Thursday, September 5, 2019

Where Are THE HIDDEN THINGS?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: One of the most enduring mysteries in Boston, maybe anywhere, is the unsolved case of the missing paintings from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. You know the story:  in a weird break-in that defies all explanation, irreplaceable masterpieces were swiped from the museum. 

The crooks got clean away, and the paintings have never been seen again. It’s tragic, and breathtaking, and even though massive rewards have been offered--five million dollars!-- police have not been able to track down the culprits, or the dozen masterpieces they took, including one Vermeer, three Rembrandts, and five Degas. 


In the museum now, there are only empty spaces.

Worth as much as $500 million, the missing masterpieces have become one of the nation's most extraordinary unsolved mysteries--and the largest art heist in history.

Are the paintings in someone’s basement? Are they destroyed? Were they buried in someone’s backyard--and forgotten? Will they ever be found? If you ever want to start a conversation with someone from Boston, just bring up the Gardner heist, and then listen. Everyone has an opinion.

That in mind, the amazingly talented Jamie Mason, in her newest book, has come up with a solution, and you will love it! The Hidden Things is a terrific book, brilliantly written, as multi-layered as the title implies, with a unique and irresistible main character. (Talk about voice!) It is a true page turner. And her explanation of what happened in this perplexing crime is…kinda possible. Especially how one of the paintings came to light.

Today she has some inspiration for us, and it is a treat to read. And then she’ll be here to answer your questions. ( We can see if she has any inside information.)  

And a copy of THE HIDDEN THINGS to one extremely supremely lucky commenter! 


Why “Write What You Know” Is One of the Best Things About Being a Writer

Some of us lead lives that make the advice “write what you know” a given. The axiom earns an of course-kind of shrug. A duh.

If you’re a writer who is overburdened with expertise and find yourself perpetually batting away a fog of intrigue so thick you can barely see your next adventure bearing down on you, you might not understand that “write what you know” can feel like a bit of an indictment for the rest of us.

On that other hand, if what you know feels brown-paper normal on its very sparkliest days, and mundane to outright dull on the rest of them, a heightened fiction—the reading and the writing of it—might be the whole damned point.

So, write what you know?

You’d better believe it.

And it’s not only great advice, it’s great news, too. An utter privilege.

The first thing you must know in this endeavor is yourself. And it’s no small task. It requires attention we’re not necessarily practiced at.

Like any job, working to get the right words around an idea or a plot has a thousand ways to frustrate. So you have to know what in the process brings you satisfaction—then lean into those things to sustain you over the speed bumps and the minutes, hours, days, weeks where your will and your want aren’t on speaking terms with your can-do.

Do you love inception, getting the spark of an idea that sends you running for your notepad or the voice recorder on your phone? Do you love building the iceberg of the backstory that will never reveal its true leviathan scale? Do you love crafting a villain, mining the things that are awful in the world to sculpt a worthy adversary for your heroes? Do you love outlining, the puzzle of organizing all the what-ifs that have gotten loose in the labyrinth? Do you love the music in the rhythm of the words? Is there a thrill in imagining what the reader will want and feel? Do you love typing The End?

Whatever it is, notice it. And know yourself in these things, to color those facets of the work as you encounter them. Love it while you’re loving it. Mindfulness of what’s a pleasure will show on the page. It will make the story richer. And it will make your life bigger, a gift you never lose no matter what happens with the story you’re working on.

The second gift in “write what you know” is getting to know what you need to. Of course, the internet is such an incredible boon to writers. Access to information and easy consultation with people who practice in life what you need to borrow for fiction is fish in a barrel. The shooting is easy. What an incredible time to be curious.

But what has ever been true is that people love to be the experts of their own perceptions. The people around you, in person and online and at the other end of phone connections, are the foremost authority of verisimilitude. And they’ll tell you anything if you tell them you’re writing a book.

It’s the on-ramp to cold calls and chitchat with strangers. In research, I’ve out of the blue called zoos, police, grocery stores, churches, schools, laboratories, and even a septic-and-irrigation company.

But it’s the crossed-paths conversations that I’ve loved the most, yielding not only colorful and useful information, but details and perspectives that I wouldn’t have even thought to inquire after. They’ve made story mountains out of throwaway small-talk molehills.

