The Price of Inheritance is one of my favorite novels so far this summer. Filled with passion, intrigue, art, old money — it’s the best kind of novel. Before we get into conversation with author Karin Tanabe, here’s the story:
After eight years in the American Furniture department at Christie’s, twenty-nine-year-old Carolyn Everett is a rising star. But one wrong decision and a scandal leaves her unemployed and broken. Desperate to piece her life back together, Carolyn leaves New York City to work in a tiny antique store in Newport, Rhode Island.
One day at a small county auction, she discovers a piece of Middle Eastern pottery, which she purchases for twenty dollars on a hunch. Curiosity sends her on a mission to find its original owner, and she eventually winds up in the town’s United States Navy Base and in a relationship with notorious womanizer Marine Sergeant Tyler Ford, who claims the relic came to him as a gift from his translator during the early days of the Iraq War. From two different worlds, Tyler and Carolyn become obsessed with the mysterious relic, and each other, until the origin of the art comes under intense scrutiny and reveals a darker side of Tyler’s past. Carolyn still feels like there’s more to the story, but can she risk attaching herself to another scandal, and does she truly know the man she’s fallen in love with?
How did you get the idea for this novel? What came first, the characters, or the plot?
KT: I’m a huge fan of the movie The Red Violin, which follows the story of a priceless violin and its owners across four centuries. I loved the idea of centering a story on a valuable object and looking at how different people react to owning it. So the plot of my book came first, though I knew from the beginning that I wanted one of the characters to be a very sexy marine!
How, if at all, did writing The Price of Inheritance differ from the experience of writing your first novel, The List?
KT: It differed in about every way possible! To start with, I wrote The List while I still had a fulltime job as a reporter for Politico. Writing a book while working a sixty hour week = no fun. Writing The Price of Inheritance was my fulltime job, so I really got to enjoy the craft. Also, The List is very much based on my job at Politico, while The Price of Inheritance is totally fictional. I didn’t have to do much research for The List, because I knew the world of journalism very well; for The Price of Inheritance, I did months of research about the art and auction industries and loved every minute of it.
One of the most incredible things about this novel was the detail of the art world. You made this authenticity seem effortless. Did you ever work at an auction house? How did you research?
KT: Thank you! I never worked at an auction house but I would have loved to. If I hadn’t gone into journalism, I would have been knocking on the doors of Sotheby’s and Christie’s begging for a job. I chose to write about art because I love art, and it’s nice to write a book on a topic you feel passionately about as you’ll be spending plenty of time with it! To learn about the auction industry, there were people at Christie’s and Sotheby’s who were nice enough to talk to me about their day to day work. Through research I was able to find out a lot about art history, auctions and acquisitions, but I needed help with the quotidian routine at an auction house. I also attended too many auctions to count, which was plain old awesome. I had to sit on my hands not to bid on paintings I’d have to sell a kidney for.
A novelist once told me that every great story starts with a transgression. Why does Carolyn make hers?
KT: When I started writing Carolyn, I knew I wanted her to be this very quirky perfectionist. She is someone who does not get into the art world because it seems chic and lah-di-dah, but because she truly loves art and antiques and wants to be as close to them as possible. So when I decided that she needed some strain that would require a renaissance, I thought, it has to be career oriented. Her professional complications make her open to a lot of the world which she shut out before.
For a brief period in the novel, Carolyn has two very different men in her life. How would you describe them?
KT: Not a bad problem to have! At the beginning of the book, Carolyn is still involved with her first love, Alex, who is Mr. Prep School-turned-New York investment banker. He’s this hot, moneyed, sexual deviant who has been giving Carolyn the run around since she was 14. Then Carolyn meets Tyler Ford. I like to call him “so hot you might go blind.” I mean, the man is a Marine, total pick himself up by the bootstraps type, and is extremely intense in everything he does. As Carolyn finds out quickly, that intensity can often be used the wrong way.
At one point Carolyn says, “I hoped Tyler was the best bad decision I ever made.” I don’t want to give anything away, but did you know when you started writing exactly how things would end up between them?
KT: I knew that for their entire relationship, there was going to be both a lot of affection for each other and a healthy dose of suspicion. And I really wanted to explore the feeling of falling for someone you know is terrible for you. I had a friend once who made a pros and cons list about a guy she was dating. It went like this: Cons: Drug addiction, alcoholic, gambler, womanizer. Pros: Great in bed. So she kept dating him! The heart wants what the heart wants.
It was really difficult for me to say goodbye to Carolyn as a character when the book ended. Can you imagine ever re-visiting her in a later novel?
KT: Carolyn misses her readers, too! I would love to write about Carolyn again, as I think she really became a different person from the beginning to the end of the novel. I’d love to look at her as a woman, who still has all these crazy art obsessions, but is a lot more sure of herself and curious about the underbelly of the world.
Who are your favorite authors? What books did you read growing up?
KT: My father was an editor of The Washington Post Book World his entire career, so growing up I had access to pretty much every book ever printed. Is that luck or what! I was a huge fan of author and photographer Jill Krementz and her “A Very Young…” series. A Very Young Dancer, A Very Young Musician, etc. She was also married to Kurt Vonnegut, which makes her even cooler. As for my favorite writers today, I really love Kazuo Ishiguro, Joyce Carol Oates, Amber Dermont, Anton DiSclafani, Jesmyn Ward, Donna Tartt, and of course I’m one of the millions of people who think Gillian Flynn is a genius.
Are you working on a new novel?
KT: Yes! And I’m so excited about it. It’s half written in present day Georgia and half at the turn of the 20th century in New York, so my first foray into historical fiction. It’s about generations of lies, told in one family, and the terrible consequences of those lies. It’s also based on a true story, which I found in a college magazine while cleaning out old magazines from my parents’ basement. If you had told me I would have stumbled upon my next book idea while wearing questionable shorts cleaning out muck…