Under the Influence: When Books Inspire

A Chat with Xe Sands
(and a Delicious Giveaway)

Today I have the pleasure of spending some time with audiobook narrator Xe Sands talking about milestones, books that inspire, and the reading life. I hope you enjoy the conversation and the enter to win our The Art Forger prize pack. Xe’s including cookies! Yum!

Literate Housewife: Congratulations on your 50th audiobook!  The Art Forger was one of my most anticipated BEA books this year. How did it feel to get offered that project?

Xe Sands: Thank you! It’s been a blessing to know you for almost the whole crazy rollercoaster ride. And thanks for having me on to talk about one of my favorites among them, as well as other things…and giveaway FABULOUS THINGS.

As for The Art Forger specifically, it felt absolutely amazing to be offered this project. I’m probably supposed to say something about it “reflecting the maturation of my delivery,” and while that’s likely true, it really felt more like that moment when the cute boy at the party waves at you, and you turn around, expecting to see that he meant the pretty girl behind you…only to realize he really meant you. ”ME? You mean ME?” I believe you were the recipient of a private message or two about my, ahem, excitement at being offered the project. To be trusted with such a wonderfully written piece of exactly what I love narrating most, and have it also be one of the most anticipated releases of 2012? It felt…delicious.

But enough about me – let’s talk about the BOOK! And what a book…I found it smart, heartbreaking and most of all, inspiring. Before reading this, I’ll just confess it outright: I was bored by museums and the work of “The Masters.” But this book had a profound impact on my relationship with this type of art. It also inspired me to research the original heist. I’m sensing you had a similar experience?

LH: Yes. I can‘t say I was bored by museums, but art isn‘t something I spend most of my time thinking about. It’s safe to say that I’m by no means an art aficionado. In fact, I had no idea that the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum was real and that the heist described in the book actually happened. I was pleasantly surprised to learn this after I’d finished the book. It felt right that it was a real museum because the book felt so real to me. Were you aware of the fact behind the fiction while recording it?

XS: Going into the pre-read, I was not particularly familiar with the history. But as soon as Claire begins to express such awe at what she’s asked to reproduce, I had to know everything there was to know about the painting and the heist. What I didn’t realize until I got to the end and read the author’s note (sadly not included in the audio version) is that the painting cited in the book is a fictional piece. I spent HOURS searching for it online because I wanted so desperately to share in Claire’s reverence for it. And isn’t that the hallmark of a great read? That it makes you want to branch out, know more about whatever the book touches on? Have you had this experience with other books?

LH: Branching out from the reading experience is most definitely a sign of a great book. When I think of book that have made me want to learn more, The Other Boleyn Girl comes to mind. It was one of the first books I read while blogging and I went on an all out Henry VIII binge. There’s no other word to describe it. I wasn’t just on the hunt for other Tudor fiction. I wanted to read everything factual I could get my hands on. I simply could not get enough. I have always loved studying history, but that was an era I had never given much consideration. Learning as much as I could became a hobby of sorts. Five years later, I may not be as rabid as I was before, but I cannot pass by an article about that time period or a review about a Tudor-related novel with potential. I love how that one book opened up a window for me. Never underestimate the power of the right book at the right time.

I hope that aspect of the reading life never goes away. Each time I open a new book I’m opening myself up to new possibilities. That makes books the most powerful rewards out there. I know you feel the same way because we’ve entered into a little contest together. Here’s a little background:

I have been under a lot of stress at work recently and the anxiety is wearing me thin in so many ways (except my waistline!). I’m a stress eater, knowing full well that eating does not make me feel better for very long. In fact, it really just piles on additional anxiety. I was telling Xe last week that what I really needed to do to work the anxiety out of my body is to exercise. Taking a walk would really help keep those heart pounding sensations at bay. When I told her what I was thinking, Xe proposed that we buddy up and commit to exercising at least three times a week. She also suggested a reward system: we’d reward each other with mystery reads. They don’t have to be new books, just surprises for a job well done during the past month. Wouldn’t you know it. I’m feeling motivated to move because I want a little reading reward. In fact, my plan is to Xe, there’s not much you can’t accomplish with a book and a friend, is there? Who knows where our mystery reads might lead us. It’s a little like picking a door from Monty Hall, isn’t it? I promise you I will do my best not to send you any donkeys. LOL!

