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.
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.
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