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.



Thursday, February 26, 2015

Gathering a List of Agents

I learned how to get an agent. It took me a while, but when I first started looking for an agent for my first book Killer of Killers, I eventually found one. Again, it wasn't a great experience. So many things went awry, and I don't want to rehash that experience. Bottom line is the agent did not get Killer of Killers published. I did. On my own, shortly after my agent and I parted ways.

But this time around, I'm going to apply what I learned during that process. First thing is you have to complete your manuscript. And it better be polished, edited, revised, and that means utilizing everything you learned about writing books. Of course with my first two books I hadnt' reached that level yet. It was only after finding publishers and then learning from those publishers, I was able to hurdle that hump, so to speak. But it happened and I'm there now.

Which means this time around, I'm more qualified to find an agent, based on my experience and knowledge gained. An effective agent, that is. And that is important. If you are a writer looking for an agent, especially if you're an unpublished writer, the search will be very difficult. It really is true to an extent that agents are the gatekeepers to the publishing world. At least when it comes to the Big Six.

I have achieved limited success as a writer. My first three books are published. Killer of Killers, and the soon to be released sequel, Killer Eyes, are published with Melange. And The Vase is published with Penumbra Publishing. But both of those publishers are POD publishers. Which means they are not sold in bookstores. You order them online. But at least they are published and available for purchase. I didn't have to resort to self-publishing. And I'm not dissing authors who are self-published. It's just not what I wanted to do, and for many different reasons.

So as a published author, I want to take that next step. Making it to the Big Six. And for that I need an agent. Because all six of the Big Six publishers only take submissions from agents. And like I was saying the first step is having a completed manuscript. The next step is gathering a list of agents who represent the genre you write. Or the genre which your manuscript fits. And for John Dunn, it's Historical Fiction. I've collected a list of about ten agencies now, and I'm planning on submitting to them this weekend. Because that's when I think my revisions will be done. At least done well enough to submit to agencies. We'll see how that goes. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Agents, Anyone?

Now that I'm close to finishing the first revision of my fourth novel, John Dunn, Heart of a Zulu, I am considering getting an agent again. Hoo boy. That is not a refreshing thought. Because agents, like reviewers, think they know more than writers. They think they are superior to everyone else out there in the publishing world. No, I'm just kidding. Agents are the gatekeepers for the publishing world. Aren't they? At least that's what they think. And it is true to a certain extent.

Of course they're like anyone else. They have opinions. Like reviewers. And their opinions vary. Like everyone else. So. What to do. I found an agent before. It was a long process, and it took a lot of queries, but I found one. That experience is well documented on this blog. Back in the earlier days of this blog. To make the story short, turned out to be a waste of my time.

But--if you want to get into the Big Six, you need an agent. And I think the John Dunn novel could have a chance at the Big Six. It's historical fiction for one thing. And the Big Six are big on historical fiction. The John Dunn story is based on a true story, real life characters, and real historical events. The era is also a popular one. The Nineteenth Century. It includes a great deal about British Imperialism, when the British Empire was at its height.

So, yeah, it's got a chance. I'm making sure everything is right about it, and I'm almost done. The POV is correct, the continuity, the prose, the factual information, the cultural clash between native Africans and the British colonists, it's all there. And then there's John Dunn caught in the middle of it all. If you've never heard of John Dunn, the white chief in Zululand, go ahead and Google him. It's a true and fascinating story. Would be a great miniseries on TV, too.

So these are the reasons an agent might be interested. It's a 124,000 word novel at this point, by far the longest of the four books I've written. Let's see how the agent search goes. I'll be starting that search maybe as soon as tonight. Stay tuned.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Remember-Opinions Will Vary

I had always been wary of soliciting reviews, but I had solicited some anyway, and my recent round of soliciting reviews has been bringing in some reviews. And one thing I knew before I ever solicited a review is that opinions will vary. Some reviewers will give you great reviews. But other reviewers won't. They'll give you a bad review, and that's just the reality of the world in which we live.

I've read blogs by authors who explained the reasons some reviewers give bad reviews. Sometimes a book might just be a bad book, written by someone who is still learning the craft. Some books aren't edited well, and they fall short of current standards. But there is another reason some reviewers give bad reviews. It makes them feel important. It gives the impression that they're an authority in the field of books, writing, and reviews. By putting someone else down, or their work down, it conveys a sense of superiority for them. Simply put, they get off on it.

But the most common reason for a bad review, I think, is that a book just might not be someone's cup of tea. And apparently a reviewer was of that mind for The Vase. Unfortunately, this was the first review The Vase has received. It wasn't a bad review, (actually it was since it was far from a good review.) She gave it three stars which I suppose puts it right there in the middle.

