Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Showcase: Maxine Kenneth

Spy in a Little Black Dress
Book Two
When young Jackie Bouvier receives her second assignment from the CIA, she knows it will go better than her first. She managed to survive the Paris job-while looking her best in Givenchy, no less-but now she's completed her official CIA training. So she's excited to show her boss exactly what she can do for her country.

Her new mission: Go undercover in sultry Havana and investigate a young revolutionary named Fidel Castro. But before Jackie can infiltrate the communist cabal, she's in past her hemline in danger. In another exciting adventure, she colludes with Grace Kelly, dances with Frank Sinatra, and flirts with an up-and-coming congressman from Massachusetts.

As the international intrigue escalates, Jackie must use all her finely honed skills to stay ahead of her enemies . . . and make sure spying never goes out of fashion.

Paris to Die For
Book One
Young Jacqueline Bouvier's first CIA assignment was supposed to be simple: Meet with a high-ranking Russian while he's in Paris and help him defect. But when the Comrade ends up dead, and Jackie-in her black satin peep-toe stiletto heels-barely escapes his killer, it's time to get some assistance. Enter Jacques Rivage, a French photographer and freelance CIA agent who seems too brash and carefree to grapple with spies, though he's all too able to make Jackie's heart skip a beat. 

Together the two infiltrate 1951 high society in the City of Lights, rubbing shoulders with the likes of the Duchess of Windsor, Audrey Hepburn, and Evelyn Waugh. Jackie, no longer a pampered debutante, draws on her quick intelligence, equestrian skills, and even her Chanel No. 5 atomizer as a weapon to stay alive in the shadowy world of international intrigue-and to keep her date with a certain up-and-coming, young Congressman from Massachusetts . . .

Q. What inspires your writing?

A.  I’ve always been a compulsive scribbler, writing down my ideas that have sprung up in reaction to something I’ve read or heard or experienced personally and seeing if these concepts can be developed into articles or books.  My nonfiction writing has been largely inspired by my work as the founder in 1974 of a marital hotline in Philadelphia called Wives Self Help—the first of its kind in the country--which developed into a state-licensed mental health agency with a City Police and Fire Counseling Service subsidiary still in operation today. Over the years, the thousands of calls to the hotline from women pouring out their hearts over their troubled marriages and love relationships found their way into books (Your MarriageLimits: A Search for New ValuesEvery Woman Can Be Adored) and my magazine articles as a contributing editor with Woman’s Day. The most painful book for me to write, What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger (DaCapo, 2003) was inspired by a family tragedy that occurred when my younger daughter Rona, a beautiful 21-year-old journalist with a brilliant future ahead of her, was seriously brain-injured in an auto accident caused by a drunk driver. Her heroic struggle to reclaim her life, as well as interviews with hundreds of others battling back from all kinds of adversities, led me to formulate a four-step process for turning bad breaks into blessings. The impetus for writing this kind of inspirational book is twofold: it mines some meaning from loss for oneself and others who are still sending me deeply gratifying letters that say, “This book saved my life.”

As for fiction, the only novel I wrote before collaborating on Paris to Die For and Spy in a Little Black Dress was a spoof of the dirty book business entitled The Broadbelters. And I have to admit that it was inspired by unadulterated anger. Well, maybe anger adulterated with a little jealousy. I was furious that Jackie Susann, a so-so writer but a genius at self-promotion, was selling millions of copies of her soft porn potboiler, Valley of the Dolls, while my work was hardly being noticed by anyone beyond my immediate family. The Broadbelters laid bare the formula for writing a soft porn bestseller—C=2BS+N or a Chapter equals Two Bedroom Scenes plus Narrative and had a book within the book that rivaled anything Jackie Susann ever wrote for pure x-rated filth (my mother was scandalized). I have since come to realize that anger at injustices—perceived or real—is a strong motivator for writers of every stripe, from the satirical to the implementers of great change.

In general, what most inspires me to write is the example of courageous women who, against all the odds thrown against them, manage to prevail. That’s what drew me to collaborate on a series of novels about Jackie Kennedy, a woman I greatly admired for her strength of character in situations that sorely tried her soul. Although these lighthearted thrillers conjured up an alternative reality designed for entertainment value, they are still true to the person Jackie really was, and I jumped at the chance to write about that iconic person.

Q. What is your favorite thing about being an author?

A. Being an author takes me out of my everyday world of annoying frustrations and preserves my sanity by giving me something else to think about (I can relate to Patrick Stewart’s Twitter feed: “All I wanted to do was set up a new account with @TWCable_NYC but 36 hours later I’ve lost the will to live”). I love the whole creative process: playing with words, writing, deleting, and writing again until I think I’ve shaped sentences that hit the mark; fashioning dialogue that rings true; hitting upon plot points so that they bounce off each other like well-aimed billiard balls; and getting inside the minds of characters and fleshing them out until they start to have lives of their own. It’s so exhilarating when you get to the final stretch of a book or article and it’s moving so fast that it seems like someone else is writing it and you’re just typing the words.

Q. What is the toughest part of being an author?

A. For me, the toughest part of being an author is occasionally having to throw out pages and pages you’ve slaved over only to realize (or be told by your editor) that they have to go.

Q. If you could not be an author, what would you do/be?

A. There was a time in my life during the 80s and 90s when I had to give up writing because my job as a CBS radio talk show host in Philadelphia and then on WMCA in New York was completely time-consuming. I missed the quietude of writing, but being a talk show host was a less lonely occupation and afforded the same opportunity to get my ideas and opinions out there with the advantage (or disadvantage) of immediate feedback. As a media personality in New York City, I was frequently invited to be a guest on television shows like Oprah (six appearances) and was even given the opportunity to do a pilot for my own national TV show as an advice-giver called “Dear Max.”  The pilot didn’t sell, but doing it was such a wonderful experience that if I couldn’t be an author, I’d love to be the host of a television show, preferably one which couldn’t be canceled no matter how lousy the ratings were.

Q. What would the story of your life be entitled?

A. “Fifty Shades of Black and Blue”

Q. What is your favorite book of all time?

A. I know I should name some monumental literary classic like Herman Melville’s Moby Dick or Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment or James Joyce’s Ulysses, but to be perfectly honest about it, my favorite book of all time is Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying. She had me at the first zipless f-bomb. Perhaps Jong’s book has had such a deep and lasting impression on me because it was originally published in 1973, a year before my first marriage broke up. The book was like an agonizingly funny and outrageously honest call to arms for me and so many other conflicted women swept up in the feminist zeitgeist of our time. Jong’s style was so witty and passionate and her observations so brilliant that I found myself reading her book over and over again, laughing out loud in places and tearing up in others. In the end, Isadora Wing became a mentor for women like me, encouraging us to liberate and redefine ourselves in the larger world through adventure, sexual experience, and work (writing, in the author’s case and in mine). Actually, a reviewer for the Wall Street Journal at the time wrote that Fear of Flying transcended being a woman’s book and became “a latter-day Ulysses, with a female Bloom stumbling and groping, but surviving.” To which I could only say, amen.

*View more on Maxine HERE

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