Friday, February 29, 2008

Sisters in Crime

Did I mention that I was elected President (that's Madame, if you please...or Goddess, if you prefer...) of Sisters in Crime Northern California Chapter?

Since no one actually ran against me, there wasn’t a whole lot of tension surrounding the election results--nothing quite so dramatic as the Clinton vs. Obama match. Nonetheless, it was exhilarating to receive an actual vote or two.

Sisters in Crime, for the unitiated, is a national organization whose stated mission is:

"To combat discrimination against women in the mystery field, educate publishers and the general public as to inequities in the treatment of female authors, raise the level of awareness of their contributions to the field, and promote the professional advancement of women who write mysteries."

My first book, Feint of Art, was published just two years ago last month (though it seems much, much longer ago). Since then, I’ve learned a great deal about the publishing business and the craft of writing; attended professional conferences from Arlington to Boise to Anchorage; spoken at libraries and schools and bookstores and mausoleums; and launched two more books in my series (Shooting Gallery; Brush with Death). All of this was done with the generous advice, friendship and support of my fellow mystery writers.

Few writing genres can boast such open camaraderie as the mystery field. I hope to build on that openness in the coming year. NorCal Sisters in Crime has a wonderful, newly energized Board of Directors busily working on the 2008 schedule, which includes meetings the first Saturday of each month. Upcoming events include a talk –and possible face-to-face pitch sessions—with a San Francisco-based literary agent; a luncheon-discussion with a publicist-turned literary agent; and presentations by a retired homicide detective, a 911 director, and private investigators. We’re also talking about possible trips to Alcatraz and the Winchester Mystery House, and workshops on how to write a great query letter and develop an agent packet.

Sisters in Crime is open to everyone from the most established published author to the newest mystery fan. That diversity of membership offers certain challenges, but also great strength and interest. While continuing to offer published authors professional opportunities through our Speakers Bureau, in 2008 NorCal SinC looks forward to offering more constructive events for not-yet-published writers, as well as mixers and presentations of interest to readers and fans of the genre.

If you find yourself in the San Francisco Bay Area on the first Saturday of the month -- Join us!!!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Big Art Heists: What do they do with the art that they steal?

A couple of weeks ago there was a big art heist in a private museum in Zurich, Switzerland. Three gunmen in ski masks and dark clothes burst into a museum just before closing time, yanked a few paintings off he walls, and sped off with works by Monet, Cezanne, Degas and van Gogh valued at $163.2 million.

Check out the full story here:
But people keep saying that such big art heists don’t make any sense: after all, the robberies are reported so widely and the artworks are so well known that they can’t be sold, even on the black market, right?

(Above: Stolen Monet)
Why do people bother to steal highly recognizable artworks? Are they just stupid amateurs?

Sometimes they are. Unfortunately, most art collections aren’t exactly rolling in the dough, and few can afford the kind of high-tech security systems featured in movies like “The Thomas Crown Affair” (I liked the one with Steve McQueen best, myself…) In fact, lax security probably explains a whole lot of theft, which is often perpetrated on the spur of the moment. Ultimately, most of these artworks are found by the police, left in bus stations to be “discovered”, or destroyed by the thieves when they realize they have no idea how to sell them.

But they’re not all amateurs…

Here are a few reasons to steal big-name art:

Paintings are “ransomed” back to the insurance company for less than the total insurance payment. Thus you might steal $163 million dollars worth of virtually un-saleable paintings and get a few million from the insurance company to give them back. This type of story is kept under wraps. Typically one reads that the police received an anonymous tip to the location of the paintings; the insurance pay-offs are kept mum.

Paintings are occasionally stolen by order. This seems to be a motivation more common in Hollywood than in real life, but the truth is that museum security is sometimes shockingly lax, and a big-name underworld figure might increase his/her status by owning a notoriously stolen work of art. Or maybe they’re huge Cezanne fans…one never knows.

Perhaps the most typical reason, recently, is to be used as “chips” in drugs/arms smuggling deals. Art crime is now the third most common international crime, and is often linked with organized crime (called “criminal enterprise”). Once an item is stolen, headlines proclaim its worth. Thus criminals have a number to start with: they can use the painting as a “chip” to hold while awaiting payment on drugs, arms, or other smuggled merchandise.

(Above: Stolen Cezanne)

For lots more info on theft and forgery in the art field -- or to offer them a lead if you have any about lost or stolen art-- check out the great website of The FBI Art Squad --

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Portraits are my favorite thing to paint. To be able to capture a sense of personality and mood on canvas is miraculous...and I've never quite succeeded to my satisfaction. But isn't that part of the definition of art -- always striving for better? I adore the work of masters like Caravaggio and Bronzino...but I'll never come near them in terms of skill or beauty. Ah, well...

Ok, I'm not dead yet!

Hello to any and all my blog readers out there! One really distressing thing about these blog posts is that they are automatically dated, so everyone can see exactly how long it has been since I last posted anything on my blog. Doh! Mental slap on this writer's wrist. Somehow life managed to intervene...first the holidays, then a few family health issues, then a busy painting season.

But now I'm back, pledging to at least check in with some frequency.

First things first: The fourth instalment of the Art Lover's Mystery Series (featuring our intrepid heroine, Annie Kincaid) has been put on hold...temporarily. Arsenic and Old Paint, as it is tentatively titled, is nearly complete, but you'll have to wait to see exactly who Annie will wind up with, and how. Not to mention all those goodies about art forgery, art theft, and the wild and wacky art world in general.

In the meantime, I'm busily writing a new series about a failed anthropologist running her father's exclusive home remodel business in San Francisco. Sophie Tanner, is a little older and --probably--a bit wiser than Annie, but still a whole lot of fun. It's a blast getting to create a whole new cast of characters: a 16-year-old ex-stepson who won't go away, an ex-husband on his third wife, a curmedgeonly but loving dad, two unrepentant strippers, and several anthropologists and historians who get in on the act. I'll keep you posted about If Walls Could Talk, maybe even post a teaser now and then...

I'll post again soon...and this time, it's a promise!