KNOWING WHERE TO STAND: Guest Post by Hilary Davidson

One of my favorite ideas about writing actually comes from Ansel Adams, one of the great photographers of the twentieth century. Famous for his breathtaking shots of majestic national parks, he was remarkably straightforward about his process. “A good photograph is knowing where to stand,” he said. It’s a concept that applies just as well to writing fiction.

There is nothing I love more than getting inside a character’s head while I write. Figuring out which narrative perspective to use to tell the story is the author’s way of finding where to stand. It’s how you ground yourself in the book. If you’re not on solid ground, it’s all too easy for the thread of the narrative to slip out of control.

My first three novels are told in the first person from the point of view of one character, which made sense because those books were as much about her evolution as they were about the plots. But my latest novel, Blood Always Tells, is a completely different case. I knew from the start it was a much more complicated story, and there was no way to tell it from one character’s point of view. Instead, the book allowed me to get inside the head of three characters: Dominique Monaghan, a former model looking for revenge on her cheating lover; Desmond Edgars, an ex-military man determined to come to his sister’s rescue; and a third character (whom I’ll leave nameless to prevent spoilers), who is one of the villains of the story. Why these three characters? In their respective sections of the book, they’re the people with the most to gain and the most to lose.

Dominique, at the start of the book, is hell-bent on vengeance, so much so that she’s willing to spike her errant lover’s drink to get him into serious trouble. She’s aware what she’s doing is wrong, and she hears her late grandmother’s voice, over and over, chiding her for her actions. When her plan goes horribly wrong, she’s both stunned and guilty. She knew it was a terrible idea from the start, but she went ahead with it anyway. Later, she’s given an awful choice to make: she can go free if she sacrifices another person. The decision she makes sets in motion a series of events with far-ranging consequences.

Desmond is trying his best to best to be an upstanding citizen: he’s retired from the Army after twenty years of service, and he’s got his hands full with his day job as a pilot and the volunteer work he’s committed to. But a call from his sister, Dominique, in desperate need of help, pulls him off that path. As a kid, Desmond wasn’t such a straight arrow, and his rusty skills for picking locks and breaking into places start to come in handy as he searches for the truth about his sister. He’s acutely aware of doing wrong, but he believes his ends justify his means. The irony is that his attitude is mirrored by the criminal in the third act of the book, whose many awful actions are motivated by a desperate desire to protect another person.

All of my characters are flawed in some way. I don’t like perfect people on the page; they always seem like caricatures rather than characters. What’s tricky for me is that my villains are motivated by the same impulses that drive my protagonists. In that way, they’re like a shadow side of my “good” characters. I like to push my characters to see how far they’ll go to get what they want or need. There’s a powerful tension in watching a character who’s good at heart cross a moral line they know they shouldn’t. How far over can they go before they lose their moral compass?

For my protagonists, doing what’s right is a struggle between head and heart. They experience the same dark impulses that the antagonists do, but they fight them. The villains, on the other hand, might well experience guilt over their actions. It’s not that they don’t know the difference between right and wrong. It’s that there’s no end to the cruelty they’re capable of to achieve their ends.

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Hilary Davidson will join us to talk about & sign her latest book, Blood Always Tells, tonight, Thursday 4/24 at 7PM. Visit bookpeople.com for more information.

Crime Fiction Friday: SILENT PARTNERS by Hilary Davidson

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Even though Hilary Davidson is one the sweetest people in crime fiction (find out for yourself at her event here Thursday, April 24th, at 6:30 PM), she writes some of the meanest hard boiled short stories out there. We have a sample today for Crime Fiction Friday that was originally published in Rose and Thorn.

 

Silent Partners by Hilary Davidson

“I hear you’re the best in New York,” said the blonde in the short red dress. “You’re younger than I thought from that picture in the paper. Cuter, too.”

Sam flushed as he stepped around his steel desk. There were two metal chairs in front of it, theoretically for clients, though most people were too ashamed to cross his threshold. The chairs were piled high with files and Sam tackled the shortest stack.

“You can guess why I need to talk to you,” the blonde said, sitting down.

Sam looked her over. She was showing a lot of skin, but he didn’t see any telltale red marks. “You think you got an infestation? Lotta people come to me thinking they got bedbugs, turns out it’s just carpet beetles.”

“No, no infestation. Not yet,” said the blonde.

“Nothing to be embarrassed about. Neighbor could pick ’em up, then they crawl on into your apartment. Little bastards are thin as a credit card.” Sam’s male clients cut to the chase, but women agonized about being unclean. Bedbugs were the new leprosy.

“How do I get bedbugs? Can I buy them?”…

Click here to read the entire story.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Hilary Davidson

Today is the release day of our April Pick Of The Month, Blood Always Tells  by Hilary Davidson.  It is an interesting take on family, shared history, and story telling itself. Hilary was kind enough to talk about the book with a for a few questions.

