E.A Aymar Guest Edits June 15-21

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The writer E.A. Aymar picks from his reading week will receive a copy of his new novel, You’re As Good As Dead (Black Opal Books).

Tell us about your writing process for “You’re Good as Dead.”

“You’re As Good As Dead” is a stylistic departure from the first book in the trilogy, “I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead.” I felt constrained with that first book; I liked it, but there wasn’t much experimentation. The POV stayed the same, the tense was traditional, and the protagonist had a somewhat-conventional way of viewing the world (which is, of course, wildly disrupted). I abandoned that in “You’re As Good As Dead.” I used different POVs, switched to a more frenetic present tense and made a specific point of surprising myself. Simply put, I had more fun. Part of that was because there wasn’t a lot of pressure: the publisher wanted my next book, and I felt free to write what I wanted.

I don’t mean to curb-stomp “I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead.” I genuinely think it’s a good book (which is a rare thought for me), and much of it still carries personal weight. When I read it at events, it echoes in a hurt place inside. But it lacks some of the fun of “You’re As Good As Dead.” When that sense of playfulness occurs in the writing, it’s apparent in the reading. And I hope readers respond to it.

One thing I noticed reading your work is how easily you slide in unsettling images and moments (a young woman cutting her stomach with a razor in “My Grand Romantic Gesture;” John remembering corpses from his time in Iraq in “Goodbye, Baltimore“). I feel sometimes when reading submissions, moments like those can overpower a piece, but I felt like they were exactly what needed to happen in those stories. What advice would you give writers experimenting with using violent images in their work?

Thanks for saying that; honestly, it’s sweet. When writing about violence, you do it most effectively when you write about something that inherently disgusts yourself. That’s not to say you should try to do it in adolescent fashion, like a bad horror movie, but rather you need those disquieting moments, the kind of stuff you hate seeing. In the right hands, the image of, say, a baby accidentally falling down the stairs is more damaging than a zombie apocalypse eviscerating the planet.

Here’s the thing about “My Grand Romantic Gesture.” My wife and I were watching an episode of the show Intervention, and it dealt with a woman addicted to cutting herself. I’ve seen blood and gore in fiction, non-fiction, and occasionally real life, but I grew dizzy when they showed this woman taking a razor blade and slowly sliding it across her abdomen. I felt like I was going to pass out. My wife made fun of me, but I was haunted by that self-brutalization.

Writers should never look away, and I fucking hate it when they do. I once dated a woman who had been trapped in an abusive relationship, and no one could listen to her stories despite her desperation to tell them. She did talk to therapists, but friends couldn’t listen; what had happened to her was too horrible. I don’t blame them but, as a writer, I felt a need to listen and learn, no matter how much it sickened me. In the introduction to the Everyman’s Library edition of his Rabbit novels, John Updike discusses visiting his dying mother, and writes that, “her several hospitalizations generated medical details that I shamelessly fed into Rabbit’s ordeal.” Use everything, no matter how much of a bastard it makes you. That’s the price.

What do you think an opening paragraph has to do to keep you reading?

A good first paragraph inherently contains the emotion of the entire story or piece. One of the projects I gave students when I taught was to read the opening paragraphs of some of literature’s greatest works, and see how those paragraphs echo through the story. It has to be connected, it has to grab your attention, and it has to be unforgettable. I remember reading a retelling of a fairy tale story written by a fellow student in a writing workshop, and the first paragraph was the line, “Once there was a queen with bruises.”

I read that at least fifteen years ago and I can’t forget it. I don’t know what happened to the kid who wrote it, and I don’t remember his name, but I’ll never forget his story. So there. Do that.

What works outside of fiction (poetry, art, TV, music, movies, etc.) have inspired you?

Nothing inspires me as much as a good book, but I spend a lot of time watching television and movies and listening to music. Musically, for me, Billie Holiday’s the best. Her broken voice captures more in a single song than some artists can in a lifetime.

Movie-wise, it’s Woody Allen. I know he’s potentially a criminal weirdo, but watching Manhattan was a turning point in my life. When it ended, something in me had formed, the beginning of a path.

As for TV, nothing’s moved me more than Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The show had its flaws, but episodes like Once More With Feeling (a musical) or Hush (in which the actors barely spoke) were astonishing in their creative risk and success. And Restless, an imagery-filled dream episode, is still my favorite hour of television. Smart, funny, and kick-ass. What more could you want? What more could you want to do?

About the Reader:

E.A. Aymar is the author of I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead (2013) and You’re As Good As Dead (2015), both from Black Opal Books. His monthly column, Decisions and Revisions, runs in the Washington Independent Review of Books, and his fiction and nonfiction have been featured in a number of other respected publications. He holds a Masters degree in Literature and is a member of the Mystery Writers of America, the International Thriller Writers and SinC. He lives outside of Washington, D.C.