Q&A: Fiona Davis

Dutton, 2017

Dutton, 2017

For those who have not read The Address, how would you describe it?

The book takes place in New York City’s famous Dakota apartment house, and weaves the story of a young woman who comes to work in the building in 1884, with that of an interior decorator charged with stripping an apartment of all its period details in 1985. Secrets, madness, and murder ensue. The genre is probably best described as historical fiction peppered with an element of mystery.

The Address is a fascinating story that takes place in 1884 and 1985, what made you decide to write this novel from the point of view of these two radically different eras?

I chose 1884 because that was the year the Dakota opened – a luxury apartment building in the wilds of the Upper West Side of Manhattan. (One newspaper described the neighborhood as full of “goats, swamps, rocks, and shanties.”) I chose 1985 because the city was going through a Gilded Age of its own then, with bankers and their Rolex watches. Both are interesting eras to compare and contrast.

This novel is full of rich details about the respective eras. How did you go about researching the events? Were there any details you had to tweak to make the plot flow?

I toured through the Dakota, which was a blast, and I devoured everything I could on the building, from its construction to the most recent celebrity residents. I also read a lot about old New York during the 1880s. In one book, I learned that the Dakota was run by a “lady managerette” in the 1930s. I tweaked that and made one of my heroines the “lady managerette” when it first opened in 1884.

Both Sara and Bailey struggle with feeling like outsiders. Though in different time periods, both of your protagonist’s experiences transcend time, their similarities bridging the gap between them. Did you find it difficult to connect the two narratives and maintain balance throughout the book?

I plotted out the novel early on, before I started writing it, and at first focused on the two characters: who they were, what they wanted. As I began fleshing out the narrative, the similarities seemed to rise on their own, which was a delight. But having them a century apart was tricky, as I had to account for many generations in between without overwhelming the reader.

Dutton, 2016

Dutton, 2016

The way you describe The Dakota and the families who live there, it almost makes the building feel alive. Do you consider the The Dakota to be one of the central characters?

Absolutely! The building’s been written about for so many years, it’s something of a celebrity in itself. It’s been the location of wonderful soirees and terrible tragedies, and has stood as a sentry on Central Park for many New Yorkers. It’s definitely got its own personality – slightly stern but generous.

You started your career as an actress before becoming a writer. How does your theater background influence how you stage the scenes in your novels?

What an interesting question. I think having read many plays and seen a lot of theater, I approach each chapter as if it were a scene in a play, with dialogue and movement all part of the action, directing as I go along. And I definitely tap into Method acting techniques as I consider how my characters are feeling in the given moment.

Here at Reading Women we're all about women’s voices. What female writers have inspired you as both a writer and a reader?

I adore Geraldine Brooks, Kathleen Tessaro, Jane Austen, Ann Patchett, Laura Lippman, Elizabeth George, Anne Lamott, Tana French, Jo Baker. I tend to read a lot of historical fiction and mysteries, not surprisingly!

What book have you read most recently and what was your favorite thing about it?

I can’t say enough good things about “Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk,” by Kathleen Rooney. It’s the story of a magnificent older woman walking around Manhattan one New Year’s Eve in 1984, and seamlessly goes back and forth in time to show how the city, and she, changed over the decades.

Are you currently working on any projects that you can share with our readers?

I’m working on a book set in Grand Central Terminal, and have uncovered a number of dramatic surprises during my research. More to come…

Author Photo by Kristen Jensen

Author Photo by Kristen Jensen

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, Fiona changed careers, working as an editor and writer, and her historical fiction debut, The Dollhouse, was published in 2016. She's a graduate of the College of William & Mary and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and is based in New York City.

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