms include an increase in electromagnetic fluctuation in the atmosphere.

Now you may or may not know that electromagnetic fluctuation is involved in both the transference of recorded images and the alleged occurrences of ghosts. And both events are happening in The Vase. So you can understand now why I use solar flares and solar winds, and a resulting heat wave in the story for The Vase. It's the catalyst of the unusual projection of ancient images from the grooves of the ancient vase.

In John Dunn, weather doesn't really play such an important role, like it does in The Vase, but during a couple scenes, it's pouring rain, a real deluge, particularly when John Dunn is evacuating all of the people who live on his land to the British side of the Tugela River, which is flooded and particularly hazardous to cross.

You see, the war had just started, and even though John Dunn was best friends with the Zulu king, he was forced to join the British side of the war. Dunn had advised the Zulu king NOT to go to war, but the war was forced upon them by the British, and the Zulus were never a people to shy away from any war, as they were a very warlike people anyway. They relished the thought of going to war, even sought it out, because it was part of their way of life.

And in real life, when Dunn's people evacuated Zululand, it was pouring rain. Thus, I made it that way in the book. I have to get back to that book later, however, because I'm still in the revision stage of Killer Eyes, which, as is the case in Killer of Killers, has no weather conditions taking place at all. Both stories, Killer of Killers and Killer Eyes, take place in a pleasant summer, and neither book is affected by weather conditions at all. In fact, the weather is very nice in both books.

And speaking of Killer Eyes, I have a major plot hole to patch up. It's got nothing to do with the weather, but I have to have a logical cause and effect for the events, and logical reasoning for people to do what they do, and I found a particular subplot that has issues with that. Hopefully I can mend that in a timely manner, and still have it out sometime this  year. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Contrast in Storytelling Styles

When it comes to telling a story, be it in a movie or book, or even a TV show, there are certainly many different styles of storytelling. Much like there are different styles of art and music. Different people like different styles. And different artists use different styles, and some styles actually define the artist.

I spent most of my life creating art, like drawings, paintings, and sculptures. My style was realistic, so I guess I might have been placed under the classical or traditional style, and my paintings might be called fantasy art. The music I wrote was pretty varied, though. I wrote some easy stuff, but also some hard rock songs. In fact, some fellow musicians thought my music was too hard rock for them. But they only heard a few, which didn't even scratch the surface of the entirety of my work.

When it comes to storytelling, a separate art unto itself, I think I'm pretty straightforward. With two published books under my belt, I've found more success in writing books than in writing music, but I don't think it's easier. Both are fun, and both are rewarding. And both are competitive.

When it comes to being a fan of the stories of other writers, I would have to confine my opinions to movies or TV shows, since I would not consider myself a wide spread reader. My reading pretty much is confined to Edgar Rice Burroughs, H. G. Wells, and Robert E. Howard. I don't think I've read any books that have been written in the 21st Century. Oh, I've started to read some. But I never could find myself interested enough to finish. In fact, I don't think I've ever made it past the first couple of pages of any books written in the last thirty years!

But I've seen a lot of movies. Mostly I like action movies. Like the Transporter moives, or the Bourne movies. Those stories were exciting, filled with entertaining action, and were thrilling to watch. That's why I wrote Killer of Killers. I think Killer of Killers would fit into the Transporter and Bourne categories. But with more of a focus on the martial arts element. So that might mean mix in a little Bruce Lee type stuff, and you get Killer of Killers.

In fact, after telling some people about Killer of Killers, one of them told me that she liked the Jean Claude Van Damme movies, and I told her that she could envision Jean Claude Van Damme as the actor playing the part of Trent Smith, as he is an average-sized actor, and a martial artist, himself.

But some styles of movie making don't appeal to me. Tim Burton's odd take on movie making is not something that I like, nor is Quentin Tarrantino's style of over the top violence, blood, and excessive dialogue something I can appreciate. Make no mistake, they are both talented movie makers, and they certainly have their share of success. But not everyone will like the same thing, and I have my problems with their styles.

If a movie maker wanted to make a movie of my books, I would hope it would be someone like Corey Yuen, the guy who made the Transporter movies. He's a martial arts movie expert, and choreographs the fights and most of the action. Or anyone who had a hand in any of the martial arts movies that have come out in the last twenty years I would think could be right to make KOK into a movie.

