Hilary Davidson Always Tells

 hilary davidson, Steve Weddle  Comments Off on Hilary Davidson Always Tells
Apr 162015

By Steve Weddle

Hilary Davidson has been a guest, a subject, or a topic at DoSomeDamage 836 times in the last five years. That’s not surprising, of course, as she has a hardback or paperback book dropping every three months.

Hilary’s debut novel, The Damage Done, won the 2011 Anthony Award for Best First Novel, and the Crimespree Award for Best First Novel. The book was also a finalist for a Macavity Award and an Arthur Ellis Award. The novel’s main character, Lily Moore, is, like Hilary, a travel writer. While their personal lives have little in common, they do share a few things, such as a love of vintage clothing, classic Hollywood movies, and Art Deco design. The second book in the series is The Next One to Fall (Tor/Forge, 2012) and the third is Evil in All Its Disguises (Tor/Forge, 2013). Read the reviews. Hilary’s first standalone novel, Blood Always Tells, was published by Tor/Forge in April 2014 and released as a trade paperback in March 2015.

On the occasion of the paperback publication of Blood Always Tells, Hilary took a break from racing across the airport to answer a few questions.

DSD: You’ve had hardbacks and ebooks and paperbacks and anthologies and magazines come out with your name in them. How is a paperback release different from the others? What makes it special?

Hilary Davison: I get excited over any book release, but paperbacks are near and dear to my heart because that’s what I grew up reading. Part of that was convenience — from the time I was 12, I had at least two hours a day of commuting time, and I spent it reading. The other part of the reason was financial: why buy a hardcover when I could buy two or three new paperbacks with the same amount of money? So when a book of mine comes out in paperback, I feel like it’s reaching an entirely new audience. I’ll buy paperbacks by authors I’ve never heard of, just because they sound interesting. Hardcovers, no. More than anything, I’m excited to get the book into more readers’ hands.

DSD: You just did a Noir at the Bar recently. By my count, you’ve done 87 of these. Do you find them much different than when you read by yourself in a bookstore? How are these different?

HD: I love doing events with other writers. I know it’s not the same as musicians jamming, but there’s a similar collaborative spirit behind it. Everybody brings something to the table, and you never know what’s going to happen, or how it will all turn out. It’s different from doing solo bookstore events, because those don’t change much from town. At a Noir at the Bar, I can read whatever I want because I’m not trying to sell anything!

DSD: We’re coming up on crime fiction conventions and conferences from now until, heck, December, it seems. What kind of panel would you most like to see and what sort of authors would you want to see on it?

HD: I was just at Left Coast Crime, and I love that conference’s mix of serious panels and fun ones. I was on one panel about violence in crime fiction, and another that was basically a game show. Both were great. One change I’d like to see is more genre-mixing on panels. By that, I mean don’t put all the cozy writers on one panel and the hardboiled/noir ones on another. One of my favorite panels at LCC was the Cozy-Noir Summit that Katrina Niidas Holm moderated. Mixing it up is a great way for readers to discover new authors, and it makes for lively conversations. Also, I think audience members should be able to throw things at panelists who set their books in front of them. It’s a panel, not an infomercial.

DSD: Do you start with a scene and work out? Do you start with an outline and follow it? Are there points you want to hit – a climax at the end of act two, for example.

HD:  All I’ve learned from writing my books is that I can’t outline. The upside is that the endings of my books are a surprise to me as much as anyone. That’s also the downside. It’s a tough way to write, stumbling blinding in the dark until I hit on something that makes sense. Honestly, it makes for a lot of false starts and wasted words. The one thing I hold onto is knowing the emotional arc of the story. I know what my main character is struggling with, and what demon s/he will face. That was definitely true of BLOOD ALWAYS TELLS. I knew the words Desmond Edgars was going to say in the last scene, even though I had no idea how I was going to get him there.

DSD: Do you feel as if you have become a better writer throughout the Lily Moore series and would you have done things differently in the early books?

