Elizabeth Little is making waves with her clever debut mystery, Dear Daughter. Written with what our Whodunit columnist calls "one of the cheekiest voices in recent memory," Little follows a now-notorious Los Angeles socialite's investigation into her mother's grisly murder: a murder that's been pinned on her.
We caught up with Little and asked her about life in LA, her favorite heroines in mystery and more in a 7 questions interview.
Describe your book in one sentence.
When ex-LA It girl Janie Jenkins’s murder conviction is overturned—10 years after she went to prison for the death of her mother—she goes undercover to find out once and for all if she’s really as guilty as everyone says.
What do you love most about Janie Jenkins?
Her brains. I decided from the outset that Janie was going to be Paris Hilton: The Evil Genius Remix, and I’m so glad I did. She was such fun to write (even if I had to consult a dictionary sometimes)—and I hope she’s fun to read, too. She isn’t always the gentlest of creatures, but brilliant people tend to be brutally well defended, and I hope that people can see past the prickly surface to the much more expansive character inside.
How has your experience as an LA local influenced your interest in crime and mystery?
I’ve been a sucker for a good mystery since I was a kid: My after-school babysitter had the full library of classic Nancy Drews, and, as soon as I could read them, I worked my way through the entire collection. After that I graduated to Agatha Christie, to Ed McBain, to Elmore Leonard and so on and so forth.
But I’ve also always had a strong interest in noir, and coming to LA has really brought that out in my writing: compared to my beloved British whodunits, Dear Daughter has a harder stylistic edge, a more pessimistic worldview, a darker sensibility.
I often wonder how this book would have turned out if I had written it in any other city, because Janie is so purely a creature of Los Angeles: breezy-beautiful on the outside, sticky-dark on the inside. On the one hand we have beaches and bikram yoga and cafés where the employees are mandated to sit down each morning before work to discuss their “emotional experience.” But then we also have James Ellroy and the Black Dahlia and Sharon Tate. It’s such an eerie, ominous place really. This pervasive sense of past horrors—this underlying darkness that still resonates in the sunny present—has been absolutely key both to Janie’s character and also to the mood and atmosphere of the story as a whole.
(And maybe to me as a whole! But that’s a discussion for another time.)
Who are some of your favorite female protagonists in the mystery genre?
Harriet Vane, first and foremost, forever and ever. (She appears in several of Dorothy L. Sayers’s books, most notably Gaudy Night.) I also adore Mary Russell, the heroine of Laurie R. King’s Sherlock Holmes books. And I’m going to choose to classify the Harry Potter books as mysteries (which isn’t too far off, really) so I can also include Hermione Granger. Three brilliant, forceful women who are partnered with seemingly more powerful men but stubbornly outshine them all.
Name one book you think everyone should read.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
What’s one piece of advice you would offer to a future debut author?
If you ever read a review that upsets you—that, like, makes your stomach sickly with shame and embarrassment and failure—go onto to Amazon and search for the book version of The Princess Bride. Then read the one- and two-star reviews.
Like this one:
I did not find it particularly funny and I did not like the characters. I suspect that it was a satire, but there was a nasty attitude that I really don't care to go back to.
There are similarly harsh reviews for the movie. For instance:
Silly movie, feels like it was written by a bunch of adolescents with only a beginning understanding of the great stories. Very juvenile.
If there are people out there who can hate The Princess Bride, there are people out there who can hate everything. You’re going to get bad reviews, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re bad . . . just that you’re in some good company.
What are you working on next?
Next up is my second mystery with another (hopefully) strong, memorable heroine. The working title is Do As I Say, and my narrator is a former shrink-to-the-stars whose patients all of a sudden start killing themselves—and it’s up to her to figure out what’s really going on. . . .
Author photo by Jonathan Vandiveer