Please welcome Maxine Nunes, author of Dazzled.
What’s your idea of a perfect day?
I wake up and discover that overnight I’ve lost 5 pounds. Then, while I’m having my morning chai (and a croissant, because I feel so skinny), I go to my Amazon page and (another amazing discovery) Dazzled is now the #1 best-selling mystery. Off to the gym and then, with endorphins soaring, my workday begins. Time to break the back of the plot that’s been busting my chops for weeks. I stare at the bulletin board and the index cards that still don’t quite add up, and then, voila! I get it! I move a few things around, devise three perfect transitions. And Bam! I’m ready to write. But not here. I pack a few things into my car and drive up to Big Sur, where, from cliff over the ocean at the edge of the world, I watch the sunset. Later, at a rustic inn in a redwood grove, as the stars emerge and the moon rises in a jet blue sky, I pull out my laptop and the words just flow. It’s wonderful, and yet… something’s missing. Something important. Then, five minutes before midnight, there’s a knock at my door. I open it to a man who is not at all handsome. But there is something about him, his lean height, and the way his sandy hair hangs lank over his forehead, and the warm intensity in his eyes. “Hi,” he says. “I’m staying next door. And I was wondering if you might like to take a midnight stroll. It’s such a beautiful evening.” A little voice in my head says, too perfect. Be careful. I ignore it.
Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
I’m addicted to Tazo chai lattes — all sugar and caffeine, alas — but I can’t sit down to write without a cup in my hand.
Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
My first boyfriend, whose brilliant but short life was all about creativity and seeing the world in an original way. My dear friend and teacher Gregory Armstrong, who encouraged my own writing and whose own book I often re-read and still love, a little-known classic called Wanderer’s All. And…wow, I haven’t thought of this in a very long time, but Mrs. Korn, my fourth-grade teacher, who was horrified when my “summer vacation” story ended with a family being killed car crash (which had actually happened to my neighbors that year). But she got over her shock and gave me an A, and that might have been the moment I first saw myself as a writer.
Do you listen to music when you write?
No. I put on music when I need a break! But my main character, Nikki, loves music from the sixties, so if I’m using a song in a scene I may listen to it while I write.
If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
Dark chocolate truffle.
What made you interested in writing this particular story?
I was actually writing something else at the time, and Nikki’s voice and predicament — a friend disappearing — kind of came full-blown out of nowhere. And it was so much fun, I just ran with it.
What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
One theme that fascinates me is how the past, our own and our family’s, can control us, and how hard it is to free ourselves from its grip. And I also love writing about place. A lot of people tell me Los Angeles is like another character in the book. And it is.
Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today? Nikki had a tough childhood that we’ll learn more about in future books. She ran away at 15 and had a hard life on the road before she finally landed in LA, realized she wasn’t a kid anymore, and decided to try to build a life for herself. She’s drawn to acting because it allows her to express her emotions in a way she never could before. But she’s not beautiful in a Hollywood way. In fact, when she tells a guy she meets that she’s an actress, he kind of looks confused, then says, “Oh, I guess you could play a real person.” It’s funny, and of course, that’s Hollywood.
Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
What a great question! Okay. Clare Danes in Homeland (minus the manic depression), Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird, and a young Holly Hunter.
If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
Benjamin Black (the pen name for John Banville), Arthur Conan Doyle, Georges Simenon, Dorothy Hughes, Megan Abbott and Raymond Chandler. I hope there’s a band, too, so I can fox trot with Chandler. I hear he was a great dancer.
What’s next for you?
Nikki’s acting career will be taking her on location, and she’ll get involved in mysteries in Paris, New York, Lisbon and a lot of other place I’ve lived in or have a strong connection to. I’m also working on a stand-alone novel about a murder that takes place in the publishing world of Manhattan around 1968.
Like her heroine Nikki Easton, Maxine Nunes grew up in New York did a bit of wandering and some fascinating odd-jobs before the allure of glamour drew her to Los Angeles with the idea of launching an acting career. Instead of waitressing like most of her peers, though, she lucked into a gig writing romance novels — quickie potboilers, which she wrote at the rate of one a month to make her rent. While Maxine did have a role in one feature film, Seasons in the Sun with Terry Jacks (alas, it went straight to video), she found herself much more interested in writing. And writing seemed much more interested in her. She wrote game shows, produced programming for Game Show Network, co-authored What’s Really Wrong With You, a book on muscles and health, and currently writes for several publications, including the L.A. Times. Her satiric parody of a White House scandal won the Pen USA West International Imitation Hemingway Competition. Dazzled is her first mystery.