In fiction, they say, there must be conflict on every page, even if it's only someone wanting a glass of water that he or she can't get. As Boomers, one of the defining “movements” of our youth was advocating for change. Changing the status quo by peaceful means first, but if that didn’t work, well, some of us weren’t against changing society by any means available. And whether it’s peaceful or not, change involves conflict. There will always be some who resist, while others forge happily ahead. I wrote SET THE NIGHT ON FIRE in 2010 specifically to explore some of the attitudes toward change we held in our youth. But I tend to overdo things in general, and creating conflict is no exception. What I didn’t count on was that I’d write two more thrillers with a revolution at their core.
In fact, I can't imagine a more extreme conflict than a revolution. It affects everything and everyone: from individuals, to families, neighborhoods, cities, countries, and regions. A revolution can impact a society’s culture and art, its food supplies, education, income, personal freedoms, literature—the entire Zeitgeist. It affects the way people trust or don’t trust one another. It splits families in two. It makes everyday living dangerous and unpredictable. Essentially, it touches every aspect of life.
When you layer that extreme conflict on top of conflicts that already exist in a character’s life, those characters become unpredictable. Some become heroes, while some become cowards. I love to write about that evolution in a character, and I'm often surprised by what happens. Just when I’m convinced they’re about to behave one way, they veer in a different direction altogether. When that happens, incidentally, I feel more like an observer than a writer.
The interesting part of it is that I don’t think I could have written these thrillers before I entered the third act of my Boomer life. I don’t think I had the distance or perspective necessary to create three-dimensional characters in the throes of extreme conflict. Only by living through and studying revolutions in our recent past, ie Cuba and Iran, was I able to create stories that feature ordinary people facing extraordinary circumstances.
Most of us were still children during the Cuban revolution, and while we were adults during the Iranian revolution, I wonder how much attention we really paid. We were busy with our own lives, getting married, settling into careers, raising our children. The Vietnam War had barely ended when the shah was deposed, and Americans tend to look inward after a protracted war. And yet, huge events occurred that permanently changed the face of the Middle East, especially for women. Call it a giant step or two backwards. That was the premise of A BITTER VEIL. (2012)
And Cuba has always fascinated me. My parents used to fly down to Havana to gamble, and I would beg them to take me with them. They didn’t, of course, but Cuba always remained a place that I wanted to know more about. And then when Fidel took over and became “Marxist” -- the avowed enemy of capitalism-- the entire island took on a mystery that I wanted to penetrate. I was lucky enough to go to Cuba with my daughter, finally, in 2012, and was able to satisfy my curiosity. You can read the results in HAVANA LOST.
I think every generation feels their history is unique, and it probably is. But I think our generation, born and raised in the 20th century has seen the most stirring and fascinating events of all time. The Chinese revolution, the Hungarian uprising, the Cuban revolution, the assassination of a President (and his brother), Vietnam, an unsettled period of time during the late Sixties, the Iranian Revolution, the Berlin wall going up and then coming down, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the rise of China, the realignment of Europe—it’s been sixty years of fast-moving events, any one of which has long-term consequences and implications. Taken together, we’ve entered into a climate of permanent “Future Shock,” if you remember Alvin Toffler’s book. (Btw, it doesn't hurt that I'm a history major and I love to read and do research. It’s almost Pavlovian on my part.) Hence, my “Revolution Trilogy.”
When I put my characters squarely into a revolution, the only thing that’s certain is conflict and change… sometimes not in a good way. The way my characters face up to that conflict and handle its challenges is what makes writing so much fun. They all have minds of their own, and like us, they are essentially unpredictable, especially under stress. And also like most of us, their instinct for survival is what drives them.
So my motto these days is “Viva la revolucion!” May it bring us lots of compulsively readable stories—then, now, and in the future.
About the Author
Libby Fischer Hellmann writes Compulsively Readable Thrillers. With ten novels and twenty short stories published, she has also written suspense mysteries, historicals, PI novels, amateur sleuth, police procedurals, and even a cozy mystery. At the core of all her stories, however, is a crime or the possibility of one. Her most recent release is HAVANA LOST, a third stand-alone thriller set largely in Cuba.
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