Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A Conversation with Author Libby Fischer Hellmann

Omnimystery News: Author Interview with Libby Fischer Hellmann
Libby Fischer Hellmann

We are delighted to welcome author Libby Fischer Hellmann to Omnimystery News today.

Libby's fourth mystery to feature Chicago PI Georgia Davis is Nobody's Child (The Red Herrings Press; August 2014 trade paperback and ebook formats) and we recently had the opportunity to talk with her more about the series.

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Omnimystery News: Tell us a little more about your books and in particular Georgia Davis.

Libby Fischer Hellmann
Photo provided courtesy of
Libby Fischer Hellmann;
Photo credit Michael Candee,
First Light Creative

Libby Fischer Hellmann: I've written 11 novels. Eight fall in my two series (4 each); three are stand-alones but linked thematically. My latest release, Nobody's Child, is a Georgia Davis PI novel, so I'd like to introduce her to you.

Georgia first appeared in the second Ellie Foreman novel where she (Georgia) was a rookie cop on the suburban Chicago police force of Ellie's village. In that novel, she was assigned to youth crimes and met Ellie's daughter Rachel. In the next Ellie novel, An Image of Death, she handled a case along with Ellie. They didn't like each other much, but they did come to a grudging respect for each other by the end.

Georgia is a loner. She has baggage, and she's cautious around strangers. Where Ellie will go out to lunch with you and give you TMI about her life, Georgia won't go out to lunch with you at all. She didn't do too well in school, (she was dyslexic), but she's very bright and perceptive. She had a love affair with a detective on the force, but that ended badly. What I love about Georgia is that she still keeps moving ahead, scars and all. She might not be full of joy, or what one thinks of as traditionally feminine, but she's honorable, loyal, and gutsy.

I always knew I was going to write a novel with Georgia as the protagonist, but I had to wait for the right story. Easy Innocence was that story; it was published in 2008. Since then, there have been two additional Georgia thrillers in addition to Nobody's Child.

OMN: When planning a new book, how do you decide whether or not it will be a series mystery or a stand-alone? Does it depend on your outline for the plot?

LFH: The story, time period, and setting pretty much determine whether the novel will be a stand-alone or series book. Prior to writing my three stand-alones, which are historical thrillers, I wrote a lot of short stories. They allowed me to experiment with different voices, characters, and situations. I highly recommend writing short stories for exactly those reasons, btw. Still, it took time before I had the courage to try it on a larger scale. When I did, the result was 2010's Set The Night on Fire. Even then, I "practiced" writing that era (the late Sixties in Chicago) with a short story, "The Whole World is Watching," which appeared in a Sisters in Crime anthology and will be reprinted in Akashic's Chicago Noir 2 next year.

But there's another criteria for determining what I'll write, and that is whether I'm "feeling the love" for my series characters. A point came after the 4th Ellie book where I felt confined by the series, so I started writing Georgia. After three books with her, I felt constrained by that series as well, so I wrote the stand-alones. Having been away from both women for a few years, I finally felt refreshed, and was ready to go back. Nobody's Child is the 4th Georgia book, and I'm about to start Ellie #5.

As far as outlines? Nope. Don't do them. I do take notes, however, and I write character backstories, which you can find out more about in my Writing Lite video series. At that point, of course, I've already made the decision what type of book I'm writing.

OMN: We;ve read several of your books and have a hard time fitting them into a particular genre. How do you think of your books?

LFH: Great question, and one that defies an easy answer. Actually I've been writing my way around the genre. I've written suspense mysteries, traditional mysteries, hard-boiled crime novels, historical mysteries, thrillers, a police procedural, and even a cozy. I enjoy experimenting with the sub-genres, and have had a lot of fun tackling them all. And while some people do make a big deal about the differences, in the final analysis, I don't really pay too much attention to labels. I really like MWA's definition of a crime novel, which says that it's any novel with a crime at its heart.

OMN: Tell us something about Nobody's Child that isn't mentioned in the synopsis.

LFH: There's a twist deep into Nobody's Child that is so disturbing that I wasn't at all sure I could write it. It is a little creepy, and it still gives me the chills. It is why I say this is the darkest book I've ever written.

OMN: How would you tweet a summary of the book?

LFH: Nobody's Child is the darkest thriller I've ever written. Think Karin Slaughter or Tess Gerritsen on steroids.

OMN: How do you go about researching the plot points for your stories?

