Day: January 11, 2016
When childhood friends Jess Freeman and Paul Noland attend an art show, Jess sees only paintings on the wall, but Paul sees a work of art that’s exquisite, and he’s smitten. Paul’s relationship with art curator Vanessa Reynolds, though, plunges him and Jess into a complicated art forgery scheme that threatens more than their lifelong relationship, it threatens their very lives.
Common Denominator by C. E. Wolff is a suspense novel that begins on a tense note, and keeps the blood rising until the surprising climax. A chilling story of love, trust, and betrayal that sets the bar high for the others in the genre. Wolff is a master of misdirection, keeping the reader guessing as the stakes are raised ever higher. Can the good guys prevail, or will they fall prey to a vicious madman and his duplicitous vamp of a daughter? You’ll have to read Common Denominator to find out.
Tight writing and extremely well-developed characters mark Wolff as a writer to keep an eye on. A five-star first novel!
Following is an excerpt from chapter 1 of Here, There Be Demons, the third book in the Chronicle of Pip of Pandara series. Appreciate reader comments:
Pip sat at the large wooden desk, staring down at the pile of documents overflowing its top. He shook his head, and then bowed it, cupping his hands to either side, fingers entwined in his flame red hair.
“This is not how it was supposed to be,” he said to himself. “A soldier is not supposed to have to battle stacks of paper.”
Through slitted eyes he stared down at the unruly parchments piled there, silently swearing that they seemed to have grown in number in the few minutes he’d been staring at them. There were supply requests from the quartermaster’s office with Tamara’s untidy scrawl at the bottom of each. Tamara, a fairy of wood and water, did double duty as chief of the quartermaster unit and chief trainer for scouting and reconnaissance. It was the second duty that she much preferred, but her ability with figures had forced Pip to give her the additional duty of keeping track of the many supplies needed to keep his small army feed, clothed and equipped. The volume of requests from her office, though, was her way of getting back at him for the odious office duty which she hated, a fact that she reminded him of each time they met. Beneath that was a smaller pile of documents, mainly from his two regimental commanders, Godfred and Melchor, informing him of their training schedules, plans for recruitment to fill the ranks, and notifications of disciplinary actions—thankfully, there were only a few of these—mostly for minor infractions.
That each of his subordinate chiefs felt it necessary for him to see so much paper was for Pip a constant source of frustration.
What he really ached to do was be out in the field, working with the still green soldiers of Pandara’s national army. No, he reminded himself; fully a third of the ranks were filled by beings from the Land of Fire, making it a combined Pandaran-Land of Fire force. He had yet to think of an appropriate name, so everyone kept the name, National Army of Pandara, shortened to NAP by the soldiers and officers alike. That name would have to go, he thought. He did not want to lead a force called NAP, it sounded too much like a band of vacationers whose aim was to find a place to . . . take a nap. But, try as he might, he’d been unable to think of a more suitable designation.
He felt the beginning of a headache, a dull throbbing at his temples that always came when he wrestled with naming the army. Oh well, that’ll have to be a task for another day. He took the quill pen from its ivory holder, dipped it in the inkwell until the tip was black, and quickly scribbled his name at the bottom of each document. When he’d signed the final document, he stacked them neatly to the left side of his desk. After putting the pen back in its holder, he leaned back and sighed deeply.
A few moments later he sat upright. “Norbert,” he called. “Norbert.”
His aide-de-camp, Norbert, rushed into the office.
“Yes, your highness,” he said. “What do you require?”
Pip looked up at the young soldier. The gold star on his collar, signifying his recent promotion to lieutenant, reflected the light from the lamp on Pip’s desk.
“What I require, Norbert, is for you to call me commander, not your highness. We are in the army here, not the throne room. Here I am the commander.”
“B-but, your high-, er commander, you are the heir to the throne, second only to her majesty, Queen Daphne. It hardly seems appropriate for me not to–”
Pip waved his hand in a choppy motion, causing the young man to stop mid-sentence with his mouth hanging open.
“That is an order, Lieutenant. We will follow military discipline in this army. Am I clear?”
Norbert’s back straightened and he threw his shoulders back.
“Aye, sir, commander, sir,” he said.
“Good,” Pip said. He smiled. “Now, I want you to take this forsaken paperwork from my desk and return it to the authors. I am going to my quarters to have a few words with Lady Zohra, and after that you and I will go on an inspection of the army, so get our horses ready.”
