Libby Fischer Hellmann - Bringing Ellie Foreman Back
Libby Fischer Hellmann is a versatile award winning author, who, although she sticks to crime fiction with a lot of mystery and suspense, enjoys exploring different aspects of the genre. She has written everything from an amateur sleuth series to historical thrillers, romantic suspense and even a cozy mystery. Today, Libby talks about her book, Jump Cut, why she decided to bring Ellie Foreman back after ten years and how she never planned to become a writer.
Please give us a short introduction to Jump Cut
For the first time in 10 years, Chicago video producer Ellie Foreman is back, producing a show for a giant aviation company. Soon, though, she’s confronting surveillance, drones, hackers, and spies, all of which threaten her family and herself.
Backstory: I used to say I was “writing my way around the genre.” I’ve written 13 novels, and they include an amateur sleuth series, a PI series, thrillers, hard-boiled, historical thrillers, romantic suspense, even a cozy. I like the challenge of trying new things. But when I first started reading crime fiction, I read espionage thrillers. Particularly what I call the four “L’s: Le Carré, Ludlum, Len Deighton, and Ken FoLLett… (Okay, Follett is a stretch) Btw, most of the authors writing espionage then were men, but that’s another story.
Add to that years of watching “24,” “MI5,” and “Homeland,” and it’s not surprising that I eventually wanted to write espionage thrillers. Actually, I believe spies start out with the best intentions, to protect their homeland or stop an enemy. But it’s easy for a spy to become untethered. And when you layer on the effect of today’s technology, espionage is now possible on a mass level. So I decided to write an espionage thriller set in the post-Snowden era.
You haven't written any Ellie Foreman books in many years. Why did you decide to bring her back again now?
What brought me back to Ellie, aside from fan requests, was the story. As soon as I knew I was going to write a “post-Snowden” espionage thriller, it was clear Ellie would be the character to anchor it. The fact that she could produce a video for a giant aviation company in Chicago (that also manufactured attack drones and had close ties to the US Defense community) sealed the deal.
For readers who don't know Ellie Foreman, how would you describe her?
Ellie is a Chicago video producer and single mother. She lives on the North Shore about 20 miles away. Born and raised in Chicago, she married, had a daughter, then got divorced. Her mother passed when Ellie was in her twenties, but her father is still around, and plays a vital role in all the books. Ellie is outgoing and has a self-deprecating sense of humor as well as a strong sense of fairness and justice, so when she sees situations that aren’t “fair”, she is apt to get involved. Those situations usually (but not always) arise from the corporate or industrial videos she produces. She used to be rather impulsive, but as she’s matured, she’s more thoughtful. Still, she tends to end up in trouble and needs to get herself out of it. She’s had two serious relationships since her divorce – and now has settled in rather comfortably with Luke Sutton, who lives most of the week in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Unlike Georgia Davis, who is a loner, Ellie has a support system of friends and family around her. I like to describe the Ellie books as a cross between “Desperate Housewives” and “24,” but Jump Cut is much more “24’ (and raises serious issues) than the others. Although the mystery is resolved, you can’t really say it has a happy ending.
Ellie keeps getting herself into dangerous situations. How challenging is it to make her involvement believable?
Very challenging. That’s why I sent her on hiatus for 10 years. It’s very difficult for an amateur sleuth to bump up against dead bodies on a regular basis. With my background in broadcast news, I found myself turning backflips trying to find a credible persuasive reason for her to get involved crime solving. It just doesn’t happen in reality. That’s why, after 4 Ellie novels, I started my second series with PI Georgia Davis – it’s her JOB to get involved with crime and mysteries.
Like Ellie, you are also a video producer. How much of yourself have you incorporated into her character?
I’m often asked if Ellie is anything like me. She is a video producer (so was I). She used to work in broadcast news (so did I). She has a daughter (as I do), and she lives on the North Shore of Chicago. (I do too.) But… she is NOTHING like me. She is taller, thinner, and has black curly hair. And she has a much purer sense of justice. She is impulsive and takes risks but never thinks she’s putting herself in jeopardy. I live in behind a white picket fence, worry about every creak and squeak in the house at night, and won’t go out alone after dark.
So it’s clear that Ellie and I are nothing alike. Really.
Tell us a bit about your journey becoming an author. Were you that girl who always had her nose in a book?
