Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Libby Hellmann on DoubleBack

ROBERTA: Today JRW welcomes Libby Fischer Hellmann, author of six novels including her latest, DOUBLEBACK, featuring PI Georgia Davis. Libby also edited a collection of short stories called CHICAGO BLUES, has written many short stories, and served as the president of Sisters in Crime. Welcome Libby! Please start by telling us where the idea for DB came from.

LIBBY: People who know me well know I’m a little neurotic. (Stop laughing, Roberta). Some of my primal fears are flying, bees, and being trapped in a stalled elevator. So I imagined 6 people in an office building elevator that lurches to a stop. The lights go out, the car sways, and panic ensues – people cry, curse, pray and yell. They think they’re going to die. Suddenly the elevator resumes operating and descends to the lobby as if nothing has happened. The people spill out, and the last man out looks at his watch and says, “Right on schedule.”

That’s the first chapter of DOUBLEBACK. Now all I needed was the rest of the book.

At the time I started writing, Blackwater was all over the news. Eric Prince was saying his mercenaries weren’t exactly military, so they shouldn’t be accountable to military law. Then he said they weren’t really civilians either, so they shouldn’t be accountable to civilian law. It was a Catch-22 and it infuriated me. So I decided to incorporate that into the story. What if mercenaries, who are up to the highest bidder anyway, changed sides? What would happen? How would you detect it? How would you fight it? Those are some of the questions I explore in DOUBLEBACK.

ROBERTA: I'm not laughing, Libby! We love nutty here at JRW:). Why did you mix first person with third person… what’s been the reaction?

LIBBY: I knew from the start that I would be pairing my series protagonists in DOUBLEBACK. My first series features Ellie Foreman, a single mother, video producer, and amateur sleuth. I have always written her in first person, mostly because Ellie wants you to know who she is and how she feels. Georgia, who made her debut in one of the Ellie books, but came into her own in EASY INNOCENCE, has always come to me in third person. That’s because she’s cautious, guarded, and prefers to keep people at a distance. I did try to write Ellie in third person, for consistency’s sake, but it didn’t work. She lost some of her fire. So I bit the bullet and wrote them the way they wanted to be written. I think their voices are distinct enough that readers won’t be confused. At least I hope so.

ROBERTA: Are you going to continue with the dual protagonists?

LIBBY: I don’t know. The next Georgia book looks like it will feature her as the protagonist. However, Ellie will make an appearance. I haven’t started it yet, but in my third Ellie book, AN IMAGE OF DEATH, which, coincidentally, was the book that introduced Georgia, one of the bad guys gets away, and I’m thinking of bringing him back in number 7. So we’ll see how heavily Ellie is involved.

ROBERTA: Will Georgia ever find true love?

LIBBY: Georgia has had a hard time in her relationships, and she’s due for a break. And yes, I know who I’m bringing in to be her love interest. Once again, he’s a character from an Ellie book, but I can’t tell you who or which book-- I’d have to kill you. Or maybe Georgia would.

ROBERTA: Where did your love of suspense come from?

LIBBY: Before I ever thought about writing books, I read thrillers. These were in the salad days of Ludlum, LeCarre, Deighton, Follett, etc.(They were all men back then…) I loved the the sheer inability to put a book down until it’s finished, even though you’re up half the night. Once I started writing, I knew suspense would be a hallmark of my work, and at this point I can’t imagine not building in suspense. I’m just grateful that so many women have broken into the subgenre. More, more!

Libby's on tour with Doubleback right now. You can read more about her books and her tour stops at her website.


  1. Hey Libby--

    Welcome to JRW!

    Wonder how many of us are afraid of flying--I sure am. Well, not as much as I used to be, but I don't want to jinx anything by discussing it. ANd now that I know pilots may not be paying attention...sheesh.

    Love the elevator opening scene. Donnell was talking yesterday about the writing tip "stay in the phone booth with the gorilla"--and you've done exactly that!

