Writing Inspiration by Lisa Lieberman
I write a historical noir mystery series about blacklisted Hollywood people in 1950s Europe, drawing on old movies for characters, plots, and settings. My heroine is a young actress and in the first book, All the Wrong Places, she lands a role in an Italian neorealist film. I imagined a Felliniesque scene where Cara comes upon a group of Roma on a beach in Puglia, the heel of the Italian boot. There she would meet the love of her life. I didn’t have a fix on the guy, but I wanted him to have the allure of Rudolph Valentino, who hailed from that part of Italy.
I’ve never been to Puglia. One beach was as good as another. I put my finger on the map and landed on Trani, a fishing village that served as a port to the Holy Land during the Crusades. Its beaches are okay, but the town’s chief attraction is the magnificent cathedral of Saint Nicholas the Pilgrim.
Trani sunrise with cathedral
Trani was also the site of a DP camp for Polish survivors of the Holocaust. Voilà! I’d found my way in. “Valentino” was a Polish Jew whose older sister survived Auschwitz only to die of dysentery in the Trani DP camp. Every year he visits the town to honor her memory. Cara meets him on the beach, with the Roma, and is instantly smitten, not only by his brooding good looks, but because she perceives the sadness within the handsome stranger. She has also known tragedy, as have I. Cara lost her mother to drowning. I lost mine to mental illness. As I probed more deeply into the source of Cara’s attraction to Valentino, I gained new insight into my feelings about my mother’s illness.
I held it against her for a long time, you see, her leaving me so suddenly, and so completely. . . Beneath this loomed another, darker question: Was it my fault that she didn’t love me enough to stay in my life?
In my career as a history professor, I got to know several Holocaust survivors. I’d invite them to speak to my students and over time we became close. My loss was insignificant when compared to theirs, but the contradictory feelings of abandonment, anger, and guilt over my motherless childhood created a bridge of understanding between us. And we discovered that we shared a dark sense of humor. Readers drawn to noir stories will find something similar, I hope, in my mystery series.
(Cara Walden Mystery, #2)
Publication date: September 12th 2017
Genres: Adult, Historical, Mystery
Budapest: 1956. Newlywed Cara Walden’s brother Zoltán has disappeared in the middle of the Hungarian revolution, harboring a deadly wartime secret. Will Cara or the Soviets find him first?
Cutting short her honeymoon in Paris to rescue a sibling she’s never met was not Cara’s idea, but her husband Jakub has a reckless streak, and she is too much in love to question his judgment. Together with her older brother Gray, they venture behind the Iron Curtain, seeking clues to Zoltán’s whereabouts among his circle of fellow dissidents, all victims of the recently overthrown Communist regime. One of them betrayed him, and Cara realizes that the investigation has put every person they’ve met at risk. Inadvertently, they’ve also unmasked a Russian spy, who is now tailing them in the hope that they will lead him to Zoltán.
The noir film of Graham Greene’s The Third Man inspires Lisa Lieberman’s historical thriller. Burning Cold features a compelling female protagonist who comes to know her own strength in the course of her adventures.
Lisa Lieberman is the author of the Cara Walden series of historical mysteries featuring blacklisted Hollywood people in exotic European locales. All the Wrong Places and Burning Cold are available from Passport Press in print and e-book.
Trained as a modern European cultural and intellectual historian, Lieberman abandoned a perfectly respectable academic career for the life of a vicarious adventurer through dangerous times and places. She has written extensively on postwar Europe and is the founder of the classic movie blog Deathless Prose. She now directs a nonprofit foundation dedicated to redressing racial and economic inequity in public elementary and secondary schools. She is a member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America.
After dragging their three children all over Europe while they were growing up, Lisa and her husband are happily settled in Amherst, Massachusetts.
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