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, April 30, 2014

Good Writing in Game of Thrones

I didn't start watching Game of Thrones when it first came out, but I started watching soon after, and I'm caught up by now. Like many people, I was angry over the death of Ned Stark in season one, even angrier over the so-called Red Wedding episode, and thought that the way Jon Snow's romance with Igret the Wildling turned out was ill planned.

But things do happen in real life that make you angry, so I can't say any of it was bad writing. Not at all. Not like DaVinc's Demons, which I maintain is very bad writing. No, it's good writing. But I also maintain that I don't want to watch a show that makes me feel lousy, and those maddening episodes did just that. But the story line is a good one. The show is remarkably well produced, and the characters are  interesting, so much so that you want to see what happens next, and that's good writing.

And that will keep me watching. It's refreshing to see a character that doestn' fit any of the stereotypes be such a great character like the dwarf Tyrion.  He has become a fan favorite and with good reason. He's not tall, not particularly handsome, and is hated by his own father and sister. Only his brother Jamie seems to appreciate him, and Jamie is another interesting character. At first he was a hated villain. But after the crippling loss of his right hand, his sword hand, he is slowly becoming a character with whom the audience can empathize. In other words, he is becoming a good guy. And that's good writing. Because people evolve. People do change, and when a character can change from bad to good, there is believability there.

I know it's not the first time characters have changed from bad to good, but it's refreshing to me to see it when it happens. And it's happening in Game of Thrones. And the way it happens is good writing. And I'll keep watching. It's an epic story. And a good one.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Bad Writing in DaVinci's Demons

Are TV shows known for good writing? Well, some have good writing, I've seen it myself. But I'm watching this latest HBO TV show called DaVinci's Demons, and quite frankly, the writing in the show is pretty bad. I still watch it because Leonardo DaVinci is one of my favorite historical figures. I mean, he really is one of the greatest human beings to have ever lived, and a lot of people agree with that.

So when I saw the trailers advertising the show before it came out last year, I thought it would be a great show to watch. It is entertaining to a point, and I keep watching it, but it seems I find myself shaking my head either in disgust or with complete dissatisfaction. And the reason? Bad writing.

I don't mean the dialogue. I mean the story line, and the way some of the events unfold. Take the season ending episode from last year. You have Lorenzo Medici, the top guy in the city state of Florence where DaVinci lives, and he's hired DaVinci to work for him. But he has a mistress who DaVinci happens to have a fling with, and he finds out, and then threatens to kill DaVinci. So what's the problem? Well, DaVinci had just given everything to save Medici's life, that's what. I mean the Medicis were being attacked by a rival faction, and DaVinci storms into the place, (a church of all places,) and fights off the attackers, and then carries Medici to temporary safety while fighting off several attackers at the same time. They make it to a room, where DaVinci bolts the door to keep their attackers temporarily at bay.

And Medici's response? Just as he's thanking DaVinci and offering him anything he wants, he sees a ring that he recognizes as his mistress's, and concludes (correctly) that DaVinci is fooling around with her, too, and then makes a 180 degree turn and threatens to kill him, even as their enemies are pounding on the door to break it down, so they can kill him!

To me, that made no sense at all. Again, the man was offering anything he possessed for saving his life. But hold all bets when it came to his mistress? If it was his wife DaVinci was messing around with, MAYBE then that would have worked. But it wasn't. It was a woman for hire. (To put it nicely.) And then he wants to kill DaVinci? I don't think so.

There are several other examples in that first season, I just don't have time to cover them at the moment. And now that the second season is underway, the last episode has got me shaking my head yet again. More later.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Black Sabbath Concert Was Great

Saturday, April 26th, Black Sabbath, the British rock band that began in the late 60s, performed at the Hollywood  Bowl down in Hollywood, California. And I was there. I mentioned last Friday that I was going to be there, and that I would post a review of that concert.

Well, as always, Black Sabbath put on a great performance. Ozzy sang well, (he even did his classic leaps!) Lead guitarist Tony Iommi, the inventor of Heavy Metal, was as great as ever, bassist Geezer Butler was in fine form, and new drummer Tommy Clufetos was nothing short of incredible.

I first saw Black Sabbath live back in 1975, (the Sabbath Bloody Sabbath tour,) and they were great back then, and now, forty years later, they are still just as great. I also saw their 76 tour, (Sabotage,) the 77 tour, (Technical Ecstacy,) and the 78 tour, (Never Say Die.) Then I saw them twice with Ronnie James Dio, (Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules.)

I saw them reunite in 98, and then I went to every Ozzfest that featured the reunited Black Sabbath as the headliner band. I saw them again last August, (the 13 tour,) and finally last Saturday, (their final performance in America for the 13 tour.) I can't count off hand how many times that has been, but it's a lot. But every single time it was a great performance. Every time.

They performed a good mix of their older famous songs, and then three songs from their newest album, which they call 13, because of the year they released it, 2013.

And even though they are in their mid 60s now, they still rock. From their first album, called Black Sabbath, they played the song called Black Sabbath, along with N.I.B., and Wall of Sleep.

From Paranoid, they played War Pigs, Iron Man, Paranoid, Rat Salad, and my personal favorite, Fairies Wear Boots.

