Monday, August 31, 2015

Twenty Questions with E.A Aymar

E.A. Aymar is the author of I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead (2013) and You’re As Good As Dead (2015), both published by Black Opal Books. He also writes a monthly column for the Washington Independent Review of Books, and his short fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Crime Factory, Yellow Mama (10/15), The Rap Sheet, and other pubs. He was recently named Managing Editor of The Thrill Begins, the International Thriller Writers’ online resource for debut and aspiring thriller writers (launching 9/15). As you can see, he’s a growing force and you’re going to see and hear more of him. In case he’s new to you—as he was to me several months ago—here’s a trip into his writing and thought processes. As you’ll see from his smart and entertaining responses, he’s worth paying attention to.

One Bite at a Time: Tell us about You’re as Good as Dead.

E.A. Aymar: You’re As Good As Dead is the sequel to I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead (2013) and takes place three years after that first book has ended. The main character, Tom Starks, witnesses the murder of an influential crime boss and ends up being pulled between rival crime organizations and ruthless federal agents…all while trying to keep his involvement hidden from his teenage daughter.

Also, there are a pair of identical twin female assassins. They’re pretty cool. Readers have liked the Twins a lot.

OBAAT: Where did you get this idea, and what made it worth developing for you? (Notice I didn’t ask “Where do you get your ideas?” I was careful to ask where you got this idea.)
EA: I didn’t intend to write a trilogy at first, but there was more I wanted to say about these characters, and violence, and I couldn’t let go. I’m terrible at letting go. I stalk all my exes on Facebook.

OBAAT: How long did it take to write You’re as Good as Dead, start to finish?
EA: Probably a year and a half. I had a definite deadline for the rough draft – my kid was due to be born in February, so I wanted a finished draft by December. I just missed December but I made January, so I didn’t end up trying to stuff his head back inside my wife’s vagina while I was typing away. Close, though.

OBAAT: Where did Tom Starks come from? In what ways is he like, and unlike, you?
EA: Tom is my response to contemporary heroes in thrillers. I love today’s writers and the surge in crime fiction writing, but I get bored with perfect, Bond’ish, “one step ahead” protagonists. I wanted someone who felt real, who would react in an extremely human way to a horrifying situation. I remember a comedian once saying that if Die Hard was a true story, then by Die Hard 3 Bruce Willis would be curled up on the ground just saying “what the fuck?” over and over. I didn’t want to go that far, but I wanted someone mortal.

Tom’s similar to me in some ways; like a lot of writers and protagonists, he’s an exaggerated version of how I imagine myself. But within those exaggerations, there’s a lot of difference. If I had a couple of assassins bunking up with me, for example, I’d probably spend every night sleepless. Tom handles it a bit better than I would. But not much better.

OBAAT: In what time and place is You’re as Good as Dead set? How important is the setting to the book as a whole?
EA: It’s a contemporary story based in Baltimore, and Baltimore is hugely important to the novel. That city factors into everything I write. I’m not as close to it as I was; I used to visit every weekend, especially when I was learning to write, and my writing is informed by its neighborhoods and streets and architecture. There are only a few places I’ve been that could serve as a background for a book. Baltimore, Arizona…well, I guess that’s it.

I should probably travel more.

OBAAT: How did You’re as Good as Dead come to be published?
EA: Like I mentioned earlier, I didn’t intend to write a trilogy. But Black Opal Books liked the first book and its sales performance, and was interested in seeing what happened next. I’ve been fortunate that, as a publisher, they’re agreed with my sentiment and approach to my books.

OBAAT: What kinds of stories do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors, in or out of that area?
EA: I was reared on snobby literary fiction, and it’ll always hold a close place in my heart. I love John Updike and Anne Tyler. My favorite crime fiction writer is Lawrence Block, probably. Maybe. Meg Abbott is WAY up there too. Those are the two writers who, whenever they put a book out, I will ignore my wife, son, and even the TV, and immediately read it.

OBAAT: What made you decide to be an author?
EA: It was just always going to happen.

