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Posted by on Feb 5, 2015 in Blog, Writing | 2 comments

Research pays off


In Marsaxlokk harbor checking out the fishing boats

In Marsaxlokk harbor checking out the fishing boats

With every book I write I always get to a point where I ask myself, “What was I thinking?”

This book is just too hard, too complicated or I’m not up to it or I wanted to stretch but actually I’ve over-stretched. This is beyond what little talent I have. I’m not creative enough to come up with a unique story, and I don’t know anything about history.

You get the gist, right?

That’s where I’ve been for about the last two months — muddling my way through, asking myself why I ever decided to do three different locations in time —not just one, but two storylines in addition to the present day.

The only way I can manage to come up with ideas for these stories is to do my research travel. From the personal experiences I had along the way comes my story. I’m starting to believe I can actually finish this book.

In the new book, Knight’s Cross, I have created two characters, Alonso and Arzella who lived in Malta in 1798. Alonso is a Knight of the Order of St. John and a corsair captain (aka privateer, hence a sailor). Arzella is a silver smith. Actually, she’s the daughter of a famous local silver smith. What the good people of Valetta don’t know is that Arzella’s father has been blind for some time, and she is now making all the famous Jacques Brun silver lamps, teapots, jewelry, et al that they think are made by him. She’s smart, an amazing artist and a kick-ass sailor. I hope my readers will like her as much as I do.

But when I went to Malta last March I had no idea what I would be writing about in this book. I traveled and took hundreds of photos. Even when in the museums, I took pictures of the placards that explained the displays. Now, those photos are helping me to craft this tale.


In the Maritime Museum in Vittorioso I saw this model of a xebec sailing ship, and I loved the look of it and the name. A Maltese fellow we met told us once that Malta is the place where east meets west and north meets south. This boat looks like that.


I liked the story about the Maltese Corsairs even more, and hence Alonso was born.

armorIIIf I’m writing about knights, there has to be some armor, right? That’s what I figured when we went to Valetta, and we visited the Armory in the Palace of the Grand Masters. There were rooms full of weapons and armor, swords and crossbows. I just took photos of as much as I could and now as I write about them, I keep going back to my library of armor pictures. So what if there was something engraved and a piece of armor? Did they do that back then? Back to my photos and I find proof.

And for engraving, who better but a master silversmith? I decided Arzella would have to do some work on a shield. Now some shields are in the shape of a diamond, more or less, but I really liked these round ones we saw. So it was off to Google, and I learned they are called “bucklers.” They were gripped by the fist with a handhold on the back, and used by swordsmen.

Then I found one that was very fancy with inlaid gold and made as ornamental armor. How cool, right?

inlaid buckler

Something like it had to find a place in my story.

I find when I am at my lowest, at that place of self-doubt that all writers go through in every book, that is when my research really pays off. All I have to do is go back into the photo library and start flipping through the pics and within ten minutes, I have a new idea, a new detail that will help to flesh out the story I am trying to tell.

Fair winds!



  1.  “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Ernest Hemmingway

    • Exactly.