Numerous interviews with Noah about his work, writing, research, and more are available via links on the Press page of this website. Some of the most popular interview questions and responses are reproduced below, including Noah answering his own interview questions in the How I Write format.
To contact Noah for an interview, please write to him via Facebook or via the Contact page of this website.
For Noah's biography and the story of how he came to study art crime, check out this essay.
How I Write: Noah Charney
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in New Haven, Connecticut.
Where and what did you study?
I studied at Colby College, and then did post-graduate work at The Courtauld Institute, Cambridge University, and University of Ljubljana, all in art history.
Where do you live and why?
I live in Umbria and Slovenia. I love the Italian lifestyle, which lets me eat wonderful food, gives me easy access to Rome, where I teach, and provides an abundance of churches with wonderful art for me to visit. Slovenia is a wonderful country, full of great opportunities that might not have been available to me as readily elsewhere. For instance, I am writing a screenplay for a film and preparing a feature film documentary, two projects outside of my normal work that would not have occurred to me to try in the US. In larger markets, one is encouraged to specialize, and there is a huge amount of competition in any one field. As an “exotic” foreigner living in Slovenia, a very small country where one is just a step away from contact with just about everyone else, I'm able to try my hand at just about anything that seems intriguing.
Of which of your books or projects are you most proud?
The fact that my first novel, The Art Thief, was quite successful internationally pleases me, but I'm proudest of having founded ARCA (the Association for Research into Crimes against Art) a successful international non-profit think tank which promotes the study of art crime.
Describe your morning routine.
I wake around eight, usually with my dog jumping onto the bed. I have coffee and breakfast with my wife and read the sports news: soccer (Roma and Manchester City) and baseball (Red Sox), before getting to work.
What is a distinctive habit or affectation of yours?
I get far too excited about going to churches (for art historical, rather than ecclesiastical reasons). And I love smoking my hookah. Also, I can't get good writing done on a day that I'm engaged in business and admin, so I try to check emails only twice a week. You'd be surprised how often people tell me how they wish they could do the same, limit their emailing.
What is your favorite item of clothing?
I've worn a wallet chain, the same one, since I was 15. I've never lost the wallet or been pick-pocketed, so I suppose it works. I wear it all the time, even when I'm dressed in black tie.
Please recommend three books (not your own) to your readers.
The Russia House by John Le Carre is just about the smartest, most perfect thriller ever written. Every word is just right, critical to plot and character. It's a lesson in well-carved writing. Operation Mincemeat by Ben MacIntyre is the best sort of popular non-fiction: thoroughly researched, intelligent, but so easy to read you'd think you're eating candy. I couldn't put it down, and when I finished I had learned a considerable amount without realizing I was learning. The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth. This was Forsyth's first novel, and it has this brilliant blend of real historical figures with entirely plausible fictitious ones, the balance of two interlacing, alternating chase plots, and a journalist realism that is utterly absorbing.
What book do you wish you had written?
The Polar Express by Chris van Allsburg.
Do you have a writer friend who helps and inspires you?
Two come to mind. John Stubbs, who like me is married to a Slovene, is a multi-award winning literary biographer (Donne: a Reformed Soul). He is the friend who I see most often, and with whom I discuss the writing life. Nathan Dunne has been a friend since we were students at Cambridge. He wrote Tarkovsky, which The Independent called one of the ten best film books ever written, and is the mastermind behind the Underwood project, creating deluxe recordings of authors reading their own short stories on vinyl.
What is a place which inspires you?
Venice and Rome, places full of history, art, and stories.
Name a work of art, in any medium (book, film, painting, etc) which inspires you.
Magritte's paintings. Each one is a detective story, a mystery which invites you to solve it, draws you into another twilight world, and then traps you there…in a good way.
Describe your routine when conceiving of a book and its plot, before the writing begins.
I like to map everything out in advance, including character history and traits and the entire plot. I write out what needs to happen in each scene (who is present, where it takes place, how it advances the plot), and I do this on a big sheet of paper. Then I use arrows to connect the scenes that correspond in terms of plots and subplots, and choose the order that they should appear in the book. That way when I sit down to write, I know exactly what needs to happen, but I allow myself to “improvise” my way through the scene, as long as the goal of the scene has been satisfied by the end.
Describe your writing routine.
I write in very productive spurts of several hours at a time. I'll produce as much as 5000 words each day, but there might be days when I don't write at all. I've often got multiple projects on at once, and I enjoy bouncing between projects, to keep everything fresh.
Do you have any unusual rituals associated with the writing process?
I like to write while sitting with my dog, a Peruvian Hairless named Hubert van Eyck.
Is there anything distinctive or unusual about your work space?
I don't have a work space in particular. I write on a laptop and move around the house, usually for 90-minute periods. I suppose it's unusual that I don't have a desk or any ritual that is more concrete.
Besides the obvious, what do you keep on your desk?
I don't use a desk, but I do usually have my dog sitting with me, often on the same chair or couch, while I write. He's like a portable heater with legs.
What is the view from your favorite work space?
When the weather is fine, my favorite place to sit is on the loggia, on the second floor of our house in Umbria--it's a sort of covered terrace. I sit in a rocking chair, and have a great view of the valley and olive groves.
What do you do when you are stuck or have temporary writer's block?
I don't believe in writer's block. But if I'm looking for inspiration, I go to a museum. The works of art tell me stories and also allow me to “space out” and recharge my batteries.
Describe your ideal day.
Visit a new town in Italy, popping into the church, the local museum, and going out to a great meal--then writing for a few hours in the evening in front of the fire.
Describe your evening routine.
My wife and I make a fire as often as possible, and sit beside it reading, playing Scrabble or Bananagrams, or we'll watch television.
What do you do to relax?
Exploring churches is probably the weirdest thing that I do for fun. I love to art-hunt in churches even more than museums, because there is usually a single great work which makes the journey worthwhile. Museums often have too much of a good thing, and they can be dizzying.
What is guaranteed to make you laugh?
The movie Airplane, Mitch Hedberg standup comedy, “The Chewbacca Defense,” my dog.
What is guaranteed to make you cry?
This sounds silly, but watching “Extreme Makeover Home Edition” does it every time.
Do you have any superstitions?
I want to believe, but I suppose wanting to means I don't really, at least not enough. I do say “rabbit rabbit” on the first day of every new month before I say anything else--it's meant to give you good luck throughout the month. Why not, right?
What is something you always carry with you?
A small gold medallion given to me by my nanny, who took care of me when I was growing up.
What is your favorite snack?
Gummi bears, red grapefruit, M & Ms.
What phrase do you over-use?
Some phrases in Slovene, which I speak with my wife.
What is a gadget/object/collectible that you could not live without?
It's hard to believe that humans survived for this long without iPhones.
If you could bring back to life one deceased person, who would it be and why?
My childhood nanny, Eleanor, because she was my favorite person, a second mother to me. Our first child is named after her.
Tell us a funny story related to a book tour or book event.
On my last book tour, someone came all the way from New York to New Haven to one of my book events, under the impression that they were coming to see Noam Chomsky.
What would you do for work, if you were not a writer?
I teach art history, so the easy answer is art historian, which I already am…if I had the talent and the patience, I think it would be wonderful to be a conservator of paintings.
What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
Rejection has nothing to do with the quality of your work. If you believe in your product, it's just a matter of time before someone publishes it. My trick was this: send out ten letters to agents or publishers. Each time you receive a rejection, send out another three. Repeat until you've achieved what you desire.
Tell us something about you which is largely unknown and perhaps surprising.
I speak Slovene at home with my wife and hairless dog.