You can ask specific questions, but sometimes just inviting people to tell you what’s interesting in their experiences will draw fascinating things into the light. I’ve polled social media for anecdotes about all kinds of things: about using a motorcycle as a primary mode of transportation; about what it’s like to do battle with a days-long migraine; about what it’s like to have to keep secrets as a condition of employment; and about living with someone who has to keep secrets.

I ask hairdressers, DJs, doctors, bus drivers, waitstaff, teachers, anyone who seems game to talk, to tell me about a customer, client, patient, coworker, or boss who was terrible or wonderful.

A reporter once told me that there are three questions guaranteed to ignite an interesting conversation (and interesting conversation is cheek to jowl in importance with cold, hard facts for arming writers with what they need): Do you know the circumstances of your birth? Have you ever been close to death? Have you ever been accused of something you didn’t do?

They’ll talk to us. We writers end up in that privileged club with bartenders, priests, therapists, and best friends. And it will yield snippets and gems that will then be yours, lucky you. These things will become knowledge, your knowledge, and thereby satisfy the Prime Directive: Go forth, ye writer, and write what you know.

HANK: So wise! But Jamie, who did you talk to about the Gardner  theft? And what do you think really happened? And  how about you, reds and readers? What’s your theory? Don’t forget—one lucky commenter will win THE HIDDEN THINGS!


Jamie Mason was born in Oklahoma City and grew up all over the Washington, DC area. She’s most often reading and writing, but in the life left over, she enjoys films, Formula 1 racing, football, traveling, and, conversely, staying at home. Jamie lives with her husband and two daughters in the mountains of western North Carolina. She is the author of Three Graves FullMonday’s Lie, and The Hidden Things, all from Simon & Schuster's Gallery Books.  








67 comments:

  1. Congratulations on your new book, Jamie . . . I’m looking forward to reading it. Could you tell us a little about it?

    I have absolutely no idea about the Gardner theft [other than the meticulous planning seems to suggest that it involved several someones rather than just a couple of thieves posing as policemen]. But I can see why it generates all sorts of theories and captures so many peoples’ imaginations. It would be sad, indeed, if the thieves destroyed the paintings; as long as there’s no evidence of that, there remains the faint hope that one day they will find their way home again . . . .

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Agreed! I cannot believe we will not see them again…

      Delete
    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    3. Hi Joan!

      It's so sad to imagine that the paintings are just gone forever. I'm heading up to Boston for a book event on September 17th (https://www.jamie-mason.com/events.html) and I'll get to go to the Gardner and see the empty frames for myself.

      That will be emotional. My mother is an artist and I grew up with art books as bedtime stories. I feel very attached to the value of this kind of treasure.

      As far as the book goes, thanks for asking! Here's the jacket copy:



      Twenty-eight seconds.

      In less than half a minute, a home-security camera captures the hidden resolve in fourteen-year-old Carly Liddell as she fends off a vicious attack just inside her own front door. The video of her heroic escape appears online and goes viral. As the view count climbs, the lives of four desperate people will be forever changed by what’s just barely visible in the corner of the shot.

      Carly’s stepfather is spurred to protect his darkest secret: how a stolen painting—four hundred years old, by a master of the Dutch Golden Age—has come to hang in his suburban foyer. The art dealer, left for dead when the painting vanished, sees a chance to buy back her life. And the double-crossed enforcer renews the hunt to deliver the treasure to his billionaire patrons—even if he has to kill to succeed.

      But it’s Carly herself, hailed as a social-media hero, whose new perspective gives her the courage to uncover the truth as the secrets and lies tear her family apart.

      Delete
    4. Wow. I must read this! What a super premise!

      Delete
    5. Thank you! That means much coming from you!

      Delete
  2. Shalom Reds and fans. Two of my favorite movies which I haven’t seen in a long while are museum heist movies. Topkapi with Melina Mercouri. And How to Steal a Million with Audrey Hepburn. They were made at a time when the studios had no problem hiring a half-dozen stars to play in what they hoped would be blockbusters. The remake of the Thomas Crown Affair also is a favorite even though the cast is not quite as star-studded. (Although Faye Dunaway, who played the mercenary good guy in the original, now plays what is almost a cameo.)

    However, when the Isabella Stewart Gardner theft occurred, I was probably too self-absorbed, to have paid attention. I have a brother who lives in Boston and my Dad went back to school there when I was in my twenties. Counting on my fingers, I think I have visited there about 7 or 8 times total, never having done much sightseeing.