But if, say, Burton or Tarrantino wanted to make Killer of Killers into a movie, would I say no? I have a feeling I wouldn't.

Monday, March 24, 2014

True Stories and Taking Liberties

I love stories, (books or movies) that are based on true stories. My fourth book, John Dunn, Heart of a Zulu, is based on the true story of John Dunn, the White Chief of Zululand. Sure, I took some liberties, one of which was when I had him marry the daughter of King Cetshwayo, the Zulu king. Although he did marry several daughters of Zulu chiefs, he did not marry, (in real life,) any daughters of the top guy, King Cetshwayo.

(Note: the Zulu kingdom was composed of several "kraals" which were like separate villages within the Zulu boundaries, and each "kraal" had its own chief. One of these chiefs was John Dunn, thus the reason he became known as the "white chief" of Zululand.)

But John Dunn did have 49 Zulu wives, plus his original wife, who was half white and half Xhosa, which was a black tribe in another part of South Africa, (Nelson Mandela was of the Xhosa, I read somewhere.) So I thought it made an interesting subplot to have one of those Zulu wives the daughter of King Cetshwayo, especially when the Zulus went to war against the British, and the British forced John Dunn to choose a side--their side.

Now the movie 300 was great, to me, since it was about the true story of the 300 Spartans who held off the Persian invading army for three days. It ranks as one of my favorite movies, even. And I was glad to see the sequel come out, 300: Rise of an Empire, which focused on the true story of the Athenian Naval victory over the Persian fleet, that sealed the Greek victory over the invading Persians.

But to me, Rise of an Empire took some liberties that were highly questionable. The female warriors. Both the Persians and the Greeks were chauvinistic societies. Sorry ladies, but it's true. Unfortunate, even. But true. In Rise of an Empire, they gave us a mighty female leader of the Persian fleet who fought like she was Wonder Woman. This was going too far. No way, no how would the mighty Persian fleet be led by a woman admiral. That was going too far, and a woman who fought in the front lines as if she were Hector or Achilles? No.

And then in the end, you had the Queen of Sparta, the widow of King Leonides, in the front lines battling away with sword in hand, (and no shield,) as if she were a seasoned veteran of battles. Nope, no way, no how. These were liberties that just did not work. I still enjoyed the movie, but it doesn't rank as an all time favorite. And nothing against women or women warriors, mind you. I know they existed. But not in Persia, and not in Greece. (And, excuse me, but I consider the myth of the Amazons, to be just that. A myth.)

And even if women warriors did participate in those Greek-Persian wars, it wasn't the Queen of Sparta, and it wasn't as an Admiral of the Persian fleet. Oh well. It's Hollywood. Bring on 300: part 3. I'll be there in the front row! (Well, actually, not the front row, but I'll be there.)




Friday, March 21, 2014

Movie Remakes-sometimes they're better

Some movies from Hollywood are so good they should never be remade. Several come to mind. Gone With the Wind tops that list. It better never get remade. I thought that King Kong might also be on that list, but after considering the outdated Special Effects, it was a movie that could use a modern upgrade, (as good as the stop frame animation was at the time of the original release, they are outdated now.) But when it was remade in the seventies, it was lousy. Of course, Peter Jackson's remake was terrific, and with those state of the art special effects, it was well worth the effort.

But sometimes a movie should be remade, not just because the special effects are better, but because the story itself could use some improvement. I just saw The Invasion on TV last night. I was just flipping through the channels and landed on it pretty much at the beginning so I stayed with it. And I realized that it was the fourth attempt at that story line, and the third remake.

We all know about the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers from 1956, and then the somewhat better remake with the same name from 1978. And I never even saw the one from 1993, called Body Snatchers. But this last one, The Invasion from 2007, I thought was the best, at least of the ones I've seen, and I suspect the best of them all, since Body Snatchers doesn't seem to be one that would compete.

The one thing I thought was better, was that instead of making a duplicate body, as the first two movies had happening from the space spores, the spores actually took over the original body, much like a virus. And I thought that was an improvement in the writing. It's like what, the original body was just garbage now, or what? No, the original body should have been taken over, like a virus can do. But these viruses are from outer space. They are alien spores, and they acted like viruses taking over a body, like viruses can do.

