B.A. Shapiro On Writing What You Know – And What You Don’t

Today’s post by this month’s featured author, B.A. Shapiro | @BA_Shapiro

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.

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is the author of THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS (2014), FLIGHT OF DREAMS (2016), and I WAS ANASTASIA (2018). Her books have been translated into numerous languages and have been Library Reads, One Book One County, and Book of the Month Club selections. She is the co-founder of SheReads.org and lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee, with her family.


2 Responses to B.A. Shapiro On Writing What You Know – And What You Don’t

  1. Alison Law January 23, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    I love that you write “[I] ran out of things I know nine books ago.” As I made my way through the book, I marveled at the amount of research you must have done into the world of painting and fine art. Looking forward to hearing more about this during the book group discussion.

  2. Heather January 23, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    This is very interesting! I’d love to learn more about what specific research the author conducted.

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