Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Interview with mystery author Libby Fischer Hellmann

Today’s special guest is Libby Fischer Hellmann and we’re chatting about her new mystery/thriller novel, Jump Cut.

During her virtual book tour, Libby will be awarding a $50 Amazon or Barnes and Noble (winner’s choice) gift card to a lucky randomly drawn winner. To be entered for a chance to win, use the form below. To increase your chances of winning, feel free to visit her other tour stops and enter there, too!

Libby Fischer Hellmann left a career in broadcast news in Washington, DC and moved to Chicago 35 years ago, where she, naturally, began to write gritty crime fiction. Twelve novels and twenty short stories later, she claims they’ll take her out of the Windy City feet first. She has been nominated for many awards in the mystery and crime writing community and has even won a few.

With the addition of Jump Cut in 2016, her novels include the now five-volume Ellie Foreman series, which she describes as a cross between “Desperate Housewives” and “24;” the hard-boiled 4-volume Georgia Davis PI series, and three stand-alone historical thrillers that Libby calls her “Revolution Trilogy.” Her latest release, The Incidental Spy, is a historical novella set during the early years of the Manhattan Project at the U of Chicago. Her short stories have been published in a dozen anthologies, the Saturday Evening Post, and Ed Gorman’s “25 Criminally Good Short Stories” collection.

Welcome, Libby. Please tell us a little bit about Jump Cut.
Chicago video producer Ellie Foreman has been “on vacation” for almost a decade, while I wrote other novels, including a four-volume PI series and three stand-alone historical thrillers. I brought her back for Jump Cut, but she’s soon entangled in a web of espionage, murder, and suspicion that threatens to destroy what she holds most dear. Hired to produce a candy-floss profile of Chicago-based aviation giant Delcroft, Ellie is dismayed when company VP Charlotte Hollander trashes the production and cancels the project. Ellie believes Hollander was spooked by shots of a specific man in the video footage. But when Ellie arranges to meet the man to find out why, he is killed by a subway train before they can talk. In the confusion, she finds a seemingly abandoned pack of cigarettes with a flash drive inside that belonged to the now-dead man. Ellie gets the drive s contents decrypted, but before long discovers she s under surveillance. Suspecting Delcroft and the ambitious Hollander are behind it, she s unconvinced when Hollander tells her the dead man was a Chinese spy. Ellie and her boyfriend, Luke, try to find answers, but they don t realize how far they have ventured into the dangerous echelons of hidden power where more lives are on the line including their own.

What inspired you to write this book?
As I mentioned above, I wrote four Ellie Foreman novels – Ellie being a Chicago video producer who gets involved in murder investigations, but I set the series aside to write a number of other novels. Last summer I dipped my toe into World War Two and spy literature with The Incidental Spy (which, btw, is free at the moment.) I did a lot of research for it, and it turned out well. So I decided to try a modern day espionage thriller set after the NSA revelations and Edward Snowden’s actions. What brought me back to Ellie, aside from fan requests, was the story itself. As soon as I knew I was going to write a “post-Snowden” espionage thriller, it was clear Ellie would be the character to anchor it. The fact that she could produce a video for a giant aviation company in Chicago that also manufactures military attack drones and had close ties to the US Defense community sealed the deal.

Excerpt from Jump Cut:
The sun winked off the frozen surface of Lake Michigan the next morning as I drove south to McCormick Place. During one of the most brutal Chicago winters in decades, the smudge of purple clouds tinged with pink and gold hinted that the fury of winter might—just might—have peaked. I parked in the overpriced lot, bought half a dozen cups of overpriced coffee, and carried them into the massive exhibit hall.

The crew was setting up lights and shades, and Mac was behind the camera framing shots. MacArthur J. Kendall III owns a production studio in Northbrook. He started out shooting sweet sixteens, bar mitzvahs, and weddings, but parlayed that into corporate videos. We’ve worked together for nearly twenty years, from the days of two-inch video, to one-inch, three-quarter, and now digital.

Mac’s name, salt-and-pepper hair, button-down shirts, and penny loafers scream WASP, but the nasty scar running down his left cheek saves him from total Episcopalian infamy. He tells people he was attacked by a Mexican drug lord and made me swear never to reveal it was from a car accident.