HD: I think writing is one of those jobs where the more you do it, the better you get. I know there are exceptions to this, but it’s generally true. What I struggle with is wanting to do new and different things with each book, so I feel like my learning curve is steep. The standalone I’m finishing now is largely narrated by a man who killed his wife. I’ve told plenty of short stories from a villain’s point of few, but it’s much tougher with a novel.
There’s probably nothing I would change about the characters or the emotional arcs of my early books, even though I’d love to go back and clean up the writing. The ending of THE DAMAGE DONE will always break my heart. The first part of BLOOD ALWAYS TELLS has the same effect. There are legit reasons for certain characters to die, but that doesn’t make me feel any better about killing them.

DSD: You recently won a Derringer Award for your short fiction. What’s it like to be a winner? (asking for a friend)

HD: Winning the Derringer meant so much — in no small part because writing short fiction is my true love. Novels break my brain and cause me no end of angst. They’re satisfying when they’re done, but until that moment, late in the game, they’re actually kind of hellish. Stories are different. Writing short stories is more like a game of “What if?” I have the opening scenario in mind when I start writing, and then I follow it wherever it goes. The genesis for “A Hopeless Case,” the story that won the Derringer, is awful: when I was in high school in Toronto, I walked down to a subway platform just as a woman jumped in front of an incoming train. But writing about a person in that scenario makes me process it differently. Instead of being horrified by what happened, I’m creeping under the person’s skin, trying to understand them. Even when the subject matter is dark, it humanizes it.


Hilary Davidson’s Blood Always Tells is a twisted tale of love, crime, and family gone wrong, by the multiple award-winning author of The Damage Done and Evil in All Its Disguises.

Damage Claims

 hilary davidson, Kirkus  Comments Off on Damage Claims
Apr 152014

Because it’s likely you have not yet come across my latest Mysteries & Thrillers column on the Kirkus Reviews Web site, let me now direct your attention to it. My subject this time out is Hilary Davidson’s brand-new thriller, Blood Always Tells. Although I mention a few minor criticisms of the book, I found it interesting in intent and generally successful in execution. As I remark at one point, “People accustomed to easing slowly into a story will probably want to get a firm grip on their socks before cracking open Blood Always Tells.”

Click here to find the full review.

READ MORE:Q&A with Hilary Davidson” (MysteryPeople); “Knowing Where to Stand,” by Hilary Davidson (MysteryPeople).

Tarting Up the Classics

 hilary davidson  Comments Off on Tarting Up the Classics
Jul 312012

By Hilary Davidson

Back in high school, when I read Jules Verne’s classic novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, I remember thinking, “This book would be perfect if only Jules had added some Fifty Shades of Grey-style sex!” And now, a British press called Total-E-Bound Publishing has done it, launching a new imprint called Clandestine Classics. Thanks to Mr. Verne’s new coauthor, Marie Sexton, there’s a “sexy and temperamental harpooner” aboard to mix things up. Ahoy, matey!

Truth be told, it hurts my head to imagine classic novels being used — and abused — like this. I love it when someone reinterprets a classic novel in a fresh way — or even a twisted way — in film or theater.  But the concept of having a new writer hack apart the original book, insert some sex scenes, and stitch the whole thing together feels like a literary Frankenstein monster. (What do you want to bet that Total-E-Bound Publishing has Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein on deck next? Because what that book lacks is a solid monster-on-scientist spanking scene.)

According to the founder of Total-E-Bound Publishing, Claire Siemaszkiewicz, “We’re not rewriting the classics. We’re keeping the original prose and the author’s voice. We’re not changing any of that. But we want to enhance the novels by adding the ‘missing’ scenes for readers to enjoy.”

Enhance? Enjoy? There are fine examples of writers taking works created by another author and doing something wonderful with them. Robert B. Parker took four chapters of an unfinished novel by Raymond Chandler and created a book, Poodle Springs, with them. More recently, Ace Atkins wrote an original novel based on Robert B. Parker’s own immortal detective, Spenser. Hell, I’m still planning to read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. But the idea of a publisher pawing at classic books, tarting them up and making them turn tricks, is downright creepy. Trading all of the sexual tension in Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice for a “sexy and temperamental harpooner” is as unsexy as it gets.

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Huge, heartfelt congrats to two friends with new novels that are out today: Megan Abbott with Dare Me and Sean Chercover with The Trinity Game. Both books belong at the top of your must-read list!

