Thursday, August 25, 2011

Hilary Davidson: Guest Post & Book Giveaway

Hilary Davidson is a new star on the crime fiction horizon. Her second mystery, The Next One to Fall, will be out from Forge in 2012. Her first novel, The Damage Done, has been nominated for several awards, including the Macavity, the award from Mystery Readers International. This post isn't exactly part of the crime author alphabet meme since we're past D, but you can never have too many Ds. So here's D is for Davidson. Enjoy!

Win a copy of The Damage Done. Make a comment about sense of place in mysteries. Winner will be announced 8/30.  Be sure and include your email address. Can be cryptic. ex: john at comcast dot net.

Hilary Davidson

When I was growing up, there were two things I dreamed of doing: writing and traveling. I imagined myself journeying from continent to continent on one action-packed adventure after another and penning stories about it all. My overall ambition was to be some fearsome hybrid of Agatha Christie and Indiana Jones.

The amazing thing is that I found a day job that let me fulfill both of these dreams. For the past thirteen years, I’ve been a travel journalist. I’ve been lucky, but I’ve also discovered that the job is less glamorous than I foresaw, especially because all of my 17 Frommer’s guidebooks have been about my hometown, Toronto, or my adopted hometown, New York. On the other hand, getting to know your own city by envisioning how it would appear to a first-time visitor can make you fall in love with the place all over again.

People have asked me if being a travel writer helped me give my debut novel, The Damage Done, a stronger sense of place. My answer is yes… and no. The New York in my travel pieces and the New York in the novel are not exactly the same city. That’s not because I invented the places in The Damage Done. I chose to write about real locations, and every corner, from the Jan Hus Church to Rosa Mexicano restaurant, and from the Pitt Street police station to the methadone clinic in Cooper Square, is real. (One exception is a glass-walled luxury hotel built on the site of a church destroyed in an arson. I hope that the U.S. Post Office workers in Lower Manhattan don’t mind that I appropriated their site!)

When you write about a place, you bend and twist it to suit your purpose; you exaggerate certain characteristics and minimize others. Your story is just as much about the people you’re writing it for as it is about the place you’re writing about. With travel pieces, that usually means wealthy travelers who like fine dining and shopping, families with young children, and business travelers. You write about the things that will interest them. When writing travel pieces about New York, I’ve rarely managed to include the Gothic elements I love. (My walking tour of Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery — which ran in a Frommer’s guide — may be my greatest success on this front). In The Damage Done, New York’s Gothic side dominates. Much of the book is set on the Lower East Side, which is an ongoing battleground between old and new, preservationists and property developers, longtime residents and club kids. It’s a powerful contrast between the New York that once was and what it wants to be.

That tension exists in my main character, Lily Moore, as well. She’s a woman who has survived a traumatic family life and reinvented herself as a sophisticated journalist. But as she comes back to the city she abandoned — and especially as she searches for her missing sister — parts of her past resurface. The more she tries to push them back, the more they trip her up.

Writing travel stories has often allowed me to enter places that seem to belong to alternate universes, from exorbitantly priced hotel suites to unique, solitary places such as Easter Island. Writing about New York through Lily’s eyes was like entering an alternate world as well, one in which the physical boundaries are familiar but the emotional landscape is completely different. Traveling with her is fascinating, wherever she takes me (my second mystery featuring Lily, The Next One to Fall, is set in Peru and will be published by Forge on February 14th, 2012). Seeing the world as she does lets me live a second life. Now I get to follow her as she travels from place to place and gets into trouble along the way. It’s the closest thing to my childhood dream I ever could have imagined.


25 comments:

MugsyNoir said...

Sense of place is important. Sense of place can act as another character in a novel. One of my favorite mystery authors, Tony Hillerman, used the austere landscape of the southwest to help develop an understanding of how the Navaho culture behaved. James Lee Burke, C. J. Box and Lawrence Block do the same. You can not understand the context of a Matthew Scudder novel without understanding the city he inhabits.

