“An all-nighter . . . The best debut mystery I've read in a long time.”
—Tana French, New York Times bestselling author of Broken Harbor
“Little makes a thrilling debut with this gripping read. Fans of Tana French and Gillian Flynn are going to enjoy the smart narrator and the twists and turns in the case. ”
—Library Journal (Starred Review)
“A really gutsy, clever, energetic read, often unexpected, always entertaining. I loved Janie Jenkins’s sassy voice and Elizabeth Little’s too. In the world of crime novels, DEAR DAUGHTER is a breath of fresh air.
“Agatha Christie meets Kim Kardashian in this sharp-edged, tart-tongued, escapist thriller. . . A stylishly written tale that plays off our culture's obsession with celebrity scandal.”
Janie keeps them all guessing . . . An unusual protagonist who will intrigue readers who favor strong, smart women.” —Booklist
“Little effectively intersperses outside perspective in the form of emails, text messages, and other communications in Jane’s entertainingly caustic first-person narrative.”
Sure to be one of the hottest debuts of the summer, with foreign rights already sold in ten countries, Viking is thrilled to release Elizabeth Little’s DEAR DAUGHTER, a page-turning novel that explores how pathological and dangerous a mother and daughter’s relationship can become, just as Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl did for a marriage (On-sale: August 4, 2014; ISBN: 978-0-670-01638-9; $26.95).
Ten years ago, Janie Jenkins, a sly and stunning celebutante at the height of her fame, was convicted of murdering her mother, even though she has no memory of that fateful night. Now, released on a technicality into a world utterly convinced of her guilt, Janie chops off her trademark hair and goes undercover. She follows her one lead to a small town in South Dakota, where she hopes she will find the truth about what really happened—even if that means confirming once and for all that she really is a killer.
With the help of some new friends (and the town’s wary police chief), Janie follows a series of clues and pieces together the surprising picture of her mother's past that forces her to consider the possibility that her mother wasn't the perfect society philanthropist everyone believed her to be. On the run from the press, the police, and maybe even a murderer, Janie must choose between the anonymity she craves, and the truth she so desperately needs.
As Elizabeth Little guides us through the events leading up to the novel’s shocking conclusion, we can’t help but root for the complex, deeply-layered Janie, even as we join her in questioning her own innocence. A gripping, electrifying debut novel with an ingenious and like-it-or-not sexy protagonist, DEAR DAUGHTER follows every twist and turn as Janie unravels the mystery of what happened the night her mother died—whatever the cost.
About the Author
Elizabeth Little is the author of the nonfiction books Biting the Wax Tadpole: Confessions of a Language Fanatic and Trip of the Tongue: Cross-Country Travels in Search of America's Languages. Her work has appeared in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, and she has been a guest on NPR’s All Things Considered, The World, and Here and Now. A graduate of Harvard University, she grew up in St. Louis and now lives in Los Angeles with her family. More about Elizabeth can be found at her website, http://elizabeth_little.com/ or on Facebook or Tumblr. Follow her on twitter @ElizabethLittle.
DEAR DAUGHTER by Elizabeth Little
Viking ▪ $26.95 ▪ On-sale date: August 4, 2014 ▪ ISBN: 978-0-670-01638-9
Also available as an e-book
A Conversation with Elizabeth Little
Author of DEAR DAUGHTER
You live in Los Angeles, where the main character, Jane Jenkins, also hails from. How did your knowledge of LA and its Hollywood culture play into the book’s story and the character of Jane?
I sometimes wonder how this book would have turned out if I had written it in any other city, because Jane is so purely a creature of Los Angeles: sunny-beautiful on the outside, sticky-dark on the inside. I don’t think I fully appreciated the contradictory nature of Los Angeles before I moved here, but now it’s one of my favorite things about the city. On the one hand we have beaches and bikram yoga and cafes 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. Like, there’s a house not far from where I live that was the scene of a murder-suicide, and no one has touched it since: It’s been left exactly the same as it was in 1959. Gah.
This pervasive sense of past, this underlying darkness that still resonates in the present is key both to Jane’s character and also to the mood and atmosphere of the story as a whole.
I can’t underestimate the influence of Hollywood culture on the book, either. While I’m anything but a scenester, mover, or shaker, my husband is a writer and director, so I have this strange sort of keyhole through which to observe the inner workings of the entertainment industry. I was struck immediately by the myriad, petty ways in which power differentials are played out. For instance:
• If you’re invited to the swanky, members-only Soho House, there’s a special waiting area for non-members, and you can’t leave until a member comes to get you, as if anointing you for some great divine task as opposed to what I can only imagine are wildly overpriced cocktails.
• A producer my husband has worked with has a standing request at every restaurant he takes meetings at: There is to be a Caesar salad waiting for him at the table when he arrives. Not for his guest. Just for him.
• One incredibly famous and successful director apparently takes meetings with his back to his room.
• There’s a secret invite-only Nike store where everything is free (!!!), but if ever it comes up in conversation there’s a competition to be the least in awe of this.
These sorts of games are integral to Jane’s character—she’s so used to it that she doesn’t realize there’s any other way to be. She’s forever trying to find an angle not because she’s somehow morally deficient, but because that’s all she knows.
And then there’s the issue of beauty and the value and preservation thereof, which is ... just nuts, honestly, and also very central to how Jane sees the world. I once went to an ear, nose, and throat doctor in Beverly Hills, and after he examined me, he told me that I had very narrow ear canals. “You should be sure to tell your surgeon about that,” he said. “It can complicate a face lift.”
“I’m a writer,” I said. “No one cares what I look like.”
He smiled. “Just wait.”
Most of your book takes place in a small town in South Dakota. Is there a particular reason you chose South Dakota and have you ever been there?
