PRO-FILE: LIBBY FISCHER HELLMAN
1. Tell us about your current novel or project.
HAVANA LOST, my 10th thriller, is the third (and probably final) entry in my so-called “Revolution Trilogy.” Set largely in Cuba, it begins in 1958 during the Cuban revolution. Then it jumps to Cuba’s Special Period and then to the present in Chicago. Like my previous thrillers SET THE NIGHT ON FIRE and A BITTER VEIL, it is steeped in historical detail, but unlike those novels, which veered into literary thriller territory, HAVANA LOST stays closer to the genre by tracking the rise of a female Mafia boss. We see her as a young idealistic woman, a worried mother, and then a confident mature woman who happens to be on the wrong side of the law. Of course, she must deal with the repercussions and consequences of her actions.
2. Can you give us a sense of what you’re working on now?
I’m trying to finish up a Georgia Davis PI novel that I originally started four years ago before I got sidetracked with the novels mentioned above. It will be the fourth entry in the Georgia Davis series. It’s quite darkl in fact, it’s taking me to a darker place than I ever thought. So I’m think I’ll need to write an Ellie Foreman novella or novel after that. Ellie has a dry sense of humor that I’ve missed, and I need to lighten up.
3. What is the greatest pleasure of a writing career?
I hate the process itself. Writing is the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, and even after 15 years, I still feel unequal to the task. I always second-guess myself. I feel vulnerable and insecure. I write slowly, and I can be easily distracted.
But when it’s over, and I’m actually holding the book in my hands (or seeing the ebook fly off the shelves… well,… that’s a pretty awesome feeling.
4. The greatest displeasure?
I think I just told you.
5. Advice to the publishing world?
Oh, Ed, that’s sooo difficult these days. Of course I have lots of advice, but the issue is whether it’s of any use. We’re still in the throes of fundamental change and most of us are in rough seas looking for or clinging to a life preserver (including authors with the Big Five).
It’s much easier to tell you what the problems are than to offer advice. The biggest problem is “Discoverability,” and it affects both indie and traditionally published authors. How does a new or midlist or even an established author break through the junk and clutter and noise? Even someone like JK Rowling had to be “outed” in order for her book to get decent sales. If anyone has any ideas, I’m all ears.
6. Are there any forgotten writers you’d like to see in print again?
Well, technically, he’s still in print, but I’d like to see a renaissance of Jerry Healy’s John Cuddy series. What pleasure those novels gave me!
7. Tell us about selling your first novel.
It’s going to sound like a Cinderella story, but it isn’t. I finished AN EYE FOR MURDER, queried agents, and got one two weeks later. Ten weeks after that, she sold it to Berkeley Prime Crime for a 3 book deal.
Overnight success, right?
Wrong. Here’s the real story. AN EYE FOR MURDER was the fourth novel I wrote. I’m nothing if not stubborn, and when I set my mind to writing a publishable novel, I stayed with it. After three unsuccessful attempts to sell several police procedurals, though, the agent I had managed to acquire dropped me, saying something along the lines of “I think you need to change your voice. And your characters. And your plots. And your agent, because I don’t want to represent you any more.”
After I picked myself up off the floor, having consumed liberal amounts of wine and shed liberal amounts of tears, I decided to follow his advice. I switched to first person, “discovered” an amateur sleuth named Ellie Foreman who is a Chicago video producer and a single mother, (just like me – what a coincidence!)…and told a story about her family that harks back to World War Two.
It finally worked. I got another agent quickly, and she sold it, and the rest, as they say, is history. So I suppose I was an overnight success – five long years in the making.