I can live with that. (At least I'm telling myself I can.) Look, of course I shoot for five stars, who wouldn't? But I don't have my friends and family members doing reviews. I've already talked about how phony that would be. All my reviewers are complete strangers. They don't know me from Adam. I've received some great reviews for Killer of Killers, but I just have to resign myself to the fact that you don't hit a home run every time you're at bat. Sure, every batter wants to. And every writer would like to please everyone with every book. Why else would they write?

I look at it this way. I welcome a review like the one The Vase just got, (actually, I don't,) but it's proof I don't get reviews from family and friends. I'm just glad it wasn't a full fledged trashing. Because I have to remember, that one of those kinds of reviews (an all out trashing, I mean,) is still out there. And I'll readily admit I'm not looking forward to it.

Meanwhile, for all writers out there, and artists of any sort, you will entertain a lot of people, and then there's the people who won't be entertained by what you do. Because tastes vary. It's a big world out there, and there's all different kinds of people in it. The kind of people who love what you do, the kind of people who don't love what you do, and then there's the kind of people who are right in the middle. (Like that reviewer for The Vase.) But again, that's okay. You just have to accept that fact, and keep doing what you're doing. That's all.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Wow, John Dunn near 125,000 Words

That's quite a manuscript for John Dunn, my historical fiction story, based on the true story of John Dunn. It's currently over 124,000 words, and that doesn't include that extra scene I was considering putting in. The scene in question only moves the plot in one way. It shows the Zulus are getting antsy to fight, so much so that they had a fight amongst themselves, two different regiments, and up to seventy of them were killed.

But the story really doesn't need it. And since it's already so many words, I'm rethinking doing it. I'm closing in on finishing the revisions at this time, but that doesn't 'mean the revisions will be done. Same old story as with my other books, revisions are a seemingly endless thing.

But as I go through this manuscript I really am enjoying the story. The prose is good, easy to read, easy to follow, even though I do write through the POVs of several different characters. Don't worry, I've taken great pains to make sure there's no head-hopping anywhere. Any POV changes are differentiated by a scene break, and I really think the POVs are necessary to tell the entire story.

And that's because it's more than just a story of John Dunn. Sure he's the featured character, but other integral characters include Dunn's first wife, Catherine Pierce, the Zulu king Cetshwayo, other Zulu characters like Dabulamanzi, Cetshwayo's brother, and many British characters as well. Among the British characters, there's Theophilus Shepstone, his brother John Shepstone, Lord Chelmsford, the British commander of the South African forces, and many more.

It's an epic story, really. It would take a miniseries to depict it on TV. Not unlike the miniseries they already made about Shaka. And btw, Shaka is mentioned a few times in there. He's been long dead, but his legacy is very clear and pronounced in the story line. As it should be. Can't wait to see which publisher will be interested in this story. I'd think a British one would be likely to be interested. But I hope some American publishers would be interested, too.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Killer Eyes and Heart of a Zulu

So Killer Eyes is in the works to be published now, and I'm back to work on John Dunn, Heart of a Zulu. But I don't name my book for body parts. Like Eyes and Hearts. No. Just those two. It's weird that it happened that way for both of those books. I didn't plan it. Just happened.

So I am working on John Dunn, but it's my longest book. Even though it's historical fiction, based on the true story of John Dunn, it's like a fantasy in many ways. It's set in the nineteenth century, where muskets were the main weapons, but the new breach-loading rifles were just coming out. And it's set in Zululand, which the name Zululand in itself reeks of a fantasy setting.

The Zulus too are the stuff of fantasy, what with kings and witchdoctors, and an army of forty thousand blade wielding warriors ready to kill, and a lone white man making his life amongst them. A lone white man who became best friends with the Zulu king, I might add. A lone white man living amongst a nation of warlike black men, and accepted as one of them.

And a lone white man who marries fifty black women. Now that's something if you ask me. And over one hundred children. And here's the amazing part. It's true history. And John Dunn didn't just go around impregnating a bunch of black women, and then go his own way. No. Again, he married them, and he supported them, and raised his one hundred plus kids on his own land and cared for them, every one of them. He saw to their well being and made sure they were all cared for at the time of his death. It's a historical fact that when he died he mentioned in his will all of his wives and all of his children.

So this guy, John Dunn, was the real deal. A real husband and a real father. It's great if you think about it. These days, it's tough just to care for two kids, like I have. But these are different days. No doubting that. But no one's going to be writing a book about me and my two kids. Different days different times, and today is not the time of a fantasy-like life. Not with the rules, laws, and expectations of today. Such is life.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Melange Says July-August

Got an email from my publisher, Nancy Schumacher, of Melange, and she says they can publish Killer Eyes in July-August of this year. I was hoping for a summer release, because I'm a teacher, and I'll have all the time I need for editing and promotion!

