Welcome Denise Hamilton!

Interview by Alafair Burke

As you all know, we here at Murderati do love us some fellow writers.  It’s my pleasure today to interview the wonderful Denise Hamilton.  Give her a hearty welcome!

Congratulations on the launch of your new book, Damage Control.  Tell us a little bit about the book.

Damage Control is a political thriller with elements of surf noir and grrrl noir.  (Already an editorial aside.  Surf and grrrl noir?  Love! – AB)

It’s a standalone that introduces a young ambitious PR exec named Maggie Silver. Maggie’s divorced, with an upside-down mortgage and a mom who’s outstayed her welcome as Maggie’s room-mate. As the book opens, Maggie’s just landed a new client – a politician whose pretty young aide has been found murdered. When Maggie walks into the conference room, she’s shocked to discover the client is U.S. Senator Henry Paxton, the father of her glamorous but troubled high school friend Annabelle. The girls had a fierce, intensive, psychologically obsessive friendship in high school but something bad happened on a beach one night that sundered them and haunts them into adulthood. As Maggie defends her old friend’s Dad, she must decide for herself if he’s as innocent as he claims and face the ghosts of a past she thought was long buried.


What’s your favorite recent political scandal, and how should it have been cleaned up?

Oh my, such a smorgasbord to choose from!  Well, the biggest jaw-dropper, despite the years of rumors, was definitely the grotesque carnival of Arnold Schwartzenegger’s love child. And I am not sure how you clean that up. I think his people and Maria Shriver’s people actually did a good job on that one. They didn’t speak to the press, other than with prepared general statements. They rode it out, except for Arnold’s cringe-inducing t shirt that said “I Survived Maria.” Way to alienate half the population, dude.

But as a way not to run a damage control campaign, Weinergate is a good case study. Dude should have manned up immediately, admitted everything, begged forgiveness of the public and his wife, then scampered off to rehab ASAP while the PR folks trotted out experts to explain his compulsive exhibitionism and risk-taking as a psychologically addictive disease. The basic rule: Always tell the truth, or at least don’t tell lies, because they’ll come back to haunt you. “Own” your story and always have some comment, because if you don’t, others will. The Internet abhors a vaccuum.

I’m sure that some of your loyal readers will take one look at the book’s jacket image and description and think it’s a big change from the noir, atmospheric, Chandleresque, Denise-Hamiltonian novels that first brought them to.  Is this really a change from your previous work?  And was reader response a consideration when you envisioned your most recent books?

Publishers are always trying new things with book jackets. I really like this cover, there’s an Art Deco feel to it that isn’t all that far from one of Chandler’s – or perhaps Patricia Highsmith’s – psychologically twisted tales. You can tell the two girls on the cover are connected by fierce, conflicting emotional ties. Damage Control is a political thriller with definite elements of noir. I wanted to expand my range, while still staying true to the gritty, sexy and glamorous feel of my earlier books. This protagonist has a family so that’s a departure for me. Maggie’s mom, a cancer survivor, lives with her and I wanted to depict a complicated mother-daughter relationship filled with anger, love, frustration and annoyance. In other words, like real life. But like my other books, there’s also a strong romance (or two!).

If you got to play casting agent, who would play Maggie Silver and Sen. Henry Paxton?  Oooh, and while we’re at it, who gets the role of your series character, Eve Diamond?

Oooh, I want British actor Bill Nighy for Senator Paxton. And he’s very senatorial, with that high forehead and leonine blond hair. Can you tell I have a wee crush on him!

I assume Denise means this version.

Not this one.

For Maggie Silver, perhaps Kristen Dunst and for Eve, Natalie Portman or Jessica Biehl. But you know, ask me next week and I’ll have other ideas.

Speaking of Eve, do you have any plans to bring her back soon?

I have about half an Eve novel written, but it will depend on what my publisher wants next! I’ve also got an outline for another standalone that I’m excited about. And some readers want me to bring back WWII girl spy Lily Kessler from The Last Embrace, which was my 1949 Hollywood novel. In addition, I’ve got a draft of an urban fantasy novel I work on in my ‘spare time.’ Hah! So there’s a lot to choose from.

You write a monthly perfume column for the LA Times.  What’s up with crime writers and fragrance?  (Our own Jonathan Hayes is fragrance obsessed as well.)

I didn’t realize there were so many writers who love perfume and vice-versa until recently. I thought I was alone in my secret little obsession. But there’s a whole online world out there. I’m particularly fond of vintage Carons, Guerlains, Diors and Chanels. All the classic French houses. My mom was Russian-French and as a kid, I’d sit in the bathroom, lining up her crystal flacons on  the tile counter, spritzing myself silly and acquainting myself with the different notes. Creating perfume is an art form like painting, composing and writing. The finest noses are olfactory geniuses. But the first perfume I got obsessed with as an adult was Donna Karan’s Chaos, which is now discontinued and highly sought-after on ebay. That story became my first perfume column for the LA Times.

