What an amazing ride author Lisa Barr takes us on in Woman on Fire! Idealistic, young writer Jules Roth desperately wants to work with Dan Mansfield, a well known investigative journalist who has a personal interested in a stolen piece of art. He hires her and decides to bring her in on his private quest. Jules aggressively takes on the challenge at hand… to locate “Woman on Fire”, artwork that disappeared during World War ll depicting Dan’s friend’s mother. Strong, determined Jules goes head to head with outspoken, cunning, diabolical Margaux de Laurent, another woman with an interest in the Nazi stolen art. Margaux is a gallery owner who believes the art belongs to her and she will go to every extreme to recoup it.
This powerful historical fiction novel is also part thriller with a bit of romance combined to make it a perfect read! I loved everything about Woman on Fire – the fiery women characters, the Nazi stolen art, the history and the relationships! Rooting for Jules and hating Margaux kept me turning the pages so fast, I don’t think I ate or slept! This is a wonderful book club choice and Lisa Barr is delightful!
Author Q & A?
Q: You wrote this book during Covid – how did that impact your writing and what is your process?
A: I worked 10 hours a day seven days a week on this book during Covid lockdown. Ironically, this very tough situation was a strong period of writing for me. I knew I wanted to go back to a time and place that was special for me as a young journalist and give that experience to my main character. My protagonist, savvy young journalist Jules Roth is the ME of years ago, before I became old, seasoned, and jaded (LOL). Before life got in the way of idealism. Before kids got in the way of fearlessness. Before I knew better than to take on risky assignments … And the very best part of my process during this period was that my eldest daughter came home from New York and worked at the kitchen table across from me. So there I was writing from a 24 year old’s perspective looking over my laptop at my 24 year-old-daughter.
Q: What inspired you to write about WWll and stolen art?
I’m a news junkie and when I read and researched the explosive scandal that rocked the art world known as “The Munich Art Hoard” – I knew I had found the “nugget” for this book. In 2012, approximately 1,500 major artworks worth $1.5 billion were discovered hidden for nearly 50 years in the rundown Munich apartment of one Cornelius Gurlitt. His father was none other than Hildebrand Gurlitt, Hitler’s “art thief” – the premier dealer of Nazi-looted art. When the elder Gurlitt died, he bequeathed his massive treasure trove to his reclusive son, who literally hid masterpieces in a food pantry and even inside his stove. We’re talking about the caliber of Matisse, Picasso, and Cezanne. When I first read the exposé, I knew I wanted to focus my book on a singular stolen (fictional) masterpiece in that treasure trove that affected many lives. My goal was to use this canvas to represent approximately 600,000 works of art that were stolen, confiscated, and destroyed during the Nazi regime.
Q: How has your life impacted your storytelling and characters in Woman on Fire?
A: As a mom of three young adult daughters, I live and breathe in the Land of Women. We nicknamed our home “Drama Central.” Hence, strong female characters have always been part of both my life and literary repertoire. In WOMAN ON FIRE, I wanted to feature a woman-vs-woman showdown. A young journalist up against a ruthless art dealer. Both women are equally passionate, believe her own truth, pursue her narrative – her way. As I mentioned, Jules Roth (the journalist) has a lot of “me” in her – particularly back when I was a young, fearless investigative journalist. To be honest, I miss those days. So, I thought to myself, if I can’t go back, then I damn well better write about it. And Margaux de Laurent – evil, brilliant, wounded, unscrupulous – was a blast to write. Jules and Margaux couldn’t be more different, but they match based on their passion, strength, and survival instincts. I wanted to write a novel that combines all my favorite elements of literature: history, art, suspense, passion, risky journalistic pursuits, and most of all, strong, complex women. And of course, as a daughter of Holocaust survivor, my own history has impacted my writing, my life, and the subjects I choose – need – to write about.
Q: All of your amazing characters connect like a spider web – how did you map out their connections to each other and to the painting to ensure there were no loose ends?
A: I always make an intensive character analysis of each of my main characters before I allow myself to put pen to paper. I know what they like, dislike, even their scent. I’m a hybrid writer … hence, there will be a very intensive visual outline across both my kitchen and dining room tables – notecards, timelines, sticky notes everywhere. And then I sit down and write and barely look at the outline. But by the time I get into the saddle, I have a very strong idea where I want the plot to go, and the characters do the rest.
Q: What are some of the things in the book that are based on truth?
A: There are a lot of fun facts and crazy stories along my personal journey. All the stolen art information that reads like a spy novel is steeped and inspired by truth. Several of my characters are inspired by real people. One interesting personal fact is that during high school — my second semester senior year – I worked with the police to help break a child porn ring. I was utilized as “bait” — and we did it. It was a big, important pivotal moment for me that I will never forget and the reason why I became a journalist. I gave that back story to Jules.
