Saturday, November 21, 2015

Novelists on Artists: How this Blog Began (no. 1)

 by Larry Witham

Discovering a History of Novels about Painters and Art

I AM WRITING this blog as an outgrowth of my new novel, Gallery Pieces: An Art Mystery.  After a long stretch of writing nonfiction, I began conceiving Gallery Pieces in 2014, immersing myself in art history and art topics. What I also learned was this: How novelists over the centuries have portrayed artists and their world. That will be the theme of this blog, titled “Novelists on Artists.”
            Like many readers, I enjoy novels that set the action amid a theme or milieu. My two previous novels did that with religion. My Negev Project (1994) was about the discovery of ancient biblical manuscripts in the war-torn Middle East. It also pivoted on the idea that Jesus was married; this was nine years before Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code! The second novel, Dark Blossom: A Novel of East and West (1997), took up the idea of revelation in the modern scientific world (with a heroine getting the divine message, and a story-long contrasting of Buddhism and Christianity).
            The milieu of Gallery Pieces is the art world, and thus an “art mystery.” Writing such a book put me in league with a small trend in Western literature: novels about artists, painters in particular. Quite by accident, I began to master that topic in itself.
            I looked into the topic for purely mercenary reasons: I had to sell my manuscript. Once I completed Gallery Pieces, I began pitching it to New York agents and publishers. This pitch requires a marketing plan, and that includes a kind of “opposition research.” In other words, you must tell publishers what other books compete with yours.
            After a few weeks of opposition research, my curiosity got the best of me. I was drawn into the entire history of this type of novel. Now I have researched about 130 novels of this species. They hold a treasure trove of themes—enough to blog on regularly for the next year.
            I will cover works from the Roman poet Ovid and the French writer Balzac up through 2016. The genre includes high-toned literature and lowly gumshoe crime. We’ve got serial killers and artists who save the world. Because I will write about plots, let me now issue a “spoiler alert.” I will often reveal what happens in the end (that is, whodunit).
            As a career writer, I enjoy indulging in the craft. But let no one doubt my motives. I engage in this laborious blogging task—research, writing, editing—to publicize my own novel. As a sage once said, how silly is it to write a book and have no one read it?
            Thanks for looking in.

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