Category Archives: art theft

Every Picture Has a Story


I’m not sure when we first connect to art as something more than a scribble our parents put on the refrigerator. Somewhere along our personal timeline, we recognize our own feelings in a painting, and wonder if the artist felt the same way. Even works created decades, or centuries before we were born. Skip ahead to college dorms, and you’ll find Max Ernst and Edvard Munch hanging side by side expressing angst and romanticism. There are times in our lives when images convey more than the OED could find the words to explain.

Ashes_Edvard Munch

During WWII, art took on political meaning, and for many Nazi leaders, rising to power meant amassing collections of the masters, and giving their Furer the best of the lot, as the wide-scale looting and confiscation moved hundreds of thousands of pieces of art– renaissance masters to modern impressionist– from museums and private collections to train cars, salt mines, remote estates, to anywhere it could be hidden. The old masters were revered, the new free expression and bold interpretations of life created by artists such as Paul Klee, Picasso, Otto Dix, Max Lieberman, Van Gogh, Marc Chagall, Munch, and Ernst were labeled degenerate.

I’ve read accounts of bon fires, where works by these artists were rendered to ashes, others auctioned off to feed money into the Nazi war machine. Why were these marked for destruction? Adolf Hitler felt that anyone who painted in this style must be physically inferior to see the world and colors in this way. If the works he detested didn’t meet this definition, then he labeled it politically subversive.

The stories told within these images are now layered in stories of what happened to the art, and where it has traveled in the last 70 years.

Right now, stolen art is hot. Not for being stolen, but for the publicity generated by the news such as the cache of art discovered inside the walls of a Munich apartment, the trial of art thieves in Amsterdam which resulted in the destruction of priceless works by Gauguin, Matisse, and Monet, to the upcoming film directed by George Clooney, Monuments Men.

I think that’s why Jade Weeks, the main character in my art mystery series, is so entwined with her pursuit of art. She uses the stories inside the paintings to explain the disjointed memories that flash through her dreams. Recovering a stolen masterpiece recovers a part of herself. In the next series installment, she is tracking the history of a Paul Klee painting that belonged to her great-grandfather, and was last seen with her grandmother just before she disappeared near the border of France and Germany towards the end of WWII.Wired, A Jade Weeks Art Mystery

Jade is reluctant to get caught up in the search, but John Young, the undercover FBI agent who pushed her to solve her father’s murder in Wired, is determined to engage her help. Even though it feels like a set up, Jade can’t stay away. When she tries to strike out alone, a shoot out, and cryptic text messages push her right back into John’s path.

As she tries to push away the memories of her father’s death and her life before his murder, she recognizes a kindred spirit in her grandmother, Anna Blume.

~ Stay tuned for updates and previews of Enigma, book two in the Jade Weekes Art Mystery series.


Layer by Layer Character Development


Bathroom Personality Assessment - Part 1There was a time when I read a lot of books on the craft of writing fiction. Today, I find the most insightful character development tips coming from psychology professors. We’re all a collection of layers made up of personal history, family, emotions, and unique experiences. If characters are developed with just one or two of these layers, then as writers, we miss the opportunity to make them feel real for our readers.

A few weeks ago I discovered a video in my weekly Pinterest update which uses forced perspective to illustrate the difference between assumption and reality. This led me to author and psychologist Richard Wiseman. His book Did You Spot The Gorilla? also talks about perception. I’ll let you read the book description yourself and instead focus on how I relate this to writing. How often are you so focused on getting your plot moving, and getting your characters from point A to point B that you miss opportunities to show character depth? This isn’t a wordy side trip for the sake of showing the character in gratuitous situations. This is an opportunity to develop a sub plot—you know the other problem your character has to figure out, that parallels the main theme or plot. No one has a single focus in life, including our characters. What did you do today? Now what was going on in the back of your mind during this time? Character also have inner dialogue and multiple tasks to juggle.

