Libby: Once I realized that the three novels I wrote before EYE were never going to be published, I decided to change everything… voice, plots, characters, even agents (although that wasn’t my choice, and yes, it’s another story)… Basically, I wiped the slate clean and started fresh with Ellie. But Georgia wouldn’t leave me alone. She kept telling me we weren’t done. I included her briefly in A PICTURE OF GUILT, expanded her role in IMAGE, and even wrote a couple of short stories with her as the protagonist. So clearly, it was only a matter of time until she took center stage. Which happened in EASY INNOCENCE.
Libby: It’s a different mindset. Which I try to respect by writing them in different voices. Ellie is always first person; Georgia is third. It seems to fit their personalities – Ellie likes to tell you more than you ever wanted to know about her, so an “up close and personal” voice works well for her. But Georgia is cautious and aloof. She doesn’t want you to get to know her. So I keep my distance a bit by writing her in third person.
There’s also the issue of professional vs. amateur. After four Ellie novels, it was getting difficult to find a credible reason for Ellie to keep getting involved in murder investigations. Let’s face it, a video producer just doesn’t bump into dead bodies as a matter of course, and I was turning backflips trying to find persuasive motivations. For Georgia, it doesn’t matter. This is her JOB! She’s paid to investigate murders. It’s a tremendous relief.
As for easier, in a way, it’s probably easier to write Ellie, because she shares my sensibility more than Georgia. But Georgia keeps surprising me, so I love writing her as well. In both cases, though, I do a lot of research on the latest video techniques, Investigations, and police procedure. In fact, I regularly call PIs I know to make sure I get it right.
Libby: As I said, I probably lean a little more toward Ellie, but there’s a part of me that’s Georgia, too. So I draw on different aspects of my personality when I’m writing each woman. Their “births” were not calculated; I just started writing, and both of them emerged (at different times, of course). That’s probably the best part of the writing process… when a character surprises you by appearing on the page, and in their cases, takes over.
Libby: I started with the idea that they would be equal, but I also knew that Georgia would be doing most of the “heavy lifting.” So Georgia is slightly more prominent than Ellie.
Libby: Like many others, I was curious – and alarmed – at the role companies like Blackwater are and were playing in conjunction with our military. The fact that Blackwater considered itself exempt from military as well as civilian oversight was quite dangerous, I thought. So I began to read more about the company… LICENSED TO KILL, and BLACKWATER are two very good books on the subject. After reading those, I knew I wanted to explore the possibilities of a fictitious security company. Around the same time, I got the idea for the first chapter (the elevator scene). I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I had no idea what it meant, or how I would use it, but I knew it had to be in the book. So my challenge was to link the two ideas. Ultimately, what evolved was DOUBLEBACK.
Libby: I’m not sure whether I’ll continue the “partnership” – it all depends on the story. I’d like to, but, again, I don’t want to strain credibility. If it works, I will. If not, it will be a Georgia Davis book.
Funny you should mention new characters. I have plans for one of the characters who surfaces in DOUBLEBACK in the next book, although he isn’t really new. He was in A SHOT TO DIE FOR. Can you guess who it is?
Libby: This was a book I had to write. The first and third parts take place in the present. The second part goes back to the late ‘60s in Chicago. (The Democratic Convention through Kent State). The premise is that a young woman is being stalked… she doesn’t know who, and she doesn’t know why. She finds out in the course of the book. In a way, this book was a catharsis for me. I loved writing about the ‘60s (I actually do remember them), but I loved finishing that part even more. It was as if I’d finally put the ‘60s behind me.
Libby: I pretty much know before I start whether I’m writing a short story or novel. The concept of a short story has to be more contained, more limited. The language, too, needs to be more concise. I like writing both formats… I usually say a short story is like an affair: hot and passionate, while a novel is like a marriage: it takes patience but can be immensely satisfying.
Libby: It’s the same for both – narrative. I’m pretty good at dialogue, and my film editor instincts tell me when and how to start and end a scene, but I’m totally insecure about language. I’m always trying to elevate my prose from “workmanlike” to something beautiful. Sometimes I succeed; often I don’t. So that’s the biggest challenge for me.
Libby: All the time. It’s usually characters that I’ve only conceptualized as two-dimensional. When it’s time to give them their time in the spotlight, they end up doing and saying things I had no idea were in their brains. They turn into real people with complex motivations and behavior. As I said before, I love when that happens. It’s happened in almost every book I’ve written, and I hope it keeps up.
Libby: In a perfect world, I see Marisa Tomei as Ellie. Or Sandra Bullock. Kate Winslet wouldn’t be half bad either. Or Kathryn Keenan. I think Scarlet Johannsen would make a great Georgia. Or Gwyneth Paltrow.
Libby: I think people who have always lived in one place do have an advantage over “transplants,” simply because of osmosis. They’ve absorbed the culture, the patois, the mannerisms for a lot longer. But I think being an “outsider” has benefits too. The detachment from the setting, the ability to see a place, warts and all, can only help a writer. And I still am learning about my “new” hometown…the neighborhoods, the history, the places to go or never to show one’s face… I love discovering it all.
And obviously, Chicago has a rich crime history to enhance it as a great city to set crime novels. What are some of the ways Chicago is different from other cities that you’ve discovered you need to be acutely aware of as you write?
I grew up in Washington, DC, and when you were talking about the neighbors at the dinner table, you were talking politics. DC is basically a one-industry town, and it’s hard when you’re not involved in that industry. Chicago, on the other hand, is so diverse: in its industries, its class structure, its customs, its sports teams. It’s a real city, with real corruption, real politics, real graft. I love its parochialism... the fact that everything is local. Tip O’Neill (a former Speaker of the House) said “all politics is local.” I now know what he meant.
Q: Libby, you have a graduate degree from New York University in Film Production, and you did work in television for awhile. Was writing always an ambition for you or did it evolve from the film work? When did you first know you wanted to be a writer? And why crime fiction; what drew you to the genre?
Libby: Writing was an accident. It was never in my master plan. I was going to be a film-maker in the style of Lina Wertmuller – Ingmar Bergman and I were going to ride into the sunset together. Of course, that didn’t happen. I only worked on a couple of feature films as a production assistant before I realized that type of career just wasn’t very stable. So I moved into TV news, (politics and current events have always been one of my passions too)… which of course was just as unstable. I think I had 6 jobs in 8 years. I ultimately left TV news, joined a PR firm, which brought me to Chicago. I stayed there for 8 years, just to prove to myself I could stay in one job. During all of this I was-- and continue to be -- a voracious reader. I started with thrillers, moved to mysteries, and after a while, decided I should give it a try. That was about 13 years ago.
Libby: I’m influenced by everyone, good and bad. Sometimes I think to myself, “if I could write a paragraph as beautifully as James Lee Burke, I’ll die happy.” Other times, I throw a book across the room, thinking “I can do better than that.”
Libby: I read in my spare time. I also work out, listen to Blues, am an “irregular” gardener, love to go to films, and spend altogether too much time playing online Scrabble.