Yay! Quinn W. Buckland, author of The Engine What Runs the World, has completed a review of my first book, The Portrait. I loved this review for its honesty, and makes it possible for people avoid major spoilers. While he admits that this book is far different from my normal fare, he also found that this story is creative, imaginative and just works. What more can an author ask for?
Thank you so much for the 8.5 out of 10 score! Please take the time to watch his review and subscribe to his channel. I am sure there will be more great reviews for indie authors!
Elizabeth sat comfortably at a corner booth, and looked over the expansive park just outside. In the distance, high-rises poked out from above the treeline. There was all sorts of activity going on in between: people jogging, buskers performing, muggers doing their dastardly deeds, and those who spent their days feeding the pigeons. In the background, she heard quiet lounge music and the chitter chatter of people busy with their meals.
What a shame that she could not order just yet, since she was famished. Elizabeth looked down at her phone and saw that it had been a half-an-hour since her arrival. Unfortunately, Anne would be a while yet before making an entrance. To kill time, she enjoyed the view, thought about her never-ending caseload, and eyed the phone for notifications. This was nothing out of the ordinary when dealing with Anne, but she nonetheless resented that woman for making her wait.
It had been years since Elizabeth last visited this particular restaurant, and truth be told, it was too rich for her blood. Her career as a social worker, one spent dealing with runaways and abused children, did not grant her a membership to the one-percent club. Places like this trendy restaurant, with its breathtaking view, were nothing more than an indulgence. It was unfortunate that to get Anne’s attention, she needed an appropriate venue to lure her in. That, and pick up the tab.
After an additional thirty minutes and three visits from the waiter, Elizabeth lost patience and ordered a dry martini to go with her chicken Caesar salad. She reasoned that Anne could order once she arrived, whenever that happened to be.
As fate would have it, just as she handed back her menu, a tall rotund brunette came through the front door dressed in designer clothing. Clearly, that dress had to be couture, because it did a wonderful job of drawing the eyes away from certain attributes while focusing them elsewhere, in this case, that rather generous cleavage.
Elizabeth, in contrast, was a graceful and a modern woman, at least when judged by her haircut and mixed-race facial features. She had once been described as striking, a flawless beauty despite that slight scar just above her left eyebrow. While nearly invisible to most, it was a constant reminder about children and the dangerous games they played.
Anne looked around the restaurant until she caught a glimpse of Elizabeth waving. She then flashed a fake smile before sauntering towards the corner booth.
“Lizzy!” Anne exclaimed.
Anne reached out for Elizabeth who got up in time to hug. Despite Anne wearing heels, Elizabeth towered over her friend, even in flats.
“Anne! Always a pleasure. Was it a busy day at the courts?” Elizabeth asked.
This would give Anne the chance to come up with an excuse for being over an hour late. Elizabeth often wondered why she did not set appointments with Anne an hour earlier. That way, Anne would be on time, or at least from Elizabeth’s perspective.
“You know how it is,” Anne said in reply while perusing the menu nonchalantly. “What are today’s specials?”
Anne used that question as a way to change the subject. She also noted that her friend had ordered without her, a trend she found disturbing.
“I can’t, for the life of me, remember what the waiter said,” Elizabeth replied thinking that the lunch specials were no longer being offered, seeing how they ended at two. “I just ordered a salad and a drink.”
Hopefully, Anne would get the hint that this was not a sky’s the limit type of outing, Though she feared there might be some sort of penance to be paid for ordering early.
Fortunately, the waiter showed up just in time to break up the conversation. Elizabeth took in a quick sip of her drink and enjoyed how the alcohol burned the tip of her tongue. It had been a while since she last indulged in a stiff drink, and she would need a few more before this day was done.
Nonetheless, she watched with interest as Anne ordered a soup and sandwich special, along with a cosmopolitan. That choice had been appreciated, since it softened the blow to her pocketbook.
“Is that a ring on your finger?” Anne asked, noting the simple white-gold band.
Elizabeth smiled warmly and blushed before replying, “Yes. I got married a few months ago.” Her smile grew exponentially before she continued, “I married a lovely singer-songwriter named Mary Scott. We met a few years back at one of her concerts.”
In fact, this was something that Anne should have known. Had she bothered to look at Elizabeth’s Bealzabook profile.
Elizabeth digressed and added, “She’s on a country-wide tour, so we’ve not seen much of each other lately.”
“Hmmmmm,” Anne replied, the look on her face, making it clear that she was bored. “Sorry to hear… So why did you want to see me today?”
Quick and to the point. A refreshing change for her friend, but where did that come from? Throughout college, Elizabeth had never known that woman to be straightforward on anything.
