Friday, November 05, 2010

Hilary Davidson on Tour

Hilary Davidson was in town recently to promote her debut crime novel, The Damage Done.  The first day, she made a joint appearance at the Poisoned Pen with fellow Forge author, Bruce DeSilva.  DeSilva is the author of Rogue Island.

Barbara Peters, owner of the Poisoned Pen, kicked off the evening by mentioning that Forge is an imprint of Macmillan that had not been known for publishing crime fiction, but perhaps the new emphasis on crime fiction at some of the publishers means an upswing in its popularity.  She went on to introduce author Keith Rawson, from Spinetingler Magazine, as they discussed Mulholland Books, a new imprint from Little, Brown.  Mulholland's first books will come out in April 2011, and their authors include Greg Rucka, Charlie Huston, Duane Swiercznski, and Mark Billingham.  One of Little, Brown's authors, Michael Koryta has been called the "New Stephen King." 

Barbara Peters said she's always been interested in the cycles for genre fiction, or, as she likes to call it, "structural fiction," in contrast to non-plot fiction.  She said it seems to ebb and flow in popularity in twenty-year cycles.  And, everyone wants to write and publish what is popular.  Everyone wrote serial killer books after Thomas Harris.  Dan Brown kicked off the DaVinci clones.  The vampire books seem to be almost done.  Peters said it's nice to see solid crime fiction supported again. 

Peters went on to say that the books by Davidson and DeSilva were first mystery picks for Poisoned Pen.  She said those who are buying their books as collectibles are buying futures.  According to Peters, John Dunning's Booked to Die raised awareness about book collecting.  People have a better chance of buying a book and having it increase in value than almost everything else.

Barbara told Hilary that author Linda Fairstein asked her to take a look at Davidson's The Damage Done.  Hilary said Fairstein was the kindest person.  They met at a Sisters in Crime meeting in New York, and Fairstein was talking about what she was working on, and mentioned Old St. Patrick's Cathedral, since there was an older one before the present St. Patrick's Cathedral.  Since Davidson wrote the Frommer's New York City books, she asked Fairstein if she had heard the information about the location of the church windows.  Fairstein didn't know that the windows were now in a church in Harlem because they didn't fit in the new building.  Davidson said Fairstein was enthusiastic in her support, and a great influence.  In fact, Peters received the first ARC (Advanced Reader's Copy), thanks to Linda.

Hilary was asked to talk about the dynamics in her book.  How do family members cope when someone in the family is nuts, criminally inclined, or on drugs?  Davidson said Jeffrey Dahmer's father wrote a book because everyone wondered what kind of family could raise such a monster.  The father said it was a nice, normal family, and they had no explanation.  How do you cope with someone in the family who is out of control? 

Lily Moore's sister was always out of control in The Damage Done.  Lily had the responsibility for taking care of her sister, Claudia.  Her mother couldn't do it.  And, her father had died years earlier.  But, it was always push-and-pull with her sister, who was a drug addict.  She made the agonizing decision to take her sister to live with her after she was living under a bridge and overdosed on heroin.  She took her in, but then Lily couldn't cope with living with her.  So, Lily, a travel writer, went to Spain on an assignment, and just decided to stay there.  She could get away from her responsibility, but she still paid the rent for her sister to live in the apartment.  The job of taking care of Claudia just became too big for her.  Then, Claudia went missing.  Lilly can't trust anything she thought she knew about her sister.

Davidson said she was very conscious of not letting the reader know things that Lily didn't know.  She didn't want them ahead of Lily in the story.  Lily was lured back to New York City when she was told her sister was dead.  But, the body wasn't that of Lilly's sister.  The story is as much a mystery to the reader as it is to Lily. 

Hilary's often asked about the similarities between  herself and Lily, since they are both travel writers.  Davidson wrote travel guides for twelve years, but she wrote about Toronto, where she was from, and New York City, where she lives now.  She seldom writes about exotic places such as Spain.

Lily had been away from New York City for so long that it feels foreign to her when she returns.  She doesn't recognize things.  But, Lily was from the Lower East Side, the neighborhood most in transition, where there's a battleground between progress and maintaining.

Barbara Peters asked the audience to guess where Bruce DeSilva's Rogue Island was set.  It's set in Providence, Rhode Island, and DeSilva told us one of the quirks of Rhode Island history is that no one knows where the name actually came from.  One theory is that it was named after the island of Rhodes because it resembles it.  However, it doesn't actually resemble Rhodes.  Another theory is the name Rhode Island was a bastardization of "Rogue Island," what the god-fearing people of Massachusetts called the island of pirates.  Rhode Island was founded by two groups of people, the godly, led by Roger Williams, and pirates.  Those two threads have run through the history of the state.

