Why Malta? A Mystery-Thriller Author Tells Why


"Why Malta?" my new Maltese friends kept asking me when they find out that my mystery-thriller The Cellini Masterpiece is set on Malta. Mind you, only the Maltese ask that question. (Some kind of national inferiority complex?) Americans ask "Malta Who?" or "Where the heck is Malta?" or "Is it about the Maltese Falcon?" (They must always think that they're the first ones to think that up.)

The difference in questions is obvious. The Maltese are puzzled. Americans are plain ignorant. Someone once wrote that the way Americans learn geography is by war.

Why Malta is the question that is harder to answer. My usual comeback is why not? That usually brings a laugh, but it's difficult to explain how a tiny bit of limestone southwest of Sicily should hold such an interest for an American for so many years. I will be 65 by the time this article is in print, but I fell in love with Malta sight unseen as a 10-year-old in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I was a stamp collector and bought one of those cheap worldwide stamp packets, with one stamp showing Verdala Palace in Malta. Somehow it grabbed my interest, and a few years later I started reading about Malta until I had exhausted the local library collection. The chance discovery of a stamp led me to one of the most geographically and historically significant places in the world. Literally the crossroads of the Mediterranean, it has Neolithic temples pre-dating the pyramids and has been occupied by every world power since the ancient Greeks. I'm a historian, for heaven's sake. Who wouldn't be interested?

I was hooked. My stamp collection turned into a business, which I named Maltalately (for Malta philately). Even so, all my life I wanted to write a novel set in Malta.

At age 14 I read Cellini's Autobiography. The rogue artist absolutely intrigued me. I also know he lived in the mid-16th Century and that the Knights of St. John defeated Suleiman the Magnificent's Turks in the so-called Great Siege. It was the greatest holy war of all time and may have saved Europe from occupation by the Turks. Voila. Somehow my novel would involve Cellini and the Great Siege. I even had a punch-line. Now all I had to do was write it.

It took more than twenty years but I finally had a finished draft in 1985. The Jonathan Lazear Agency decided to represent it. Unfortunately, they weren't able to find a publisher and the manuscript went back on the shelf to languish for nearly ten years before I finally went to Malta for the first time at age 54. I stayed at a bargain accommodation, the Soleado Guest House in Sliema. What a great location to set the novel! I dusted off the manuscript and started again. My first change was to give Rick, my hero's, sidekick a sex change. My male cab driver was now a sexy young woman. The manager of the Soleado, Joey Bugeja, got a gender change, too. He was now Josefina. How could I miss?

The events of September 11, 2001, although tragic, provided another powerful plotline, since Malta is near North Africa and has close economic ties with Libya. I should be able to polish the book off in a couple of months, I thought.

Not. Things still didn't fit together quite right. In September of 2003 I enlisted the help of a musician I had met while I was selling postcards. He liked thrillers and had a keen ear for the music of language and a discerning eye for the continuity of my story. Taking him on board was one of the best decisions I have ever made, and by the beginning of 2004 I could envision the final draft. Then I heard about the North African boat people who were landing in Malta. Wow. Now all I had to do was tie Benvenuto Cellini to Suleiman the Magnificent and add in a plot from World War II with another involving modern-day terrorists and refugees. What could be simpler? Even Snoopy could do it.

Somehow I did do it. And according to my readers, successfully. Why Malta? Because there is no other place in this whole wide world where the story would make sense.

The other answer to "Why Malta" is found, for me, in a quote from Somerset Maugham's The Moon and Sixpence. It could have been written for me. "I have an idea that some men are born out of their due place. Accident has cast them among certain surroundings, but they have always nostalgia for a home they know not?. Sometimes a man hits upon a place to which he mysteriously feels that he belongs. Here is the home he sought, and he will settle amid scenes that he has never seen before, among men he has never known, as though they were familiar to him from his birth. At last he finds rest."

SAHHA u hbibierija.

To read a chapter of The Cellini Masterpiece, or to ask John a question or comment, log on to www.cmasterpiece.com">http://www.cmasterpiece.com


MORE RESOURCES:
In a decision handed down by the U.S. Trade Representative Tuesday morning, Bibles and other religious books were not included on the first list of products imported from China that would be subjected to 10% tariffs starting September 1. Bible publishers were especially worried about the possibility of tariffs on Bibles made in China, since few printers outside of China have the capability of manufacturing Bibles.

Little, Brown, in conjunction with the estate of J.D. Salinger, announced plans to release e-book editions of Salinger's four works of fiction, marking the first time his books have been available in a digital format.

