Hello darling readers! We did a brief Q&A with Richard Smolev, author of Offerings, an intense, fast-paced tale about a woman’s quest to return stolen art to its original owner amidst the financial turmoil and sketchy dealings of Wall Street. Learning about Smolev’s background and inspiration was a genuine treat, and I hope you pick up this book and enjoy it as much as I did!
Tell us a little bit about your background. Where did you get your inspiration for Offerings?
I practiced law for nearly 40 years, although part of me always wanted to write fiction. When I finally found the time and courage to dive into writing and was wondering what might be an intriguing topic, I found a book in the Glencoe, Illinois library titled The Rape of Europa, which I mention in my acknowledgments. The book focuses on the US soldiers who after WWII were tasked with recovering art the Nazis had confiscated. Some of those soldiers actually stole a few of the pieces themselves. The issue resonated with me because one of my partners was handling a piece of litigation between a museum and a family seeking to recover a stolen painting. The novel started from the perspective of a young man whose father was prosecuted for that theft. Chris Franklin was the first character I developed.
Chris’s story needed more conflict and energy, so I put the painting into the middle of a deal. Initially, the bankers on the other side were all men, but I wanted a fresh perspective and added Kate into the mix. Telling the story from a woman’s point of view gave me the energy and traction I needed to shape the entire story.
Kate has such a resilient spirit, and one can’t help but feel deep empathy for her as she attempts to safeguard and uphold the domestic realm and juggle her dealings in the corporate world. Is this a struggle that you’ve encountered a lot in your life and work?
If you’ll allow me to generalize, I think it’s far harder for a woman to manage a high profile and high maintenance career while also dealing with family issues than it is for a man. I credit my wife in the book as teaching me how a woman can keep so many balls in the air with such grace, but I could have mentioned so many of my female partners and colleagues at Kaye Scholer who, like Kate, respond to every business demand with strength and fortitude regardless of what family or other issues are tugging at them at the same time.
It’s obvious from reading the book that you are comfortable with the jargon necessary to pull off such an ambitious plot. But how difficult was it to convey the financial world of Wall Street to readers who may not be familiar with it?
I spent my career in courtrooms, where I had to translate complex legal and financial relationships into terms that laymen can understand, so distilling the information in the story came relatively easily to me. I also learned a great deal about how to present legal and financial topics in a way that readers both could understand and be interested enough to continue to turn the page by reading and re-reading a number of Scott Turow’s books.
In between covering subjects such as WWII history, art, culture and economics, I imagine a lot of research went into writing Offerings. Can you give us a glimpse of what your research entailed?
Much of the research took the delightful form of travel. Nancy and I were so taken by Gaudi’s architecture when we visited Barcelona that I was determined to give one of his masterpieces a prominent role in the story. The Casa Batlló, across the street from Michael Hirsch’s office, is one of the most remarkable buildings I’ve ever seen and is why so much of the story takes place there. And when we visited Montserrat in early May, the fields surrounding the church were filled with red poppies. How could I resist bringing them into the story?
What authors or novels do you frequently turn to for guidance? What book is currently on your nightstand?
This is one of those questions that puts me at risk of creating a list and then forgetting someone, so I’ll be intentionally brief. I turn to books where the author both sweeps me into the story and doesn’t let go and at the same time teaches me valuable lessons about the craft of fiction through the care and elegance of the writing. Carol Edgarian, Min Jin Lee, Scott, Saul Bellow, Ian McEwan, William Trevor all come to mind quickly. I’m currently reading (yet again) Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner.
What did you learn from writing this first novel that you feel you could utilize in the composition of future works?
Every word counts. Every scene must have crisis, conflict and resolution. And, probably the hardest lesson for this lawyer to learn was that the author must give his narrator room to work and both of them should get out of their characters’ way as their stories unfold.
Do you have any advice for those writing their first novel?
Write. Don’t find excuses not to write. You can’t edit a blank page. And if you have questions, turn to people who know the craft and can guide you. I learned (and still am learning) so much from working with Tom Jenks. Tom and Carol founded Narrative Magazine, a free online literary journal that has a huge archive of great stories that authors can turn to for inspiration. Jump in and find an author that excites you.
Do you have anything else you’d like to add?
Dreams sometimes do come true. I’m so grateful to Academy Chicago for making one of mine find a home. And may I promote my next book, coming out in a few months? In Praise of Angels will take readers to a whole different time and place.