From the Master of Reality album, they played Into the Void and Children of the Grave.

From Volume 4, they played Snowblind, Under the Sun, and a snippet of Supernaught, which they combined with Rat Salad.

From Sabbath Bloody Sabbath they played a snippet of the title song, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, before they broke into Paranoid.

From Technical Ecstasy, they played Dirty Women.

And from 13, they played God Is Dead?, End of the Beginning, and Age of Reason.

This is not the order in which they played the songs, though. I put them in the order of the albums the songs are from.

Only the albums Never Say Die and Sabotage were not represented, but that's OK, since the performance lasted a good two hours, and I've never seen them play longer than that. Time is the only thing that interferes with their concerts, and the fact that it has to end at all, is the only thing bad about being at a Black Sabbath concert.

But I do have one concern. Bill Ward. The band's original drummer, and one fourth of the original band is no longer a part of Black Sabbath for reasons they never clarified. They brought in Ozzy's drummer, and even though he was fantastic, I'm a stickler for tradition. I wish Bill was there. But that's in a perfect world, and the world we live in just isn't.

Nevertheless, they were great as always, and here's hoping they stay healthy and put out another album. If they do, they are sure to tour again. If they don't, then I'll be even more glad that I made this concert. Had I not, then I'd be regretting it for the rest of my life. I have enough regrets already without having to add to that list.

Long live Black Sabbath.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Rock Concert-Black Sabbath Tomorrow

Black Sabbath, the original heavy metal band, indeed the inventors of the genre, are performing tomorrow down in LA, and I will be there. I'm taking my 17 year old son, and it could very well be Black Sabbath's final performance in the Western Hemisphere. They're going back to Europe to continue their tour, and if they ever come back to the Americas is anyone's guess. As of now, I don't believe that they have any more concerts scheduled in this half of the world, and when this tour is over, who knows if they'll ever tour again.

They've already lost original drummer Bill Ward due to reasons that have never been made clear, and Tony Iommi, the lead guitarist has been having some serious health issues. He's overcome them for now, and is able to tour, but even if he stays healthy, who knows if they'll ever tour again. If they put out another album, my bet is they will, but will they put out another album? It took them over thirty years to put out their latest album called 13. I hope they do, but I won't be holding my breath.

So since they do happen to be my favorite band, I will see them, and take in every moment of the concert, as I do every time I see them. And when it's over, I will only be able to relish the memories, and consider the time well spent with my son. He is graduating from High School this June, and it will be a good way to celebrate. Can't wait. Tomorrow's the day. I'll give another review on Monday. No doubt it will be a good one.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

When Do You Give a Writer Advice?

I followed a writer's link to a guest blogging where she had posted an excerpt from one of her books. In the very first sentence of the excerpt I found poor wording and/or incorrect use of words. I don't want to quote her, because as far as I know, she may be reading my blog. But my question is when should one writer tell another writer that something is wrong with his/her writing?

The answer is never. One writer should never tell another writer anything negative about his/her writing. Unless that other writer specifically asks him/her to. If one writer asks another writer to be a beta reader, for example, the fundamental reason for that is to point out how the writing can be improved, to point out what isn't working, and that includes individual words, sentences, paragraphs, plots, subplots, and the whole thing.

So unless you are the editor of a manuscript, you criticize another writer's writing only if that other writer actually wants you to, and then you do it with tact. You don't just say, hey, this sucks, or this is some bad writing. You point out that this word is unnecessary, or this sentence should be reworded, or this meaning is not clear. You don't even have to provide the correct word or words, but you can if you're sure it would work, and always with the purpose to make that writing as best as it can be.

Even reviewers should be discreet about that. I know many are not. Some reviewers seem to take a great pleasure in slamming someone's writing, and they can even get downright nasty about it. I think reviewers should be honest, but if they think the writing is bad, they can say it without humiliating the author. I've read some reviews that pointed out some bad samples of writing, and I thought that it was going overboard. Reviewers probably think they aren't, but they are. If it's bad writing, say so, and the editor of that manuscript should be held accountable, also.

Speaking of editors, sometimes I've found that an editor will completely miss the meaning of a sentence or even a paragraph in the manuscript they are editing. That happened to me in The Vase. The bottom line is if my editor didn't get what I was saying in that paragraph, then I didn't do a good enough job of writing it. Which is a very good reason to rewrite it. If your editor got the wrong meaning, then you can bet your readers will, too. Your writing must be good enough so that no one will misinterpret the meaning of what you're tying to convey.

A writer needs 100% clarity. And if anyone's writing is short on clarity, or even straight up lousy, you don't tell them unless you've been solicited by that writer for that very reason. It's like an unwritten rule. Don't criticize another writer. Unless they want you to. Period. So when I see a writer's writing falling short on what it could be, I will say nothing. Nor should anyone else.


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

What Makes a Story Worth Reading?

When you talk about why someone reads books, especially fiction, you're talking about a book that tells a great story. Good stories will usually be found in any book, but it's the great story that really makes a book worth reading. And great characters are just as important. Maybe more important.

Examples of great stories can be found in the H.G. Wells stories. Edgar Rice Burroughs also told some great stories but he was famous for at least one great character--Tarzan. When you have a great character, then it's the character that sells the book, not the story.

