New York Times bestselling author Fiona Davis to speak at Ruth Keeler Memorial Library event

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The Lions of Fifth Avenue author Fiona Davis. Photo by Deborah Feingold, courtesy of Fiona Davis

When novelist Fiona Davis walks around New York City, she usually looks at buildings and wonders about their history. Who are the ghosts who walked the hallways? How has the building and its residents changed over time? Davis’ latest historical novel, The Lions of Fifth Avenue, introduces readers to two women, generations apart, whose family secrets are inextricably tied to the New York Public Library. This Sunday, Davis will bring her talents to the much smaller, though still beloved, Ruth Keeler Memorial Library when she hosts a virtual author talk.

“Ruth Keeler Library reached out for an author talk and I jumped at the chance,” Davis said. Davis has given talks at libraries in Ridgefield, Bedford and Lewisboro and finds them to be joyful events. “I love supporting the local libraries in this area. The energy in the room is wonderful. Even on Zoom, the format still works,” she said.

Davis said that the format for author talks can vary. Sometimes it’s a Q&A with a moderator, other times it’s a panel with several authors. Davis said that she loves answering participant questions about getting started in the publishing industry—things like how to outline a book, how to get published or how to find an agent. 

Going to author talks helped Davis to progress from aspiring novelist to New York Times bestselling author. “I really only just started writing 6 or 7 years ago. Before that I couldn’t imagine being a writer. I thought other people did that. I would go to author talks and ask questions about craft,” she said.

Davis has spent these past six years dedicated to her craft. Since her debut novel, The Dollhouse, published in 2016 she has written four other books, pacing at roughly one book per year. She’s now working on her sixth book, which is set at the Frick Collection in Manhattan. Each of Davis’ novels are anchored by a historical New York City building. “All five buildings that I’ve written about so far have been ones that jumped out at me and had amazing surprises hidden within them,” she said.

In Davis’ research for The Lions of Fifth Avenue, she learned that when the New York Public Library was built in 1911, the builders included a 7-room apartment inside for the superintendent and their family. “As soon as I learned that, I thought, yup, this will work,” Davis said.

In writing her books, Davis does a lot of research to understand the history of the building she’s setting her plot around. She reads books on the subject and consults with experts who know something about the period or building she’s writing about. For the New York Public Library, she met with architectural historian Andrew Alpern, who she calls her “go-to guy” for any book she’s working on. Alpern connected Davis with Jean Ashton, who was the director of Columbia University’s rare book and manuscript library in the mid-1990’s when a graduate student was arrested for a $2 million rare book theft. A series of mysterious book thefts feature prominently in The Lions of Fifth Avenue, keeping readers turning the page to find out who was behind them.

These days, when Davis is not Zooming into virtual library and book club events, she’s hunkered down in her country home in South Salem with her boyfriend, who is also a writer. The two set up their computers at either end of their long dining room table. At lunch, they’ll discuss their respective projects and help each other work through problems with plot points. When Davis hits a writing problem she can’t work through, she’ll often go for drives through the country roads of Northern Westchester to break the spell and find inspiration.

“When you’re a writer, you’ll find any excuse not to do it,” Davis said. Doing other things though, may be exactly what’s needed to push through mental blocks. For aspiring writers, Davis recommends reading widely and living your life. “Keep on going and collecting ideas. When one strikes you that you can’t let go, dive right in.”

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Fiona Davis' author talk with the Ruth Keeler Memorial Library will take place on Sunday, Feburary 7 at 4PM. Registration is required.

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