Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Lynette Latzko is talking with Steven M. Moore, author of Rembrandt's Angel
FQ: I read that you have penned a plethora of novels and short stories. Do you have any unfinished stories that never made it to a final published form?
MOORE: I’ve been collecting plot ideas, character sketches, themes, dialogue snippets, and potential settings for years. My muses know this, so they’ve been after me to turn them into stories since I became a full-time writer. That’s a fanciful explanation for my many stories during these last ten-plus years. I’ve never had writer’s block, and I love to write. I often have several projects going (three right now).
Unfinished stories? You bet. My first novel, written during the summer I turned thirteen (not finished because I had several possible endings) wound up in the trash can when I left for college. It wasn’t all that bad (similar to the plot of the movie City of Angels with the masculine and feminine main characters’ roles reversed), but that trash can is definitely the appropriate place for most first novels.
When I start a story, I never know whether it will be a short story, novella, or novel. The first two often appear as free blog posts (serialized for novellas or longer shorts) and later as PDFs free for the asking. I can’t and won’t publish everything, although I think some of the short fiction is entertaining too, enough so that I’ve published a few short story collections. With projects in the works right now, we’ll see what their fate is. An author doesn’t have to publish everything s/he writes. The important thing is to keep writing.
FQ: If you could talk with your younger self, is there any advice that you would give him pertaining to your writing?
MOORE: Yes. My biggest mistake was to use my own name instead of a pseudonym. My advice to all new authors is to choose a pen name if their real names are as common as mine. Name recognition is so important nowadays when there are so many good authors and good books to tempt the avid reader.
I’ve somewhat avoided another mistake. Like many writers, I have more fun writing and not so much doing what needs to be done after. Today one can’t ignore that, and I’ve learned not to do so. While most writers are nerds like me, we all have to leave our comfort zone from time to time too. There are no sufficient conditions for book success, but we can do a lot toward establishing the necessary conditions for that to happen.
FQ: In a synopsis for Rembrandt's Ange you asked, “To what lengths would you go to recover a stolen masterpiece?” I’m curious, how would you answer that question?
MOORE: I think it’s appalling that some unscrupulous people will steal art and sell it to other unscrupulous people who selfishly keep the public from enjoying it. That said, I’m sure I don’t have my main characters’ skills to do something about it except to serve as cheerleader for those who do.
FQ: What do you believe makes Rembrandt’s Angel stand out from other detective mysteries, and how is it similar to the classic Agatha Christie novels?
MOORE: I call my book a mystery/thriller because it has elements corresponding to both genres. Crime fiction and suspense are also possible genres. The book begins like a classic mystery, hopefully doing due diligence to justifying its dedication to Christie and her great characters, Miss Marple and Monsieur Poirot. I’m sure the great mystery writer would feel right at home when Esther Brookstone visits her old school chum in Oxfordshire at the book’s beginning. The mystery becomes more complex as Esther and her paramour, Interpol agent Bastiann van Coevorden, uncover a complicated conspiracy that takes them into a more thriller-like storyline.
This novel is neither a classical who-done-it nor a simple thriller. Life is complex; so are my stories. I dedicate the book to Agatha more for the entertaining times I enjoyed as a young lad reading her books, but I always wondered why she didn’t have at least one novel where her two famous sleuths formed a synergistic team.
FQ: There is a debate that is still going on about whether the artwork obtained for the Hitler Museum was outright stolen, sold by forced coercion, or legally purchased. What do you personally believe happened?
MOORE: That could depend on your definition of “stolen.” If I’m not mistaken, Hans Posse and others sometimes paid a pittance for some paintings and/or used coercion. The fact that half the paintings in the treasure trove associated with “An Angel with Titus’ Features” have never been found is for me a strong hint that they were effectively stolen, often from groups persecuted by the Nazis, and some unsavory people still possess these stolen goods.
There was a lot of this going on during the war, but not all stolen artwork was destined for the museum either. Stolen art was often considered by many Nazi VIPs to be better plunder than gold bullion when designing their escape plans. The movie The Monuments Men documented a bit of that. I wrote my book before that movie, though (Esther and Bastiann both have cameos in other novels in my detective series).
FQ: Esther Brookstone is an unusual character because of her advanced years. What drew you to creating someone who isn't your typical young, or even middle-aged, character?
MOORE: With Miss Marple, Agatha Christie showed age isn’t much of a factor when solving mysteries. Sleuths of advanced years are common in mysteries, especially cozies. Of course, Esther Brookstone is a 21st century version of Miss Marple and a bit younger. They say sixty is the new forty, and if women can (and should be able to) serve in the military, that alone is sufficient reason to have a main female character.
