Bestselling Author


The Spectacular by Fiona Davis

From the New York Times Bestselling Author of The Magnolia Palace: A thrilling story about love, sacrifice, and the pursuit of dreams, set amidst the glamour and glitz of Radio City Music Hall in its mid-century heyday.

Fiona Davis

Fiona Davis is the New York Times bestselling author of seven historical fiction novels set in iconic New York City buildings, including THE SPECTACULAR, THE MAGNOLIA PALACE, THE ADDRESS, and THE LIONS OF FIFTH AVENUE, which was a Good Morning America book club pick. Her novels have been chosen as “One Book, One Community” reads and her articles have appeared in publications like The Wall Street Journal and the Oprah magazine. She first came to New York as an actress, but fell in love with writing after getting a master’s degree at Columbia Journalism School. Her books have been translated into over twenty languages and she’s based in New York City.F

In this episode of “Historical Happy Hour,” Jane Healey interviews Fiona Davis, the New York Times bestselling author, about her novel “The Spectacular.” Set in 1950s New York, the novel intertwines the stories of a Rockette aspirant and a psychiatrist, set against the backdrop of Radio City Music Hall and the hunt for the notorious “Big Apple Bomber.” Davis delves into her research process, character development, and the intricacies of writing historical fiction, offering a captivating look into the world of 1950s New York and the unique challenges and joys of performing arts during that era.

Here’s what we covered:

  • [00:00:00] Introduction: Overview of the episode and introduction of Fiona Davis.
  • [00:01:13] Origins of “The Spectacular”: Fiona’s inspiration for the book and its setting.
  • [00:03:17] Research on Rockettes: Insights into the life of Rockettes in the 1950s.
  • [00:05:09] Challenges of Rockette Performers: Discussion on the rigorous life and training of Rockettes.
  • [00:06:30] Radio City Music Hall as a Character: The importance and character of the setting.
  • [00:08:58] The Rehearsal Club: Exploration of a unique housing facility for performing women.
  • [00:10:29] Historical Crime Element: Incorporation of the “Big Apple Bomber” in the story.
  • [00:14:00] Dual Narrative Structure: The format of the novel spanning different time periods.
  • [00:17:11] Character Development: Fiona discusses the main character Marion.
  • [00:18:33] Writing Process: Fiona’s approach to writing and plotting.
  • [00:20:35] Challenges in Writing: Discussion on the different stages of writing a novel.
  • [00:23:57] Advice for Aspiring Authors: Fiona shares tips for new writers.
  • [00:25:54] Cover Design: Conversation about the book cover and its design process.
  • [00:27:39] Upcoming Projects: Fiona talks about her next book set at the Met Museum.
  • [00:29:12] Connecting with Readers: Fiona’s ways of engaging with her audience.


[00:00:00] Jane: Welcome to Historical Happy Hour, the podcast that explores new and exciting historical fiction novels. I’m your host Jane Healy, and in today’s episode we welcome Fiona Davis to talk about her new book, the Spectacular Welcome, Fiona.

[00:00:18] Fiona: Thank you for having me. I’m thrilled

[00:00:20] Jane: to be here. Thank you so much.

I’m, I’m so happy to have you because we were just talking, we feel we have so many mutual friends in common and it’s just awesome to finally like be able to chat. ’cause I have, I have so many questions tonight, but I’m gonna start. With an intro, although I think a lot of you on here already know of her books, but I’ll start I’ll say it.

So Fiona Davis is the New York Times bestselling author of seven historical fiction novels set in the iconic New York City buildings, including the spectacular the Magnolia Palace. The Address and the Lines of Fifth Avenue, which was a Good Morning America book club pick. Her articles have appeared in publications like The Wall Street Journal and Oh!

the Oprah Magazine. She first came to New York as an actress but fell in love with writing after getting a master’s degree at Columbia Journalism School. Her books have been translated into over 20 languages and she’s based in New York City. Thank you so much for coming on!

[00:01:12] Fiona: Oh, thank you for having me.

[00:01:13] Jane: This is wonderful. So great. So and we’ve got a big crowd tonight. So I loved the origin story of this novel’s premise. And tell me how you came up with the premise of The Spectacular and kind of a gist about what it’s about.

[00:01:28] Fiona: Yeah, so the spectacular takes place at Radio City Music Hall in the 1950s.

And it’s from the point of view of a 19 year old dancer named Marion, who very much wants to be a Rockette. Her father disapproves, and she kind of goes against his wishes to audition. And then at the same time, In New York City in the 50s, there was a bomber setting bombs in iconic New York City locations, and this is actually true.

And so in my book my character, Marion has a encounter with what I call the big apple bomber. And for very personal reasons, she has to team up with a psychiatrist who’s very brilliant, but introverted. And together they have to try and track down this mad bomber. And I like to say it’s a, it’s kind of a mix of thriller, mystery, little romance, and of course, all that glamor of backstage Radio City Music Hall, which was really fun.

And yeah, so the idea kind of walked into my life where a reader sent an email through my author website and I read it and it said, you know, I’m in my eighties, I’m a former rock cat. And I love all your books. I love all your locations and you should set one at Radio City Music Hall. And if you do, I’ll tell you all the secrets.