Another great character is James Bond. It wasn't the stories that made the Bond books sell, it was the character of James Bond. And the same thing is true for Robert E. Howard's character--Conan. But Howard was a great writer and a great story teller. He was an innovator and a poet. The Conan stories were just some of the great stories Howard wrote. And Conan was just one of his many great characters.

When it comes to my two books, I think both Killer of Killers and The Vase contain great stories. As for great characters? I would say the main character in KOK is a great character. The world's greatest martial artist has got to be up there with the Bonds and Conans. And Trent Smith is just that. He's Judan, which is the highest ranking black belt in Japanese Ju Jitsu.

But Killer of Killers is also a great story. It's not just about revenge. In fact, I don't think it's got anything to do with revenge. Vengeance, yeah, but not revenge. At least, not in the beginning of the story. You see, Trent Smith isn't after the bad guys for revenge. He's a vigilante, to be sure, but he doesn't become a "vigilante" for revenge.

Unlike Spiderman, who fought crime because his uncle was murdered, or Batman, whose parents were murdered, or Daredevil, whose father was murdered, or The Punisher, whose family was murdered, and etc, etc, etc...nobody Trent Smith knew had ever been murdered.

It's the principle that drives Trent Smith. He has values. And he's a fanatic. An extremist. In fact, after the Prologue, I reveal that right away.  Here's the first paragraph of Chapter One:

It could be said he was an extremist. Those who came to know him might even agree. To be sure, he was a man who lived for justice. At least for now. He called himself Trent Smith, and he strode the L.A. Airport with a singular purpose. A former football star was arriving tonight, and Trent planned on meeting the infamous athlete face to face.

So, I'm admitting from the get go that the main character is not just a ho hum type of character. He's an over the top fanatic about justice. And that drives him, and it drives the story from start to finish. In fact, it drives the next story, KOK's sequel, Killer Eyes even further.

Speaking of Killer Eyes, I just wrapped it up yesterday, but I'm not calling it finished. No. I've learned too many time with KOK and The Vase not to be quick on the trigger. I've been guilty with both of those books of sending them to the publisher before they were quite ready. And just because you've finished writing a book doesn't mean it's ready to be sent to the publisher.

No. I'll reread it at least twice more before I submit. But don't worry, that won't take long. Look for Killer Eyes to be ready sometime this summer.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Disturbing Scenes in Stories

After reading about the rape scene in Game of Thrones, and hearing other people comment about it, I wondered if any of my stories had disturbing scenes. Well, there are no rape scenes in any of my books, but there is plenty of tragedy, and any tragedy can be interpreted as disturbing. As for how disturbing, I suppose it depends on what kind of tragedy.

Any kind of cruelty committed by someone against someone is disturbing. And the highest degree of disturbing might be measured by the scale of the cruelty. In both Killer of Killers and Killer Eyes there is plenty of killing, several murders, and vengeance killings. Each scene by itself can be disturbing. How disturbing? That's up to the reader. Perhaps not so disturbing compared to mass killings. I say that because in both books, there is mention of the Nanking massacre, which occurred during World War II. The invading Japanese army committed widespread atrocities in that event, mass murders of civilians, men, women and children, and it has been called one of the worst atrocities in the history of the world.

A book was written about it called The Rape of Nanking. It was written by a Chinese American woman, and shortly after publication, she committed suicide. I remember reading about it not that long ago. Just why she committed suicide, I don't know, but the point is the massacre at Nanking is not only a tragedy, but very much disturbing. And that is the backdrop to the story line in Killer Eyes.

You see, the main antagonist in Killer Eyes is the daughter of a Chinese man who had survived Nanking. The man had formed a Killers Guild which had the original purpose to hunt down and kill any Japanese veteran who had participated in that horror. When the man dies, (of natural causes,) his daughter takes over, but she is overly zealous. She is out of control. And the Killers Guild changes under her leadership to a bunch of perverted outsiders, who mostly aren't even Chinese. And their victims are no longer Japanese veterans of the Nanking nightmare.

Oh yeah, that's where Trent Smith comes in. But I can't divulge any more of the story or plot without giving away spoilers. I'm done with revisions now, but I'll still go over it again, like an editor, before I submit it to Melange. Rest assured, Killer Eyes is almost ready.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Author Page Up on Amazon.com

I've finally managed to make an author page on Amazon, and it wasn't even difficult. All you had to do was click on the Author page link, which I happened to see for the first time a couple days ago. Initially, I put up a photo, but then I remembered that other authors don't typically put in their photos on the Amazon Authors Page, so, in order to be more like them, I took the photo out.

Speaking of photos, I use four different photos for my social media. The one you see on this blog was cropped from a family outing at a beach some years ago. The photo on my Teacher's Website, which is the same one on the Melange-Books Author's Page, is another cropped photo from a day or weekend at some beach, and it's why I'm wearing sunglasses in both of those photos.

My Facebook photo is cropped from a photo that was taken while I was on a boat, or ferry, on the way to, (or maybe on the way back from) visiting the Alcatraz Island a couple years ago. So, again, it's why I"m wearing sunglasses.