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MYSTERYPEOPLE: Which came first, the story or the way you decided to tell it?

HILARY DAVIDSON: The story came first, and it came about in a way that was very unusual for me. I was actually working on another book that featured Desmond Edgars in a relatively small but essential role. But he was such an intriguing, compelling character that he and his backstory started taking over that book. I realized I was more interested in Desmond and his world than the book I was writing, and I made the gut-wrenching decision to set aside the 40,000 words of it and work on Blood Always Tells instead.

The structure of Blood Always Tells evolved organically. Even though it was the character of Desmond that brought me to the book, I realized that it would never work if his sister, Dominique Monaghan, didn’t have as strong a voice as he did.

MP: What was the biggest difference between writing Blood Always Tells and the Lily Moore books?

HD: One major difference was that I went into this knowing so much more of the story than I ever did with any of the Lily Moore books. That was simply because substantial parts of it originated as Desmond’s backstory in that unfinished book I set aside. I can’t say that nothing changed — there were some major shifts from what I originally envisioned. But being more certain of the story I was telling meant that I felt freer to play with the narrative. I love writing from Lily’s point of view, but it means that there’s no way for scenes she’s not witnessing to make it into those books. Blood Always Tells is told in the close third person, so readers still get inside the characters’ heads, but because the perspective changes, it means the essential action is always onstage.

MP: Point of view is not only part of the structure, it also differentiates the characters by how they see the same thing or person differently. What did you want to explore with point of view?

HD: There were a couple of things. One is that I wanted each section of the book to be revealed through the eyes of the character who has the most to gain or lose. The stakes are incredibly high for each of the three characters who control the narrative. In some ways, they couldn’t be more different, and yet each character makes a major sacrifice at some point in the story.

I was also fascinated with questions of memory, and how what you hold in your mind shapes your identity. The characters in the book remember essential events and people in completely different ways. I dedicated the book to my grandmother for several reasons, one of them being that it was her death that made me think about how differently two people in the same family could interpret the same action so differently. My brothers and I all loved her, but we have such distinctly different memories of her. That led to conversations about other things from our childhood and how we remembered or interpreted things in completely opposite ways.

MP: The first part of this book has more of the noirish vibe of many of your short stories. What was it like sustaining a darker tone for a longer period of time?

I thought it would be hard to do that, so I was surprised by how much I liked it. In my short stories, the reader is often inside the head of a criminal, and when you first meet Dominique, you know she’s planning something bad for her boyfriend. But her motivations are complex, and the more time I spent with her, the more I understood her and sympathized. Plus, her plans are interrupted by people who’ve got far worse intentions. The scenes after she and her boyfriend are kidnapped were sometimes harrowing to write, and what got me through them was Dominique’s sense of humor. It’s ironic that Dominique’s section of the story is the most noirish and yet the funniest.

MP: Many of your characters in this book, the Lily Moore series, and your short work come from broken homes. What draws you to family dysfunction?

HD: I was lucky to grow up with supportive parents and a close family, but that’s not the case for many of my friends, and for other members of my own family. I’m not so much drawn to dysfunction as I am to resilience. What really drives me is, what keeps people going when they’ve gone through tragic circumstances? My grandmother lost one of her children when he was thirteen years old, and that was something that marked her for life. It didn’t make her any less of a fighter or a powerhouse character, but a loss like that casts a long shadow. I want to explore how people live under a shadow like that.

MP:  What’s in store for your readers next?

HD: I’m working on another standalone novel right now. If you like my dark side, you’ll be glad to know that goes into some very dark places. I’ve got several short stories coming out soon. There’s one in Ellery Queen called “My Sweet Angel of Death” about a serial killer at work in the Andes mountains. I’m also in a collection that David Cranmer is putting together in memory of his nephew, and in Trouble in the Heartland, an anthology edited by Joe Clifford featuring stories inspired by Bruce Springsteen songs. I never stray far from my dark roots.

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Blood Always Tells is available now on our shelves & online via bookpeople.com. Hilary Davidson will be in our store on Thursday, April 14 at 6:30pm in our third floor event space to speak about & sign copies of Blood Always Tells

MysteryPeople Pick of the Month: BLOOD ALWAYS TELLS

MysteryPeople April Pick of the Month: Blood Always Tells by Hilary Davidson

I’ve said before that Hilary Davidson is somewhat of a Jekyll and Hyde author. Her short fiction has a hard noir style, usually showing the worst of humanity. Her series featuring travel writer Lily Moore consists of edgy thrillers with a damaged-but-decent heroine confronting her problems. With Blood Always Tells, a stand alone thriller, Davidson fuses both sides of her writing personalities.