In Wired, Jade Weekes is trying to figure out why she’s been sent to steal a painting that is a forgery while at the same time piecing together lost memories washed from her mind when she was attacked on a Paris bridge. In the end, one problem is linked to the other furthering the plot, and adding a layer to her unique personality.

Understanding why we behave the way we do, and what motivates us can be helpful in creating characters who move the plot forward using a fully developed personality. In 59 Seconds, Wiseman talks about practical phycology we can use to improve our lives. I see this as a gold mine for character behavior and aligning their actions to their motives.

Below is a short list of books I’ve found insightful and also fun to read. Please leave a comment and share your favorite recommendations.

Did You Spot The Gorilla? Richard Wiseman
59 Seconds: Think A Little Change A Lot Richard Wiseman
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking Susan Cain (related post)


Wired for the Weekend


A Jade Weekes Art Mystery

A Jade Weekes Art Mystery

Wired went live on Smashwords in the early hours of March 15th, and is already flying off the virtual shelves. It’s available for Free through March 29th as I tweak the formatting, cover image, and promo copy. While there are a lot of moving parts to coordinate for the official launch, I’m excited to finally have it available, and look forward to feedback from readers.

Wired is the first installment of the Jade Weekes Art Mystery series, with the 2nd novel, Enigma, scheduled for release late 2013. Set in Paris, St. Pete, and Chicago, this mystery unravels an organized crime gang, solves a murder, and reveals the haunting past of main character, Jade Weekes.

Here’s the promo copy from Smashwords:

Short description
Read for FREE through March 29, 2013! Jade Weekes emerged from the oily wash of the Seine five years ago with no memory of her life, but an uncanny knowledge of fine art, museum security, and a knack for walking away with priceless treasures. Now she’s tracking an elusive Van Gogh with ties to an underworld struggle that will reveal her forgotten past.

Extended description
Jade Weekes leaves Paris to track a priceless Van Gogh from St. Pete to Chicago. Her contacts are shady and she is beginning to think there is more to this job than a buyer wanting a gift for his wife. Otherwise, why would Simon Morrell, a rival thief, cross her path just as the FBI begins asking questions?

Caught up in the six billion dollar international art theft industry, she enlists help from unlikely sources: film actor Alex Ford, and veteran FBI specialists Stewart Connor and John Young.

No one is who they seem, most of all Jade Weekes.

You can download Wired for your e-reader here.

The Red PencilLook for me to return to blogging on a regular basis as I vet ideas for novel number 3 in the series (working title The Missing), and ramble on techniques for character development. Enjoy your weekend, and get outside to soak up the extra sunshine. ;)


When Your Characters Go Public


Salvador Dalí, on the steps of the Philadelphi...

Salvador Dalí, on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m sure this happens to all writers from time to time. It’s our curious nature that’s to blame and our quest to provide realism to our work. I’m talking about the odd stares from strangers for doing what comes so naturally to us, thinking like our characters in public.

While doing research for WIRED and ENIGMA, I came across an article profiling the behaviors museum staff and security are trained to spot as suspicious. It explains why there always seems to be a Docent close by, and when I leave an area, someone new takes up the post and I often spy them eyeing me as I wander around.

Jade Weekes, the main character in WIRED and ENIGMA is an art thief and a savant when it comes to museum security. If she could just get over her amnesia, she would remember she designed a very clever security system for her late father’s gallery. To walk in her shoes and let my imagination run with her personal obsession for impressionist art and all things Salvador Dali, helps me develop her personality and add concrete details to help readers see through her eyes.

When I’m channeling Jade, this is a bit of what I do:

  • I like to walk the floor plan of the exhibit several times to see the traffic flow, and what physical and psychological barriers have been implemented to keep the public in place. (I attended a great seminar on the Rembrandt exhibit last year and gained a lot of insight on the subject.)
  • I often take notes of these observations which include the placement of security cameras, staff and any climate sensing devices. Since photography is allowed (without flash) in most galleries, I use my phone to snap pictures for later scene building.
  • I usually step to the sides of painting to see how they are secured to the wall and determine if any wires or hardware are visibly attached (security devices).
  • I also note any missing gaps between paintings which could mean a work was removed for repair or other reasons.

