Monday, November 09, 2009

Author Interview ~ Libby Hellmann

Libby Fischer Hellmann's sixth crime fiction novel, DOUBLEBACK, was released in October, 2009, by Bleak House Books. In it PI Georgia Davis is paired with video producer and single mother Ellie Foreman, the protagonist of Libby's other 4-book series. Libby also writes short stories and edited the acclaimed anthology CHICAGO BLUES. She lives in the Chicago area. More about her at

How long did it take you to get published?

From the time I started writing seriously, it took about 5 years – those years included 3 unpublished novels. The 4th one I wrote was the one that got published.

Do you think an author is born or made?

Made, for the most part. I believe in the proposition that writing well is 95% craft, which can be learned, and 5% inspiration or talent, which can’t be. But I do think a writer needs to have a love of language and a good grasp of grammar. Most writers also love to read, which is how I started.

What is the first book you remember reading?

It was something about a little girl and a train. I used to make my mother take me to the library to get it – repeatedly. That was followed by Blueberries for Sal. I still love “plink, plink.”

What common qualities do you find in the personalities of published authors?

As I said above, a love of language, and, in my genre, a love of story and suspense. The authors I know are also remarkably unpretentious and generous.

How do you know if you have a seemingly “stupid” book premise that is doomed to fail versus one that will fly high?

I don’t believe there are any stupid premises… just ones that are less exciting than others. When I hear the premise for a book, I know instantly whether it has possibilities. There’s just something that captures my imagination – that makes me aware how many different directions the story could go. However, having said that, there are often premises that sound trite or unoriginal that end up being quite fresh and appealing because of the execution. It all depends on the writer’s voice and style.

What is the theme of your latest book?

Doubleback is a thriller that explores what happens when quasi-military groups try to duck accountability for their behavior. It also explores how easy it is to game the system, as well as the contrast between two very different women and how they manage to work together. My last book, Easy Innocence, was quite different. It examined peer pressure among suburban high school girls, and showed how far they would go in order to be accepted.

At what point did you stop juggling suggestions and critiques and trust yourself?

Great question. I actually don’t believe I’ve reached that point; although I do read other peoples’ manuscripts and I see how far I’ve come. I’m very much aware of authenticity in my characters, and try very hard to make sure they are advancing the plot in a way that’s believable and credible. And I am in a writing group. Our “guideline” in critiquing each other is that if something in the plot or character development “stops” us, then we should point it out. I would guess that 9 times out of 10, I take the feedback. Simply put, I figure that if it stopped them, it might stop readers too. And the last thing I want is readers tossing my book across the room, complaining, “Oh that would never happen.”

Are takeaway messages (in your book) important to you?

Generally, yes. Crime fiction is an excellent way to explore social issues without preaching. I love a story that gives me more than I expected.

When do you know you’ve got the finished product and it’s your best effort?

Never. I’d keep revising forever. Editing is my favorite part of writing. The only thing that ends the process is a deadline.

Any anecdotes about the research or writing of your books?

So many.. where to start? Here’s one. When I was writing Easy Innocence, my daughter was a sophomore in high school, and I needed help with teenage fashions, accessories, and toys. I asked her if she’d help, and she said, “Under one condition.”
“What’s that?” I asked cautiously, expecting demands for a car, cash, or other goodies.
“You have to dedicate the book to me,” she said. “Not to my brother. Just me.”
You see, she has a brother, and in the past, I’ve dedicated by books to them both – together.
That was the easiest bargain I’ve ever made.

How would you pitch this book to your intended audience?

Doubleback pairs two women (my series protagonists) in a cross-country thriller that starts with the kidnapping of a little girl and ends with drug smuggling, private security contractors, and illegal immigrants.