But there is one where I'm not wearing sunglasses. It's the Goodreads author photo, (which I also use on Authors Den.) I'm not wearing sunglasses in that photo because the photo was taken at nighttime.  But it's still a photo taken at some beach somewhere. The reason they're all photos taken at beaches is not because I'm a beach bum, it's just that over here in California, there's a lot of coastline, and beaches are everywhere, as we travel up and down the California coast.

So who cares about photos anyway? Not me, personally, but I guess some readers might be curious as to what the author looks like. What really counts is the writing. The story. And the characters. And what happens with those characters. The premise of the story and the plot. And again, the writing. A great story can be ruined by lousy writing, and great writing doesn't guarantee a great story.

That's the bottom line when it comes to books. Hopefully you will find my stories, (and my writing,) agreeable to you and your tastes in books. Let me know what you think. Thanks.

Friday, April 18, 2014

What Do Readers Want in a Story?

Why do readers read? For entertainment, obviously. Everyone loves a great story. It's always been a favorite source of entertainment. And how do you present a great story to an audience? In ancient times, there were plays. And of course, there was oral tradition. But once the printing press was invented about five hundred years ago or so, books took over as the main way to reach an audience in terms of getting stories told. That is, until movies and TV came around.

But some people actually prefer to read books than watch TV or movies. Unfortunately, I would say the majority of people prefer movies or TV to books. And that's because reading takes more of an effort than watching a movie or TV. I would say people who prefer to read exhibit a more cerebral side. That's not to say they are more intelligent, or they have a higher IQ. They just exhibit their cerebral side more than those people who don't read. And reading does have some advantages. For one, you can take a book or an eReader anywhere you go. Books are great when you find yourself having to wait in a doctor's office or fly in an airplane or something.

So what do readers want to read? That depends on the readers. It is evident that most women prefer Romance novels. There seems to be no shortage of them. Of course, young people like the MG or YA books. Those stories are appropriate for them. My books wouldn't be appropriate for kids, seeing as how I targeted an adult audience. And speaking of my books, who would want to read them?

Well, anyone who loves an exciting, action-packed story is who. Readers want to read about someone who has something about them that is interesting. In Killer of Killers, the main character just happens to be the world's greatest martial artist. That means in any fight, with anyone, Trent Smith would emerge victorious. He's like the modern day Bruce Lee. So anyone who liked the Bruce Lee stories would enjoy my Killer of Killers story.

The Vase is for adults, too, but that doesn't mean it can't be read by youngsters. There is no "adult content" in that one. (Unlike Killer of Killers.) But still, I wrote it for an adult audience. And anyone who has an interest in the events in the Middle East, Israel, the Palestinian conflict, and even paranormal events, like ghost hunting, and thrilling intrigue, like assassination plots, would love the story line in The Vase.

Buy your copies today. See for yourself.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Revisions More Important than Editing

There is a difference between revising and editing. Editing is when you're making sure all your punctuation is correct, your grammar is correct, your story makes sense, and all loose ends are tied up. Revisions, however, make sure your writing is as good as it can possibly be, and that means anything and everything is up for grabs. You can add new scenes, or delete them, you can put in new subplots, or delete them, or you can rewrite entire scenes, paragraphs or sentences. It can be as simple as changing a single word. Revisions are like the "topping it off" or the "grand finale" stage of writing a book. The point in the creation of a book that makes it what it's going to be.

Make no mistake, editing is a necessary stage, too. It was the editing stage, not the revision stage where the first edition of Killer of Killers was lacking. KOK had undergone all the necessary revisions to make it the story it became, but the editing, as noted before, was lacking, and that's why it had to be re-edited and released as a second edition.

But why was it called a second edition? Because anytime you make changes to a book to the degree that I had to make with KOK, even with just the editing, then it's called a second edition. If it were just a few things here and there, maybe it wouldn't be necessary to call it a second edition, but no, the editing was far more extensive than just here or there. It covered nearly the entire book--cover to cover. Thus, the second edition.

And so what? If anything, the first editions may accumulate more value in the future, as first editions do sometimes, but the second edition is better written and more accurate as far as POV is concerned. And literary connoisseurs will know the difference. So I am glad that Melange made it happen, and I invite anyone who's read the book to write a review. (If you liked it, that is.) Let me know how you felt. If you do, I'll send you a free copy of the sequel, Killer Eyes, which should be ready to be published by this summer. Until then.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Killer Eyes Revisions--On Last Chapter

Revising, the necessary phase in writing a novel, is a long process, especially if you want your book to be as good as it can possibly be. I learned so much from writing my first two books, I am confident that by the time Killer Eyes, my third book, is done being revised, I'll be able to submit it to Melange confident that the editing process will be short and sweet.

And this time, I am also confident that no second edition will be necessary. As I've explained in this blog when it happened, there was a mix up in the editing stage with KOK. For reasons not explained to me, (and I didn't ask,) KOK was shifted from one editor to another. I think that the original editor for reasons not explained, (nor did I ask,) stopped being an editor. So Nancy, the owner of Melange started editing it in his stead, but then that's when the editing shift occurred and another editor "finished" editing it, but it really wasn't finished.

And after going through the rigorous editing process at Penumbra for The Vase, I realized that KOK was shortchanged. Of course, Nancy was terrific and cooperated with my requests to have KOK re-edited, and republished, so ultimately everything worked out for KOK. And all of that, for me, at least, was a learning process, which I am putting to good use in the revision stage of Killer Eyes.

