Q & A with travel and fiction writer Hilary Davidson

I recently chanced upon a copy of Hilary Davidson’s The Damage Done and found myself smitten. Davidson’s story, which centers around a glamorous if complicated travel writer embroiled in a messy family mystery, is a compelling read. It’s also of particular interest to travel media types: Davidson’s protagonist, like Davidson herself, is a travel writer.

Q: Describe your profession.

A: For the past 12 years, I’ve been a freelance travel writer. For the past five years, I’ve been writing fiction, too. Fiction used to be something I snuck in at odd hours, either early in the morning or very late at night, but since I got a two-book deal with Tor/Forge last year, the two have been on a pretty even footing.

Q: In your novel The Damage Done, the protagonist is a travel writer whose main base is New York. You are a travel writer living in New York. The question has to be asked: What are the points of overlap between Hilary Davidson and Lily Moore?

A: We’ve traveled to many of the same places, and we both love film noir and vintage clothes. If we met in a parallel universe, we’d probably raid each other’s closets. But our personal lives couldn’t be more different: when Lily comes home to New York, it’s to identify her sister’s body at the morgue, only to discover that the corpse belongs to a woman who’d stolen her sister’s identity and that her sister is missing. I have to confess, I don’t have a sister. Also, Lily has a complicated on-again, off-again relationship with her former fiancé, who she suspects may have been sexually involved with her sister. I’ve been married for a decade.

Q: As a travel writer, what is your preferred medium? Your beat?

A: I am the world’s most boring travel writer. Most of what I’ve written – including all of my 17 Frommer’s guidebooks – have been about my hometown, Toronto, or my adopted home, New York, where I’ve lived for the past nine years. Writing for magazines has let me be more adventuresome and see places such as Spain and Peru and Easter Island. I also run a website, the Gluten-Free Guidebook, which is about my travels since I was diagnosed with celiac disease almost seven years ago. I realized that I was doing a lot of research before and during every trip, and if I put what I learned online, it could help other people, too.Q: You moved from Toronto to New York in 2001. Is your hometown loyalty to New York or Toronto? Or is it divided?

A: I feel a greater affinity and affection for New York, which may have something to do with moving here a month after 9/11 and watching the city come back from those sad days. New York energizes me and Toronto relaxes me, and I feel lucky that I get to move back and forth between both.

Q: Any NYC or Toronto off-the-beaten path secrets you’d like to share?

A: In New York, I feel like much of the Bronx is an off-the-beaten-path secret. Some of the most interesting spots in the city are there: the Edgar Allan Poe Cottage, Wave Hill, Pelham Bay Park, and Woodlawn Cemetery. Toronto has little gems scattered throughout the city, like the Malcove Collection, an art gallery hidden on the University of Toronto grounds – an amazing collection that runs the gamut from Byzantine artifacts to Russian icons. I also love the Scarborough Bluffs, on the eastern edge of the city; early settlers in the area thought they were like the white cliffs of Dover.

Q: What are some of your favorite places to visit, either for work or relaxation?

A: I love visiting Spain, which may have something to do with why I have Lily living there. Barcelona is one of my favorite cities in the world; I love its quirky architecture and it’s a foodie paradise, especially for gluten-free diets. But the most interesting trips I’ve ever taken have been to Peru and Turkey. My favorite get-away-from-it-all spot is Banff, in the Canadian Rockies, especially in the middle of winter.