Lisa Lieberman, who writes historical mysteries and is Vice President of Sisters in Crime New England, answers our questions on her newest book, THE GLASS FOREST, which will be released as a paperback on December 10 and an e-book on December 24.
Writers usually hate writing book summaries. Will you share with us your real book blurb or one you wish you could have used?
Saigon, 1957: Banished from the set of The Quiet American, actress Cara Walden stumbles onto a communist insurgency—and discovers her brother’s young Vietnamese lover right in the thick of it.
I was lucky because when I was writing my book summary last April, I attended Jess Lourey’s all-day workshop sponsored by SinCNE at the Concord Inn. I’d brought a draft to work on and the other writers around the table helped me hone it to perfection.
What was the a-ha moment that made you write this story?
All of the Cara Walden mysteries build off of classic movies—1950s noir mostly—although the new one also references a Western, Shane. Book two, Burning Cold, transported the story of The Third Man to Hungary during the 1956 revolution. Carol Reed directed that picture, which starred Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton. Graham Greene wrote the treatment. I adore Graham Greene and when I learned that Joseph Mankiewicz directed a version of The Quiet American, shot on location in Saigon in 1957, even though it was a dog, I knew I’d found my next book.
Is there a setting in your book that you would like to visit?
Actually, I visited all of the settings in my book. Conveying a sense of place is important to me as a writer, and I came up with a creative way of getting myself to Vietnam. My series is based on old movies and I have been blogging regularly about film since 2011. I offered my services to Silversea Cruises as a guest lecturer—my topic was “Asia Through Hollywood’s Eyes”—and got an all-expenses-paid trip to Hong Kong, Vietnam, Thailand, and Singapore.
I started with stock Asian characters (Fu Manchu, Charlie Chan), touching on pre-code classics including Red Dust (1932: Clark Gable, Mary Astor, and Jean Harlow); Shanghai Express (1932: Marlene Dietrich, Anna May Wong, and Werner Oland, best known for his role as Charlie Chan); moved on to epics including The Good Earth (1937: Paul Muni and Luise Rainer); Lost Horizon (1937: an earnest Frank Capra picture) and Bridge on the River Kwai (1957: David Lean and a superb ensemble cast); musicals such as Road to Singapore (1940: Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Dorothy Lamour in a sarong); The King and I (1956: Deborah Kerr, Yul Brynner, Rita Moreno); and up through noir gems like The Shanghai Gesture (1941: Gene Tierney looking AMAZING, Walter Huston, Victor Mature, Ona Munson and Phyllis Brooks); and Macao (1952: Robert Mitchum, Jane Russell).
Yes, I watched every single one of these pictures. You can find the reviews on my blog, deathlessprose.com
Who is your favorite character and why?
As I was reading around, trying to get a feel for the place and the period, I came across Bernard Fall’s account of Vietnam in the lead-up to Dien Bien Phu, Street Without Joy. Fall was a Jewish refugee from Hitler’s Europe who fought with the French Resistance and later became a war correspondent in Indochina. His book is not simply an account of the French defeat. He paints fascinating portraits of the people he encountered in those fraught times.
One of them, Brigitte Friang, was another résistante turned war correspondent. A schoolgirl from a good bourgeois family, Brigitte was just nineteen when she enlisted in de Gaulle’s Free French movement. She looked so young and innocent, she was given the dangerous mission of escorting wanted men out of France. She’d pretend to be their daughter or granddaughter and accompany them on the train, or pass them false identity papers in public places. During one rendez-vous, she was ambushed by the Germans, shot in the stomach, and allowed to suffer without painkillers. Tortured for months, she did not reveal the names of her associates and was eventually sent to Ravensbrück.
After surviving all this, she seems to have adopted a devil-may-care attitude. When Fall knew her in Vietnam, she was jumping out of airplanes with French paratroopers and packing a pistol, but she was still a Frenchwoman, you know? This description particularly struck me: “Impeccably attired in black tulle evening gown, Brigitte Friang looked like any girl should look except for her gray-blue eyes. No matter how gay the conversation, how relaxed the evening, Brigitte’s eyes never seemed reconciled to smiling.”
Of course I had to use her. Brigitte became the intrepid Laurence in The Glass Forest.
What meal and drink do you think would pair well with your book?
The Vietnamese eat Pho for breakfast. I’d accompany it with an iced Vietnamese coffee.
Amherst author Lisa Lieberman writes the Cara Walden series of historical mysteries based on old movies and featuring blacklisted Hollywood people on the lam in dangerous international locales. Her books hit the sweet spot between Casablanca and John le Carré. Trained as a modern European cultural and intellectual historian, Lieberman abandoned a perfectly respectable academic career for the life of a vicarious adventurer through perilous times. She has written extensively on postwar Europe and lectures locally on efforts to come to terms with the trauma of the Holocaust in film and literature. She is Vice President of the New England chapter of Sisters in Crime and a member of Mystery Writers of America.