Odd behavior for sure, but do I merit being tailed? A small vase or Rembrandt isn’t safe around Jade or the underworld types she deals with, but they are perfectly secure in my company. I need them on display so I can let my characters fight over them and scheme ways to ferry them from the museum without notice. That’s the part of the puzzle I love to work out as I note the emergency exits and service elevators.

So far, Jade has never been arrested, but she is well-known to law enforcement in three countries.

As writers, we should think and behave a bit odd, because that’s how fiction turns from isolated ideas to page-turning stories.

Suspicious? I think not… just creativity at play.


What’s in a Title?


The plugboard (Steckerbrett) is positioned at ...

The plugboard (Steckerbrett) is positioned at the front of the machine, below the keys. When in use, there can be up to 13 connections. In this photograph, two pairs of letters are swapped (S↔O and A↔J). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am soooooo indecisive at times. I finally decide to eat out, but can’t decide where to go. I want to paint a room, but come to a stand still when selecting a color. It’s easier for me to make decisions for my characters than myself.  Afterall, their choices are governed by the personality I give them and has to give the reader clues to their inner world. That’s merely laying out puzzle pieces.

There are now 3 working titles for the follow-up novel to WIRED: Enigma, Persistence of Vision and Persistence of Time.  Each works for different reasons.

Enigma play on the plot theme of art looted by the Nazis during WWII.  The Enigma machine encoded German communications which was later cracked by Alan Turing.  Jade is in pursuit of a painting that was auctioned in 1939, only to find it leads her to her father’s killer, thus cracking the code of her past.

Persistence of Vision refers to the phenomenon of the eye to hold an after image.  Jade’s dreams are revealing the after image of the past she’s buried deep in her subconscious.

Diagram of rock, paper, scissors, lizard, Spoc...

Lastly, Persistence of Time…. also a Salvador Dali painting, refers to the artist to whom Jade has a strange affinity. It is one of his lost works she’s trying to uncover. 

Usually, when you find the right title it resonates for you.  This time I can’t decide which fits best. I may have to resort to Rock-Paper-Scissors-Lizard-Spock. (sigh)

Now, back to writing….


Time Stand Still


“Freeze this moment a little bit longer. Make each impression a little bit stronger.” ~ Rush

I love to travel and any place I visit is open game as a story setting. I often take photos to remember the details of a place and to jog my memory of the sensory bits that add realism to a description.

This first photo was taken from Notre Dame in Paris.  In case you’re wondering, the buses and trailers were part of a production set for the TV series Highlander with Adrian Paul. Looking at this, I remember how incredibly cold it was.  The wind blew along the river with a ferocity that cut through my coat and several layers of sweaters. The water smelled pas frais as it swirled in eddys along the wall.

The images and memories formed a basis for the setting of WIRED which begins and ends in Paris.  The final scene takes place on the bridge in the distance.  There are also scenes that take you into the catacombs underneath the city and introduces another side of Paris usually not mentioned in the tour guides.  For those locations, I relied on research and discovered there’s a French Police unit that patrols the underground keeping peace and deterring criminal behavior. Photos become valuable tools for writing and enhances your ability to convey mood and let the setting take on its own character role.

The second photo is a church yard in England, but my memory is faulty on the exact location.  I’m thinking it may be in Suffolk. I do recall the church was well over 1,000 years old and was marred by medieval graffiti on the ancient floor tiles.  This will be in the follow-up novel to WIRED which has the working title Persistence of Time.

Now that the digital age is upon us, I snap photos constantly with my phone, trying to capture fleeting moments and emotions I can use later.

I also freeze bits of time by being completely present in the moment and noting everything around me. Each time I’ve done this, I’ve been able to later recall details that would have likely gone unnoticed… such as Ray Davies changing his wrist watch mid concert in 1983 or a woman in a black sweater doing yoga in Russell Square while a breeze blew spray from the fountain across the stone walk (2007).