I was a voracious reader as a child. The type that, when your mother says go out and get some fresh air, I’d take the book with me. I used to bike to the library almost every week to get books. They knew me well back then.
But I never had any interest in becoming a writer. It wasn’t even Plan B. I was going to be a film-maker – the Lina Wertmuller of the United States. Unfortunately, life had other plans. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-40’s that I started writing.
Why do you write crime fiction? What is it about the genre that appeals to you?
I could always tell you how and when I started writing: it was February, 1996, just after my father passed away. We went to DC (that’s where I grew up) for the funeral, and after we came back, I went down into my basement. I emerged four months later with the worst mystery that’s ever been written. No really…. it was baaaad. But I had caught the writing virus. Three novels later my writing improved to the point where I was published for the first time.
Then, about eight years ago, I was watching the news. A story came on, and I experienced one of those smack-yourself-on-the-forehead, how-could-I-have-been-so-stupid moments. You probably remember the story—about O.J. Simpson and how he’d been arrested in Vegas for trying to steal his own memorabilia.
Back then I was free-lancing, and I had a flexible schedule. So I was able to watch a lot of the trial. I remember being glued to the TV, and what I remember most was the theater: a hideous crime, a compelling story, eccentric characters, drama, conflict—in other words, everything you could want in a crime novel.
Then there were the forensics. I knew nothing about police procedure -- and less about forensics. DNA tests, blood spatter, the bloody glove, the footprints. I was fascinated that crimes could actually be investigated in a systematic way. And when the defense suggested that some of the evidence had been mishandled—maybe even manipulated—it played to all of my conspiracy theories.
Finally, of course, there was the denouement in October 1995. How absolutely noir an ending! The victims are denied justice. The bad guy goes free. Raymond Chandler or Ross McDonald couldn't have done it better. OJ was acquitted in October, 1995.
It doesn’t take much to connect the dots, does it? But it wasn’t until twelve years after that, in 2007, when O.J. was arrested in Vegas, that the light bulb flashed. THAT’s why I’m writing crime fiction. To explore and describe how justice is—or isn’t served. And to restore order to chaos.
But who wants to give the devil his due? Still, if I’m honest, thirteen novels later, I have to admit that this devil changed my life.
You served as the National President of Sisters in Crime in 2005-2006. Would you say we have seen a rise in numbers of good female mystery authors since then?
There have always been fantastic female crime fiction writers. Unfortunately, they are not paid as well as male authors, and, more important, they are not reviewed as often or as thoroughly as male authors. It’s really a vicious circle – if you're not reviewed, no one know about your books, and it’s hard to get a contract or self-publish. SINC tries to find opportunities for female authors to get noticed. The organization also advocates for more reviews for female authors, as well as better money. I was honored to be the President for a year.
You have written thrillers in both historical and contemporary settings. Which setting do you enjoy writing in most?
Yes. No, seriously, I like both. I was a history major in college, and I love doing research as well as teasing out the patterns of history… why we, as humans, keep making the same mistakes over and over. When I was a little girl I used to imagine living in other times and what it would be like. I think that’s where it started. Writing historicals is easier.. because the past is the past. It does require a lot more research, though. But, as I said, I love both.
If your books were ever made into a movie or TV series, which actress would you imagine as Ellie?
I would love to see Marissa Tomei as Ellie. She would be terrific. If Hollywood needs to go younger (sigh), Emma Stone would be great too. If you know them, can you get them to take a meeting with me?
What are you working on now? Can we expect more Ellie Foreman Mysteries from your pen?
There will definitely be more Ellie books, but right now, I’m in the middle of my second novella that takes place during WW2. This one is about German POWs who were in camps here. The first was THE INCIDENTAL SPY, which was about a woman who is forced to spy on the early years of the Manhattan project. When the POW novella is finished, I’ll combine both into something that likely will have the word “Homefront” in the title. My next major undertaking is going to be more lighthearted -- a crime caper novel. I introduced the characters in a short story called Capital Partners (which is widely available online) and I plan to continue their journey.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
At my website, http://libbyhellmann.com where people can sign up for my email list and review crew… when they do, they can get a copy of EASY INNOCENCE (the 1st Georgia Davis novel) free as well as my monthly newsletter.
On my Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/authorlibbyfischerhellmann
Also my Amazon page: http://www.amazon.com/Libby-Fischer-Hellmann/e/B001HMMDZU/ref=dp_byline…