    However, I have been in love with podcasts since the time of the iPod. And one of the first podcasts, I found to load up, was called The Concert. It featured classical music that was originally played live at the Gardner. And no advertisements, except for the museum. I still only barely became aware of the theft. I think, the podcast Criminal, did an episode which I listened to within the last 5 years, interviewing some of the people connected with the museum and the investigation.

    I never was a museum buff; I’ve lived in the Philadelphia/Bucks county area for over 30 years now, and have been to the Art Museum only once. Someone treated me to an exhibition of the work of Salvador Dali. I do have a virtual library card to the Free Library of Philadelphia and I also can now ride Septa trains and buses for free. So, I should make time to make a pilgrimage and see in person what they have to offer. I do hope, someday, that the Gardner will get their paintings back.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I do, too. And the Thomas Crown Affair, both versions… Terrific.

      Delete
    2. There's a fantastic podcast about the Gardner Heist called "Last Seen" from The Boston Globe. It's riveting.

      Delete
    3. Jamie, did you read Barb Shapiro's The Art Forger?

      Delete
    4. I have not, but I did put it on my list as I ran across it in my research. Just haven'y gotten there yet!

      Delete
  3. Such great points, Jamie. And congratulations on the new book! I love those three questions, and of course I love all that talking that goes into making a book.

    I have a little story to tell. Back when I was just seventeen, I went off to southern Brazil to be an exchange student for a year. Despite having studied three languages by then, I didn't speak any Portuguese. The first six months were a blur of noise gradually making way for words and sentences until I was pretty much fluent. But I - a lifelong extrovert - had gotten used to waiting for people to come up and talk to me. I was turning down invitations to go out. I was making excuses. Finally, the kind but firm father of the family (six kids plus me) sat me down and told me I was wasting my year. I was in Brazil, for goodness sake. He said - and I've never forgotten this - "Ask people about themselves. Ask what kind of music they like and where they're from. Ask what they like to eat. Ask them." It totally turned my year around, because of course, by then I COULD ask them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What a fabulous story, Edith, we all need to remember that, every day. And how lovely of your exchange father!

      Delete
    2. Edith, he was a smart man! How lucky for you that you ended up with his family.

      Delete
    3. Very, Karen. The sister I was closest to ended up a Michigan housewife. She and her husband came for lunch on Sunday - we met 49 years ago!

      Delete
    4. I love this. For gregarious people, it's prison to be unable to converse.

      Sadly, I'm terrible at other languages. My mind just doesn't work that way and it bums me out. I wish my brain were more flexible in that!

      Delete
  4. I was living in Boston in 1990 and working in Back Bay. I remember hearing about it on the news and thinking, how is this possible? I love a crazy mystery like that. I suspect the paintings are hanging in someone’s private home. There’s a really good movie on Netflix called The Best Offer. Watch that and you might realize where the Gardner’s paintings are.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, I will look that up right away! Thank you!

      Delete
    2. Ha! Barbara, you've pretty much described my inspiration for The Hidden Things!

      Delete
  5. Congratulations on the book, Jamie! I am just as baffled as everyone else about how the theft took place and where the paintings are now. Has it been absolutely determined that it was in no part an inside job? If I had to guess where they are now I would say they are out of the country. Hoping that someday we might know.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It’s such a mystery, isn’t it? So many possibilities… And who did it?

      Delete
    2. They've never been able to put forth any real thread to pull on for the inside job angle. There are at least two curious things - one of the paintings, the Manet, that was taken was removed from a gallery where the last motion-detected activity was before the robbers got there. There was also some recovered footage of some people being allowed in before opening hours.

      But if one or both of the guards was in on it, there was no evidence whatsoever that made it sticky to him. And he certainly never appears to have gotten paid. He's lived a quiet, modestly financed life ever since.

      Delete
    3. ETA - the "before hours" was on a different day, I think a couple of weeks before the robbery.

      Delete
  6. Congratulations on your new release! I suspect the Gardner paintings are in a private collection somewhere.

    ReplyDelete
  7. For a pre-theft angle, I recommend Jane Langton's Murder at the Gardner (1988).

