What would you like to tell readers about yourself?
* Libby Fischer Hellmann left a career in broadcast news in Washington, DC and moved to Chicago 35 years ago, where she, naturally, began to write gritty crime fiction. Twelve novels and twenty short stories later, she claims they’ll take her out of the Windy City feet first. She has been nominated for many awards in the mystery and crime writing community and has even won a few.
* 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.
* 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.
Today Libby Fischer Hellmann will be talking about the backstory of Jump Cut.
* I used to say I was “writing my way around the genre.” True enough: I’ve written 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´e, 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. Or blogpost.
* Add to that years of watching “24,” “MI5,” and “Homeland,” and it’s not surprising that I eventually wanted to write espionage thrillers. My first novel, AN EYE FOR MURDER, did incorporate espionage from World War Two, but it wasn’t the focus of the plot.
* At the heart of an espionage thriller are two issues: trust and power. Who can a spy trust? How do they know their asset isn’t a double or even triple agent? What happens when they 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? How far do they go? And what happens when an individual with practically unlimited power is in charge? Vladimir Putin rose through the espionage ranks of the KGB and has survived by becoming cynical, suspicious, and cunning. Imagine him sifting through all intelligence available to him. How does he make decisions? What kind of leader does that make him?
* 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. Many spies become paranoid, and while that paranoia might save lives in the short term, where does it end? How do those individuals square what they do with the kind of world the rest of us live in? Is it ever possible to be normal? The more thoughtful espionage novels explore these questions. And I find the exploration fascinating, because they dig deep into the core of what makes us human.
* When you layer on the effect of technology on our privacy as citizens, we realize that espionage is now possible on a mass level. In the past, spies had their toys and “Bond-ian” gadgets. Today entire armies—heck—entire governments can spy on their citizens. As well as each other. The ability to call up information instantly has complicated intelligence operations, and we are only beginning to see the repercussions.
* For me the challenge was creating a story that explores these issues but doesn’t beat readers over the head with them. So I did my research. 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 in 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 discussed above. JUMP CUT is the result.
* It was apparent early on that it would be an Ellie Foreman story. Ellie, a Chicago video producer, is the protagonist of my 1st series, but after four novels, she went on an extended (10 year) hiatus. But I always intended to bring her back, and this was tailor-made for her. I knew she would be producing a video for a large aviation manufacturer, which, among other things, produces drones. Have you heard of one headquartered in Chicago? Of course... it’s Delcroft Aviation.
* I wanted Ellie to get caught up in a situation beyond her control. She would be powerless at first, but slowly she would recognize the players, the stakes, and the forces at work. Ultimately, she would need to act in order to protect herself and her family. Along the way new characters were introduced. Some turned out to be heroes; others are cowards. And of course, there’s a good amount of misdirection. Spies often don’t know whom to trust, I wanted readers (along with Ellie) to share the same uncertainty.
* Curiously, JUMP CUT is the shortest book I’ve written—in a subgenre that tends to be long. That gave me pause and made me wonder if I succeeded. I hope you’ll let me know.
* 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.
* Before my gangstah-rap neighbor emptied his AK-47 into his buddy, the most exciting thing to happen in our village was the opening of a new grocery store. The store hired a pianist who played Beatles tunes, no doubt to persuade shoppers to part with their money more easily. My neighbor, rapper King Bling, was helping his fans part with their money too, but the shooting ended all that. Once he made bail, he moved and hasn’t been heard from since.
* And so it goes in my little corner of the North Shore, about twenty miles from downtown Chicago. There are benefits. The King, as he’s known to his disciples, gave our cops something to do besides ticket speeders. And the new grocery store gave me the chance to buy prepared dinners so I could dispense with cooking.
* Both of which come in handy when I’m producing a video, as was the case now. We didn’t finish the shoot until seven. I raced up the expressway toward home, dropped into the store, and was eyeballing a turkey pot roast—the only one left—when my cell trilled. I fished it out of my bag.
* “Mom, where did you get the shoes?” I heard chatter and giggles in the background.
* “What shoes, Rachel?”
* “The ones you gave Jackie.” My daughter, Rachel, had successfully, if unbelievably, graduated from college and lived in an apartment in Wrigleyville. Jackie was her roommate. “Everybody thinks they’re awesome.”
* "Hellmann's writing sparkles...plenty of suspense in this richly detailed thriller, but Hellmann’s characteristic wit and warmth are evident, too." —Booklist
* "After a long hiatus, Hellmann returns to her Chicago-based sleuth with a chilling tale that may be all too close to the truth." —Kirkus Reviews
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