The book begins with Dominique Monaghan, a second tier model having an affair with an ex-boxer who married another woman for money. After Dominique discovers he’s cheating on her, as well, she slips a muscle relaxant into his drink, hoping to get him talking about the wife and affairs all while recording the conversation for blackmail purposes. The plan goes awry when some guys with guns burst in and kidnap both of them.

This isn’t your average kidnapping. In one entertaining passage, Dominique is schooled by one of the accomplices on the many reasons for kidnapping. This section has the darker motives and even darker humor of Davidson’s short fiction work.

After a little over a hundred pages, the book goes into hard-boiled sleuth mode as we follow Dominique’s brother Desmond as he tries to find her. The search puts him up against Gary’s diamond-for-a-heart wife and more than a few unhinged criminals.

Davidson has a gift for taking you seamlessly through these different point-of-views and sub-genres. By crafting many well placed reveals and twists that become a part of the pace, she makes the reader accustomed to the speed at which she likes to change it up. There’s also a theme of the importance of family weaved throughout the book that binds it together. All three of the characters come from broken homes and the double edge sword of bother-sister relationships.

Blood Always Tells is a fresh and engaging read. It plays with genre and narrative in a unique way, not flinching when it comes to the characters and their past. I look forward to Hilary’s next walk on the wild side.

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Blood Always Tells is available for pre-order on our website. Hilary Davidson will be in the store on Thursday, April 24 at 7PM speaking & signing copies of the book. Click here for more information & to pre-order your signed copy.

3 Picks for March

In The Morning I’ll Be Gone by Adrian McGinty

McGinty wraps up his Troubles Trilogy with Catholic, Belfast cop, Sean Duffy, tracking down a professional bomber. The book caps off a great look at Thatcher-era Ireland. Both Duffy’s sense of humor and justice make him a hero worth rooting for. When Ian Rankin was here last month, he gave high praise to these books.

Evil In All Its Disguises by Hilary Davidson

My favorite books of 2013 is now out in paperback. This third book in the Lily Moore series wraps up an elegant emotional arc for the travel writer heroine. Davidson also delivers first rate suspense with a colleague’s disappearance in Acapulco, a creepy hotel, and a connection to her old boyfriend.

You also have the chance to see Hilary Davidson at BookPeople on Thursday, April 24th at 6:30PM when she’s here with her latest, Blood Always Tells.

They Don’t Dance Much by James Ross

One of the first examples of rural noir. This tale of a road-house owner, a crooked sheriff, and a  femme fatale who is married to the richest man in town was recommended to me by both Daniel Woodrell and Joe R. Lansdale. If that’s not enough, Chandler was a fan, too. When the lead character’s name is Smut, you know your in hard-boiled high cotton.

The Look Out: BLOOD ALWAYS TELLS

Hilary Davidson has two personalities as a writer. Best known for her edgy psychological thrillers featuring travel writer Lily Moore, she has also penned several noir short stories with a pitch black sense of humor (many collected in the eBook, The Black Widow Club). She fuses both styles brilliantly in her first stand alone, Blood Always Tells.

The book is told from three points of view. We start with a mistress trying to get back at her three-timing boyfriend. Her plan of attack involves blackmail, but then she gets caught up in his kidnapping. Then, the story later shifts to her brother, Desmond, who is trying to rescue her from everything she’s gotten herself entangled with. Lastly, near the end we hear from the point-of-view of a character who has been a fly on a wall through the whole thing.

Each character changes the story into a different sub-genre- from black comic crime to hard-boiled detective, all fitting together perfectly to make one novel.

No matter which perspective you are reading, Blood Always Tells is one engaging read. Its many twists, dark humor, darker psychology, and complex good, bad and somewhere-in-the-middle characters make it one of the best books in what is looking like a banner year for crime fiction. It’s hard to tell you more without giving away the great surprises. You can find out for yourself when the book comes out on April 15th. Make sure to join us on Thursday, April 24 at 6:30PM when Hilary will be here at at BookPeople to sign and discuss the novel.

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Hilary Davidson will be at BookPeople on Thursday, Apr 24 at 6:30PM speaking & signing copies of Blood Always Tells. For more information & to pre-order signed copies, visit bookpeople.com. 

Hilary Davidson Tackles Mystery’s Misogyny Controversy

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“Sadistic violence on the page has been on the rise for some time. I don’t think it’s fair to pin it on one book, but in my mind, there’s a divide between crime novels published before 1988 and those that came after. That was the year Thomas Harris’s The Silence of the Lambs came out. That title was brutal, but its violence was essential to the psychological underpinning of the book and to the development of its characters. Its massive success inspired imitators, but many of those seemed less concerned with psychology than splatter.”

Read the rest of the post by clicking here.