Friday, February 20, 2015

Libby Fischer Hellmann - An Author Interview in the HBS Author's Spotlight

Today our blog puts the Spotlight on acclaimed crime writer Libby Fischer Hellmann. She is the author of the Georgia Davis and the Ellie Foreman series.

Author Genre: Mystery & Thrillers, Literature & Fiction

Website: Libby Fischer Hellmann
Author's Blog: Libby Fischer Hellmann
Twitter: @libbyhellmann
Goodreads: Check Out Goodreads
Facebook: Check Out Facebook

Author Description:
Libby Fischer Hellmann is a critically acclaimed crime writer loved by readers the world over for her compulsively readable thrillers and strong female characters. Her fast-paced crime fiction spans 10 novels and 20 short stories, and she has also edited a popular crime fiction anthology called Chicago Blues.

With critics describing her work as "masterful" and "meticulously researched", it's not hard to see why Libby's thrilling and richly varied crime novels have won numerous awards. Libby is exceptionally committed to her work, and in 2005-2006 she was the National President of Sisters in Crime, a 3,400+ member organization dedicated to strengthening the voice of female mystery writers.

You can keep up to date with all Libby's news and views over at her blog,

Libby started out in broadcast news, beginning her career as an assistant film editor for NBC News in New York before moving back to DC to work with Robin MacNeil and Jim Lehrer at N-PACT, the public affairs production arm of PBS. Retrained as an assistant director when Watergate broke, Libby helped produce PBS's night-time broadcast of the hearings. She went on to work for public relations firm Burson-Marsteller in Chicago in 1978, where she stayed until she left to found Fischer Hellmann Communications in 1985.

SPOTLIGHT Questions and Answers with the Author

First things first. Do you have another book on the horizon? Can you tell us the timeline for its release and give us a little tease?

I’m about 80 pages into my fifth Ellie Foreman mystery. It’s been YEARS since I caught up with her properly (she’s popped up here and there in my Georgia books over the years), but this is her story, and it’s all about espionage in the post-Snowden era.

You have a good following on twitter. Since you started before the social media buzz, what impact has social media relationships had on your current success? How did you build your following in your niche? How much has it changed your book launch process?

Using social media has changed pretty much everything I do since I started to self-publish. It’s how I promote, advertise, and launch my books. Physical signings and book tours are, with the exception of libraries and book fairs, a thing of the past. Ninety per cent of what I do is online. PW just did an interview with me that explains it a bit more. Your readers can find it here:

Do you maintain a reader list? What are the methods you use to find your readers and create the list and the relationship? Do you use social media, forums, newsletters and/or support groups to build your list?

Yes, I have an email list, which I’m always trying to build. In fact, I just started a new promotion where I’m actually giving away An Image of Death, which has both Ellie and Georgia Davis working together to solve the murder of an unidentified woman whose death was caught on surveillance tape. That was a tough decision – prior to that, I’d been giving away short stories. But readers are getting more savvy, and they really need to see the value in what you’re giving away in exchange for keeping in touch with you. As it happens, Image is my favorite of my Ellie books, (although I’d probably deny it if asked), so I bit the bullet. I’m advertising it on FB, promoting it with tweets and other posts, and will also offer it to those who signed up before it was free.

You do a lot of book signings, interviews, speaking and personal appearances? When and where is the next place where your readers can see you? Where can they keep up with your personal contacts online?

My Facebook author page or my website are the places to keep up with me. Click here for Libby's Facebook Account and Website Link.

And I’ve just started hosting a radio show called Second Sunday Crime. You can check who I’m interviewing also on Fb and my website:

You have great covers. They carry a theme and your brand with them. How does your book cover creation process work? Do you hand over the basic theme or do you have more of a hands-on approach? Do you get your readers involved in its development?

I have a graphic designer who is just terrific. I usually tell him the effect I’m looking for and he comes up with the execution. He’s usually close to the mark, so there are typically small revisions here and there. When he comes up with two alternatives, and I like them both, THEN I get my readers involved. But only if I’m unsure.

Several of you novels have been converted into audio books. What has been the impact on your regular sales? Has the audio books gained a new audience?

All of my books have been recorded and released on audio – I made sure of that. Audio has definitely expanded my readership. I listen to a lot of books on audio myself. It’s so easy to listen when you’re stuck in traffic, or doing errands, or even cleaning the house. I love it.

You have written many short stories. Can you tell us if they had an impact on the sales of your novels? Are your shorty’s created to give readers a sample of your work?

I write short stories for a lot of reasons. In fact, I wrote about why here (Six Reasons To Write Short Stories). I’m now writing more novellas as well.