Q: So much art and history is included in Woman on Fire. What was your research process?
A: When my kids were younger and dependent, I was always “stealing” time. I would write at 5 am while they were sleeping, or at night when they went to sleep, and later on as they got older, while they were in school. And now that I am an empty nester – I still can’t believe it!– my time is mine to write and research. With my journalist background I dive deeply into research and leave no stone left unturned. This is the same with all my books. It’s a blessing and a curse being a journalist because I go all out to make sure every fact is correct. I have a basic outline before writing, but once I get in … the characters do all the work and I tag along. The reader wants to see what’s happening, but they also want to feel it, hear it, smell it, taste it, and know what’s going on in that room aside from the obvious. Is there music going? Is the dishwasher on in the background? Is there a fire crackling? What does her skin smell like? What does he taste like? What does her touch feel like? Don’t just write the scene, give us an experience. I do my best to provide a full-bodied experience, and that means doing all the leg work intensively – the research.
Q: This is not the first time you have written about art – can you tell us a bit about your story in Hadassah Magazine and your first 2 books?
A: The Unbreakables is about a woman — a sculptor — whose life was stolen out from under her, and my debut novel Fugitive Colors is a historical thriller about stolen art during the Holocaust. Very different novels, but both share my absolute love of art and artists. Fugitive Colors is a suspenseful tale of an artist’s revenge on the ‘eve’ of WWII. I did research for more than four years before I sat down to write it. I had written a short story called THE PAINTING for Hadassah magazine and I decided to use that as a launch pad for that book. I am not an artist – but art and my love of art — is the central theme that binds all three of my books.
Q: Congratulations on the news of Woman on Fire becoming a movie! How did Sharon Stone hear about the book, what are her plans and what will your role be?
A: I am a big Sharon Stone fan – especially after reading her powerful memoir called THE BEAUTY OF LIVING TWICE. She is the original Woman on Fire. Thinking “out of the box”, I sent Sharon Stone an ARC of my book, and I literally fell off my chair when I received a text from her about how much she loved the book and wanted to option it. She is now set to produce and star in the adaptation of my novel. I’m BEYOND thrilled and so grateful for her and this unique opportunity.
Q: What do you want readers to come away with after reading Woman on Fire?
A: This book is not simply about reclaiming a painting … but what this artwork from the darkest period of art history embodies. This particular painting is not a still life, a fruit bowl. It represents the systematic persecution and destruction of modern art and artists. The incredible thing to note is that nearly EIGHTY years after the war, the story of Nazi-looted art is STILL front-page news. It is what remains now that most of the survivors of the Holocaust and the Nazi perpetrators have passed. The art, the legacy steeped in culture and creativity, lives on despite the atrocity of the Holocaust. Objects are not people – but in their stillness they preserve a profound story of time, history, destruction, and hope.
Q: What have you read lately that you recommend?
A: I have so many wonderful author friends whose books I love, so I never pick and choose. Instead, I always say: Let me tell you what is on my nightstand permanently: a vintage Nancy Drew, The Diary of Anne Frank, The Outsiders, and Fear of Flying.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m working hard on my next “new” novel. It is also historical fiction and suspenseful. Every time I try to “leave” the era … somehow WWII pulls me right back in. My work-in-progress is a story about a famous actress and her secret past during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. It’s dark, gritty, sexy, artsy, and historical – all the twisty things I love to write, read, and imagine. I mean, how else can I be a heroine and a femme fatale – all from my little corner in Suburbia!
About the Author:
Lisa Barr is the NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author of WOMAN ON FIRE, THE UNBREAKABLES, and the historical thriller FUGITIVE COLORS, a suspenseful tale of stolen art, love, lust, deception, and revenge on the “eve” of WWII. The novel won the IPPY gold medal for “Best Literary Fiction 2014” and first prize at The Hollywood Film Festival (Opus Magnum Discovery Award). In addition, Lisa served as an editor for The Jerusalem Post, managing editor of Today’s Chicago Woman, managing editor of Moment magazine, and as an editor/reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times. Among the highlights of her career, Lisa covered the famous “handshake” between the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the late PLO leader Yasser Arafat, and President Bill Clinton at the White House.
Lisa has been featured on Good Morning America and Today for her work as an author, journalist, and blogger. In breaking book news: Actress Sharon Stone is set to produce and star in the film adaptation of WOMAN ON FIRE. Lisa lives in the Chicago area with her husband and three daughters (aka: Drama Central).