Issue 20: Risky Business

Back before Christmas, but after I’d made my 2018 recap, I had a chance to read Imogen’s Secret  and Imogen’s Journey. Absolutely could not put these novels down, so I reached out to the author to ask a few questions and B Fleetwood talks about how a novel became a trilogy and what’s next for Imogen.

Micah Dean Hicks picks the Playlist for Break the Bodies, Haunt the Bones. And note: tonight Micah Dean Hicks has an event in Florida. Details at the end of the playlist.

Of Elections and Influences: How the 2016 Election Inspired Libby Fischer Hellmann’s HIGH CRIMES

Barbara Winkes chats about her new book, Killer Instinct, and talks about her writing spaces.

Almost forgot … my review of The 19th Bladesman. It should have run elsewhere, but the site wasn’t one I wanted to continue working with, so here it is.

Did You Miss It?

Brian wrote about his favorite TV Characters, posted another Eclectic Mayhem and shared his best reads of 2018.

Plus, Issue 19 went live a few weeks ago, with Isabella Maldonado, Dana King and Susanna Beard.

Risky Business: Stepping Out Side Our Comfort Zones



There will always be something to react to on social media, and the publishing world has given us plenty lately.

Yesterday, when I saw saw some of the responses to Jason Heller’s thread, the top tweet here was the one that had been retweeted. Now, if you go to the thread this is part of and start at the actual top, the response made more sense.

But as it was, what I saw that seemed to be the source of ire was these two tweets. And I have no issue with them at all. Heller is absolutely correct – each person makes a choice about how to approach their craft.

He’s also very right about something else that doesn’t have to do with money. He’s right about the fact that writers are often approaching their craft from a comfort zone and afraid to take risks. I’m not talking about with earning a living; I’m talking about taking chances to blend genres and push boundaries.

To even push ourselves.

There’s a real wisdom here that has been obscured by the tweets that came before. I get why some people are defensive about the money thing (Heller encouraged quitting the day job and writing) and unwilling to go there. Forget about that. I am not talking about that.

I am simply talking about the balls-free approach to writing that so many have settled for. In this past year I wrote a manuscript outside my genre. So far outside it scared the crap out of me. It ended up being a passion project that I fell in love with. It forced me to stretch as a writer.

I didn’t want to let it go. I was ready to be done writing police procedurals, to put crime writing behind me.

And then along came another character. Something I learned in the process of writing that passion project infused with this character and she didn’t just tap on my shoulder and suggest we spend some time together. Nope. She showed me the story.

I started writing January 9. Yesterday, I finished what I’m calling an unprocedural. It may be crime, and the character may be a cop, but it is far outside the lines of what I’ve done with any of my books to date. It’s personal and messy and – like that passion project I penned last year – it made me cry writing it.

Again, I have a manuscript I don’t want to let go of. For the second time in less than a year I’ve finished something I’m voluntarily re-reading. Since I re-read and revise as I go I’m usually sick of it by the time I’ve written the final words.

Not this time.

I credit how I feel about these two books to taking personal risks and infusing more of myself into the narrative. Not that the books are about me, but because I have found my emotions that connect to the character’s stories and channeled that into them.

Even at the end of this story, I wrote the last chapter and then the next day had to sit down and write it again, because there’s a second POV character in this book and I realized that I’d sidestepped the emotional depth of the scene by looking at it through the wrong eyes.

Will it matter to anyone else? Who knows. What I know is that I am most proud of these two manuscripts, and the short story I wrote last year, Crossing Jordan. That was very personal, because one of my parents is trans, but still very much in the closet day to day.

Frankly, the overwhelming majority of us aren’t making much money writing. Why should I worry about writing to formula, convention or expectations when there’s so little to gain from it?

Instead, I will take those risks, step outside my comfort zone, push myself to grow. I may not have royalty checks to cash, but I’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that I didn’t play it safe.


Of Elections and Influences: How the 2016 Election Inspired Libby Fischer Hellmann’s HIGH CRIMES

High Crimes CoverSR: What’s HIGH CRIMES about? What inspired you to write it?

LFH: How do you solve a murder when there are 42,000 suspects? 
That’s the task facing Chicago PI Georgia Davis, hired to hunt down those behind the assassination of Resistance leader Dena Baldwin at a demonstration fourteen months after the 2016 election.

I took the 2016 hard. I felt paralyzed: I couldn’t write, and I couldn’t talk about anything except the state of our nation. I probably drove away many people who previously thought I was a nice person. For a year I let my rage control me. Then I realized I was giving him too much power over me. I had joined a Resistance Facebook group a few days after the election, and one night I had the eureka moment: What if the leader of a FB group is killed? Who would have done it and why? That was enough to get me going. High Crimes was the result.

SR: Practice pitching: tell us what your book is about in 30 words or less.

LFH: A Chicago PI investigates the assassination of a Resistance leader 14 months after the 2016 election.

SR: How do you think Georgia Davis would respond if aliens landed in the center of town on page 57?

