Multiple award-winning mystery writers Charlotte and Aaron Elkins talk about their newest collaboration, A Dangerous Talent.
Charlotte: Ah, the art world. Objects worth millions, clever forgers, wacky eccentrics, pretentious stuffed shirts…
Aaron: …slick wheeler-dealers, egos the size of South America, wickedly ingenious scams …
Charlotte: All set in a burnished context of wealth, avarice, naked greed, and simmering envy. What's not to like?
Aaron: Indeed. Charlotte, you're the one who came up with our main character. Why don't you talk a little about her?
Charlotte: Well, on the surface Alix London is living any young woman’s dream: a budding career as an art consultant, a spectacular condo in a deluxe high-rise in Seattle’s toniest neighborhood; a pretty face; a classy, classic wardrobe; and an enviable "presence" that reflects the input of old money, silk-stocking society, and ivy-league education; a pretty face; and a classy, classic wardrobe.
Aaron: True, but only on the surface.
Charlotte: That's right. The condo? She's house-sitting it in exchange for restoring some paintings for the owner. The polished manner? Yes, she’d grown up in a sophisticated environment and had gone to the finest schools . . . but she'd had to drop out of Harvard when her socialite father turned out to be an art forger and went to prison. And down the bottomless rat hole of lawyers' fees and suit settlements went the family money.
The clothes? Classic yes, new no. She is a devoted customer of Le Frock Vintage Clothing, a second-hand shop in Seattle's low-rent zone. As for that budding art consultancy, her biggest coup so far has been the condo-sitting assignment—and that pays in lodging, not cash. She is pretty, though.
Aaron: So what we've done is to take that old mystery writer's adage, "Never try to get sympathy for a girl on a yacht," and given it a twist. Alix only looks like a girl on a yacht. Underneath, she's an earnest, honest, likable young woman struggling to make it in a tough world, and what could be more sympathetic than that?
Charlotte: Aaron, we have a limited space here, better speed it up.
Aaron: Right, I'll talk faster. In the story, Alix is engaged to determine whether a suspect Georgia O'Keeffe painting is or isn't the real thing. This involves going to O'Keeffe country—Santa Fe, Taos, northern New Mexico--where she quickly finds herself hip-deep in lies, murders, and unwelcome adventures.
Charlotte: To say nothing of exploding cabañas.
Aaron: To say nothing of the seriously wacky world of contemporary art. Okay, to wind up: people always want to know our secret: how have we managed to write six books together and still stay happily married?
Charlotte: Do they ever. The secret, of course, is that we don't write together. The thing is, I'm extremely creative, while Aaron doesn't really have much imagination—
Charlotte: But I'm not really that good with words, while Aaron is one of the finest wordsmiths in mystery fiction.
Aaron: Well, there you might have a point.
Charlotte: So, basically, I come up with the plot and a rough draft. Aaron takes it, turns it into something witty, engaging, and interestingly written.
Aaron: I wouldn't argue with that either.
Charlotte: You know, on second thought, maybe we ought to keep our writing secrets to ourselves.