I like the idea of Author bundles. You are a part of a novel collection called Killer Femmes Set. What was the impact on your other sales? What was the main objective of bundling your works with other mystery authors? How did you put something like that together?

It’s done exceptionally well. I think we were in the right place in the right time. Just before bundles became overkill. Plus, we limited the novels to five. I think bundles of 9, 10, or more, are excessive. I actually put the Bundle together, and I knew I only wanted 5 authors, all of whom I knew could write a dang good story. And they did. I can’t speak for the others, but I did notice an uptick in my other sales when the bundle was flying off the shelves. Putting it together wasn’t hard. Just time-consuming. The marketing was too.

You have published your books in other languages. How is your audience abroad? Does marketing online help in this situation?

My foreign language books are just starting to take off, especially the German version of A Bitter Veil. I also have 2 Spanish books, and an Italian collection of short stories. Next to Germany, the Italian version is doing well, but the Spanish ones haven’t really sold well so far, except in audio. There, the Spanish translation has done quite well. I hope everything will even out when I launch a Spanish version of Havana Lost in a couple of months.

I like the idea of your Street Team a lot. Can you tell us how it works, what benefits the team gets and what your goal is? How can readers sign up?

A Street Team is a group of “enthusiastic” fans who are willing to spread the word about an author, her books, events, and news. In return, the team gets access to early editions of a novel, special stories, and other goodies. I started one about 3 years ago but couldn’t manage it on my own. Now I have some help and its better. However, the results have been mixed. Some of the people are just in it for the free “goodies” while others actually do some work. I emailed 2 very popular authors a few months ago to compare notes about Street Teams, and they had both disbanded their Street Teams because of the imbalance. Haven’t decided what to do about mine. I have definitely made new friends, and that itself is a wonderful result.

You have a Crime Writing Workshop. How can other authors get involved? (Give us a little promo)

This is exactly what I say:
Want to learn the craft of writing crime fiction?
Want to polish your manuscript? Want to spend the day with a pro?

“Anatomy of a Crime Novel:
The Craft of Crime Fiction”
Conducted by Libby Fischer Hellmann

They say that writing a publishable novel is 5% inspiration and 95% perspiration. In this hands-on intensive session, you’ll sweat it out by exploring the elements of craft that make a crime fiction novel impossible to put down.

Whether you write cozies or hard-boiled, PI or amateur sleuth, you’ll learn how the effective use of plot, narrative, voice, setting, character, dialogue, and suspense can take your work to the next level.

The workshop will focus on the practical as opposed to the theoretical, so be prepared for plenty of exercises and discussion.

Included in the price is a critique of 20 pages from your manuscript, provided it’s submitted 30 days after the workshop. Libby will mark up the mss. using “track changes” and will talk on the phone with you about her comments. $375/Person. Class size limited.

What attendees have said:
“Excellent. Well-organized. Great exercises!”
“Good insights. Helpful hands-on. Right on target!”
Contact Libby.

Author's Book List
Nobody's Child - Georgia Davis Series Book 4
A bloodstained note left for PI Georgia Davis reveals the shocking existence of a half-sister she never knew about. Her sister, Savannah, is pregnant and begging for Georgia’s help. Determined to track her down, Georgia finds herself heading deep into the secretive and dangerous underworld of Chicago’s illegal sex trafficking business. She soon discovers that trafficking is just a small part of the horrifying and deadly situation in which her new sister is caught up. Even worse, as Georgia tries to extricate Savannah, she comes up against an old enemy determined to make sure neither woman will escape alive. In the fourth Georgia Davis novel, Georgia faces her toughest challenge yet—and one she might not survive.

Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble
ToxiCity - Georgia Davis Series #3
Ten years before EASY INNOCENCE, PI Georgia Davis was a police officer on the force in a Chicago suburb. And while homicides are rare on the North Shore, three bodies turn up in quick succession--all of them dumped in waste disposal dumpsters or landfills. The investigations into the murders test the mettle and professionalism of a combined police task force. Along the way, they also test the strength of Georgia's relationship with one of the detectives working the case. While Georgia, her detective boyfriend Matt, and his sometime partner John Stone pit their skills against those of an inventive killer, the daughter of a real estate mogul-- who just happens to have her eye on Matt -- complicates matters. With Hellmann's 8th crime thriller and police procedural, TOXICITY is a prequel to the Georgia Davis PI series (EASY INNOCENCE and DOUBLEBACK).

Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble
Doubleback - Georgia Davis Series Book 2
In Hellmann's 6th crime thriller, Little Molly Messenger is kidnapped on a sunny June morning. Three days later she's returned, apparently unharmed. Molly's mother, Chris, is so grateful to have her daughter back that she's willing to overlook the odd circumstances. A few days later, the brakes go out on Chris's car. An accident? Maybe. Except that it turns out that Chris, the IT manager at a large Chicago bank, may have misappropriated three million dollars. Not convinced that his daughter is safe, Molly's father hires PI Georgia Davis to follow the money and investigate Chris's death.

Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble
Easy Innocence - Georgia Davis Series Book 1
When pretty, smart Sara Long is found bludgeoned to death, it's easy to blame the man with the bat. But Georgia Davis -- former cop and newly-minted PI -- is hired to look into the incident at the behest of the accused's sister, and what she finds hints at a much different, much darker answer. It seems the privileged, preppy schoolgirls on Chicago's North Shore have learned just how much their innocence is worth to hot-under-the-collar businessmen. But while these girls can pay for Prada pricetags, they don't realize that their new business venture may end up costing them more than they can afford

Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble - KOBO
The Last Page
Barbara Adams, head of the Windbrook Library in suburban Chicago, has died, apparently from a fall down the stairs to the library's basement. But when Julia Fairbanks, her closest friend's daughter starts to poke around, she finds troubling emails that indicate Barbara was not the victim of a heart attack, but a vicious killer instead. Can Julia find the murderer? Or will she end up on The Last Page? This breezy mystery is a novella, approx. 20,000 words. It also includes two short stories by the authors, both from the acclaimed crime fiction anthology, CHICAGO BLUES.

Order the Book From: Amazon - KOBO
A Shot To Die For - The Ellie Foreman Mysteries Book 4
In this fourth crime thriller of the Ellie Foreman series, the Chicago documentary filmmaker finds herself in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Returning from a video shoot at the Lodge, a newly renovated, upscale resort, Ellie befriends a woman who claims her ride abandoned her at a highway rest stop. But Ellie’s kindness is brutally cut short when a pickup truck pulls up, the rear window opens, and the woman is shot dead.

Even with her history of sleuthing, Ellie is not eager to get involved. Then the victims’s family arrives and begs for information. When the second shooting occurs, Ellie decides to poke around on her own. She is soon drawn into the history of a wealthy and prominent family, deeply rooted in a magnificent mansion on the shores of the lake, and surrounded by an elaborate web of lies, murder, and family secrets that have plagued both them and the town for years—secrets that now place Ellie in the crosshairs of a killer.

Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble
An Image of Death - The Ellie Foreman Mysteries Book 3
In the 3rd Ellie Foreman crime thriller a surveillance tape showing the murder of a young woman is left on Chicago documentary producer, Ellie Foreman's doorstep. When she hands the video to police, they're not interested in who the woman was. Except Officer Georgia Davis, who joins Ellie to solve the crime.

A little digging reveals that the murder victim was a diamond courier with a dark history forged in Eastern Europe after the collapse of the USSR. And a little more digging leads them back home to money laundering, shady real estate deals, and the deadly price of dealing in diamonds.

Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble
A Picture of Guilt - The Ellie Foreman Mysteries Book 2
In Hellmann's 2nd crime thriller, the big news story in Chicago is the murder trial of Johnny Santoro, a dock worker whose girlfriend has been killed. Most Chicagoans are betting on a quick guilty verdict, but Ellie Foreman has doubts about his complicity--Santoro is strangely familiar to her. Checking back to the outtakes of a video project in progress while the murder took place, Ellie finds evidence that could save Santoro from a lifetime behind bars. It seems the perfect alibi, but the tape is compromised by radio interference and Santoro goes to jail. Almost immediately, Ellie's world begins to shift: a suspicious vehicle follows her, the Chicago mob shows up, and the FBI wants to question her. She doesn't have answers, but she has questions of her own about the radio transmissions. Everything indicates that someone wants something from her, something bigger than the Santoro case. If only she could figure out what it is…

Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble
An Eye For Murder - The Ellie Foreman Mysteries Book 1
In Hellmann's debut crime thriller, the story begins in Prague in 1944 with a seemingly casual exchange. But in wartime, is any act, any one thing, trivial? Decades later, in contemporary Chicago, the consequences emerge through the medium of television. Documentary filmmaker Ellie Foreman gets a letter prompted by the success of her show "Celebrate Chicago." One viewer was the elderly Ben Sinclair. When he suddenly dies, his landlady Mrs. Fleischman finds Ellie's name among his effects and writes to her. Ellie, who hasn't a clue about a connection to Ben, is curious. And she agrees to help dispose of Ben Sinclair's possessions. She became a filmmaker to help people tell their stories. The books and wartime relics Ben left behind--will they be enough to tell his?