The release of the four books—The Catcher in the Rye, Nine Stories, Franny and Zooey, and Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour—An Introduction—in e-book editions (with new cover designs) marks a continuing year-long centennial celebration of Salinger's acclaimed works of fiction.

A JRR Tolkien expert working on Amazon's forthcoming multi-series adaptation of Tolkien's work has claimed that Amazon has been refused permission by the estate to use the bulk of the plot from The Lord of the Rings in their $1bn adaptation (predicted to start production in 2020).

Tolkien scholar Tom Shippey, who is supervising the show's development, told German fansite Deutsche Tolkien that the estate has refused to allow the series to be set during any period other than the Second Age of Middle-earth. This means Amazon's adaptation will not cross over at all with events from the Third Age, which were dramatised in Peter Jackson's Oscar-winning trilogy in which the hobbit Frodo Baggins journeys to destroy the One Ring.

Spanning 3,441 years, the Second Age begins after the banishment of the dark lord Morgoth and ends with the first demise of Sauron, Morgoth's servant and the primary villain in The Lord of the Rings, at the hands of an alliance of elves and men.

In The Washington Post, eight black women share their thoughts on the life and work of Toni Morrison, including Michelle Obama:

"..For me and for so many others, Toni Morrison was that first crack in the levee — the one who freed the truth about black lives, sending it rushing out into the world. She showed us the beauty in being our full selves, the necessity of embracing our complications and contradictions. And she didn't just give us permission to share our own stories; she underlined our responsibility to do so. She showed how incomplete the world's narrative was without ours in it..."

Elliott Advisors has completed its purchase of Barnes & Noble. The acquisition was officially completed when more than 81% of B&N's shares were tendered by the August 6 deadline.

As a result of the deal, B&N becomes a private company controlled by the private equity firm Elliott Advisors, which also owns the U.K. bookstore chain Waterstones. As a result of the acquisition, for which Elliott paid $6.50 per share in a deal valued at $683 million, James Daunt, head of Waterstones, will run both the U.K. chain and B&N. B&N founder Len Riggio will have no formal role in company.

Toni Morrison, the 1993 Nobel laureate in literature, whose acclaimed, best-selling work explored black identity in America and in particular the experience of black women, died on Monday in the Bronx. She was 88.

Her death, at Montefiore Medical Center, was announced by her publisher, Alfred A. Knopf. A spokeswoman said the cause was complications of pneumonia. Ms. Morrison lived in Grand View-on-Hudson, N.Y.

President Trump announced yesterday afternoon that he is prepared to impose 10% tariffs on $300 billion worth of goods imported from China in retaliation for what he views as China's failure to follow through on promises to buy more agricultural products from the U.S. and to stop the flow of Fentanyl into the country. The tariffs would be imposed on September 1, and would cover a wide range of consumer products, including virtually all books.

The new tariff threat comes a little more than a month after Trump suspended plans to place 25% tariffs on the same group of products (referred to by the U.S. Trade Representative as List 4) after trade talks with China resumed...

The author of a bestselling Christian guide to relationships for young people has announced that his marriage is over and he has lost his faith.

Joshua Harris, whose biblical guide to relationships I Kissed Dating Goodbye sold nearly 1m copies around the world after it was published in 1997, has also apologized to LGBT+ people for contributing to a "culture of exclusion and bigotry".

Colin A. Palmer, a historian who broadened the understanding of the African diaspora, showing that the American slave trade was only one part of a phenomenon that spanned centuries and influenced cultures worldwide, died on June 20 in Kingston, Jamaica. He was 75.

More than a year after imposing a controversial four month "test" embargo on new release e-books in libraries from its Tor imprint, Macmillan announced today that it will now impose a two month embargo on library e-books across all of the company's imprints.

Under the publisher's new digital terms of sale for libraries, "library systems" will be now be allowed to purchase a single—that is, one—perpetual access e-book during the first eight weeks of publication for each new Macmillan release, at half price ($30). Additional copies will then be available at full price (generally $60 for new releases) after the eight-week window has passed. All other terms remain the same...

Macmillan is now the fourth Big Five publisher to change its terms for digital content in libraries in recent months—but its changes, and the views expressed by Macmillan CEO John Sargent, are by far the most unique and contentious of the group. In a July 25 memo (addressed to authors, illustrators, and agents), Sargent not only delivered the news of Macmillan's library e-book changes, he basically called out libraries for depressing author payments...

thatware.org ©