Saturday, December 26, 2015

Guest Post: Getting to the Art of It All: Why My Mystery Novel Is Really About Art by Lisa Brunette

There’s a scene in Framed and Burning that teared me up as I wrote it and still affects me every time I read it. Cat and her wise, eccentric grandmother are investigating arson and murder amidst Art Basel, one of the biggest art festivals in the world, and this means encountering both artists and their art. Cat, however, is a true skeptic about the merits of most contemporary art, and her opinion on those who make it isn’t very high:

Cat felt the time was wasted, but she also knew from her criminal-justice classes that most of detective legwork wasn’t glamorous or even relevant. In the white elevator of Noshihara’s building, Granny Grace turned to Cat. “You know, you should really take more of an interest in our potential suspects.” 
“Do you know how much his lint sells for?” Cat spat back. “Fifty thousand dollars! For the fuzz some hipster scraped out of his pockets, Gran! It’s ridiculous. The whole art world is a joke.” 
Her grandmother raised an eyebrow at her. Sizing Cat up and down, she asked, “Let me see your lint.” 
“Let’s see it. Whatever you’ve got in your pocket. I want to know.” 
The elevator chimed, and they stepped out into the white-and- turquoise building vestibule, To Cat, it felt like walking into an iPod. Granny Grace steered her over to a white leather bench perched on aluminum legs. 
“There,” she said, pointing to the bench surface. “Take it out and set it there.” 
“We have two more people to interview on South Beach,” Cat protested. 
“Humor me.” 
“Fine.” Cat reached into the right pocket of her slacks, not expecting to find much, as they were warm-weather slacks and not appropriate for Seattle most of the year. She’d hardly worn them before this trip. 
She turned out her pocket, and a scraggly array of fibers fell into her hand. She set them on the bench. 
Granny Grace knelt to look at them closely, taking her smartphone and flipping to a light-bulb app, which illuminated the pocket lint. “Let’s see...” Amidst gray fibers from Cat’s pants, there was what looked like the corner of a dollar bill. Cat had to admit it was visually sort of interesting, but not earth-shattering or surprising in any way. 
“A bit of money. Big deal.” 
Also caught up in the gray pants fibers was a crumb from the pastry they’d had that morning at the Cuban bakery on Calle Ocho. “Yeah, that’s a cool detail,” Cat conceded. “But art worth tens of thousands? Hardly.” 
“The detritus of everyday life,” Granny Grace pronounced. “It tells the story of what we do with our hands, and what we value enough to keep with us.” 
“Sure,” Cat said, smiling. “So apparently I value food and money. Can we go now?” 
“What’s in your other pocket?”
“Really? We’re doing this?”
“Yes,” her grandmother said, motioning to the bench.
Cat emptied the contents of her other pocket.
Granny Grace bent forward like a forensics examiner. “Oh, 
look at this,” she said. “It’s paper...” She unrolled a piece of paper fiber that had obviously been through the wash. Faded but still readable were the words Dave’s Drive-In and a logo of a frosty soda mug with a happy smiling face superimposed on the white mug froth. 
Cat took it from Granny Grace’s hands. Seeing it instantly brought her back to the day that Lee had shown up in Missouri, worried about her, foolishly playing the white knight come to rescue her. She had no choice but to take him with her on a trip to Johnson’s Shut-Ins, where she found a clue, etched into the rocks there, that was relevant to her case. They’d stopped at Dave’s Drive-In for lunch on the way, and the two of them had scrunched up the papers around their straws and then siphoned soda onto them, watching them grow like worms. She’d felt like a kid again, laughing with Lee. 
Her eyes began to water. 
“What is it, Cat? Is it something from your trip back to St. Louis?” 
“Yes. I went there with Lee.” 
Cat felt her grandmother’s arms around her as the tears came. “Oh, my poor dear. You just got socked with the power of art.” 

I love the mentoring relationship Granny Grace has with Cat throughout the series. While Cat believed her instruction from her grandmother would solely be focused on their shared dreamslipping ability, Cat gets much more than she bargained for in apprenticing with her wise, eccentric grandmother.

Here Granny Grace teaches Cat about the power of art independent of its monetary value. Grace brings the artist’s message down to Cat at a personal level, and she can’t help but feel something.

Art has the power to make us stop and take notice. In this case, it’s the lint in one’s own pocket. While it’s fun to lampoon the excesses of the art world, as I do inFramed and Burning, I also wanted to acknowledge the lessons art has to teach us, and they are many.

Later in the book, the dreamslippers and their friends create another work of art together, and that’s a simple Christmas tree. From concept to final touches, everyone collaborates in the project, and it ends up providing a moment of meaning, healing, and symbolism that each one of them needs.

This requires an hibiscus tree and the ashes of their dead, beloved friend. But you’ll have to read the book to find out more.

Twitter: @lisa_brunette

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