Jul 172012

By Hilary Davidson

My confession: I hate summer. I have a vague memory of enjoying it when I lived in Toronto, but in the decade since I moved to New York, it’s become my least favorite season. My lack of affection for it is based partly on the sticky unpleasantness of heat and humidity in the concrete jungle. It’s also because summer is invariably a crazy time for me. I spend most of it chained to my desk, and when I venture outside, I wish I were still chained to my desk.

That said, there is one highlight: Thrillerfest, the conference of the International Thriller Writers, which takes place in New York every July. While there’s plenty going for the conference, the very best thing about it is that it brings so many wonderful people to town. This year, that list included Meg Gardiner, Sean Chercover, Dennis Tafoya, Brad Parks, Daniel Palmer, Jennifer Hillier, Owen Laukkanen, Peter Farris, Jamie Freveletti, Carla Buckley, Boyd Morrison, Sophie Littlefield, Mike Cooper, Shane Gericke, Josh Corin, Pam Callow… um, I could go on and on, but you get the point.

Some highlights from this year. I was having so much fun I forgot to snap photos until the last night, at the ITW awards banquet:

At the Tor/Forge table with my awesome publicist, Aisha Cloud, author Jon McGoran (who has a novel coming out with Forge next July), and editor extraordinaire Kristin Sevick Brown.
Brad Parks and Daniel Palmer rock the house with “Ghost Writers in the Sky”
You cannot imagine how hilarious this was… 
With one of my favorite thriller writers, Jeffery Deaver, at the afterparty. 
With the always-awesome Todd Robinson at the after-afterparty. While Thrillerfest is terrific for bringing out-of-town friends into NYC, it’s also fantastic for getting New Yorkers into Manhattan to party. 

Wait, there’s more! Check out the video of Brad Parks and Daniel Palmer performing “Ghost Writers in the Sky” at the awards banquet. Many, many thanks to Karen Dionne for recording this for posterity:

If there’s one negative thing I have to say about this year’s Thrillerfest, it’s this: some wonderful writers were missing from it. In particular, I would have loved to see Rebecca Cantrell there, so I could say congratulations on her latest Hannah Vogel novel, A CITY OF BROKEN GLASS. The book is out today from Forge, and it’s earning rave reviews. Library Journal gave it a star and said: “Cantrell’s fourth historical featuring journalist Hannah Vogel (after A Game of Lies) is compulsively readable. A palpable sense of dread builds, as we know that Kristallnacht, the Nazi pogrom of November 1938, is imminent. This award-winning series succeeds at weaving a very personal story into a well-researched historical survey. In an increasingly crowded genre period, Cantrell’s series stands tall.”

Check out Becky’s website to see more praise for the book. Read an excerpt over at Macmillan’s site. And please send email to Becky telling her that she needs to come to New York next summer!

Jun 192012

By Hilary Davidson

This week, I’m supposed to reveal all about crime-writing conferences. The good? I’ve got plenty to say about that. The bad? Well, I’m sad when they end. The ugly? I have no idea what you’re talking about.

I can’t even tell you how much I’ve gotten out of conferences like Bouchercon over the past couple of years. These events introduce me to new people, solidify friendships first formed online, and give me a chance to hang out with cool people who love books as much as I do.

Maybe I can’t tell you how much I love crime conferences, but I can show you. Some great moments from conferences I’ve attended:

Murder & Mayhem in Muskego 2011
Bouchercon 2010
Bouchercon 2011
ThrillerFest 2011
ThrillerFest 2010
Bouchercon 2010
Bouchercon 2010
Bouchercon 2010
Bouchercon 2010 
Noircon 2010
Noircon 2010 
Bloody Words 2011
Noircon 2010
Bouchercon 2011
Bouchercon 2011
Bouchercon 2011
Bouchercon 2011
Bouchercon 2011 
Left Coast Crime 2012
Left Coast Crime 2012
QuebeCrime 2011
Bouchercon 2011
Bouchercon 2011
Left Coast Crime 2012
Bouchercon 2011

Jun 052012

By Hilary Davidson

If there’s a profession less suited for pet-guardianship than travel writer, I haven’t heard about it. Lily Moore, my main character in The Damage Done and The Next One to Fall (and the upcoming Evil in All Its Disguises), travels the world, writing about the places she visits for magazines, newspapers and guidebooks. She’s never in one place — including her own apartment — for long. If she had a pet, it would be the loneliest critter ever. Even the most solitary cat or sleepiest lizard wants more attention than a travel writer can give.

