LUCY BURDETTE: You all know Libby Hellman by now, right?--she's been around as long as I have, LOL. I admire how she's never afraid to stray into new territory, whether it's the subject matter of her books or the way she gets them published. She's got a new novel out that I'm dying to read because I'm insanely curious about Cuba. Libby not only went, she wrote a book about it. So here's Libby with her latest adventure!
LIBBY HELLMANN: Hi, Reds. Thanks for hosting me today. It’s great to be back.
As some of you know, my most recent three thrillers are all set in historical periods of extreme conflict, otherwise known as revolutions, (or in the case of FIRE, as close to a revolution as this country came since the Civil War). So, why did I create a “Revolution Trilogy?”
In fiction, they say, there must be conflict on every page, even if it's only someone wanting a glass of water that he or she can't get. Because I tend to overdo things in general, I asked myself what type of backdrop or setting would provide the most conflict in and of itself. The answer turned out to be a revolution. Or war. Or strife within a culture. When characters’ lives unfold in an uncertain and potentially violent backdrop, almost anything can—and does—happen.
In fact, I can't imagine a more extreme conflict than a revolution. It affects everything and everyone: from individuals, to families, to neighborhoods, cities, countries, and regions. A revolution can transform a society’s culture and art, its food, education, personal freedoms, literature—the entire Zeitgeist. It affects whether people trust one another. It splits families in two. It makes everyday living dangerous. Essentially, it touches every aspect of life.
When you superimpose extreme conflict on top of conflicts that already exist in a character’s life, those people become unpredictable. Some become heroes, while others turn into cowards. I love to explore those transformations in a character, and I love when I’m surprised by what happens. Just when I’m convinced a character is about to behave one way, they take a different direction altogether. When that happens, it makes me feel more like an observer than a writer. I’m simply channeling an individual’s inner turmoil and decision-making process.
Which, hopefully, makes my novels unpredictable as well. In too many crime novels the hero or heroine does the right thing, faultless in their judgement, usually emerging unharmed and victorious at the end. Not so much in my stories. I try to let my characters develop the way they indicate, and they don’t always win their battles. They might not even make it past the first few chapters if that’s the way the revolutionary cookie crumbles.
The ‘revolution trilogy’
My novel An Eye For Murder goes back to World War Two, which, although not technically a revolution, was indeed a period of extreme conflict. An Image of Death deals with the collapse of the Soviet Union, which I’d call a bloodless revolution. Set the Night on Fire took place during the troubled times of the late 1960s in the US. A Bitter Veil explores a family’s life during the Iranian revolution. And Havana Lost, my latest release, is set partially during the Cuban revolution and its aftermath. But there’s also action taking place in Angola – which was and still is an incredibly violent and lawless place— and Chicago, which some people would say is too. In fact, I’m now calling my latest three thrillers a “Revolution Trilogy.”
It doesn’t hurt that I'm a history major and I love research. It’s almost Pavlovian on my part. And I find it curious that although every revolution is different and has been fought for different ideological reasons, many end up being quite similar.
Take the Russian revolution in 1917 or the French revolution or the Chinese ‘cultural’ revolution. It’s a common theme; people want to be free, but their leaders don't know what to do with that freedom when they get it. So it’s the ordinary people who suffer. Ironically, the only revolution that was different was the American. But that’s another blogpost.
When I put the characters in HAVANA LOST squarely into a revolution, the only thing that is certain is change. The way the characters face up to that change and handle its challenges is what makes writing so much fun. They all have minds of their own, and like the rest of us, they are essentially unpredictable, especially under stress. Also like most of us, their instinct for survival is what drives them to survive desperate circumstances.
So, Reds, that’s why I’m drawn to times of extreme conflict and strife. But what about you?
If you could choose a period of extreme conflict to write about, what would it be and why?