I didn't believe the acting was all that, but it was sufficient. And I didn't mind the main character being a woman played by Nicole Kidman, either. For that kind of movie, her performance was acceptable. It was interesting seeing a pre-James Bond Daniel Craig, too, although he played second fiddle to Nicole Kidman's character. It was okay. And a better movie than the oldies.

Still, I prefer original movies, with original stories, and not a rehash. With Invasion of the Body Snatcher having been done four times, now, let's move on, shall we?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Another Radio Station Responds

Yesterday afternoon, I received an email from another radio station, telling me that they would like to receive a free copy of The Vase for possible review. I've got a copy wrapped and ready to mail. Now this is what the free copies are for. To send to media outlets who actually have the power to promote your books. And this station also has a TV channel. They are EWTN and their headquarters is in Alabama. Can't wait to see how this pans out.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Black Sails-Another Hit Show

The STARZ channel on premium TV is on a roll. I enjoyed the Spartacus series, and now I'm watching Black Sails. And I like it. It's a pirate show. But it's nothing like Pirates of the Caribbean. It's not a silly comedy, with goofy characters. It's a heavy drama with an interesting story line.

One of the things that make me like a show is the casting. Do the actors fit their roles? Do they make you believe they can do the things that they are doing on screen? And are the characters themselves believable? Do you even care about them? (And I'm always on the look out for actors and actresses who might be perfect for the roles in my books, Killer of Killers and The Vase!)

In Black Sails, the answer is yes to all of the above.

Black Sails really doesn't focus on just one or even two characters. It has several main characters, and perhaps the two top ones are the two pirate captains, Flint and Vane. And both are played by actors who make them believable.

Captain Flint, played by Toby Stephens, is a ruthless captain, but he is highly intelligent, a former British naval officer, who fell from grace in British High Society, and is now a pirate captain. All believable. A captain of a ship must be sea-wise, must know how to navigate, and how to control a crew. Being a former British Navy man, Flint qualifies in all of those categories.

And Toby Stephens looks the part. He is tall and strong looking, and he looks like a highly intelligent man. His eyes are sharp, his delivery crisp, and his persona exudes "captain" from every pore. Toby Stephens could play the role of a captain on any ship, be it a pirate ship, a British or American Naval warship, or even a starship in a sci-fi show!


Zach McGowan

And the other captain? Captain Vane seems to be the opposite of Flint. In the first season, which just wrapped up, (unfortunately, only 8 episodes) we haven't learned quite so much about Vane. In tidbits we've learned that he's risen up from a childhood captivity, some kind of island controlled by a former pirate captain, to become a captain himself. But it doesn't explain how he learned all of his sea-worthy skills, like we learned about with Flint.

Nevertheless, the actor who plays Captain Vane, Zach McGowan, is perfect for the part. That's because he also exudes the look of a pirate captain, or any captain on any ship. And there's something about his persona that sets him apart from everyone else. Some kind of internal thing, which I don't think I can describe. Zach McGowan just has it, whatever that is. I'm thinking he could even rival Dustin Clare for the role of Trent Smith in my book Killer of Killers.


Hannah New



And if he could play Trent Smith, what about Samantha Jones, the beautiful blond police detective? Well Black Sails has a beautiful blond actress in it that could rival Amber Heard for the part. Her name is Hannah New, and in Black Sails she plays Eleanor Guthrie, the daughter of the pirate island kingpin. She could very well handle the role of Samantha Jones.




But I'll hold off on that one. I'll wait for season 2, and with great anticipation. Don't know when that will be, but when it comes out, I'll be watching.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Walking Dead--Shocking, but Good

I like the Walking Dead show, but I never liked the child characters. OK, Carl has a role in the show, and it's an established character that I can handle. But when the two little girl characters were introduced, I found them unacceptable. And the reason is because it's not a kid's show. It really is an adult show. The graphic violence and over-the-top gore makes it an adult show. It's no place for two little girls, or two  characters who are little girls.

Even when I was a kid I never liked shows with kids. I remember the old TV show Lost in Space. I was a kid, but never did I like the kids Will Robinson and his sister Penney in that show. I was able to accept it when they were side-story characters, but when the show came to focus on Will Robinson, it became a lousy kids show that I didn't like.