And I thought, great. Okay.

[00:02:46] Jane: Yeah. And Radio City Music Hall was not a book. It was not a. Famous site in New York you’d written about yet. And I loved all the details and all. I have more questions about that. But, but talk to me at first about about your research into the Rockettes themselves. This woman sent you a letter.

I read the letter on your website. And there’s also a book club kit on your website, which was great. And you got to interview other Rockettes as well, right? And tell us about the research, that part of the research. And was there anything that surprised you when you interviewed them? Yeah, that’s a great question.

[00:03:17] Fiona: I loved it because I knew I wanted to set the book in the 50s. So I ended up interviewing Rockettes who had danced in the kind of 40s, 50s, 60s. So these are women in their, around their eighties now. And they were all so, you know, the way they talked about their time dancing at Radio City was so reverential for every one of them.

This was the highlight of their life. This was an amazing point in time. Because keep in mind, back then, women weren’t supposed to be dancing on a stage. You were supposed to be a nurse or a secretary or even better, a wife. And so a lot of them were going against their parents wishes. In order to do what they loved doing and, you know, one talked about that her favorite memory was walking down the middle of 5th Avenue in the middle of the night in arm and arm with her fellow Rockettes and just singing at the top of their lungs.

Right, because the freedom and the independence and they were making their own money. And so, you know, for me, in my books, I’m always looking for, you know, what is the female point of view at that time. And how, how tough was it, you know, to exist as a woman at that time. And, and, you know, here were these women who were making their own money and having a great time.

And yeah, they told me all these wonderful things like so much of what we see on stage when they’re dancing. It’s an illusion. For example, when they do that kick line, it looks like they’re all hanging on to each other. But in fact, there’s a few inches of space. Between the back of the dancer and the hand of the girl next to her, and that’s so they don’t wobble and knock each other over.

But when you think about the strength and the technique that’s required to do that, and then at that time, they were doing 600 kicks a day because there were four shows after every movie, you would have a stage show. And so it was this really intense bonding experience as they worked, you know, three or four weeks straight without a day off.

It was incredible.

[00:05:09] Jane: Incredible. I could not, like, I was exhausted reading some of it. Like, the workout that the, they must have been in phenomenal shape. Like, that’s what I kept thinking about when I was reading some of that. That was crazy.

[00:05:20] Fiona: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, you know, they, they worked from around 10 in the morning until, you know, 11 o’clock at night and then they go to sleep and wake up and do it all again.

And then if there was a new movie coming in to the Radio City, which was a movie palace at that time, they would have to learn a whole new dance based on the theme of that movie. Cause that’s the way it worked. And so they’d be, you know, up early, you know, if, if it was the film premiere, they’d have to get up early at 5am, get there by seven, do a dress rehearsal, and then, you know, start in on the new number.

It was incredible because of that, what was so cool is that Radio City really became like a city because they had to support all of these people who were working there. So, you know, there were, there was a nurse’s station, a cafeteria, dormitory, a library. They had things like a poster department and a shoe department, and then of course, all the rehearsal halls and the dressing rooms.

And then on the, on the roof, they would play shuffle ball and a wiffle ball. They had a shuffle ball, shuffle ball court. And so they’d go up there in between shows and hang out and, you know, lounge around on Adirondack chairs. It just, it sounded like such a fun time.

[00:06:30] Jane: It sounded so fun. And that actually is a good segue into my next question because Radio City Musical itself almost feels like another character in the book.

And it, and so talk to me about the kind of research you did to create such an immersive sense of place. Because I just felt it. And yeah, and you felt the energy and that that it was like, it was kind of a city because these girls, I mean, they had other places they stayed and we’ll talk about that, but they were there all the time.

[00:06:57] Fiona: Yeah, yeah. And they were there. Not only with them, there was a men’s choral group or a choral group. There was a ballet troupe that danced in between movies. I mean, it was incredible. Yeah, you know, the research was really, really interesting. There’s a wonderful archive. Of at Rockefeller center. And so I was able to go there and just pour through photos and old programs and, you know, all the things that kind of brought that to life.

I found this really great kind of black and white five minute film on the life of, you know, someone working at Radio City Music Hall. I think it was shot in the 40s. And it was, you know, that kind of flickering old black and white and showed them on the roof and, you know, and dancing, rehearsing up there and you know, running up the stairs to get ready.

It was that kind of thing helped, helped me understand it and see it because it’s like a maze back there. And so to, to create something that felt real. You know, I really needed to know where is everything, where were the dressing rooms, where was that? So spatially, my characters were being consistent in terms of what they were doing.

So that was fun. Like talking to Rockettes was great. And then doing all that deep dive of what the theater looked like and, and what it was like to be inside it back then was helpful as well. Yeah, very.

[00:08:17] Jane: Yeah, you really, you nailed that. I just, you got such a great sense of place. And and like I said, it felt like another character.

I also love learning about where she stayed in like she got kicked out of her home. That’s not a spoiler and ends up staying at this rehearsal club. Which is a real place. It was a boarding house. It was almost like a girl’s dormitory in New York City. And I, of course, I like did a, you know, nerdy Google thing.

