Most people have heard the adage, “Write what you know,” but I’m on my tenth novel and ran out of things I know nine books ago. So I subscribe to a different axiom, “Write what you want to learn about.”
I’d wanted to learn about Isabella Stewart Gardner ever since I first encountered her while researching my first novel. Belle was an eccentric, tough-minded lady who wouldn’t accept the prescribed role women were dealt in upper-class Boston at the turn of the twentieth century. She went on to became the first great American art collector, man or woman, and seemed the perfect subject for a novel. But the more research I did, the bigger she became, and I couldn’t work out a way to manage her many exploits.
Then in 1990 there was a robbery at her museum in Boston, The Gardner, in which over $500 million worth of art was stolen. Twenty-two years later, none of the works have been found. It remains the largest art heist in history, solved or unsolved, and I figured now I could write my Belle book. But how to connect a woman who died in the 1920s with a crime that occurred seventy years later? Once again, I was stymied. Then I stumbled on another topic I wanted to learn more about: art forgery. I was fascinated by everything about it: the crime itself, the people who committed it, the techniques they used, their motivations and punishments. But how to combine Belle and the heist with forgery?
It wasn’t until I moved into the city of Boston and was walking distance to hundreds of galleries and some of the best art museums in the world that I finally figured out how to fit all the pieces together – and had the opportunity to learn about all the things I was so fascinated by. The Art Forger is the result.