What’s In A Blog? – Guest Post by Libby Hellmann, Author and Founder of “The Outfit”

I am pleased today to welcome Libby Fischer Hellmann, founder of the group blog: The Outfit: A Collective of Chicago Crime Writers, as well as an award-winning writer of crime fiction and thrillers. Two of her novels, EASY INNOCENCE (2008) and DOUBLEBACK (2009) feature Chicago P.I Georgia Davis. In addition Chicago video producer and single mother Ellie Foreman is featured in four other novels, 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 has edited the acclaimed crime fiction anthology, CHICAGO BLUES. Her next release (December, 2010) is a standalone thriller, SET THE NIGHT ON FIRE. Originally from Washington DC, she has lived in Chicago for 30 years and finds the contrast between the beautiful and the profane in that city a crime writer’s paradise.

Copyright Jason Creps 2008

We’re not the most popular writers’ blog around (although we did make it to #6 in a Mystery Blog ranking). We’re not the most disciplined, either — eleven writers making deadline? You’ve got to be joking. There’s no strict enforcement of the topics we blog about. Indeed, with posts about baseball, alt lit, crime, or pigeons, the polite word to describe us probably is “eclectic.”

But we’ve been around now over four years. We’ve occasionally broken news, we’ve been nominated for awards, and only one of our seven founding authors has left.

No one is more surprised than me.

I didn’t start the Outfit out of dewy-eyed idealism. I saw it as a practical, marketing tool that would help us connect with readers. And while four years seems like an eternity in today’s blogosphere, we began, more or less, on the cusp of the blog explosion. At the time there were only about four or five crime fiction authors’ blogs, and some of those are now defunct. That we’ve survived is a testament to our stubbornness. Or masochism.

At the time we started, there weren’t any “regional” group blogs, i.e. writers from the same area. And while most people know Sara Paretsky lives and writes about Chicago, there were other authors under the radar, like Barb D’Amato and Michael Dymmoch , whose work wasn’t known as widely. There were also several excellent new voices on the horizon, including Sean Chercover, Marcus Sakey, and Kevin Guilfoile, who deserved recognition.

And let’s face it: in Chicago there’s always something to write about. The lawlessness, the corruption, even the perverse sense of pride Chicagoans take in their “bad boys,” is a never-ending source of material. How many other states have convicted three governors in the past 40 years? (Be quiet, Louisiana)

So I gathered together some veterans and some newcomers, and we launched.  Now, four years later, Sara has retired, but we’ve added Bryan Gruley, Jamie Freveletti, Laura Caldwell, Dave Heinzmann, and David Ellis, who lives in Springfield but left his heart in Chicago.

What have we accomplished? I think we’ve helped bring Chicago crime fiction authors out of the closet. I see talk about Chicago authors more often these days, and most sources mention the Outfit. So that all-important marketing concept – branding – is happening. Articles like this in various publications haven’t hurt either .

We’ve also shed light on crime-related issues and events. Perhaps our most fascinating series of blogs occurred during 2007, when Kevin Guilfoile posted the first photo of Hans Peterson, accused of murdering Chicago dermatologist Dr. David Cornbleet the previous year. That led to a series of comments between Peterson’s father and the daughter of the victim, all on the Outfit.

Has the Outfit helped us sell books? Probably, although we don’t have accurate measurement data. We know it gives us a platform, and we aren’t shy about using it, whether we’re holding forth on crime, writing, skunks, or letting readers know when we have new books coming.

But the most gratifying result is actually one I never anticipated. None of us really knew each other well four years ago. We do now. And while we communicate largely by email, and sometimes through the blog’s comment section, we’ve also been known to get together.  Greek Town will never be the same. In an age where writing a novel and getting it published is both easier and more difficult, the friendship and mutual support has been a delightful – and welcome — surprise.

So if you don’t know us, come on over. We’d love to hear from you. And thanks, Jen, for letting us introduce ourselves to your readers.

Libby Fischer Hellmann, who founded The Outfit, is releasing her 7th novel, SET THE NIGHT ON FIRE December 1, 2010. It’s a stand-alone thriller that goes back, in part, to the late Sixties in Chicago. More at her website: www.libbyhellmann.com

“Someone is trying to kill Lila Hilliard. She doesn’t know who and she doesn’t know why. As she desperately tries to figure it out – and save her life — she uncovers information about her father’s past. Part thriller, part historical novel, and part love story, Set the Night on Fire paints an unforgettable portrait of a turbulent time: the riots at the Democratic Convention . . . the power struggle between the Black Panthers and SDS . . . and a group of young idealists who tried to change the world.”

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