Susan Shapiro--Manhattan writing professor and author of the comic novels Overexposed and Speedshrinking--asks her protégé Hilary Davidson--a long-time travel writer whose debut mystery The Damage Done was released this week by Forge--five questions about travel writing, short stories, autobiography, and the constant shadow of fiction.
1. You've made a living doing travel books. Was that a way to afford fiction?
For the past decade, writing 17 travel guidebooks has been the cornerstone of my career. Combined with other magazine work, it’s paid the bills and afforded me time to write fiction. When I started freelancing, a wise friend advised me to line up steady gigs so I wouldn’t be scrambling for work all the time.
2. Another former student of mine, Marci Alboher, wrote in her book One Person/Multiple Careers that having two jobs is the wave of the future. Do you think you'll continue to do both?
Fiction and journalism, yes, but not the guidebooks. This is the first year in a decade that I haven’t written one. I was ready to let it go. Guidebooks were an interesting challenge when I was starting out, but after a while it felt rote. Every guidebook company has its formula and a style you have to follow. But I’ll still do magazine work. Plus I’ll continue running a website called the Gluten-Free Guidebook
3. Which kind of writing do you prefer?
Fiction is what I love, but it can completely take over my mind and my life. I get balance, perspective and faster paychecks from nonfiction pieces. It’s in my head when I’m at my desk, but I leave it there when I do something else. Fiction follows me everywhere.
4. You first published stories in mystery and thriller type magazines – a whole huge genre I didn’t even know about - and you won several awards. Would you suggest that to writers who want to break into genre fiction?
Doing short fiction didn’t just get me my book deal, it got me my agent. My first short story “Anniversary” was published by Thuglit in 2007. I earned a T-shirt and no cash, but the story ended up in a Best of the Year crime anthology — which did pay — and it was noticed by Nat Sobel, who represents such top crime writers as James Ellroy. I’m now represented by his agency, Sobel Weber.
When The Damage Done
was being shopped around, the fact that I’d published short stories helped get me a two-book deal with Forge. After signing the deal, I kept writing short fiction to help raise my profile in the crime-mystery communities. Every story I published brought me new readers. “Insatiable” was published on Beat to a Pulp — a great site for genre fiction — and won the Spinetingler Award for Best Short Story. Now it’s going into an anthology. I can’t emphasize enough how much short fiction has helped me.
5. How autobiographical is The Damage Done?
The book is about a travel writer named Lily Moore who is in Spain but rushes back to New York when her sister, Claudia, is found dead. But Lily goes to identify the body and finds that it’s not Claudia, but a stranger who’d stolen her sister’s identity. People ask “What does your sister think of the book?” I don’t have a sister so I fear I’m disappointing them.
Still, Lily and I do both love old Ava Gardner movies and vintage clothing. And we have travel writing in common. There are references to Lily’s travels in Thailand and Turkey, both countries I loved.
Luckily I still love to travel and I’m touring all fall with The Damage Done. I’ll be in San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Boston, Los Angeles, Huntington Beach, Houston, Austin, Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Toronto. I’m doing a great FREE HOW TO GET A BOOK DEAL PANEL in New York on Oct. 12 from 7 to 9 at the NYU bookstore.
There’s a listing of all of my events at http://www.hilarydavidson.com/Events.html