    ReplyDelete
  8. Great blog post, and this book sounds irresistible. When I was student in Boston ( a couple of hundred years ago) I discovered the Gardner, a magical place, and it has remained so in my memory. A possible theft solution? Can't wait to read this!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! And I can't wait to get to the Gardner in person. I have an event at the New England Mobile Book Fair on September 17th and it's my first ever trip to Boston. I'm so excited!!

      Delete
  9. The Gardner heist makes me wonder how museums upgraded their security after that. It was 1990 so I'm surprised they didn't have some kind of security camera! Or did they?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They didn't have cameras, but they had motion detectors. The log for those shows the robbers' path through the museum. It's maddening to wonder why they chose what they chose.

      And I suspect you're right. I'll bet lots of private museums upped their security game after that.

      Delete
    2. Wow, they knew what path the thieves took! That is really interesting.

      Delete
  10. The Gardner Museum theft cannot help but capture the imagination. Such a mystery, in every sense of the word.

    I've always wondered if there was a falling out among the thieves, and if someone died holding the location of the art secret. Some day it will turn up, in an unlikely place, like the loft of a barn or something. Unless it's already been destroyed because it was so well hidden. What a tragedy that would be.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know. It's what I fear. The empty frames still hanging in the Gardner are a poignant place holder for hope, though.

      Delete
  11. I've been fascinated with the Gardner heist for years. I really hope the paintings come back to light eventually. I know other instances where someone died a natural death at an advanced age, and when the kids/nephew/later generation showed up to clean out weird Uncle Abner's house, they found original artwork and wondered if it was worth anything . . . It would be great if the Gardner paintings came to light that way.

    And I have always loved doing primary research. I cold called a lot of people when I was a reporter, and found most of them were glad to tell me about their jobs. The real story is almost always more interesting than what you think it might be, and the characters are often more colorful.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I totally agree with you. It's so much fun to have people light up to tell you what's interesting about their lives.

      Delete
  12. Love the premise of this book. I can hardly wait to read it.
    I don't remember if I knew about it at the time but when I visited the Gardner for the first time, I was struck by the empty frames. Such emptiness.
    My vegetable man, Tommy, who goes to the big Farmers' Market at 4 AM and sell from a truck in the Buckhead area of Atlanta says that the vegetable men and hairdressers know all the secrets. He says people talk to each other around him as though he were not there and that he knows all the people they are talking about. He knows secrets.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That is awesome -- the people we imagine aren't listening can be amazing fonts of knowledge.

      Delete
  13. This novel sounds captivating and intriguing. I had never heard about the Gardner heist but how can anything like this happen is amazing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much!

      And for more on the Gardner Heist, I can't recommend the podcast "Last Seen" more highly. It's the whole story up to the present day. You'll be riveted.

      Delete
  14. Welcome Jamie, and congratulations on the new book, sounds very intriguing.

    What a mystery that art theft was/is. I doubt they were destroyed, too valuable on the dark web, although I don't suppose it existed at that time. I'm betting they were sold to individuals for private collections. Not everyone has a functioning moral compass.

    Hallie, I think your husband ought to be on the lookout for these paintings on his garage sale rounds.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hope that's what happened to them. The FBI is a bit skeptical, though. Even when they can't do anything about it, for constitutional due process issues or extradition tangles, they usually have some idea where the art is or at least has been.

      Not so with the Gardner haul. They've never, if they're being honest, had a convincing, fruitful lead on any whiff of the paintings.

      'Tis worrisome.

      Delete
  15. Ah, art theft. When I was at college, someone stole a painting from the library "from the school of Rembrandt." Like the Gardner, it has not yet been found and the crime remains unsolved.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's amazing. Often, and interestingly, art theft is a special bargaining coin for criminals (usually the mob kind) for if they get caught doing something else. Like insurance. Weird, huh?

      Delete
  16. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Art theft is always mysterious and unknown. In this day and age it would be impossible considering the security.

    ReplyDelete
  18. The Hidden Things sounds like an amazing book -- I was hooked from your blurb and can't wait to read it. It is so tragic when works of art are stolen (the photo of the empty frame speaks volumes), and I can't bear the thought that they might be destroyed.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much!

      And I agree. I'll get to see those empty frames in a few days for the first time. I think it will be quite sad.

      Delete
  19. Eeeeep! So much fun to be here with the Jungle Reds today! Thank you!