Ditto with the Star Trek Next Generation show. I loved the original Star Trek show, but when Next Generation came out, it featured another kid, Wesley Crusher, who, for me, ruined the show. The show actually focused on him, and he was almost always the hero, the one who figured out the problem at hand, and then figured out the solution, while all the adults, including the Captain and First Officer sat around with their heads up their you know whats. For me, that equated to a very bad show.

So back to the Walking Dead and the two little girls who have been on the show now for about one season, total, and that will be all, because they've been killed off. Of course I don't relish the event, or any event that sees children killed. It's one of the reasons I didn't like the Hunger Games movie. But those two little girls should never have been on the show in the first place. It's as if they were introduced just to be killed off. That isn't what should happen in a show. Maybe it's supposed to happen to the guys who wear the read uniform shirts in the original Star Trek show, but it's not what's supposed to happen to kids.

Nevertheless, I never thought those girls should have been in the show, so when they were killed off, it was acceptable to me. And the way they were killed off, I have to say, was a shocking development. And original, too. Seeing how things happen in that show, heck, even in real life, it was a good piece of writing, imo.

I say that because lately the show had become mundane. It was just people wandering around, killing off zombies, and nothing was really happening other than, say, building up characterization. But no real events were happening. Now, the deaths of the two littler girls, and especially the WAY that it happened was, not only shocking, but completely unexpected. When a story can do that, I mean, take a twisting turn that totally surprises the audience, then that is real good writing.

Kudos to The Walking Dead writers for being real good writers.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Newspaper Article

Last Friday I came home from work and found out that the article that featured my two novels in the local newspaper had come out. You can read it here.

Overall, it was a really good article. I thought there was a little too much about me, personally, but still there was enough about my two published books to hopefully generate some sales.

I made it a point to advise the reporter that the most challenging thing for a new author was promotion, and that didn't get in the article. Maybe it's because I had forgotten to mention it during the interview, and I had to email that point afterward.

The only other thing was the mention in the article of my other two books, the ones yet to be published. When I referred to the upcoming sequel to Killer of Killers, I said, "Killer Eyes." But the reporter heard it as "Killerize," and that's how it was printed in the article. No big deal, nor was the misspelling of the word, "heart" in John Dunn, Heart of a Zulu. (It was spelled "hart.")

No matter. It's still a good article, and it's one way of promoting my books. And for the record, the most challenging aspect for a newbie writer is promotion. But no way is this my last promotional effort. Promotion is an ongoing process, and I have to keep on thinking of how to keep that going.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Rogers' Rangers and the French & Indian War

Yesterday I mentioned a book cover that I saw when I was an eight-year-old boy, but it was a cover to a book that I couldn't remember the title. I only remembered that at the time I thought it was a great cover, so much so, that I remembered it even today more than forty years later. I also remembered that it had something to do with the French and Indian War, and I even thought it might have been The Last of the Mohicans, probably because that's the most famous novel that takes place during the French and Indian War.

So out of curiosity, I googled all book covers that were used for The Last of the Mohicans. None of the covers were the one that I remembered, but when I googled all novels that had anything to do with the French and Indian War, I found it! I recognized it immediately. It turned out to be the cover to a book called Rogers' Rangers and the French & Indian War, by Bradford Smith.

So who would remember that? Not an eight-year-old boy. But the cover? I never forgot it. Here it is, and as you can see, it's just as I described it, and I hadn't seen it for over forty years. There's the Frenchman, not dressed in a military uniform, just as I remembered him, and there's the Indian, and sure enough, he's the kind of Indian that could be Mohawk Indian, (the telling Mohawk hairdo is plainly depicted,) and it sure is a battle scene, and those two featured figures sure are attacking each other, just as I described.
Painting by John C. Wonsetler
The ONLY thing that is different from my description is that I said the Frenchman had a knife, and the Indian had a tomahawk. But as we can see now, it's the Indian with the knife and the Frenchman with the tomahawk. I don't blame myself for getting that wrong, as I think the error is understandable, since the tomahawk was supposed to be an Indian's weapon, and the knife, especially the one shown here is a European-made knife, but whatever.

Btw, let me say that since I didn't read the book, I realized that the guy I keep calling the Frenchman might actually be an Englishman, or maybe even an American. So I just googled Rogers' Rangers and found out that the men in Roger's Rangers were indeed Americans. According to Wikipedia, Roger's Rangers was "...a provincial company from the colony of New Hampshire, attached to the British Army."