“Aye, commander.” Norbert beamed a broad smile as he gathered the papers. “Should I bring the mounts to your quarters?”
“No, I’ll meet you at the stables.”
Norbert clicked his heels and bowed his head slightly. Pip would have preferred a salute, but the man was holding the documents against his chest with both hands.
“Aye, commander, I will wait for you at the stable.”
Pip rose as Norbert marched smartly out. He could not restrain a smile, thinking that young Norbert just a short time before had been a farm boy, new to the army, when Pip had taken him on the mission against the evil tyrant Tenkuk in Barbaria. The lad had acquitted himself well in that operation, and upon his return, Pip had made him his aide, recently promoting him to a rank befitting the aide-de-camp of the army commander.
Pip adjusted his tunic as he walked toward the door. At the door, he took his sword from the rack and belted it around his waist. Chuckling, he exited his office. Zohra, he knew, would chide him for wearing it when he visited her in her chambers, but he didn’t want to take the time to return to his office for it before joining Norbert at the stable.
As he’d guessed, his wife’s eyes went directly to the sword at his waist when he entered the bedchamber.
“So, now that I’m heavy with child, my husband finds it necessary to arm himself before approaching me,” she said wryly. “Am I truly that unattractive?”
Pip pulled up short, his mouth agape. For a few heartbeats he was at a loss for words. Unattractive? His Zohra? Far from it. He’d found that as her belly grew rounder with the life she carried inside her body, she seemed to become radiant, that he desired her even more. When he gazed upon her face, his breathing stopped, and his heart beat so fiercely he feared it would burst from his chest.
“No, my dearest wife,” he said when he could at last find his voice. “You are without doubt the most beautiful woman in all of Pandara; nay, the most beautiful in the entire known and unknown universe.”
Zohra, now in her sixth month of pregnancy, lowered her gaze. Her cheeks darkened. She could not stifle the smile that turned her carmine lips upward. But, Zohra of Avia, of the Eagle Clan, was not one to let her victim off easily.
“If I am truly such a beauty, then why do you find it necessary to wear your sword in my presence?”
Pip looked closely. He saw the twitching of her lips, and knew that she was having her amusement with him. He let out the breath that he’d been holding. Since she became pregnant, Zohra had been subject to many swings of mood, she desired many strange and exotic foods, and at times could not hold food in her stomach, especially in the early mornings. He could never know when her words were in jest or the signal for an angry outburst of recrimination or tears. Truly, he thought, what a child did to a woman’s body and mind was amazing—and quite frightening. At least now, though, she seemed to be in a playful mood.
“I am on my way to the stable,” he said. “I am riding with Norbert out to inspect the regiments at training outside the city. It would have been out of my way to have to return to my office for my sword. Please forgive me, my dear, for bringing it into your bedchamber.”
Zohra put her hands over her mouth. Her body shook. Then, she burst out laughing.
“Truly, Pip,” she said between gasps of laughter. “You are far too easy. You know I do not mind. In fact, I would like very much to ride with you. Being confined to this castle is driving me mad.”
That Pip could easily understand. Zohra had been one of her tribe’s most fearless warriors, spending much of her day on horseback patrolling the boundaries of their land and fighting off bandits and predators. Since learning of her impending motherhood, however, Queen Daphne had, through the palace physician, ordered that she remain within the confines of the structure, lest some misfortune befall the child she carried—a child that would fall just behind Pip himself as heir to the crown that the good Queen Daphne, Pip’s aunt, wore.
“I know how you feel, goodwife,” he said. “But, we can take no chances of harm coming to our son.”
“Or, daughter, good husband.” She put the cloth she’d been embroidering down on the table at her knees and smiled up at him. “You know there is as much chance of the child being a girl as a boy, given the numbers of girls born to my people, more in fact.”
She slapped the table, hard enough to make it jump, and cause Pip to flinch.
You’re penning that mystery novel, and you think you have the perfect scene; a body lies in a pool of blood on the sidewalk, your PI protagonist, a police detective, and the medical examiner stand over it. The following dialogue ensues:
Cop: “What do we have here, doc?”
ME: “A white male in his late thirties with GSW to the chest.”
PI: “When did he die?”
ME: “From lividity and liver temp, I’d place time of death between 2 and 2:30 this morning.”
