Sunday, February 28, 2010

Interview with LIBBY HELLMAN

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.  She is the author of both mystery novels and short stories and is a past president of Sisters in Crime.

You’ve written the Ellie Foreman and Georgia Davis mystery series, along with award-nominated short stories. Who is the one person who most encouraged or influenced you to be a writer—and why?

Great question. And one that's hard to answer. I was always a reader. I gravitated toward thrillers and espionage novels as an adult. From there I moved into suspense and dark mystery. My mother was always a big mystery reader, so while she must have been an influence, I'm still not sure what propelled me into writing. I can tell you that I was a filmmaker before I turned to prose, so I've always been caught up in storytelling. Ultimately, I chose words as the best way to tell my stories, but I still am a sucker for a good movie.

Why mysteries instead of, say, regency romances?

Several reasons. I love the puzzle element...the cerebral exercise of matching wits with the sleuth or author. I also like the fact that mysteries are a wonderful way to illustrate social issues without preaching, if they're done right. And I like the fact that in most mysteries, justice is served. The guilty will be apprehended, and we can all go to sleep feeling just a bit more confident about our world and universe. Finally, I love the way mysteries can take us to different settings. I often think I must have been a peasant girl in the Middle Ages… I love reading about other eras and cultures. (although now that I'm thinking about it, that is true with regency romances as well…)

Tell us about your background in film production and how that impacts your writing.

I went to NYU and got a MFA in film production. I had high hopes of being the American Lina Wertmuller, but it never happened. I worked in TV news for a period of time, then switched to corporate videos. When I started writing, it was only natural that my first protagonist, Ellie Foreman, be a corporate video producer. I thought that would a good way for her to get involved in a range of issues, personalities, and situations. And it was.

As far as my writing is concerned, I have to see a scene, complete with long shots, close ups, pans, and dollies, before I can write it. So I hope I write visually. The only problem is remembering that there are 5 senses in prose, not just 2 (sight and sound)… which can enhance a scene beyond what film reveals. Particularly the sense of smell. I think it's perhaps the most powerful sense humans have, yet the one that's least used in prose.

What is the biggest challenge you face as a writer?

Narrative. I have an "ear" for dialogue, and enjoy writing it. But narrative has always been a challenge. To be honest, I never related much to poetry when I was younger, but now I'm impressed by writers like James Lee Burke or Kent Krueger, whose narratives are like spun sugar. Very smooth and lyrical. I'm envious.

What is the title of your most recently published book? Briefly tell us what it’s about and let us know where we can buy it.

DOUBLEBACK is my most recent novel. It pairs both my series protagonists in a thriller that begins in Chicago, sweeps through Wisconsin, and ends up on the Arizona border. It starts with the kidnapping of a young girl in the suburbs of Chicago. She's returned, unharmed, 3 days later, which is when the story really starts. It involves several issues, including security contractors on the US/Mexican border, drug smuggling, and bank fraud. It was fun to write. It's widely available, both online and in brick and mortar stores.

What are you working on now and when/where do you expect it to be available?

I've just finished a a standalone crime novel that's a historical--it takes place mostly in Iran during the Iranian revolution in the late '70s. Not sure when that will be out. And I'm just starting the third Georgia Davis novel.

Writers, especially new writers, are always looking for tips and helpful information. What is the single most important “tip” you can give to a new writer?

Join a writers' group, preferably one that focuses on the books you want to write. Make sure the group focuses on craft, rather than one or two members' agendas. I also recommend volunteering with writing organizations in your area. It's a wonderful way to meet writers, trade information, and keep on top of what's happening.

Are you a member of any writer’s organizations? Why? Why not?

I belong to a number of organizations. I was fortunate to be the national president of Sisters in Crime in 2006. I was also the president of the Midwest chapter of Mystery Writers of America. I'm also a member of the Thriller Writers organization and the International Crime Writers Association. All of these organizations keep me up to date on what's happening in the industry. Not to mention the friends I have made over the years. I do think that the mystery community is the most generous, caring, compassionate communities I know. I'm not sure why--maybe it's because we work out our demons on paper instead of real life. Here's an example: a mystery author we all know has been very ill recently, and unable to pay her bills. We took up a collection and have brought in over $10,000 for her. In less than a month. I don't know many other groups that are that giving.

Do you have any upcoming book signings or appearances? If so, give us all the details.

My complete appearance schedule is on my website ( but, briefly, I will be at the
Tucson Book Festival (March 13-14), the Appleton Wisconsin Book Festival (April 17), Printers Row in June, well as other local events in the Chicago area. If your readers are nearby, I'd love to meet them!

FUN QUESTION: Big city or small town, and why?

Big city. There's a bigger "pool" of people, places, and situations that can turn dark and sinister. Although I
admit that the idea of being lost on a dark, rural road also fills me with trepidation.

What are the addresses of your website(s) and blog(s):

1 comment:

  1. A big city is full of dark and sinister people, good for mystery writing.
    I live in a small city, good for uplifting, family writing!!!