Lisa Barr is, in short, a pretty amazing author. She writes books packed with energetic intrigue and her productivity is off the charts. Starting her career as a reporter and editor for various periodicals, Lisa has transitioned to full-time fiction writer. Since then, she’s written a vivid historical fiction novel, Fugitive Colors, and now The Unbreakables, a women’s fiction novel packed with emotion and sex and art. It’s a novel for those who like stories about women breaking out onto their own and discovering the truth about who they really are. I chatted with Lisa about her work and life. Check out our conversation.
You’ve had a long career as an editor and reporter. What made you decide to write fiction?
Actually, I’ve always written fiction. By day, I was a working journalist, by night I worked on my fiction – short stories and manuscripts. I wrote the first draft of my debut novel, Fugitive Colors, when I was on bedrest for nine months (yes, you read that right) with my eldest daughter. I have three daughters … talk about drama (hahaha) ….
Fugitive Colors is a wonderful portrait of young relationships in the art world against the backdrop of war. The novel is rich with imagination and ideas. How did it first come about?
I was 26 years old, serving as the managing editor of a women’s magazine in Chicago, and was sent on an assignment to cover the “Degenerate Art” Exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago. Entering the museum, I literally stopped in my tracks — I had found my story. What I saw at that exhibit would later morph into the historical-fiction tale of Fugitive Colors. Even as a daughter of a Holocaust survivor, I never knew about the Nazis relentless mission to destroy the avant-garde — particularly painters. Hitler and his henchmen went after the German Expressionists with a vengeance never seen before. I am a writer not an artist – but I needed to understand what made someone both a murderous madman and an artist. The story is a historical thriller; a fictional tale of three young artists and how the looming war destroys their lives, their art, and their friendship. The theme of this book and all of my work is: How far would you go for your passion? Answer: all the way.
The artistic life in Fugitive Colors is vivid and seems authentic. Are you yourself an artist of some kind? Did you research artists of that time?
I am not an artist, but I am a huge art lover, and I gravitate toward art in some form in all of my work. My characters – whether historical or contemporary – are artists. I connect to the artist’s temperament and passionate nature. I did a lot of research on art and technique in both books. I’m kind of a research junkie – it’s my journalist background that pushes me to insure authenticity. I researched Fugitive Colors for nearly four years before I allowed myself to write a single word.
Your new book, The Unbreakables, is a pretty dramatic shift away from historical fiction. It’s contemporary and about a woman moving to Provence to rediscover herself. You wrote a beautiful portrait of that region. I love it too. Why do you think Provence is so alluring?
Setting is like another character in my novel, with a personality of its own. The south of France is captivating. The air, the sea, the historic Medieval structures, the fragrance of lavender, the perfumeries … you can lose yourself there, and conversely, find yourself. My protagonist Sophie Bloom needed to break away from Suburbia in order to really blossom. Her first stop was Paris, but ultimately, she discovers her true self amid the natural beauty of the countryside. And by the way, doing research in Provence, was NOT torture. I bathed in it, utilizing all five senses every step of the way. Only then, I could gift it to Sophie.
Chicago also often plays a smaller role in your books. As a native Chicagoan, I always smile at that. Do you see yourself fully setting a book there ever?
I have traveled the world but I love Chicago – it’s home. It does play a smaller role in both my books (and the next one I’m working on too) … but it is usually a starting point, a home base, from which my main character launches into more exotic locations.
What are you working on now? Anything new that’s knocking about in your head?
I’m working on a novel that is suspenseful but yes, filled with love, passion and art. It’s about a young female investigative journalist who uncovers a deep dark story in the art world (I know, I know – I can’t keep away). This new manuscript taps into my journalist background, which has been fun for me to dig deep and go back there. As you can see, I’m a bit of genre jumper. My first novel was historical suspense and The Unbreakables is hardcore women’s fiction. But if I’m captivated by a story — especially if art and passion is involved — then I’m all IN.
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