INTERVIEW WITH E.A. Aymar

Kate & Dan: Congratulations on the upcoming release of your latest thriller, THE UNREPENTANT. You write about a very serious issue, sex trafficking. What was the spark for you to write this book?

E.A. Aymar: Thank you so much, and I’m honored you two are interviewing me for Crimespree. This is a bucket list thing for me. I mean, you interviewed me and Sarah M. Chen about The Night of the Flood, but Sarah did all the heavy lifting for that book. All I did was occasionally shout out “That’s what she said!” when Sarah would, in the course of our co-edits, say something to me like, “At this point in the night, everything in the town should be wet.”

Anyway, I’m stalling because I’m a little embarrassed to answer your question (way to go). I’d written two other novels, heavily steeped in a study of violence and the philosophy of revenge, and I thought I’d done an honest job; which is to say, I did the best I could at that time. When it came to THE UNREPENTANT, and Charlotte’s character and story started to form, I was compelled to write in a way I never had. For the first time in my writing life, I was writing outside of myself.

You see, everything I’d written had some deeper need for me to explore. That was the way I learned to write. My first unpublished novel was a sprawling heap of angst and anger, a deep dive into my own experiences. And so, for years, that was how I approached writing. The Unrepentant was the first time I looked, largely, outside of myself.

That’s a pretty selfish realization.

I was compelled to explore sex trafficking because the characters I’d written, that readers seemed to like the best, were the damaged women. For some reason, those characters were the most interesting (to them, and to me), and I started to wonder why that was. It’s sadly inevitable that an exploration into the cruelties of violence is going to play into how men treat women.

K&D: A book like this must have required a lot of research that could quickly become overwhelming. How did you go about doing your research without becoming disgusted with people and wanting to rescue everyone caught up in sex trafficking?

EAA: It was pretty brutal, and I took breaks between books. I’d read fiction, then a non-fiction exploration into the world of sex trafficking. It’s an overwhelming, draining topic, too cruel to fully comprehend, which is why I think the practice has been allowed to flourish. It nearly breaks you to realize the ramifications of a confession like this one, from a former prostitute writing about her life when she was 14:

“Whenever I would get into a car some part of me hoped that this guy would see me as the child I was and I wouldn’t have to do it. But in the back of my mind I knew it wasn’t going to happen and all I could do was hope that it was done really fast so I wouldn’t have to suffer the pain but after a while your mind just gets numb to that feeling.” 

It’s nauseating, and disgusting, and hopeless, and common.

But with all the research I did, both in reading and in conversation, I never held any anger toward the prostitutes. It was harder for me to empathize with the johns and the pimps; in fact, I never did.

I can understand why men buy women. I can understand (perhaps imaginatively understand) why people kill, or shoot up schools, or rape. But even if I can understand it, I can’t forgive it. And that was another new experience – to write about characters I don’t have empathy toward, but still want to be seen as believable.

K&D: The bad guys in THE UNREPENTANT are really bad. Kate exclaimed, “These are some really bad dudes!”, multiple times while reading the book. You seem to really get inside the heads of these SOBs. Do you have a preference for writing the bad guys or the good guys in your books?

EAA: Hey, thanks (I think)! I wouldn’t say that I have a preference for bad guys, but I do have a disillusionment with people, and a far-reaching distrust of those of power. To that end, I don’t really write good guys. My first two books dealt with a man going through a sort of Walter White experience, so even though he started out with a noble purpose (maybe sorta), he ended up corrupted.

I don’t think there are heroes anymore. We’ve seen too much, and we’re too smart, to believe in what we’ve been told. Everyone has flaws, everyone’s corrupt. And I’m generally okay with that, provided we approach people honestly, without reverence. To that end, I think all my characters have some bad elements to them, or do callous things. If they don’t, perhaps I’m not being honest with myself.

But that little angry rebellious streak in me has to be limited. We don’t read books for an honest look at every element of life, after all. We read them for escape, and for hope. Mace had some questionable qualities in early drafts of the book. I realized over time that the book was too negative, nearly unreadable (particularly given Charlotte’s experiences). Readers don’t deserve a writer’s anger. Neither does a character.

What was your question?

K&D: You are the brains behind the International Thriller Writers website The Thrill Begins. The site calls itself “The best online resource for aspiring and debut thriller writers”. Why is it important for up and coming writers to have a resource like this? Can’t you learn everything you need to know about writing through Twitter or Facebook?

