Can male authors write female characters? Should they? In the era of #MeToo and “other voices,” these questions are coming to the fore more often in all the arts. And in crime fiction, at least, there has been a concerted effort to publish and promote voices that have not traditionally been heard. (Shout out to my own publisher, Polis Books, here, for launching the Agora imprint!) This is a vital and important step toward equity, toward fairness. Toward the health and continued life of our medium. The complicating factor, however, is that what we write is fiction – everything we write comes from our imagination. When we ask if an author can put himself (or herself) thoroughly and believably in another’s life, I have to wonder: isn’t that our job? Should they? Well, that’s another question. For me, for now, the answer is yes. At least if they’re good. E.A. Aymar is.
How does a book start for you?
Unfortunately, I suppose, with character rather than plot. I wish I had plots with “elevator pitch tension,” you know, the kind of ingenuous hook that compels people to buy books based off a single sentence. My books are all like, “Someone gets in over their head…chaos ensues!”
With my latest novel, The Unrepentant, the characters emerged from violence; better said, they emerged from different approaches to violence. The novel is about a woman who escapes from a group of criminals with the help of a reluctant, retired soldier. She soon realizes, to fully be free, she’ll need to exact revenge on them. All of the characters – good and bad – are trapped in this violent world, and their responses to it form the action of the book. So character drove it, rather than the machinations of a pre-constructed plot. That’s not a necessarily desirous approach for a thriller and, as the writer, you’re sort of banking on luck that the plot will remain taut.
Who in your latest book has surprised you most – and why?
It was that woman, the co-protagonist, Charlotte Reyes. I started the book with an implicit understanding of who she was, the concrete elements of her character, the type of strengths and vulnerabilities she possessed. I ended the book – meaning the final ending, after all the edits and revisions – somewhat unsure of her. Charlotte wasn’t someone I knew nearly as much as I thought I did. I didn’t understand her…which is probably why I wrote her. But even afterward, even now, she’s a bit out of my grasp.
Readers have told me they really liked her, and I’m grateful for that response. Particularly from women. I worried about the hubris, or co-opting of voice, in writing a female lead, and the fact that Charlotte resonates with women means the world to me. And probably surprises my wife, since I’m pretty clueless when it comes to her.
When and/or where is your latest book set and is there a story behind that setting?
The Unrepentant is a contemporary thriller that takes place primarily in Maryland, but has some scenes in Arizona. I grew up in Arizona, and it’s hard for me not to include it in a book. The desert speaks to me, and even if I don’t think I could ever live in Arizona again, I always want to return.
I live in Virginia, my day job is in D.C., and much of my writing has traditionally taken place in Maryland. I like that all three regions affect me, because this area means a lot. I met and married my wife here, my son was born here, and the DC/MD/VA triangle is home to some of the best crime fiction in the world. It’s a wonderful community to be a part of and, aside from Arizona, it’s hard for me to imagine setting a novel somewhere else. This area has everything – city, suburbs, country, forest, water, crime, peace. It’s diverse in every sense of the word.
What are you working on now?
I’m finishing a new book, set alternately in Virginia and Maryland, about two women whose significant others are murdered the same night, in the same fashion. Their search for what happened leads them down a dark path. And chaos ensues!
See? That fucking elevator pitch.
Which question didn’t I ask you that I should have?
You totally should have asked me what author I recommend! That answer changes constantly, and it’s really difficult to narrow it down to one. But I’m really impressed with Tom Sweterlitsch. I have no idea how many people read his work but, regardless, I wish more did. His prose is astonishing, and I still have vivid recollections of some of the images in his last book, The Gone World. Just a beautiful, fantastic writer, and one I’m beyond lucky to call a friend.
Even if he’s a fucking Steelers fan.
Of E.A. Aymar’s The Unrepentant, Publisher’s Weekly wrote, “gut-wrenching…readers who appreciate depth of character alongside gritty nonstop action will be rewarded.” His past thrillers include the novel-in-stories The Night of the Flood (in which he served as co-editor and contributor). He has a monthly column in the Washington Independent Review of Books, and he is also the Managing Editor of The Thrill Begins on behalf of the International Thriller Writers; he also serves on the national board of that organization. He was born in Panama and now lives and writes in the D.C./MD/VA triangle. To learn more, visit eaymar.com