And I've revised it down to the final chapter. And there's 24 chapters. (There are 18 chapters in Killer of Killers.) But even though there are six more chapters in Killer Eyes, the word counts in both novels are the same. Each book is about 89,000 words. However, Killer Eyes may exceed that when the final chapter is finished being revised.

And it's that last chapter where Trent Smith may or may not do something about his latest set back, as it unfolds in that chapter. It depends on how badly he reacts to that set back. It's the chapter where the most revising will be taking place. But once it's done, that's it. It will be ready to go. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Killer Eyes--Revisions Nearly Done

Over my week off last week, I did get a lot done. My taxes, work on the house, and revisions to Killer Eyes, the sequel to Killer of Killers. It's not just another story about Trent Smith. Killer Eyes is really the conclusion to the story that happens in Killer of Killers. Although KOK is a stand alone story, it really doesn't wrap up all of the loose ends. Killer Eyes does.

But when I found the hole in the story during the revision process, I used my own real life experiences to fix it. One thing I've learned in real life is that you can't really trust or depend on anyone. Most people will probably agree. If you do have a friend you can trust or depend on through thick and thin, you are a very lucky person. I'm not so lucky, and I'm as guilty as anyone in terms of the opposite. But when it comes to how this affects you, I think it depends on the circumstances. Was it a life or death thing? Something trivial? Something petty?

And even though Trent Smith already knows this, he learns it again. And this is how I fix that hole in the plot. I don't want to give away any spoilers, especially since the book is not published yet. Of course, Killer of Killers is published, twice over, including the Second Edition, the much better edition, I might add. But I'm using everything I've learned in real life to make the story complete and tie up all the loose ends. Bottom line--you can't trust anyone.

It's what I'm teaching my sons. Being so young still, they have yet to experience the things that will affect them the rest of their lives. So I tell them. Don't trust anyone. Other people don't want to help you. Everyone wants only to help themselves. People live their lives to make their own situations better. They will use you to do that. People who want to sell you something or  solicit something are doing it not for you. It's for them. A good example is the solicited investment scam. People don't want to help you make money. They want to make money for themselves, and they want to use your money to do it.

But I digress. The revisions stage of Killer Eyes is close to being finished. And there's a development in the story that is a disappointment to Trent Smith. But again. He already learned that lesson. He just didn't realize this lesson would be so close to home. You'll see what I mean. But before Killer Eyes comes out, get your copy of Killer of Killers. That's the first part of the story. Don't worry. It's a very exciting and entertaining story. Despite the set backs and disappointments Trent Smith experiences. You'll see.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Death in Stories--Not Always Necessary, but...

Death happens in real life. And when it does, it's tragic. But that's life. You live and you die. I suppose the only time it isn't tragic is when the person who died lived a full life, and it's pretty much their time. But stories usually reflect real life, and if you have a story that was about a person who lived a full life, and died at the end of that full life, it can still be an interesting story. You usually prefer to have the main character live that full life. That is to say, if you like a character in a story, so much so that you want to read about him or her, than you would probably not want to see that character get killed. At least not before his or her time.

As for supporting characters? I would think the same thing is true. If you like a supporting character, then you won't want to see him or her killed. But if the story line is such that a character is despicable, and you have grown to despise that character, then you might applaud the events that led to the demise of that particular character.

I suppose last night's Game of Thrones episode is influencing this post. Spoiler alert if you follow that show and haven't seen it yet. But the despicable boy king of that show was killed off, and everyone was glad for that. Game of Thrones is a good show, but one of the things I didn't like about it was that it had no qualms about killing off any character. Innocent, guilty, beloved or hated. And when innocent people die, and beloved characters are killed, that is not something I personally enjoy. In fact it makes me feel lousy. And I don't watch (or read) stories to feel lousy.

But then again, in real life it happens. And like I said, stories reflect real life. Otherwise the audience won't be able to relate to them. Even in my books, characters get killed. Even a couple of beloved characters. Sure a lot of the "bad guys" get killed, too. Mostly even. But if any story coddled its beloved characters, and kept all "good guys" safe from harm, then it will become too predictable, and that is not a good thing. It will make the story uninteresting. An audience doesn't want that. Of course a story has got to be interesting. I suppose it's all about the writing.

If the writer can keep the events in his or her story believable, then whatever happens won't be dismissed as gratuitous or far-fetched, and the events will be accepted, and you move on. But if a story is going overboard, killing off beloved characters, especially the characters that you care about, then that might result in a reduced audience.

Perhaps it depends on how the story ends. If a story ends in a way that makes the audience feel better about how it all came down, then that's how it will be remembered. As a good or even great story. But if the opposite happens, meaning if the story ends on a downer, and the audience feels like crap when it's over, then that's how it will be remembered. No one wants to feel like crap. So a story that makes you feel that way is a story I don't want to have anything to do with. My books don't do that. I try to keep my stories end in a way that the readers will feel great about the characters they just read about, and great about themselves, too.