And I like, Carol Burnett stayed at this dorm, and Sandy Duncan and Blythe Danner. And that was like, I’m like, Oh, you should maybe write about that place next. Like, there’s a lot of stories there. I know. Talk to me about that place. Because I thought that was so cool. Oh, you know, I

[00:08:58] Fiona: came upon that where, you know, I learned that a number of the Rockettes, I think I was reading a memoir of a Rockette, and she mentioned that she lived at the Rehearsal Club.

And so the, you know, the writer in me was like, oh, what’s that? And I learned it’s, it was kind of a double brownstone on East 53rd Street. So, really close to Radio City, which made it convenient. And so it was kind of like the Barbizon Hotel for women, but shrunken down and only for women who are pursuing a career in the performing arts.

And it was started by two women back in the twenties and it changed location. And they were just looking for somewhere where women who wanted to be actors, dancers, singers could stay because back then. It was very suspect if you were a single woman looking for a room, it, you know, most ladies would not rent to you because it was, you know, considered dodgy.

And so they created this really wonderful place. And if you’ve seen the movie stage door with Catherine Hepburn, that is based on the rehearsal club and really gives you a wonderful splendid idea of what it was like to live there. And yeah, so they had, you know, rehearsal spaces inside and they had a number of rooms and you shared a room usually.

And Carol Burnett talked about on a podcast she did recently about how, you know, she came to New York and she didn’t have an agent. She had nothing. And so she and her friends at the rehearsal club where she was staying, they, Created a show and they invited all the agents they knew to come to the rehearsal club and watch them perform it.

And that’s how she got her first agent.

[00:10:29] Jane: Amazing. Oh, I didn’t know that story. That’s amazing.

[00:10:32] Fiona: And, and there were all these rules too. Like, you know, alcohol, no smoking, you had to be between 18 and 25 and neither married nor divorced, you know, there were no men allowed. There were a lot of boys at midnight.

But it just sounds like a wonderful place. And in fact, they’re having their, I think they’re, they’re. Anniversary 100th anniversary celebration here in New York. Later this month. So there’s a whole alumni group formed from the

[00:10:57] Jane: rehearsal club. Oh, so cool. Yeah, I love that little detail. I’d never heard of it before.

I so I’m obsessed with. True crime podcast. And one other fascinating aspect of this story that is based, I mean, you fictionalize it, but it’s based in fact, is that the story of the mad bomber in the 1950s in New York, and also how this psychiatrist, James Russell was the kind of the pioneer of criminal profiling, which I thought was such a cool idea and premise to weave into the story.

So talk to me a little bit about the, the fiction, the fact behind the fiction here. I’d love to hear it.

[00:11:34] Fiona: Yeah, you know, whenever I’m writing a book, I, I researched the time period in the decade to see what was going on. So I can kind of root it in the city as well as in the building. And so for this one you know, I, I’d learned that in the, in late 56, the police were ramping up their hunt for the mad bomber and they finally caught him in January 57.

And I read that and I thought, what, you know, what mad bomber who was terrorizing New York city? Yeah. And I, I dug into it and it turns out this guy had set 33 bombs over the course of 16 years. He hurt 15 people, some very seriously, and he would set them in iconic New York City buildings, like in a telephone booth at Penn Station, or in the men’s bathroom at Grand Central Terminal, or, you know, in, in the seats.

He set two at Radio City Music Hall where he put them in the seats. He would kind of slit the seat open and slide a pipe bomb inside. And they, the police couldn’t find them. They were completely at wit’s end. And so finally they reached out to this psychiatrist named James, James Russell, and they gave him all the letters and everything the guy had sent over the many years.

And he looked at it and he said, you know, I think you’re looking for a guy who’s between 40 and 50. He said, he’ll be very methodical and very well dressed. He said, he’ll probably be living with an older female relative. He’ll be Roman Catholic. From Eastern Europe, and then the kicker was, he said, when you find him, he’ll be wearing a double breasted suit and it will be buttoned.

And we won’t give anything away, but the science of criminal profiling was born from this, and he went on to travel all over and kind of teach other law enforcement office officers about how, how it worked. And there’s a wonderful book out on it called Incendiary by a guy named Michael Connell. And that for me was such a helpful thing to, to read because it really, you know, gave a lot of details that I could round out in my book.

I call him the Big Apple Bomber and I’ve changed something simply because I had to, but you’ll get a sense of what it was really like. And no one I knew here in New York had heard of him.

[00:13:38] Jane: No, that’s that was an extraordinary piece of history, too. Yeah, so interesting. So the the this is a dual narrative.

I’m always interested in structure of story. And it takes place in the 1950s and the 1990s. And that goes back and forth. Was that your original plan? Or did that kind of evolve from the writing? That evolved a little.

[00:14:00] Fiona: Well, the plan was to have it be kind of in the, in the voice of a rock cat who’s looking back on her life.

But in an early draft, and in fact, I think I’m like some of the, you know how they do inserts on the last book where they include the first chapter of the next book. Some of them had an early draft where the woman is in her. 70s or 80s. And later on, I changed it so that she’s now in her 50s. But she’s this woman, she’s looking back on her life and what happened.

