The idea for this novel came easily. I was lying in bed one morning, worrying about what I was going to write next. (Writers are always worrying about that.) A poster of the Vermeer painting Girl With a Pearl Earring hung in my bedroom, as it had done since I was 19 and first discovered the painting. I lay there idly contemplating the girl's face, and thought suddenly, "I wonder what Vermeer did to her to make her look like that. Now there’s a story worth writing." Within three days I had the whole story worked out. It was effortless; I could see all the drama and conflict in the look on her face. Vermeer had done my work for me.
I have always loved Vermeer's paintings. One of my life goals has been to see all 36 of them in the flesh. In March 2004 I finally saw the 36th—the recently attributed Young Woman Seated at the Virginals. There is so much mystery in each painting, in the women he depicts, so many stories suggested but not told. I wanted to tell one of them.