But whatever. The bottom line is that this was a cover that made an impression. So much of an impression that it stood out in my memory, lasting the course of forty plus years. Now that's an impression. And most importantly, it made me pick it up off the shelves and take it home. I remember that I didn't get it read, but I loved the cover, and I still do.

The point is that making a lasting impression is what a book cover should do, and it's what I believe Killer of Killers does, and even The Vase. For Killer Eyes, I would like to see a similar cover to Killer of Killers, since it's the sequel, and for John Dunn, I'm thinking a painting influenced by this Roger's Rangers cover would be appropriate. Of course, instead of a Mohawk Indian, it will be a Zulu Impi, and instead of the Rogers' Ranger American, it would be John Dunn, who fought in, not just one, but two Zulu wars.

One thing that will be the same is the British soldiers. Just as it was the British fighting in the French and Indian War, it was the British fighting the Zulus, too. The Union Jack flag is plain in this painting, and I'll make it plain in the John Dunn cover, too, just like the red-coated soldiers.



Thursday, March 13, 2014

Book Covers--Do They Sell Books?

The quick answer to the question, Do book covers sell books? is yes. At least they used to for me. And for my brother. Well, admittedly, we were kids at the time. They don't anymore. At least not for me. But I remember once, at my school library, I was intrigued with the book covers for two books, and I borrowed them, and read one of them. The other was too advanced for an eight-year-old. The one I read was called Custer's Last Stand. It was not just about Custer's last stand, though. It was more about George Armstrong Custer, his youth, his life, and finally, his last stand.

But it was the cover that made me interested in reading it. Fortunately, I was able to, and I did. The other was a book on the French and Indian War, also known as the Seven Years War. I don't know if it was a novel, like say, The Last of the Mohicans, or what. Actually, it might just have been The Last of the Mohicans, but I was only eight, and I don't remember. I don't remember because I didn't end up reading it. I think I at least started to read it, but like I said, it was too advanced for me. But it was the cover that fascinated me.

To this day, I can remember that cover. It was a painting of a battle scene, and it featured two warriors, one being a Frenchman? not sure, because he wasn't dressed in a military uniform. It was more like he was dressed like a frontiersman, and the other was an Indian, maybe one of those Mohawk kind of Indians, and they were attacking each other, each one holding some kind of a weapon--the Frenchman holding a knife, and the Indian wielding a tomahawk.

But it was a great painting, I thought at the time, and it was sure something that drew the interest of an eight-year-old boy.

These days, you don't see covers like that. I still have the book that my brother bought because of the cover. And why wouldn't I? It was a Frank Frazetta painted cover, and the book was called Conan the Adventurer. To this day, I consider that cover one of the best covers ever made. And, interestingly, it wasn't an action scene. It was simply a painting of Conan standing atop a hill, apparently in the aftermath of a battle, and he seems to be the only survivor of that battle. There's a naked girl at his feet, but other than her, there is no one else around. Other than dead bodies strewn about, I mean.

But the essence of the character of Conan in that painting was nailed! More so than any actor ever could do in the movies made of Conan, or the TV shows. And no other artist has been able to depict the essential character of Conan, even though several have tried, including yours truly. No. Frank Frazetta was the king. And only Frazetta could paint the real Conan. Period.

But my question is do covers sell? These days, most covers seem to be a computerized pasting of photos or images that don't really look real at all. What makes me shake my head is how almost every single romance novel has a naked man on the cover. Or a shirtless, bare-chested man. Okay, so these books are for women, but is that what sells? Are women convinced a book is worth buying or reading because it has a shirtless or bare-chested man on the cover? Apparently so. I mean, by comparison, you rarely see a shirtless woman on any book cover. If you did, maybe that would convince men to buy the book, but somehow I don't think so. At least, it wouldn't for me.

