Barbara Shapiro wanted to write a novel about Isabella Stuart Gardner, the first great American art collector.
But it was the experience of temptation, and some moral dilemmas it creates, that came to dominate her story.
“I decided what I wanted was to have all the characters want something very badly,” Shapiro said. “They get an opportunity to cross the line, and they face that dilemma.
“They all are facing some level of this, and hopefully, the reader is thinking, ‘What are people willing to do to get what they want, and what would I do?’”
“The Art Forger,” which Shapiro will read from at Swampscott Public Library at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, does discuss Gardner.
It also involves the 1990 heist of 13 paintings from the museum Gardner built and examines the contemporary Boston art scene.
But its main character is an art forger, Claire Roth, who is reduced to making copies of famous paintings and selling them at a website.
The story revolves around Roth’s agreement to create a copy of a painting by Degas, which was stolen in the 1993 museum theft.
In the course of doing her work, she reflects on the worth and nature of art.
“In many ways, that’s the issue of the whole book — where does value come from?” Shapiro said. “You have this beautiful painting worth $50 million, then it’s declared to be forgery. Is it not as beautiful? Did people love it less, and why is that?”
Shapiro, who lives in Boston and teaches creative writing at Northeastern University, published her first novel, “Shattered,” in 1991 after quitting a full-time job in 1986 to write.
“The Art Forger” came out in paperback last year, and Shapiro’s five earlier novels were recently re-released as e-books.
One of these, “See No Evil,” is set in Salem during the Witch Trials of 1692. Another, “The Safe Room,” is about escaped slaves and the Underground Railroad.
“All of my other books, kind of similar to this, go back and forth in time,” Shapiro said.