Friday, July 29, 2011

Guest Post + Giveaway: Carson Morton Author of Stealing Mona Lisa

Historical Fiction as a Collage By Carson Morton 

In my novel, Stealing Mona Lisa, a fictionalized account of the actual theft of The Mona Lisa from the Louvre Museum in 1911, one of the characters discovers the artistic potential of creating avant-garde collages. A collage is a good metaphor for how I created the plot that turns a simple act of theft into a fully fleshed out mystery, adventure, romantic thriller to (hopefully) keep the reader turning the pages till there simply are no more. The challenge in trying to accomplish this was to take the existing elements: an historical fact, the mythology that grew up around that fact, a devastating natural disaster; and find a thread that, with the help of real and imagined characters, tie them all together.

The first elements in the collage were the facts of the actual theft. In 1911, a disgruntled former employee of the Louvre, Vincenzo Peruggia, hid overnight in a paint-supply closet and emerged the following morning, a day the museum was closed for cleaning. Disguised as a maintenance man, he walked into the Salon Carré, lifted The Mona Lisa off the wall, stuffed it under his workman’s blouse, and walked out into the streets of Paris. Being an Italian, he apparently had some vague idea that the masterpiece belonged back in Italy where it had been created by Leonardo DaVinci 500 years previously. Apparently in no hurry to repatriate his prize, he kept it under his shirts in a drawer for two years before trying to sell it to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy. He was arrested for his troubles. Other than the audacity of the crime, there was not much story there.

The next element was the account, almost certainly apocryphal, that emerged years later concerning a suave mastermind, the Marquis de Valfierno, who orchestrated the theft as part of a scheme to sell six copies to six American Robber Barons. Now we were getting somewhere. Elements one and two, Peruggia and Valfierno, fit together quite nicely. The next task was to assemble the rest of the team. From Ulysses to The Dirty Dozen, every good adventure involves the assembly of a team of misfits. Emilé was a young street urchin when Valfierno first found him. For years, he has been Robin to Valfierno’s Batman. Julia Conway is a young American pickpocket whose sticky fingers prove indispensible to the scheme. And finally there is Diego, the brooding, bad-tempered artist who will create the perfect forgeries. Now I had to come up with a worthy adversary or two. The main target of Valfierno’s scam is Joshua Hart, a filthy rich Robber Baron who will stop at nothing to get what he wants. He makes the perfect antagonist, but just for good measure, there is Carnot, the persistent French police inspector whose career will be ruined if he does not apprehend the thieves and recover The Mona Lisa.

Two more elements were needed to make the collage work: motivation and a great setting for a slam-bang climax. The original motivation, of course, was money and lots of it. But that would never be enough to make a reader care. Luckily, Joshua Hart has a rather beautiful, but neglected young wife, Ellen. Ellen was forced into the marriage to provide for her incapacitated mother after her father died leaving the family penniless. Hart treats his wife as little more than a possession, and Valfierno, breaking his own rule of never mixing business with pleasure, finds himself falling for the lovely “bird in a gilded cage.” But how to help her without jeopardizing his carefully planned-out scheme? Not only motivation, but a powerful dilemma!

Which left one more element to be put into place: a dramatic setting for the climax of the story. Time for a little research. I came up with the idea of using the Paris Metro as the background for the final confrontation. It had opened only ten years earlier in 1900 and was still under construction at the time of my story. Perhaps a sort of “The Great Train Robbery” chase in the tunnels beneath Paris would do the trick. But then I stumbled onto something even more interesting, a photograph of men in a boat floating on the tracks of a Metro station. Digging deeper, I quickly discovered that around the time of my story, Paris was inundated by a terrible flood that sent thousands fleeing to higher ground, and, more importantly, flooded train stations and Metro tunnels. This was the final piece of the puzzle, the final element of the story collage. By blending all these elements together with some careful coloring around the edges, I would have a full-blooded story that would take the reader through the pages like the flood washed my characters through the Metro tunnels beneath Paris. That was the hope anyway.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but I hope my 90,000 words will paint a series of colorful pictures revealing the Paris of long ago, a romantic City of Light, contrasted with the dark shadows of intrigue and duplicity.

Book Synopsis:
What could be more lucrative than stealing Da Vinci’s masterpiece Mona Lisa from the Louvre Museum and selling it to an American Robber Baron? How about stealing it and selling six exact copies to six American Robber Barons?

This is the plan that master conman Eduardo de Valfierno comes up with in the historical novel, Stealing Mona Lisa. Loosely based on the true story of the theft of the world’s greatest painting in 1911, the novel is set against the colorful milieu of early 20th Century Paris.

At first, Valfierno’s plan goes like clockwork, but his scheme begins to unravel when he finds himself falling in love with Ellen, the young bird-in-a-gilded-cage wife of Joshua Hart, his richest and most powerful - not to mention vindictive - customer. The story climaxes against the backdrop of another actual event from the same time period, the devastating flooding of Paris by the rain-swollen River Seine.

This giveaway is open to both the US and Canadian Residents! It will end August 12th at 12:00 A.M.

Giveaway Guidelines: 
-You must be a Follower of this blog through the GFC follower in order to be entered into this giveaway.
-Please leave your name and email address in order for me to contact you if you are the winner. If an email is not listed then unfortunately you will not be entered.
+1 extra entry for being a new follower of this blog. 
+1 extra entry each time you post this giveaway on twitter, facebook and/or on your blog somewhere. To count please leave a link in the comment section.


  1. I would love to win this! I'm a follower! Thanks!


  2. Wow, this sounds like a fascinating read! I know the Mona Lisa's been stolen before, but Valfierno's scam, the additional characters, and the other events being worked into the novel make it sound even more interesting.

    Thanks for the giveaway! I'm an old GFC follower.

    susanna DOT pyatt AT student DOT rcsnc DOT org

  3. This sounds like a fantastic read - it has all the elements I love in a story - mystery, adventure, romance and a European setting. I used to spend my Friday nights in the Louvre and I would love to be transported back there!

    Thanks for the giveaway!

    I am a GFC Follower.

  4. I would love to win this book! I'm a follower and look forward to your posts in my reader. Thanks for the giveaway!

  5. I love books that delve into the art world! Thanks so much for the giveaway! I am a follower.

    tiger_fan_1997 AT yahoo DOT com

  6. This book seems great! Thanks for the giveaway!!

    -Jessica (Peace Love Books)

  7. thank you for visiting & for the giveaway!!!!!

    sharing on


  8. Sounds great! dragonflame720 at yahoo dot com and @teralynpilgrim

  9. This sounds terrific. I love Paris and I love art. Thanks for offering such a great giveaway.

    I follow!


  10. Just found your blog, Thanks for sharing I love your reviews!!
    I signed up to be a follower and I also posted on my blog


  11. I follow on GFC-Lisa Richards!/alterlisa/status/98998356776456192

    alterlisa AT yahoo DOT com

  12. Sounds great, please enter me in the giveaway! I am a GFC follower (Colleen Turner).

  13. Please enter me in the draw!

    I'm following you by GFC (Darlene), and my email address is darlenesbooknook at gmail dot com.

    Thanks for the giveaway!

  14. +1 for tweeting:!/DarleneBookNook/status/99850912603967488

    darlenesbooknook at gmail dot com

  15. +1 for sharing on Facebook:

    darlenesbooknook at gmail dot com

  16. I would love a chance to win the book. Sounds like a great read.


    felicialso @gmail .com

    I am a follower on google and twitter

  17. This sounds amazing! Stealing the Mona Lisa is such an interesting topic.

    I'm a new follower!

  18. I'd love to read this book. I'm a new GFC follower.