Like Lily, I don’t have a pet. In a way, that’s strange for me, because my parents’ house, when I was growing up, was filled with an intriguing menagerie of creatures, including (at various times) cats, snakes, frogs, and one particularly squeaky guinea pig. (My brother Christopher still hasn’t forgiven me for eating guinea pig when I was in Peru.) I love animals (especially llamas). Most of the people I know in my neighborhood, I’ve met because I was admiring their dogs. But I know how much love and care pets need, and I’m not at home enough to give a steady supply of either. Even though I’m not a full-time travel writer anymore, I’m on the road as much as ever to attend book festivals and to speak at bookstores and libraries. I keep thinking that one day, I’ll be ready to have a pet again, but it hasn’t happened yet.

*          *          *

Speaking of travel, I have a fantastic trip coming up. This month, I head to British Columbia for a crime spree at libraries and bookstores with fellow mystery writers Robin Spano, Deryn Collier, and Ian Hamilton. We’re calling it The Crime Tour, and if you’d like to see us in action, here’s where we’ll be:

Real Vancouver Crime: Sunday, June 17th from 2-5 p.m., W2 Media Cafe 
Join Sean Cranbury of Books on the Radio as he hosts The Crime Tour for an afternoon of readings in a funky upstairs space on Vancouver’s Lower East Side. $5 cover. Books will be available for sale on site.

Murder in the Woods: Monday, June 18th from 6:30-8:00 p.m., Squamish Public Library
The Crime Tour travels up the Sunshine Coast for an evening of chatting mystery and writing in the wooded beauty of the Sea-to-Sky highway. This event is free and open to the public. Books will be for sale on site by Armchair Books.

Meet and Greet at Chapters: Tuesday, June 19th from 1:00-3:00 p.m. Chapters (Robson & Howe)
Come down to Chapters on Robson & Howe to meet and visit with The Crime Tour authors and get your books signed. Books will be available for sale/signing.

A Mystery Evening to Die For Tuesday June 19th from 7:00-9:00 p.m. at the Richmond Public Library Brighouse (Main) Branch
Join up with The Crime Tour for a full evening of author readings, a panel discussion on the writing process and a lengthy Q&A. Books will be available for sale on site from Dead Write Books.

Triple Threat: Chicks Who Solve Crime! Thursday June 21 7:00-8:30 p.m., Burnaby Public Library, McGill Branch
Join The Crime Tour chicks for a fun, all-female night of mystery readings and discussion in Burnaby. Books will be available for sale on site from Dead Write Books.

Recommendations From My Bookshelf

 hilary davidson  Comments Off on Recommendations From My Bookshelf
May 222012

By Hilary Davidson

For a person who lives in a one-bedroom apartment, I have a lot of books. Too many books, my husband argues whenever he crashes into one of the biblio-towers around my desk (an area he lovingly refers to as The Death Trap). Since I don’t have time to talk about the entire collection (that would take months), I’ll focus on a few recent reads I loved:

The Book: The Bad Kitty Lounge by Michael Wiley
What the Jacket Says: Greg Samuelson, an unassuming bookkeeper, has hired Joe Kozmarski to dig up dirt on his wife and her lover Eric Stone. But now Samuelson has taken matters into his own hands. It looks like he’s torched Stone’s Mercedes, killed his boss, and then shot himself, all in the space of an hour. The police think they know how to put together this ugly puzzle. But as Kozmarski discovers, nothing’s ever simple. Eric Stone wants to hire Kozmarski to clear Samuelson. Samuelson’s dead boss, known as the Virginity Nun, has a saintly reputation but a red-hot past. And a gang led by an aging 1960s radical shows up in Kozmarski’s office with a backpack full of payoff money, warning him to turn a blind eye to murder. At the same time, Kozmarski is working things out with his ex-wife, Corrine, his new partner, Lucinda Juarez, and his live-in nephew, Jason. If the bad guys don’t do Kozmarski in, his family might.
What I Say: The Bad Kitty Lounge got its claws into me from the first line, which is the best I’ve read in a while: “I sat in Tommy Cheng’s Chinese Restaurant facing a window onto North LaSalle Street and watched a four-story condo complex where Eric Stone was screwing another man’s wife.” Loved this book from the first page to the last. I haven’t read Michael Wiley’s work before, but this has convinced me to pick up his other books. I’ll be recommending this to friends who enjoy a great PI novel.

