Alumna Profile: Fiona Davis

Here at Her Campus William and Mary, we are starting a new series of profiles on notable alumna, who are doing awesome things in the "real world!" Hopefully, their journeys will inspire you. First up, author Fiona Davis!

Photo by Kristen Jensen

Fiona Davis is a William and Mary graduate and best-selling author. Before working as an author, Ms. Davis worked in a variety of industries, including theatre and journalism. Her first novel, The Dollhouse, was published in 2016, and her second novel, The Address, was published in August 2017. Ms. Davis was kind enough to answer some questions about her career path, and provide some advice for current students! 

What did you study when you were at William and Mary?

I did an International Relations major and an English minor.

How did you get from ‘William and Mary graduate’ to where you are today?

I took a very circuitous route, to be honest. After acting in some plays at William and Mary, I decided to head to New York for acting school after graduation. I spent the good part of a decade doing Broadway, off-Broadway and regional theater, before getting a master’s in journalism at Columbia University. While working as a journalist, I came upon an idea for an article centered around the Barbizon Hotel for Women in New York City, which turned condo in 2005. Unfortunately, the sources were uncooperative. But I couldn’t shake the story, and that eventually became my first historical fiction novel, “The Dollhouse.”

How did your William and Mary education help you in the “real world?”

My first year, I took a ridiculously difficult course on medicine and ethics taught by a brilliant professor. I’d been valedictorian in my high school and figured it’d be a breeze. My very first paper, I got an F. A well-deserved F, as I was just parroting whatever I’d read and had no original thoughts of my own. Another student in the class – a senior who was a star student and as brilliant as the professor – was kind enough to help me get back on track, and I eked out a C as my final grade. I learned humility and critical thinking, to pay it forward by helping others who were struggling, and that there was more to life than getting straight A’s. 

What is one mistake you made along the way, and how did you learn from it?

Initially, I dismissed social media as a waste of time, not as a valuable tool in an author’s toolkit. Since then, I’ve made so many connections online with other authors who support one another and cheer each other on, as well as readers who reach out to me directly to share their own stories. For example, one reader recently contacted me to tell me that she'd dropped off 15 copies of my book at her local Red Cross shelter in Napa, after the fires had torn through the area. One of the recipients there was a former librarian who had lost her entire collection of books. She wept at the gift, before diving right in and reading away. It was a lovely reminder of how books can help in this crazy world.

What is the best part of your day-to-day job?

The flexibility. No day is like the other. If I’m researching, I could be out interviewing sources or in the reading room of the New York Public Library. If I’m writing a first draft, I’m churning out 1,500 words a day which usually takes a couple of hours, and after that I’m free to play. If I’m editing, you’ll find me glued to the chair in my home office for two weeks straight. And then, once the book is published, I enjoy getting out and doing author talks at bookstores and libraries. That direct connection with readers is the absolute best.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

Hearing from my editor that my second book, “The Address” was a national bestseller. That was a good day.

What is some advice you would give your younger self?

Stop caring about what other people think. For the most part, they’re too busy worrying about what other people think of them to be bothered with you. And stand up for yourself. The #MeToo movement is fantastic, I’m inspired by the courage of women coming forward and naming names. 

What advice do you have for young women who are looking to pursue a career in the same field as you?

When it comes to writing books, I’d suggest doing something else for your first decade out of school. I couldn’t have written a book in my twenties, as I didn’t have any life experience to draw upon, and I’m glad I was out taking risks and attempting to live an artistic life. Acting and journalism were the stepping stones to figuring out what I really love, which is writing novels. I couldn’t have gotten here without switching careers midstream a couple of times, so don’t be afraid of change. 

 

For more information about Fiona Davis and her novels, click here to visit her website.