We are excited to have Libby Fischer Hellman as the first of our Murder and Mayhem in Muskego guests today. Her latest book, Havana Lost, hits shelves on Friday. It’s her tenth novel. (Stay tuned… many of the authors heading to Murder and Mayhem have agreed to be our guests and The Word Nerds will be there to catch all the great panels, etc. in person come November).
Word Nerds: You’re behind the series featuring Ellie Foreman, which started in 2002. What’s it like having a series that spans more than a decade?
Libby: Well, to be honest, I haven’t updated readers on Ellie recently – I’ve been dealing with Georgia and the three stand-alones (Set The Night on Fire, A Bitter Veil, and Havana Loat). But I’m thrilled that readers who may have missed her are now discovering her. She’s like an old friend, so much so that I’ve pretty much decided to write another Ellie mystery after I finish the Georgia thriller I’m working on now.
WN: And just when readers thought that Ellie was solving all of your mysteries, you introduced Georgia Davis, a Chicago-based PI. What is it like writing two different series?
Libby: I love it. I write Ellie from first person, which is more intimate and can be seriously funny. Georgia is written from third person, (intentionally) to keep people at a distance. That’s the way she wants it. But for me, writing about these remarkably different women feeds both sides of my schizophrenic personality. In fact, DOUBLEBACK, where they share center stage, was probably the most fun I’ve had writing a book.
WN: Your new book, Havana Lost, has mystery and intrigue at the center of the story, yet features the challenge of writing in a charged historical setting, Cuba. What drew you to this time and era?
Libby: When I was a little girl in the 1950’s (yes I’m dating myself), my parents flew down to Havana to gamble. I was always jealous—I wanted to go too. They were visiting a foreign country, a different culture, a different world. Even then, I knew it would be fascinating. I kept up with Cuba as a teenager… how could you not, after Fidel came to power, Che became a hero for the left, and the Bay of Pigs, then the Cuban Missile Crisis happened? But I never had the chance to go there until last year. By then I’d written two thirds of the book.
WN: What is your writing style like? Is it different for each type of book?
Libby: In a word, yes.
WN: The Word Nerds are fascinated with writing spaces. What does yours look like? What is a “must have” before you get started?
Libby: Here’s a picture… dog and all…
I need to check my email in the morning… read the news… and have breakfast before I dive in…
WN: You’ve lived in Washington DC and Chicago, two cities that have a large influence over America. What is it like to live and work in cities with such large potential?
Libby: I say in my bio that when you live in DC and you’re gossiping at the dinner table about the neighbors, you’re talking politics. And it’s the truth. I come from a politically charged environment, and look at everything from that angle first. Especially since I used to work in broadcast journalism, both in DC and New York.
Moving to Chicago, however, was the best thing I’ve ever done. I expanded my “world view” and because I worked for a large public relations agency, began to see the power that corporations have over our politics, environment, and culture. It’s something I was fascinated by and continue to explore in my novels.
The city itself, however, is a different kettle of fish. If you want to know more about my feelings on Chicago, check out Janet Rudolph’s Mystery Readers Journal, Chicago edition. My article is online, thanks to her, and you can find it here.
WN: What type of books do you enjoy? The same sort that you write, or do you look for a get away?
Libby: I like all sorts of books: Mysteries, thrillers, women’s fiction, biographies, historicals. In fact, I describe myself as a reading slut. I’ll try anything, at least for 15 pages. However, I guess I am a discriminating reader, because if I haven’t been captured by the prose or the premise in 15 pages, I’m outta there. There are too many worthwhile books and novels to waste time on a book that I can’t invest in.
WN: What was it like to be the National President of Sisters in Crime?
Libby: It was busy. Happily, we had funds that we needed to disperse or we would be taxed on them. It happened to be our 20th anniversary, so we came up with a bunch of ideas that we used to celebrate. I had a fine time spending the organization’s money and seeing our name broaden within author/writing communities.
WN: What advice do you have for the aspiring writer?
Libby: Read, read, read in the genre you want to write. Join a writing group, hopefully in the genre you want to write. School yourself to write 45 minutes a day without stopping. Then revise, revise, revise.
WN: What question did we not ask, that you really would love to be asked?
Libby: Why did you start writing crime fiction?
I started writing in 1996 after the death of my father. At the time I thought it was a way to work out my grief. Then I decided I was writing because he was such a practical businessman that his death in a way freed me to pursue activities that didn’t have a measureable goal, money or closure. It was only about 7 years ago (after I’d written 6 novels) that I realized what REALLY made me start writing.
It was the OJ Simpson trial. I had watched it religiously, and it opened up a new world for me – the world of forensics. There was the bloody glove, the footprints, the blood spatter, the DNA… I was fascinated that crimes could actually be investigated in a systematic way with all sorts of hi-tech gadgets. I was mesmerized by the concept, even though the prosecution botched the job.
OJ was acquitted in October, 1995. My Dad died February 1996. You connect the dots. I guess we have to give the devil his due.