And then she has flashbacks to the memory. So most of the book does take place in 56. And I knew I wanted that to happen because as a thriller, I needed to have kind of that straight shoot, you know, I didn’t want to jump back and forth too much. So it’s less jumping back and forth than my other books.

There may be four or five chapters. And then it kind of all wraps up at the end in a way that I hope is, you know, kind of bittersweet, but also is satisfying. Mm

[00:14:53] Jane: hmm. I think it was. Yes. So tell me about, more about Marion, the main character. She’s a protagonist. She goes against her father’s wishes and joins the Rockettes.

She kind of tries out on a whim. How did, was she a composite of the different women you talked about? And, I mean, that you talked to, that you interviewed? And what is your character development process like? And you’re writing.

[00:15:15] Fiona: Yeah. So, so what I do is I do all that research for about three or four months.

It takes me about a year and a half to write a book these days. And so I do all that research and I get ideas for who this character could be. And so, you know, I started thinking all these rockets were talking to me. About how their parents disapproved and I thought, okay, that’s a great obstacle for a character to have.

And that’s what I’m looking for. I’m looking for a character who’s sympathetic but has things just thrown in her way that she has to overcome. And then I learned about the Big Apple Bomber and that began to kind of change her trajectory a little bit in terms of who she was and what she wanted. And then filling out her family around that.

So it’s really finding that first character, finding out what are her strengths. What are her weaknesses? What’s her goal? And then what I, what can I put in the way? So she can’t have it which is kind of cruel, but one of the things that I was really inspired by was an actual rock cat named Vera Ellen.

I think I have that right. It’s yeah. Vera Ellen. And she was a, a rock cat when she was very young. And she just couldn’t fit in. She was just bigger than all the other dancers. She was more expressive. And, you know, as a rocket, you are in a precision dance troupe and there is no room for individuality. And so this woman is dancer was having a hard time fitting in.

And the guy who ran it said, you know, you have a couple of weeks to get it together and she finally quit before she got fired, went on to a fantastic film career, so she did very well for herself, but I was really intrigued by that idea. You know, how do you pull yourself back if you’re, if you’re tend to be larger than life and you know, your job description is to fit in, how do you do it and what are the constraints and when is it a good idea to fit in and toe the line and when is it a good idea to kind of break free and have your voice heard.

And so that’s a theme that really goes throughout the book and really starts with Marion in the very beginning.

[00:17:11] Jane: Yeah, definitely. And so I, I was, this is one of the, the books that is so visual. It was, it was very cinematic to me. And so are there any plans for it to become a movie? And if there were, even if there aren’t, who would you, who do you picture as Marion?

[00:17:27] Fiona: Oh, that’s good. Yeah. You know you know, there’s been some lovely interest, but then of course the strike hit. So we’ll see what happens. And yeah, you know, my problem is I’m in my fifties. So all of my references are from the eighties, like, right. That’s who I imagine is on my eighties actresses. So to be honest, like a 20 something Elizabeth shoe.

Great for this role you know, that kind of thing where you’re just gorgeous and bubbly and you know, I wanted her to be a very strong contrast to Peter, the psychiatrist who’s helping her out, who’s introverted and smart, but you know, very kind of closed off. I wanted her to just be, you know, bursting with life and that was really fun to try and do that.

[00:18:12] Jane: Yeah, definitely. So I always ask some questions about the process and then I can take some questions from the audience. So if you have questions for Fiona, you can put them in the chat or in the Q& A and I’ll, I’ll field them after I ask these questions. Tell me, are you a plotter or a pantser? Do you write by the seat of your pants?

Or are you somewhere in between?

[00:18:33] Fiona: So yes, I am very much a plotter. I could not sit down and face a blank page.

I would just go and curl up and cry on my bed all day. So I, I plotted out really pretty carefully and I, I did that from the beginning because when I first thought, Oh, you know, it’d be fun to try and write a dual timeline historical novel is I found those that I loved. And I, I. Studied their structure and wrote out.

Hey, what’s going on? Is the action rising or falling? You know, what are the high points? How are they making? How are they making these choices? And then I could kind of apply it to my own story and see if it would fit in. So yeah, I, I plot pretty carefully. And I, once I’m done with that, I have an outline that I can follow.

That, you know, each chapter is maybe a paragraph or two, but it’s enough that I know where I’m headed and I can kind of keep on track and keep the, the, the story flowing because I love a page turner. And that’s a way I think to do that versus kind of meandering and finding it, you know, if I know the, if I know what the rhythm has to be I can hit it and and hopefully write a first draft pretty quickly it takes about three or four months.

[00:19:44] Jane: Oh, wow. That’s impressive. But, but yeah, I, I understand. I like a, a, a solid roadmap, not to say that it sometimes changes a little, but, but yeah, I like, I like to have a path, at least some sort of path.

[00:19:55] Fiona: Yeah. Cause then it’s, you know, if you’re working on a scene and it’s just clunky and it’s not working, which happens sometimes, you know, that there’s a scene in a few days that you’re really excited to write.

And that kind of gets you through the clunkiness, knowing that you can go back and edit.