DeSilva worked in Providence as a journalist.  His character, Liam Mulligan, is an investigative reporter for a newspaper, and his job is to root out corruption.  At the same time, he's of this place, too.  Mulligan sees corruption as like cholesterol, there's a good kind and a bad kind.  For example, he thinks nothing of making small payoffs to get his car through inspection, while working on an investigation.  Without graft in Rhode Island, not much would get done, and nothing would get done in time.  The book is about the state of newspapers, a dying business.  Mulligan is a lot like the author, but DeSilva was old enough to retire.  But, DeSilva's character is 40, and he's stuck.

The plot of Rogue Island, an arson investigation, could take place anywhere.  But, DeSilva said he distinctly made it a Rhode Island neighborhood with Rhode Island people.  For instance, Mulligan goes to a seventy-three-year-old mobster to place bets.  There's a man who goes to work in a back room every day, goes into his office, takes off his pants, and carefully hangs them up, and takes bets on flammable paper, throwing them in a metal washtub, while smoking all day.  If he's raided, he just has to throw his cigarette in the washtub, and all the evidence goes up in flames. 

Peters mentioned there's little crime fiction set in Rhode Island.  Mark Arsenault, Jan Brogan and Thomas Briody all had investigative reporters working in Providence.  DeSilva said most crime novels are set in big, anonymous cities, or small towns.  Providence is big enough for urban problems.  It has some cosmopolitan qualities, and it has Brown University.  But, it is also so small it's almost claustrophobic.  Everyone knows your name there, and it's hard to keep secrets.  There's a scene in the book in which Mulligan wanted to set up a meeting with a cop, and they had a hard time trying to find a meeting place where they wouldn't be recognized.  They finally came up with a dingy little club, but when they walked in, someone shouted, "Mulligan!"  This atmosphere provides a different feel for the book. 

Providence dominates the state.  DeSilva said the second novel will be partially set in Newport.  When he asked Hilary if she knew Newport, she said travel writers have met there so they could see the mansions.  Bruce had a funny story about the mansions.  When the Boston Celtics used to train there, the coach was going to take the players on a tour.  He cancelled it when he realized they all had bigger homes.  Davidson said Doris Duke's mansion was interesting there because she had a camel, and she brought it into the house, and let it have the run of the place.  The first story was wrecked by the camel, while the second floor was pristine. 

Hilary said, like newspapers, travel books are dying.  They are going to be replaced by apps.  The information for books has to be in six months before publication.  In that time, the information can change.  Her worst horror story was about the Toronto travel guide when the tourism board changed its website url.  A man called her who said he and his two children were planning their trip to Toronto, went on the site, and he was horrified to have a porn site come up. 

Davidson wrote for Frommer's.  It was a workhorse of a guidebook, even giving opening and closing hours.  But, it had to be prepared six months in advance.  Then, it would sit on a shelf for one or two years before being updated.  But, apps can be easily updated, corrected, and kept current.  It's going to be difficult to make guidebook publishing relevant, although Frommer's has done some books to serve as trip advisers.  But, travelers use multiple sources now.  So, the occupation of travel writer is going through a state of revolution.

Like Bruce and the newspaper business, Davidson thinks the travel guide business is going out.  People get their information online, and it's more current, and more valuable.  The content providers themselves are getting more sophisticated.  Museums even provide online tours, and the better ones can show you what to look for.  But, a lot of travel writers have lost credibility when it was revealed some of them had never been to the countries they wrote about.

Asked about newspapers, DeSilva said the newspaper business is dying.  He predicted in five years, most newspapers will be gone.  The Wall Street Journal will be around, and the New York Times, in some format.  But, in five years the newspapers in Phoenix and Providence will be gone. 

When DeSilva worked at the newspaper in Hartford, it had 380 reporters.  There are now eighty.  They're doing less serious reporting.  There's a lot less investigative reporting.  He said newspapers never did make money selling papers.  Revenue came from ads, particularly the classifieds.  That's all gone, lost to Craig's List, eBay, and  It's never going to come back.

If no one pays for significant reporting, it's an incredible loss for democracy.  What's going to fill the gap?  Who is going to pay for reporting?  Peters said there's a credibility issue in the online world.  She said she trusts bloggers such as Kevin Rawson, and me, but she knows us. 