XS: Oh hey, I like donkeys…it’s those adorable gigantic ears that stick straight up. Seriously though, you are absolutely right – a book and the support of a good friend can take you miles along your journey. I love that we found just the right motivator for us, and I’m already hunting for the perfect Literate Housewife mystery read – so stay on track, lady!

And I just love it when a book is so compelling that places or figures from it seep into my awareness and demand to be explored. That happened when I read Her Fearful Symmetry, by Audrey Neffenegger. Love her work, and while the novel had its issues, it inspired quite a bit of research into Highgate Cemetery in London. I must now go there before I die.

LH: Going back to The Art Forger. There was so much to love, but I particularly enjoyed the time Claire spent with the canvases, reviewing the technique used by the master and then replicating it. Is there any one aspect that stuck out the most to you?

XS: Oh I agree – that was a wonderful aspect to the book, and Shapiro’s writing is strong enough to paint a vivid image of Claire’s studio, her experience prepping for the forgery.

Hmm, there are several aspects that really struck me, but I think what effected me most is Claire’s inner turmoil, her conflicted nature. I think this is actually best captured in Chapter 1, when we see Claire preparing for her first studio visit, and then being offered the Faustian bargain. Sure, she is bitter about what happened, but she also feels a tremendous amount of guilt and no small amount of self-loathing. All this is tempered with an artist’s constant struggle: between loving and hating their work – believing it is exceptional, while at the same time feeling terribly insecure about it. I also loved how she would lose all that insecurity and self-judgment when working on her own paintings…that rang very true to me as an artist, as did her absolute NEED to keep creating, despite her being ostracized within the art world.

LH: Claire is definitely a study in perseverance. We learn overtime why she is somewhat of a pariah in the current art scene. Still, she finds a way to earn a meager living that affords her the time to paint her own projects that might truly never see the light of day. What do you think it is about her keeps her eyes on the prize? Do you think the sacrifices she made along the way were, in the end, worth it for her?

XS: I don’t know that it’s that she keeps her eyes on any sort of prize – not really. I think that her perseverance is due to that need to create, coupled with a sense that despite her poor choices, she was still “in the right.” She carries a lot of hope that her past actions will not always define her as an artist, as evidenced by her continued participation in contests and such. While she maintains that hope, I think she creates primarily because she can’t NOT create.

As for the sacrifices, hmm. I would say no, the original sacrifices she made were not worth it. She could have had a wonderful, MUCH less stressful career if she had not made those crucial choices about three years before we first meet her. She lost everything in that first bargain with Isaac, and whatever outcome she ultimately achieved is not, in my view, enough to compensate for those personal and professional losses. That said, this is one of the things I love most about her: I can imagine making virtually all the same choices, especially half a lifetime ago.

What do you think? Did she come across as hopeful to you, or resigned to her fate? And do you think her original sacrifices were worth what she ultimately achieves (which admittedly, she couldn’t have without this particular journey)?

LH: What you have said about her not being able not to create really makes sense to me. The more I think about it, the more I’m almost positive that she wouldn’t have had it any of it any other way. It made her who she was as an artist and as a person. She is aware of the good and the bad that have come from her decisions and, not without some small regrets, I think she’s made peace with it.

XS: You know, I think I need to reverse myself a bit. I definitely think that, by the end, she has made peace with her choices and what came of them. Although by then, I think her rose-colored glasses have been smashed and ground into dust.

LH: You know, I realized how good this book was when, as I was writing my review (I‘ll be publishing it tomorrow), I realized I wished I could really see Claire’s own paintings. We’ve already talked a bit about how this and other books inspire us in different ways, but did I hear that it served as your inspiration for Halloween this year?

XS: LOL! Yes, you heard correctly. I have a friend who hosts an early, annual Halloween extravaganza, with costumes REQUIRED. No exceptions! So this year, I went as Claire Roth from The Art Forger. OK, it was almost cheating as I’m an artist, so I’ve already got paint splattered overalls and paint and brushes and a palette, etc. I donned those overalls, comfy slippers, and splattered myself with paint, put a palette knife in my hair and brushes in my front pocket and wore a sign that read:

Claire Roth
“The Great Pretender”
Will forge paint Degas for food

It was a bunch of fun and as the book, although since the book hadn’t yet released, I had to do a lot of explaining. I thought of it as creative marketing 🙂

LH: Xe, I really would have been amazing if you‘d painted something while you were at the party. I‘d love a “Claire Roth original.” LOL! We have something better to giveaway today though, don’t we?

