How did you become a writer?
For the past fifteen years, I’ve been working as a journalist, and I turned to fiction after hearing a great story idea: that after the Barbizon Hotel for Women was turned into luxury condos in 2005, a dozen or so of the longtime residents were moved into rent-controlled apartments on the same floor. I couldn’t shake the idea that this might make an intriguing setup for a novel.
Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).
I’m a big fan of Geraldine Brooks, Shirley Jackson, Jo Baker, Jane Austen, Kathleen Tessaro, Liane Moriarity, Mary-Louise Parker, and Kristin Hannah, as well as playwrights like Tom Stoppard, Shakespeare, Edward Albee, and Tennessee Williams.
When and where do you write?
I tend to write new scenes in the mornings, but I enjoy editing any time. There’s nothing like the satisfaction of turning a so-so sentence into something that pops. I work in the study of my apartment, and I have a glimpse of the Hudson River from my desk. Watching the tides go in and out is very calming.
What are you working on now?
I’m writing another work of historical fiction that’s similar in structure to The Dollhouse, in that it takes place in an iconic New York City building in two time periods and reveals a secret at the end. But it’s very different from the previous work in tone and subject matter.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
As a journalist, you don’t get paid if you don’t turn in the article on deadline, so that takes the whole concept of writer’s block right out of the equation. The idea of hitting a word count every day isn’t at all precious to me, it’s just work. That’s not to say I don’t procrastinate – I’m very easily distracted by Facebook, emails, laundry – you name it.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
The actress Uta Hagen wrote something that applies to both acting and writing: “The making of art consists of the selection of appropriate life realities to create a new canvas, to make a new living, breathing statement.” For me, that means the emotion behind the words has to be real and grounded.
What's your advice to new writers?
Don’t worry too much about the industry side of writing until you have a strong manuscript in hand. Better to spend time taking classes and workshops and going to conferences to work on craft than wondering which agent would best represent your future novel.
Fiona Davis is an author and journalist based in New York City, where she worked as an actress for ten years before graduating from the Columbia School of Journalism. Her work of historical fiction, The Dollhouse, was published by Dutton (2016). She can be found online at fionadavis.net.