Be Persistent. An Interview with Carol Orange.



Carol ORANGE is the author of the novel, A Discerning Eye, centering around the still unsolved art heist at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum thirty-one years ago, which is also the subject of the hugely popular Netflix Docuseries This Is A Robbery.


Carol is an art industry insider, having owned an art gallery in Boston and worked as an art book editor in London. She has been featured in The Boston Globe, Zibby Owens’ Moms Don’t Have Time to Read podcast, Library Journal, The Atherton Review, Indelible Ink, SheKnows, and CrimeReads. She also spent two years in Paris researching the life and times of the French writer George Sand and is a long-term member of the New York Society Library fiction-writing group headed by author John Buchanan.


INTERVIEWER

Art has been a lifelong passion of yours – tell us about how art came into your life and how you turned to this art heist as inspiration for your debut novel.


ORANGE

I grew up in a small town in Westchester County, only thirty minutes from New York. My parents brought me into the city when I was five years old to the incredible Metropolitan Museum of Art. I studied Art History at Cornell University. After graduation, I lived in London with my husband and worked as a research editor on a book of Spanish art. Years later, I had an art gallery in Boston, where I moved with my academic husband. The art heist at my favorite museum in Boston, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, made me angry. How dare they steal our favorite art! I began imagining who would be motivated to steal paintings from this marvelous place. Then I wondered why they stole Degas drawings instead of a more valuable Michelangelo nearby. Why did they steal a Manet painting from a crowded room instead of a John Singer Sargent?


INTERVIEWER

Writing your first novel takes ten years, is the adage. Was this true for you? What was the most challenging part about writing A Discerning Eye?


ORANGE

Yes, it did take me ten years to write A Discerning Eye. I had a full-time job, so stealing the time to write was hard. So is writing a novel. I attended several writing workshops and joined a fiction writing group. Learning the craft of writing fiction takes time. My first draft was not robust. The hardest part of writing a novel is knowing when and what to revise. Often a writer will hear conflicting advice on what to change and why.


INTERVIEWER

What helped you the most along the way as you crafted your novel?


ORANGE

Meeting other writers who would and could give me helpful critical feedback. It is very difficult to find skilled editors of fiction. I went through a long trial and error process to find writers who are skilled at that.


INTERVIEWER

Before your novel was released, you had short stories and personal essays published in various publications. What insight can you share with aspiring writers about how to get publication credits?


ORANGE

I think the best advice to other writers about submitting writing is to be persistent. It also helps to know what various literary journals and online publications are looking for. It takes a good deal of time and energy to do this research. It also makes a huge difference to meet other writers, editors, and agents in person at writing conferences.


INTERVIEWER

Cavan Bridge Press published A Discerning Eye during the pandemic. Can you talk about your experience working with an indie press and the specific challenges of book promotion during this time?


ORANGE

Cavan Bridge Press did a great job with developmental editing and book production, including designing a great cover. With a small press, I had the opportunity for a lot of input. On the downside, I was left to do a lot of marketing on my own. During a pandemic, it was impossible to meet with potential readers in person. Zoom meetings are a blessing, but they can never replace in-person gatherings.


INTERVIEWER

Netflix has just released a Docuseries, This Is A Robbery, about the theft at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. How has this impacted your book promotion?


ORANGE

I hope to leverage the increased awareness of the Gardner theft from the Docuseries via social media and podcasts. The Netflix production is well done, but it leaves a lot of questions unanswered. The Boston police and the FBI focused on the theory that the mobster thieves were motivated by getting a get out of jail card. While this had happened in one instance with a Rembrandt, it seems unlikely that the thieves needed to steal 13 art objects for this purpose. My protagonist, art dealer Portia Malatesta, analyzes the stolen objects and comes up with a common underlying theme of the tension between light and dark existing in most of the paintings. She suspects this theme also exists inside the mastermind who engineered the heist.


INTERVIEWER

You have been disciplined in your approach to getting reviews for A Discerning Eye, and your work has paid off; the book has been reviewed favorably by The Boston Globe, Vanity Fair, Kirkus, and many other authors of note. You have also been interviewed by Diane Dewey of Dropping In, and you are set to appear on Zibby Owens’ podcast. So what advice do you have for writers about getting their work out there?


ORANGE

I hired a PR company to help me for two months leading up to the launch of the book, but my personal contacts (including friends of friends) made a huge difference in getting various venues to review the book and the audiobook. I’m not normally comfortable in promoting myself, but I talked myself into leaving my comfort zone.


INTERVIEWER

Your novel sets up a perfect opportunity for a series – what is next for your writing – will readers get to go on another adventure with your main character Portia Malatesta?


ORANGE

I am working on the sequel to A Discerning Eye. Portia Malatesta and Julian Henderson become a PI team focusing on stolen art. They are hired by a family in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to help them find their lost patrimony stolen in Nazi Germany. Portia and Julian first gain the support of all the family members for this project and then arrive in the small town of Haigerloch, where the family once lived for 600 years.


INTERVIEWER

Thank you, Carol!



Mina Manchester is an MFA candidate at Sewanee. Before coming to Five South, she was an assistant editor for Narrative Magazine for six years. Mina’s work has been published in HuffPost, Columbia Journal, The Normal School, and Inscape. Her short story “Opening Day” was a Finalist for the 2020 Pinch Literary Award, and her short story “Fight or Flight” was a Finalist for Cutthroat’s Rick DiMarinis Short Story Award. She was nominated for the UCLA James Kirkwood Award in Creative Writing. Mina has attended the Kenyon Review Writing Workshop, The Writer’s Hotel, where she was also a TA in 2020, and Narrative’s Art of the Story Workshop. She lives in Los Angeles with her family.