Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Where Did Ellie Foreman Come From? by Libby Fischer Hellmann



Ellie Foreman, the protagonist of my first series, is a documentary/industrial video producer in Chicago. JUMP CUT, the 5th volume in the series, marks her return after a 10-year hiatus. The previous four novels featured Ellie, her daughter Rachel, her father Jake, her best friend Susan, her ex-husband Barry (who shows up in every book, much to Ellie’s chagrin) and her significant others.

Ellie is an amateur sleuth, and I wrote her in first person, which was both a blessing and a curse. A blessing, because her voice came to me fully formed, as if she’d been waiting for me to discover her. She’s intimate, self-deprecating, and has a great sense of humor. She’s the kind of person who will give you TMI when you go out to lunch with her, which makes her a lot of fun. But writing first person is also a curse, because it’s harder to switch point-of-view so the reader can get into another character’s thoughts. I handled that in AN IMAGE OF DEATH, as well as JUMP CUT, but it ultimately was one of the reasons she went on hiatus.

But that still doesn’t explain how she came to be in the first place. (Taking a deep breath) Okay, here it is. I’d been writing police procedurals featuring two male cops. I snagged an agent who tried to sell the novels, but he wasn’t successful. A few months went by, and he called me on the phone.

“Libby,” he said, “I’ve been having a tough time selling your books.”

“I know,” I replied. “But don’t worry. I’m writing a sequel. And it’s better. And crisper. And the characters are more sharply delineated. And—”

He cut me off. “No. I don’t think you understand. I can’t sell this series. I think you need to change your characters, change your plots, change your voice. And change agents. Because I don’t feel I can represent you anymore.”

I was crushed. I cried. And drank a bottle of wine. When I picked myself off the floor, I had to decide whether he had a point. Fortunately, I’d written a couple of short stories while I was writing novels, and one of them, “The Day Miriam Hirsch Disappeared” won a couple of  contests. It was about a 16-year-old boy named Jake Foreman, who had a crush on Miriam Hirsch, an actress in the Yiddish Theater. The theater was in Lawndale, once a thriving Jewish neighborhood that became ground zero during the 1968 riots (and still hasn’t completely recovered). But Miriam only had eyes for Skull, who may or may not have been a gangster. The story takes place in 1938, and its subtext was – well, you’ll have to read it.

Within a few days I had one of those “eureka” moments and decided to move the characters in that story 60 years forward in time. Jake was no longer 16 – he was in his 70’s. And he now had a daughter, Ellie. And Ellie had a daughter, who was Rachel. They didn’t live in Lawndale anymore; Jake lived in Skokie, and Ellie lived in a small village on the North Shore. That’s how she was “born.”

After four books, though, I was turning back-flips trying to find a credible reason for Ellie to get involved in murder investigations. Let’s face it: a video producer just doesn’t come up against dead bodies on a regular basis. Writing first-person didn’t help, either. So Ellie went on an extended vacation while I wrote other novels. Seven of them, which you can find here.

Now to JUMP CUT. I knew from the moment I conceived it that Ellie had to be telling the story.

Ellie is usually producing a video in all of the books, and JUMP CUT is no exception. She was creating a video for Delcroft Aviation, a giant airplane and defense contractor in downtown Chicago. In the middle of production, though, the VP of Engineering Charlotte Hollander, cancels the video, claiming it was amateurish and that her twelve-year-old son could have done a better job.

Ellie suspects there was another reason the project was trashed: Hollander might have been spooked by some shots of a specific man in Ellie’s B-roll. (B-roll is “cover footage” and is used to cover narration or statements from experts). Ellie tries to meet the man but before they can talk, he jumps—or was pushed—to his death in front of an El train.

I can’t tell you too much more without ruining the story, but I can tell you it involves espionage in the post-Snowden era, drones, hackers, Chinese spies, and file encryption. And more.

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.



Bio: 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.” Last fall The Incidental Spy,  a historical novella set during the early years of the Manhattan Project at the U of Chicago was released. 

Her short stories have been published in a dozen anthologies, the Saturday Evening Post, and Ed Gorman’s “25 Criminally Good Short Stories” collection.  In 2005 Libby was the national president of Sisters In Crime, a 3500 member organization dedicated to the advancement of female crime fiction authors.

More at http://libbyhellmann.com                                                



               
 

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