Just a quick note to let you know my new novel, The Dark Petals of Provence, is now available in all formats: paperback, ebook, and even audiobook. As I mentioned in my newsletter, I was terribly disappointed when the physical book was out of stock for a while but it’s now available. Whew!
Dark Petals was inspired by the evocative yet sinister books by the French writer Marcel Pagnol. Pagnol grew up in Provence and created stories based on his childhood experiences for both literature and film.
One of the more famous of these is the book Jean de Florette, about a city lawyer who inherits his family’s country farm and decides to be a simple, gentleman farmer. But the small-minded prejudiced town blocks his progress at every turn until things come to a dramatic head. It’s a study in dark group mentality and revenge against the strength of familial love and personal dreams.
The Idea Behind the Book
I was inspired by how people behave when a newcomer arrives to disrupt things. And so, I created April Pearce, a modern-day American photographer who visits Provence to take photographs for a travel magazine. April’s in her late 30s and struggling to secure a permanent place at this company to prove to herself she’s not a career failure. But it seems all of the most fascinating shots she finds lead to trouble.
In the book, I tried to bring the hot weather, rough terrain, and alluring culture of Provence to life. I also tried to draw interesting characters whose secret pasts raise questions for the reader. April’s character reaches into my own past feelings as an outsider. And of course the story pivots on one particular plant. How else would I write a novel? haha.
Anyway, if you want more information, check out the jacket description here. And by the way, I do realize the paperback cover is not as beautifully saturated with color as the ebook cover, not sure why nor is my publisher. Regardless, you can also read tidbits on my Instagram feed or read the first chapter here.
And if you’d like to buy it, click here.
In the meantime, have a great day!
Just a short note to let you know the cover for my next novel, The Dark Petals of Provence, is finished and ready to go! It was created by designer Jessica Dionne who again expertly combined danger and beauty for a delicious atmosphere.
A Story Set in Provence
The book tells the story of April Pearce, an American photographer assigned to cover the countryside in Provence. On her first night, she sees a teenager running through a lavender field covered in blood. But when she investigates, the local town turns aggressive and threatening, making her job more and more difficult until the climax when April has nothing to lose and reveals the dark secret the village has kept hidden for years.
The Earliest Idea
I’ve always loved Marcel Pagnol’s books Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring. They focus on a city family shunned by local country folks and their subsequent revenge. You may remember the movies, which starred Gerard Depardieu. They expertly captured the book’s tension and danger. Plus, you feel like you’re in the hot landscape of Provence. I love them. I thought it would be cool to write an updated version of that dynamic, of an outsider accidentally stumbling upon a local community’s nefarious nature and in effect blowing it all apart.
A Character Near to my Heart
I started with the image of a wounded teen boy running through a field as a photographer accidentally snapped photos of him from a distance. Almost like a Rear Window situation. Then a key character took on the personality traits of my daughter who’s the friendliest, most compassionate, cognitively delayed young person you’ll ever meet. And the plot unfolded from there.
An Alluring Setting
The book also grew out of my love of stories set in Provence. A few years back, I spent a bunch of time reading mysteries by Serena Kent and M.L. Longworth and others. They’re some of my favorite books in which to escape. So now, I offer my own mystery that combines my love of France, my wish to dream of Provence, and my urge to spin a compelling story. Plus, of course a unique plant! I hope you enjoy it. You can pre-order it through Amazon now.
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.
More Info on The Unbreakables
“Artful, feminist, and emotionally gripping. The Unbreakables is a remarkable tribute to a woman’s strength in the face of heartbreak and adversity.” — Helen Hoang, author of The Kiss Quotient
“This exquisitely wrought novel will appeal to readers who believe in the redemption of new beginnings, and the necessity of facing the past while making a deliberate effort to move forward.” — Publishers Weekly
Enter to win a free paperback copy of The Unbreakables, here! The giveaway ends on August 31st, 2019.