It may not always have a key role, but when sense of place is used well, it can greatly enhance the reader's appreciation of the story.

Dave Magayna
dmagayna at verizon.net

Janet Rudolph said...

Thanks, Dave, for stopping by!

Susan C Shea said...

Hilary, One dilemma on using real places that I deal with is having fictional bad things happen there or fictional bad people working there. I struggled with this when I used the wonderful Metropolitan Club as a setting in my second novel. I wound up changing the name, but feel wimpy...Your take on it?

Hilary Davidson said...

A huge thank you to Janet for having me guest on Mystery Fanfare, and to Dave and Susan for stopping by!

Susan, I understand exactly what you mean. I had bad things happening at some of my favorite places in New York in The Damage Done. Even worse, The Next One to Fall starts with a woman dying at Machu Picchu, which is one of the most magnificent places I've had the good luck to visit. I've felt guilty, but I decided that, since awful things can happen anywhere in real life, they can in fiction, too. (Also, I learned people really have died in falls at Machu Picchu, so that eased up my guilt a bit.)

I'd have a tougher time writing about a fictional villain working at a real—and wonderful—place. I suspect I'd do what you did, and change the name of the real place!

Heath said...

Awesome post. I think you nail it, Hilary, about focusing tightly on certain aspects of a location to fit the needs of the story. I wrote a thing that took place in Memphis, which is a decent city, but in my book it became much darker and more isolated and strange. And that sense of distinct location helped the story a great deal. Location is another character, in a way.

Thomas Pluck said...

Sense of place is what drew me to mystery fiction. As a young Jersey guy whose friends went to college in NYC, it was a scary place to visit. Somehow novels by Lawrence Block and Andrew Vachss, which dug up the worst the city had to offer among the brownstones and towering spires, made me feel at home there.

Thomas Pluck
mrbadexample AT gmail dot com

traveler said...

When I enjoy a book thoroughly the locale plays a dominant role throughout the novel. This is done so well many times with vivid descriptions of the area which have an importance in the story. In Deborah Crombie's novels I can picture the setting and feel the atmosphere. Many thanks.

petite said...

How fortunate that you have such a wonderful dream job. It was a fervent wish of mine when I was younger that someday I would have the opportunity to travel. I have experienced a few trips that were memorable. A sense of place is vital when I am engrossed in a book. I want to feel, sense and be able to walk the streets, see the scenic beauty and know what the characters will feel as well. When this is done well I am transported. Every book that Jacqueline Winspear has written accomplishes this. elliotbencan(at)hotmail(dot)com

PamelaTurner said...

I love reading stories with real locales. It makes me feel I'm "there." I do this with my stories, setting them in and around Louisville, KY. I want my readers to experience my adopted city as much as possible.

I too am interested in your response to Susan's question, as it's one I also have. :-)

pamturner97 at gmail dot com

Anonymous said...

Sense of place can seem like an old friend, especially in series novels. I feel like I know Crozet, VA from the Rita Mae Brown/Sneaky Pie mystery series and know Moose County from The Cat Who... series. It also can be powerful in non-series books such as the setting of Savanna, GA in "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil". A skillful writer can weave in the locale to draw one deeper into a story.

Julia Madeleine said...

I particularly enjoy reading your short stories that are set in Toronto Hilary, being from the GTA myself. But I also love NYC and stories with that setting. I think that a detailed presentation of scene in a novel, can be a great tool for setting mood for and evoking emotion in the reader.

I hope you'll set one of your future novels in Toronto, Hilary.

Julia

madam_malefic at yahoo dot ca

Joyce Delaney said...

As an avid mystery reader, I can attest to the importance (at least to me) of an author's conveying a sense of place. It's often what draws me in to a story even before characters or plot. Some writers I think are particularly good at it are Dana Stabenow, Daniel Woodrell, Craig Johnson, and William Kent Krueger.

Mystery Reader said...