Okay, let’s stop there. There would be beats, or actions included here, not just lines of dialogue, but that’s not the point I wanted to make. Readers raised on a diet of TV cop shows will probably not see anything wrong with this little scene, but they would be wrong. There are so many things here that are incorrect it’s hard to know where to start. If you’re writing fiction, though, it’s important that you get it right—or as close to right as possible—whether you think your readers know the difference or not. And, be warned, more readers than you might imagine will know the difference, and they will not forgive you for not knowing.
Following are a few things that you shouldn’t do if you want your writing to have that ring of authenticity that allows readers to suspend disbelief and follow along.
- Don’t have characters in a situation that would never occur in real life. In the dialogue example above, the PI is standing over the corpse with the cop and medical examiner. No way! A private investigator, unless he was a suspect and being grilled—and, that would be in a police station, by the way, not out on the street—is a private citizen, and would never been allowed past the crime scene tape. It’s also unlikely that the medical examiner would be at the crime scene. These guys work in the lab.
- Don’t have characters doing or saying things they would never say in real life. The ME (who wouldn’t be there in the first place) also wouldn’t give time or cause of death prior to conducting at least a preliminary autopsy, regardless of how many do it on TV. There are too many factors that must be examined to determine cause or time of death for someone to be able to look at a corpse on the sidewalk and make such definitive statements.
- Don’t have agencies or organizations doing things they don’t do in real life. The ME in real life doesn’t usually go to crime scenes. Again, forget what you see on TV. Another pet peeve of mine is having agencies, especially federal agencies, doing things they would never do in real life. The Patriot Act notwithstanding, federal agencies don’t normally just swoop onto the scene and shove local authorities aside. Unless a case is clearly interstate in nature, or is a case of international terrorism, the FBI has no jurisdiction. Local sheriffs, for instance, have more power than people realize, and can block federal officials in their jurisdictions. My son-in-law is a postal inspector (the investigative arm of the US Postal Service), and he tells me of some western sheriffs who’ve detained postal inspectors for serving federal warrants in their counties without first notifying the sheriff’s office. Now, that’s power. Another pet peeve of mine is the way travel of foreigners is handled, or how the role of diplomats is portrayed—all wrong in most cases. An example I saw recently had cops investigating the murder of a young Brazilian au pair in NYC. In the course of their investigation they learned that the victim had bribed an officer at the Brazilian consulate general to get her brother a permanent visa into the United States. He killed her, and they lured him onto the sidewalk where he was arrested. Forgetting the unlikelihood of NYPD pulling a stunt like this, the fact is, foreigners wanting visas to come to the U.S. don’t go to their consulates, they go to an American consulate or embassy, and if that organization issues them a visa, they then have to apply to an immigration officer at the US airport at which they land for permission to actually legally enter the U.S.
- Leave out the magic technology. Unless you’re doing science fiction or really futuristic stuff, don’t have technology doing things like instant identification of an individual from a partial print, or immediate identification from a small DNA sample. Identification through fingerprints, even with today’s technology, requires comparison of the print against a print on file and agreement of several points of identification. Often, matches are a percentage of comparability rather than a 100% match. DNA testing and analysis takes time; it’s not a push button affair.
- Don’t have your victims flying through the air after being shot. This is one that really gets my goat. It’s a mainstay in a lot of gory movies. The victim gets shot and the force of the bullet slams him into a wall, or through a window or door. Uh-uh; in real life it doesn’t happen. I’ve been in a war zone, and I’ve seen guys hit with M16 slugs and still continue to charge forward. I once stood next to a sergeant who accidentally shot himself in the hand with his .45 caliber pistol. It took a portion of his finger off, but didn’t cause his hand to fly forward. When people get shot, what often happens is they stop, unless they were moving rapidly in one direction, in which case they often continue, and then they fall to the ground.
- Don’t do Bruce Lee kung fu fight scenes. The kung fu movie fight scenes are great choreography, but in real fights—including the martial arts variety—no one dances around like that. If you want to write fight scenes that sound real, spend some time in a gym or dojo and watch real fighters go after each other.
Okay, that’s a nice half dozen tips to get you started. I know most how-to lists are 5, 10, or some multiple of 5, but I like to be different, so deal with it. And, if you’re nice, I might even share some more hard-earned knowledge with you in the future. Got any more ideas on what makes fiction seem unreal? Share them with me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and if I use them in a future article, I’ll give you full credit.