[00:20:09] Jane: Exactly. Make it better later. That’s right. I even like write notes in the, in the margins to myself. Like, this is horrible. Fix it later. In case anyone reads it when I’m not around. Like, I know this is terrible.

[00:20:23] Fiona: Yeah. And they’re always in brackets. Like, Oh God, please.

[00:20:28] Jane: Yeah. Totally. So what is your favorite part of the whole writing process? And what is the part that you dread?

[00:20:35] Fiona: I really don’t like writing that first draft, just, you know, create, it’s so exhausting to create a scene and try and make it good writing, you know, and try and be literary and, you know, get everything in that you want to get in.

And, and you just can’t see the forest for the trees because. You know, you’re kind of just with blinders on working on a scene and you don’t know if it’s going to connect to the next one. Or if, you know, if the plot twist is going to work, it’s just, and as the more you write, the more problems come up in terms of, Oh, especially when you’re dealing with a mystery, right?

Like, ah, that, then I got to fix that somewhere. So that’s the toughest. I like editing a lot. Kind of when it’s in that stage where it’s pretty, it’s pretty close to being done and you can just go in and make it layered and deeper and that to me would be my favorite.

[00:21:26] Jane: Me too. Yeah. I enjoy that part of the process.

It’s collaborative. The hardest work for me is always the first draft and that part’s done. It’s such a relief, you know, like I love getting there. Yeah.

[00:21:37] Fiona: You like research too? Cause I like the research part. There’s a little panic in it of, is there a story here? But I love doing

[00:21:44] Jane: research. I do. I love doing research too.

And, and if I, I found like, if I didn’t have a deadline, I would just be doing that for a couple of years.

[00:21:53] Fiona: Yeah. Yeah. Oh, I know. You could just collect so much information that’s just fascinating to you and would bore the, you know, bore the pants off anyone else.

[00:22:03] Jane: And actually that, you know, that this question is not on my list, but do you, what do you use to organize your research?

Do you, are you a Scrivener user? Are you a word, just strict to word?

[00:22:12] Fiona: I’m Scrivener all the way. I could not do this. In fact, I’m in the middle of a huge revision of the next manuscript. And with Scrivener, you can just kind of take a chapter and ka chunk and move it somewhere else where you have to copy paste, make sure you’re in the right spot.

And so Scrivener just cleans it up. It’s a really clean way to view a long project. And then on top of that, you have all your research within your fingertips. So you can pull up a photo or a website. And that takes up half your screen and then your manuscripts on the other half. It’s just, I find it brilliant.

I couldn’t do it without it. And there’s, I’m sure with you as well, there’s a point where it’s with your editor and you get it back and it’s a Word doc. And now it’s a Word doc. You can’t, you know, change it back. And that’s always the hard adjustment of, okay, you know, now I have to work only in word.

[00:23:00] Jane: Oh, right, right.

Yeah, I’m Yeah. And I think I’ve mentioned Scrivener on here before. But for those of you don’t know, it’s a it’s a word processing program. And it allows you to keep your research and your draft in one place. And it also has like a cork, cork board, vision, like board you can use. And I think I only use like 10 percent of the capabilities of Scrivener.

But I do I do love it.

[00:23:22] Fiona: Same here, same here. And there’s like a you have a notes. Section kind of off to the right on your screen. And so, you know, if something there’s something global that you have to deal with later in your manuscript, you can just scribble a quick note. And it’s just right in front of you.

It’s just brilliant. Whoever invented it. And

[00:23:37] Jane: not that expensive, which I can’t even believe sometimes. Yeah, exactly. So you have proven staying power in the publishing industry, which is not easy at all. And I know we have some aspiring authors in the audience. What’s the best advice you can give them about writing and getting published?

[00:23:57] Fiona: Yeah, you know, there is a really wonderful book by Courtney Maugham, M A U M, called Before, During, and After the Book Deal, that is such a great industry view of, you know, what it’s like to be a writer and, and, and what you should know, all the details that no one tells you. It feels like it’s a funny industry where it’s kind of secretive and no one quite knows what the big picture is or what’s really going on.

And she really lays it out there, which is great. And so I would say read as much about craft as you can. And for me, the main thing was finishing that first book, because I think it’s really easy to have a great idea and write, maybe A third or a half of it and then get bored and it gets hard and you don’t want to kind of get through the pain.

And so you find another idea and oh, that’s better. And you work on that. But you really have to finish that first book, even if it’s the book that ends up in the drawer, which all of us have just to know what it’s like to get from A to Z. And keep an entire book with all those characters and all that plot in your head, because it’s a weird thing and it gets easier the more you go along to keep all those things going on in your head.

And, you know, it’s like the bubble above you with an entire, an entirely other world in it. And so once you’ve finished the, that book, you get a sense of, okay, here’s how it works. And then the next one, you know, comes easier and a little easier. It never gets that easy. You always hit that point. Where it’s like a blockade and you’re sick of it and you hate these characters and you don’t want to keep on going.

But if you do, that’s the payoff and that’s where you get the reward.

[00:25:37] Jane: Yeah, that’s excellent advice. I completely agree. Talk to me about your gorgeous cover. I love it. And if you want to hold it up do you have input in cover design? Like, do you have much input into it? Because it’s beautiful. I love, I love the color palette.