OBAAT: How do you think your life experiences have prepared you for writing crime fiction?
EA: I mean, not particularly well. I grew up in a decently middle-class environment, like most college-educated kids. I never had run-ins with the law or a fascination with law enforcement. But my imagination tends to skirt on the outside of acceptability, and when I understood that, I realized the perfect genre for me. I like being able to live out things I’d never do, and I like morally-conflicted or ethically-ambiguous characters.

OBAAT: What do you like best about being a writer?
EA: Panties on the stage, baby.

OBAAT: Who are your greatest influences? (Not necessarily writers. Filmmakers, other artists, whoever you think has had a major impact on your writing.)
EA: The three biggest are Updike and Tyler, and also Woody Allen. The funny thing is, I don’t think anyone would find similarities between what I do and what they’ve done. My work isn’t similar to theirs at all, but I hope that I can create moments that resonate as powerfully as they did, through prose, detail, and the careful balance between humor and sadness.

Musically, the indie rap group Atmosphere does such good work that I always feel like my writing is catching up to theirs. And Billie Holiday, although I doubt I’ll ever catch her.

OBAAT: Do you outline or fly by the seat of you pants? Do you even wear pants when you write?
EA: No pants, no matter what the people at Starbucks say.

OBAAT: Give us an idea of your process. Do you edit as you go? Throw anything into a first draft knowing the hard work is in the revisions? Something in between?
EA: I do a lot of editing.

OBAAT: Do you listen to music when you write? Do you have a theme song for this book? What music did you go back to over and over as you wrote it, or as you write, in general?
EA: I get distracted really easily, so as much as I’d like to listen to music, I have to avoid it. Otherwise I’ll end up checking out Youtube videos and getting sucked into the Internet. I have no control.

But music definitely impacts the story. The first novel was influenced by two musicians I know and admire – Abby Mott (alt-rock) and Sara Jones (jazz), both who I’ve worked with on side projects. The second was more hip-hop than anything else, although the influence was more on me and the book’s scope than is apparent in the writing. What I mean is, none of it rhymes.

OBAAT: As a writer, what’s your favorite time management tip?
EA: I really need to concentrate when I write, and it’s hard to avoid skipping online and playing poker. My favorite tool, and I realize this sounds like a commercial, is Freedom. It disables the Internet for a set period of time and makes it a pain to get back on. Saves me from having to resort to a typewriter.

OBAAT: If you could give a novice writer a single piece of advice, what would it be?
EA: The same advice I read by William T. Vollmann – wait. He actually said writers should write for ten years before they try to publish, which is terrific advice and probably unimaginable nowadays. I’ve come across a lot of new writers who have put together a clumsy book and want to publish it ASAP. In most cases, nobody’s first book should see the light of day. It’s a long struggle, and it should be. Just because you’re published doesn’t mean you’re good.

OBAAT: Generally speaking the components of a novel are story/plot, character, setting, narrative, and tone. How would you rank these in order of their importance in your own writing, and can you add a few sentences to tell us more about how you approach each and why you rank them as you do?
EA: I think it’s like basketball. Most players have a shot they’re good at, and they play for that shot. Shaq didn’t try and position himself for threes, and Seth Curry doesn’t post up. Find your strength and play to it. So I’d rate those components to what I think I do best: character, setting, tone, story/plot, narrative. I rated story/plot low because I haven’t put out a book that you must read just from the description. I really admire writers who can do that without resorting to gimmickry. One of the things I’m improving is that sense of a ticking time bomb. I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead moved slowly, mainly because I was trying to combine a thriller with a sense of family drama. You’re As Good As Dead doesn’t have time for that shit; better said, I read a lot in between books to find how other writers incorporated the family stuff into their suspense, and mimicked their techniques. I think it worked, and the feedback has been that the novel moves at a brisk pace. I like that.

OBAAT: If you could have written any book of the past hundred years, what would it be, and what is it about that book you admire most?

EA: My favorite book ever is The Wild Palms by William Faulkner. That’s the one I’d write. The story isn’t especially complex (see?), but it’s beautifully told, and some of the language and sentences will stay with me forever.

Either that or the Preacher series, by Garth Ennis. Fucked up and uncompromising.

