Writing The Schuyler House: Inspiration from a real-life heist.

The Schuyler House begins with the story of four female art thieves, some of whom end up on the run. Oddly, I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of being on the run. Only the notion, of course; I’ve never actually committed a crime in my life.

A few years ago, I read a book about a woman who was on the run from the law and she made all sorts of stupid mistakes and ended up being captured. This made me want to write a story about a woman on the run who is smart enough not to get caught. As I thought about it more, I thought it would be cool if this woman was part of an all-female group of thieves.

At first, I envisioned the band of women robbing banks. I even collected articles and stories about bank robberies for a while. Then, one day I decided it would be more exciting if my female gang stole art instead. For inspiration I read a book about the epic 1990 heist at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, located in Boston, MA, and that solidified my decision.

An image from a Boston Globe story on the heist.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the famous Gardner robbery, it ‘s the largest art theft in American history and the thieves who pulled it off have never been caught. The robbers stole thirteen pieces of art, collectively now worth more than $500 million. Not a single one of these pieces has ever been found even though the Gardner recently offered a $10 million reward for their return (read about the reward here). One of the stolen pieces, The Concert by Vermeer, is estimated to be worth more than $200 million—possibly the most valuable unrecovered stolen painting ever, according to PBS.

After I read about the Gardner heist, my brain began to churn with story ideas. I started to develop plots and scenes in my head while I walked to work. This is how The Schuyler House was born. My wife Lisa and I were living in Chicago at the time, but ironically, we were relocated to Boston just as I was starting to put all my thoughts on paper. After we moved, I visited the Gardner for the first time. The museum is amazing but also really eerie. The thirteen empty frames still adorn its walls. The hair on my arms stood up when I walked into the museum’s Dutch Room (pictured below).

An empty frame in the Dutch Room which once held a painting by Rembrandt

The Schuyler House in my story is a fictional estate in upstate New York, and in my mind, it’s loosely based on both the Gardner Museum and the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC. Today, my wife and I are members of the Phillips and our current home is very close to the museum. Many aspects of The Schuyler House reflect experiences I’ve had in my own life (aside from being an art thief!). The two main characters, Mattie Pearson and Alex Holland, go to many places I’ve visited myself and they first meet on a bike path I’ve run on a thousand times.

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