The Book: Kingdom of Strangers by Zoë Ferraris
What the Jacket Says: A secret grave is unearthed in the desert revealing the bodies of 19 women and the shocking truth that a serial killer has been operating undetected in Jeddah for more than a decade. However, lead inspector Ibrahim Zahrani is distracted by a mystery closer to home. His mistress has suddenly disappeared, but he cannot report her missing since adultery is punishable by death. With nowhere to turn, Ibrahim brings the case to Katya, one of the few women in the police department. Drawn into both investigations, she must be increasingly careful to hide a secret of her own. Portraying the lives of women in one of the most closed cultures in the world, award-winning author Zoë Ferraris weaves a tale of psychological suspense around an elusive serial killer and the sinister forces trafficking in human lives in Saudi Arabia.
What I Say: I don’t have time to say anything, since immediately after I read this, I had to rush out to the nearest bookstore and buy Zoë Ferraris’s earlier two novels, which are also set in Saudi Arabia and feature several of the same characters.

The Book: Confined Space by Deryn Collier
What the Jacket Says: When respected ex–Canadian Forces commander Bern Fortin cuts short his military career to take a job as the coroner for a small mountain town in the heart of BC, he’s hoping to leave the past behind. Bern’s looking forward to a quiet life, but the memories of what he witnessed during his stints in Afghanistan and other war-torn countries haunt him still. When the body of one of the workers is found floating in the huge bottle-washing tank at the local brewery, Bern is called in for a routine investigation. What first appears to be a tragic accident takes a menacing turn when the body of the worker’s girlfriend is discovered in a nearby field. Bern needs the help of brewery safety investigator Evie Chapelle, who, burdened by tragedies she might have prevented, is more determined than ever to keep her workers, and their tight-knit community, safe. Soon, Bern and Evie find themselves risking their jobs—and their lives—to uncover a killer hiding in a place where it is awfully hard to keep a secret. Deryn Collier’s debut novel is a taut mystery full of suspense. Confined Space was shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis Award for best unpublished first crime novel by the Crime Writers of Canada.
What I Say: This is a book I’ve been looking forward to for months, and I had the good luck to get my hands on an advance reading copy, which I cracked open last Friday (Confined Space will be published on June 5th, 2012). I’m still reading, but I’m definitely hooked by the fascinating characters and the graceful prose.

The Book: Mr. Churchill’s Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal
What the Jacket Says: London, 1940. Winston Churchill has just been sworn in, war rages across the Channel, and the threat of a Blitz looms larger by the day. But none of this deters Maggie Hope. She graduated at the top of her college class and possesses all the skills of the finest minds in British intelligence, but her gender qualifies her only to be the newest typist at No. 10 Downing Street. Her indefatigable spirit and remarkable gifts for codebreaking, though, rival those of even the highest men in government, and Maggie finds that working for the prime minister affords her a level of clearance she could never have imagined—and opportunities she will not let pass. In troubled, deadly times, with air-raid sirens sending multitudes underground, access to the War Rooms also exposes Maggie to the machinations of a menacing faction determined to do whatever it takes to change the course of history. Ensnared in a web of spies, murder, and intrigue, Maggie must work quickly to balance her duty to King and Country with her chances for survival. And when she unravels a mystery that points toward her own family’s hidden secrets, she’ll discover that her quick wits are all that stand between an assassin’s murderous plan and Churchill himself. In this daring debut, Susan Elia MacNeal blends meticulous research on the era, psychological insight into Winston Churchill, and the creation of a riveting main character, Maggie Hope, into a spectacularly crafted novel.
What I Say: I don’t gravitate to historical mysteries, so one needs to be exceptional to catch my eye, and Mr. Churchill’s Secretary is. Susan Elia MacNeal manages to create wonderfully memorable characters, but she also manages to make the historical figures in her novel — most notably Winston Churchill himself — come alive, warts and all.

