Denise Hamilton, accomplished journalist for the L.A. Times and crime novelist, spoke in conjunction with The Friends of the Oviatt Library on Tuesday.
The event was held in the library’s Presentation Room, and though Denise spoke a bit about her newly released novel, the atmosphere was not so much that of a book promotion, but more that of a casual discussion.
Hamilton described herself as “a kid who always loved to write stories, poems, and odes to (her) dog.”
Denise stood before a modest group of reading enthusiasts who were sipping coffee and eating cookies, and not only explained the inception of her mystery book series, but also the history of her career path leading up to fiction writing.
Originally, Denise majored in business and economics at Loyola Marymount University, but just after graduating, she came to the realization that she had made a “tragic and horrible mistake” because she felt that she would be “sentenced to work in the business world for the next 40 years.”
Frustrated, and looking for a way out of the corporate hole she had dug herself into, Denise decided to pursue a career in journalism.
She attended CSUN and began working a summer internship at the Chatsworth bureau of the L.A. Times.
Hamilton completed her internship, and was asked to stay a few months extra, but only until a permanent person could be found for the position. In other words, it was made very clear to her that she was not an employee, but only a temporary worker.
“(A year later) I was still in this weird quasi-limbo at the Chatsworth bureau.”
Denise was then offered a two-year job at the L.A. Times Ventura bureau. She was constantly working hard and missing out on all the things that other people her age did because she wanted to impress her employers. So, she confessed, she tried to find the deeper, more interesting underbelly of Ventura.
“I spent months driving up and down the streets of Ventura at night looking for that hidden nightlife that was being hidden from me because I wasn’t cool enough.”
During her time in Ventura, Denise applied and was accepted for a fellowship in Budapest. While in Budapest, Denise covered various events resulting from the fall of communism in Russia.
After a few months, she came back, and her boss informed her of a new opportunity.
“I thought London, Paris, or I guess I could take Buenos Aires if it’s all you have. And that’s when my boss announced ‘we have a nice office (for you) in a mini-mall in Monrovia.'”
Unperturbed by this disappointment, Denise took advantage of the situation by focusing on the less conspicuous parts of the city.
“Since they wouldn’t send me to Hong Kong, Hong Kong would come to me.”
So Denise began covering various immigrant stories. One in particular that grabbed her attention was that of the “parachute kids.” These were children who came from wealthy Chinese families with parents that still maintained their businesses in China. The children were to be left to raise themselves in LA while their parents lived in China managing the family business.
The parachute kids became a foundation for her first book “The Jasmine Trade.” The main character of this book and all others in the series is Eve Diamond, who is designed as the alter-ego rendition of Denise’s own being. She was an accomplished journalist with a realistic perception on life, and possesses an edgy, risk-taking attitude.
Denise described the transition from journalist to novelist as being a definite change in mindset.
“Journalism is a very left-brain activity. It took about a year to undo the journalist mentality.”
To this day, Denise never considers her transfer to novel writing as a complete departure from journalism. She refers to herself as a “non-practicing journalist.”
Denise Hamilton’s newest book is called “Last Lullaby,” and is a murder mystery focused around a child brought to the United States from Beijing. There’s a shooting at LAX, the child’s mother is dead in the terminal, and her father is nowhere to be found. Immediately, the INS hides the little girl, and Eve Diamond is determined to find her and discover the truth behind what’s really going on.