An Interview with Lander Marks

April 27, 2008 at 2:59 pm | Posted in Books, Culture, entertainment, LIfe, Religion, Writing | 5 Comments
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On April 20, I had the opportunity to speak with Lander Marks about her new novel, Artist’s Proof. This is her first novel and will be released within the next week. I had a great time talking with her about the novel, but I was most intrigued by a mystery that has very recently discovered in her own life that relates back to her book. I hope that you’ll enjoy this interview as much as I did:

Cover of Artist\'s Proof

Literate Housewife: Thank you very much for the opportunity to read your book and speak with you about it. I enjoyed reading it and appreciate the opportunity. So, how excited are you to have your first novel published this month?

Lander Marks: I’m very excited about it, Jennifer. It’s been a long time coming writing a fictional book as opposed to some of the other things I’ve done. Eight years is a long time to finally have a baby arrive.

LH: Oh my gosh! That’s a long gestation period.

LM: But in between there were a few other books so I’m okay with it. The timing was what it needed to be. Obviously the book needed to come out at this time and so that’s what makes it work.

LH: Tell me a little about what inspired you to write Artist’s Proof.

LM: Artist’s Proof started as a mental whim you might say. The questions that came to mind occurred while I was on a cruise ship experiencing an art auction. The thoughts seemed to come randomly, which is the way things always seem to happen when you’re writing. From the variety of questions that caused me to pause in the moments of this art auction came a series of different events. Each little thread led me on a different path and prepared or led me to write this book.

LH: So, you knew something about art and the art world before you wrote your novel.

LM: Yes, I do have a degree in art and I am an avid collector of 20th and 21st century contemporary art. My interest in the arts, in the experiences of the artists, and in the messages that they create were very close to my heart. Questions came about involving how artwork is sold in this country, how it’s auctioned, and who buys it. These became for me part of the intrigue of writing this mystery.

LH: So what are some examples of things you have in your collection?

LM: I currently have a variety of pieces. I have an Agam, an Agamagraph, and a three dimensional Patrick Hughes piece. A lot of my art has to do with illusion and duplicity. In other words, when you’re looking at the piece, other images appear. As you move around the piece and look at it from different angles, other things show up. In some cases the messages from the artists are thought-provoking and in other cases they are just beautiful. They open up your mind to how things can expand and change.

LH: You mentioned that it took you eight years to write Artist’s Proof. Was there any one aspect of writing the novel that took you by surprise?

LM: The story started to take on elements of art restitution. This led to my travels to Europe to investigate the artwork that was stolen during WWII, where it ended up, and what its value is today. That was a place I didn’t expect to be when I started the book. It brought me to individuals who are very well known internationally and who are experienced in this process of art restitution. It’s led me to some world renowned art collectors and I’ve learned what they are doing in the contemporary art scene. That was not what I envisioned when I started to write this light-hearted, mad cap kind of murder mystery.

LH: This novel is told in large part by your two main female characters: DJ Singer and Shannon Phillips. At what point in your writing process did you decide to tell the story from both angles?

LM: Right at the beginning. I just felt that there was something that needed to be told and there were two very strong women who needed to tell it their way. I didn’t anticipate how much work was involved with bouncing the story back and forth every other chapter and keeping it straight in my own head. I didn’t write one character and then the other. I wrote the book in the sequence in which the reader reads it. So, it’s a little bit different. Because this was my first book, everyone said to me, “writing in first person is not a good idea,” or “bouncing your characters back and forth is very complex.” Many people thought it was a crazy thing for an amateur author to do, but I did it.

LH: What did you find most rewarding about having those two female characters?

LM: I was rewarded with the appreciation of the two different personalities – each fulfilling her own quest to not be a victim. To have a place and an understanding the bigger picture. At first I thought the theme of the story was really about the victims at all different levels. But in the end, Shannon finds a place for herself that she’s comfortable with or has made resolution. DJ comes to grips with something that she didn’t anticipate, but appreciates where it’s going. This leads her to make her own choices. So, my idea that this story is really about victims turns into something about tolerance, appreciation, gratitude, and an overall look at the bigger picture.

LH: Yesterday I was meeting with some women and I overheard someone say that there are no coincidences. She was talking about faith and how when there seems to be coincidence, it never really is. That made me think back on your novel. I really enjoyed the friendship that DJ and Kate shared, but the confidence and connections that came through DJ’s unexpected relationship with Ron were really essential to her at that time. What specifically do you think about her romantic relationship with Ron brought out the best in her?

LM: I think the feeling that Ron was not using her in the sense of a typical male-female relationship. Young people hook up today and it tends to be random. I think when it came down to push versus shove they balanced each other well. This gave DJ a reassurance that she didn’t have before. In her experiences working in a male dominated industry, she both walked and talked like a man or she didn’t succeed. Being able to pull back a little bit and be herself without fear was something that Ron brought to the table. I don’t think that she was prepared for that relationship to blossom the way that it did.

LH: DJ becomes and avid collector of Sol Fleming. Was there an actual artist who inspired him?