By adding realism and sensory detail, your readers will be able to escape into your writing. Photos help me make time stand still long enough to share it with you.


Hey, Look Over Here!


There’s only so much jumping up and down and waving your hands you can do before people stop paying attention.

So how do you get noticed in the digital age? The simple answer is Twitter, Facebook, blogging, etcetera… etcetera…. all of the above. How’s your traffic? Tweeting and updating your social media is great, but what if a few tweaks could significantly increase your traffic? It’s not about getting attention, it’s about being found in a sea of tweets and email blasts.

Here are some tips:

Search Engine Optimization

  • Your blog or website is your public persona and billboard for branding, writing and winning over new fans. How do people find information on the web? Search engines. Is your blog Search Engine Optimized (SEO)? It’s not so scary or hard to tweak your site content to be search engine friendly. Begin with a list of words closely associated with your branding. Now look through your recent blog posts and see if these words appear. If not, you’re not giving a clear message to readers of who you are and what you’re about AND search engines, which send out crawlers, will not find you and deliver your site to new readers. Optimization should come after you’ve written your post and before you publish as part of the proofreading/revising stage. Key words should feel natural, not planted.

Appeal to Short Attention Spans

  • Bullet points allow readers to skim and read information they feel is relevant to their needs. If they like what they skim, they’ll take the time to read more.

 Infographics

  • Map your characters, plot, or anything that delivers a fun nugget of information to your readers.

 Use Cool Tools

  • Find innovative ways to use new media tools. Pinterest is the hot new social media trend, but how do you use it for gaining attention rather than pinning random pictures? Try creating a board that’s all about your writing genre, or the novels that most influenced your writing. How about organizing pix and links for your writing research? This lets your readers see into your creative process. I’m building a board titled The Art of Art Theft. I’m pinning famous work, giving the artist and date the piece was stolen. Some of these will be mentioned in my new art crime thriller, “WIRED” and the follow-up novel “Persistence of Time”.  

Branding… or how to find your keywords

  •  Branding is what you’re all about: your writing, your genre, your style, your theme. It doesn’t matter if you’re a writer selling novels or a business promoting a new product, the words should represent what you want others to identify with you. Without thinking too deeply, jot down the words that come to the top of your mind. Now imagine a triangle. At the top is what you’re trying to accomplish, on the lower corners you have your list of key (branding) words and your novel/product. They should all work together to make a cohesive message. If you wanted to find you on the internet without using your name or the name of your novel/product, what words would you choose?  

At the top of my triangle I’ve written Build Audience. The lower left corner lists key words Thriller, Mystery and Art Crime. The last corner lists “Perfect Copy” and “WIRED”.

My Last Tip…

  • Check out LinkedIn groups related to social media, your interests, or writing platform.  The conversations shared will give you a fast track to new trends and tools to help you get noticed.

Enigma


As I’m finishing the final tweaks on WIRED, I’ve begun research for the Jade Weekes follow-up novel ENIGMA.

If you’ve been following my tweets of late or if you’re a history buff, you’ll have recognized the reference to the WWII German code machine.  Enigma also describes a person of puzzling or contradictory character which is a perfect description of Jade Weekes.

In WIRED, she has amnesia, an unusual depth of knowledge for art and security systems (which makes her an excellent thief) and is haunted by vivid nightmares that can only hint at what may have caused her memory loss.  I won’t give away the plot, but by the end of WIRED she knows her real identity… for the most part.

In ENIGMA, she and John Young will partner to track down a killer and uncover a half century of secrets.  The story will take them across Germany and Austria, follow them as they probe bunkers under Dover Castle and reveal a different side of the war.

The idea for ENIGMA began about a year ago when I came across a news article concerning the repatriation of stolen art from WWII.

Courtesy of Wikipedia-Click image to learn more.

