On the Town: Authors spin tales about what inspired them to write

La Crescenta Woman's Club President Marianne Jennings, from left, with authors Patricia Smiley, Denise Hamilton and Naomi Hirahara and Authors Luncheon Co-Chair Carol Huntwork.
(Joyce Rudolph / Glendale News-Press)

Murder mystery writers shared their own stories during the annual Authors Luncheon presented recently by the La Crescenta Woman’s Club.

Carol Huntwork and Carol Stein were co-chairs and all were welcomed to the newly refurbished clubhouse by President Marianne Jennings.

Funds raised go to projects that benefit the community.

It was the second time authors Denise Hamilton, Naomi Hirahara and Patricia Smiley visited the club.

Hamilton, who lives in Glendale, is the best-selling author of five contemporary crime novels in the Eve Diamond series. She is also editor of the Edgar Award-winning, short-story anthologies titled “Los Angeles Noir” and “Los Angeles Noir 2: The Classics.”

She was a storyteller as a child and started writing stories after she learned to read, she said. But she never knew one could make a career as a writer.

She later earned a master’s degree in journalism at Cal State Northridge, and worked her way up from intern to full-time news reporter at the L.A. Times.

“I think I was always a feature writer and novelist at heart because I always wanted to crawl into the heads of the sources I interviewed, whether they were cops, murderers, victims, school kids, housewives,” she said.

So she joined a writer’s group made up of nine women in her neighborhood, and they met for two hours on Sunday nights every other week.

That was where she worked on her first book over several years, which was eventually published and kicked off her series of five novels.

Her most recent book, titled “Damage Control,” she categorizes as Surf Noir because it’s about the dark side of the beach culture, she said.

Hirahara, a former journalist as well, likes to shine a light on ordinary people with interesting lives. The main character in the Pasadena author’s mystery series features an unlikely sleuth, Mas Arai, an aging Japanese gardener from Altadena.

Dodger Stadium is the backdrop for “Sayonara Slam,” the sixth book in the award-winning series.

What makes writing fun for Hirahara is watching a character evolve. In the series’ third installment, she creates a love interest for Mas. She questioned herself about how to progress with the storyline, but then it just came together.

“You can’t force it,” she said. “The characters come to life, and they show you where to go.”

Smiley was an avid reader growing up, but she didn’t think about becoming a writer until she went back to school to get a master’s degree in business administration.

She found herself doing a lot of writing and soon discovered mystery novels she hadn’t read before. One was Sue Grafton’s “G is for Gumshoe” and another was Susan Isaac’s “After All These Years.” Both had humor and romance.

Smiley has based her characters on people she met while volunteering for 15 years as a specialist reserve officer with the Los Angeles Police Department.

Case in point is the main character in her Pacific Homicide series, LAPD homicide detective Davie Richards. She is a petite red head, and the author said she thinks of her as a love child of Dirty Harry and Wonder Woman.

Davie believes, like most homicide detectives Smiley met over the years, that she stands alone representing the victims of the cases she solves.

Assisteens bring smiles to City of Hope patients

A group of Glendale women volunteered during a holiday party for cancer patients hosted recently by the Desi Geestman Foundation at the City of Hope Medical Center in Duarte.

The Assisteens, an auxiliary of the Assistance League of Glendale, is made up of young women in the seventh through 12th grades.

Glendale Assisteens Zoe Cerrillo, left, and Isabella Vinci volunteered at the Pajama Party for cancer patients and their families at City of Hope Medical Center.
(Courtesy of Haley Garland )

Each member volunteers 40 service hours a year with philanthropic programs and helps the main chapter with its projects.

An annual pajama party is thrown for patients ranging from 3 to 12 years old and their families.

The foundation purchased gifts, such as pajamas, socks and stuffed animals, and the patients were able to choose what they wanted, said Shellie Campbell, Assisteens coordinator.

The Assisteens helped with setting up the party, serving the dinner and cleaning up. The young women also helped the patients in making crafts at the arts table.

Geestman was a La Crescenta girl who lost her fight with cancer. Her mother, Ileana Geestman, started the foundation in her honor.

JOYCE RUDOLPH can be reached at