LM: I’m going to drop this bomb on you, Jennifer. This is all new information that will be released in the next week or so. I inherited a piece of artwork from a favorite uncle of mine about 12 years ago. This little tempera and gouache painting has been on the wall in my house that whole time. I didn’t think much about it. It’s an interesting piece that looks a little bit like a Picasso. Very abstract. It’s just part of my collection. You go by and look at them just like an old friend and take a peek. Recently, I had to do an appraisal for insurance purposes. I took down each piece to look at it, to really address it, and to start to do some homework in preparation of the appraisal. This piece is done be Bela Kadar, and I realized that I knew very little about it. I started by going to Google to investigate. As it turns out, Bela Kadar may have been spiritually motivating this book well beyond the eight years it took me to write it. This piece is one of very few outside of Hungary. Bela was a Jewish-Hungarian artist and was a protégé of Mark Chagall. He and his work was labeled as “DEGENERATE” by the Nazis.

Lander Marks\' Kadar

I found out through my aunt that this piece was purchased through an auction in the late 50s or early 60s. It is not dated by the hand of the artist. Yet as I did my research I came to find out that his work, not necessarily this piece that we know of, was, along with André Breton, Max Ernst, Van Gogh, and Chagall in the very famous art show “entartete Kunst,” which means degenerate art in German. This was an art show that the Nazis put on as a propaganda to display what they believed to be degenerate art. Many of these pieces were ultimately burned in the square in Berlin after the show.

Nazi Art Show Poster

There were many famous artists who were considered bad because the Germans were only interested in iconic artwork and Dutch work from the 15th and 16th century. Contemporary pieces, they felt, were anti-German and were not part of what they saw as an ideal German belief system. Plus, many of these artists were Jewish. They were not white Germans, let’s say.

So, the story of this piece appearing on my wall 12 years ago and me really not paying any attention to it in the dynamics of this book really took me for a loop. I determined that for the first time in over 50 years the piece will be shown publicly with the book launch in Las Vegas and then perhaps travel with me. It’s just an amazing, amazing part of the book that I had no idea existed until literally two or three weeks ago.

LH: That is really crazy.

LM: Yes. The other part of the story that I didn’t expect is that I got very involved in appreciating the artists, musicians, and writers who were picked out by the Nazis. What was to be destroyed, to be killed, who escaped, how they got to Israel, Spain, the United States, what became of them, and how their contributions changed the art world internationally. It’s taken me on a path to speak to high school and college students and to be involved in the Holocaust education program. It’s not just the Holocaust education anymore. It’s genocide education. As part of the story I opened myself up to speak to these students and school systems about what the Holocaust teaches us about our responsibilities. I talk about it from the aspect of the arts and it has a little bit different of an impact as you relate it to people the Millenials know by name: Marilyn Manson, or Nine Inch Nails etc.. I don’t speak much about Hitler, although he has an interesting story in the story. I talk about democracy, freedom, and freedom of speech.

LH: It sounds like your uncle gave you a much greater gift than just a piece of art.

LM: Oh. That’s a mouthful right there.

LH: I have one more question about Sol Fleming. In the novel there are some anonymous web entries that are attributed to him and they are very cryptic. Without giving away the story, how did that portion of the novel develop?

LM: I think that all of us look for some spirituality or faith. This is either in the traditional faith in which we are raised or we look for it in poetry or messages. Some of us will say we get a message or a shudder. Going back to your coincidences, sometimes we get premonitions. I think today in society we pay more attention to subtle signals. In this scenario, going back in time the Bible was the constitution of many people’s spirituality. I chose to write his dialog through the use of Biblical phrases or references that were considered typical of that era. Putting them through the Internet exposes them on a whole different level.

LH: That was interesting to me. I read a lot of historical fiction, so to have Norah Jones and similar references jump out at me made it interesting and fun. I am on the Internet all the time and we’re in the Internet Age. I really appreciated having that in your novel.

LM: I think that bringing the history into contemporary context makes it easier and more fun to read, although there’s a subtle message there. That’s one of the things that is important about this story. When it ends it really doesn’t end, because the reader wants more. The back matter that references some of the themes is there for them. They don’t feel like they just got left at the end of the story without any place to go while waiting for the next DJ and Ron escapade.

LH: That actually brings me to my last question. At the end of the book, the mystery that surrounded the Monte Carlo House and Sol Fleming was resolved, but questions about DJ and Ron, their future, and the future of art stolen during WWII still linger. I know the answer already from the context of our interview, but I’ll ask anyway. Will we be seeing more of this couple and that topic in the future?

LM: You’ll definitely be seeing more of DJ and Ron. I don’t know if you’ll be seeing them specifically dealing with this artwork issue. DJ and Ron will continue as a couple in some way, shape, or form. As you can appreciate based upon the way the story ended, they are both very strong advocates and I think that DJ’s personality will continue to get her into trouble. Her nose will be in the wrong place at the right time and carry her on to the next mystery.

LH: Thank you so much for the interview.

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