EAA: My journey to becoming a published author was long. I started writing seriously in 1997, that first unpublished book was completed in 2003, and my first published novel came out in 2013. And, through that time, I basically worked in a cave. I came home from my day job and wrote at night (I was a lot of fun to date back then). I didn’t use any resources available to writers, and preferred to teach myself by reading and writing.

That’s not the way everyone has to do it, and most people don’t. If I can help people find another path, I will. It’s a lonely world for writers; not all of it has to be.

K&D: Mysteries are books where the action revolves around figuring out what happened and who did it. Whereas thrillers focus on racing to stop a something from happening. What draws you to writing thrillers and suspense novels instead of mysteries?

EAA: I’m not smart enough for mysteries – trust me, I failed out of college, it’s the truth. I read them and find myself confused by the characters, the investigation, the intricacies of the plot. I can appreciate the amount of work that goes into constructing a mystery, but as a reader, I’m not terribly motivated by them. Don’t tell anyone.

Which isn’t to say I don’t find them entertaining or intelligent. I’ll read anything Kate Atkinson writes about Jackson Brodie, or Laura Lippmann’s Tess Monaghan. But I don’t think I’d want to write something like that. It’s not wrong; it’s just not me.

A thriller, to me, combines the two most important elements of fiction – an admirable use of prose, and the stretch of tension. I admire writers who can do both seamlessly, and I’m constantly trying to figure out how they did it.

K&D: In the spirit of “Inside the Actor’s Studio” and the Bernard Pivot questions asked of every guest, we have our own set of questions we ask of every interviewee.

When did you finally say, “Yeah…I’m gonna write stuff for a living. And it will be AWESOME.”

EAA: Those long lonely years I spent studying writing were married to my desire to learn about Baltimore. One time I was studying the neighborhood of Highlandtown, and I was trying to see what a certain street looked like in the distance, and I stood on top of my Jeep and I realized how odd I looked, and how happy I was (it was Baltimore, it takes more than a guy standing on a Jeep to stick out). But it was that moment, with the day on the edge of turning to evening, and the clouds a lovely purple, and the view of the city from that angle…that’s when I realized I was the happiest I’d ever been, and that what I was doing was right.

And it would be YEARS before I was published, but I was on the right path. Even if I’d never published, I’d done it the right way. I think something about that is terribly important, and also a little terrible.

K&D: What was your favorite moment in mystery writing? The moment that when you read it on the page, you smiled and said, “That was so cool!”

EAA: I mentioned Kate Atkinson before, right? She was one of the first writers I read who stomped all over the imaginary line between “literary” and “genre.” There’s a moment in Case Histories where two of the characters have sex, and Atkinson writes:

“…and neither Jonathon nor Caroline got anywhere near the drawing room (which would turn out to be nothing like she’d imagined it) because they went round the back of the house where he took her into some kind of scullery, and they were hardly in the door before he pulled her pants down around her ankles and made her bend over the old wooden draining-board while he shoved himself roughly inside her, and as she hung on to the (handy) taps of the Belfast sink, she thought sweet Jesus Christ, now this is what you call “fucking…”

That passage just blew me away. It’s honest, and raw, and there’s a couple of great moments of humor, especially at the end. I love the insight into Caroline’s character, that sense of detachment from the act itself. And the authorial moments of keen observation, and there’s something about it that makes everything so relatable. And this is in a MYSTERY. I like writers who, as Jennifer Hillier says, “don’t pull the camera away.” Kate Atkinson is a badass. (So is Jennifer Hillier.)

I know you were expecting an answer that was closer to a clutch moment in a tightly-wound plot, and not an illicit shag (Atkinon is British), but that passage stuck with me. Made me realize there are no boundaries.

K&D: What was the moment that made you say, “Writing books is amazing”?

EAA: Anytime a manuscript is finished. It’s akin to running a marathon, crossing the finish line, and you’re panting, bent over, and you’re holding onto the old wooden draining-board…wait, that was the last question.

Sorry.

Finishing a book is an amazing feeling.

K&D: The standard Beatles or Rolling Stones question: Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett?

EAA: I’ve always had a fondness for Chandler, probably because of that disillusionment I mentioned before. Hammett was way too cheerful, maybe?

K&D: Parting thoughts?

EAA: Thanks to both of you for this fun interview! I love you for more than your bodies.

E.A. Aymar’s newest thriller, The Unrepentant, will be released by Down & Out Books on March 4, 2019. You can learn more about him and his writing at eaymarwrites.com