DeSilva said the country was divided years ago over Vietnam, but at least everyone was listening to the same news, Cronkite, Huntley and Brinkley.  So, they heard the same information.  Now, we don't even have the same news.  Those on the right listen to FOX and Talk Radio, while those on the left listen to MSNBC.  Where is the true journalism?  Who is providing a "fair and balanced viewpoint?"  He agreed with an audience member who asked if we should blame the media.  He said they only want to attract viewers/listeners.  In the 50s and 60s, journalists had standards, and they didn't violate them.  Newspapers were honest brokers who reported real information.  But, that's less and less true. 

We went off on a tangent, particularly since it was election night.  But, DeSilva then said most fiction entertains, but not all of it is trying to say something.  In Rogue Island, he's talking about the demise of the newspaper industry and the cost to society.  He said usually Elmore Leonard is entertaining, and nothing more.  But, he did write The Hot Kid, set in Oklahoma in the 30s, with a serious purpose.  It was about the nature of celebrity in America. 

DeSilva and Davidson agreed novels can cover topics that can't be covered elsewhere.  Hilary said magazines often have a different focus.  She was once doing an article on rape for a magazine, but they wanted to make sure the victims were pretty enough to be in the magazine.  They wanted her to vet people to find the pretty ones.  They wanted to have a distance from anything ugly.  She refused to interview victims, and then go back and tell them they weren't attractive enough to be in the article.  So, there isn't much mainstream coverage of many issues.  You can cover them in fiction.

Someone mentioned the Laci Peterson case, and the fact that there was almost an identical story at the same time.  A black, pregnant woman disappeared, but there was almost no coverage because the media wanted to focus on the attractive white woman. 

Asked if it was fun creating fiction, Bruce said he spent forty years of being concerned with errors.  He'd wake up at night, thinking of a mistake he made.  But, now, it's liberating to make stuff up.  His first book was very easy, because he'd been thinking about it for fifteen years.  But the second book was harder, since he only had six months.

Hilary said since she's been writing fiction, she's been chained to the desk.  There have been no glamorous trips, even to Toronto.  And, she's so incredibly happy.  She does still work on magazine stories, but she gave up writing guidebooks.  Now, she's doing what she always wanted to do.  She said this was her first trip to Phoenix.  She had celiac disease, and, since she has a website, Gluten-Free Guidebook, she asked her readers for gluten-free options, and was pleased to find some in Scottsdale.

They were asked if fiction was easy for them because they had honed their writing elsewhere before writing fiction.  DeSilva answered that a lot of journalism is the antithesis of fiction.  He said journalists use a stiff, formal way of addressing readers.  He has taught classes, trying to get journalists to change that.

Davidson mentioned Brad Parks, another journalist, who just won the Shamus Award for Faces of the Gone.  Someone said, are you writing stories your own way in your head?  Peters said cops, journalists and lawyers turn to fiction; judges don't.  They all have stories, material to write about. 

DeSilva said the journalists who get out in the community hear a lot of dialogue, and can use it in fiction.  Davidson agreed, saying she also writes short stories.  And a number of those stories are inspired by dialogue she overheard.  Bruce ended the program by saying writers collect people.  He has a shirt that says, "This is so going in my next novel."

Bruce DeSilva, Barbara Peters and Hilary Davidson

Hilary Davidson was kind enough to appear for Authors @ The Teague the day after her Poisoned Pen program.  She started by telling the audience that she had originally met me on Twitter.  She said she was so grateful that I had picked her up to come to Velma Teague, because she hasn't really driven in nine years.

She told us The Damage Done was actually her nineteenth book, but the first one with her name on the cover.  She wrote seventeen travel guides for Frommer's, and was the ghost writer for one book, but the woman's name was on that one.

Davidson's novel, The Damage Done, is about Lily Moore, a travel writer who is called home to New York because her sister died.   When she gets home, she finds it wasn't her sister.  The woman who died in her sister's apartment wasn't Lily's sister.  Hilary then read the scene in which Lily tries to convince the police that wasn't her sister, after she viewed the body at the morgue. 

When she was complimented on her reading, Hilary said she thanks both her writing groups in the acknowledgements.  She used to read books on tape for the blind, and likes to read.  She became the adopted reader for the writing groups for those who don't like to read their material.

Davidson wanted to address the subject of whether she was Lily since they were both travel writers.  Hilary told us she's the world's most boring travel writer.  Lily ran off to Spain.  She was obsessed with old movies, and saw herself as Ava Gardner.   But, Lily's sister was on drugs, and there were a lot of reasons for her to run off to Spain.  But, Hilary was born in Toronto and moved to New York City nine years ago.  Sixty percent of her travel writing has been about those two cities, although she has been lucky enough to be paid to go to Turkey and Easter Island. 

And, Lily's personal life is much more complicated than Hilary's.  Lily's parents are both death.  Her mother committed suicide.  She and her sister are the only ones in the family.  Hilary has two brothers she's close to.  Her parents are still alive, and she's been married for ten years. 