I went up to him. “What do you need me to do?”

“You have the shot list?”

I nodded and pulled it out of the canvas bag that doubles as my purse. We went over it. He gestured to the main area of the Delcroft booth, which featured a large projection screen with the company logo on both sides, and about twenty chairs arranged theater-style.

“What time’s the first presentation?”

Teresa Basso Gold, our client contact, had told us to be prepared for a series of short remarks by Delcroft executives touting the company’s latest innovations.

I checked my watch. Barely six thirty. “The doors don’t open until nine, and Teresa said not to expect anyone until ten. But you can get some establishing shots, if you want.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Mac said and strolled over to confer with the crew.

What exciting story are you working on next?
I’m in the middle of another World War Two novella at the moment. It’s about German POWs who were imprisoned in the United States in 1943-1944, and an American farm girl who falls in love with one of them. That, hopefully, will be out in the fall. In fact, I’ll probably package it with Incidental Spy and title both of them with something like “Homefront” in the title. After that, I plan to write a (hopefully funny) caper novel with two women who are being chased all over the world by the mafia.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I’m in a writers’ group – have been for twenty years (They’ll take me out of there feet first). When I first started, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. In fact, I knew very little. For example, before I was published, I wrote three novels. None have seen the light of day, and they never will-- they weren’t ready. I had to learn the craft of fiction. To wit, in one of those novels, two male police officers were the protagonists. One of them walked into a house to question a witness, and the first thing he noticed were the curtains in the window. “Um... no,” said my writing group. A solid, beefy cop would NOT notice curtains when he walked into a house. "You need to learn the difference between a man and a woman's point of view”, they said. Looking back, it seems obvious now. But at the time it felt like a revelation.

Two years after that, I finally discovered Ellie Foreman and brought in the first chapter of what would become An Eye for Murder. I read it out loud. Afterwards there was absolute silence. I was sure I'd done something wrong. This was it, I was thinking. They're going to kick me out. Instead, as I looked around, the woman who'd been hardest on me, said, "That was amazing. You found your voice." Her comment is still the most flattering thing anyone has ever said to me about my writing, and I knew at that point, I was a writer.

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I used to be very disciplined. When my kids were still at home I’d get them up, take them to school, work out, then come home and write. Now, though, I seem to have lost that discipline. I write at all hours, and I do so much promotion that I’m actually not sure how I finished my last three novels. Besides writing and promoting and exercise, I volunteer at a Chicago high school to help kids write, I listen to Blues, go to movies… (although more and more I don’t have to “go out” – I can get them on Demand right at home). I used to free lance writing video scripts and teaching executives how to be better communicators, but I let that go to write full time.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Probably the fact that I HAVE to write “chronologically,” that is from beginning to end. I know writers who write whatever scene or chapter they want and just fit them in afterwards, but I can’t do that. I don’t outline, so I have to go in a very linear fashion so I understand the story, and make sure my characters are behaving authentically.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Hmm… I started out wanting to be a famous journalist based in Paris. That segued to broadcast news producer, and then film-maker a la Lina Wertmuller (who used to work with Fellini but then directed several great films on her own including “Swept Away.” Curiously, I NEVER had any plans to become a writer. It wasn’t even Plan B. Funny how life interferes with your plans.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
Yes… I thought it might be helpful to give you a little background on Ellie, for readers who are new to her. Ellie is a Chicago video producer and single mother. She lives on the North Shore about 20 miles from the Loop. Born and raised in Chicago, she married, had a daughter, then got divorced. Her mother passed when Ellie was in her twenties, but her father is still around, and plays a vital role in all the books. Ellie is outgoing and has a self-deprecating sense of humor as well as a strong sense of fairness and justice, so when she sees situations that aren’t, she is apt to get involved. Those situations usually (but not always) arise from the corporate or industrial videos she produces. She used to be rather impulsive, but as she’s matured, she’s more thoughtful. Still, she tends to end up in trouble and needs to get herself out of it. She’s had two serious relationships since her divorce – and now has settled in rather comfortably with Luke Sutton, who lives most of the week in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Unlike Georgia Davis, who is a loner, Ellie has a support system of friends and family around her. I like to describe the Ellie books as a cross between “Desperate Housewives” and “24,” but Jump Cut is much more “24’ (and raises serious issues) than the others.


