The History / Mystery / Art Genre
on May 14, 2015 in On Writing
I had a lot of trouble finding a home for The Art Forger because publishers claimed that it didn’t fit into a genre. They said that if it didn’t fit into a genre, they didn’t know how to sell it to bookstores and libraries. Fortunately, Algonquin Books had so such qualms; they’re small and nimble and have a stellar marketing and publicity team that isn’t afraid to take on something that doesn’t fit neatly into a type—and they had great success. I relished the idea that my work wasn’t categorizable, that I was working outside the box and still getting read.
But when I sat down to write my next novel, The Muralist, a strange thing happened. I came up with a tale that was completely different from The Art Forger—different time, different location, different characters, different issues, different format—but had three similar elements: it was partially set in the past, it contained a mystery at its heart, and it was about artists and art.
Most of The Muralist takes place in New York City right before WWII. The protagonist, Alizée Benoit, is painting murals for the WPA and hanging out with other artists doing the same, some of whom later became famous Abstract Expressionists: Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner and Mark Rothko. She’s trying to get her Jewish family out of France before the war starts and is befriended in this endeavor by Eleanor Roosevelt, while making enemies of isolationists such as Joe Kennedy, Charles Lindbergh and Breckinridge Long. Alizée mysteriously disappears in 1940 after trying to right a grievous wrong.
This doesn’t sound anything like the story of Claire Roth forging a painting in present-day Boston in the hope of achieving her dream of becoming a great artist. Or does it? The question at the heart of The Art Forger centers on Isabella Stewart Gardner and Edgar Degas in the late nineteenth century, and the plotline includes the world’s greatest unsolved art theft as well as some of the most famous art forgers who ever lived. History, mystery and art. Hmmmmmm.
And then an even stranger thing happened when I sat down to write the next book, The Collector's Assistant, which takes place in 1920s Philadelphia, has a protagonist who’s an art collector, and includes a con man and a possible murder. Once again, history, mystery and art.
So now I’ve got to wonder if I’m still working outside the box if I’ve created my own genre. I’ll guess I’ll know when I sit down to write the next book.