I read my first mystery in third grade, and decided to be a writer in the fourth. But something I now understand as a working writer is: Life has a way of using a person’s experiences in unexpected ways.
In high school art class, I understood the principles, knew trivia on every artist, loved composition and atmosphere—but rarely turned in a project that wasn’t a disaster. I had the same art teacher from ninth until twelfth grade. Senior year, she looked at my latest what-the-heck-is-that? project and asked, “Why in the world did you choose to take this class for four years?” Yes, I chose to take the elective that humbled me on a daily basis.
It didn’t matter if my work wasn’t displayed. Nothing beat watching my classmates—who were good at every medium—create beautiful original works. I was everyone’s audience. The kid who nearly didn’t get assignments completed because she was so busy marveling over the genius spilling out around her.
I discovered art history classes in college. We discussed theory and design elements, but I never had to pick up a paintbrush or charcoal. In my element, finally, I wrote about art. I also learned about missing art, forged masterpieces, and priceless works hidden for years, decades—maybe even centuries—before surfacing again by accident or dumb-crook mistakes.
A mystery reader’s dream come true.
All became fodder when I brainstormed my Bodies of Art Mysteries. I knew I wanted point-of-view character Laurel Beacham to work as an art recovery expert—finding lost art others tried to spirit away. She needed to know art world players and fit in, but I didn’t want her simply mingling with the upper-crust attending glittery fundraising parties, auctions, and openings. I also didn’t envision her following behind law enforcement types and pushing paperwork each day.
I wanted her in the mix. Living on the edge. Doing whatever it took to reunite missing masterpieces with the public.
She also needed a foil to keep her sharp, tax her patience, and leave her a little off-balance. I brainstormed Jack Hawkes, someone who can anticipate Laurel’s impetuous moves because he usually stays one step ahead of her. Jack maintains enough mystery to keep her infuriated—but interested—and he knows or can find out things when she doesn’t have the connections. Both have quick wits, sharp tongues, and the kind of skills and tenacity needed to accept every challenge coming their way.
I gathered a top notch team to help in every art mission. Nico can hack into anything, and Cassie is an art researcher extraordinaire. That’s not to say Laurel and Jack don’t hit dead ends and almost fall off cliffs along the way, but they usually have backup plans.
Laurel knows art and recognizes when the time for action is NOW. Jack tries to rein her in, but he’s almost as impulsive as she is. A misstep could kill their chances at retrieving art treasures—or get them killed.
An author is often asked if characters in a novel are actually the author in disguise. I can honestly say parts of Laurel are the idealistic almost-art-class-dropout I was until I found my true calling in college. A calling she follows naturally because that’s the joy of fiction—my characters learn from my mistakes. She needs less sleep than I, wears better clothes, travels constantly to places I adore, and eats what she loves and doesn’t gain a pound. But I can balance a checkbook—something beyond Laurel’s capabilities. I’m also much less likely to risk life and limb rappelling off the side of a building—but she and Jack accept that challenge as just another work day.
Is there anything you did that developed into something more important later in your life?
Ritter Ames’s first two books in the Bodies of Art Mysteries series, Counterfeit Conspiracies and Marked Masters are on sale now, and Abstract Aliases will be out this fall. For more information on Ritter Ames or her books and series characters, check out her page on the Henery Press website at http://henerypress.com/ritter-ames/ or her website at www.ritterames.com.