Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Libby Hellmann, Reluctant Writer

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Welcome, Libby Hellmann — and congratulations on the publication of your eleventh novel and fourth in the hard-boiled PI Georgia Davis series, NOBODY’S CHILD! Libby's novels are dark and twisty — as she herself says of her work: "Think Karin Slaughter or Tess Gerritsen on steroids."

Libby's dropping by today to celebrate the publication of NOBODY'S CHILD — but is talking more about being a reluctant writer. (Certainly, none of the Reds use any of Libby's procrastination techniques, right? Right? RIGHT? Oh, never mind...)

Without further ado, here's Libby!

LIBBY HELLMANN: Hi, Reds. And Reds readers. It’s great to be back!

I came across an article not long ago titled “My Friend Thinks I Don't Work Because I'm a Writer…” In defense, the author said this:

Even when we procrastinate, we are working, because we are so consciously aware of the fact that we are NOT producing in that moment but we're thinking about WHAT we're going to say when we actually do sit down at the computer.

I wish I could claim that as an excuse. But, alas, I don’t think it applies to me. At least consciously. I’ve always been a “reluctant” writer — writing fiction is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I am not one of those people who can’t wait to let words and images pour out of them. Who write ten pages in an hour. You know the type. Maybe you’re one of them. If so, I’m jealous. I’ll do ANYTHING to keep from writing. In fact, I have no idea how I wrote the latest four thrillers, including Nobody’s Child. The sad part is that I used to be more productive. I had a day job, a schedule, a routine. I wrote early in the morning and churned out eight or nine books. Now though, it all seems to have dissipated into the ether.

To that end, here is a typical day for me.

7 am: Coffee and email. Respond. Check my rankings on various online booksellers. Check my number of Twitter followers, FB friends, Google+ circles.

8 am: Walk the dog and listen to an audiobook (The most enjoyable part of my day)

8:30 am: Work out.

9:45 am: Shower and get dressed. Wonder if it’s time for lunch.

10:30 am: Check email, Twitter, Google +. Respond if necessary. Unsubscribe from all the shopping emails that are cluttering up my inbox.

11:00 am:  Go through my photos of Europe for the blogpost I promised myself I’d post two weeks ago. Remember how the Tiergarten in Berlin gave me an idea for one of the scenes in the novella I’m supposed to be writing.

11:30 am: Open the document I’m supposed to be writing. Read it again. Make one or two small revisions.

Noon:  It’s lunchtime. Yay! Let dog out in the yard.

1:00 pm:  Decide to write a blogpost. Start researching. Find a couple of articles whose titles are so captivating that I need to read them right away.

1:30 pm: Look out the window. Watch the mailman come. Wonder if I should go out and get mail. Or whether I need to go to the grocery store.  Or the bank.  Or the cleaners.

2:00 pm: Realize two-thirds of the day is gone and I haven’t written anything. Let the dog back in.

2:15 pm: Check my email and book rankings. Go on Facebook. Respond and reply. Wonder why I’m not getting more emails cluttering  up my inbox.

3:00 pm: Call a friend or two or five. Or go to grocery store. Let dog ride in back because it’s his favorite thing to do.

3:45 pm: Realize only 90 minutes remain before the evening news. Start reading one of the articles I’ve bookmarked about promotion or Google Plus or foreign translations or something.

4:00 pm: Have a glass of wine because it’s 5 o’clock someplace. In the unlikely event I’m abstaining, a cup of tea.

4:15 pm: Start writing. One tortured paragraph at a time. After all, I only have to do it for 45 minutes.

5:00 pm: Stop writing. Watch the news. Think about dinner. Check email. Wonder if there are productivity shrinks and if I should try to find one.

Evening: Binge watch something on Netflix or Amazon. Or go out. Or read. Go to bed.

Is there any hope? If you have suggestions, I’m all ears.

