Sunday, August 14, 2011

Denise Hamilton Exercises Damage Control

Today, award-winning author Denise Hamilton is our guest blogger.  I recently asked Denise what inspired her to write her latest book, Damage Control, a stand-alone novel so very different from her best-selling Eve Diamond series.

Back in 2009, my husband and rented a BBC mini-series series called ‘State of Play’ and I was immediately hooked by this pacey British tale of murder, sex, government corruption and politics. If you haven’t yet seen it, run, don’t walk, to rent this thriller (the British version, not the American remake) and find out what happens when a beautiful young woman working for a Member of Parliament is found murdered.

The who-dunnit element was fascinating, but so were the back stories of the MP and his journalist friend, the machinations of Fleet Street to Get The Story, the MP’s beleaguered wife, some juvenile thieves, a pimp and last but not least, the mystery surrounding the murdered girl.

Right around that time, two big sex scandals broke in America: Tiger Woods multiple mistresses and the collapse of presidential hopeful John Edwards’ campaign when it was learned that he’d fathered a love child with his kooky videographer, Rielle Hunter.

I followed these scandals closely, growing especially interested in how the PR reps for these celebrity athletes and politicians handled the allegations against them.

Journalists like me (I worked for the Los Angeles Times for 10 years) have always considered the PR industry the “dark side.” But in recent years, as newspapers have slashed staff or shuttered their doors, many journos have crossed over into the lucrative, high-powered world of crisis management.

High profile PR is a growth industry – even in times of recession – because sadly, there is never a shortage of wealthy, power-mad people who get caught in financial, criminal and sex scandals. (Just this summer, we had Weinergate and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s love child).

And that’s where the damage controllers come in.

I wanted to create an ambitious young PR executive named Maggie Silver who’s working her way up this tricky corporate ladder without losing her moral center. But she’s also got bills to pay, an upside-down mortgage and a sick mother living with her. Still, she’s doing fine until the day she walks into her conference room and learns that her new client is Senator Henry Paxton, whose beautiful young aide has been found murdered in her Koreatown apartment.

Seeing Paxton hurtles Maggie immediately back into the past, because he’s no stranger – she practically lived at his sprawling villa overlooking the Pacific in high school, when she was best friends with Paxton’s glamorous but troubled daughter Annabelle. Then something happened on the beach one night and the girls’ friendship was sundered. It’s been 15 years since Maggie has seen any of the Paxtons, but now, as she defends her old friend’s Dad, she will be forced to confront the ghosts that haunt her nightmares and to reconnect with her onetime friend.

So that was the set-up: A political thriller with a grrrl and surf noir subplot.

But there was only one problem. I didn’t understand Maggie Silver the way I understood the protagonist from my Eve Diamond series. I’ve written 5 books about Eve, the tough-but-tender reporter. I understood her life and what made her tick because she was my wilder alter ego. She saved more innocent people and caught more bad guys than I ever did and she crossed ethical lines I would never consider in real life. She was a lone wolf, she fell in love too easily and sometimes drank too much. I knew what she’d do in almost any situation. 

But Maggie was an enigma. I had to write some flashback scenes of her as a teenager with Annabelle before she began to gel in my head. But it took writing a messy, emotional scene with Maggie and her Mom to finally understand my protagonist. Maggie comes home from a hard workday and finds her mother – a cancer survivor – has been smoking. Not only that, but she’s hastily stubbed out the ciggie, which is now smoldering in the trash and threatening to burn down Maggie’s woodframe house.

Allowing Maggie to curse and scream hateful things at her mother – and ultimately cry - was cathartic and freeing for me. It also seemed very real. I’d been reading a lot of Jodi Picoult as I wrote Damage Control, because I love the way she writes about messy family matters. There is an honestly to Picoult’s depiction of parents and children that I knew I needed for my own novel.

After that pivotal scene, Maggie suddenly came together for me and I understood her. And when it came time to write the fierce, intimate scenes of heartache and jealousy between Maggie and Annabelle and their awkward attempts at reconciliation, I saw it unfolding in my mind’s eye like a movie.

I hope if you read Damage Control, it reads that way for you too.

Thank you, Denise for sharing with our readers at Criminal Minds today.

You can visit Denise online and learn more about her numerous books and projects at

BOOK DRAWING – one lucky winner will be drawn from the comments posted to this article to receive a copy of DAMAGE CONTROL by Denise Hamilton. To be eligible your comment must be dated today through Monday. Winners will be drawn on Tuesday morning.


Liz V. said...

Best wishes for success of Damage Control.
Interesting and timely premise and tantalizing snippet on mother-daughter relationship.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Thanks for guesting today, Denise.

Folks, please leave your e-mail addy if you're entering for the free book.

Denise Hamilton said...

Hi Liz, thanks so much! Yes, that mother-daughter relationship was so challenging - and ultimately rewarding to write. Sue Ann, thanks for inviting me to Criminal Minds!

Lisa said...

Wow - Sounds like a fascinating plot and a very interesting lead character. Thanks for sharing it with us. I look forward to reading it!


Anonymous said...

I think this book sounds like a great read. It is definitely going on my TBR list! :) Wishing you much success!


Ellen said...

Love the combo of the PR and politics. Sounds current and fun! For drawing, I am Thanks!

Denise Hamilton said...

Re crime and politics, I wrote this book before Weinergate and Schwartenegger's love child but both of those got me to wondering: how far would a politician and/or his people go to hide a scandal when so much is at stake?

And at that point, my mind turned to murder.

I realize there will be more political sex scandals, they are as regular as the seasons. But they still fascinate me. Thanks for your good wishes, Liz.

Michael Wiley said...

Welcome, Denise. Great to have you with us today.

lil Gluckstern said...

I am really looking forward to your book. Having raised two daughters, the mother-daughter relationship has always been of interest to me. How brave of you to write it realistically.

Lil Gluckstern

Ann said...

The new book sounds fascinating. With regards to political sex scandals, what do you think of the show "The Good Wife?"

Also, will there be any more Eve Diamond novels? I'm curious. I enjoyed reading the series very much and looking forward to read 'Damage Control' as well.

Have a great day!


Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Thank you all for participating. The winner of the drawing for Denise's book is Lil Gluckstern!

lil Gluckstern said...

I am so excited; I love books, and look forward to this one. Thank you.