For example, it wasn't the naked woman at Conan's feet that prompted my brother to buy that Conan book. And it wasn't the naked woman that intrigued me, even though I was only eight. And not now, either, as an adult man. It was that magnificent depiction of the barbarian warrior, who wasn't even fighting. He's just standing there. That's what a great cover can do. It intrigues you. And then, yeah, it will prompt sales. (Ironically, Conan is shirtless on that cover, but before anyone points fingers, Conan was almost always shirtless, because he was a barbarian from Cimmeria, and barbarians from Cimmeria, didn't usually wear shirts, okay?)
Frazetta's Conan the Adventurer
I'm talking about the greatest cover ever painted, and the point that I"m making is this: an intriguing cover--something that captures your imagination--can convince potential readers that, yeah, with a cover like that, this book is something they just have to read.
Frazetta's painting retouched
As for all these naked, or shirtless men book covers, (i.e. men who are NOT barbarians,) they dominate every single publisher's Romance line book list, and when I see them, I just shake my head. I haven't and won't ever read one of them. But, then again, I'm not a woman. Maybe if I was, I'd feel differently. But somehow, I just don't think so. For the reasons I just made clear.

What about the cover to my book, Killer of Killers? It could have had a shirtless Trent Smith on the cover. And that would possibly have drawn a lot of interest in the female readership, based on what I've been seeing out there in book covers, as I've explained. After all, Killer of Killers does have romance in it. It does have love and angst. But that's not the essence of the story. It's a story of vengeance. It's an action story, an adventure, a characterization of modern society and the ills of corruption, and what one man can do to overcome all of that. It has philosophy, too, and what happens when the principles that have been the basis for your art are not adhered to. It's all of that ... and more.
Cover to Killer of Killers
So does the Killer of Killeres cover capture that? I think it does. The skull in the background and the city skyline in the foreground, and the web to the side all have a symbolic meaning, as does the overall red and dark colorization that dominates the composition. And the font of the title. It all combines to give the impression of the deadly and dangerous path the main character Trent Smith chooses to walk. Consequences are the result of paths such as that. And when you do choose that path, you'd better be ready for those consequences. Trent Smith wasn't quite ready. But he deals with it. Buy your copy today. You'll see for  yourself.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Love vs Hate -- Which is stronger?

When it comes to stories, as in novels, movies, or TV shows, mostly the focus is on some kind of love story, or some kind of hate story. Love story = romance stories, and hate stories = revenge or vengeance stories. I've often wondered which is the stronger emotion. Everyone has their own experiences, of course, and I used to think that hate was the stronger emotion. When someone crossed me, for example, the hateful feelings that resulted seemed so powerful. And lasting. Love, to me, never seemed to equal that level of impact.

But that was before I had kids. When it comes to having your own kids, the love you have for your kids trumps any kind of hate you might have had for someone else. And so I have concluded that love indeed is the stronger emotion. At least for me. And at least when it comes to my two sons.

And that brings me to The Vase, my second novel. The Vase is a story based on a father's love, (and a mother's love,) for his/her son. In The Vase, Muhsin Muhabi and his wife, Sanya, have already lost one son to the violence in the region, and they are doing everything they can to keep their second son safe. Of course, things don't always go as planned, and that's what carries the story line in The Vase.

Compare that with the hate, which carries the story line in Killer of Killers. A hatred for murderers is what propels the main character, Trent Smith on his journey. It's a journey of vengeance, but it's not because someone killed his wife, or parent, or child. He just plain hates murderers, and especially murderers  who get away with murder. Being the world's greatest martial artist, he can do something about it, and he does.

Oh, but there is love in Killer of Killers. Being filled with hate doesn't mean Trent Smith has no room for love. It turns out he does. But once again, things don't always go as planned. And thus the story line to Killer of Killers. As for the sequel to KOK, Killer Eyes, that's the actual conclusion to the story. But it's still a work in progress. I've some wrinkles to iron out in that one before I submit.

Not to worry. Killer of Killers is a complete and stand alone story. Just some details are wrapped up in Killer Eyes. Details like vengeance and revenge, and the fate of the wonder drug. Killer Eyes should be published before the end of this year.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Where are the buyers?

The stats page on this blog indicates that hundreds of people visit this blog every month. Unfortunately, those numbers are not reflected on my publisher's 'books purchased' stats. I mean, if even half of the visitors on this blog purchased a cheap 5 dollar eBook, then my sales for Killer of Killers would be through the roof. Or if not through the roof, at least pretty near the roof. But according to Melange, that is not the case. I've tried to promote my favorite book, KOK here on this blog, but that just doesn't seem to be working. I can't promote it to my students, because it's not for them, and they shouldn't be reading it. I tell them as much whenever the topic comes up.

