Nina Simon On “Mother Daughter Murder Night”

Desperate to Make Her Mother Smile, Nina Simon Wrote a Book

The author of “Mother-Daughter Murder Night” started working on her debut novel during a time of tremendous stress.

By Elisabeth Egan

“I had never expected to write a novel,” Nina Simon said in a phone interview. “But then in August of 2020, I got a phone call that changed my life.” The call was from her mother, Sarina Simon, announcing that her recent cognitive decline had been caused by brain tumors that would require surgery. Later, the Simons learned that Sarina had lung cancer. “I proceeded to very rapidly switch from this life of running nonprofit organizations to caregiving for my mom,” Nina Simon said.

The first few months were “pure terror,” she recalled. The hours were long but the conversations were short; there are only so many hours you can spend talking about illness, protein shakes and ways to cook bacon (one of the few foods that were palatable to Sarina Simon). The pair started reading murder mysteries together. Eventually, Nina Simon — a former NASA engineer, museum director and slam poet — started working on a murder mystery of her own, “Mother-Daughter Murder Night,” which was selected by Reese Witherspoon’s book club and also spent time on the best-seller list.

“I would sit on my mom’s bed in the morning while she was sleeping and I would type these scenes and I would think, ‘How can I make her smile?’” Simon said. “I wrote the main character, Lana Rubicon, to be this tough L.A. Jewish businesswoman who gets cancer and is forced to move in with her daughter and granddaughter. I wrote her to be the outrageous superhero we needed. While my mom was getting pushed around by doctors, Lana was pushing doctors around; while my mom was stuck in bed, Lana was leaping out of bed to solve this murder.”

Her mother was an enthusiastic reader, cheerleader and researcher, even going so far as to call her daughter from a chemotherapy appointment to pass along an idea for death by poisonous frog. Her voice dropped when she realized the nurses were listening. Read the interview at the New York Times.

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