Friday, July 13, 2007

Interview with Libby Fischer Hellman

By Lonnie Cruse

Today's interview is with author Libby Fischer Hellmann. I hope you enjoy getting to know Libby better and that you will check out her books! Thanks for stopping by PDD.

LC: How would you characterize your writing? Cozy? Hard boiled? Somewhere between? And what led you to that style?

LFH: I would say I write medium-boiled with a decided bent toward suspense. In fact, the critics often call my books “mystery-thrillers.” I always knew suspense would be a hallmark of my writing because before I wrote, I read suspense. I started out reading Le Carre, Ludlum, Follett, Deighton (all of them men back then) before I read mysteries. It was only after a steady diet of thrillers that I backed into mystery. I still like a good thriller… in fact.. I’m just finishing up writing one.

LC: Hope it's a best seller for you! Do you still have a "day job" and if so, how in the world do you find time to write?

LFH: I have gone back and forth on the day job. Recently, I’ve started to kick it back up – (I need the money). I train people to be better speakers. I prepare them for speeches, presentations, and media interviews. I also write video scripts when I get the chance. I conduct seminars as well as group sessions, all of which are detailed on my website under Fischer Hellmann Communications (

LC: How did you get started writing Amazon Shorts, and is it a good market for short story writers?

LFH: I think I must have received a mailing from them about the program. I do remember discussing it with Joe Konrath who submitted a story package to them. I had a story (Josef’s Angel) that was originally written for a religious anthology that never was published, so I figured, why not? I’m glad I did – apparently it did well. I’ve since given them another story, “The Day Miriam Hirsch Disappeared” which is kind of neat because it’s the “prequel” to my Ellie Foreman series.

To answer your other question, yes, I think it’s a good market. I do think short stories, more than novels, are the perfect fiction medium to download, and I applaud Amazon for getting to the marketplace first. They’re not the only ones, however… Sony is… even as we speak… collecting short fiction that will be available to download. So I think we’re just seeing the beginning of what will is going to be a viable market. Not that anyone’s going to get rich from it… but it is a good way to extend an author’s visibility and work product.

LC: Strange coincidence, the first time I met you, we were on a panel about short stories at Love Is murder! Moving on, what, for you, is the best promotional strategy?

LFH: Oy… that’s the 64,000 dollar question, isn’t it? I have no idea, Lonnie. Everything is in such flux right now. I’ve tried so many different strategies. Some work, some don’t, but for the most part, I have no idea what works.

You’d think the book industry would be more sophisticated (ie like the audio industry) in terms of web marketing, but they’re not. At the same time, though, there have to be literally hundreds of websites and blogs that feature books, mysteries, crime fiction, etc. Most of them are still the equivalent of the “mom and pop” store… ie there’s not a lot of continuity or linkage between them. So I do wonder how that’s all going to ultimately play out.

I still think virtual signings are a fabulous idea, and I’d love to see the idea catch on. I don’t think it would work for bookstores... but libraries might be a great venue… and certainly book clubs, church groups, etc.. The technology is there with services like Skype… all you need is a camera on your computer and you can make yourself (and your book) available to people all over the world. If I had the time and the resources, I’d start a company that did that for writers.

LC: I'd love to participate in that! You use the largest city in Illinois as your setting, I use one of the smallest. Since setting becomes almost a character in books, how do you research it, and then how do you slide it smoothly into your story?

LFH: I am not a native Chicagoan.. I come from the East Coast.. so I love to explore my adopted city. I do field trips any time I’m thinking of a setting I don’t know first hand. I’ll take my digital camera, shoot lots of pictures, and then use them as a point of departure. It doesn’t take the place of interviews – I do those too, formal and spontaneous. Of course, like many other authors, I end up with five times as much material as I need… a little description goes a long way.

LC: Now that you are a successful writer, is it harder for you to read books by other authors? Meaning do you itch to reach for a red pen and make corrections in the margins of someone else's book? Or can you still just sit back and enjoy the read?

LFH: What a good question! My reading habits have changed dramatically. I will start a book, but if it hasn’t grabbed me by page 25, I’m outta there. There are just too many books to read and not enough time to read them. I look first for smooth, velvety prose. If that’s not there, I usually won’t stay with it. But if it is, and the story’s got suspense, I can be just as hooked as I was before I started writing. I love when that happens, btw.

LC: Is there any author you would kill to meet? Living or dead, though admittedly the latter would be more difficult?

LFH: Louisa May Alcott… she defined my childhood. John Le Carre: he introduced me to the world of the thriller.

LC: Which do you prefer, sweating your way through the first rough draft or sweating your way through re-write?

LFH: Give me rewrite any day. I love editing, shaping, making it better. I hate writing first drafts. Hate it. I feel so unequal to the task. In fact, I try to fool myself and pretend that I’m always editing… it works except for that very first draft. Then I adhere to Annie Lamott’s theory of “shitty” first drafts. That’s my goal.

LC: Sigh, me too. You've edited a crime fiction anthology which is due out in October. Was that job easier or harder than cranking out a mystery novel?

LFH: Editing Chicago Blues (Bleak House… an October release) was much easier. And more fun. Getting the submissions was like getting a birthday present every day! I loved reading them. And it’s funny…. I knew from almost the first graf which stories would make it into the antho.. and which wouldn’t. There was such a sense of professionalism and finesse... It was almost eerie, as if they were calling to me.

LC: Anything else you'd like our readers to know about you or your writing?

LFH: Okay… Consider this BSP….I blog with the Outfit at The Chicago Tribune just did a story on us which you can find at And my website ( has lots of new stuff, including info on Chicago Blues.

Btw, your Chicago readers are hereby invited to our launch party Friday, October 5th, from 5 pm to 8 pm at Legends (Buddy Guy’s place) on South Wabash. In fact, Lonnie… why don’t you come up too? It’s gonna rock!

LC: Sounds like fun, Libby! Thanks for a great interview. Best of good luck with the launch, and I hope to see you soon.

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