Friday, March 25, 2011

Dishing it up with Libby Fischer Hellmann

Today I have the pleasure of interviewing Libby Fischer Hellmann, an award-winning crime fiction and thriller author. Libby has released her 7th novel. Set the Night on Fire, a stand-alone thriller, which goes back, in part, to the late Sixties in Chicago. She also writes two crime fiction series. Easy Innocence (2008) and Doubleback (2009) feature Chicago P.I Georgia Davis. In addition, there are four novels in the Ellie Foreman series, which Libby describes as a cross between "Desperate Housewives" and "24."

Libby has also published over 15 short stories in Nice Girl Does Noir and edited the acclaimed crime fiction anthology Chicago Blues. Originally from Washington D.C., she has lived in Chicago for 30 years and claims they'll take her out of there feet first.

JET: Can you tell us about your most recent book, Set the Night On Fire?

Libby: It’s my 7th novel but my first stand-alone thriller, and it goes back, in part, to the late Sixties in Chicago. Lila Hilliard, a young 30 something professional, is being stalked in the present. In order to find out who’s after her and why, she uncovers information about her family that indicates they were not the people she thought they were. In the middle section we find out who those they were and what they were doing during 1968-70. Then we return to the present where Lila and friends confront the forces that are stalking her.

JET: What drew you to the thriller genre?

Libby: I love not being able to put a book down, to stay up way too late just to finish it. A well-written thriller gives me an adrenaline-fueled energy and visceral emotion that makes me think about the story even after I’ve finished it. Especially when it depicts an issue or situation that is inherently unjust. Or it’s set during a time like WW2 or the collapse of the Soviet Union, or other places and times of major conflicts. I started out reading authors like LeCarre, Ludlum, Follett, Gifford, Deighton and others (Funny – they were all men back then), and while I’ve broadened my reading since, I ‘m still drawn to suspense.

JET: What’s been your most challenging hurdle on the road to publication?

Libby: How many do you want?  Really -- it seems the more I jump, the more there are. But I suppose the most challenging hurdle occurred when my very first agent dropped me after failing to sell my first book. I really had to rethink my objectives and decide whether I wanted to continue. Fortunately, I decided to keep going, and I eventually got published. Repeatedly. But I’m still hurdling over and barreling through obstacles today. I just keep hoping that there will be a happy ending one of these days.

JET: What was your favorite moment in the journey?

Libby: That’s easy. I’m in a writers’ group – have been for 15 years. For the first couple of years, I was the newbie, and the person everyone liked to gang up on and criticize. Clearly, my craft needed work. But when I started my first Ellie Foreman book and read the first chapter in group, there was a stunned silence. I freaked out – I was sure they were going to say it was trash. Instead, the person who’d been the hardest on me said, “You found your voice.” I still treasure that moment.

JET: Which authors had the most influence over you growing up?

Libby: I read Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, and then graduated to “literature.” I loved Charles Dickens and Margaret Mitchell. Then I discovered Mad Magazine. I graduated to adult literature in my teens… Salinger, Vonnegut, then Erica Jong and other female voices. They all had their influence.

JET: When did you know you wanted to take the plunge into the writing world?

Libby: I was a late bloomer. Writing was never on my master plan. I kind of backed into it in my 40s after I realized I wasn’t going to become a famous American film director. Once I started writing, however, I was relentless.

JET: What’s the craziest thing you’ve done in the name of book research? Most interesting fact you uncovered?

Libby: It hasn’t happened yet. I was hoping to go to Cuba because my WIP takes place there, but the trip has been postponed. Barring that, I suppose the most daring things I did happened during the late Sixties. But who knew they would provide grist for a novel years later?

JET: Of all the novels and stories you’ve written - which one is your favorite? Why?

Libby: That’s a hard one. Which of your children do you love the most? I loved my third Elllie book, AN IMAGE OF DEATH – it said things about women and their choices (or lack of them) that I didn’t know I wanted to say. I also loved EASY INNOCENCE, because it pulled the rug up on an affluent suburb and showed what was really going on. And I love SET THE NIGHT ON FIRE, because it’s personal.

JET: Any advice (from a writer’s standpoint) for the novices out there?

Libby: Join a writers’ group. Or start one. Hopefully, in your genre. If you get the right people, it can make all the difference in the development of your craft. And it is a craft. If you’re willing to learn it, you will do well.

JET: All right - now that I’ve hammered you with the big questions, let’s tackle my favorite (and geeky) quick ten. . . starting with: Paper or Plastic?

Libby: Paper

JET: Steak or Tofu?

Libby: Steak. Rare. On the grill.

JET: Beach or Mountains?

Libby: Both.

JET: Country or Rock-n-Roll?

Libby: Rock. No question. (Except for Dolly Parton’s “There You Go Again..” – which was crossover anyway)

JET: Leather or Lace?

Libby: Leather.

JET: Angels or Demons?

Libby: Demons

JET: Paper or Digital?

Libby: Digital.

JET: Silent Film Classics or Cheesy B Rated Horror?

Libby: I’m tired of Charlie Chaplin. And Eisenstein. Cheesy B Horror for me.

JET: Top 10 best seller or Unknown Back Shelf Find?

Libby: Depends on my mood.

JET: Salty or Sweet?

Libby: It’s funny. I used to say “sweet” – no argument. But recently, I’m liking salty. A lot. What does that say about me? No… don’t answer that.

JET: Thank you for indulging me. Before we wrap this up, can you tell us what you're working on now? What's next?

Libby: I’m writing a multigenerational thriller that is set largely in a Caribbean country. It’s my most ambitious work to date. So we’ll see how and if it turns out.

JET: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat on my blog. Folks, you can find out more about Libby Hellmann and her work at the following places:




Next Friday is the first of the month and I’ll be highlighting some new releases coming out in April. Catch you then! Have a great week.



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