OBAAT: Favorite activity when you’re not reading or writing.
EA: I really like TV. I like sitting on the couch and staring at it. And, although it sounds lame, I like spending time with my family. My kid is 18 months old, and even though I don’t really care for kids or find them endearing, Noah’s different. I like him a lot.

OBAAT: What are you working on now?
EA: I like to keep busy. I’m working on the third book in the trilogy, but I’m also finishing a short story and writing columns for The Washington Independent Review of Books and other sites. And I just got a new gig with the International Thriller Writers. They’re revamping and relaunching their site for debut writers, The Thrill Begins, and they made me the Managing Editor. So I “hired” (no-pay) a great team of bloggers and editors and we have a bunch of cool features planned. That launches September 15 and I’m really excited about it.

Thanks for the opportunity, Dana! I loved the short story you read in Baltimore and I’m looking forward to reading A Small Sacrifice (Kindled the other day).

OBAAT: The pleasure was all mine. Thanks for the plug.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Austin Camacho, Founder of the Creatures, Crime, and Creativity Conference

I was unable to attend the 2013 premiere of the Creatures, Crime, and Creativity conference—a/k/a C3—but made a point of going last year. The organizers have created a little gem which has already earned a spot next to Bouchercon on my annual conference schedule. I could go on about it, but thought it would be more informational to get the scoop right from the organizer. Austin Camacho was kind enough to take time out from his hectic pre-conference schedule to submit to a few questions I think you’ll find enlightening enough to check your schedule from September 25 – 27 for availability for a quick trip to Hunt Valley MD.

One Bite at a Time: First, thanks for taking the time during what I know is a busy period for you. You’ve been to a lot of conferences, and had a good idea of the amount of work involved. What first gave you the idea of organizing one of your own?
Austin Camacho: My favorite conferences are meeting places for both writers and readers (Love is Murder in Chicago, Killer Nashville, Magna Cum Murder in Indianapolis, West Coast Crime, etc.), but they all were so far away! There wasn’t one in the Mid-Atlantic States. While I was whining about this one day a close friend asked, “Why don’t you start one?” I didn’t have a good answer, so… 

OBAAT: Give us an overview of C3.
AC: The C3 conference gathers readers and writers of mystery, suspense, thriller, horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and paranormal fiction for three days of workshops, panels, and fun! Thirty-six panels and classes for writers and fans led by top-selling genre fiction authors. Plus, two best sellers give keynote speeches and teach workshops. Fans can meet dozens of authors at two book signings. All meals are included so fans can dine with their favorite authors.

OBAAT: Most conferences specialize on a single genre: mysteries, science fiction, romance, etc. Why cast your nets so wide?
AC: My favorite con is Love is Murder, which covers mystery, thrillers, horror, and romantic suspense. We started out modelling our con after theirs. The fact is, many of my favorite authors, like this year’s keynotes, write in a variety of genres that naturally overlap. I believe that crossing genres and mashups are the future of genre fiction, so we wanted to embrace genre fiction as a whole. (Except for straight romance which is kind of a different animal.)

OBAAT: Did including multiple genres present any unexpected difficulties?
AC: Oh, yes. When we started we didn’t realize how different the fans are. For example, sci-fi cons aren’t generally aimed at just readers but cater to film and TV fans. Our con has no filking, no costumes, and no TV stars, so we don’t attract much of that fan base.

OBAAT: Aside from any multi-genre concerns, what have you learned from the first two years that has led to tweaks for this year?
AC: We originally had agents there to take pitches, but interest was low so we didn’t invite them this year. Also, we had a big sit-down banquet Saturday night like most other cons, but our folks raved about Friday night’s buffet so we went with that Saturday too. The big lesson has been that we need to follow our own instincts instead of following what others have done.

OBAAT: What do you think attendees will enjoy most at this year’s conference?
AC: I know that for a lot of them is has been the time in the bar after the official program. All the writers hang out in a relaxed atmosphere and are very open to both fans and aspiring authors. I think some will most enjoy the CSI/crime scene supervisor presentation. And I expect the ex-intelligence officer’s presentation will be a big crowd pleaser.  

