“Shadows of Leonardo” Preview

The manuscript for my next novel is completed and now rests in my editor’s capable hands!

Shadows of Leonardo is the sequel to The Last Van Gogh and again features Adam Barrow as he seeks the truth about newly discovered drawings and a painting, purportedly the work of Leonardo da Vinci.

At a New York auction, an old man disrupts the bidding, claiming to have an ancient book proving one of the drawings was not rendered by da Vinci. Instructed by his wealthy mentor, Phillip Dansby, to bid on the drawing, Adam finds himself drawn into three murders, a new love interest and web of treachery. With hundreds of millions of dollars in the balance, the unexpected discovery of a World War Two mystery leads him into a web of deceit while his life hangs in the balance.

Here’s an excerpt:

    … The elderly man beside me jumped to his feet.
    “It is not the work of Leonardo da Vinci!”
    I reached for his arm as two guards started toward us.
    “You cannot do this,” he shouted. “This is not da Vinci!”
    One of the security men reached past me and grabbed the old man’s coat. A second burly guard edged down the row and jerked him from his chair.
    “You are wrong, all of you!”
    Chairs fell over. The auctioneer banged his gavel, his voice lost in the crowd noise. The guards hustled the old man from the room as employees rushed on stage to guard the da Vinci.
    I don’t know why I followed the trio out of the salesroom. If I missed the da Vinci, Dansby would most likely demand my head, but I didn’t like seeing elderly men roughly handled. Excusing myself as I pushed past people and caught up as the guards frog-marched him into the lobby. A staff member rushed ahead and opened an exit door.
    “Hey, hold on,” I shouted. “He’s with me.”
    The guards stopped and turned, their captive looking around in confusion. He sagged against them as I tried to ignore the fact both security men were armed. I walked to the largest one who tightened his grip, his prey in visible pain.
    “This is my uncle.” I carefully pulled away the guard’s hand. “He’s on medication for Tourette Syndrome.”
   Both of them looked at me without an inkling of what I just said. “It’s a disease. He can’t help what he says.” They reluctantly released him and I smoothed his coat sleeves, managing a smile at their hesitant benevolence.
    “I’ll make sure he gets home and won’t bother you again.”
    “The crazy old bastard needs to be locked away,” said the scrawnier of the two.
    “I’ll get him home,” I repeated, edging away.
    “Just get him the hell out of here.”
    “Thank you, officer.”
    I gently placed my hand on the old man’s back and ushered him toward the cloakroom where I handed over my claim check without looking back at the small crowd that had gathered.
    “What is this Tourette Syndrome?” asked my newest uncle.
    He no longer sounded like a Bellevue escapee.
    “Something you don’t have. It was all I could think of.”

READERS’ FAVORITE AWARD

Readers’ Favorites:  5-Star Award & Bronze Medal

Reviewed by Emily-Jane Hills Orford for Readers’ Favorite 

Adam is a struggling art dealer in Chicago. His most recent show promises to bring him some luck and fame, but the artist, Vasily Sorokin, is murdered outside the gallery. To make matters worse, Vasily’s uncle is part of the Russian mob. Adam’s brother, Wes, shows up with some letters and an unlikely story that their father had smuggled an unknown Van Gogh painting, a rather large one, out of France at the beginning of the Second World War. A hidden and undocumented painting. Adam hesitates to believe it. Their father, after all, was a drunk and a con man. But, with people all around Adam being killed and the Russian mob boss interested in financing a search, Adam begins an adventure that reads like a James Bond exclusive. In the end, though, he wonders if this painting, or any work of art for that matter, is worth so many deaths.

Will Ottinger’s thriller mystery novel, The Last Van Gogh, takes the reader on an exciting adventure that spans two continents and two centuries. Written primarily in the first person, from Adam’s point of view, the author also incorporates multiple points of view in the third person, including the famed artist himself. The action-packed plot develops with rising tension and sporadic looks into Van Gogh’s troubled life from the artist’s perspective. The painting captures the attention of multiple evil powers and the plot thickens. The author uses powerful descriptive passages to set the scene and develop the characters with efficiency. Not only are the notations on Van Gogh credible and well researched, but the author has created a very plausible situation that will make the reader wonder what other missing masterpieces are hidden around the world. A fascinating read.

NEW AUDIO BOOK!

NEW AUDIO BOOK!

Amazon has just released “The Last Van Gogh” on audio books. Offered by Beacon Audio Books, the novel is read by movie, Broadway and television actor, James Thomas Werther. So, if you’re rather listen than read, pick up your copy on Amazon!

Doing Your Homework

Doing My Homework

No one I knew liked homework as a kid⸺and it’s still a pain for most authors of fiction.