Yeah, I love it. Yeah,

[00:25:54] Fiona: they do a great job. No, I’m Christopher Lynn is the head of the art director at Dutton, which is my publisher. And he is just amazing. He’s been with me from the very first book. So that dollhouse cover with the Barbizon and the girls striding through Central Park. I mean, he just gets it usually on the very first try, we’ll get something.

That’s amazing. And maybe we may tweak it a little or, you know, change the colors a little bit or change the font. But in general, Thanks He always gives me something that I just adore. And and so it’s really exciting because each book is a little different. You know, each book is in a different decade.

It’s a different building. It’s a different set of characters. Yet the way he’s done it is they all feel cohesive. You know, if you see them on a shelf together, it makes sense that These books were written by the same person, and that’s not an easy thing to do while still keeping fresh. So, yeah, they, they, they are very open to, you know, if I have an idea about what the woman’s wearing or her hair color.

And so it’s a, it’s a wonderful collaboration, but they do all the heavy lifting, no question.

[00:26:56] Jane: Yeah, and like you said, I mean, they, your brand, it kind of, like, they all kind of fit together, all your different books, but yeah, they’re all very unique in terms of design, so, and that’s a, that’s a hard balance, I think, for sure.

[00:27:07] Fiona: Yeah, especially because, you know, historical fiction, there’s, there’s so many covers that all start looking the same. You know, right. And so we’re trying to find something that’s a little out of the box, but still won’t alienate historical fiction lovers because that’s, you know, those are our core audience and we want to please.

[00:27:25] Jane: Yes, yes. And I have two more questions and we have a lot of historical fiction fans who have who have questions for you as well. So talk to me about what you’re working on right now because it sounds super fascinating and I’m so excited about it.

[00:27:39] Fiona: Yeah, yeah. So the next book will be set at the Met Museum here in New York.

And it’s a, it’s a beautiful building. There’s so much going on in it. It required a trip to Egypt in April, which was great. For research and and it’s kind of two time periods again going back and forth a little bit. But it’s really a dynamic between two women, one older, one younger, who have to team up to solve a mystery as they tend to do in my book.

And it’s got a little bit of the glamour from the Met Gala, which is of course the big party of the year that’s held every year. And then also part of the Egyptology wing, which is fascinating. And so it’s a little bit of old and new and glamour and mummies. And and most of it takes place in 1978, which is a really fun year to write about.

[00:28:23] Jane: Oh, very cool. And when are you expecting that to come out?

[00:28:26] Fiona: It looks like it’ll be January of 2025. Perfect. So I think about a year and a half in between books now. So that that would line up right about there. Yeah.

[00:28:34] Jane: Oh, excellent. How can readers best stay in touch with you?

[00:28:38] Fiona: Oh, that’s so nice of you to ask.

I do a newsletter about once a month, which is really fun and usually kind of has book recommendations or behind the scenes stuff about the research that I’ve done. And and you can sign up for that on my website, which is Fiona Davis books. com. And I’m also on Instagram and Facebook. Those are my two main, main ones.

And there’s also a calendar of events on my website too, because there’s a lot going on. This book has legs. And so I’ve been doing a lot of, of road trips and talking about it all over the country. So hopefully I’ll come near you at one point.

[00:29:12] Jane: Yes. If you come to Boston, I’ll, I could do it in conversation and interview about it.

That’d be so fun. Amazing. I have book, I have bookstore owner friends. So let me know if you, if you decide to do that. And

[00:29:24] Fiona: likewise, if you come to New York, happy to. Yeah,

[00:29:27] Jane: absolutely. Definitely. Definitely. Let’s see. I’m sorry. I put do not disturb and my daughter’s texting me. I’m sorry if you heard the beep.

So questions. Okay. This is a good one from Anissa Armstrong. What character changed the most from your first draft to the final draft?

[00:29:43] Fiona: Ooh, Anissa, she always asks the best questions. What character changed the most? That is good. Probably Marion, to be honest, because at the beginning she was a little too rambunctious.

And, and kind of less sympathetic. So I had to kind of dial her back a little and, and figure out who she was and, and just pull her back just a little bit. So she was the one who probably changed the most.

[00:30:08] Jane: Alicia Ludwig asks, is the rehearsal club still there? You

[00:30:14] Fiona: know what? It is no longer in the spot it’s in, but like, I don’t know if they still call it the rehearsal club.

I think they do. Just opened on 34th street on the West. Side of Manhattan. And it was just a huge thing in the New York Times about it. And it’s bigger, I think, and, and so you have to audition to get accepted. Oh wow. But then you get a room and you get bored and you get, you know, it. It’s a really wonderful community to be part of.

So it is still going on, which is really, really cool. I’m so glad. I think that’s a critical thing to offer young women coming to the city even today.

[00:30:49] Jane: Yeah, I agree. That’s such a great thing. This is from an anonymous attendee. Do you how do you develop your characters fully before you start writing character profiles?

I think they are called or do you let them develop naturally as you go along? This is a question from a newbie fiction writer.

[00:31:03] Fiona: Oh, wonderful. Yeah, you know, I do a little bit of both. I definitely do character profiles. And I have kind of a template that I use that, you know, what are their strengths, what are their weaknesses, what’s the defining moment from their childhood.