Two traits they have in common are fondness for old movies and vintage clothing.  Her grandmother introduced Hilary to old movies.  She had a crush on Tyrone Power, which is why Lily's old boyfriend looked like him.  And, she loved Barbara Stanwyck.  Davidson has a love of older things and the past, thanks to her grandmother.  So, Lily connects to old movies.  In some places they intersect, but their lives are very different. 

Davidson lives in New York City, but Lily's been living in Spain, and New York changed a lot while Lily was gone.  She lives in the Lower East Side, which changed dramatically.  The preservationists and developers are battling over that neighborhood.  There are still old tenement buildings beside towers and nightclubs.  That's important to the book.  There was an old church that preservationists were trying to save.  It burned down, and a luxury hotel as built on the site.  That's part of the mystery.  Lily's sister was collecting articles on the arson.   Lily's former fiancé built that hotel.  Lily always had suspicions about her sister and her fiancé.

Asked how she decided on Lily's name, Hilary said she knew her well before writing the book.  Lily struck her as a delightfully old-fashioned name.  It was Lily's grandmother's name.  That backstory will come out in the next book.  Her father named her after his mother.  Things will come out in the next novel.  But, Lily is a feminine name.  She better at girly things than Hilary is.  Hilary was a tomboy with two brothers.  But, Lily is as beautiful as a flower. 

Davidson told us naming characters was a challenge.  She struggled.  She knew Lily, and her sister, Claudia.  And, she knew the name of Lily's best friend, Jesse.  But, other names were changed at the end of the first draft.  She paid a lot of attention to names. 

Davidson's first draft went very quickly.  It just poured out.  For the first draft, she just writes, trying to do a minimum of 1000 words a day.  If she stops to censor what she's writing, she gets blocked.  So, the first draft is a total mess.  Some characters in the first draft disappeared mid-book.  The second draft was for smoothing things out, making it coherent. 

Hilary did multiple drafts, one just for dialogue.   Hilary's best friend, Jesse, was from Oklahoma, and he loved his home state.  There are Oklahoma traces in his voice.  Claudia's former boyfriend is half Pakistani, half English.  Even the cops have a distinctive way of speaking. 

She did seven drafts of the book, but after all of that editing, and editing by her agent, the editor at her publishing house said there was no further editing he could do.  So, she's had good experiences with her editor.  And, you hear horror stories about the cover of the book, but she loves her cover.

Hilary was lucky enough to get a two book contract.  The next book, The Next One to Fall, will be out October 2011.   Two of the characters return, Lily and Jesse.  It takes place three months after The Damage Done.  Since Lily's a travel writer, and Jesse is a photographer, they can go anyplace in the world.  So, Jesse persuaded Lily she needed a change, and they decided to work together, traveling to Machu Picchu.  And, someone dies in a fall there, which is not unusual.

Asked to tell more about it not being unusual for people to die from falls, Davidson said a short time ago mudslides wiped out the train tracks to Machu Picchu, and that's the only way to get in or out.  A number of tourists died in the mudslides.  And, some that were there were trapped for days. 

She said all of the buildings and walls, except one, are still standing at Machu Picchu.  And, the Incas were such an advanced tribe, without the wheel.  They were tall people, and the steps there are very large.  You have to go up and down those steps, up and down a mountain, at an elevation of 8,000 feet.  The steps can be very slippery, and dangerous.  There are no hand rails.  It's a dangerous site, but possibly the most beautiful thing Davidson's every seen in the world.  But, she prepared to go there.  She was hydrated, and took anti-altitude sickness medicine.

A woman who knew Hilary's background asked what interesting things she had done.  She said two outrageous things came to mind.  She swam with sharks, which actually came from the earlier article, when she learned to scuba dive.  Davidson doesn't like swimming or the water.  She did't learn to swim until she was twelve.   But, she grew up with inner-ear problems, and was never comfortable in the water. 

Then, she had an editor at Equinox, a science magazine in Canada who told her it would be cool if she did the astronaut training in which they're immersed in water.  That turned out to be too expensive, so instead, he had her learn to scuba dive.  In Toronto, to learn to scuba dive, you dive in the St. Lawrence River.  It's cold and dark, but there are well-preserved shipwrecks there.  That's the closest she came to feeling she was going to die. 

But, the dumbest thing she did was swim with the sharks.  Although, she did that in the Bahamas, and went swimming with reef sharks, the wimps of the shark world.  She said she's done a lot of dumb things for stories.  She was a human guinea pig. 