    Now let me see, Hank, what do *I* think happened to the Gardner stuff?

    I have a terrible feeling that the paintings have been destroyed. I did a lot of research on this heist (and on art theft in general) and -- if the FBI is telling the truth -- they've never gotten any reliable information about who-what-where on the stolen treasures. That's unusual. The silence and constant dead ends feels ominous to me.

    That said, they recently put out a separate reward offer for the Napoleonic flag's eagle finial. I find that tantalizing, like maybe they've gotten some new lead on that piece. It could lead to some sort of resolution.

    Seriously, for everyone who doesn't know about the peculiarities of this almost thirty-year-old mystery, the best primer is a wonderful podcast called LAST SEEN from the Boston Globe. Check it out!

    As for my own research, my at-the-time fourteen year old daughter was a wonderful resource. I also pinged a doctor acquaintance about survivable neck wounds and a local government office about name changes and how often they ever get pushback on the mandatory requirements for newspaper postings.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Now this is one I could really love!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And I would love if you loved it! : )

      Thank you!

      Delete
  21. Oh, I remember that heist! Extraordinary that the paintings have never surfaced or the culprits been caught. I can't wait to read The Hidden Things. Do you think this sort of heist could ever happen again?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much, Jenn!

      I think that the race between swhite hats and black hats has certainly changed the balance of this sort crime. What was a clever ruse in 1990 would be so much more dangerous for them now. Still, people will try...

      Delete
  22. I have been dying to read THE HIDDEN THINGS, and I didn't even know Jamie was going to be visiting here! When I read the description of the book on CrimeReads - where it was one of the "Most Anticipated Books of the Summer" - I had one of those moments every writer gets; pure and unadulterated jealousy. Why didn't I think of that!

    Such an amazing idea, and I can't wait to dive in and see what happens.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Julia, the best part about this amazing idea is what Jamie does with it. I can't wait for you to read it.

      Delete
    2. Thank you SO much!

      And I get plot envy all the time. It's both a fun and teeth-gnashing feeling. Lol!

      Delete
  23. If you haven't read The Hidden Things, do it, now. I am working on a review for it today, embarrassed I don't already have it written, but trying to do it justice. Jamie, you have given readers such a unique, outstanding story. I love when I happen upon a book with art as a major player in it, and those books/stories are too far an few between for me. I can't think of a book that has blended art and story better than The Hidden Things. The one painting that is at the forefront of the story has such an incredible journey to its final resting place. The characters are some of the most interesting you'll come across, with the heroine of the story being a gobsmacking choice. So, please, don't wait any longer if you haven't read Jamie's book. You will love it!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kathy, I hardly know what to say. It's so wonderful to hear that you enjoyed the book like that. It means everything. Thank you so very much.

      Delete
  24. I like the storyline of your book! That pesky camera captured something that shouldn't have been seen by the public. Brilliant! As for the Gardner heist, I really hope some private collectors are holding the goods. Shame on them, but that's preferable to the art being destroyed.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you!

      And I totally agree. That's my fervent hope, that someone out there has the artwork.

      Delete
  25. On the train to NYC with terrible wi-fi! But you are all doing very nicely--isn't this fascinating? And what a terrific book... I agree, Kathy!

    ReplyDelete
  26. The paragraph starting, "Do you love inception, getting the spark of an idea that sends you running for your notepad or the voice recorder on your phone?" is marvelous. Pure linguistic joy.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Jamie Mason, welcome to Jungle Reds! I just added this book to my tbr list. For some reason, I was reminded of a Nancy Drew novel about missing paintings or was it something else?

    Hank, that is interesting about the three questions. I have been told that I ask a lot of questions. LOL. Yet, I never thought of asking these three questions. The crossed paths conversations reminds me of a story about Maeve Binchy. She was inspired to write Tara Road based on snippets from a conversation she overheard at an airport!

    Diana

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much and I can easily imagine there was a Nancy Drew about a stolen painting. Wouldn't surprise me at all! It's a fun connection to my story. : 0

      Yeah, those questions have never failed to bear out. It was a fascinating tip!

      Delete
  28. And the winner of THE HIDDEN THINGS is: Libby Dodd! Email me at H ryan@whdh.com If your mailing address! Hooray hooray hooray !

    ReplyDelete