Elizabeth began to question if Anne’s discomfort had something to do with her choice of spouse? Or was it the level of commitment and dedication shown for another? She had one sure-fire way to find out, so her eyes dropped down a few degrees and focused on Anne’s ample bust.
“When was the last time you remember seeing Victoria?” Elizabeth asked, all the while keeping an eye out for any telltale signs of discomfort.
True to form, Anne shifted slightly to avoid the gaze and uttered a befuddled response, “Not sure. I think it may have been a few weeks before the funeral.”
That question caught Anne off guard almost as much as Elizabeth leering. Why was she being asked such a question? Unable to ask without appearing insensitive, she tossed the ball back to the other’s court.
“You?” Anne asked.
“I was at the funeral. Do you remember how dreary it was that day? I don’t think anyone managed to exchange more than a couple of words with her. A handful of us were there for support, but she wasn’t really there,” Elizabeth said. “You know?”
Elizabeth paused to take another sip of her drink. She then looked towards the kitchen and wondered why their food was taking so long. After all, salad and cold chicken did not require a great deal of preparation.
“No one has seen hide nor hair of her since…” Elizabeth trailed off.
“No one has seen her since the funeral?” Anne asked with a hint of shock in her voice. “Wasn’t that last year?”
“Actually, it was two years ago. Shortly after the funeral, she moved out of the estate, quit her job, and then—poof!” Elizabeth said.
Since Elizabeth worked primarily with children who had a habit of running away, those actions showed up as red flags. Of course, one had to wonder what Victoria was running from.
“No updates on Bealzabook, her name isn’t listed in the phone book, her mobile was disconnected, and no one I know has seen her in years,” Elizabeth said.
“Really?” Anne asked.
The waiter brought Anne’s drink, who then gulped half of it down as a diversion.
“So why tell me all of this?” Anne asked.
Elizabeth sighed seeing as this would end up being another dead-end. Either way, she asked, “You’ve known her much longer than anyone else. I met her in college where we shared a few electives. That led to us teaming up for projects, and she ended up dragging me to those horror movie marathons. Still, you must know something? You’ve known her since high school.”
Anne sensed where this was heading and hated being lured here for this. Had it really been that long since she had last seen Victoria? While they were not the best of friends, the two had followed each other through the academy, college, and law school. She even took advantage of the vacuum Victoria left by quitting her law firm, even though several clients subsequently changed firms once they got their corrected bills.
To avoid the subject further, she deflected once more by asking something in return, “Perhaps she found herself a man?”
Elizabeth scoffed at the idea. Anne was lucky that her friend had not been sipping her drink in that moment.
“You remember what happened with Marcus back in college? I doubt she ever really recovered from that,” Elizabeth said. She then cocked her head and asked in return, “Weren’t you and Marcus an item?”
Anne turned white as a sheet and failed to reply. Elizabeth knew that Anne had been instrumental in getting Marcus away from Victoria, although that was not necessarily a herculean feat. Marcus was known for his fetishes throughout college, and since Victoria was not putting out, the rest was history. Anne was a woman who squirted on command, the least risqué of skills in her sexual repertoire, and that got his attention. In the end, it was a choice between gaining access to a family fortune in the distant future, or a quick lay. Funny how that choice seemed so simple in retrospect.
However, Elizabeth was not aware that Anne and Marcus were still a thing, available on speed-dial day or night, with no strings attached. Fortunately, Victoria never learned of the true reason of their breakup, but the way that man left her certainly merited him a special place in hell. Elizabeth had been the one left holding the pieces and spent more than her fair share of time watching horror movies with the devastated woman. Thankfully, the tapes had worn out, which granted her a merciful reprieve.
They ate in silence once the food arrived. Elizabeth was not yet done with this conversation, but felt that Anne needed to regain her composure. She kept busy by thinking back to her college days, specifically, when her interests in men came to an end and she realised how thankful she was for not ending up with her own version of Marcus. Sure, men were fine but none ever left her feeling satiated.
It was nothing more than a stroke of luck that she met her true calling for partners. Youthful, and full of spirit, a firecracker really, she had piercing green eyes and a smile that entranced. These were all traits typically found in a freshman art student. She was the reason Elizabeth liked women, along with a renewed appreciation for the arts.
Elizabeth had fond memories of that relationship, including one that involved a lot of paint, long rolls of paper, and their naked bodies. That summer had passed by like a dream and she often wondered what ever happened to her.
Oddly enough, the musical tones in Mary’s voice had the same intoxicating effects on her. While a coincidence, it created an immediate bond with Mary, a secret that Elizabeth would take to her grave.
“So, I hired a private investigator,” Elizabeth said.
She was about finished eating the last leaf of the salad. In some cultures, it was seen as a sign of respect to leave something on the plate, and she began to wonder if Anne had ever heard of that particular custom.
