An Interview with Carson Morton, author of Stealing Mona Lisa
How did you come up with the idea to write Stealing Mona Lisa?
I had come across the story of the theft a few times in the past and stored it away in the back of my mind, not giving it much thought. It was while I was reading Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, where the incident is mentioned in passing that the idea sparked. I did some research and found the actual story was not all that interesting. Someone just walked in and took it off the wall. There was an apocryphal story about a mastermind trying to sell six copies, but there still wasn't what I call a complete story. I set myself the task of turning all the existing information into a yarn with a beginning, middle, and end; and making sure it had all the necessary ingredients: a protagonist, an antagonist, allies, enemies, and most of all, a motive other than greed that the reader would be able to empathize with; and if that motive happens to be the love of a beautiful woman...
Who is your favorite character in your novel and why?
Besides the obvious choice of the mastermind himself, the Marquis de Valfierno, I think my favorite is Julia Conway, the brash and beautiful American pickpocket who proves invaluable in the scheme to steal the world's greatest painting and sell six copies to six American Robber Barons. Her only fault is her inability to control her sticky fingers when it comes to people's wallets and pocket watches.
When and where did you compile your research?
I began my research, I must confess, on an obscure online search engine which, I believe, is called Google or something like that. Then I found some wonderful books on the subject including Becoming Mona Lisa by Donald Sassoon, and Paris Under Water by Jeffrey H. Jackson. The most fun of all was visiting Paris and walking through the scenes of my book. It was tough work, but someone had to do it. Some things I got just right such as setting of the boarding house where much of the action takes place in the Cour du Rohan, a secluded courtyard in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Other things I got dead wrong. I quickly discovered, for instance, that I had the thieves escaping from the wrong side of the Louvre! I stayed in a lovely small hotel in the Marias District, which used to be a house, so I made that the address of the conman, Valfierno. Hmm, perhaps they'll give me a better rate the next time.
Stealing Mona Lisa is your debut novel. Besides your fresh writing career, what other endeavors have you been involved in?
Ah, if you look up the meaning of "checkered career" in the dictionary you'll find a picture of me! I recorded a rock album in the 70s for United Artists Records; I've composed music for the BBC in London; I've written and sung the title song for the first Fox Children's Network Saturday morning cartoon series; I've written screenplays for Hollywood producers, some of whom actually paid me; I've been the musical director of the Woodstock Children's Theater traveling with them from LA to London; I've toured around Ireland playing in Irish pubs watching wide-eyed as rows of foamy Guinness pints appeared as if by magic before me; I've had musicals performed Off Broadway (okay, maybe it was Off-Off Broadway); I've produced an album of original children's music; I've released three CD's of classic ukulele tunes; I once delivered chicken dinners in a miniature clown-size truck... I'm sorry, what was the question again?
What advice would you give to someone wanting to write a novel?
First study the art of storytelling from Aristotle to Alfred Hitchcock to William Campbell. Then construct your plot and try it out on people. Just sit down and tell it to them. You'll quickly see if it works or not. Then, sit down and dump the words out on a page. Don't worry about writing well; you can always fix it later. The trick is having something to fix. You can't fix nothing.
Interview reproduced from the Carson Morton website, with permission