But what about the readers of this blog? My stats page says that I've had over 23,000 visitors over the last couple years, and maybe that's not a lot compared to other blogs, but, again, if just half of the people reflected by those numbers had purchased a copy of KOK, just an eBook or digital copy, even, then I'd have pretty good sales. But it ain't happening. Still, there are people who tell me that they bought a copy. Not friends or family, though. I've already posted that friends and family are the last people who would buy a copy.

No, the people who say they bought a book are people I hardly know. A student will tell me one of their parents bought a copy, or someone who I only know in passing might tell me they got one, but that''s it. The rest are complete strangers, and maybe that's how it should be. I think it's true that if someone knows you, especially if they've known you your entire life, then the sudden news that you write books will be a shock to them. They won't be able to come to terms with that. In other words, they won't believe, or they won't want to believe that you actually can write books...good books, that is...books that they would want to read. It's weird, but it's also an interesting insight on how the human mind works.  Something that is new is not easily accepted. Even if it's a positive thing, like writing books. Go figure.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Revisions Proceeding in Killer Eyes

The sequel to Killer of Killers, which I call Killer Eyes, is proceeding at a pretty good pace. Even though I wrote this book four years ago, I hadn't had time to revise it, since I wrote John Dunn, Heart of a Zulu the following summer, and then the two summers after that I was busy with the editorial phase for my first two books that were being published.

But now that Killer of Killers and The Vase are published, it's time to get Killer Eyes done, and as I've posted about many times, the revision phase is one of the most important phases of writing. Sure you can argue that writing the first draft is the single most important part, since it's the creation of the work, and it's got to be true, but the work in that form is a rough draft. Not virtually, but quite literally. The writing is rough. Unpolished. You smooth out the work in the revision stage. You make it better, you get it to the point where you would want people to read it.

But more than that, I've found, that even the plot and story line get vastly improved. Subplots get added, even new characters get added. Sometimes even the story line is altered. And of course, all for the better. In Killer Eyes right now, I'm thinking I might have to change a subplot's main character to another character altogether. Can't really explain it on this post without being a spoiler, but it's just an example that the revision stage is about more than just improving the prose.

But all in all, the revision stage is going well. One of the things I set out on for Killer Eyes in the revisions stage was applying all that I learned from Penumbra. That would be my full understanding of how to write in 3rd person limited POV. I went back and did that with Killer of Killers. And I'm also applying the other writing guidelines I took home from my Penumbra experience. Once I'm finished with that, I'll re-read it at least once or twice more before submitting it to Melange. They already know about it. It's going to get published, and once it is, then on to John Dunn.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Promotion-Keep At It

So I got an interview in a small newspaper. Don't know when it will come out, but that doesn't matter, because you don't just stop there. You have to keep at it. I should find other small newspapers, contact them, see what they say.

I did try Christian/Catholic newspapers a while back, because of the appearance of (spoiler alert!) Jesus Christ in The Vase, which I think would appeal to anyone who believes in Jesus Christ. But even for people who don't, that doesn't mean they won't enjoy the book. You see, when Jesus appears, it's not like it's in a preaching type of context. No, it's just a recorded image in the grooves of an ancient vase, that's all. The story line does not preach any religion.

Sure there are religious people in it. There's a religious Israeli who's a Jewish man, who observes his faith, and there are Muslim fanatics in there, too. There are agnostic Israeli Jews, too, and even an Israeli who's an atheist. There are agnostic Muslims, as well.

And, actually, that is the crux of the story. Agnostic/atheist Jews and Muslims at odds, not with each other, but with those of their own religion who are fundamentalists or fanatics about their faiths.

Is there a common ground for them? Or do they clash as any other enemy might? Or do they come together and resolve their differences? Here in America there is a similar kind of conflict. I mean the fundamentalist Christians seemingly at odds with the secular population, or should I say vice versa?

But there are no Christian characters in The Vase. Yeah, Jesus Christ appears in the climax of the story, but the characters who make up the story are as I explained above. Still, the story would probably appeal to Christians/Catholics for Jesus' appearance and the fact that the Pope also has a small role.

