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:
“The Great Pretender”
forgepaint 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):
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.