LFH: I am constantly researching. For example, my historical thriller, A Bitter Veil, is set in Iran during the 1970s and '80s, and remains my most challenging and exciting topic to research. I wanted to see the country, but it wasn't safe for a woman or an American to travel there. In fact, I wasn't sure I could write a novel about a time and place I had not witnessed first hand. So I started by reading as many books as I could about that period of time in Iran. Some were fiction, some were not. I probably read about 20 books. I took notes, and after I finished I saw similar patterns, events, and the chronology of history. I decided maybe I could write a story that is set there.

Then I sought out Iranian-Americans who had lived in Iran during that period. I put out the word, and a few weeks later, I was interviewing 5 Iranian-Americans. One's story was so harrowing it ended up in the book itself. Another was so taken with the story that she ended up vetting the entire manuscript for me.

I also used the Internet extensively. For better or worse, the Iranian revolution is one of the best documented revolutions in film and articles. I watched lots of newsfilms, including Khomeini's triumphal address when he returned to Iran from France. I didn't understand it, but the audience, his behavior, his inflections, and voice told me what I needed to know. I also read extensively and Googled … probably a dozen times a day. Everything to what chador shopping would be like to what my protagonist cooked for her husband.

By the way, I went through a similar process for Havana Lost; in both novels, a reading list is included at the end of the book.

OMN: Tell us a little more about you came up with the title for Nobody's Child.

LFH: Titles are an interesting conundrum. I usually do not have a title until the book is finished. The only exception to that was Easy Innocence, which came out of nowhere before I'd written the tenth chapter. Nobody's Child was a tough one. I wrote the entire book without a title, and even edited it. But the title eluded me. I prefer short titles — the Ellie Foreman series was titled by my publisher — and was veering toward titles that addressed winter in Chicago as well as danger. But nothing jumped out at me. Then one night I was reading an article on line that mentioned the phrase. "Nobody's Child." All of a sudden the letters grew huge and glowed like a neon rainbow … and I knew I had my title.

OMN: What is the best advice you've received as an author?

LFH: The best advice I got from an editor was also the harshest. It was to get out of the way of my characters. I had written two "practice" novels that she looked at. They weren't particularly good, and she told me why. I was making the characters do what I wanted them to do because of the plot I had in mind. Because I was "forcing" them to do things they wouldn't naturally do, they were unbelievable and lacked credibility. I was loath to believe her — after all, I was the author, wasn't I? I was in charge.

Not really, she said. If you create three-dimensional characters and you kind of leave them alone, they will tell you what they want and need to do. Still skeptical, I asked her if I was simply a Shirley MacLaine channeling personalities. "Kind of," she replied. She suggested that I write character backstories (see previous link) and then plot the book "without a net" — i.e. no outline at all.

I told her she was crazy, but I tried it anyway. And guess what? It worked! The first book I wrote that way was my first published novel, An Eye for Murder. I am now a believer.

OMN: Create a Top 5 list for us on any topic.

LFH: I have two for you:

My Top 5 Films …
• The Godfather;
• Casablanca;
• Chinatown;
• Z; and
• And Now My Love.

(Nothing like being eclectic, right?)

My Top 5 Places to Visit …

• UK;
• Paris;
• Vienna;
• Amalfi Coast of Italy; and
• Havana.

OMN: What's next for you?

LFH: I'm writing a historical novella set in Chicago during the 1940's that I hope to finish soon. After that I'm going back to Ellie Foreman for her 5th adventure. I'm really liking the story. Can't wait to get into it.

Personally, I'm hoping to go to the Amalfi Coast and Greece next year, budget permitting.

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Libby Fischer Hellmann is the author of two mystery series, several stand-alone thrillers, and numerous short stories. Originally from Washington D.C., she has lived in Chicago for 30 years and claims they'll take her out of there feet first.

For more information about the author, please visit her website at LibbyHellmann.com or find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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Nobody's Child by Libby Fischer Hellmann

Nobody's Child
Libby Fischer Hellmann
A Georgia Davis Novel of Suspense

A bloodstained note left for Chicago PI Georgia Davis reveals the shocking existence of a half-sister she never knew about. That sister, Savannah, is pregnant and begging for Georgia's help.

Determined to track her down, Georgia finds herself heading deep into the dangerous underworld of Chicago's illegal sex trafficking business. She soon discovers that trafficking is just a small part of the horrifying and deadly situation in which her new sister is caught up.

Even worse, as Georgia tries to extricate Savannah, she comes up against an old enemy determined to make sure neither woman will escape alive.

Amazon.com Print/Kindle Format(s)  BN.com Print/Nook Format(s)


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