ROSEMARY HARRIS: Yes, most birth announcements generally specify gender, but today's guest is Anthony-Award winning novelist Hilary Davidson and she tells us how she, um...gave birth to her main character..
HILARY DAVIDSON: Recently, someone asked me where I’d gotten the idea for the character of Lily Moore, and I was stuck for an answer. It’s not that she’s an obscure character. Lily is at the center of my first novel, The Damage Done, and of my new book, The Next One to Fall, which will be out on Valentine’s Day. Part of me wanted to admit that she’s my imaginary friend, but I always worry that answers like that will just be fodder for the men in white coats with butterfly nets who will lock me up one day
The truth is, I have a really hard time explaining where characters come from — even Lily, with whom I have a lot in common. We’re both travel writers, and we’ve visited many of the same places, so that’s an obvious parallel. We both love vintage clothes and movies and music, though with Lily, it’s a bit more like an obsession.
She’s originally from New York, and while the city isn’t my hometown (that would be Toronto), I’ve lived here for more than a decade, long enough to feel that it’s mine. There are some notable ways that Lily and I are different, though. For starters, she’s single, and I’m married. Her family relationships are the source of a lot of pain for her; mine have been a source of strength for me. When she travels, it’s an escape from so many things that she dreads, and she hates going home. As much as I love exploring new places, I’m always so grateful to return home after a trip.
That last difference is one of the things that really made Lily come into focus in my mind. I remember being on a press trip a few years ago with a small group of female journalists. There were only five of us, and one night while we were up late, drinking in the hotel’s lounge, someone started talking about the real reason she’d become a travel writer, which was to escape her family life, which she hated but felt she couldn’t break free of. I was riveted by what she said. There was something incredibly compelling and yet very sad about having a family life that you couldn’t cope with and creating this professional escape hatch so you could survive it. Lily had been hanging out at the edges of my brain, and when I heard this story, I realized that Lily was doing exactly what this journalist was doing.
There are so many things that go into creating a fully fleshed-out character, and so many of them are found by accident — at least, that’s been true in my case with Lily. Even her affinity for Ava Gardner was something that I discovered along the way, while I was in the middle of writing the first book. I pictured her looking a bit like Ava — or Vivien Leigh, or Gene Tierney (not that those actresses are interchangeable, but they have certain similarities). It was only when I read about the actresses and discovered an eerie parallel with Ava — her father died when she was 13, as Lily’s had — that I started to connect the two of them more closely.
I’m fascinated when other writers tell me that they knew their main character from the start. With Lily, it’s been more of a gradual reveal. In some ways, she’s a different person in The Next One to Fall than she was in the first book — and the fact that she’s still evolving is one of the reasons she still fascinates me.
Hilary Davidson won the Anthony Award for Best First Novel for The Damage Done. That book also earned a Crimespree Award and was a finalist for the Arthur Ellis and Macavity awards. Her second novel, The Next One to Fall, is a mystery set in Peru (Forge Feb. 14, 2012.) Hilary has also written 18 nonfiction books as well as short stories for Ellery Queen, Beat to a Pulp, and Thuglit.
Find Hilary here...
The Next One to Fall: http://blog.hilarydavidson.com/the-next-one-to-fall/