Libby Fischer Hellmann is the author of a number of mystery novels featuring characters Ellie Foreman and/or Georgia Davis and has participated in many short story anthologies. A transplant from Washington, D.C., Libby has lived in the Chicago area over thirty years. She has a Masters Degree in Film Production from New York University, and a BA in history from the U. of Pennsylvania. In 2005-2006 she was the National President of Sisters in Crime, a 3400 plus member organization committed to strengthening the voice of female mystery writers. She also blogs with “The Outfit Collective” at theoutfitcollective.com.
1. The Georgia Davis series is considerably darker than the Ellie Foreman series. Why did you decide to go in that direction?
In an amateur sleuth series, it becomes more difficult with each book to find a credible reason for that sleuth to get involved in a murder investigation. By the fourth Ellie Foreman book, A SHOT TO DIE FOR, I was turning backflips trying to find a reason for her to be involved. So, part of my decision to switch gears was to feature a character whose job was to investigate – no questions asked. I’m not a police officer, and didn’t think I could write one, so the default choice was a P.I. Happily, Georgia Davis had already been introduced in A PICTURE OF GUILT, and I knew after her appearance in AN IMAGE OF DEATH that she would one day be the protagonist of her own book. I just had to wait for the right story. That story was EASY INNOCENCE.
As far as dark is concerned, Georgia is very different than Ellie. While Ellie would love to go to lunch with you and tell you everything and more about her life, Georgia doesn’t want you to know her well. She’s distant (although vulnerable), and has more baggage than Ellie. She’s also tougher and has more skills. Given her personality, the darkness seemed appropriate.
2. Was it difficult to write both series protagonists into Doubleback?
Not at all. I loved it. Whenever I got bored with one, the other came to my rescue. I had a great time!
3. Will Georgia and Ellie continue together in the next book or will they go to their separate corners again?
I’m now working on the third Georgia book, and Ellie does show up for a few chapters, but she’s not a “co-protagonist” as in DOUBLEBACK.
4. The cover on Easy Innocence is much darker (in content) than the one on Doubleback and the Ellie Foreman covers. How important do you think the cover is in attracting the “right” reader, the one who will enjoy a particular book?
I think it’s critically important. As soon as I saw the image for EASY INNOCENCE, I knew it had to be the cover. Curiously, the publisher wasn’t convinced, and I had to beg. I’m glad we went with it. I’ve had a lot of comments about it.
5. Which of your books was the most difficult to write emotionally?
Interesting question. They are all difficult in their own way. EASY INNOCENCE was perhaps the most personal, so in that context, it was difficult. However, my emotional state was fragile when I wrote A SHOT TO DIE FOR. I was in the middle of a divorce, my kids were acting out, and I wasn’t sure what was coming next. So from that perspective, SHOT was probably the most difficult book to write.
6. How do you manage your research, meaning how do you get enough for the current project without getting too wrapped up in it?
I don’t. I just keep digging, and reading, and reading and digging, until I feel I KNOW the subject in a fundamental way. Then I start writing, referring back to the information when I need details. I love doing research – it often gives me wonderful plot points. For example, in AN IMAGE OF DEATH, I was researching the history of Armenia, and found out they had a terrible earthquake in 1988, so devastating that Soviet troops were called in to restore order. There was only one problem — the troops were not well equipped, and they got sick. It was a case of the “rescuers needing to be rescued.” I used that information as a way for one of my main characters to volunteer at the hospital. While there, she meets and falls in love with a Soviet officer, who eventually became her husband.
Of course, only about 10 per cent of the material I dig up ever finds its way into the book. The rest is just to slake my curiosity.
7. You’ve been published by two of the better-known independent publishers. What do you think are the main advantages of being with indies?
As an author, I have more input over the total package. For example, when my first book, AN EYE FOR MURDER, came out, Barbara Peters at Poisoned Pen and I discussed the basic concept for the cover. I told her how much I liked it, whereupon she said, “Good. Now go out and find me a photo for the cover.” Really!
They are more conscious of promotion, too. Because there are fewer authors in the stable, I get more attention from my Poisoned Pen and Bleak House connections than from Berkley.
When I was just starting out (I think they call it “pre-published now”) both SINC and MWA were incredibly useful in helping me learn the craft of writing genre fiction. I also made a lot of friends in the community, who remain friends to this day, and with whom I celebrate or commiserate. After I was published, being involved with those organizations was – and still is – a way for me to give back.
9. How does your writing career mesh with your day job?
I don’t really have a day job any more. Between writing and promoting and getting older, I pretty much let my training business die a natural death. I’ll still train clients when they call, but I’m not “marketing” myself the way I used to. I am interested in teaching, though, and hope to be at a small college teaching creative writing within the next few months.
10. What’s next for you?
I’m delighted to say that my stand-alone thriller, SET THE NIGHT ON FIRE, will be published by Allium Press (Chicago) in December, 2010. SET THE NIGHT ON FIRE goes back, in part, to the late Sixties, starting with the Democratic Convention and going through Kent State. Baby boomers, be forewarned. I spill it all. And for those of your readers who are into ebooks, I have published a collection of my short stories in two volumes. It’s called NICE GIRL DOES NOIR. It’s available on Kindle as well as the other ebook formats. Readers can find out more about both those projects at www.libbyhellmann.com.