Muse Wednesday: Hilary Davidson

HD_for_MOFor the second Muse blog leading up to the Maintaining Pace in Mystery Panel on Saturday, October 10th at 1 pm  at Bouchercon 2015 in Raleigh, NC, panelist Hilary Davidson is sharing a very personal muse.


It’s not hard for me to name my muse. Actually, I dedicated my most recent book, Blood Always Tells, to her. The inscription reads, “In loving memory of my grandmother, Maude Elizabeth Dallas, for teaching me that if you’re going to sin, sin big.”

My grandmother was quite the dame. When I was growing up, I took for granted her red lipstick and varnished nails, her sharp suits and high heels. Her hair was dyed dark and always perfectly set, and she never lost the Northern Irish accent she brought with her when she immigrated to Canada.

She wasn’t like other grandmothers. She enjoyed knitting, but she did so while watching pro wrestling. She never told me to behave, but she did tell me about the time she punched out a guy on a street corner for making an obnoxious remark to her. My grandmother was a voracious reader who sometimes read two books in a single day. She bought me armloads of books, including a complete set of Nancy Drew novels from the 1930s, with blue cloth covers and pen-and-ink drawings inside. She also passed along issues of The National Enquirer, and introduced me to film noir.

As far as my grandmother was concerned, Barbara Stanwyck was the greatest actress who ever lived. Her favorite actor was Tyrone Power, on whom she had a huge crush. (It’s no coincidence that Lily Moore, the amateur sleuth in my first three novels, has an ex-boyfriend who looks just like Mr. Power.) The classic movies we both loved were shown on television late in the evening. Sometimes we would snap them up on videotape. We would often debate the merits of a movie’s ending. The classic Double Indemnity was a favorite, though we both took issue with the femme fatale suddenly going soft at the very end. (My grandmother’s cynical explanation is still the best: “That’s what you get with men making movies. They always think the woman goes swooning for the man in the end. Good luck to them.”)

My grandmother passed away sixteen years ago, but I think about her every day. There’s a photograph of her on my desk that keeps me company as I write. She gave me a love of reading — and in storytelling — that is the ultimate gift that keeps on giving. Being Irish, my grandmother had a litany of sayings, and one of her favorites was, If you’re going to sin, sin big. She believed that you had to put your heart and soul into whatever you did, because once you went off on your own path—in a big way or a small way—you were going to face the consequences for it. Those are words I live by.


Hilary Davidson has won the Anthony Award, the Derringer Award, the Crimespree Award, and two Ellery Queen Reader’s Choice Awards. Her debut novel, THE DAMAGE DONE, published by Tor/Forge, launched a series featuring travel writer Lily Moore, which continues with THE NEXT ONE TO FALL—set in Peru—and EVIL IN ALL ITS DISGUISES, about a missing journalist in Acapulco. Toronto-born and New York City-based, Hilary is also the author of 18 nonfiction books, as well as dozens of short stories, which have been published in Thuglit, Ellery Queen, Beat to a Pulp, and other dark places. Her latest book is the hardboiled BLOOD ALWAYS TELLS, her first standalone novel. Visit her online at



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Muse Wednesday Redux

It’s been awhile since I posted regular Muse Wednesdays. I missed them.  I love learning what set my fellow authors on the road to writing. But social media is a time suck and so I put the Muse blogs aside for only special occasions and the odd one-off author who actually seeks me out to do one.

So why bring them back now?  What’s special about the next four Wednesdays in September?

Bouchercon 2015 will be held in Raleigh, NC, from October 7-11th.

And once again, I have the distinct honor of being a Moderator for a panel entitled, Maintaining Pacing in Mystery.

The panel consists of published authors Annette Dashofy, Hilary Davidson, Laura Benedict, and Rebecca Drake.  Our panel is scheduled for Saturday, October 10th at 1 pm.  If you’re attending, we’d love to see you there.  If you aren’t, there is still time to register for this conference which is the largest mystery convention in the world. See the full scheduled of events and panels, HERE.

My four panelists are all at the top of their game in the mystery/suspense/thriller field, so I thought it would be fun to ask them who or what their writing Muse(s) are — and at the same time get some promo and advance excitement for our fabulous panel.  Yes, I am devious that way. 😉

The Muse Blog schedule is as follows:

September 9th –Annette Dashofy

September 16th –Hilary Davidson

September 23rd–Laura Benedict

September 30th – Rebecca Drake

I’ve already seen Annette’s blog and I love her choice.  And, no, I’m not telling, you have to come back next week and see who she picked.

And to remind you what a Muse Blog is all about, I am re-blogging my original Muse Blog which addressed why I write what I write:



Monette Michaels

 In the summer of 1964, I picked up The Moon Spinners.  From the opening line, Mary Stewart had this twelve-year-old girl hooked: “It was the egret, flying out of the lemon grove, that started it.”  Such a simple line filled with questions. Who is the narrator?  Where was the narrator that she chanced to see an egret fly from a lemon grove? And what exactly had started?

From that little line, I traveled with Nikky Ferris, a young British woman, on a journey of discovery and danger. When Nikky takes that first step off the beaten path to Agios Georgios, she didn’t know it yet, but she has changed her life forever.  As she makes her way into the rugged mountains lining the Greek coastline, I tasted the dust Nikky’s shoes cast into the air.  I smelled the lemon flowers as she wends her way through the grove.  I shivered at the coolness of the mountain water when Nikki pauses to rinse her hot, dusty hands.  I shared her sense of isolation and the building anticipation that something was going to happen.  When Lambos drops into her path, knife in hand, my heart rate jumped right along with Nikky’s.  What had started out to be a pleasant little getaway with her aunt in a sleepy little Greek seaside resort, has now become a life and death matter as Nikky’s future becomes inextricably intertwined with Mark and Colin Langley’s lives – – lives that had been changed forever when the brothers stumbled across murder in the wilds of Greece.  And I was with her every step of the way.

What amazes me, now that I also write novels, is that the set up in The Moon-Spinners is done so effortlessly and in less than two chapters. There are no wasted words or lines in a Mary Stewart book.  Just as the fabled Moon Spinners spin the moon, Ms. Stewart spins her story, effortlessly and inexorably pulling in her reader.

So what is it about Mary Stewart’s romantic suspense novels that has captured several generations of readers and influenced a generation of authors?

For me, other than the amazing settings and sense of place, it is her ability to create an atmosphere that holds you breathlessly in its thrall from her novels’ first words until the last. Her usage of words rivals a poet’s.  No doubt about it:  Mary Stewart is a master wordsmith.   Added to her perfect selection of words is a superb sense of pacing.  Each word, each line of text builds upon its predecessor, building tension and  providing relief, only to escalate again until the final climactic scene.  Her plots are a perfect balance of description, suspense, and romance and as seamless as a Mobius strip.  This is why myself and a whole generation of authors have attempted to emulate Mary Stewart’s style.

In my romantic suspense novels, I sweat every word, every line, striving to recreate the  suspense-romance symmetry, the perfect pacing of a Mary Stewart novel. My villains are driven to commit evil.  The heroes are strong; the heroines, just as strong or stronger. Fate throws them together, changing their lives for better – – or worse, as the case may be.  In my books, as in Stewart’s, good always triumphs over evil, but sometimes the line between the two is a bit smudged.  From lean first lines to the end, I strive to take my readers on just as breathless a ride as Mary Stewart always gave me.  Do I do this as gracefully and seamlessly as she did?  I only hope so.  Time will tell.

Copyright, Monette Michaels, 2006. This essay  is not to be reprinted without the express permission of the author. Worldwide print anthology rights are held by Crum Creek Press.