XS: Well, definitely better than what I would have been able to paint! Yes, we have FABULOUS THINGS to give away. I’m giving away my copy of The Art Forger + a yummy selection of cookies! And I love that you’re throwing in your print version of The Art Forger. This particular giveaway will run through tomorrow (Friday). To enter, leave a comment with a story of being “under the influence” of a great read to enter.

And if you are up for even more potential loot, check out the other stops along the 50th Book Blowout Blog Hop (all giveaways go through Friday, 11/9):

Books, Personally
Giveaway: Magnificence, by Lydia Millet (audiobook) + cookies

Southern Romance Magicians
Giveaway: Hearts of Darkness, by Kira Brady (audiobook) + chocolate; Incandescent, by M.V. Freeman (eBook) + chocolate and candle

Giveaway: Forbidden, by Jacquelyn Frank (audiobook) + Full Set of Nightwalkers, by Jacquelyn Frank (audiobooks) + cookies

LH: Good luck, everyone! I will be using random.org to pick the lucky commenter for the The Art Forger prize pack.

Xe, thank you so much for dropping by and talking books, inspiration, and the reading life. I certainly hope my readers enjoy this conversation half as much as we did.


  • At 2012.11.09 07:55, Patti Smith said:

    Because of my addled brain, I forgot to mention that a particular audio production that really pulled me in was Gods of Gotham…I liked the audio so much that I actually bought the hardback as well after I finished the audio. Silly, I know…but now, I also can’t get enough of info about old NY…same with The Chaperone and googling everything I can find about Louise Brooks and the plight of orphans and women’s rights during that time period. I also bought that hardback after finishing the audio :p
    Of course, my “all out binge” after reading The Lincoln Conspiracy was about Abraham Lincoln, not Henry VIII…just thought I’d clear that up from my previous comment (yes, I’m an English teacher…why do you ask?) 😉

    • At 2012.11.09 12:29, Xe Sands said:

      LOL! It’s all good. Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing that, Patti!

      • At 2012.11.10 00:15, Jennifer said:

        I absolutely loved Gods of Gotham (can’t wait for the sequel!) and The Chaperone. I read them both in print, but I bet the audiobooks were fantastic. If you enjoyed Gods of Gotham, I just recently listened to Lindsay Faye’s first novel, Dust and Shadow. It’s a Homes and Watson mystery surrounding Jack the Ripper. Simon Vance narrates and it is to die for!

      • At 2012.11.09 08:58, Diana said:

        I saw my comment post last night right after skinmaan’s but it seems to have disappeared. I assure you I’m not spam.

        • At 2012.11.09 12:27, Xe Sands said:

          Glad you persevered! I see both now 🙂 This happens to me on blogs frequently, so I’m glad you thought to check.

          And thanks for joining me on the blog tour this week. It’s been a *little* hectic and crazy, but tons of fun – very thankful to all my hosts. And I’ve been intrigued by 11/22/63 for a while. Think it just moved to my TBR pile 🙂

          • At 2012.11.10 00:16, Jennifer said:

            Sorry about that Diane! I have no idea what happened. I was sure I approved everything. Thankfully your comments are still here after I approved them this morning.

          • At 2012.11.09 11:14, Sheila (Book Journey) said:

            This sounds so good – I am sold! 🙂 My “influence” as of late has been all things John Green I have listened to all his books on audio and I am HOOKED! Great giveaway!

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            • At 2012.11.09 12:28, Xe Sands said:

              Ohhhhhh,…John Green!! My daughter is a huge fan (she’s reading TFIOS right now). TFIOS is one of the few books I will actually read twice (I know I’m the anomaly – I don’t re-read, in general).

              • At 2012.11.10 00:17, Jennifer said:

                Dagnabit! I need to get on the John Greene bandwagon. I see his name everywhere. Good luck with the giveaway, Sheila!

              • At 2012.11.09 14:50, heidenkind said:

                Hi Xe! Your costume reminds me of Remedios Varo. Whenever she was short on cash, she and Victor Brauner would paint up some “de Chiricos” and sell them for cash on the streets of Paris. Oh art forgers…

                I think the book that’s influenced me most recently is Dracula. I totally started shipping Mina and Dr. Seward. I also insisted on making chicken paprikash because Jonathan Harker has it in Transylvania.