At first Nancy said November-December, but when I voiced my concern about a summer release, she made it happen by squeezing me in. Talk about an author friendly publisher. Melange Rules!

In the meantime, I am working hard on the John Dunn story. It's pretty well written already, just going over it again, making sure all POV is good, all prose is good, and everything's consistent. I talked about inserting an additional scene, because this particular scene I want to insert really happened in real life, and actually played a role in the outbreak of the Anglo-Zulu War.

I didn't include it originally because the word count was already over 120,000 words, and I thought that I shouldn't exceed that amount, but maybe for historical fiction it's all right to go more.

Anyway, with the publication of Killer Eyes this year, I'm considering a Book Three for the Killer Series. I ended Killer Eyes with an option for the story to continue, although it could end with Book Two. But if I'm inspired for a Book Three, I'll go ahead and write it. After all, I've allowed for it. So why not? Anyway, watch for Killer Eyes to be released this summer!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Three Manuscripts at Once

Just as I submitted Killer Eyes to Melange, I went back to work on my John Dunn manuscript. But I never stopped working on Second Chance. That's three manuscripts I was kind of working on at the same time. John Dunn is far from done, but it's in the revision stages. Killer Eyes, although submitted, will be undergoing the editing stage, and Second Chance is right in the middle of the first draft. So that really is three manuscripts I'm working on at the same time.

Second Chance, btw, is over 50,000 words now. I suppose it will be around a 70 to 80 thousand word novel, making it my shortest novel yet. But who knows? It may be more. You have to write the book first  and then after revisions, you may take or add a lot or a little. It's a fun process. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

More Reviewers Responding

I was contacted by two more reviewers yesterday who want to review my books. That sounds great to me. I was so pleased with those last two reviews for Killer of Killers, and I have a lot more confidence in getting reviews now. And what makes these reviewers and their reviews even more special to me is the fact that I don't know any of them. Never met them. None of them are friends or family, (which is what I believe a lot of reviewers are for other  writers.)

When I first wrote my books and got them published, I thought that maybe some of my friends or relatives might write some reviews. But it never happened. Of course, I never asked them to, but did I have to? I guess I did. But I didn't. And I didn't want to. I wouldn't have complained if any of my friends did write a nice review. I would have thought that would be something friends do. I guess I was wrong about that. Most of my friends and relatives wouldn't even buy a book. They expected free books. But I only had so many to give away. (Like one or two.) It turned out all for the better. Reviews from complete strangers are the better reviews, because they have no ties to the writer and the review is not skewed.

So I'm happy that all reviews for my books are from people I don't know, never met, and they owe me nothing. You can bet they are honest reviews, and, btw, I didn't pay for any of them. I thought I'd throw that in, because I've discovered some writers do pay for positive reviews. Talk about skewed. That's the worst review of all.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Plan Upheld-Killer Eyes Wrapped and Submitted!

Yes, 'finally' is the word, as in finally Killer Eyes, the long awaited sequel to Killer of Killers has been completed and submitted. Melange is in possession of it now, which means I do no more work on it until I get back the first round of edits. And I really don't expect that much editing to occur. The reason for that is I edited it over and over again over the past year or so. Ever since The Vase was finished and then the second edition of Killer of Killers, I went back to Killer Eyes and made sure everything was correct in terms of POV, verb usage, dialogue tags, and continuity.

So it took me a year, and it was a year well spent. Certainly those issues were in need of correcting. My main weakness when it came to unedited and pre-published work, was POV issues. I had to replace omnipotent with limited, as in third person POV. You don't go with omnipotent anymore. You go with limited. Otherwise editors and/or publishers will not like it. And even though I was slow to board that boat, I'm aboard with it now. Just because it's the style of the times. You have to live in the era you live. Period.  You can't be a dinosaur anymore. You have to have a computer and a cell phone. You have to have a social media presence. You have to live in the twenty-first century.
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So yeah, Killer Eyes is submitted, Melange has it now, and as for me, until I hear back from a Melange editor, I'll be working on John Dunn again. I got about half way through it when I sent KE to a beta reader. So I'll probably get the other half done before I get an edited copy back from Melange. That's all good. John Dunn is in need of POV corrections, and I might add another scene, too.