So of the dozen or so Christian and Catholic newspapers I contacted, only one responded. They requested a free book, and said that maybe they would give a review on it. We'll see how that goes. And even if they do, I"ll still have to keep at it. Promotion is a never ending process if you want to sell books.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Interview Went Well

It was my first ever interview. By a reporter, that is, and it was a good experience. She was very professional, and very interested in learning about my two published books, Killer of Killers and The Vase. A photographer came with her, and he was taking photos in what seemed like a rapid fire mode. At least that's what it seemed like, because every time he snapped a shot, it was like hundreds of shots were happening.

But then we sat down in my classroom, and she asked me to tell her about the books, so I started with my first one, Killer of Killers, and explained what it was about, and then I told her about The Vase, and  then she asked how I came to write them, what inspired me, what was the most challenging thing about writing a book, and where did I get the ideas for them.

The interview also covered my residence in the city where I live, how long I've lived there, and also about my family, and little of my history, and my job as a teacher.

Sure there's more, but I can't remember everything. I wonder if I will be able to post a link to the story when it comes out. If I can, I will. Then you can read the article for yourself, and hopefully buy a copy of one or both of my books. Because that's the only reason I wanted to do the interview. It was an effort to get the word out about my books, so people who might want to read them will know about them. It's called promotion and marketing. And it's something all authors need. Especially new authors, like me.

And if you are reading this, and you haven't bought your copy of Killer of Killers yet, or The Vase yet, buy one today. Thanks.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Promotion Opportunity

I posted yesterday about how difficult it is for a new author like myself to get the word out about his or her books. I was saying that sales will be slow if buyers don't know about them. And I don't have any real access to real buyers.

Fortunately, a reporter from the local newspaper where I live has advised me that I will be interviewed about my two published books, Killer of Killers and The Vase. It's something that I had hoped would happen ever since Killer of Killers got published over a year ago. But I could never figure out how to make that happen. I tried to find phone numbers to call or email addresses, but there was no phone number on the paper to call, or on any website through which I could make contact.

Finally, I tried again last week, and this time there were phone numbers and even email addresses, so I contacted the main one, and they got back to me the next day. A reporter from the paper has set up an appointment with me today after school, right here at the school where I teach, and a photographer will be coming, also. I didn't really want my picture in the paper, but if this is going to help get the word out, then I think I should make the most of it.

Tomorrow, I'll post about how all of that went. Fingers crossed.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Co-workers, too--Not a Good Audience

I've posted before about how friends and family, with a few exceptions, seem to have an automatic expectation that they should get their books for free. Really. I've found that to be very true. Again, there were a few exceptions, but those exceptions were very few, indeed.

No, I've experienced first hand that most of my friends and relatives have zero intention to actually buy a book I wrote. And btw, I would like to say thanks to those few friends and relatives who were quick to give their support by actually buying a book or two.

But I forgot to include one other group. Co-workers. Surprisingly, they too seem to have an automatic expectation that they deserve to get books for free. At least my co-workers do. Again, there's a couple exceptions, and I would like to thank them as well. But for the most part, when I tell my co-workers about my books, they usually say they'll buy them, but they don't. Yeah, a couple of them did, but that's like two out of over forty. And these are teachers, mind you.

I can think of a couple who actually did purchase a copy one one of my books. And of the other forty who said they would, well, they didn't. Several have expressed their dismay that I would even expect them to buy a copy, that instead, I should be forthcoming in my desire to give each and every one of them a free copy of not just one, but both of my published books.

And I do have that desire to give away a copy or two for free, and I have done that. But an author, especially a new author, can't give away free copies to all of his/her friends, relatives, and co-workers! It isn't something that should be done either. I don't know about other publishers, but as an author, I get only one free book from my publishers. I do have the ability to give away an unlimited number of PDF copies, but that's it. But how does that help?

I know authors give away books to reviewers in the hope of getting an honest review that, hopefully, will be a good review and promote sales. But that's a business decision. And that is par for the course. But when it comes to friends, family, and co-workers, it comes to a point where it's just not worth it. Buy a book, for goodness sake. eBooks are only five bucks, or less, and print books only ten bucks more. What's the big deal, if you're only buying one? You can't afford that? But when an author is giving them away, the total amount exceeds 50 books, depending on how many friends, family, and co-workers you have. It could even be as many as a hundred. You do the math. It is not good business. Not at all.