I’d also like to mention a couple of books I haven’t read yet, but I am very eagerly anticipating getting into them soon.

The Book: Dare Me by Megan Abbott
What the Jacket Says: Since both girls were small, Addy Hanlon has always been Beth Cassidy’s best friend and right-hand lieutenant. Beth calls the shots and Addy carries them out, a long-established order of things that has brought them to the pinnacle of their high-school careers. Now they’re seniors who rule the intensely competitive cheer squad, feared and followed by the other girls – until the young new coach arrives. Cool and commanding, an emissary from the adult world just beyond their reach, Coach Colette French draws Addy and the other cheerleaders into her life. Only Beth, unsettled by the new regime, remains outside Coach’s golden circle, waging a subtle but vicious campaign to regain her position as “top girl” – both with the team and with Addy herself. And then a suspicious suicide hits close to home, and the police investigation focuses on Coach and her squad. As Addy begins to suspect what really happened, the line between right and wrong grows blurrier, and she must decide where her loyalties truly lie-and how far is too far to go for someone you love. The raw passions of girlhood are brought to life in this taut, unflinching exploration of friendship, ambition, and power. Award-winning novelist Megan Abbott, writing with what Tom Perrotta has hailed as “total authority and an almost desperate intensity,” provides a harrowing glimpse into the dark heart of the all-American girl. (Coming in July 2012)

The Book: Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig
What the Jacket Says: Miriam Black knows when you will die. Still in her early twenties, she’s foreseen hundreds of car crashes, heart attacks, strokes, suicides, and slow deaths by cancer. But when Miriam hitches a ride with truck driver Louis Darling and shakes his hand, she sees that in thirty days Louis will be gruesomely murdered while he calls her name. Miriam has given up trying to save people; that only makes their deaths happen. But Louis will die because he met her, and she will be the next victim. No matter what she does she can’t save Louis. But if she wants to stay alive, she’ll have to try.

The Book: Ransom River by Meg Gardiner
What the Jacket Says: Rory Mackenzie is juror number seven on a high-profile murder case in her hometown of Ransom River, California. It’s a place she vowed never to visit again, after leaving behind its surfeit of regret and misfortune and the specter of a troubled past that threatened to disturb the town’s peaceful façade. Brilliant yet guarded, Rory has always felt like an outsider. She retreated into herself when both her career aspirations and her love affair with a childhood friend, undercover cop Seth Colder, were destroyed in a tragic accident. While most of the town is focused on the tense and shocking circumstances of the trial, Rory’s return to Ransom River dredges up troubling memories from her childhood that she can no longer ignore. But in the wake of a desperate attack on the courthouse, Rory realizes that exposing these dark skeletons has connected her to an old case that was never solved, and bringing the truth to light just might destroy her. Departing from her popular series novels, Meg Gardiner has gone deeper than ever into the utterly convincing lives and compelling pasts of her characters. Ransom River is an intimate crime thriller with a dark mystery at its heart—one that will keep readers breathless until the very last page. (Coming in July 2012)

The Book: The Trinity Game by Sean Chercover
What the Jacket Says: Daniel Byrne is an investigator for the Vatican’s secretive Office of the Devil’s Advocate—the department that scrutinizes miracle claims. Over ten years and 721 cases, not one miracle he tested has proved true. But case #722 is different; Daniel’s estranged uncle, a crooked TV evangelist, has started speaking in tongues—and accurately predicting the future. Daniel knows Reverend Tim Trinity is a con man. Could Trinity also be something more? The evangelist himself is baffled by his newfound power—and the violent reaction it provokes. After years of scams, he suddenly has the ability to predict everything from natural disasters to sports scores. Now the mob wants him dead for ruining their gambling business, and the Vatican wants him debunked as a false messiah. On the run from assassins, Trinity flees with Daniel’s help through the back roads of the Bible Belt to New Orleans, where Trinity plans to deliver a final prophecy so shattering his enemies will do anything to keep him silent. (Coming in July 2012)

What have you read lately that you loved? What are you looking forward to reading soon?

