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Libby! Welcome to Straight from the Library. To start off this interview can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your novel Jump Cut?
I used to say I was “writing my way around the genre.” I’m a Chicago author and I’ve written 13 novels. 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 turned to writing espionage thrillers. At the heart of an espionage thriller are two issues: trust and power. Who can a spy trust and how does an agent make that decision? How do you know your asset isn’t a double or even triple agent? What do you do when you realize you can’t trust anyone? As for power, usually it’s the power of information. What decisions come from a spymaster who has more information than their target?
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.
The challenge was creating a story that manages to explore these issues but doesn’t beat readers over the head with them. I visited The Spy Museum in DC. And Bletchley Park in the UK. I read voraciously, both fiction and nonfiction. Then, as is my pattern, I tested the waters with a short novella. THE INCIDENTAL SPY came out last September and focused on espionage during the early years of the Manhattan Project in Chicago. It turned out pretty well, so I took a deep breath and moved on to modern espionage, taking into account everything I mentioned above. JUMP CUT is the result.
Can you give us a little teaser of the book?
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.
Introduce us to your main character. How would you describe her?
Why don’t I let her speak for herself?
Hi. My name is Ellie Foreman and I’m a documentary/industrial video producer in Chicago. I am also the protagonist of author Libby Fischer Hellmann’s first series (she has two series and several stand-alone thrillers—13 in all). JUMP CUT is the 5th book in MY series, and the previous four feature me, my daughter Rachel, my father Jake, my best friend Susan, my ex-husband Barry, and other friends who surface in each book.
They call me an amateur sleuth, but I’ve never really understood the difference between amateur and professional. Sure, a police detective or PI is considered “professional,” but there are just times when a solving a mystery needs a personal touch. My first case, AN EYE FOR MURDER, was just that. It was a mystery that had its roots back in World War Two, and my Dad was very much involved. It started with a letter sent to me by a woman who rented a room to an elderly man who died. The story turned out to be pretty scary – and although I do have a sense of humor, EYE isn’t what some readers call a “cozy.” In fact, Libby used to describe the series as a cross between “Desperate Housewives” and “24.” Up until JUMP CUT, I agreed with her.
But after 4 books, Libby sent me on an extended vacation while she wrote other books. Ten years worth. Finally, she decided to bring me back. I’m glad. Just because she wasn’t reporting on me doesn’t mean I didn’t have a life. Lots of things were happening during those ten years – for example—oops. Sorry. I can’t tell you. You’ll have to find out for yourself.
Okay. Now to JUMP CUT. Before I became a video producer, I worked in broadcast news in Chicago. I thought I would eventually become the president of NBC News, but life had other plans. A story I researched and produced about restaurant payoffs that turned out to be wrong. It wasn’t that payoffs weren’t happening (this IS Chicago, after all)…but I accused the wrong people of taking those payoffs. I was fired.
So I started to produce industrial videos for corporations and associations. I am usually producing something in all of the Ellie books, and JUMP CUT was no exception. We were creating a video for Delcroft Aviation, the giant airplane and defense contractor in downtown Chicago. In the middle of production, though, VP of Engineering Charlotte Hollander, cancelled the video. She said it was amateurish, and that her twelve year old son could have done a better job. Ouch.
After I picked myself up off the floor, I decided there had to be another reason she cancelled the project. In fact, I suspected she might have been spooked by some shots of a specific man in our B-roll. (B-roll is also called “cover footage” and is used to cover narration or statements from experts when appropriate). I had the man’s business card, and tried to meet with him to ask why his presence in the video would have upset Hollander. We were supposed to get together at a Starbucks underneath the El tracks in Chicago, but before we could talk, he jumped—or was pushed—to his death in front of a fast-moving El train.
Not good. That was the start of what became a harrowing few weeks. I can’t tell you too much without ruining the story for you, but I can tell you it involved espionage in the post-Snowden era, and included drones, hackers, Chinese spies, and file encryption. And much more.
When will Jump Cut become available and where can readers purchase it?
It came out March 1 and it’s widely available… in print, ebook, and audio formats wherever you like to purchase books.
Tell us about the cover. Who did the design for you? And how much input did you get into the final image?
