Aymar Tackles Tough Topics
in New Crime Novel
By Wendy Tyson
E. A. Aymar’s newest crime novel, THE UNREPENTANT, features Charlotte Reyes, a teenage runaway forced into a life of sexual slavery. Charlotte escapes her captors, but, relentlessly pursued, she knows her freedom is short-lived unless she can beat her enemies at their own game. With the reluctant help of former soldier Mace Peterson, who is battling his own demons, Charlotte fights back.
Publishers Weekly calls THE UNREPENTANT “a gut-wrenching crime thriller” and notes that “readers who appreciate depth of character alongside gritty nonstop action will be rewarded.” Indeed, with its skillful plotting, intriguing characters, and sharp humor, THE UNREPENTANT is a book about modern-day horrors and modern-day heroes that will stay with you long after the final page.
Given some of its subject matter, THE UNREPENTANT wasn’t an easy book to write, but Aymar began with a clear vision of the characters he wanted to create.
“Most of my writing has dealt with damaged women; at least, those were the characters readers enjoyed most when they talked with me about my books (Diane in I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead, the twins in You’re as Good as Dead, Callie in my short story in The Night of the Flood),” he says. “I began to look a little deeper into why that was and, at the same time, I wanted to create a female character who fought back, particularly in a societal view where women have been mistreated. Charlotte Reyes emerged from that, and she brought the rest of the story with her.”
As for the global problem of sex trafficking, it’s clear Aymar took pains to portray the issue and its victims in a thoughtful way that’s neither lascivious nor glib. To accomplish this, he did his research.
“I read extensively about prostitution and sex work and sex trafficking—both from those who carefully delineate and defend the differences between them, and those who would argue there is no difference,” he says. “And, beyond reading, I talked with experts, which wasn’t something I’d ever done before. I talked with activists and former prostitutes to get their perspectives.”
Aymar is quick to point out that while THE UNREPENTANT deals honestly with sex trafficking, it’s not ultimately a book about sex trafficking.
“It’s really more of a revenge novel,” he says. “When my agent and I discussed comps, we didn’t approach books about prostitution. We went with Kill Bill, and some of the novel has elements of that movie (no sword fighting, though, sorry for the spoiler). This is a revenge novel, but not one that shies away from certain realistic cruelties. That’s a hard line to establish, and I do worry that it’s one some readers will find difficult. I’m really grateful that reviews have been so positive, and that early readers have enjoyed it.”
Critics and fans seem to agree that Aymar’s characters are well-drawn and unique. Charlotte Reyes is especially interesting. Despite all she’s been through, she retains a softness that offsets her fighting spirit. When asked if it was tough to write from the perspective of a female character, especially one who has been through so much abuse, Aymar is humble—and admits to the value of early readers.
“I definitely had some hesitancies with writing a female character in this situation (really, in any situation),” Aymar says, “and I tried my best to navigate those rough waters. In the end, I hope I created an honest portrait. To that sense, it was important for me to have women writers, particularly those who have created female characters I greatly admire, serve as early readers or reviewers of the novel. I knew those women wouldn’t BS me.”
Ironically, perhaps, Aymar says it’s Mace, the ex-soldier, who serves to mitigate the violence in THE UNREPENTANT.
“Given that this is a thriller, and has moments of violence, it was important for me to have a character standing outside of that,” he says. “Charlotte is plunged into violence, but Mace often hesitates to join her. Violence (when it’s real) is gross, and damaging, and Mace is aware of that; after all, an incident in his past has damaged him.”
One of the ways Mace copes with the violence of his past and his present is through humor. Black humor is prominent in the book, and Aymar uses it to both counterbalance the seriousness of the material and for the purpose of developing Mace’s character.
“I wanted a character who could inject some humor into these harsh circumstances,” Aymar says. “Most good writing, to me anyway, has elements of humor. If it’s not contained in a sarcastic character, then it comes from the author, hidden within light prose or a mechanism of the plot. There are times, and those times shouldn’t be infrequent, when a reader needs to smile.”
Dark humor and crisp dialogue are two of the hallmarks of Aymar’s work, and readers can enjoy them in his short stories as well as his novels. Aymar’s short fiction has been included in a number of acclaimed anthologies, including The Night of the Flood, which he co-edited with author Sarah M. Chen.
To use his music analogy, he thinks of the novel as an album and a short story as a song on an album. “A novel gives you some time to meander (although much of that meandering gets edited out),” Aymar says, “and a short story has to have a more direct impact. A short story needs to create its own world and language and music within the first paragraph, and it really shouldn’t leave that space. I like both, but most of the short stories I write are for specific purposes—anthologies, or to be read at events (which tends to have a different approach than one I’d write for publication).”
When it comes to events, and networking in general, Aymar is passionate. In addition to editing fiction anthologies, Aymar is a regular presenter at (and organizer of) Noir at the Bar events, the editor of International Thriller Writers’ online magazine The Thrill Begins, and an International Thriller Writers board member. When not hobnobbing with the rich and famous, he’s helping aspiring authors find their way.
“It took me a long time to get published. I started taking my writing seriously in 1997, had a book ready (I thought) for publication in 2003, and finally had a published book in 2013,” he says. “That was a long, brutal, necessary path for me, and I feel like I can help others on a similar path. I didn’t reach out to anyone, but for those that need it, I want to be there for them.” As for organizations that helped Aymar along the journey? “ITW is a wonderful organization for me. It was so helpful to me when I joined that I longed to do whatever I could to repay the favor. And I still do.”
So what advice does Aymar have for writers just starting out, given his unique position within the crime writing community? Aymar says he’d go with the old, worn maxims.
“Write every day, read as often as you can, pay attention to people. You can break those down and question them—what if you can’t write every day? What should you read, given how little time you have? Should you write about private matters? But I think that adhering to those basic tenets, as best as you can, will serve you well.”
They’ve certainly served Aymar well. He and Sarah M. Chen are editing the follow-up anthology to The Night of the Flood, and he’s working on another fiction project. Right now, he’s primarily looking forward to THE UNREPENTANT’s release.
“It’s all about promotional efforts for THE UNREPENTANT,” he says. “A busy event schedule that makes me happy and probably irritates my family.”
Photo credit (cover): Marian Lozano Photography