Anne put down her fork and sighed, All the while trying to come up with an excuse that would get her out of this. Unfortunately, nothing she thought of, would let her off the hook, or at least not without painting her as some sort of monster.
“Why are you so worried about her anyway? People like her don’t just disappear, you know? The media would be in a frenzy if she did,” Anne said.
“I thought of that. Still it doesn’t make sense that she would just drop.” Elizabeth said after she polished off her drink.
As though reading her mind, the waiter brought in a fresh martini.
“I asked the foundation looking after her parent’s affairs about her, but they refused to tell me anything. Mind you, this company is renowned for protecting the privacy of their clients,” Elizabeth said.
Before Anne could reply, Elizabeth added more to the narrative, “I came across a car salesman at a local bar. He kept on bitching about some frost queen that almost got him fired. So I flirted a bit, and he confessed that Victoria bought a car! That one nearly blew my mind.”
“No doubt,” Anne said nonchalantly, but she did agree in retrospect.
“Even that was over a year ago. So when I asked the PI, he looked into the matter and found out that her car was registered to the foundation. The address also matched the one for their corporate headquarters,” Elizabeth said.
Elizabeth began to question why she even bothered to tell Anne any of this. Could this woman to be more self-absorbed? Nonetheless, she carried on because it felt more like a confession at this point.
“That, in itself, is not out of the ordinary for those who are well off,” Elizabeth said. After a brief pause, she added, “Eventually, he managed to break into the foundation’s computer system and found the address for a unit along the park. When I visited, the place looked deserted, but there was a pungent odour coming from a broken window.”
Elizabeth was parched, so she finished half the glass and noted that Anne had made no progress on hers.
“I tried to tell the doorman, but he insisted everything was fine and not to worry. That’s the most tight-lipped bastard I ever met… then I read the newspaper.”
“News?” Anne asked, this time appearing to be genuinely interested, but Elizabeth found it difficult to be certain.
Elizabeth nodded and said. “Remember a few weeks back, some news about a car bombing in a parking garage near here?”
“That was him?” Anne asked loud enough for most of the restaurant to overhear. Then she covered her mouth, calmed down, and spoke in a hushed voice, “I thought they said it was a gas leak?”
“One of the investigators on the case is a big fan of my wife’s music. So he let me in on some of the details,” Elizabeth said.
To fuck with Anne! Elizabeth began to stare at her cleavage and this time with far less discretion. In itself, that was not a difficult task, since the woman was facing forward.
“To his knowledge, Russian anti-tank mines and ruptured gas mains are not normal occurrences in this city,” Elizabeth added.
This time, Anne said nothing, nor did she move to avert Elizabeth’s gaze. The social worker grinned, finished off her drink, and set the glass down loudly on the table. To watch Anne jump. For a moment, they laughed, but it was obvious that their nerves were frayed.
In trying to calm her nerves, Anne said, “You can’t be serious!”
“Ah, but I am,” Elizabeth replied. “Two days ago, that doorman went missing,” she added realising how ridiculous this all sounded.
Anne’s eyes grew wide before she stuttered, “Really?”
She then looked at her own phone and triggered an app that made the phone vibrate.
“Oh look at the time!” Anne exclaimed while she got up and smiled meekly. “I have a very important appointment with a client. It’s been a pleasure. So, next time lunch is on me?”
Of course, Elizabeth knew this was nothing more than an excuse. Should she expect any different from Anne? Truth be told, this had been the fourth friend she sought in as many weeks. Every time she was met with the same detached attitude, and nonchalance, always coming up empty handed.
“With friends like you, why would Victoria need any enemies?” Elizabeth shouted as Anne left the restaurant.
Frustrated, the social worker ordered another drink, and dropped her card on the table to pay her tab. With no desire to see the tally, she told the server to add up the gratuity himself. That way, she could avoid seeing the damage until her credit card statement arrived. Bored, she went back to people-watching and nursed her drink.
Disclaimer: This chapter is currently in development. There are likely typos, errors, omissions, inconsistencies and so forth. Please do not treat this as a polished and completed work!
I came across a 3🌟 review for The Portrait from Goodreads Librarian Dua, a story that is near and dear to her heart. It’s honest, and at times even brutally so, mentioning aspects of that story that I’ve been concerned about for some time now. However, it goes a long way to show the progress I’ve made since then.
Authors need to start somewhere, and it’s often tempting to go back to out previous works and rewrite. After all, this is the story about Evelyn Chartres, a character that is near and dear to my heart. Dua even mentions Evelyn specifically in her review.
Oh and Evelyn… I loved Evelyn.
Still, if I continually went back to my earlier works, chances are that The Grand, The Van Helsing Paradox and its upcoming sequels would be nothing more than conceptual. So I choose to take these types of reviews to heart, and hope these concerns have been addressed in future releases.