You worked for ten years on the staff of the LA Times.  I’m often asked whether I’d be a crime writer if I hadn’t worked first as a prosecutor.  I know it’s a bit like being asked, “What would you be like if you weren’t you?,” but I’ll ask anyway: Would you be a crime writer if you hadn’t been a journalist?  And what’s your best story from your reporting days?

I was always writing stories as a kid, so I think I would have found my way into a writerly profession somehow, but I might not have landed in crime fiction – despite my love for LA’s mid 20th century crime writers – if I hadn’t worked at the Times. I did thousands of interviews, wrote thousands of stories, probably more than 1 million words. Journalism took me into prisons and courtrooms, on police raids, into the living rooms of distraught families, into hospitals and to crime scenes.

As to the best stories from my reporting days, they’re the ones I wove into the plots of my first novels: the immigrant Chinese kids living alone in big mansions or running with youth gangs in The Jasmine Trade, the teenaged girl who was murdered by her street kid boyfriend in an abandoned building, the wealthy tourist family who arrive at LAX with a little girl who’s being smuggled into the U.S. for nefarious purposes. Those were all ripped from headlines of stories I wrote in my 10 years at the Times. It was a wonderful training ground for a writer and a gold mine of raw material.

About a billion years ago, you, David Corbett, and I spent a few days in London together with a handful of other writers for a joint launch of our first novels published in the UK.  That would have been January of 2004.  I had met my now-husband only two weeks earlier, and you and Corbett were very generous to listen to me gush about him.  That was before my Duffer was born.  How has your life changed since then?

Oh my! Yes, I remember you lit with a romantic glow as you described him to us. I’m so very happy it led to a life together (raises virtual champagne glass).

That was a wonderful tour, it was so much fun to hang out together, to talk books and eat yummy meals and hang out at the bar and visit with Val McDermid and Mark Billingham and the Orion folks. It’s hard to believe so much time has passed. But my kids are 13 and 15 now, a bit easier to leave at home with Dad when I go on tour. We’re animal lovers here too, by the way. Two saucy, spoiled cats and a young blue-eyed husky-mix named Sirius White (he’s got white fur, so definitely not a Sirius Black! But he’s quite the dog star!).    

How can readers get in touch with you if they want to continue hearing from you year-round?  Are you a Facebooker?  Tweeter?  What are your thoughts on how social networking fits into a writer’s life?

I welcome readers to write and friend me on FB. And I’m DeniseHamilton_ on Twitter, which I find a lot of fun, and a great way to convey news, musings, links to interesting stuff and just pithy bursts about what I’m up to. I’m always amazed at what gets the most comments, like a recent post with pic I wrote about making apricot jam. I do think that pics are important, I know my eye is drawn to them in the posts of others.

Social media is a great way to keep in touch with readers and other writers too but one also has to maintain the discipline to write. For me that means a separation of church and state. Since I’m a morning person, for me that means doing the creative writing in the morning, then moving into answering email and doing social media once I feel like I’ve punched the fiction clock. Of course life is messy and these boundaries crumble regularly, but we’re talking aspirational.

Thanks, Alafair, for inviting me to guest at Murderati. I also appreciate your smart and incisive questions. No wonder you were such a great prosecutor.

Thanks, Denise, for being a terrific guest!  Denise will be checking in throughout the day to respond to your comments.  She’ll also send a copy of DAMAGE CONTROL to one lucky commenter. 

Denise Hamilton’s crime novels have been finalists for the Edgar, Anthony, Macavity and Willa Cather awards. She also edited Los Angeles Noir and Los Angeles Noir 2: The Classics, which spent two months on bestseller lists, won the Edgar Award for “Best Short Story” and the Southern California Independent Booksellers’ award for “Best Mystery of the Year.”

Her books have been BookSense 76 picks, USA Today Summer Picks and “Best Books of the Year” by the Los Angeles Times, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and the Toronto Globe & Mail.


Find out more about Denise and read an excerpt of DAMAGE CONTROL over at her website, here.

25 thoughts on “Welcome Denise Hamilton!

  1. Reine

    Hi Denise,

    Great to see you here on Murderati! I'm looking forward to reading your new book.

    I always thought it would be fun if books had little fragrance scratch patches, like salt air, or lilacs, or that guy scent when their sweat smells good. Help!

    Heh. Don't get Jonathan started.

