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The Sirens of Suspense




Today on Pro-Files we feature Hilary Davidson, whose debut novel THE DAMAGE DONE has been nominated for the Anthony, Macavity and Arthur Ellis awards. Her second novel, THE NEXT ONE TO FALL, will be released on February 14, 2012. Hilary focused on travel journalism prior to turning to crime (writing). Her articles have appeared in more than 40 magazines, and she is the author of 18 nonfiction books, including several Frommer’s guides. She also founded the Gluten-Free Guidebook, an online resource for people with celiac disease.

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Your first book, THE DAMAGE DONE (an Anthony award nominee) features Lily Moore, a travel writer. You have written several Frommer's guides and traveled extensively in writing for various media. What was the strangest assignment you ever had?

Diving for shipwrecks in the St. Lawrence River. When I was starting out as a travel journalist, I pitched that story to an editor I wanted to work with, thinking it would be great to write about divers who were exploring the wrecks. The editor agreed, then decided it would be even better to have the reporter go diving with them. There were a couple of problems with his idea: one was that I didn’t know how to scuba dive; the other was that I hate swimming and I’m scared of open water. I told him the truth and, after he laughed at me for a while, he decided it would make a great story to have me learn to scuba-dive and then go wreck-diving. I was terrified, but I did it anyway. My desire to write the story triumphed over common sense. I was also curious to see if I could actually do it.


What prompted you to make your protagonist a travel writer over a restaurant reviewer—another of your previous professions?

I always imagined Lily as a travel writer, maybe because I thought about her a lot while I was on the road. She’s my travel companion, in a way. Early on, I thought about why she had become a travel writer. My own reason was because I’d always dreamed of seeing places I read about in books. But I imagined Lily traveling more than I did and having deeper, more emotional, reasons for it. Her troubled family life is a major factor in her wanting to run away and be on the road.

That’s not to say I haven’t thought about writing about a restaurant reviewer. The job is very political, and when you say something critical, people get angry. When I started reviewing restaurants for the city magazine Toronto Life, my editor sent me a four-page questionnaire and told me I had to fill it out for every restaurant I reviewed. It was more detailed than the reviews themselves, which seemed crazy until my editor pointed out that it was the only thing between me and a lawsuit.


What inspired you to change from journalistic writing to crime writing? What lessons you learned in your writing history translated well when you changed genres?

I always wanted to write crime fiction, so it wasn’t really a conscious decision. It was more of a process of me gradually building up the nerve to do what I really wanted to do. If there was a catalyst, it was being diagnosed with celiac disease in 2004: in the year that followed, I went from being someone who was sick all the time to being a person with an insane amount of energy. It was as if someone had flipped a switch, and all the time I spent coping with migraines and ulcers and blood clots and hypoglycemia was suddenly free and I could do what I wanted. And what I wanted to do was to write fiction.

Being a journalist meant that I already had discipline about writing. It was my job, so I went to my desk and wrote, no matter what else was going on. I also saw a lot of things that I wanted to write about when I was traveling. Travel articles almost always focus on the positive, and I wanted to explore the dark underbelly of the places I was seeing.


Lily travels to Peru in THE NEXT ONE TO FALL (February, 2012), I notice a trend for Latin destinations. Was this purposeful? What are your criteria in choosing where Lily will go/what inspires you to write about a destination?

When I first saw Machu Picchu — the famous Lost City of the Incas — all I could think was what a great place it would be to kill somebody. I knew that I would write that story one day, and it dovetailed perfectly with where I saw Lily’s story going. In THE DAMAGE DONE, she comes home to New York City, and even though she’s been away for a while, it’s her hometown and she’s on familiar ground as she searches for her sister. But in that book, she goes through a series of betrayals and losses that rip apart the glamorous life she’d made for herself. She goes to Peru in THE NEXT ONE TO FALL because she doesn’t know how to pick up the pieces of her life. It’s the opposite of where she starts from in the first book: her outlook on the world is very dark, and she’s on completely unfamiliar territory. Then a woman dies at Machu Picchu while Lily’s there, and Lily discovers that the woman’s boyfriend has a trail of dead and missing women behind him.

