Saturday, February 20, 2016

Tales of an Almost Art Class Dropout by Ritter Ames

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 or her website at


Jim Jackson said...

Welcome to WWK, Ritter. You are right that for authors, everything is grist for the compositional mill. The only surprise in your story is that the teacher waited four years to wonder at your presence in her class – probably wanted enough students to continue the class!

~ Jim

Warren Bull said...

It always interests me how writers integrate their backgrounds into their writing. Any life experience can be used. Thanks for telling us about the path not travelled.

Ritter Ames said...

Thanks so much for the welcome, James, and I'm so happy to be here. I think my teacher waited so long because I was such a good audience for everyone--or my newest project had finally reached the catastrophe-point where her frustration could no longer be contained. We always had enough in the class that she could have kicked me out long before. I think she may not have had the heart to do so. I was good in any projects that required fabric and thread--so maybe she saw enough promise there to keep the faith. Regardless, I did enjoy the class, and loved seeing what the real artists in the room did each day. And I absolutely loved hearing them talk about why they were doing what they were doing.

Ritter Ames said...

Thank you, Warren. Yes, that is one of the things I particularly love about reading mysteries--how many professions and hobbies and life events form the frame around a novel or series. I love the "little stories within the bigger stories" because they give insight into people and things I didn't know before, all while trying to solve a murder or crime.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

I like reading about art, forgeries, theft, and the stolen masterpiece market. Great topic!

I worked in custom decorating sales management, which gave me an overview of the field and an appreciation of color, texture, and pattern, though I worked behind the scenes, chasing down fabric and hardware shipments or dealing with the workroom. And I'm experienced at home renovations. Both areas are the basis for my books.

Ritter Ames said...

Absolutely great for mystery, Margaret. Readers love those touches only "people in the trenches" can write about. Love it!

Kait said...

Hi Ritter, what a great post. I love reading about how writers find their particular path. One of my all time favorite movies is The Thomas Crown Affair (both versions) because it deals with both art and mystery. Art mysteries seem to be catnip to me. Can't wait to read yours!

KM Rockwood said...

I certainly use my life experiences for my fiction. I base my protagonist, Jesse Damon, on a composite of inmates who were on my work crew when I worked in a state prison. And his job is in the steel fabrication plant where I worked, midnight to eight, just like he does.

Your books sound fascinating, set in the world of art, with the art fraud and thefts as the focus of investigations.

Gloria Alden said...

Welcome to WWK, Ritter. I think most authors use their life experiences to some extent for their books. I know I do. I think your series sounds fascinating. I'll admit I don't know as much about art as you do, although at one time I painted and I have stacks of books on well-known artists so I do have an interest in art, too.