While you’re thinking of a great solution to my quandary, here’s a little bit about Nobody’s Child. It’s the fourth installment of my Georgia Davis series, and it’s possibly the darkest thriller I’ve ever written. Think Karin Slaughter or Tess Gerritsen on steroids. In it Georgia discovers she has a half-sister she never knew about. That sister is now in Chicago, and involved in a sex trafficking ring. When Georgia tries to extricate her, she runs into an old enemy (whom I wrote about in An Image of Death). So if you want to read the “backstory,” once you finish Nobody’s Child, it’s available.

Thanks Reds. Always a pleasure to be here.

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: And thank you, Libby. Reds and readers, what do you do to procrastinate when you're supposed to be working. (Could it be, perhaps, checking in on your favorite blog hosted by mystery writers? Hmm?)

More about Libby:

Libby Fischer Hellmann writes Compulsively Readable Thrillers. Her 10th novel, HAVANA LOST, a stand-alone literary thriller and love story set in Cuba, was released in September, 2013. A BITTER VEIL, another stand-alone thriller and a best-seller, is set in revolutionary Iran during the late ’70s and was released in 2012.
SET THE NIGHT ON FIRE (2010), a stand-alone thriller, goes back, in part, to the late Sixties in Chicago. She also writes two crime fiction series: EASY INNOCENCE(2008), DOUBLEBACK (2009), which was selected as a Great Lakes Booksellers’ Association “2009 Great Read,” and TOXICITY (2011), a police procedural thriller, all feature Chicago P.I. Georgia Davis. In addition, there are four novels in the Ellie Foreman series, which Libby describes as a cross between “Desperate Housewives” and “24.”
Libby has also published over 15 short stories in NICE GIRL DOES NOIR and edited the acclaimed crime fiction anthologyCHICAGO BLUES. Originally from Washington D.C., she has lived in Chicago for 30 years and claims they’ll take her out of there feet first.


  1. I must say you have procrastination down to a fine science, Libby! It really of surprises me to hear from an obviously-successful writer that you are so reluctant to actually write.

    And how is it that up until this very moment, I've never seen or read one of your books? I'm off to see what I can find for my Nook . . . .

  2. You must fix that Joan--Libby's an old friend of JRW and mine.

    I feel for you Lib, it sounds so painfully familiar. Deadlines are a big motivator for me, though after the big ones the publisher sets, I have to break them down into word counts per day. Sometimes that works:). xo

  3. Aren't we the early birds this morning...

    Joan, thanks for the comment. I do hope you'll check me out. Yes... Roberta and I traveled together when our first books came out.

    Roberta: You know I've tried everything. What works the best for me is to set a timer for 45 minutes and then just write until the damn thing goes off. But how often do I set it? You know the answer. I tend to buckle down when I embarrass myself at my lack of productivity.

  4. Welcome Libby and good morning everyone!

  5. Some things in this post sound kind of familiar. In fact, everything does. Not always, but sometimes? Filing accumulated bank statements and bills looks better than writing.And it's not slacking off, is it? Cause it's work, isn't it?

  6. Hi, Libby! Karin Slaughter or Tess Gerritsen on steroids... How cool is that?

    Oh, boy, Do I hear you... I am an expert on procrastination (witness it is 8:38 I have been up for 2 hours and have written... nada other than read and write email, blog, read the comics and bridge column...)

    I'm trying some tricks from Peter Andrews blog here on "writing fast," one that Lucy says works for her -- Dictating into my iphone what I"m going to write next and then emailing it to myself, pasting it in, massaging. So far it's sort of working. We'll see. Always the worry: yes, I've increased the word count - but in a good way?

  7. I can only share what works for me: I write for one hour every morning, at 7:00 a.m. That's all the time I can allow to write because I have to work on other stuff the rest of the day.

    I hear you on walking the dog. I go outdoors for at least 20 minutes a day for vitamin D, for a walk or yard work. If I miss that, life is not worth living. Or there is no living with me. One of those, depends who you ask.

    11 novels, though, why change your process now? Seems to be working all right!

  8. Ramona, that's what I was thinking! For someone who doesn't seem to work, you certainly get a lot done!

    Tell us — do you have a mad burst of creativity right before a due date?

  9. Wow. A Karin Slaughter novel on steroids would certainly be something.

    Thanks for stopping by Libby. I'm adding your book to the TBR pile.