Thank you for being a guest on my blog today, Libby!

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Early reviews for "Jump Cut":

"Exceptional... As Hellman’s convincing, conflicted characters face impossible choices, the tension is real and memorable."
Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Hellmann's writing sparkles...plenty of suspense in this richly detailed thriller, but Hellmann’s characteristic wit and warmth are evident, too."

"From spies to drones and hackers, Jump Cut is a heart-stopping tale of corporate espionage that will have you snapping on your seatbelt. The tangled web of international intrigue is riveting. Hellmann is a renowned master of suspense, and her great talent shows in the story’s many rich characters, the beautifully honed paragraphs, and the sweep of her provocative story. A keeper!"
Gayle Lynds, New York Times best-selling author of The Assassins

"With spooks, spies, sudden death and double-crosses, Jump Cut hits all the right notes for a top-notch action thriller. Once again Ellie Foreman is a thoroughly likeable real-world heroine, fiercely protective of those she loves, thrown in at the deep end and swimming for her life. Don’t miss it!"
ZoĆ« Sharp, author of the Charlie Fox series and The Blood Whisperer

"Welcome back Ellie Foreman! Jump Cut rockets to a stunning but thrilling climax… Another winner from the standout Chicago novelist Libby Hellmann."
Paul Levine, author of Bum Rap

"After a long hiatus, Hellmann returns to her Chicago-based sleuth with a chilling tale that may be all too close to the truth."
Kirkus Reviews


Anonymous said...

Very informative interview!


Goddess Fish Promotions said...

Thank you for hosting

Libby Hellmann said...

Thanks for hosting me, Lisa! I hope your readers will write in with questions... I'm around all afternoon.

Rita Wray said...

Great excerpt.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a great read.

Libby Hellmann said...

Thanks, Becky and Rita. I had a good time writing Ellie -- it was the first time in 10 years, but it only took about a page before I got back into her voice. It was like having lunch with an old friend. :)

Birdie Skolfield said...

do your ideas just come to you or do you formulate them into writings?

Victoria Alexander said...

Really great post, I enjoyed reading it! I always love learning about authors and how the ideas for their books form in their heads :)

Libby Hellmann said...

Birdie.. that's a hard question to answer. I used to say (forgive the snark) that I buy them at the Idea Store. But, truly, ideas are all around us. It could be a news story, an overheard conversation, another book I'm reading, a conversation with a friend... something I'm watching on TV or a movie... the key is to ask "What if?"... what if my character thought this... or that.. or did this or that... would it be believable? WOuld it be true to their character? How would other characters react to it? If I can imagine all sorts of possibilities, then I'll run with it. If not, I'll just wait for the next one.

For example, in the novella I'm writing, I needed one of the bad guys to be released from jail so he could commit a murder... I couldnt figure out how to do that... Then I realized, wait a minute... he doesnt have to be in jail at all! What if the woman who loves him lies for him and he is released from jail right away? It was perfect... and it opened up all sorts of possibilities about HER character. What kind of woman would do that? Why? What will she get out of it? Will she be caught in her lie?

Sorry to go on and on.. I got carried away... hope that answers the question, Birdie.

Thanks Victoria for your kind words... and thanks again, Lisa, for hosting me. I hope you all will check out Jump Cut...

Nikolina said...

Enjoyed reading your interview, thank you!

Amy Friedentag said...

Great interview :)

Libby Hellmann said...

Thanks, Nikolina and Amy. A pleasure to be here.

Mai T. said...

Do you consider yourself a confident or an anxious writer?

Unknown said...

Sounds like a great read, thank you for the interesting interview!

Ally Swanson said...

Excellent post! I really enjoyed reading the excerpt, the interview, and the reviews. This book sounds like such an interesting and intriguing read! Totally can't wait to read this book!

Nikolina said...

I am really enjoying following this tour, thank you!