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PS I’m heading to Toronto for Bloody Words (June 1-3). On June 6th, I’ll be at Book Expo America in NYC, signing books at the Mystery Writers of America booth at 10:15am. In mid-June, I’m bound for British Columbia in for a series of library and bookstore dates with authors Ian Hamilton, Robin Spano, and Deryn Collier — we’ll be in Vancouver, Richmond, Squamish, and Burnaby. If I’m in your area, please come by to say hello! (Complete listing of events here. Latest reviews of The Next One to Fall are here. News and interviews are here.)

Al Swearengen: An Appreciation

 al swearengen, deadwood, hilary davidson  Comments Off on Al Swearengen: An Appreciation
Apr 242012

By Hilary Davidson

First, let me admit that that I’m a bad-luck charm. If I love a television show, you can pretty much count on it being cancelled. Take, for example, the phenomenal Terriers, which lasted all of one season. I enjoyed Dead Like Me and Pushing Daisies, and look what happened to them. Journeyman, Damages, and Rome are all victims. I thought The Ben Stiller Show was the funniest thing on TV, so it got the gong.
Deadwood actually survived three seasons of my love, which is a rare thing. I still miss it, and there’s no character I miss more than Al Swearengen. I was already a fan of Ian McShane’s before the show aired (thanks to Lovejoy, which I — fortunately — discovered after that series had been filmed; also because of the film Sexy Beast), but nothing prepared me for the wonder of Al.
Who could have imagined that this twisted wreck of a human being would end up being so lovable? Al is a foul-mouthed, vile-tempered, murderous, thieving, scheming pimp. He’s generally embarrassed by his good impulses (he takes care of a crippled woman named Jewel, giving her a job cleaning his whorehouse, but he verbally abuses her, too… though, to be fair, Jewel’s got an awesome mouth on her; Al generally doesn’t mind being sassed back by loyal employees). When Al is being compassionate, he’s no less scary than when he’s being bad. One of his kindest acts is the mercy-killing of Reverend Smith, a man who’d lost his mind and was in agonizing pain; when Al smothered him, he said, “You can go now, brother” — which was about as sentimental as Al ever got.
Here he is in all his brutal glory. (Note to those offended by cursing or graphic violence: DO NOT WATCH. Also, this is definitely NSFW. Consider yourself warned!)
R.I.P. Al Swearengen. I’m not the only one who misses him, am I?

This Wretched Flesh

 dante, dorothy parker, hilary davidson, ugolino  Comments Off on This Wretched Flesh
Apr 102012

