Monday, October 28, 2013

Carl Brookins, Guest Blogger

Last week, I reviewed Carl Brookins' mystery, The Case of the Purloined Painting. It's my pleasure
to welcome Carl as guest blogger today. He's going to talk about where he gets his ideas, and discuss that mystery. I'm afraid when I read the book, I missed one of the connections he makes in this guest piece. I know I was shocked at the time it happened, but when I read Brookins' novel, I failed to think of our recent history. I'm glad he brought it up in today's blog. Thank you, Carl.

Where do your plot ideas come from? by Carl Brookins 
 I frequently hear that question and its variations from my audiences. I have developed several responses, some almost as creative as my novels. My responses are more or less satisfying, depending, I suspect, on the expectations of the questioner. One of my responses is that I make ‘em up as I go along. Some ideas are born out of real events. Some I suspect, are born out of a bottle, but that’s a different sort of essay.

Not too long ago, one of my nieces told me a bizarre tale about a man who owned property near them. One dark night for no known reason he apparently took the controls of a nearby bulldozer and drove it erratically down a very steep incline. He managed to fell many trees and crossed the private property of several understandably irate neighbors. Law suits ensued. In my story, the ‘dozer man is murdered, presumably by one or many of his highly offended victims. But in my tale there are motives and there are motives and the resulting story is almost as twisted as the path of destruction the dozer carved down that hillside.

In 1943 President Franklin D. Roosevelt saw the great destruction being wreaked on Europe from the bombing and soon to be invasion of Nazi occupied territory. He and others worried about the potential loss of cultural history. Paintings and some sculpture could be moved from harm’s way, but not cathedrals. In Italy, Monte Cassino was destroyed by the Allies due to faulty intelligence. The question arose: could such a disaster be avoided while still prosecuting the war effectively? A unit was formed to advise bomber command and, later, General Eisenhower’s commanders. Trains carrying plundered art were not strafed, cathedrals and churches and large statuary were protected as best they could be. The unit was called “The Monuments Men.” There was a documentary, a book and soon a feature film.

Fast forward to 2003. American forces have swept into and occupied significant parts of Iraq and Baghdad. With martial law not yet established, looters raid the museums of the city and abscond with thousands of ancient and irreplaceable artifacts from the earliest human developments in that part of Asia. Many of those artifacts have never been located or returned. I was shocked and disheartened. Had we learned nothing from our history? Where was the thoughtful American government, thaty could have been working to preserve the cultural icons of the Muslim nation?

Those incidents and history gave me the idea for a story that would be much smaller and more personal and would, I hoped, focus a little attention on the importance of finding and restoring to rightful owners, the cultural and art treasures appropriated during wartime. Hence, “The Case of the Purloined Painting.”

A friend of mine, a good mystery writer, suggests that authors are like cosmic vacuum cleaners. We observe and take in all sorts of detritus and bits left lying about by friends and acquaintances. We watch you and we remember and record and then we massage and twist and think and use those bits to fashion words and sentences and whole plots. I heard a phrase passed between two vendors while walking through the airport at Minneapolis. It was so rich and indicative of an action that I wrote it down and used it in a story. It is said that Raymond Chandler put all sorts of made-up words in the mouths of his characters. It is further said that the words were so descriptive and powerful some of them became the street jargon of cops and robbers. Read a Loren Estelman detective story set in Detroit and you’ll be introduced to a whole different language, a jargon that gives the stories verve and authenticity.  But is it real?

My story ideas come from life, from experiences, from daily contacts with other humans. That’s why I’ll never run out of them. Ideas. Like most authors, my story ideas and my plots come from the universe.

Carl Brookins' website is

The Case of the Purloined Painting by Carl Brookins. North Star Press of St. Cloud, Inc. 2013. ISBN 9780878397082 (paperback), 166p.


Beth Hoffman said...

Hello, Carl ... It's nice to meet you via Lesa's blog. I thoroughly enjoyed your guest post and smiled when I read your last sentence: "Like most authors, my story ideas and my plots come from the universe."

I wholeheartedly agree!

Reine said...

Close to my heart... I used to live a long block from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and had the luxury of visiting there whenever I wanted peace. Even the huge Museum of Fine Arts nearby is a peaceful place. There is a church-like reverence for the art and space that holds it. When the paintings were stolen from the Gardner, the empty frames retained their grace in a way that we could remember them and be sad. I'm still sad. But I have hope for something when I see the places where they used to be.

Lesa said...


I didnt' realize they left the empty frames at the Gardner. That is sad.

carl brookins said...

Books, both fictional and non have been written about the Gardner heist. Pieces of at least one, reside in my story. And to Beth, likewise.