So I try to get all that down and then it usually changes. I don’t know if you find this where, you know, the character kind of changes as I write it. And then when I look back at those sheets later, I’m like, Whoa, that’s, that’s a different person because you get to know them as you go along. So I do a little bit of both and, and just kind of see where it leads me.

[00:31:40] Jane: More questions, and if you have more, you can type them in the chat or the Q and A. There’s, and by the way, there’s so many lovely comments in the comment section. I will send them to you after this, because they’re just, everyone has so many things, nice things to say. Christine Mott, who’s, I don’t think you’ve missed one, says, sorry, I’m late.

I love Fiona’s books. Sharon Person says, you sure picked the perfect book title. Sharon is a loyal follower, too. Every, every review says the book is spectacular. You make it too easy for us. So sweet. Yeah. So sweet. Jacqueline Malizia says Fiona, I used to work in New York city and loved it. You have highlighted so many of my favorite sites.

Thank you. I am so excited to read this book. What do you think is your favorite place in New York city?

[00:32:23] Fiona: Ooh, my favorite place in New York city. That, that’s a, that’s a tough question, I have to say. One of my favorite kind of secret places is at Grand Central Terminal. And if you’ve read the book, The Masterpiece, there’s a scene that takes place in the 20s in what’s called the Campbell apartment, which was an apartment, it was an office for one of the directors of the, the Grand Central Terminal company.

And then later in the 70s, in my book, it’s a police holding cell. Where they would throw like, you know, all the, all the drunk guys who came off the train, they’d throw them and they kind of put up that paneling and just, you know, it’d been this beautiful, beautiful space and they just kind of wrecked it.

And now it’s called the Campbell Bar. And it’s up a secret set of stairs. You have to go outside the terminal and the stairs are located on the south West corner and follow the there’s kind of an inscription in the stone like to the Campbell bar and you follow these steps up and you open the door and it’s like you’ve stepped back in time and there’s antique rugs.

This huge fireplace. There’s a balcony. There’s these beautiful stained glass windows and then beautiful wood bar and it’s it’s kind of dark and cozy. It’s just a really great secret that most people don’t know about. So that’s one of my favorite places in New York. Oh,

[00:33:42] Jane: that’s a great tip. I love places like that.

And I haven’t been to New York in too long, so I’m going to remember that one. That’s so cool. So, oh, and this, you, you know what, she has a question that I meant to ask you. Tell me, tell us about the the Thursday authors. Oh, that’s nice.

[00:33:56] Fiona: Yeah. So during COVID you know, we were all kind of stuck in our, our homes and, and a few of my friends here in the city.

You know, we couldn’t see each other and we all wanted to touch base because some, some of us had books coming out at a really weird time when no one knew how to do no one knew what zoom was. And so early on we decided to get together and do like a happy hour at five o’clock every Thursday, and we get together and zoom and you know commiserate and support each other and you know see what we could do to help out when someone had a book coming out.

And we just kept it up. And so the, the authors are Jamie Brenner, Amy Popel, Nicola Harrison, Susie Ormond Schnall Linda Leugmann. There’s a blogger Susie, who’s, who’s part of it as well. I think I got everybody. I’m, I’m not counting on my fingers. And And so we still kind of get together.

And in fact, we were just asked to do a panel together here in New York city at the end of October, October 26th, I think it is on a Thursday. And we’re going to be interviewed by Zibi Owens from from Zibi, the Zibi world. Yes. And just kind of talk about what we do, how we do it, how we support each other, how we write strong female characters and kind of be honest about what are the ups and downs of being a writer.

And, and kind of being in this weird creative field and what it’s like to have the support of people around you, including by the way, the readers who are so supportive and, and, you know, are just amazing in terms of, you know, keeping in touch and following what we’re doing. And we’re so grateful. So

[00:35:26] Jane: grateful.

I completely agree. And now that’ll be a fun event. And yeah, the Thursday authors are really nice bunch. And you guys do Facebook stuff. You have a Facebook group and all that I definitely encourage people to follow them. Because, yeah, such like great authors and great people. And Susie is such a Susie, who’s also part of the group is such a huge supporter of the book community.

She’s just unbelievable. Yeah. Oh, yeah. So do you have a favorite anonymous attendee asked? Do you have a favorite among the books you’ve read?

[00:35:54] Fiona: You know, it’s usually the book that just came out because you’re, as an author, you’re working on the next book as that book is coming out. And it’s so hard to work on a new book and start all over again from scratch and, you know, come up with a story and something that’s original and, and that, that you look back on, on, you know, the book that you just finished and you’re like, Oh, this was so easy.

And it wasn’t. No, you’re just. Totally deluding yourself, but so it’s probably the, you know, the very last book that I, I worked on. I, I love each of them for different reasons. The Chelsea Girls, because I was an actress in New York City, that book is very close to my heart. It’s about a playwright and a actress putting a show on Broadway during the McCarthy era, which was really interesting to look at.

The Dollhouse was my very first book, so there’s something about that that’s, you know, very close to me. Magnolia Palace, I just loved writing about the Frick. And the people and the staff at the Frick were so supportive. It became this really amazing experience, even though that was done during COVID. It was still, you know, still out of time because they were so great.