Hilary is a great storyteller, and she told us about being on a cardio strip team for a story.  You learned fitness and how to strip at the same time.  She took a month of lessons, and none of the women stripped completely. They just wore layers of clothing, and took layers off.  But, one day, a very large man came in, and quickly stripped completely.  The instructor wanted to know what the heck he was doing.  This was a fitness class, and he should get out.

She does delve into her own life for many things.  She's had celiac disease for six and half years, and she has a website, Gluten-Free Guidebook in which she talks about it.  It's very easy to eat out in Spain and Chile with celiac disease.  She created that site for people to talk about their health problems, so certain parts of Hilary are out there.

I asked who she read.  As to the crime writings, again, it was her grandmother her introduced her to Nancy Drew, "the gateway drug to crime fiction."  Then, she read Agatha Christie, Robert B. Parker, and Walter Mosley.  And, she likes film noir, such as Double Indemnity, and Alfred Hitchcock's films.  She tries to put that sensibility into her books.  She saw her book as a movie in her mind while she was writing it.  She didn't know what was going to happen, but she saw it playing out.

She also liked Donald Westlake, who had such a spare style, and could write a description in just two lines.  Walter Mosley captured character, and his books were so sensual, as in the senses.  Hilary also liked the psychological underpinnings of Patricia Highsmith.  What makes people act the way they do?  Davidson's book is told from Lily's point of view, but each character has motivation.  They have lives and backstories.  In fact, Lily's former fiancé lives in the Dakota, an old building that looks like a castle, but he builds shiny glass towers.  There's a contradiction in his character.

She mentioned Megan Abbott.  She likes Ken Bruen, and his dialogue.  Dennis Tafoya's second novel, The Wolves of Fairmont Park, was set in Philadelphia.  It was a complex mystery, grounded in character.  It was a psychological mystery. 

But, Davidson has found she can't read fiction while writing drafts.  She's been reading less fiction than ever.  Other authors say the same thing.  But, she also writes short fiction, and she can write that, and read.  She said she's discovere the crime writing community is great.  But, she meets people, and she wants to read their books, and her TBR pile is growing out of control.

Hilary ended the program with pictures of Machu Picchu, and a book signing.  But, I was lucky enough to get to go to lunch with her at Nourish in Scottsdale.  Thank you, Hilary, for two terrific days.

Hilary Davidson's website is, and her crime blog is at

The Damage Done by Hilary Davidson. Forge, ©2010. ISBN 9780765326973 (hardcover), 352p.

Bruce DeSilva's website is

Rogue Island by Bruce DeSilva.  Forge, ©2010. ISBN 9780765327260 (hardcover), 304p.


bermudaonion said...

Sounds like y'all got into some pretty heavy discussions! What a fun way to spend an evening.

Anonymous said...

Wow, that was some writeup Lesa! I enjoyed it thoroughly. Looking forward to reading both books if I can. I'm also talking up THE DAMAGE DONE for a future read for my mystery group. Trying to get my top picks on the agenda while I still have influence there (I'm stepping down at the end of the year but have helped with next year's picks).

Lesa said...

It was a terrific evening, Kathy. I don't know if it would have been quite that heavy if it hadn't been election night, but with two authors working in dying professions, it became very interesting.

Lesa said...

Thanks, Kay. A little longer than usual, but I didn't want to divide Hilary's appearances in, too, and Bruce appearance at the Poisoned Pen was unexpected. I have his book someplace in my TBR pile, and after hearing him speak, I'm going to dig it out soon.

Oh, I think you might have some influence in the book club as long as you choose to attend.

Irene Ziegler said...

Almost like being there! Thanks, Lesa.

Lesa said...

Thank you, Irene! And, since you've been to Poisoned Pen, you can actually picture it.

kathy d. said...

As always, Lesa, you write great reports on events. Almost like being there.

Appreciate it; I can be an armchair participant, not unlike an armchair traveler.

Lesa said...

Thank you, kathy. I try to give those who can't be at an event at least a flavor of it. Thanks!

Keith Rawson said...

Lesa that is some truly fantastic reportage. You recapped the evening perfectly, and I really wish I could have made it to the Teague

Lesa said...

Thank you, Keith. I'm so pleased that you thought the coverage was done well. That means a great deal, coming from you. Thank you.

And, I know it's difficult for so many people to get to Velma Teague during the day. Those are just the only hours I can do programming, and that was the time that fit in Hilary's schedule.

Again, thank you.

lisab said...

I saw Hilary when she was in Houston. She was just precious!! I enjoyed listening to what she had to say.

Lesa said...

Isn't Hilary great, lisab? I was so glad I had the chance to spend some time with her.