Stephanie Kane is a lawyer and award-winning author of six crime novels. Born in Brooklyn, New York, she came to Colorado as a freshman at CU. She owned and ran a karate studio in Boulder and is a second-degree black belt. After graduating from law school, she was a corporate partner at a top Denver law firm before becoming a criminal defense attorney. She has lectured on money laundering and white-collar crime in Eastern Europe and given workshops throughout the country on writing technique. She lives in Denver with her husband and two cats.
Stephanie’s books have won A Colorado Book Award for Mystery and two Colorado Authors League Awards for Genre Fiction. Her latest crime novel, “A Perfect Eye,” is a finalist for three awards: Colorado Authors League Award for Mystery, Crime, Suspense; Willa Literary Award for Original Softcover Fiction; and National Indie Excellence Award for Mystery.
The following is an interview with the author.
Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit.
What inspired you to write this book?
I wanted to create a new kind of detective and place her in a world foreign to me: art.
Lily Sparks, Paintings Conservator at the Denver Art Museum, has a uniquely discerning eye. Making Lily a paintings conservator lets me explore themes related to art and crime: the passions that drive artists and criminals and how they play off each other, how art can inspire crime, and what a criminal’s identification with an artist might drive him or her to do. “A Perfect Eye” pits Lily’s eye against a forger with a grudge against the art world.
Lily comes by her eye honestly. After her mom died, her dad started taking her on neighborhood walks to teach her to be observant and remember what she saw. He made it a game, retracing their steps and asking her what had changed. Each time she saw something new.
What starts out as a way to bond becomes a talent that sets Lily on her path to becoming an art conservator. But you have to ask why a dad would train his daughter to do that. Is it to protect her—or to distract her from something he doesn’t want her to see? That question is the foundation for Lily’s character arc.
Every gift has a downside, and Lily’s is no exception. Focusing on details can make you miss the bigger picture, in effect blind you to the meaning of what’s right under your nose. Across her mystery series, she moves away from her laser focus on details to seeing the bigger picture.
Place this excerpt in context. How does it fit into the book as a whole and why did you select it?
Chapter 3 shows Lily’s eye at work, and how she uses her training in art to analyze a crime scene. By looking at crime scenes through an artist’s lens, she sees an entirely different set of clues. Called in on a particularly grisly case, she recognizes it as the work of a warped artist.
Tell us about creating this book: any research and travel you might have done, any other influences on which you drew?
Lily was inspired by a real person: art historian Amy Herman, who wrote a nonfiction book called “Visual Intelligence.” Herman teaches medical students, lawyers, FBI agents and cops to be more observant by studying paintings in museums. I thought that would be a cool skill set for a new kind of detective.
“A Perfect Eye” also required a great deal of research into museum culture, conservators, and Impressionist painters and technique. I hit the books, then interviewed a curator, conservators, and a museum docent. I toured two conservation labs. Human sources brought Lily and her world alive.
In researching art forgers, I was surprised to learn some of the best are scorned artists. To them, the financial incentive is secondary; they do it to put one over on the art world, to prove the experts wrong. That becomes their downfall: once they succeed, they want recognition—to have their cake and eat it, too. But without a real painter to copy, they’re nobody.
What were the biggest challenges you faced, or surprises you encountered in completing this book?
The biggest challenge was penetrating the museum world. Like all cultures, it has its own internal tensions, lingo and taboos. (The biggest taboo is never ask what anything costs!) When I interview live sources, I listen for slang or jargon—if I’m lucky enough to catch it, what I think of as Orwellian double-speak. Docents-in-training are called “Provisionals.” Museum guards are now “gallery hosts.” Sounds innocent, right? But a mystery writer can make anything Orwellian.
Walk us through your writing process: Where and when do you write? What time of day? Do you listen to music, need quiet?
My process is fueled by solitude and caffeine. An ideal writing day starts with a brisk early-morning swim in an outdoor pool followed by a tall iced coffee. If the weather’s good, I write on a screened porch with a backdrop of birds and light traffic and no other distractions.
What’s your next project?
“Automat,” Lily’s second mystery, released on October 15.
The title comes from a painting by mid-century American realist painter Edward Hopper, best known for his disengaged customers in a neon-lit diner and his flapper staring into a coffee cup in a lonely automat at night. What drew me to Hopper was that he painted the same hard-featured woman over and over again. What would happen if a killer overidentified with the artist and his subject, and decided to avenge him?