I knew right away that I wanted to set the story in a small town that was located, as Jane says at one point, in “the middle.” I wanted to drop her in a place that was—on the surface, at least—as different from Beverly Hills as possible. I’m also generally much less creatively interested in writing about life in, say, New York than I am in writing about the middle of the country. (I’m from Missouri, and I like the middle of the country, dammit!)
When I first started writing the book, though, most of the story was actually set in western Nebraska, because I find that part of the country so gorgeous and wide-open and full of possibility. (I was also listening a lot to the Bruce Springsteen album of the same name at the time). But then one day I was looking at a map and my eyes just sort of accidentally flicked up north, and I realized, “Duh, of course it has be in the Black Hills.” Whenever I’ve been there I’ve always been struck not so much by a sense of isolation but rather by one of seclusion. I was also drawn by its Gold Rush history—of lands settled and stolen, fortunes made and lost—which in many ways mirrors Los Angeles. Everyone’s always hoping and praying that the next score will be the big one.
But also, on a totally primitive horror-movie level, I loved the idea of setting the book in the Black Hills because: all that deep dark forest! So many places for monsters to lurk!
Was there a specific moment or event that inspired you to write this novel?
I can actually tell you the moment to the minute: Mon, Oct 3, 2011 at 12:55 PM, when I received the CNN breaking news alert reporting that Amanda Knox’s conviction had been overturned. My first thought—well, my first thought after a few shocked expletives slipped through—was, “What in the world is she going to do next?” Would she want to lead a public life? Would she try to go back to her old life? Or would she build a new life altogether? My imagination snagged on that last option, and I began to fixate on the steps an accused murderess would have to take if she wanted to shed her notoriety or clear her name. Then I sat down at my computer, and before I knew it I’d written 5,000 words. Those pages would eventually become the second chapter of Dear Daughter.
How did you come to start writing mysteries after studying about and writing books on linguistics?
I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to write two previous nonfiction books, but while I cared very deeply about those projects, it has always been my dream to write crime fiction. I’ve been a devotee of mystery novels since I was teensy tiny, moving from Carolyn Keene to Agatha Christie to Josephine Tey to Thomas Harris—and on and on and on. What a joy it would be, I always thought, to be a part of that world.
What an unattainable dream that is, though! I mean—who gets to be a crime novelist? Certainly not normal people with normal brains (and normal bills). And I never thought of myself as an “artist” or even as “artistic.” When writing nonfiction I felt like a literary accountant: I took facts and added them up and hoped the final tally said something interesting.
But I was just never comfortable writing nonfiction. I constantly struggled with feelings of gross intellectual inadequacy and always felt as if I was having to force myself to feel the enthusiasm that came so much more naturally when I thought about writing fiction. So after I finished my last book, I thought—screw it, why not give fiction a shot? I went and signed up for a class at the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. It was taught by Megan Crane, an author of women’s fiction and Harlequin romance who has since become a mentor and a close friend. She was the first person who ever read a word of fiction that I’d written, and she was also the first person who made me believe that I might be able to actually write a novel of my own. It’s no surprise to me that it was while I was in her class that I came up with the idea for Dear Daughter.
What kind of research did you do when writing Dear Daughter?
Research is my greatest weakness in the sense that I am particularly prone to falling down rabbit holes when I should be filling up the pages. I’ve always been a keen observer of the entertainment industry, so I was already pretty well versed on the world of celebutantes and media personalities who are “famous for doing nothing.” But I certainly spent a great deal of time reading about famous murderesses both modern and historical (Amanda Knox, Casey Anthony, Lizzie Borden, the Papin sisters, etc.), as well as about the psychological effects of major trauma and of time spent in prison, specifically in solitary confinement.
There was also some fun “research” on fashion and beauty that may or may not have involved buying way too many eye shadow palettes at Sephora. And then, generally, there was just so much Googling, because at the end of the day, Janie’s a mad genius, and I needed a lot of help to make sure that her vocabulary and knowledge reflected that!
You are an outspoken fan of romance novels. Let us know a little bit more about this and why you chose to write a mystery instead of a romance.
I was first introduced to romance novels when I was in college. An older student bequeathed to me a box of what are often referred to as “old-school” romances (lots of pirates and knights and euphemisms and ravishings). The box had apparently been passed down from girl to girl for some time, and I was that year’s lucky recipient. I read every single book practically without stopping (and did absolutely terribly in my sophomore tutorial as a result), and I’ve been a rapacious reader of romance novels ever since, probably reading about two or three per week. And I don’t just find them wildly compelling from a literary standpoint, I’m also absolutely fascinated by the ways in which they inform and are informed by the female experience. I think that romance novels are a very important feminist text, not in the sense that these books are necessarily written from an overtly feminist perspective, but in the sense that you can see in these novels the progression of women’s liberation and the struggles that women are faced with from societal expectations and patriarchal institutions.
Also, though, I just really dig a great love story.
While my creative interests don’t necessarily lie in the realm of pure romance (I’m too interested in murder), there are certainly elements of it in Dear Daughter—and I expect that will be true of every book I have the chance to write. I loved writing about Jane’s complicated feelings for the men in her life! It’s such an important part of her character, and I hope that it adds an additional level of tension and suspense beyond that provided by the mystery. Love and murder, for me, go together like peanut butter and chocolate.* If I could one day approximate the perfect combination of romance and mystery found in Dorothy Sayers’s Gaudy Night ... well, I’d probably just up and quit, because it doesn’t get much better than that.
*We probably shouldn’t tell my husband this.
Thanks to Viking Publishing, I have one copy of Dear Daughter by Elizabeth Little to giveaway to one lucky winner.
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