This book also differs greatly from the others, since it delves into the mind of an author Victoria Frost, who takes up writing after the death of her parents. The character set it limited, as is the dialogue, since most of the story takes place inside her head. That aspect goes a long way to explain the stream of questions in the book, since it denotes her chaotic thought patterns.
She did appreciate how I weaved art into the prose, since this book focuses on the author’s vision of a particular painting hanging in some nondescript gallery. Of note, art is also core to Evelyn’s own identity.
The art, in its many forms, is an important part of the book, almost like a character on its own, and I loved how it was woven throughout the story.
So thank you Dua for your honest review! I hope that you will delve into my later works, and discover how I evolved as a writer.
The Grand has performed well since its release. When it was classified as Horror on Amazon.com, the Portrait traditionally received roughly half the downloads.
Ever since I switched the genre to Dark/Urban Fantasy that trend has reversed. Since March the Portrait has been listed at least twice as one of top five-thousand free books on Amazon.com. This was the ranking for the Portrait taken on 1 April 2018.
You will find The Grand nestled atop a cliff overlooking a cursed valley and surrounded by foreboding mountains. At this ritzy French palatial-style hotel things can to go terribly wrong for some because this hotel does not cater exclusively to the rich and famous. Instead, the staff and rooms are here to accommodate a more selective clientele.
Even things that go bump in the night need a place to unwind.
The Grand is a collection of Gothic horror stories that focus a town prosecutor who accidentally discovers a series of grizzly case files. Individual stories incorporate supernatural themes based in the Roaring Twenties to create a rich historical, linguistic and cultural backdrop.
Centred on the Grand’s victims, each story brings a different perspective to the hotel, their staff and their esteemed guests. At the Grand it is always best to remember that even things that go bump in the night need a place to unwind.
The Portrait is a supernatural story about Victoria Frost, an author who develops an unhealthy obsession with her character. As events unfold, her obsessions begin to turn on her and forces Victoria to question her sanity. Is she simply slipping deeper into madness or are there other factors at play?
A vision from the past becomes a writer’s deadly obsession.
The Portrait features a mixture of contemporary and historical scenes with the latter revolving around her muse. In this novel, Victoria will revisit certain scenes using both prose and art to yield new pieces of the puzzle with every pass.
It’s not everyday that one gets to blur the lines between fiction and reality. Using a high quality version of my cover, I had a 20 x 30 inch canvas print of the Lady made.
So what is a canvas without a frame? I had a local shop build me a custom frame using two separate borders. I have to admit that rather like the final product. Although I will say that I am likely biased!
I got a few copies of The Portrait in the mail from CreateSpace the other day, but could not inspect the package due to a business trip. This is the first time since my arrival that I’ve been able to get a good look at them and I believe they came out well!
As previously mentioned, this edition is in black and white which significantly reduced the prices. The images turned out well and are clear, additionally the four pages that were flagged as having unusual characters came out as they did in the preview… flawless. So yes, I am rather happy how they turned out!
Its been a good week for the Portait! A work which was released a little over a year ago.
On Smashwords the novel broke two-hundred (200) downloads, a definitive sign that even after a year listed the novel still generates some interest. In itself this is impressive, given that I spend very little time trying to advertise the work.
In other news, with the help of Moran Media the design got a makeover and its design was accepted by CreateSpace. Hence the Portrait is now available in print!
Unlike the Portrait of a Woman, this version is available in black and white. This change radically drops the book’s price; previous versions sold for close to 30$ USD whereas this one sells for under 7$ USD.
Additional distribution centres were not selected, since that would increase the base price of the book. I suppose if there were ever a demand to open up those channels I may consider it. Until then, better to make it affordable!
It has been roughly a year since the Portrait was released as an eBook. One of my side projects was to push this novel through CreateSpace in order to create print variant.
With the help of Nutty Nuchtchas I was able to get the cover sorted out. The cover image was tweaked using a higher quality source and a skilled hand was involved for its final inception. It is always a good idea to let a professional handle the finishing touches.
I was making sure that all of my storefront links to the Portrait were valid, when I noticed that my novel had reached 150 downloads on Smashwords. Well it is 151 because I was rather late in noticing the milestone.
My decision to target Smashwords seems to have been a good one. Here are some reasons why:
Smashwords has enabled me to target other sites such as Kobo, iBooks, Scribd and Barnes and Nobel without creating individual accounts.
Smashwords has a user community of its own and have left more comments than any other.
Smashwords has not buried my book under tons of new material. I still get views, even if the downloads have waned. I have to be realistic, pushing people to view and download a book can be a full-time job all by itself!
While this is an achievement (albeit a minor one), I did not feel it was worth the effort or calorie intake to make a full-sized frosted cake. I will save that type of indulgence for later!