  2. Reine

    Forgot to say I got an error message on the excerpt link: "Page Not Found – The page /damage-control.php could not be located on this website."

  3. Pari Noskin

    It's wonderful to have you on Murderati. One of the most enjoyable times I ever had at a mystery convention was at Mayhem when I got to interview you.

    Alafair, THIS interview certainly didn't disappoint.

    As to fragrance patches? I'd be a bit nervous given the subjects of many of our books. However, that said, if we could package the scent of roasting green chiles . . . I might want that for my next book!

  4. twist

    Denise, it was great to see you at B'con; I just downloaded the new book. Oh, and Annick Goutal's Eau d’Hadrian (loved the Baccarat flacon).

    Alafair, missed you in St. Louis. You give good interview!

  5. Denise Hamilton

    Hi everyone, and thanks to Alafair for her awesome questions. As a former reporter, my hat is off to you for a great Q&A. Love the pic of the Sperminator. Re scratch and sniff patches, one of my readers swore she smelled perfume in the pages of Damage Control and wanted to know if it was a marketing thing. Ah the power of subliminal suggestion.
    Twist, Annick Goutal makes wonderful fragrances. One of my faves of hers is Heure Exquise: sandalwood, galbanum and iris. A bit austere, but in the right mood it's quite evocative of the classic French houses of the early 20th century.
    I am working on fixing my website link to the book excerpt. Thanks for alerting me!
    Cheerio, Denise

  6. Allison Brennan

    Great interview Denise and Alafair! I worked in the California State Legislature for 13 years and while not quite as filled with juicy stories like DC, it definitely has its share 🙂 … Love the premise of your book.

    As an aside, one of those things about the creative well–Alafair and I have a lot of similarities–initials, character names (she has both a "Kincaid" main character and a "Rogan" main character, but I think they're two different series–mine are in the same series) and something else that I can't remember now :/ … You have a Senator Paxton, and I have a re-curring character Senator Jonathon Paxton (he first popped up in 2007, then again last year, and now will be in next year's release too.) Too funny!! 🙂

  7. Reine

    Oh Denise, yeah . . . some of those scents are better off in the imagination – or even not there. Bodies? The worst.

  8. Reine

    Alafair and Pari . . . I've totally rethought that scent scratch idea . . . gack . . . I had apple pie in the oven and was unduly influenced!

  9. CarlC

    Alafair – You've just got to quit introducing me/us to other writers. I'm hard put to handle books from the good authors I already follow, much less take on new ones, but I think you've hooked me again with the interview with Denise.

    And Denise – Read you first chapter and got really hooked, by the locale, if not the story. I grew up just over the hill from Playa del Rey, in Westchester, but that was a long time ago. Still, it was interesting to read your take on the place a few decades later. Guess I've got to get the book so I can see where you go with this.

  10. Reine

    Denise! LOVE chapter one!!!!! Setting yes. Definitely. Story wow! Extra points for getting Zogs Sex Wax in there. They have the best video on their web page. http://www.sexwax.com/ I am totally aching to get to your books now.

  11. Jonathan Hayes

    Denise! How great to see you here!

    I'm still not entirely recovered from my Denise-induced scent adventure from Bouchercon (dealt with at staggering length here: https://www.murderati.com/blog/2011/9/21/by-the-banks-of-the-big-muddy-bouchercon-2011.html )! I have to say that one of the great things about getting to know other writers is learning their other sides – your love affair with fragrance, Alafair's Duffer, Peter Blauner's love of music etc etc. We see writers through the narrow corridor of their work, and to learn about the fullness of their lives is supercool – particularly when they love the scent of smell!

    Which of your work should I start with? THE JASMINE TRADE sounds interesting….

    PS I like Annick Goutal. Usually when I'm in Paris, I make a pilgrimage to the Place St. Sulpice, and pick up a bar of Eau d'Hadrien soap.

    Actually, in truth, I make several pilgrimages – kitty corner to the Annick Goutal boutique (a place whose femininity is as brutally overwhelming as being beaten with a pastel hammer wrapped in mohair) is the Pierre HermĂ© shop; I am nothing if not a faithful patron of M. HermĂ©'s work.

  12. Reine

    Jonathan, I'm still recovering from your photo of that . . . that that that THAT bottle of perfume on your last Murderati blog. I see it everywhere I go. Best Picture of the Year.

  13. Denise Hamilton

    Hello Jonathan, I hope you are well! I'd start with the first in my series, The Jasmine Trade, or if you want perfume in your book, then Damage Control, which describes many frags, and if you like the Golden AGe of Hollywood gangsters, starlets and special effects animators, then The Last Embrace.

