SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

March 29, 2013

Preteen heroine tries to solve Gardner heist

By Will Broaddus
Staff writer

---- — Here’s a tip for the FBI: If you want to find the 13 works of art that were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990, talk to Moxie Fleece.

That’s because 13-year-old Moxie, the protagonist of “Moxie and the Art of Rule Breaking” by Erin Dionne, has discovered that the missing masterpieces are connected to her grandfather’s criminal past.

The timing between the July publication date for Dionne’s novel and the FBI’s recent disclosures — that they know who stole the paintings, but have lost track of the artworks themselves — is coincidental.

Dionne, who has taught composition and creative writing at Montserrat College of Art for 10 years, has wanted to write about the stolen paintings since she first visited the Gardner as an undergraduate.

“It made me angry that somebody would take something of such beauty,” she said.

But first, Dionne, who has published three previous books for “tweens,” or youths ages 8 to 12, had to create Moxie.

“My books usually launch from a character that I can build a narrative around,” she said. “It’s a story about family and the truth. (Moxie’s) grandfather has been honest, she knows he’s a criminal. But she has to confront, how much truth does she know, and what will she do to recover the paintings?”

Moxie was worth waiting for because she has turned out to be Dionne’s first repeating character and will return in two future novels, also set in Boston.

Dionne, who lives in Framingham and attended Boston College, studied creative writing at Emerson.

“When I first started pursuing my MFA, I was writing what I thought was serious fiction. It was terrible,” she said. “Then I took a writing-for-children class, and I found I had so many more interesting stories to tell.”

The preteen period of junior high school offers rich material for fiction, Dionne said.

“It’s such a period of turmoil and change for all of us,” she said. “There’s a lot of potential for drama, between friends issues, family issues, figuring out who you are. It’s ripe for that.”