LFH: She would tell you it wouldn’t happen on page 57. It would have happened on page 23.

SR:  Georgia has to flee the country. Where are they headed to and why that location?

LFH: Canada. She can deal with frigid weather.

SR:  What conspiracy theory is Georgia most likely to believe in? Roswell? JFK? Princess Diana? What about you? Any conspiracy theories that you think might have some truth to them?

LFH: Georgia is not a conspiracy theorist, except for the JFK conspiracy, which we know was indeed a  conspiracy. On the other hand, I do believe in JFK, RKF, Martin Luther King, jr, and Roswell. Diana? No. Flimsy at best.

SR:  Is Georgia more likely to go insane or end up in prison?

LFH: Neither is an option.

SR:  Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, Katniss Everdeen or Arya Stark? If your protagonist could be any fictional character for a day who would it be and why?

LFH: Katniss. She’s a loner and has serious baggage.

SR: What’s Georgia’s greatest fear? Why?

LFH: She’s already faced it – being abandoned.

SR: Was there a specific issue that really motivated you to write this particular story?

LFH: The 2016 election.

SR: Is there something you hope the reader carries away with them after they’re done reading? An insight or philosophy that you wanted to come through in your work?

LFH: That our civilized, democratic way of life is fragile and can collapse quickly when corrupt people are leading it.

SR: What’s one thing that you and your protagonist have in common?

LFH: We are both introverts at heart.

SR: If you were in an arm wrestle with Georgia who would win? What is Georgia better at than you? What are you better than your protagonist at?

LFH: She would win at arm wrestling, working out, boxing, shooting a weapon, solving an intractable case. I’m a better reader and writer – she’s slightly dyslexic.

SR:  If hell was watching one movie over and over and over again, or listening to one song over and over again, what would the movie or song be for you? For Georgia?

LFH: Me: It’s a Small World After All (song)

Her: It’s a Small World After All (song)

SR: Carpool karaoke. What would be Georgia’s song? Yours?

LFH: Mine: Al Stewart’s Year of the Cat

Hers: Landslide by Fleetwood Mac

SR:  Cage match between you and Georgia. It’s a fight to the death. Which one of you will be left standing, and why.

LFH: She would. She boxes when she works out and she’s in great shape.

SR: What’s the first book you remember reading that had a huge impact on you? How did that story affect you? How do you think it shaped your desire to be a writer?

LFH: Gone With The Wind; I don’t think it had much effect. I never wanted to be a writer.

SR:  Did you try your hand at poetry as a teenager or use stick figures to illustrate your comic books? Tell us about your early writing efforts.

LFH: I wrote a play.

SR: What do you think the hardest emotion to elicit from a reader is? Why?

LFH: Compassion – because a reader typically wants a winner and a loser, good vs evil, and compassion demands you see the humanity in everyone.

SR:  What’s the best thing about writing?

LFH: Having written

SR:  What’s the worst thing about writing?

LFH: Writing. But I love editing.

SR: What detail in your writing do you obsess over the most? Character names? Locations? Description? Dialogue? Research?

LFH: Narrative, which includes description, tone, sentence structure, and observational skill.

SR: Did you set yourself a specific writing challenge with this book? What was it, and what was the reason?

LFH: Not in HIGH CRIMES. This was personal. I had to write it to control my rage.

SR: What was your journey to publication like? What kind of obstacles did you have to overcome?

LFH: I was a Cinderella 5 years in the making. The biggest obstacle came when my first agent fired me and told me to write something completely different. I followed his advice and was published two years later.

SR: Are you drawn to things that are really popular or wary of them? Do you find it helps you to market your work if you’re familiar with what’s currently selling or do you ignore all of that and focus on what you’re interested in?

LFH: I pretty much ignore the market. I write what interests me.

SR: Do you relate more to Sherlock Holmes or Professor Moriarty? Why?

LFH: Moriarty. Definitely. I’m drawn to the dark. And I don’t think Holmes plays fair with the reader.

SR: What’s your personal life motto?

LFH: Remember the dummy.

SR: Tell us something about you that isn’t common knowledge.

LFH: I once stuck a piece of chewing gum behind a door jam on a tour of the White House. When I returned on another tour a few years later, the gum was still there.


Libby Fischer Hellmann - Photo Credit Michael Candee, First Light Creative

Libby Fischer Hellmann left a career in broadcast news in Washington, DC and moved to Chicago over 35 years ago, where she, naturally, began to write gritty crime fiction. Fifteen novels and twenty-five 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. She has been a finalist twice for the Anthony and three times for Foreword Magazine’s Book of the Year. She has also been nominated for the Agatha, the Shamus, the Daphne, and has won the IPPY and the Readers Choice Award multiple times. Libby hosts both a TV interview show and conducts writing workshops at libraries and other venues. She was the national president of Sisters In Crime, a 3500-member organization dedicated to the advancement of female crime fiction authors. Her books have been translated into Spanish, German, Italian, and Chinese. All her books are available in print, e-book, and audiobook formats. More information can be found online at