  10. Like Ramona, I don't have time to procrastinate. I get one hour a day to write because of the "day job" (unless I am very lucky). So I have to write. Blogs, FB, Twitter, et. al. all have to pause for that hour.

    But as others have said, your process seems to work, so why fix it if it ain't broke?

  11. I think it all boils down to fear. You'd think after 11 novels, I'd know better, but actually it's become more difficult. I know more of what doesn't work in a novel.. but that doesn't necessarily mean I know what does. I'm still tentative, convinced that what I put down on paper is just okay, but not wonderful... and that keeps me from diving into a story. All the insecurities are at play here.. they'll see through me... that I don't know what I'm doing.

    I'm not sure that ever goes away. I'm really jealous of writers like my good friend Kent Krueger who can't WAIT to start writing in the morning. A day without writing for him is painful. I've really tried to emulate his attitude. To no avail. There's some kind of mental switch I haven't been able to turn on.

    But thanks for all the good suggestions. Keep them coming. Boy, this is better than therapy!

  12. Thanks, Libby. I really resonated with many of your thoughts here! Writing really IS the hardest job I ever had! Thelma Straw in Manhattan

  13. Hi Libby! So nice to see you on JRW! Much sympathy with the writing procrastination. I think Kent, Rhys and Caroline Todd are the only people I know who don't suffer from it. I certainly do. But the weird thing is that once I START writing, I don't want to stop. So why is so hard to start??

    Congrats on the new book--it sounds wonderful! Can't wait to read!

  14. Libby, I can relate to your day, but my reluctance is toward house cleaning. I will find almost anything else to do first. It's something that has been worse as I get older, as there are so many more interesting things to do--read, be on the computer, take dog out, read. What you're doing or not doing (hehehe) seems to be working for you, as you have a new book. I am embarrassed to admit that I haven't read you yet, but I will definitely remedy that lack of good sense.

  15. Hello, Libby! Good morning, Susan!

    Procrastination ... commenting on blogs I like to read? :-) That's definitely one of the nicer procrastination methods. And, let's face it, social media is such an addictive time-suck. I admire writers who can keep it in its place.

    My dog is quite the fun distraction these days, being new and lively.

    Libby, your last comment struck a cord with me. I do find writing harder now than I used to when I didn't know anything about craft.

  16. I know why you procrastinate! It's because each book is better than the next and it's a hard act to follow. I love your sense of humor with this interview. You're a hoot... and keep on writing!

  17. Thanks for all the comments, Reds. (Lovely to talk to you too, Deborah...) Unfortunately, you cannot join my club. You get too much pleasure from writing. I can ALWAYS stop. Just distract me with a TV show, the news, a phone call.

    Kathy: I feel your pain. Lisa, thanks for the support. Kristopher, you rock.

    I'm sure all of you have seen this article on Salon. If not, check it out. It's tailor-made for Reds and the rest of us... (But we knew this a long time ago, didn't we?):


  18. At the risk of using this as procrastination myself (okay I am), I want to thank you for helping me to feel like a Real Writer, as your schedule could be mine. And given your success, I now feel confident that my success is imminent. Thanks.

  19. Hi Libby: I saw myself in your post. Whenever I get stuck I find that I need to check my Amazon stats, Facebook page etc. Or throw a load in the washer, or go to the drugstore.
    I think most writers would do anything rather than write. But that little word DEADLINE forces me back to work.... and I am writing 3 books this year so it's definitely nose to the grindstone.

  20. Sigh. At least I'm not the only procrastinator out there, though mine comes in waves. The only thing that works for me is to self-impose deadlines. Otherwise, I'd be walking the dog a lot. And I don't even have one. :)

  21. HEY!! My comment disappeared!! Hey! It was all about word counts and procrastination..and ARGH!

  22. Grrr. ANd I use a timer, too, LIbby. Why does that work? SO silly!

  23. Libby, you always come through, kiddo. You get it down. The egg timer - is that what you're talking about Hank? A friend in Oregon uses it - 50 minutes writing then ring...stop and get up, move around. Back to 50 minutes and stop even in the middle of a sentence. She swears by this!