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Photo: © Deborah Feingold
Fiona Davis is the New York Times bestselling author of several novels, including The Dollhouse, The Address, The Masterpiece, The Chelsea Girls, The Lions of Fifth Avenue, and The Magnolia Palace. She lives in New York City and is a graduate of the College of William & Mary in Virginia and the Columbia Journalism School.
GIRL ON THE BRIDGE by Fiona Davis | 7 Sentence Stories
Fiona Davis was born in Canada and raised in New Jersey, Utah, and Texas. She began her career in New York City as an actress, where she worked on Broadway, off-Broadway, and in regional theater. After ten years, she changed careers, working as an editor and writer and specializing in health, fitness, nutrition, dance, and theater. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and is based in in New York City. Fiona joined Penguin Random House to discuss her writing routine, her literary influences, and her first novel, The Dollhouse.
PENGUIN RANDOM HOUSE: What’s your writing routine? Where, when, and how does it happen?
FIONA DAVIS: If I’m in the research phase, I read everything I can get my hands on about the time period and fill myself up with what that era was like, including tastes, smells, sounds – I try to get as tactile as possible. Once I have a general outline and the characters in mind, I write a certain amount of words every day. As an ex-journalist, I love a good deadline. I work in the study of my apartment, which is sunny and has walls that I just painted a gorgeous gray-rose color. Very calming, but hopefully not so much that I zonk out.
PRH: When did this story first come to you?
FD: I was looking for a new apartment here in Manhattan where I live, and my broker took me to the Barbizon 63 condo, which used to house the Barbizon Hotel for Women. This was the place where single women like Lauren Bacall, Joan Crawford, and Grace Kelly stayed when they first came to the city. The history of the place was spectacular, but my interest in writing a novel was piqued when I learned that around ten or so of the older guests still lived there and had for years, having been moved into rent-controlled apartments on the same floor in 2005. The mashup of new and old New York was too tempting to ignore.
PRH: Faulkner said a writer needs three things: experience, observation, and imagination. Do you use all three equally, or rely on one over another?
FD: I would say observation is up at the top of my writer toolkit, followed by imagination and experience. There’s a lot of freedom in learning all about actual events, places, and eras (observation) before making up characters who do and say what I want them to (imagination). Experience plays into the larger themes of what I’m writing about, although I often don’t know exactly what they are until three-quarters of the way through the first draft.
PRH: What’s the last book you absolutely loved?
FD: I am always game for a good mystery, and I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh literally stopped me in my tracks at the midpoint, when there’s a major revelation. You know that moment where you’re staring at an optical illusion and it completely changes shape? It was sort of like that. Great writing and plotting – I’ve been recommending it to everyone I know.
PRH: To the aspiring writer, what advice would you give for getting one’s debut published?
FD: Writing a book is a very artistic, solitary endeavor, but getting a book published requires industry smarts and a business mindset. I’m lucky to have found a community of writers who inspire and support each other, whether we’re struggling with a sticky plot point or a new marketing technique. There’s nothing better than talking shop over a glass (or two) of wine. I’d definitely suggest meeting other writers, going to conferences, taking classes, and learning everything you can about the craft.
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