Friday, October 17, 2008

Sex, Lies, and Videotape: Where are they now?

ROBERTA: Shortly after my first book was launched, I met fellow newbie writer Libby Hellmann at an MWA event in New York. She was brimming with ideas about how to get her series out into the world—and looking for partners in crime. Before I knew it, I had signed on for a tour of the California coast in spring 2003, with Libby and another new writer, Deborah Donnelly. We called ourselves “Sex, Lies, and Videotape” in honor of Deborah’s wedding planner, my golfer, and Libby’s videographer. Keeping company with those wonderful women pushed me way past what I might have tried alone. During our trip, we sent letters home from the field—an early group blog. We were ahead of the curve!

I look back on that first year with great fondness, in large part because of Deborah and Libby. Today Jungle Red Writers checks in to see where their journeys have taken them. Welcome Libby and Deborah! Let’s start with talking about that first year after publication. Tell us what you remember best about the trip or that first year following publication.

LIBBY: Touring with you guys was a terrific vacation. It was the first time I’d seen Carmel, Big Sur, the first time I’d driven the 101. I remember getting the opening scene for A SHOT TO DIE FOR at a rest stop, when (for the umpteenth time) I had to stop and I was afraid you’d drive off without me. I also remember Deborah constantly rolling the windows down and up. And how can I forget trading our life stories, and how amazed you both were that I was still on my first marriage? I remedied that.

ROBERTA: I’m pretty sure we helped with that Libby☺.

DEBORAH: One moment I remember vividly is going into a Barnes & Noble and seeing My Book – mine, that I wrote, out of my own head! – there on the shelves with all the others. To paraphrase Annie Lamott, getting published will not heal you (or make you rich, alas) but it is something you can tuck into the back pocket of your mind, to take out once in a while and smile over. What a feeling.

And, of course, there’s the Sex, Lies & Videotape tour. A peak experience, hitting the road with sister authors who soon became friends. At every stop the bookstore people were so gracious, and the fans (or soon-to-be-fans, we hoped) were so open to hearing from these three beginners. From sorting laundry in a small town parking lot, to getting lost and spooked in East Oakland, to zooming through Big Sur with the radio blaring, I treasure every memory.

ROBERTA: I was the designated driver coming home from Oakland, so I didn’t partake when the bookstore offered wine—but my navigators had a blast!

This is a big question, but I’ll ask it anyway. Tell us what you’ve learned over the past six years.

DEBORAH: What did I learn? That it’s a great favor readers bestow on authors, to take the time to come hear them in person. I know that all three of us valued that favor highly.

LIBBY: What did I learn? That promotion is a black hole that can suck you under. That first year, I was unflagging -- I wanted to tour, do events, go to conferences, appear at libraries, get lots of publicity and reviews, exploit the internet (yes, Al Gore had invented it by then); in other words, everything. The problem was I wasn’t sure of the relative weight of each activity. I’m still not, but I’ve learned to marshal my resources more efficiently.

My biggest regret, and this is more a reflection on the past 6 years than year 1, is the demise of so many independent mystery bookstores and independents in general. It makes a difference in terms of support -- and makes it harder for all of us.

ROBERTA: Tell us about what you’ve written in the past 6 years.

LIBBY: My fifth novel, EASY INNOCENCE, came out in April, 2008. The protagonist is Georgia Davis, who first made her appearance in my third novel, AN IMAGE OF DEATH. She was a cop then, now she’s a PI. And I’ve written 4 other novels in the Ellie Foreman series. And in 2007, I edited CHICAGO BLUES, a wonderful anthology of 21 dark crime fiction stories based in Chicago, loosely interpreting the Blues. And over the years I’ve published 14 short stories that have appeared in various magazines and anthologies.

DEBORAH: After my debut with VEILED THREATS, I wrote five more books in my series of Wedding Planner Mysteries, finishing the series with BRIDE AND DOOM.
The first two have come out Spanish, Thai and Portuguese, with more foreign reprints to come in future. That Moscow publisher has been so slow!

ROBERTA: That’s an impressive amount of writing! Libby, which book was hardest and which was easiest for you?

LIBBY: The hardest book for me to write was A SHOT TO DIE FOR. I was distracted by all sorts of things in my personal life, and it had an impact. The book I enjoyed writing most was probably EASY INNOCENCE, followed by AN IMAGE OF DEATH. Both those books ended up saying things I didn’t know I wanted to say.

ROBERTA: And Deborah, after six installments in the wedding planner series, how did you end up feeling about your character Carnegie? And weddings? Anything you would have done differently, looking back?

DEBORAH: I had really grown to love tough-minded, soft-hearted Carnegie. But I have to say I was getting burned out on weddings -- especially the big-budget extravaganzas that are being marketed these days.

Looking back, I would have spent less time worrying about promotion and more time writing -- or maybe sleeping. And I wouldn't have taken everything so seriously. Remember our panicky phone calls? "I can't work my way out of Chapter Nineteen, the book is doomed, my life is over!"

ROBERTA: Yes, I definitely remember that! You saved my sanity a couple of times, Deborah. And it’s not like it’s gotten easier either…last question, and it’s a hard one: What’s next?

LIBBY: I’m just finishing a sequel to EASY INNOCENCE, which brings together both Georgia and Ellie in one novel. The working title is DOUBLE-CROSSED, but I’m sure that will change. It’s been quite a challenge to write both their voices together – they’re so different. I’ve also written a stand-alone thriller, called SET THE NIGHT ON FIRE, which takes place, in part, during the late Sixties in Chicago. I’m keeping my fingers crossed on that.

But, to be honest, I have NO idea what I’m going to do next. None at all. Got any ideas? Maybe it’s time for another trip.

DEBORAH: These days I’m settling in to my new home city of Portland, Oregon, which I love, and working as a website writer while my imagination recharges. I’m not sure what I’ll write next, but the stories are burbling away in there...

ROBERTA: Thanks to you both for stopping by Jungle Red Writers and for being among my first writing friends. Now the floor is open for questions. (Deborah’s out of town but will answer questions and comments when she returns.)


  1. Hey, Libby and Deborah - Welcome to JRW! What I remember is being at Bouchercon in Vegas (ick, ick, double-ick) with you both and Roberta, riding in a taxi and trying to find a restaurant that felt as if it was at the edge of the desert, and nearly getting stranded there.

  2. Hey Libby and Deborah--What a charming and inspirational interview..somehow your excellent adventures bring tears to my eyes. Hmm.

    And also--the idea that your books is something "you can tuck into the back pocket of your mind, to take out once in a while and smile over."..I do that all the time.

    And I smile over the new pals I've made, too. Whether it's in a car or on the internet--it is an amazing journey.

  3. Oh, Hallie -- I remember that night. There were about 12 of us weren't there? And the restaurant, when we finally found it, wasn't even good. Definitely a bum steer.

    When I was first published, Hank, I think the eureka moment came when I saw the book in the bookstore window and knew that I'd written it. It's still a thrill.

  4. I haven't had the Thelma and Louise Sell Books moment yet, so far I've only flown solo, but you gals make it sound fun.
    Think what a difference a GPS
    would have made...but you might not have as many fun stories.

    (Hi Libby. We met at Love is Murder..which will always have a special place in my heart since that was the first time I ever saw a stack of my debut novel.)