    Annick Goutal makes lovely scents! Can't go wrong with Eau d'Hadrien. I'm also partial to Eau de Sud. New regulations limiting oakmoss and even citrus oil have defanged some of these. I love almost all the Hermes perfumes. Of their modern creations, Terre d'Hermes is fabulous, the mineraly Gruner Veltlinerof scent.

  14. Denise Hamilton

    Carl C – Westchester!!! Good grief. I got my bachelor's at Loyola Marymount. Some heavy heavy partying going on in your fair burg, dude! The climax scene in Damage Control takes place in Palisades del Rey, the eerie and abandoned subdivision of homes right off Vista Del Mary (and Dockweiler Beach) that LAX took over by eminent domain when it expanded the airport.

    I've always been marvelously creeped out by the post-apocalyptic scene – foundations of homes, errant chimneys, sidewalks and streetlamps, dune grasses sprouting out of asphalt streets. You can almost see the ghostly holograms of 50s Moms calling in their kids for dinner as they pedal around on bikes and the aerospace dads recline on pleather loungers while the waves crash. How could I NOT set an important scene in this deserted suburban ruin?

  15. Jonathan Hayes

    Thanks. The bits you cited in your interview made me think THE JASMINE TRADE would be a good place to begin.

    That Goutal soap, btw, lasts FOREVER.

    The only perfume I own and wear is Hermes' Un Jardin Sur le Nil – it's the green mango notes that just kill me in that one. I think I may branch out with that Tauer L'Air du DĂ©sert Marocain – I'm beginning to sense a theme, here…

  16. Denise Hamilton

    Reine, you speak of Zog's sex wax as if you have personal experience with it. Can it be that you're a secret surfer? I hope you enjoy the book if you pick it up, it's definitely 'surf noir.'

  17. Denise Hamilton

    by the next Bouchercon, Jonathan, we shall have you completely converted.

    Have you tried Ananas Fizz by L'Artisan. It's pineapple but also grapefruit. Lovely.

    Of the old school Hermes, I'm quite fond of 24 Rue Faubourg, but only in EDP, which accentuates the rich resinous orange.

    Bel Ami is lovely too, especially in vintage. Anyone who puts The Normal's Warm Leatherette on their twitter feed must surely explore leather scents in perfumery.

  18. Denise Hamilton

    oops Carl, I meant Vista del Mar, the highway that runs along the beach from Westchester/Playa del Rey to Manhattan Beach. Not sure why the computer auto-corrected to Vista del Mary.

  19. David Corbett

    Dear Ms. Hamilton:

    I must admit, seeing the term "frag" for fragrance threw me off a bit, since in my experience "frag" was something done to a fresh-faced lieutenant in Viet Nam. (How charitable it would have been to have called it 'getting perfumed.")

    I've always been partial to Eau de Gym, or it has always seemed partial to me.

    Having tasted of your urban fantasy novel, a bit of which you shared with me over dinner in San Francisco, I must admit that is the work I'm particularly eager to see, though I can understand why you've had to back-burner it. Pity.

    Had any interesting dinners in middling Irish pubs lately? Jonathan excoriated St. Louis cuisine in his most recent post, but I have an inkling he hit nowhere near bottom, lucky man. (I did, indeed, order unwisely.) Then again: Irish, cuisine. Talk about oxymorons.

    Oh, and re: London: I seem to recall Alafair still being a bit ambivalent about the new boy unit, and you and I had to talk her into it. Or him. But memory makes liars of us all. (I miss those dinners. Sigh … But not the breakfasts. Ugh.)

    Great to see you in St. Louis. And here.

    Say hello to the men in your life for me:
    Mr. Corbett

  20. CarlC

    Denise, I now view Westchester as only the place where you pick up your rental car when you fly into LAX, so I haven't explored what has happened to it in the 50+ years since I left. From your description, it sounds like I should check things out when I next have the courage to brave LA. And as for Loyola (the Marymount came much later), I used to wander through there with my buddies a lot when we were in grade school. A much different place now, I'm sure, as we usually got there by trekking through the bean fields. I think you've hooked me as a reader; I'll be ordering The Jasmine Trade tomorrow, then I'll skip to Damage Control.

  21. Reine

    Hi Denise,

    Hah! I used to body surf down near San Diego while staying with my Auntie-Mom many years ago. I hope she isn't reading this. I promised her I never would. Those surfer boys in Santa Barbara, though — they had my full attention. I told her I wouldn't do that either.

  22. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Denise

    Great to have you here and what a terrific interview – good job, Alafair.

    Great to see you, however briefly, at Bouchercon, too.

    I think we NEED to see pictures of Sirius White, though ;-]

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