As far as Game of Thrones goes, we've already seen the unfortunate demise of some beloved characters and even some innocents. And we've seen some balance, too, with last night's demise of the boy king who was responsible for the death of one of those beloved characters. (The execution of Ned Stark.) But we'll have to wait a couple years to see how it ends.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Captain America Movie

Movie Version of Captain America
Just saw the Captain America movie last night with my two sons, and one of their friends, and I liked it. I thought it was good. A lot of action, intrigue, and everything. Even a touch of romance. Actually less than a touch, maybe a hint would be more accurate.

But my older son didn't like it. He thought it was too cliché, and too formulaic. Wow. But as I thought about it, he was right. I still liked the movie, but he was right. You could predict who the bad guy was, even though it was supposed to be a shocker near the end.

And ditto for the twists in the plot. They were all predictable. But I still liked it. Maybe I was just falling back on my Jack Kirby days. Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, are the real creators of Captain America, not Stan Lee. Back in the day, Jack Kirby was king. And I still remember all of those great characters he created and illustrated while working for Marvel.

And even though I've complained that most of Marvel's characters have been allowed to be changed, (many significantly, and most not to their betterment,) the movie version of Captain America, at least, is still pretty much true to his comic book roots.


Captain America drawn by Jack Kirby


Would I have preferred a different actor? Yes, but the actor was acceptable. At least he was the right size for Captain America. And he had blond hair. These were musts for the part, and Chris Evans had that. I would have chosen someone with the face like Jack Kirby had drawn it, but maybe I'm being too picky. What face might that be? Well, a face like Robert Redford's would have been good. (In his prime that is. Ironically, he had a part in this latest movie.)

But the story was just another Hollywood formula story. I would like to see a movie that is true to a comic book story. Sadly, it will never happen.  Bottom line, was it a good movie? Despite my son's opinion, my answer is yes.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Blog Readers

It's interesting how the stats page on my blog indicates the countries of the blog readers who have read this blog over the past month. If half of these readers bought a copy of Killer of Killers or The Vase, both of the books would be best sellers. But then again, I'm wondering if these readers are really readers, because most of those countries are not English speaking countries.
 
For example, the U.S. is far and away the country from which most readers of the blog are located. But in the past month alone, the other countries where readers live are as follows: Russia, Germany, France, Belgium, Switzerland, China, Algeria, United Kingdom, and Greece.
 
Okay, the United Kingdom, obviously is English, but the others are not. So unless they are English speakers, they're not reading the blog. But if they are English speakers, and it's not a stretch to believe other countries have English speakers who visit blogs, then I can hope my books are being bought and being read by people all over the world.
 
And in the past I've seen countries on the stats page that include Malaysia, Korea, South Africa, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, Australia, and more. So it's amazing to me the distances to which my blog can actually reach. And here's to hoping those distances are places where people not only speak English but read it and buy books!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Taxes Due and Conflict

It's tax time here in the U.S. and finally got it done. Funny thing is, I used to get a lot of money back from taxes, and now I have to pay...a lot. I thought the new administration was going to tax the rich, and let us middle classers have some relief. Well, being a teacher I don't count myself among the rich. I'm a solid middle classer, so how that all worked out is beyond me.

Nevertheless, I'm still rolling along with the revisions to Killer Eyes, and I'm still trying to make it so that hole in the plot gets filled. What I've come up with is actually going to make the story more interesting, and that's a real good thing. A little more conflict, a little more controversy, and another plot twist that will give the story more bite.

Not that it really needed more conflict, as the story to both Killer of Killers and Killer Eyes is filled with conflict. Still, there's nothing wrong with more. The funny thing is that the path Trent Smith chooses to travel is just that--a path of conflict. So that's what makes the books entertaining! Buy a copy today and find out for yourself! Let me know what you thought!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Biggest Problem for Writers-Life Gets in the Way

I'm on Spring break right now, and that's one of the great things about being a teacher. You get breaks like this. Of course the Summer break is the best one, and that's coming up, too. But that doesn't mean you get to kick back and spend all your time writing, or doing anything on your list of things to do. Because life gets in the way.

First, a week ago was my Silver Wedding Anniversary, and I spent the weekend with my wife at Cavallo Point, which is a fancy Hotel/Resort used for like occasions by the people in the Bay Area. It's on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge, and it's actually situated almost underneath it on the Marin side. You have a nice view of the bridge, and it's quite a sight to behold up close.

This past week, we're having contractors reconstructing our two upstairs bathrooms, and that's not an easy thing, especially if you want to write. In addition to that, my son's getting his first car, and that's another time consuming thing, having to find a good used car at a good price, and then doing the DMV thing which is never a breeze. If you've ever spent any time at the DMV you know what I mean.

But I'm so close to finishing Killer Eyes, the distractions are frustrating to say the least. I've come up with a solution to the snag I mentioned, and I need time to write the scenes necessary to make it all work. I've already started, doing a little here and there. But I need at least one more scene to make it all come together. Hopefully that can happen this week. We'll see.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Books to Movies-How Much is Changed?

I'm all for books being made into movies, especially if the story is one that would benefit from the latest modern technologies for special effects. Some movies didn't need spectacular special effects. Like the James Bond movies. Some movies really couldn't be done without them, like the more recent slew of comic book/superhero movies.

The Lord of the Rings books were also stories that needed modern CGI, and boy, did Peter Jackson deliver some winners, and he's still at it.

