In Pretty as a Picture, Elizabeth Little’s latest thriller, film director Marissa Dahl accepts a job to work on an isolated island off the coast of Delaware with the notoriously erratic director Tony Rees. When she arrives on the set, Dahl doesn’t know much about her new job except that the movie is about a woman who was murdered there two decades ago. But there’s more going on besides a megalomaniacal director and an old unsolved murder. Rees wants the movie to convey, in graphic detail, the woman’s death; numerous scandals are about to erupt and before long, another woman is found dead. Will she be next, Marissa wonders?
Extremely talented Marissa, who has high functioning-like autistic social interactions, is befriended by two completed wired-in teenaged girls when she goes in search of peanut butter. The girls are convinced that there’s more to the local murder than meets the eye. Teaming up they work to solve the mystery.
Little knows Hollywood. Her husband had many miserable years there working in the business (he’s now getting a degree in social worker) and she’s met her share of outrageous and egotistical directors. That in part is why she wrote this, her second mystery.
“With Pretty as a Picture, I had known for a couple of months that I wanted to write something about the film business—I live in Los Angeles and am married to an ex-filmmaker, so it was a subject that was very close at hand,” says Little. “I tried writing a few chapters, working out some of the plot lines, but nothing really took root until I realized that my main character was a film editor who was far more comfortable in the company of her favorite movies than in that of real-life people. I wish I could say that inspiration struck suddenly—or even efficiently—but I think I just had to write my way into the realization.”
Little describes herself as writing in a highly immersive first-person perspective.
“I want my readers to be in both the heads and the bodies of my narrators, to really feel what they’re feeling,” she says. “And in order to do this, I work really hard to put myself into a place, mentally, where I’m able to credibly conjure up the physical and emotional sensations of my narrators. I don’t just put myself in their shoes, in other words—I put myself in their muscle and sinew and skin. It’s a little extreme at times, to be honest, and I wonder at times if I’m Daniel Day Lewissing it—when I finish a day of work, it can really feel like I’m finally coming up for air. It’s probably far too pretentious an approach for a thriller writer, but it seems, so far, to be working for me.”
Little may not like Hollywood, but she does like Marissa.
“She’s particularly dear to me because she’s so deeply uncool and sweet and weird,” she says. “She’s vulnerable and awkward and loyal and hilarious and annoying and really, really good at her job. I love her. I hope readers love her, too.”