Saturday, September 5, 2009

BTAP #40: Insatiable by Hilary Davidson

Hilary Davidson has the spotlight this week at BEAT to a PULP with Insatiable. With Hilary’s new book to be released in 2010, I had a few questions about her writing career that she very graciously took the time to answer.

BTAP: Your debut novel, The Damage Done, is coming out next year. You must be very excited. Can you tell us a little bit about it?

HD: Excited may be an understatement. The Damage Done will be published by Forge in October 2010, and I'm already counting the days. The book is about a woman who has an extremely dysfunctional, and destructive, relationship with her sister. At the outset, the main character, Lily, comes home to New York because the police have told her that her sister, Claudia, has been killed. But as soon as Lily sees the body at the morgue, she realizes it's not her sister's. The dead woman had stolen Claudia's identity, and Claudia -- a heroin addict with a violent history -- has vanished. To the police, Claudia shifts from victim to suspect. Lily becomes obsessed with searching for her, even though she's afraid of what she's going to find. As she goes after Claudia, Lily's own life starts to fall apart.

BTAP: You have been very successful as a writer for magazines like Reader's Digest, Martha Stewart Weddings, Discover and Canadian Living. What made you decide to take the plunge into crime fiction?

HD: My dream was always to write fiction, but journalism was and is a pretty terrific day job. When I quit my editing job to write full-time a decade ago, I made the mistake of thinking that I'd have more time for fiction. Instead, I found that after I'd written 2,000 to 3,000 words a day for work, there wasn't much time left for fiction. Also, since I'd write mostly about travel, I was often on the road, which sounds glamorous, but producing 18 travel guidebooks is mostly grunt work. I started writing bits and pieces of the novel that became The Damage Done ten years ago, and set them aside for later. Eventually, my characters strong-armed me into writing the book. I would literally wake up at four in the morning and not be able to go back to sleep until I wrote a chapter. Finally, I had to turn down some paying work -- hard for a freelancer to do -- and carve out time during the day to write fiction. That's when the four a.m. wake-up calls stopped. I can't really say that I decided to do it. It didn't seem like a choice so much as a compulsion.

BTAP: Who would you say has most influenced your writing?

HD: The two biggest influences on my short fiction are Edgar Allan Poe and Harlan Ellison. They share the ability to drop your heart into the pit of your stomach by the time you get to their last lines. While I was working on The Damage Done, I was thinking of work by Jim Thompson, Patricia Highsmith, Walter Mosley, Dennis Lehane, Anthony Burgess and, strange to say, Edith Wharton. I don't mean that I was trying to follow another writer's style, but I'd think about them as I worked out pacing, perspective, dialogue, detail. They helped me deal with problems I'd run into as I wrote.

BTAP: Do you see yourself ever giving up journalism to write fiction full time?

HD: Writing fiction has become my priority, but in many ways, journalism feeds my fiction. My mantra has been that I'm willing to do pretty much anything for a good story. One magazine actually paid me to learn to scuba dive and then explore shipwrecks in the St. Lawrence river. That kind of assignment is incredible. Travel writing has let me visit places that intrigue me, from Istanbul to Easter Island, and I use those locations in some of my fiction. If I can continue to learn and explore through journalism, I'll keep working on it, too.

BTAP: I see you started a Gluten-Free Guidebook website. Can you tell us a little about that?

HD: In 2004, I was diagnosed with a genetic disorder called celiac disease. The only treatment for it is to stay on a completely gluten-free diet. That means no bread or pasta, of course, but also no soy sauce, no beer... no to many processed foods. The upside was that I was suddenly free of some painful health problems. The downside was that it seemed like I'd never eat out again. I didn't want to live like that, so I spent a lot of time researching restaurants and finding ones that could accommodate me. It hit me when I was in Peru in 2007 that I was doing so much research, and yet I was the only person benefiting from it. I started the Gluten-Free Guidebook website after that so I could share the places I've found. The response has been amazing. People from all over the world come to the site, and some of them send me tips or write up entire reports about the places where they live. The site has really taken on a life of its own.

BTAP: I noticed you moved from Toronto to New York in October 2001, right after 9/11. Did this have an impact on your writing?

HD: The timing was accidental. I'd applied for a Green Card and it came through in August 2001. I gave notice on my apartment in Toronto and hired a moving company, then went to a travel writers' conference in Bermuda. I was supposed to come back to Toronto and start packing on September 12th, but ended up grounded in Bermuda in the aftermath of 9/11. While I was there, I thought about canceling, or at least delaying, my plans to move. But by the time planes were flying again, I was feeling angry and defiant, and I made the move in October the way I'd originally planned.

There are some images from my first year in New York that will stay with me forever. My apartment is a few blocks from the 69th Regiment Armory, which was plastered with posters of people who died in the attack. It was a depressing time to be in New York in so many ways, but being there meant that I got to watch the city rebound. It also gave me a different sense of the city, as if it were a living, breathing organism. One of the comments that I've heard over and over about The Damage Done is that the portrayal of New York is incredibly vivid. A lot of the exploring that I did started in the days after 9/11, when visitors avoided the city and below 14th Street was a no-drive zone. In a way, it was such a privilege to be in New York at that time. But I hope never to see it like that again.

BTAP: Thanks, Hilary, and best of success with The Damage Done.

If you have an Insatiable appetite for crime fiction, then you won’t want to miss Hilary Davidson’s riveting tale over at BEAT to a PULP.