Hitler, once an aspiring artist, was denied entry into the The Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna.  Later, when he rose to power, he ordered master works confiscated from Jewish families and from museums of occupied areas.  He had a clear idea of what he wanted in his Führermuseum, collecting only the best masterpieces and none of the works he labeled as degenerate. The degenerate works included masterpieces by Picasso, Marc Chagall, James Ensor, Henri Matisse, Salvador Dali and Vincent van Gogh… any works of modern influence or impressionism. Rather than destroy the pieces, Nazi officials sold them at public auction and poured the money into their war machine. Since the late 1930’s, these works have changed hands, disappeared and were added to the collections of some of the best museums in the world.  Amazingly, some of them are finding their way back to the descendents of the original owners.

There are so many heroes we never hear about… those who ‘did their bit’ for the war effort. The remnants of WWII are still around us. Stories of German U-boats off the North Carolina shore and spies coming into port to eat and see American movies and perhaps pick up information are still told. If you vacation in Britain, you may find yourself frustrated with the lack of town signs and road markers.  During the war, these were removed so German paratroopers would not know their location. It is a war that has become ingrained in our shared consciousness across borders and time.

Jade understands that. For her, art is akin to time travel.  Looking at a skewed Dali image, she is looking through a window showing his unique view of a world gone mad.


Leaving Big Impressions: 5 Artists


Edgar Degas | The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer | Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

A few years ago, I was fortunate to work with the North Carolina Museum of Art to produce a television commercial promoting an exhibition of impressionist paintings and sculptures which included this iconic dancer. The art was mostly installed, with the only work left to be completed was adding the information signs for each piece.

I had seen photos of the Dancer many times, but was still surprised to see the delicate cotton skirt in person. It never occurred to me how fragile a bronze statue could be. That’s when I noticed our light stand which suddenly seemed very close to the skirt. I spent the rest of the shoot holding onto the light stands, paranoid that one would topple and send the skirt up in flames. Luckily there were no mishaps and the exhibition was an enormous success.

Claude Monet | Femme à l’ombrelle tournée vers la gauche | Musee d’Orsay, Paris

In the late 90’s I spent a few days in Paris with my sister. After seeing the long lines in front of the Louvre, we decided to spend our day at the Musee d’Orsay. While I wish I’d visited the Louvre, it does give me a good reason to go back to Paris;)

I wasn’t sure what to expect as we began wandering around. This was before there were virtual tours on the internet with detailed descriptions of every museum piece. All I had were my Paris Rough Guide and the high school French to help indicate what treasures were inside.

Easily, the biggest impression was made by the Impressionists. Art work which I had seen in text books and on television were everywhere. Monet’s Woman with an Umbrella Turning Left seemed to shimmer with life and light. There’s no way a photo can capture how beautiful this painting is in person.

Andrew Wyeth | Winter 1946 | North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh

The detailed brush strokes of Andrew Wyeth’s work give the impression that each blade of grass, wisp of hair or twitch of muscle is in motion. I’ve read the painting, Winter 1946, is actually a self-portrait expressing Wyeth’s loss and grief after his father’s death.

English: Red Vineyards near Arles (1888), the ...

Image via Wikipedia

Vincent van Gogh | The Red Vineyard | Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow

It is widely touted that van Gogh cut off his ear over the love of a woman. Ingo F. Walther’s “Vincent van Gogh, 1853-1890: Vision and Reality” accounts he cut it off after an upsetting argument with his friend Paul Gauguin. The Red Vineyard shows the fields near the house they shared. After walking past it near sunset, van Gogh painted the scene from memory. Wine historians believe it may suggest a virus which infected French vineyards about the same time, devastating French wine production.

M.C. Escher | Escher In Het Paleis, The Hague, Netherlands

Anything by Escher is iconic and has been copied by other artists, movie producers and graphic designers. His work is a labyrinth that lets your eyes and mind travel within his imagination.

This week, give yourself a treat and visit a gallery or museum.  Learn the story behind a single art work or the artist. I didn’t love hockey until I discovered how interesting the players were and learned to appreciate their mastery, talent and determination… traits that genuinely leave a big impression. Yes, I did just equate great art with hockey. Hockey fans will understand.

 

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