OBAAT: What do you think you’ll enjoy most at this year’s conference?
AC: I suspect for me it will be the keynote addresses. I have huge respect for F. Paul Wilson and Heather Graham for being able to write such a broad spectrum of great novels! (And I secretly believe that Paul invented the urban fantasy genre with Repairman Jack.)

OBAAT: Among the things I liked best last year was the relative informality of the conference, and the opportunities for readers and writers to interact. Bouchercon does this well, but there was a level of intimacy at C3 I’d not seen anywhere else. Some of this has to do with the relative sizes of C3 and Bouchercon, though I’ve been to smaller conferences that didn’t pull it off as well. Was this something you wanted to accomplish from the start, and, if so, how did you go about it? (I doubt it was an accident.) Following up, how do you plan to maintain this atmosphere as the conference grows?
AC: That informal atmosphere was most assuredly intentional. I believe the “secret” was to include all the meals in the registration price. Writers and readers dine together five times during the con, so they have a chance to really bond. Isn’t it easier to ask that weird question over lunch?

OBAAT: Speaking for myself, absolutely. I’m not someone who easily starts conversations with people I don’t know, and food is always a great ice-breaker. Everyone has to eat.

What about the conference—including the planning phase—do you enjoy most?
AC: On a personal level, I really like being surrounded by writers and people who love to read. Nothing charges me up like that fellowship of the literate.  

OBAAT: What do you enjoy least?
AC: Dealing with the money. I’ve never tried to negotiate when attending a conference so I’m a little boggled by those who ask for a discount, or to bring a friend for free, or want some ala carte option we don’t offer (just meals, no meals, just Sunday…).

OBAAT: What has been your most pleasant surprise?
AC: The compliments we’ve gotten from Jeff Deaver, John Gilstrap, Brian Keene and Rebecca York about how the con was run. These are people who have been to dozens of these things and I was stunned at how much they enjoyed ours.
There was one other really big surprise. Last year we got people tweeting our hashtag - #MdC3Con – and Saturday night we looked and we were trending! That made me realize we had really started something.
OBAAT: What has been your least pleasant surprise?
AC: The first year there were a lot of expenses that we hadn’t anticipated – little things that added up. But last year there were far fewer such surprises and I’m optimistic about this year.

OBAAT: Austin, it’s been a treat to get your thoughts on what quickly became a regular stop on my annual conference schedule. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone again in a few weeks. Any last thoughts before we go?
AC: Just to mention that it’s you, and folks like you, that make C3 a great Con. I hope you all return this year, and if everyone brings a friend, so much the better! So spread the word. We’re not Bouchercon… yet! But the more fans that attend, the more big name writers will want to make the Creatures, Crimes and Creativity Con a regular stop.

Still unsure? Piker. In case you didn’t catch the salient points above, The Creatures, Crimes & Creativity (C3) Conference gathers readers and writers of mystery, suspense, thriller, horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and paranormal fiction. This year Heather Graham and F. Paul Wilson will be keynote speakers, but that’s only the beginning.

The C3 Con is in Hunt Valley MD, Sept. 25-27. The registration fee includes five meals: Friday’s dinner, three meals on Saturday, and Sunday breakfast, so readers and writers dine side-by-side.

Published authors get to spend time with their fans, and to expose new readers to their writing by presenting on panels. Their books will be available in our on-site bookstore and there will be dedicated book signing times. Authors’ names and links will be posted on the C3 website. A video interview is included that authors can use on their own web sites after the Con, and a photographer will be on hand to take promo pictures at a special price.

Readers and fans will enjoy panels and presentations from favorite authors, including bestsellers like Heather Graham and F. Paul Wilson, both of whom have written bestsellers in the paranormal, suspense, mystery, thriller, fantasy, and horror genres. Local guest authors include mystery and sci-fi author Andy Straka, and thriller writer S.D. Skye, both award winners in their own right.

Each attendee will receive a goodie bag filled with cool stuff, including our exclusive anthology of stories written by attending authors. Add fun events like book signings, a Twitter contest, and a scavenger hunt, with lots of valuable prizes, and it’s a busy and entertaining three days.