So yeah, each one, it all, it just all depends.

[00:37:03] Jane: Yeah, I get it. I Carol and Carol McKee asks this just popped up. I’m curious if as authors and I have not have you read yellow face about which is a book about like kind of an inside book about the publishing industry. No, I have

[00:37:18] Fiona: not. I have it. I have it here but I haven’t.

I haven’t gotten to it yet but yeah, I hear it’s fascinating and I also really enjoyed I didn’t read this book but I watched it the other black girl which is also about the publishing industry. Okay. Oh,

[00:37:31] Jane: I heard about that too. Oh,

[00:37:32] Fiona: it was great. It’s on Hulu, I think, or Netflix. And that’s really a fun inside look as well.

And a great, just really great, great take on it. Yeah, I think we all love writing, reading about the publishing industry and, you know, all the, all the dirt that’s dished on it. But yeah, I have not read Yellow Face yet, but I look

[00:37:53] Jane: forward to it. Yeah, yeah, me too. That’s also on my list. What are you reading right now?

[00:37:59] Fiona: Yeah, I, I am, I just last night went to Jean Kwok’s book talk, book opening her launch for The Leftover Woman and started it and it is great. So that’s what I’m reading now. It’s about a woman in China who comes to New York to try and track down her baby, who she thought was, was dead and turns out was a Good.

And so from these two women’s point of view and I, I hear the twist in it is just incredible that it’s the most satisfying read. And so I’m, I’m very interested to get into that. And she’s really a dynamic, wonderful writer.

[00:38:32] Jane: Oh, amazing. Lovely. What are you reading now? I’m just curious. Oh, what am I reading now?

I’ve been reading a lot for research, but I am, I love a good detective series, and I just finished the, the seventh in the Cormoran Strike series, which is, it’s by Robert Galbraith, who is J. K. Rawling, everyone knows by now. But I like, that, it was 921 pages, and I blew through that. Oh, my God. It was so good.

Yeah, she’s just I mean, she’s JK Rowling. So she knows how to write a decent book. And and this one this one, I, I think it was my favorite of the seven. So yeah. Okay. Good to know. All right. Yeah. And I also, I because I loved it so much, I bought it on audible and as a book, but You know, I think narrators make the book and this narrator was excellent.

So yeah, I don’t, I don’t know about you. Like I, I just, when, when you find a good narrator, even for my own books, but also for other people’s books, it’s just the best. Oh

[00:39:31] Fiona: yeah. Yeah. And they become superstars, which is so great. You know, they become, you know, as important as the author, which I agree to deliver a book like that.

And then, you know, a powerful performance, it’s, it takes so much out

[00:39:44] Jane: of you. I can’t imagine. Yeah, I can’t. And especially this one I think is like 48 hours long, it’s so insane. Like, poor guy, like, that’s a lot of water you have to sip while you’re doing this. Yes. Oh, my goodness. Oh, Jacqueline asked what was the name again, Jane of that book?

Oh, I didn’t tell you. I’m sorry. It was The Running Grave is number seven in that series. So so yeah so many lovely, lovely comments. Dorothy Schwab says I loved every book Fiona has written. Each is special in its own way. So lovely, Dorothy. Barbara Auerbach says, Yes, Lions. This is one of my favorites.

I can’t wait for the Met book. Mary Jo McQueary, Mary Jo Queary says, I love Lions of Fifth Avenue. The sun’s like will be equally as good. Can’t wait to read it. So I will send you some of these because there’s like Hundreds of comments here. But I want to thank you again for taking the time. I know you’re busy with with the new draft and with the schedule for this one, but it’s so lovely to finally kind of meet you not in person, but kind of in person.


[00:40:45] Fiona: yes, no, thank you so much for this. It really is just a great opportunity. And yeah, any anything you need.

[00:40:51] Jane: I’m there for you. Oh, likewise. And like I said, if you come to Boston, I’d love to do an event and interview you because I’ve done a couple of those lately and they’re, they’re more fun and casual, I think, you know, sometimes.

So, yeah, let me know.

[00:41:03] Fiona: Yeah, it’s really fun to be the moderator and just ask the questions, you know,

[00:41:07] Jane: I like that too. I sweat less sweaty. Totally. Okay, I have to say this at the end because or my husband will be mad. So thanks for listening to historical happy hour. Before we go, show some love for your favorite podcast.

He said that I didn’t by leaving us a review on Apple podcasts or Spotify, the more reviews we have, the more readers we reach. I, and I really appreciate it. And if you’re watching this episode on YouTube, don’t forget to like this episode and subscribe. Fiona, this was delightful. Thank you again so much.

And everyone have a wonderful night. Thanks so much. Thank you, Jean. And thank you

[00:41:43] Fiona: for everything you’re doing to connect the community together. We really appreciate

[00:41:46] Jane: it. Oh, thank you. I really love doing it. So lovely to chat with you. Bye, everybody. Bye.


Hosted by Jane Healey, Historical Happy Hour is a live interview and podcast featuring premiere historical fiction authors and their latest novels.

Jane Healey

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