Thursday, July 25, 2013

Writing Fiction: Seeking the Light Bulb Moments

By Libby Hellmann

You’ve undoubtedly heard those annoying TV commercials where the little girl says somewhat arrogantly, “Wow… you guys have it easy. Back in my day, we didn’t have…”  and proceeds to talk about how wonderful the product is.

The same can be said for publishing. Back in my day—alas, only ten years ago—publishing was static. There were publishers, authors, and agents. Everyone knew their place, and while you didn’t have to like it, you had to play by the rules.

Things change.

What we have now is chaos. Revolution. The Wild West. Roles and rules evolve on a daily basis. Authors become entrepreneurs. Agents become publishers. Publishers hang on to whatever they can.

Thankfully, though, one thing has not changed, and I hope it never does.  That is the craft of writing.

Notice I call it a craft, not an art. Writing fiction can be taught. I know. I had to learn. It took me four years and four manuscripts before my first thriller, AN EYE FOR MURDER, was published. And while I’m still not sure why I was stubborn enough to persist, I’m glad I did. I look back on those “practice” manuscripts now, and I am appalled by what I didn’t know. Or thought I could pass off— the “well, they’ll know what I mean” school of writing.  (Btw, they don’t know what you mean.)

So I understand where you’re at. I wish I could make it easier for you; I wish you could wake up one morning and know not to put in too much backstory… or how point of view works… or how to build suspense… but each writer has to learn on their own. Some of you will learn quickly; for others it will take time.

I do remember a few “light-bulb” moments, however, and most of them came from listening to other authors talk about how they approached their writing. Which is why I started teaching. And probably why ITW is offering a series of blogs devoted to craft. I applaud them for their foresight, wisdom, and willingness to offer you a light-bulb moment or two. Because if you don’t know how to craft a great thriller, the rest of it doesn’t matter. Story trumps everything in today’s publishing world.

My video series, WRITING LITE, is my way of providing some light-bulb moments.  They’re not long, certainly not intense, but you just might learn something that you can apply to your writing.  At least I hope so.  My plan is to have a new installment every week or ten days, so check back whenever you have the chance.

Good luck. I hope to see you on the Best Seller Lists soon.


Libby Fischer Hellmann writes Compulsively Readable Thrillers. Her 10th novel, HAVANA LOST, a stand-alone literary thriller and love story set in Cuba will be released in September, 2013. A BITTER VEIL, another stand-alone thriller, is set in revolutionary Iran during the late ’70s and was released in 2012.

SET THE NIGHT ON FIRE (2010), a stand-alone thriller, goes back, in part, to the late Sixties in Chicago. She also writes two crime fiction series:  
EASY INNOCENCE(2008), DOUBLEBACK (2009), which was selected as a Great Lakes Booksellers’ Association “2009 Great Read,” and TOXICITY (2011), a police procedural thriller, all feature Chicago P.I. Georgia Davis. In addition, there are four novels in the Ellie Foreman series, which Libby describes as a cross between “Desperate Housewives” and “24.”

Libby has also published over 15 short stories in NICE GIRL DOES NOIR and edited the acclaimed crime fiction anthologyCHICAGO BLUES. Originally from Washington D.C., she has lived in Chicago for 30 years and claims they’ll take her out of there feet first.

HAVANA LOST coming September 2013:
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.

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