As a reader, however, few things are more distracting than finding errors. A revolver that fires 11 shots – a Mustang convertible in 1950 – a shoulder holster worn under a shirt (!). These are actual bloopers that found their way into novels, speedbumps that disrupted the story in midstream.

No one’s perfect when it comes to mistakes but it’s distracting when an author “assumes.” Readers expect seamless flow. They look forward to entering another time and place, and errors disrupt that world. It’s the writer’s job not only to portray characters and emotions, but to base details on fact. Doing research can be boring and time-consuming but it sometimes brings unexpected rewards; a little-known fact can lead to subtle nuances or take the story in a new direction.

It was once a hassle to conduct research which meant trips to the library or archives. This was especially true when writing a novel dealing with a specific subject or stories set in the past. What were popular wines in 1930? When did automobiles become common transportation? What’s the weather like in Tuscany in November? When did Leonardo da Vinci die? The writer usually ended up with unwieldy stacks of 3X5 cards loaded with facts. Invariably, this meant trips back to the source for more information. Much of that grueling work has now gone by the board with advent of the Net⸺but even that’s fraught with challenges for the writer.

 Pitfalls 

Wikipedia is a good example. While providing information, Wikipedia material can be unsubstantiated or questionable at best. I know teachers who do not allow Wikipedia to be used for research since a surprising amount of data is posted to pursue an agenda or provide a forum for erroneous opinions. Exactly who posted the information many times is not indicated.

Writers dread discovering a post-publishing mistake or having a fact disputed by a knowledgeable reader. I try to avoid this by consulting reliable sites on the Net and falling back on standard references (like books!). I was fortunate in writing my first novel, A Season for Ravens. Since WW1 aviation has been a life-long interest, my shelves are overflowing with books and information on the subject. Conversely, The Savannah Betrayals was more of a challenge than I envisioned. Having grown up in Savannah, I ‘assumed’ I had the facts at hand. However, I quickly discovered that I knew little about the city in 1836: How it looked; how people lived; their dress; existing streets, buildings, squares; public attitudes about dueling; etc.

None of this is a plea for reader sympathy. Doing your homework is part of writing. Research simply guarantees both the story and characters include true-to-life details without those speedbumps.

WRITER CRITIQUE GROUPS

WHY A CRITIQUE GROUP?

While I’ve published three books and working on a fourth, I meet regularly with my critique group composed of other writers. Why submit myself to criticism? In my mind I’ll always remain someone who never stops learning the art of writing fiction.
Writing, I’ve found, is a learning process like any new endeavor. When I hear someone say, “I’m going to sit down someday and write a novel,” I wince because I started with the same mindset: just sit at a word processor and let words magically appear on the page. Like 99% of other writers, I soon learned acceptable good writing required a certain amount of research and study (the other 1% possess a gene denied the rest of us⸺meaning we admire them and hate their guts!). But for those like myself, learning a new skill meant reading books on writing, everything from how-to books to more esoteric works on rejection and writers’ block, all the while reading books by authors whom I admire.
In addition to digesting books on writing fiction, I consider critique groups an extremely valuable tool, especially for aspiring authors. Maybe the likes of Elizabeth George and Denis Lehane no longer see value in critique sessions, but most top-end writers have staffs and experienced editors to assist them. Me, I value the eyes and opinions of fellow writers.

A PERSONAL CHOICE

If you’re a writer, participating in a critique group comes down to personal choice. First, you should have some bark on you i.e., a willingness to listen and accept criticism. Some people thoroughly enjoy and benefit from them, while other writers won’t go near one. Find the right one for you even it means test-driving several until you feel comfortable. I suggest you seek out people who have at least a modicum of writing experience or have been published, and who write a genre you can relate to. Don’t be argumentative or overly sensitive to negative comments. After all, that’s one of the reasons why you’re there.
Participants do more than sit around, drink wine, and talk about writing. In effective groups, each writer passes around a written chapter of a work in progress (usually no more than ten pages), then reads it aloud. Members make notes, observations, and critical suggestions for improvement, discussing them before moving on to the next author. I don’t have to agree with every comment or criticism or word change. In the end, it’s a subjective judgment. After all, it’s my book and I ultimately decide what changes are germane and what I want to remain unchanged, but I try hard to put aside my ego and kill off poor word choices, confusing passages, or unclear writing.
Ultimately, the best thing about critique groups is interacting with other writers. It’s a catalyst that recharges my writing batteries, that validates what I’m doing. In most instances, I can’t wait to get back to the keyboard to incorporate perceptive observations that improve what ends up on the final pages.