                • At 2012.11.09 15:45, Xe Sands said:

                  Haha! Oh I love that. Would that I had that type of painting skill (I cried when i tried to paint a rose…it came out as a diatribe on the darker side of motherhood). And that the book inspired you to cook – well that’s just freakin’ awesome 🙂

                  • At 2012.11.10 00:18, Jennifer said:

                    Your Dracula-inspired dinner is fantastic! I just recently read Dracula myself. Despite it’s Victorian melodrama, I really enjoyed it. I listened to the audiobook and the performances were so good.

                    • At 2012.11.10 17:16, heidenkind said:

                      I did, too. I loooooooove Alan Cumming.

                  • At 2012.11.09 15:01, Melanie said:

                    I love this post the best of all of Xe’s meanderings this week – girl gets around! It’s been really fun seeing so many different interview/blog styles, too. But The Art Forger is the book that most intrigues me – it’s on the list for sure!

                    At the moment I’m totally lost in L Faye’s Dust & Shadow (narr by S Vance). I want to go to London so badly! In the past! But not when Jack the Ripper might get me!

                    • At 2012.11.09 15:46, Xe Sands said:

                      Hello my dear! This was tons of fun – and I was feeling a bit loopy by the time I got over here (which everyone seems to find amusing – I can’t imagine why ;). You will definitely like The Art Forger – I have pretty much no doubt about that.

                      Dust and Shadow sounds excellent. Dear lord, my TBR pile need a whole bunch of scaffolding to hold it up at this point…

                      • At 2012.11.11 01:48, Melanie said:

                        LOL! Yes, why would your head be spinning at all?

                        I made a friend today who reads *almost* as much as I do, and we made vows about slowing down the insane amounts of reading we do (so we can write more). And then I hit up both my libraries on the way home and checked out a total of 11 new books. My TBR pile is… unwieldy.

                        • At 2012.11.11 16:36, Xe Sands said:

                          LOL! 11? Woman, there might be need for an intervention…

                      • At 2012.11.10 00:20, Jennifer said:

                        I did not lead you astray with Dust and Shadow, did I? It was so much darn fun to listen to. I hope you make it to London. I would love to go there someday myself. Sigh…

                        • At 2012.11.11 01:45, Melanie said:

                          Oh, no, you did not lead me astray at all. I had to stop 2 chapters from the end because I just didn’t want to get to ‘thank you for listening…’
                          (Actually, I had to stop because my husband was beating me with a throw pillow. I was innocently laying in bed listening over my phone (no headphones) and he wanted to know what it was. I told him about the book, and then, “It’s Simon Vance….” He felt compelled to remind me that it’s just a voice, and I shouldn’t be seduced away from him by it. So then I felt compelled to remind him that he sounded all Irish and stuff when we met, and now he sounds all American instead. I consider that a breach of contract, don’t you?)

                          • At 2012.11.11 16:37, Xe Sands said:

                            Absolutely. Total breach of contract…I’m sure that if he checked your vows, there would have been a tiny asterisked section on “Maintaining the Lilt.”

                            • At 2012.11.11 19:59, Melanie said:

                              I mean, we wrote our own vows, and it’s not like he remembers them all that well. (Nor do I.) I could just find them, like, in preparation for our 20th next year, and present them with one or two slight modifications.

                              Also, I just counted, and I have 27 books checked out (paper & Kindle) – never mind the audio. Thank goodness I can renew some of it!

                      • At 2012.11.10 00:12, Jennifer said:

                        Diane, I have 11/22/63 in audio. You have me wanting to listen right now! Maybe after I finish Bleak House. Good luck with the giveaway!

                        • At 2012.11.10 00:13, Jennifer said:

                          A Tudor binge is a binge you don’t have to apologize for the next morning. LOL!

                          • At 2012.11.23 19:26, carol in Indiana said:

                            I started reading this book a day or two ago. I really do like it!

                            • […] Under the Influence: When Books Inspire (literatehousewife.com) […]

                              • At 2013.01.07 04:02, #488 ~ The Art Forger said:

                                […] Xe Sands. If audio is your format, check out the audio sample on the Highbridge Audio site. Also, Xe Sands and I discussed The Art Forger in conjunction with the book’s release. This is a little more […]

                                (Required, will not be published)

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