By Hilary Davidson

“What is one way you really wouldn’t want to die?” Do I have to pick just one? All of the painful ways are definitely out, as is anything long and lingering. In fact, I think Dorothy Parker summed things up correctly in her poem “Resume”:
Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.
You don’t really want me to tell you the one way I’d be truly terrified to die, do you? I’ve got some really dark ideas rattling around my head. Seriously, have you read any of my short fiction? (Speaking of which, I’m thrilled to say my story “The Other Man” is up for a Spinetingler Award for Best Short Story! Congrats to all of the nominees — you can read everyone’s stories here, before you vote.)
Where was I? Right, warning you off reading my real answer to this question. You don’t want to go there. How about looking at these sweet photos of baby animals instead? You’ll sleep better. Trust me.
Are you still reading? You shouldn’t be. Shoo!
You don’t want to read about Ugolino della Gherardesca. If his name doesn’t mean anything to you, consider yourself blessed. Because once the story of his death lodges itself in your head, it will be there forever. Just like it is in mine.
I discovered Ugolino at the Musee d’Orsay in Paris. I was nineteen and traveling by myself for the first time, wandering through a city famed for its beauty. The sight of this tremendous sculpture created by Rodin stopped me dead. In its center was a man on his hands and knees, with dead and dying bodies surrounding him. The expression on that man’s face was unforgettable: it was a mask of torture, both agonized and completely without hope. At the time, I had no idea that it was based on the death of a real person; the same museum hall that features this sculpture boasts images of Greek and Roman legends, and I filed Ugolino away with Orpheus and Leda and others who came to sad, albeit mythical, ends.
It was only a few months later, while I was reading Dante’s Inferno, that I discovered Ugolino had been a real person, not a fictional character. He was a count from Pisa who lived in the thirteenth century, when Italian city-states were hard at war with each other. He was a Machiavellian long before Machiavelli was actually born. He maneuvered himself into a position of great power within Pisa, but made some fierce enemies along the way. When he finally lost power, his enemies had a truly horrific revenge. They locked Ugolino up in a tower and threw the keys into the Arno river, leaving him to a slow death of starvation.
But it was actually worse than that. Because his enemies didn’t lock Ugolino up alone.
Ugolino was left in that tower with his two sons and two grandsons.
Dante’s rendering of the scene is particularly devastating. He imagined the children begging for death, and that they would even welcome being cannibalized:
‘Father our pain’, they said,
‘Will lessen if you eat us you are the one
Who clothed us with this wretched flesh: we plead
For you to be the one who strips it away’
But even that isn’t as awful as what came next. Dante put these words in Ugolino’s mouth:
Already going blind, groped over my brood
Calling to them, though I had watched them die,
For two long days. And then the hunger had more
Power than even sorrow over me
The nightmare is so vast and so vivid, it’s painful to contemplate. To be walled up in a prison and left to starve to death is a horrifying prospect, but imagine having the people you love best trapped along with you, without any chance of escape or release. Imagine watching them slowly suffer and die, knowing that there’s nothing you can do to ease their pain. Then imagine being alone with their bodies as you’re crushed under the weight of your own guilt — and your own unending hunger.
Is there any death more awful than that?

Of Hell and Handbaskets

 hilary davidson, the next one to fall  Comments Off on Of Hell and Handbaskets
Mar 272012

An embarrassing admission: the Proust Questionnaire makes me think first of Vanity Fair magazine, rather than the esteemed author. The assignment this week is to answer Mr. Proust’s questionnaire from the point of view of your 20-year-old self. I’m not sure that I can do that, since I’m don’t think I’ve matured much past 13.
Your most marked characteristic? My willingness to go to Hell in a handbasket. Seriously, if you can get me a ticket, I’ll go.
The quality you most like in a man? Wit.
The quality you most like in a woman? Wit.
What do you most value in your friends? Trustworthiness.
What is your principle defect? Impatience.
What is your favorite occupation? Writing and traveling.
What is your dream of happiness? Going to Hell in a handbasket, then writing about it.
What to your mind would be the greatest of misfortunes? The inability, for whatever reason, to pursue one’s dreams.
What would you like to be? Better at writing first drafts.
What is your favorite color? Red.
What is your favorite flower? The lily.
What is your favorite bird? The crow.
Who are your favorite prose writers? Megan Abbott, Ken Bruen, Dennis Tafoya, Laura Lippman, Linda Fairstein, Walter Mosley, Dennis Lehane, Sara Gran, Truman Capote, Meg Gardiner, Harlan Ellison, Louise Penny, Reed Farrel Coleman, Chris F. Holm, Brad Parks… too many to list properly.
Who are your favorite heroines of fiction? Holly Golightly, Lily Bart, Lilly Dillon.
Who are your favorite composers? Sergei Rachmaninov and Bear McCreary.
Who are your favorite painters? The Pre-Raphaelites; also Théodore Géricault and Gustave Dore. I saw Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa and Dore’s “The Enigma” for the first time when I was 19 and went to Paris for the first time, so this really could be an answer from 20-year-old me.
Who are your heroes in real life? People who make life better for others, and especially those who risk their own safety by doing so.
Who are your favorite heroines of history? Cleopatra, Boadicea, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Elizabeth I, Joan of Arc.
What is it you most dislike? Intolerance and willful ignorance.
How would you like to die? Peacefully.
What is your present state of mind? Obsessive.
To what faults do you feel most indulgent? Aside from cruelty, I think all faults are forgivable.
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