Death in Avignon is another delightful mystery from British author Serena Kent (a.k.a. Deborah Lawrenson and husband Robert Rees). It’s an even tighter follow up to the fun Death in Provence. This time the murder takes place in the larger city of Avignon rather than Penny’s small village of St. Merlot, making for a rich puzzle of clues and evidence against the backdrop of the art world.
British divorcée Penelope Kite has been renovating her house and brushing up on her cello playing. When the handsome mayor, Laurent Millais, invites her to the opening of an exhibition by four famed Provençal artists, she happily accepts. Romantic tension between the two builds while Penny tries to tease out whether the mayor’s intentions are romantic. But that matters little when suddenly the most outlandish artist at the opening collapses. It looks like poisoning, maybe a heart attack, maybe an allergic reaction, and of course, Penelope slips into finding more out about the case.
Affairs and Liaisons
Without giving too much away, I’ll simply say Penelope starts to visit with those who knew the artist and uncovers clues as to what happened. The plot is believable and draws you in, making you suspect almost everyone and wonder at each little encounter and event. The story ambles along in a rapid but comfortable rhythm, the characters are crisply drawn and interesting. We see the return of her extroverted friend Frankie as well as the new mysterious character Gilles de Bourdan. But in addition to the beautiful sun, lavender fields, ancient villages, and French people, the true star of the show here is Kent’s wit.
It manifests again and again in Penny’s thoughts and conversational asides. So believably human, she’s a middle-aged woman struggling to look as chic and slim as the French women around her. She’s a mom whose adult step-kids can sometimes be annoying and a talented musician who knows her limits when it comes to practicing and performing. Penny moves through the world with sharp, self-deprecating prose. We get her observations about the absurd, about how envious she can be, how awkward she can be, all while we readers learn how elegant and relaxed and forgiving she truly is.
If you’re looking for a light fun mystery to read this summer, check out Death in Avignon. There’s nothing too disturbing, too upsetting, or too intense. But that’s the beauty of it. It’s an intriguing yet breezy novel that will put a smile on your face before you fall asleep at night.
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The book Death in Provence by Serena Kent (a.k.a. Deborah Lawrenson) offers a fun mystery romp set in France. It centers on Penelope Kite, a British divorcee, who buys an old country house with dreams of renovations and dinner parties but instead finds a dead body in her swimming pool. A former forensics doctor’s assistant, Penny embarks on solving the case of why her neighbor was killed while avoiding being killed herself.
A Cast of Colorful Characters
Early on, we meet Penny’s friend Frankie who, with her loud clothing and vivacious bold personality, swoops in to help investigate the odd behavior by the village locals. She and Penny’s repartee reminded me of the show Absolutely Fabulous and I would have been happy to read a sleuthing Ab Fab pair in Provence. But Frankie departs a third into the book. That was a bit of a disappointment but it soon dissipated as the juicy plot events took over.
Those juicy events unfold because of a French real estate agent named Clémence who keeps us guessing on her intentions. A handsome mayor’s polish may betray his nefarious dealings, we’re not sure. An arrogant police officer thwarts Penny’s discoveries at every turn. Throw in an eccentric farmer and a heavy metal electrician and you’ve got a circus of intriguing questions. Without giving too much away, I’ll say there are good twists and surprises before it all ends.
Narrated With a Quick, Warm Wit
The book’s main appeal is its wit and casual narration. Penny’s inner asides about resisting croissants in the name of her waistline and brief musings about the mayor’s blue eyes make for a girlfriend-to-girlfriend tone, which I loved. Also appealing are the descriptions of the French countryside, the quaint villages, the delicious food. Ultimately, Death in Provence is a breezy mystery to remember summer by. It’s nothing too challenging yet certainly something to enjoy, making for a delightful companion as you fly away on your next dream vacation to France.
I’ll be posting an interview with Deborah Lawrenson in the next few weeks, so stay tuned! We’ll be talking books, France, writing, and the best food to indulge in after a long day in Provence.