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The Sirens of Suspense

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

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E.A. Aymar is the author of I'll Sleep When You're Dead (2013) and You're As Good As Dead (2015). He also writes a monthly column with the Washington Independent Review of Books, is the Managing Editor of ITW's The Thrill Begins, and his fiction and nonfiction have been featured in a number of respected publications. He holds a Masters degree in Literature and lives outside of Washington, D.C.

 

Find E.A. on Facebook and Twitter.

http://eaymar.com

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The assistant chief medical examiner gave us fair warning: “If you feel dizzy, then immediately sit down. There’s no shame in it. It’s a physiological response. No one here will think less of you.”

I was with the Chesapeake chapter of Sisters in Crime, we were touring the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Baltimore, and we were about to witness an autopsy. Most of us had read about the procedure, maybe even seen a video on Youtube for research, but watching the real thing is, at the least, disconcerting. We were in a sort of observation deck, and there were seven to eight bodies on tables in the room underneath us. Chests were split open, long incisions traced up limbs, organs had been taken. For those that don’t know, the skin on the back of the corpse’s head is cut open and pulled over the face so the brain can be removed…almost mercifully, that facelessness provided some emotional distance. But one of the bodies had yet to undergo that part of the procedure, and we could clearly see its untouched face. That’s the one I watched.

I think a lot about death, admittedly more than I used to now that I’ve entered my forties and set my fiction in Baltimore, a city currently suffering a higher-than-average homicide rate. It’s inevitable that death, particularly murder, would make its way into my writing, and I want to treat that shocked sense of loss as realistically as possible. In YOUR'E AS GOOD AS DEAD, my latest thriller, my protagonist finds himself drawn into a criminal underground and, unfortunately and unconsciously, that culture seeps into him, his soul and his blood. It’s the second book in a trilogy and, in this book, he realizes that he’s becoming familiar with murder. That’s an emotional change I can guess at, and hopefully grasp. Yeah, I fight for the tight prose; I try and fashion a blistering plot; I want to create characters readers will wonder about when the last page lands…but I also want to be honest.

I want a reader, who’s gone through these emotions, to feel understood.

But I didn’t understand what I was feeling that day in Maryland, as I watched relaxed professionals cut into corpses. Some writers walked away, some stayed. I stayed longer than most, staring at the body with the unblemished face, wondering if I was confusing voyeurism with research, with empathy, or with art.

There comes a point in your writing when you’re close to the truth, not the truth inside a mystery, but a character. And you’re reaching deeper as you write, and the writing comes eagerly. Your hands scrabble as you dig through the dirt, as you feel the form.

You keep digging, and something about your protagonist is becoming apparent. The echo from a time in his or her history reverberates louder and louder. It ties into the plot, and a connection you hadn’t anticipated pushes the plot forward. You write feverishly through a meal or television show, past what needs to be written (although you’re distantly aware that none of what you’re writing will make the final cut of your book), until you’re a few words away from uncovering more than you wanted.

You’ve solved the mystery, but come close to revealing a second crime; one you hadn’t realized when you started. And it shakes you, shakes something to the point of coming loose.

That’s when you stop. Cap the pen. Turn out the office light, turn on the television. Turn elsewhere.

And that’s what it felt like to stare at those bodies: If you stared long enough, you’d understand why we eventually must look away from the dead.

“Sometimes I prayed so hard for God to materialize at the foot of my bed

it would start to happen; then I’d beg it to stop, and it would.”

Marie Howe, “Buying the Baby”

 

 

 

WHAT DID YOU WORK ON THAT SUDDENLY CAME TOGETHER? Tell us or leave a comment for E.A. on the blog below or on our Facebook page and you’ll be entered to win an advanced review e-book copy of YOUR'E AS GOOD AS DEAD! (US entrants only, please.)

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