By Hilary Davidson
The Elements of Style? Check. Stephen King's On Writing? Check. Patricia Highsmith's Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction? Check. D.P. Lyle's Howdunit Forensics: A Guide for Writers? Check. My reference shelf holds many of the same (or similar) books my fellow Criminal Minds have mentioned this week. They’ve also talked about some of the same websites I use. That left me wondering what I could possibly add to the discussion, until I realized I should tell you what else is on my research shelf.
Gargoyles: I work alone, so I need some company. Okay, lots of company. That explains why I have so many gargoyles around me. A pair of them work as bookends, holding tomes by King, Highsmith, and others together on my desk. A large, winged gargoyle sits to one side, giving the evil eye to writer’s block. Another stares down at me from my bookcase — he’s got my back. There’s Singha, a "mystical lion" statuette I brought home from Thailand, and a couple of others who just hang out. I love writing about dark, Gothic settings, so it probably helps to be surrounded by creatures that belong in one, right?
Art and Photography Books: While I was writing The Damage Done, I spent a lot of time leafing through books that contained studio portraits of Hollywood stars from the 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s (one favorite: Movie-Star Portraits of the Forties, edited by John Kobal). I did that for the same reason I watched and re-watched a lot of movies from that era. My main character, Lily Moore, is just a little obsessed with old movies, and when she meets someone, she will sometimes be reminded of an actor or a character. I wanted to make her points of reference feel natural to me.
I’ve also got several collections of Gustave Doré’s illustrations on my shelf, including his drawings for Dante’s Divine Comedy and for the Bible. His work has often inspired me when I’m writing, and some of it literally inspired the drawings created by Lily’s sister, Claudia. Hers are maybe a little darker and more twisted, but not by much (check out Doré’s “The Firstborn Slain” or “The Walls of Jericho Falling Down” in this online archive if your tastes run to the dark).
Globes, Maps and Photographs: I love to travel, and somehow that’s become an excuse to collect things that pertain to travel. Does a reference shelf need more than one globe? I’ll argue that it does, especially if your latest acquisition is as lovely as this black-and-silver magnetic one by Kikkerland. While Google Maps takes care of my general mapping needs, I love having older maps on hand that show me how a place has changed. (One great online resource is the Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection at the University of Texas at Austin — if you ever have a need for maps of the polar regions or anywhere else in the world, this is a great place to find them.)
My second novel, The Next One to Fall, is set in Peru, and while I was working on it I looked at hundreds of photographs every week, some that I’d taken while I was there and others that I found in books or online. They were helpful when describing a place, but they were even more important for helping me remember tiny, yet valuable details, like the llamas wandering wild and free at Machu Picchu, or the secret room of abandoned saints at the Jesuit Church in Cusco. Memory — mine, at least — has a tendency to reshape spaces and resize images. Being able to see the Inca sites, modern streets, and everything else made the places I was writing about more vivid in my mind — and, I hope, on the page.