Hillary, your books sound fascinating and I will be looking into them. NYC is one of my favorite locales. I loved the rich and terrifying sense of place created by Caleb Carr in The Alienist in describing NYC at the turn of the 20 th century. Turn of the century Vienna, both the richness, delicious food, sophisticated music and culture, and the cruelty and sense of menace, are created skillfully by Frank Tallis in his Vienna series. Ilene

Hitormystery@gmail.com
http://hitormystery.blogspot.com/search/label/Frank%20Tallis

Preston Durie said...

The first novel that brought me into sense of place was The Exorcist because I lived on the VA side of the Key Bridge and knew Georgetown pretty well. Then I was turned onto Robert B. Parker, Boston. Then John Sandford, the Twin Cities, and so on. John C. Burke with his Robicheau novels, plus his short stories are devastating in their heartbreak. James Patterson was okay until he based a series in SF which I know very well and he started phoning it in. Once I started following on Google maps everything changed for the good. So sense of place is huge! Oh yeah, Elizabeth George is brilliant as well.

MysDawg said...

I enjoy sense of place as it draws me into the story and places me in the action. A great example is Kent Harrington's Dia de los Muertos where you can smell the quare in Tijuana and feel the heat of the plaza pavers coming up through the soles of your own feet.

mysdawg@sbcglobal.net

Warren Bull said...

At the recent Ngaio March Awards for the best crime fiction in New Zealand, Paul Cleave, this year's winner apologized for setting all his novels in Christchurch and depicting it as a dark and dangerous place. He assured the audience that he loves the city and his Christchurch is a mythical setting. The real city is a safe place for tourists.

Janice said...

Place is important in fiction. I was so taken by Eugenia Price's writing I wanted to go to Savannah. Bodie Thoene wrote about Vienna such that when I was there I wanted to go to the door outside the symphony that played a part of Vienna Prelude.
For mysteries there are many but Dorothy Sayers with Harriet and Peter Whimsey story place was important.

Gram said...

Hi, I agree with Dave - commenter #1. I have traveled to many places through books that I will never get to in "real" life. Dee

Linda Rodriguez said...

Yes, sense of place is so important. Think of all the great writers who use "place" like another character--Louise Penny, Elizabeth George, Hillerman, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Margaret Maron, on and on from Quebec to England to Navajo country to the Adirondacks to North Carolina. Loved this post, Hilary!
Linda
llrodriguez at sbcglobal dot net

Carol M said...

The place or the setting of a mystery novel can make such a difference in the story. It can make you feel the suspense and the tension of what is happening. It can make you imagine actually being there and being a part of what is going on.
mittens0831 at aol dot com

Anonymous said...

I love this thread, the post and comments! I'll send my e-mail separately to have my name thrown in the hat.

I am fascinated in Ireland as almost a character in Tana French's books. I have loved learning about Canada in Barbara Fradkin's and Vicki Delany's books that I have read. And I'll never forget that train ride across Canada Dick Francis portrayed in "The Edge."
BrendaW.

ewhatley said...

Sense of place matters to me in two ways. If it's a place I know, then I look for an accurate depiction or if literary license is taken, does it improve the story. If it's not a place I know, I really enjoy an author's ability to paint the picture so that I can see and feel the place.

mybeachylife at gmail dot com

ClaudiaJ said...

Place in "K Falls" is keeping me reading (I lived in OR for about 40 years) even though I am not enjoying the book all that much.

Hilary Davidson said...

This is such a great discussion! I think I've discovered several books I need to read. I agree with what Heath said about how location can be another character in a way, and it's interesting that the setting can be enough to keep people reading sometimes.

Ron Earl Phillips said...

A sense of place gives the reader an additional character to fall in love with or hate. I enjoy stories that make me believe the setting is so integral to the story that the events couldn't happen anywhere else. I become an accidental tourist to places I've never been or with the right cues transported again to places I've been before.

I've never been to Machu Picchu, look forward to being transported soon Hilary.

REP
ron@netidev.com