Her advanced years do weigh on Esther a bit, though. She says toward the end of the book that she’s physically tired and rightfully so, and her doubts about retirement are probably ubiquitous among people at that age. What do you do when you retire from that stressful day-job not to become too bored? Esther doesn’t immediately have an answer. Bastiann might help there.
I’ve always admired strong, smart women and often think the world would be a better place with women more in charge. Testosterone seems to play too large a role on the world’s stage. And age doesn’t matter that much anymore. The story shows that Esther is young-at-heart and enjoys being with young people. The coincidental encounter with the thief of the Bernini bust at the Scottish castle Esther inherited (the coincidence is found in the inheritance, not the fact that the thief was hiding there—she knew the place from her teenage years), and the lively repartee between Esther and the young hacker from MI5 and his friend confirms how much she understands and commiserates with young people.
Many older adult readers have enjoyed Harry Potter and still enjoy other young adult tales. At book signings, I’ve found tweens interested in my mysteries and thrillers and elderly people interested in my sci-fi while I expected exactly the reverse. Being old and thinking young is very common now, so why not write about it? And those tweens show young people have a surprising maturity these days.
FQ: Why did you decide to write about the world of art theft and forgery? Do you have any artists that you're particularly fond of besides the two featured artists in your novel, Rembrandt and Bernini?
MOORE: I admire most creative people and their creations, and I admire them all the more if I can’t do what they do (I usually cannot). My favorite artists are impressionists, but my father (obviously a favorite) was primarily a landscape artist. In the book I also mention Botero and Obregon, two Colombian artists; their works are also favorites. One’s art appreciation is like one’s preferences for wine: it’s all subjective and everyone’s tastes are a wee bit different. What one likes is important, not what some critic says should be liked.
I believe I already mentioned how appalled I am by art theft and the resale of stolen artwork. The theft at the Gardner Museum in Boston (I lived and worked in the area for twenty-three years) and the discovery of a treasure trove long hidden in an apartment in Germany both motivated my interest in the black market in stolen and forged art. The latter was briefly mentioned in the novel (Esther’s case involving cruise ship auctions and her suspicions about the Rembrandt), and that’s appalling too. Most of my novels have themes woven in and around the plot. Art thievery and associated crimes represent one theme in Rembrandt’s Angel; two others are terrorism and the illegal drug trade.
FQ: There are several countries in this novel that the characters travel through; what are your favorite places that you’ve traveled to in the past?
MOORE: Fascist fanatics can be found anywhere, of course, so I apologize to my Austrian and German friends for stereotypically locating the main villains in Austria and Germany (I’m half-German and my mother only spoke German until she was eight, by the way). Mexican drug cartels are probably more infamous than South American ones now, but I knew the area around that corner of Colombia and Peru a bit better, so I have to apologize to my Latino friends too (I lived in Colombia for more than ten years). My experience with Great Britain and Ireland is more limited.
Today an author can use books, the internet, or cable channels to “visit” almost anywhere, many times in more detail than the average tourist. But it happens that I’ve lived and traveled abroad, and I’ve found different countries, people, and cultures so fascinating that I’m hard put to name my favorite places. I have fond memories of many places in North and South America and Europe. I celebrate the diversity I’ve found in our world in my life as well as in my books.
FQ: If Rembrandt's Angel were to become a big Hollywood movie, who would you like to be cast as the characters?
MOORE: My novels are probably too complex to be made into a movie. Some novels are, of course, and that probably guarantees some good plots and characters, but two hours cannot really do justice to the lengthy and complex tale told in a novel. That said, I’ll give a partial answer to this question I’m often asked.
I’d maybe choose Helen Mirren for Esther Brookstone. Ms. Mirren’s movie career has taken off since 2000. She is great in serious roles, and the comedy/thriller movie Red, where she plays a retired assassin, shows she could play Brookstone, although she’s possibly about ten years too old now. Unfortunately David Suchet, who probably did the best job of playing Poirot, is too old for Bastiann van Coevorden. I’m sure some other actors from the PBS Mystery Theatre and BBC TV’s series could do well playing these characters’ roles, though. My failure to make my answer more precise is why Hollywood doesn’t hire me to do their casting, although they haven’t been terribly good at it either.
FQ: Are you planning to write more exploits of Esther Brownstone and Bastiann van Coevorden? I’m sure readers are curious if Bastiann will become hubby number four!
MOORE: Several readers have made this same query. A sequel is possible. I’ve also been thinking of a prequel about Esther’s experiences in the British intelligence services before she joined Scotland Yard; they’re barely hinted at in the novel. Of course, that wouldn’t mitigate the curiosity associated with Esther’s future with Bastiann! I’m just going to have to wait until Inspector George Langston, Esther’s friend, immediate superior, and chronicler, decides to tell me what’s happening over there in merry old England and Scotland concerning Esther and Bastiann.
To learn more about Rembrandt's Angel please read the review at: Feathered Quill Book Reviews.