    SO you thought of that first--and then the rest of the story? That's just what's happening to me right
    now--so it's very reassuring how nicely it's turned out for you.

    (Lovely to meet you at Bouchercon!)

  2. Hi, Libby --

    Congrats on the new book!

    I'm good with bees and flying, most of the time... but elevators, I hear you. Do you have bad elevator dreams, too? The ones where the elevator won't open. Or keeps going up up up? Or starts sliding sideways?

    As a 5-year old my daughter went on her first Loooong elevator ride up in a packed elevator in NYC. She stood there like the Cowardly Lion chanting "I'm not afraid, I'm not afraid" thoroughly spooking everyone else out.

  3. Hi Libby,
    I spent twenty years getting rid of my fear of flying so I totally relate. What a wonderful opening scene -- and concept -- the book sounds awesome. Congrats!

  4. Lots of sideways elevator dreams, Hallie! And lots of planes that go down but don't crash. The shrinks would have a field day.

    Great to meet you too, Hank. Wish we'd had more time. And yes, in DOUBLEBACK I had pieces of plot, which is typically my process. Sometimes I write myself into a corner, but often they work out.

    In fact, the best part of the writing process for me is when I've had a character do or say something on page 47, not knowing why he or she did that, but 150 pages later, I suddenly realize why. I love those connections.. it's almost like a light switch being flipped. I only wish it happened more often.

    Hey, Jan. Long time no hear. I'm better on planes now, but not much. One bout of turbulence, and I turn to jelly. I often depend on the kindness of strangers... ie whoever's in the seat next to me, and ask them to talk me down.

    Thanks for all the good wishes, Jungle Woman. And thanks, Roberta, for the opportunity to join you today.

  5. Welcome, Libby and good luck with the new book. My husband John is highly claustrophobic and being shut in a pitch black plunging elevator would be his idea of a nightmare, so you've definitely struck a chord there!
    I used to have elevator dreams--ones that dropped too rapidly or went sideways--what does the sideways mean, anyway? I had no idea anyone else dreamed that.
    I also used to dream that my plane either couldn't take off properly or was flying so low that it was going to hit the buildings on either side.
    I don't dream those any more, but I do still have the unexpected exam at school for which I haven't studied dream. Or the packing in a hurry or I'll miss the plane dream.

  6. Hi Libby,

    I just ordered DoubleBack. I can't wait to read it. I love the mix of first and third person. J.A. Konrath does it. It makes for a fun read.

    As to fear of flying. I fight a queasy feeling just thinking about it. Truth is, I was on a commercial prop Electra out of John Wayne Airport. Two starboard engines (my side, of course) sucked in seagulls. Ka-boom. 500 foot drop. Fire everywhere. Windows black.

    A portside engine began sputtering. I grabbed the stranger beside me. He said, “Don’t worry. We can land on one engine.”

    Tell that to my thudding heart cuz it ain’t listening. Ten beats, that’s all that separated me from a teenage coronary. But we did land and safely. My mom was in the terminal, having watched us circle and dump fuels for ten minutes. She scooped me into her arms. Sadly, I lost my lunch on her shoes. Sorry, Mom.

    Strangest part, I went to work for that same airline five years later, worked for two more airlines after that. Still hate to fly, though, but I do it. I must say, they can’t get the beverage cart to me quick enough.

  7. That's quite a story, Marianne. I wouldnt have had the guts to work for an airline. No, not at all. You deserve a gold medal.

    Great to "see" you Rhys.. how did we miss each other at Bcon?

  8. Hi Libby,
    Good to see you here...and everywhere else we seem to meet...Chicago, Charlottesville..scariest elevator scene I can remember was in the movie Five Corners. Kids are joyriding on top of an elevator car..all to the lyrical music from Lakme until things get scary.
    Are you touring for Doubleback..?

  9. Hi, Rosemary. Yes, I'm touring right now. I'm in Arizona, heading to California in a couple of days. Went hiking in Sedona and bought jewelry in Jerome. Fun.