John Dunn really is a removal from the genre I had been writing. KOK, KE, and The Vase are suspense-thrillers. The Vase is a little different from KOK and KE, but it's still a suspense thriller, at least somewhat. John Dunn is historical fiction. Based on the true story of John Dunn, who lived in Zululand amongst the Zulus. A fascinating story. It's kind of like an African Dances With Wolves, or more accurately it's more like an African Little Big Man. But still totally different. Different because even though John Dunn lived with the Zulus, he had to fight against them in the Anglo Zulu War.

It's a long book, too. Over 120,000 words, whereas my other three books averaged around 90,000 words. I guess historical fiction is supposed to be longer, like fantasy. If I put in that extra scene it might be another five to ten thousand words. We'll see. Back to work.

Friday, February 6, 2015

The Plan-Call Killer Eyes a Wrap

My goal this weekend is to wrap up Killer Eyes once and for all. Yeah, it's better than ever. Yeah, it seems like it's done. And it is done. But I just need to make a final pass through it and determine it's ready for submission. I've already told Melange to expect it. But that was supposed to be this week.

Doesn't matter. As long as I get it turned in next week, then no problem. It will be done, and I guess released by this summer. Can't wait to see what they come up with for a cover. I have an idea in mind, and the last time I had an idea for a cover, Melange hit a home run. Stay tuned.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

It's Better Every Time

Revisions are a good thing. They make your writing better. They make the story better. They make everything better. That's why a writer should never limit his/her revisions. The more you revise, the better a book becomes. Still, there does come the time when you just have to say enough. Has that time come yet for Killer Eyes? Just about. I'm glad I didn't stop yet though. As recently as last night my revisions made the writing better. I'm talking specifically about the prose.

But in those revisions, you also get a better story. You also catch typos and even errors in continuity. So much is improved with revisions, that I would say the revision stage is an absolute necessity. And very thorough revisions, too. Multiple thorough revisions. Different authors go about it in different ways. Some make a pass through a manuscript focusing on typos, and another pass focusing on prose, and another pass focusing on dialogue, etc.

But me? I focus on everything in every pass. And why not? If I find a paragraph that can be written better, why would I not rewrite it right then? Why would I say, 'well, this is the pass that I'm focusing on typos, so since this poorly written paragraph has no typos, I'm not going to revise it just yet. I'll wait for the pass that's focused on prose.' 

No. If it needs to be fixed, no matter what the problem, I fix it. Even if it's not a problem. Killer Eyes is so close to being done, I just don't want to be too quick on that trigger. I said I'd submit it this week. Now, I'm looking at next week. Well, maybe. Probably. Hopefully. I think so? Yeah.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Not Pulling the Trigger--Yet

I know, I know. I was supposed to submit Killer Eyes this week. Now it's Wednesday, and I still haven't sent it to Melange. What's the hold up? I'm still finding things that can be improved. Not just the prose. But some dialogue, too. Some consistency issues, as well. But how can that be? I've gone over it a dozen times or more.

Well, the same thing happened with my other two books. And I just don't want anything inconsistent with Killer Eyes. Because readers will catch those things. Just because it took me a dozen times to catch something, doesn't mean a sharp reader won't catch it his or her first time reading it.

So I think I caught them all now. Will I read through it one more time? Maybe I should.  But that will put me a week behind schedule. It's not as if I have a deadline. So I probably will.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Another Review for Killer of Killers

And to think I was reluctant to solicit reviews. I'm glad I put that sentiment to rest. And I can relax, too, because the reviews that are coming in have been great. A blogger/reviewer named Kym King posted a review last Friday, and like Shin the Bookworm's review a couple days before that, it was a great review! You can read it here.

I still realize that sooner or later someone will post a negative review. It's inevitable. But right now I'm three for three including that first review over a year ago that was really cool. I wish that guy left it on Goodreads, it was so good. But whatever. At least I'm finally getting some more reviews, and if they're all as good as these last two are, I've got nothing to complain about. I just hope someone out there will read them and buy the book. But with reviews like these, it's sure to happen.

Interestingly, these latest reviews were written by two different women. And they both loved it! I had thought that I wrote a MEN'S fiction book. Of course the women who had read it had said that they loved it, and these two reviews certainly support that claim. But the fact that these two lady reviewers loved the book is significant for another reason. And that is the fact that most book readers these days ARE women. So that bodes well for future sales of Killer of Killers.

Another thing that I'm particular happy about is that both reviewers made it a point to say that they hoped there was going to be a Book Two. They noted the things that were still unresolved at the end of Killer of Killers, and wanted to know what would happen next. Well, there is a book two. It's called Killer Eyes, and it's on the verge of completion. Look for Killer Eyes, a Trent Smith Martial Arts Thriller to be released this year.