In 2011, Canadian writer Hilary Davidson won the Anthony Award for her debut novel The Damage Done. The book also earned a Crimespree Award and was a finalist for the Arthur Ellis and Macavity awards.
I met Hilary a year later when she came to back Toronto to promote her second novel The Next One to Fall. I was positively taken aback that someone quite so charming and successful spent so much time thinking about how to dramatically kill people! Appearances can be deceptive, apparently...
Now a resident of New York, Hilary is a travel journalist and the author of 18 nonfiction books and countless short stories. You can also find her all over the web, including on Facebook, Goodreads, Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.
With the release of her Evil In All Its Disguises tomorrow, Hilary (being so nice and all) kindly agreed to answer a few questions for the Raincoast blog about her writing, travel, social media and more. Just remember, however lovely Hilary seems while you're reading this, she is out there secretly plotting something dastardly. Take my word for it...
Do you remember when you first became interested in becoming a writer?
If you ask anyone who knows me, they’ll say it’s a lifelong obsession. When I was in elementary school, I won a short-story writing contest in Crackers Magazine. It was called “Ameteafear’s Tomb,” and I blame it for putting me on this dark and twisted path. That, and Nancy Drew books, or course. They’re the gateway drug to crime novels.
What was your first writing job?
Paid or unpaid? I started early, founding a newspaper at my elementary school when I was in Grade Five. In high school, I worked on the student newspaper, which was rather appropriately called The Cuspidor. At the University of Toronto, I worked on a couple of newspapers and interned at the Canadian Institute of International Affairs, writing for its newsletter. But it wasn’t until I started freelancing while I was on staff at Canadian Living magazine that I made money from writing. The first cheque I earned was for writing a travel piece about New Orleans’ cemeteries for the travel section of The Globe & Mail.
What was the appeal of travel writing?
I’ve always learned so much when I travel, and I want to share that when I come home. I remember visiting Pompeii and being amazed by the brothels there. They have some very vivid murals on their walls! That was a kind of delightful surprise, and it turned into another travel story for The Globe & Mail. A few years ago, I spent three weeks in Peru, and that gave me a tremendous amount of inspiration, both for fiction and nonfiction. I’m obsessed with Inca history and culture, and my second novel, The Next One to Fall, let me explore that in great detail. Killing a (fictional) tourist at Machu Picchu was an unusual way to show my appreciation, but I was struck by both the grandeur of the site and the danger there when I visited.
Where are you going next?
My upcoming travels are all related to my tour for Evil in All Its Disguises. I start at the Tucson Festival of Books, then hit Scottsdale, Los Angeles, Pasadena, Denver, Colorado Springs, Austin, Houston, Chicago, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, and Toronto. After that, who knows? Last year, I did a weeklong tour of BC with Ian Hamilton, Robin Spano, and Deryn Collier, three of my favourite crime writers, and we’ve been talking about doing something similar this year, possibly in Ontario. Last year, I was lucky enough to visit Israel and Argentina. I don’t know if I’ll be able to go anytime soon, but I’m dying to visit Cambodia.
How has your journalism informed your fiction?
Being a journalist teaches how to grab your audience’s interest quickly, and it makes you shameless about asking questions to figure out how things work. Even though I’m writing fiction, my books are set in the real world, and I like to get the details right. That’s made me do things like go to a gun range to shoot targets, because I wanted to feel the weight of a gun in my hand before writing about it.
What else inspires your crime writing?
Sometimes things that have happened to me or someone I know have a way of getting into my work. Evil in All Its Disguises is the third book featuring Lily Moore, but it’s a standalone mystery about the disappearance of a journalist in Acapulco. It’s the first time that the scenario for one of my books was directly inspired by real-life events — in this case, the disappearance of a Frommer’s Travel Guides editor who vanished while on a press trip to Jamaica in 2000. The book is a work of fiction, but the circumstances around her disappearance have always haunted me, and I wanted to explore that.
Who are some of your favourite crime writers?
It’s such a long list! Some classic favourites: Jim Thompson, Patricia Highsmith, Dorothy L. Hughes, and Donald Westlake. For contemporary crime fiction, it includes Laura Lippman, Walter Mosley, Megan Abbott, Ken Bruen, Linda Fairstein, Kate Atkinson, Chris F. Holm, Dennis Tafoya, Jennifer Hillier, Louise Penny, Denise Mina, and Dennis Lehane.
What is your next book about?
It's the story of a wealthy, adulterous couple who go away together for a weekend and are abducted. The strange behaviour of their kidnappers makes one of the victims wonder who they’re really working for. After the couple’s bodies are found—apparently killed in an accident—it's up to the dead woman’s brother and one of the kidnappers to figure out what really happened that weekend.
When can we expect Lily to return? Readers are going to miss her!
I definitely have more plans for Lily! She will be back. My first three books — The Damage Done, The Next One to Fall, and Evil in All Its Disguises — follow her through a short space of time. They’re set just a few months apart. When readers see her again, more time will have elapsed.
Are you still writing short stories?
Absolutely. Short stories let me explore all kinds of characters and voices and scenarios that I wouldn’t necessarily want to follow throughout a book. I also love writing short fiction because it’s helped me reach audiences who wouldn’t necessarily have picked up my books otherwise. I’m up for a Derringer Award right now for a story about a couple whose relationship is falling apart because one of them wants to visit a dominatrix. I’ve got stories coming up in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and in a new publication from Macmillan called the Malfeasance Occasional.
When did you become interested in vintage fashion?
When I was fourteen, I started shopping in Toronto’s Kensington Market, so I got hooked on vintage early. My mom and grandmother were always very stylish dressers, so they inspired me. I love the idea of wearing clothes that have a history — it’s like they have their own stories to tell.
Who are some of your fashion icons?
A few years ago, I saw an exhibit about Elsa Schiaparelli, and I instantly fell in love. Her approach to fashion was just so irreverent and playful. For instance, she designed a pair of glamorous, elbow-length black evening gloves with pointed gold talons attached. They look like bear claws! To me, that’s the ultimate in chic.
You’re very engaged with social media. As a writer do you find being online a help or a hindrance?
The best thing about social media is that it introduces you to a lot of interesting people. The worst thing is that some people mistake it for a megaphone, and they think it’s just a means to publicize their own books. For me, it’s all about the social — I get into a lot of interesting conversations with people, and I was invited to the first-ever QuebeCrime conference thanks to Twitter. It’s definitely a help, but I have to limit myself, because otherwise I’d be online chatting with people all day instead of getting any work done!
When we’ve finished reading Evil In All Its Disguises, what should we read next?
I’m looking forward to reading Brad Parks’ latest, The Good Cop, and Andrew Pyper’s The Demonologist, which I’ve heard wonderful things about. My TBR (To Be Read) pile just keeps growing and growing. That’s true for everyone who loves books, isn’t it?