A Conversation With Denise Hamilton

Denise HamiltonCrime novelist Denise Hamilton’s latest novel, Damage Control, is an  exciting thriller featuring Maggie Silver, a “crisis manager” in a prominent PR firm.

I spoke with Denise about the book, inspiration and her career.

JDJ – With a background in journalism, what prompted you to write crime novels?

DH – As a journalist for the LA Times, I wrote about crime every day. But newspaper writing is the 5 Ws and then goodbye: Who, What, When, Where and Why. Sometimes it would take me 2 months of research to do a great story that would be published on the front page of the LA Times. But the next day it was on to something else. I began to feel a yearning to write in a different way, to crawl inside peoples’ heads and write about how they viewed the world. I met thousands of fascinating people and each one had a story to tell. But in journalism, you can’t put words in people’s mouths. Writing fiction freed me up to do exactly that. Many of my novels are inspired by real-life stories I covered as a reporter. You can read more about each individual book and its inspirations on my website, at www.denisehamilton.com

JDJ-What type of research was done for Damage Control?

DH -I interviewed a lot of people in PR and followed the newspaper analyses very closely regarding the scandals that erupted as I was writing Damage Control: Elliot Spitzer, Tiger Woods, John Edwards, the ex-governor of South Carolina – oh there were so many. Then Weinergate and the Arnold Schwartzenegger other family/love child with his housekeeper story exploded right as the book went to print. Political sex scandals are an evergreen, it seems.


JDJ-Other than the perfume obsession, does any event or character in Damage Control come from your own life experiences?

DH – No, none of the characters in in Damage Control come from real life. But I do have a friend who went through cancer and still smokes. (Like Maggie’s mother in Damage Control). I love my friend and want her to quit, but at the same time I see that I cannot change her and I need to respect her choices. She knows it’s a bad idea, but it’s her decision, not mine. And that is a difficult lesson to swallow.

I also have a lot of friends who are former LA Times reporters who have jumped over to PR as print journalism shrinks. I interviewed some of them as research for Damage Control. I asked them questions such as: Do you need to know that your client is innocent in order to represent them? Has your firm ever turned down a client because they were too sleazy? What do you advise clients who are guilty. The answers were enlightening, and they are all in Damage Control.

JDJ-Personally, why such an interest in perfume?

DH – I’ve always had a strong sense of smell and used to play with my mother’s perfumes as a child. She was French and loved Chanel, Yves St. Laurent, Rochas, Guerlain, Caron – all the classics. I write about perfume now for the LA Times and I wanted to weave scent into Damage Control.

JDJ-As a creative person, how do you get most of your ideas. That is, in general terms, what prompts that creative “spark” for an idea?

DH – I get my ideas from everywhere – the media, things I hear, newspaper and TV stories, friends and relatives. It’s all grist for the mill.

JDJ-What is most challenging for you as an author?

DH – What is most challenging about being a writer is sitting down and writing. There are so many distractions with two teenagers and a busy life. But if I write one page a day, at the end of the year I have 365 pages. I try to remember that.

JDJ-Does anything bother you about the publishing industry?

DH – Many things bother me about publishing but that’s a discussion for another forum. I consider myself a storyteller. As long as people want to hear my stories, i will continue to tell them, whether you absorb them via a physical book an ebook or an audio book.

JDJ-Who have been your favorite authors and books?

DH – I have so many fave authors. I love novels and non-fiction set in LA, for starters. Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, Walter Mosley, Kate Braverman, Michael Connelly, Leigh Brackett, Dorothy B. Hughes, James Ellroy and Ross Macdonald come to mind immediately. But there are so many others. I’ve also loved Empire of the Comanche Moon, a history of the Comanches and Texas, King Leopold’s Ghost, about the Belgian Congo. So many books. I read avidly and indiscriminately.

JDJ-What do you think are the most significant changes that have taken place in the L.A. area in the last 20 years? How about among young professionals?

DH – When I was in my teens and 20s, I went to a lot of nightclubs to hear live music. The punk scene. It was very egalitarian. I mourn the loss of that. I think LA is an incredible place and it saddens me that we keep tearing down our cultural/historic monuments to build shopping centers and parking lots. We don’t have a civic urgency about preservation. It also saddens me that our big philanthropists don’t do more for the city. We need people giving money for art and sports in public schools, in supporting libraries, not only building monuments to themselves in wealthy areas.

JDJ-What are your current projects?

DH – I am working on several projects, including two crime fiction novels and an urban fantasy novel set in LA. Beyond that, I don’t like to talk about them. Writing is like a pot of great ingredients simmering on the stove. If you take the lid off too often, everything dissipates.

Check out my review of Damage Control  under Mystery and Thrillers

 on Underrated Reads.

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