Sometimes, when I’m between books, I become panicked. Will I ever get another fresh idea for my next novel? I’ll wrack my brain, trying to come up with something compelling, but then completely unexpectedly, bits and pieces from my surroundings coalesce.
My latest thriller, THE DEVIL’S MADONNA, began with the discovery of an old carton filled with tattered scrapbooks, yellowed newspaper clippings, glossy publicity photos, and one colorized cigarette card of a stunningly beautiful woman—an actress. My husband’s mother. Susi Lanner (her stage name) had been a fairly prominent actress in 1930s Berlin, featured in over a dozen films. She met my father-in-law, a successful American businessman on the SS Bremen ocean liner in 1936, while she was making a film, Spiel an Bord (Games Aboard.) In 1937, Susi Lanner left Germany, acting, and her name behind, and moved to New York to marry R. Frazier Potts.
I’d always known about my mother-in-law’s career and had even seen a couple of her films, naturally noting how her beauty and grace had been fortuitously conveyed to my own daughter. But I hadn’t really considered what it must have been like living and working as an actress in Berlin during a period in history that was becoming increasingly dark and threatening. The people she may have met. The undercurrent of fear. The pressure to do and say the right things…or else.
I took another look at the cigarette card of the glamorous actress, her ruffled hat perched jauntily on her blonde curls, and began the first of many online searches. I learned that cigarette cards had been used to stiffen soft cigarette packaging starting in the late 1800s.
The cards carried images of actresses, sports figures or other celebrities, and were frequently traded by fans or collectors. There were several such cards with Susi Lanner’s picture. And I thought, what if…What if there had been another beautiful, struggling actress in Berlin at that time? Perhaps just as coquettish and delightful in her public persona as Susi, but on the inside terrified that someone would discover her true, hidden identity. And I thought, what if this young woman inadvertently became involved with the wrong people and did things that would haunt her and her descendants throughout their lives? And so, from a cigarette card, Leli Lenz was born, and I had the idea for my next thriller, THE DEVIL’S MADONNA.
Sharon Potts is the award-winning, critically acclaimed author of three thriller novels.
A native of New York, Potts graduated from New York University’s Stern School of Business. Before migrating to Miami, Potts worked in public accounting. In Miami, Potts served as a managing director of an international staffing company and president of an executive search/accounting recruitment firm.
Pott’s is member of Mystery Writers of America and International Thriller Writers.
Her career as a mystery/thriller writer began with In Their Blood, winner of the Benjamin Franklin Award and recipient of a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly, followed by Someone’s Watching and now, The Devil’s Madonna.
Potts lives in Miami Beach with her husband, Joe, and Australian shepherd, Gidget.