But the knock on books to movies was that usually the movies did not do justice to the books. Or the movies made too many changes to the story as told in the books, and those changes were not for the better. Sometimes, the movie was right on, and sometimes the movie was better.

Examples of movies being better than the books include Goldfinger and From Russia With Love. But the other Bond movies? I'd say no.

There are many examples of movies that were nowhere near as good as the books. Some people may argue that the vast majority of movies fit into that category. When the first Conan movie came out, I was really disappointed. That was not Conan on the screen. I still remember when I first saw that movie, I stood up at its conclusion and declared, "That wasn't Conan!"

People who were fans of the Batman character from DC comics knew how I felt. The early Batman shows and movies were not true to the Batman legend, I heard them say. The TV show with Adam West as Batman was a silly and goofy spoof. Even the Tim Burton movies were far from what the "real" Batman was supposed to have been.

As for me, I was never a Batman "fan" but I could understand where they were coming from. Especially when I saw how badly Conan was depicted on film. The later Batman movies, made by Christopher Nolan, I've been told, hit the mark, however. Those were considered acceptable by the Batman fans, even the hardcore Batman fans.

Marvel Comics has a lot of great characters that benefit from the CGI effects of modern movie making. But Stan Lee, the man from Marvel who invented most of those characters, apparently doesn't demand that his characters are depicted on film the way he had written them. Is that a sell out? Many people would say so. It seems the fans are more concerned about the accurate depiction of his characters than he is.

One man I have come to respect is Frank Miller, the comics writer/artist who wrote and illustrated the graphic novels Sin City. I heard that when movie maker Robert Rodriguez approached him to make his books into a movie, Miller automatically assumed Rodriguez would change his stories, and he said no.

Can you believe that? An author saying no to Hollywood? Now that's integrity. It was only when Rodriguez promised that the movie would be 100% true to the book, did Miller consider it, and when Rodriguez offered Miller a co-directing role in the movie to ensure he would be satisfied, Miller finally agreed. And it was a great movie.

I would hope I could have as much integrity. But I don't think so. I have not achieved anything close to what Miller has achieved. He was able to say no. I don't think I could. But right now I can only wish I could be in that position. It would be a dream come true.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

True History vs. Historical Fiction

I mentioned yesterday that in my later years I prefer to read, (when I do read,) about true historical events. That is to be differentiated from Historical Fiction. Meaning Historical Fiction can actually be about a true historical person even though it's fiction. I mentioned the oft-written-about historical figures Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, and Cleopatra. Those historical figures may have been written about in historical novels more than any other historical people. Even Shakespeare took a turn at it. But how many of those books were historically accurate? Sure they were based on the true story. And all were generally true to the real events, I would guess. I wouldn't really know, because I never actually read them.

I did see the movie, Cleopatra, with Elizabeth Taylor, and I saw the HBO show called Rome. Both were based on the historical events surrounding Julius Caesar and his best friend and right hand man, Mark Antony, but an awful lot of "artistic liberties" were taken, as well, in both shows. And if you're looking for an entertaining story about a real life person, then I don't mind those liberties. But sometimes, I think, those liberties are taken too far. It's an opinion, of course. In the show Rome, they made it so that Julius Caesar's son, Caesarian, was not really his son, but fathered by another Roman Cleopatra used to get impregnated.

In the movie Cleopatra, they left out completely the children Cleopatra had with Mark Antony. So did either story ruin the entertainment value of the shows? No. Not as long as the story lines were still generally accurate to the historical events. And they were.

But when I read a book I want to know the real events, and an accurate account of them. I don't read historical fiction for entertainment. I want the real deal. I want to know just what did Julius Caesar really do, and wow, what he really did was really amazing. From his conquest of Gaul to his later conquest of Egypt, which in both campaigns his army was overwhelmingly outnumbered, and yet both times he was overwhelmingly victorious.

Of course the whole Cleopatra thing was exciting and intriguing, and his assassination by the Roman Senators who feared his domination was a great twist in the story, as was Mark Antony's rise to power, as he hunted down and killed the assassins one by one.

And then you have the sudden and unexpected rise of Octavian, whose shrewd manipulations would eventually make him the ultimate master of the entire Roman Empire. Yes, this was a story that really needed no "artistic liberties" as it's a wonderful story as it really happened.

But sometimes artistic liberties do make a real life story more interesting, and that's what I did with my story about John Dunn. I didn't take too many liberties, mind you. Yes, I mentioned that I had one of his 50 wives be the daughter of the Zulu king. But that wasn't too drastic, as Dunn did marry many daughters of fellow Zulu chiefs. And the Zulu king, Cetswayo, had about as many kids as Dunn. I'm talking about in the hundreds.

And that's just about it, except for one other liberty. Dunn's main antagonist in my story, as in real life, too, I might add, was the Anglican Bishop Colenso, the religious leader who was trying to Christianize the natives in South Africa, including Zululand. He hated John Dunn. He saw Dunn as a white man who had lowered himself to the level of the natives, living amongst them, marrying them, and having children with them. To Colenso, this was unconscionable. And his vehement hatred of Dunn was well known.