I could see Lily going just about anywhere in the world, partly because of her work, but also because she’s still running from her personal demons. Latin destinations are definitely hot now, and wonder if that’s because people are belatedly discovering them, as I did. I’m embarrassed to say that for years I never thought about traveling in South America, even though I went to Europe and Asia. When I did finally go — my first trip was to Chile in 2006 — I was awed by what I found. There’s so much to discover about South and Central America, and I think people are just starting to scratch the surface. I know I am.


Do you feel like you've told Lily's whole story, or can we look forward to seeing more of her in the future? Any hints on where she may find herself next?

I’m thrilled to say I’m working on a third book with Lily right now. When I was writing THE DAMAGE DONE, I really had three books with Lily in mind. It’s not that her story stops there, but what happens in that book changes her, and I wanted to explore that. The third book is about the dark side of the travel business. Specifically, there is a tendency in some destinations whose lifeblood is tourism to sweep crime — even murder — under the rug. The resort owners and the authorities would rather crimes go unpunished and unsolved rather than risk getting bad press.


What's the best advice you can give a new writer or what do you wish you had known when you started? Do you have any tips or tricks for marketing books? How do you feel about using social media to promote your work?

The best advice I could give a new writer would be to keep writing even when you feel completely demoralized and hear that voice in your head that tells you you’re wasting your time and no one will ever want to read your story. Am I the only one who hears that voice? I wish I were, but I doubt it, because I know enough writers who admit to hearing it. You need to smack it down on a regular basis to get anything done. Until you’ve written a complete first draft, you won’t really know the shape of the story you’re telling.

The most important thing I’ve learned about marketing books is different tactics work for different authors, and there’s no one-size-fits-all strategy. I believe you should focus on your strengths and do what you’re good at. That’s not to say you shouldn’t stretch yourself and try new things. But don’t think you have to make a book trailer just because other authors have. I really enjoy social media, and it’s definitely helped me connect with readers and writers. Promoting your work on it is tricky, though, because it’s great to let people know what you’re up to, but it’s not cool to push your book on people every day. I love Twitter, and when people ask about it, I tell them it’s like a cocktail party. Do you go to a cocktail party expecting everyone there to buy your book? Of course not. You go to meet people and have interesting conversations. With Twitter, you just have to bring your own vodka!



QUESTION FOR HILARY? COMMENT ON THE INTERVIEW? Ask her here, or tell us your thoughts further down on this page, or commenting on this blog entry on our Facebook page and be entered to win a signed hardcover copy of THE DAMAGE DONE!



Writing ambience: Messy! My desk is always piled high with books, articles torn out of magazines, and gargoyles who keep watch over me. There’s also at least one tower of books on the floor next to me. My husband calls my workspace the Death Trap.

Reading now: Books for the “Monsters” panel I’m moderating at Bouchercon. I just finished THE COLD ROOM by J.T. Ellison and Mark Russinovich’s ZERO DAY, and started BLACK SWAN by Chris Knopf. Up soon: books by P.J. Parrish and Sam Reaves.

Book or eReader? I’m a Luddite. For me, reading on a screen is work but reading on paper is pure pleasure.

Who should play Lily onscreen: It’s so hard for me to think of an actress, because Lily idolizes Ava Gardner and I imagine Lily looking like her.

Favorite protagonist (other than hers): Nancy Drew. I read every single one of her adventures when I was a kid. My grandmother, who was a voracious reader, hunted down editions that were published in the 1930s and 1940s for me. I still have a few on my shelves.

Favorite big or small screen detective: Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade would be my all-time favorite. I also love the Thin Man movies — the mysteries weren’t always well-constructed, but the banter between Myrna Loy and William Powell was priceless.

Next travel destinations: Israel. Cambodia. Argentina. Australia. That’s just for starters…

Cats or dogs: I’m crazy about animals, but because of traveling so much I haven’t been able to have a pet for years. Growing up, I lived with two cats, two snakes, and a series of amazing frogs.

Favorite online resource: The CIA’s World Factbook is amazing. It’s a treasure trove of information about every country on earth, and it includes maps, political and economic information, and sections about criminal activity.

Favorite independent bookstore: I absolutely love McNally Jackson, and can browse there for hours at a time. New York also has two great mystery bookstores: The Mysterious Bookshop and Partners & Crime. For travel, I love Idlewild Books.

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