All too soon, Mrs. Fleischman dies. Then Ben's things are stolen from Ellie's suburban home. The single mom, working to move past her ex, doesn't know what to think. But she has to scramble for work and is soon embroiled in producing a campaign video for a steel magnate running for a Republican seat in the Illinois Senate. Despite these distractions, Ellie stays focused on her odd link to the dead man and turns to her father, a retired lawyer with deep roots in Chicago's Jewish community, for insights into the mystery of Ben Sinclair. In time, a terrifying scenario develops that reaches back into several pasts. From the political present of the North Shore to the buried memories of the city's ethnic neighborhoods, the components of Ben's story eventually merge into an explosive climax.

Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble
The Day Miriam Hirsch Disappeared - The Ellie Foreman Mysteries
In 1938 sixteen year old Jake Foreman spends his free time with his friend Barney Teitleman in Lawndale, a prosperous Jewish community on Chicago’s near west side. Jake develops a crush on Miriam Hirsch, an actress in the Yiddish theater who lives at the Teitleman’s boarding house, but Miriam only has eyes for Skull, who might or might not be a gangster. THE DAY MIRIAM HIRSCH DISAPPEARED was the first short story I wrote. Little did I know then that the story would become the “prequel” to my Ellie Foreman series. Or that the Ellie Foreman series would be the prequel to the Georgia Davis series. The story, which won the Bouchercon short story contest in 1999, was first published in the Bouchercon Program book. It was later published in ANTHOLOGY TODAY, where it also won a contest, and in the now defunct FUTURES MAGAZINE.

Order the Book From: Amazon
Havana Lost
On the eve of the Cuban Revolution, headstrong 18-year-old Francesca Pacelli flees from her ruthless Mafia-boss father in Havana to the arms of her lover, a rebel fighting with Fidel Castro. Her father, desperate to send her to safety in the US, resorts to torture and blackmail as he searches the island for her.

So begins the first part of a spellbinding saga that spans three generations of the same family. Decades later, the family is lured back to Cuba by the promise of untold riches. But pursuing those riches brings danger as well as opportunity, and ultimately, Francesca’s family must confront the lethal consequences of their choices. From the troubled streets of Havana to the mean streets of Chicago, HAVANA LOST reveals the true cost of chasing power instead of love.

Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble
A Bitter Veil
In Hellmann's 9th historical thriller, it all begins with a line of Persian poetry . . . Anna and Nouri, both studying in Chicago, fall in love despite their very different backgrounds. Anna, who has never been close to her parents, is more than happy to return with Nouri to his native Iran, to be embraced by his wealthy family. Beginning their married life together in 1978, their world is abruptly turned upside down by the overthrow of the Shah, and the rise of the Islamic Republic.

Under the Ayatollah Khomeini and the Republican Guard, life becomes increasingly restricted and Anna must learn to exist in a transformed world, where none of the familiar Western rules apply. Random arrests and torture become the norm, women are required to wear hijab, and Anna discovers that she is no longer free to leave the country.

As events reach a fevered pitch, Anna realizes that nothing is as she thought, and no one can be trusted…not even her husband.

Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble - KOBO
Set the Night on Fire
In Hellmann's 7th crime thriller and her first historical novel, someone is trying to kill Lila Hilliard. During the Christmas holidays she returns from running errands to find her family home in flames, her father and brother trapped inside. Later, she is attacked by a mysterious man on a motorcycle. . . and the threats don't end there.

As Lila desperately tries to piece together who is after her and why, she uncovers information about her father's past in Chicago during the volatile days of the late 1960s . . . information he never shared with her, but now threatens to destroy her.

Part crime thriller, part historical novel, and part love story, Set the Night on Fire paints an unforgettable portrait of Chicago during a turbulent time: the riots at the Democratic Convention . . . the struggle for power between the Black Panthers and SDS . . . and a group of young idealists who tried to change the world.

Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble - KOBO
The Murder of Katie Boyle - Nice Girl Does Noir Book 1
My two series protagonists, video producer Ellie Foreman and PI Georgia Davis, are very different people, but I love them both. They worked together in DOUBLEBACK (2009), but I'm often asked how they originally met. Georgia made an appearance in A PICTURE OF GUILT, and then more substantively in AN IMAGE OF DEATH when she was still a cop, but they already had a passing acquaintance. How they met is explained in this short story, written and published in 2009. The story was published in a limited numbered edition and can also be found in print and on audio in my short story collection, NICE GIRL DOES NOIR.

Order the Book From: Amazon
Author Recommended by: HBSystems Publications
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HBS Author's Spotlight
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Check out the index of other Spotlight authors. Spotlight Index.

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