But in my book, I gave Colenso some props. Colenso did do some good things for the Zulus, and I wanted to show his good side by having him take in Dunn's clan during the war, when Dunn brought his people to the British side of the Tugela River. In real life, Dunn's people were forced to camp out in an unincorporated part of Natal, (the British colony next to Zululand.) But in my story, I portrayed Colenso as the "good Christian" who did a hated rival a "Christian" favor, by helping him in a time of need. Was that too liberal of me? Maybe. But I thought it added to the story.

Still, it's a long way from being completed. I'm still revising and fixing some holes in Killer Eyes. That should be finished in a couple months. Then John Dunn will get its turn. Can't wait for that.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Readers-It's a Matter of Taste

Just as in food, a reader will want to read a book based on his or her taste in books. Obviously. No one wants to read a book that doesn't interest them. I sure don't. So speaking for myself, what books did I read? Well, I've already stated several times that the authors whose books I've read were Edgar Rice Burroughs, H. G. Wells, and Robert E. Howard. And those authors were writers of fiction, but a special brand of fiction. It was a mixture of Fantasy, Sci-Fi, and Adventure.

Burroughs was an adventure novelist, mostly, because when one mentions Burroughs, the character Tarzan comes to mind. But he wrote a lot of Sci-Fi and Fantasy, too. H. G. Wells was Sci-Fi, but it wasn't the typical Sci-Fi like today. His books like The Invisible Man, The TIme Machine, and even War of the Worlds  contained huge elements of Fantasy and Adventure.

And my personal favorite, Robert E. Howard, well, he invented a sub genre of his own, which has been called Sword and Sorcery. This was the world of Conan the Barbarian, but Howard had other books, too, of Sword and Sorcery, most notably, King Kull and Solomon Kane. Howard also wrote Westerns, and other action packed adventure stories, and I have them all.

I don't read as much as I used to, because I dedicate nearly all of my time to my own books, which I've pointed out authors will do. They invest their time in their own writing, and I think it's something they should do. And that's because writers today won't be as good as writers in the past. But that doesn't mean they can't at least try. And trying your best can get results. It makes your writing better. Still, Melville, Dickens, Tolstoy, and Dostoyevsky will never be matched.

But that doesn't mean writers of today aren't or can't be good. And there is a difference in good writing and bad writing. You have to know how to write, and I'm not just talking about a, b, c, etc. It's an art, after all, and just like art, (and music, too,) readers will like different kinds of books and different kinds of styles.

If a reader likes what I like, for example, he or she won't be reading Romance novels. You know, the kind of books that almost always feature a naked or shirtless man on the cover. I still shake my head at the lack of imagination on those covers. But, hey, there's a market for that, otherwise, they wouldn't be there. And those readers may not even consider reading a book like Killer of Killers, which features loads of action, fight scenes, and intrigue.

Some readers won't like fiction at all. I've been mostly a reader of non-fiction in my later years. I like true history, and I am more inclined to read a book about Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, and Cleopatra than a book about someone who never existed in a world that never was.

Yep, it's a matter of taste. And the diversity out there is a good thing. There's a book out there for everyone.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Technical Difficulties

I said I would post an excerpt from my books, and I tried to do that just now, but something funny happened after I posted it. The excerpt didn't show, and it made the other posts look like something was superimposed over them. I guess I'm finding out for myself that "technical difficulties" really do happen. So I will have to find a better way to do this then cutting and pasting from the Melange Books website. Sorry about that.

In the meantime, I'll have to think about something else to do for readers. After all, this is a blog for readers, not for writers. Of all the people out there in this big, wide world, there are people who buy and read your books, and people who don't. Among the people who don't are other writers. They prefer to read their own books. That is logical. After all, writing a book isn't as easy as, say, writing a song. I know from experience. Writing a song might take only one day, maybe two, or three at the most. For me, anyway. And writing a book isn't as easy as drawing or painting a picture. Or sculpting a sculpture. Those activities are completed in days, maybe weeks, depending on the scale of the endeavor.

But writing a book? That takes several months at least. Even years in the making. And after investing so much time, so much of your life into a book, it's practically a part of you...a part of who you are. There's a lot more of you in the creation of a story, of characters and everything else that goes into writing a book. It's a much more involved process. So you don't really have the interest in reading another author's book. You are more interested in your own book.

It's kind of like raising kids. Parents spend near a lifetime raising their own kids, so they won't be as interested in another parent's kids, at least not nearly as much as their own kids. It's just natural. And these are the reasons writers aren't as interested in another author's books, at least not as much as they are in their own books.

And the other group of people who don't buy and read your books are your relatives and friends. And that's because they don't see you as a writer. They see you as that family member or as that friend they had all of their lives. If you're all of a sudden a writer, it's not something they can accept. They won't believe that you can actually do something that others have done, meaning other writers that they don't know. You won't be on a par with them. They will see you as someone, perhaps, who wants to write, and maybe they'll humor you and say, "Oh, you wrote a book, that's great." but they won't want to read it.

These people are disappointments as friends, and certainly a huge let down as relatives. Of course there are exceptions to that rule. There are people out there who do not fit into any of those categories. But I have found, exceptions or not, it is the rule.

So promotion is still the key. Reaching those people who like to read, appreciate what you've written, and they spread the word. It happens. Hopefully it will happen for me, too.