Although the print version was published by Poisoned Pen Press, I retained the e-rights and was able to contract for the cover (of all the versions) myself. I used the Chicago graphics designer I’ve been using for all my books over the past 6-7 years. His name is Miguel Ortuno, and I love his work. As I said, I had total input into the cover; the key was that it impart a sense of motion ... and I think it does.
What were your favorite childhood books?
Black Beauty, The Secret Garden, Nancy Drew
What are your favorite books now?
Literally too many to name. I read a LOT of mysteries and thrillers – I tend to read by author. Daniel Silva, Karin Slaughter, Tess Gerritsen, John Grisham (a new one for me – he seems to have reinvigorated his writing), Stephen King, Alex Berenson, William Boyd, Tami Hoag – the list goes on…
What book are you reading right now? What is it about?
I usually have several going at the same time. I just finished JT Ellison’s NO ONE KNOWS; am currently reading Brian Freeman’s GOODBYE TO THE DEAD. Listening to a Tami Hoag backlist title. I’m also reading some non-fiction, THE SECRET LIVES OF CODEBREAKERS (Bletchley Park)
This or that
Tea or Coffee? Coffee
Paperback or Ebook? Both
Summer or Winter? Summer
Books (s)? TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD
Author (s)? ALL THOSE WHO HAVE GONE BEFORE
Color? Bright: Yellow, orange, red, russet
Movie? Casablanca, High Noon, The Graduate
TV Series? A PLACE TO CALL HOME; HOMELAND
Vacation Spot? The Amalfi Coast
Ellie has the drive’s contents decrypted, but before long she discovers she’s under surveillance. Suspecting Delcroft and the ambitious Hollander are behind it, she’s unconvinced when Hollander tells her the dead man was a Chinese spy. Ellie and her boyfriend Luke try to find answers, but they don’t realize how far into the dangerous echelons of hidden power they have ventured. When Ellie’s daughter is kidnapped and Charlotte Hollander disappears, it becomes terrifyingly clear that Ellie is in way over her head, and more lives are on the line, including her own.
The sun winked off the frozen surface of Lake Michigan the next morning as I drove south to McCormick Place. During one of the most brutal Chicago winters in decades, the smudge of purple clouds tinged with pink and gold hinted that the fury of winter might—just might—have peaked. I parked in the overpriced lot, bought half a dozen cups of overpriced coffee, and carried them into the massive exhibit hall.
The crew was setting up lights and shades, and Mac was behind the camera framing shots. MacArthur J. Kendall III owns a production studio in Northbrook. He started out shooting sweet sixteens, bar mitzvahs, and weddings, but parlayed that into corporate videos. We’ve worked together for nearly twenty years, from the days of two-inch video, to one-inch, three-quarter, and now digital.
Mac’s name, salt-and-pepper hair, button-down shirts, and penny loafers scream WASP, but the nasty scar running down his left cheek saves him from total Episcopalian infamy. He tells people he was attacked by a Mexican drug lord and made me swear never to reveal it was from a car accident.
I went up to him. “What do you need me to do?”
“You have the shot list?”
I nodded and pulled it out of the canvas bag that doubles as my purse. We went over it. He gestured to the main area of the Delcroft booth, which featured a large projection screen with the company logo on both sides, and about twenty chairs arranged theater-style.
“What time’s the first presentation?”
Teresa Basso Gold, our client contact, had told us to be prepared for a series of short remarks by Delcroft executives touting the company’s latest innovations.
I checked my watch. Barely six thirty. “The doors don’t open until nine, and Teresa said not to expect anyone until ten. But you can get some establishing shots, if you want.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Mac said and strolled over to confer with the crew.
With the addition of Jump Cut in 2016, her novels include the now five-volume Ellie Foreman series, which she describes as a cross between “Desperate Housewives” and “24;” the hard-boiled 4-volume Georgia Davis PI series, and three stand-alone historical thrillers that Libby calls her “Revolution Trilogy.” Her latest release, The Incidental Spy, is a historical novella set during the early years of the Manhattan Project at the U of Chicago. Her short stories have been published in a dozen anthologies, the Saturday Evening Post, and Ed Gorman’s “25 Criminally Good Short Stories” collection.
More at http://libbyhellmann.com.
* She has been a finalist twice for the Anthony, twice for Foreword Magazines Book of the Year, the Agatha, the Shamus, the Daphne and has won the Lovey multiple times.
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