A few weeks ago, I posted a blog about “I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead,” a haunting tale of vengeance and its toll written by E.A. Aymar. Tom Starks has spent the three years since his wife’s murder struggling to raise their daughter, while haunted by memories of his dead spouse. When he learns that the man accused of her murder has been released from prison, Tom hires a pair of hit men to get his revenge. You can read my original blog here.
“I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead,” is the first book in a trilogy, and I can’t wait to read the next two, and re-read this one! Ed was kind enough to answer some questions about his characters, and I am thrilled to share our discussion. Enjoy!
Ed, thank you for taking the time to speak to me about “I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead.” Let’s talk about the trilogy.
Thank you so much for this interview, Dana, and for your excellent, thought-provoking questions. Really, so many people just ask cursory questions, but you really went into the heart of the book. I appreciate that, and I look forward to reading your reviews and interviews in the future. – EA
What inspired you to write “I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead”?
Vengeance and violence. The idea of a vigilante is kind of romantic to me, but there’s an ugliness at the core of any mission that aspires for violence, and I wanted to dig into that. I don’t think many people would fault my protagonist, Tom Starks, for hoping to avenge the death of his wife, but I wanted to see if someone could undertake a quest like that and fundamentally remain the person they hoped to be. That’s why I realized, almost immediately after finishing I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead, that the story wasn’t complete. Tom had changed, and some of that change is hinted at, but the natural progression of the novel made it necessary that the rest of his story be told elsewhere.
I’m also a fan of writers who can turn a traditional domestic story into something deeply fascinating, like the way Anne Tyler does and John Updike did. And the idea of a man struggling to raise a child, while haunted by this desire for revenge, seemed ruthlessly emotional. That was difficult for me, because I’m not used to kids (my wife and I had our first a month ago), but it was also fun. Children are great foils to their parents in literature. Beyond that, Julie was a good way to soften Tom’s character. So that off-balance combination of action and domesticity was something I wanted to capture.
Does Tom share any of your traits?
We’re both half-Hispanic, but he’s taller.
Actually, I think parts of me emerge in different elements of the story, but I wouldn’t say I necessarilyidentify with Tom. If there’s one thing we have in common, it’s that we’re both exceptionally ordinary. And that was important for me. I greatly wanted to avoid the clichéd stereotype of a thriller hero – the kind of guy who’s impervious to bullets, a step ahead of the bad guys, and gifted in every way imaginable. It was more interesting for me to study a normal but flawed person, someone emotionally crippled in a way that immediately produces conflict. For Tom, that crippling comes with the overwhelming love he has for his murdered wife, and the complicated feelings he has toward raising their daughter. Some readers and critics found that conflict (and particularly his navigation of the emotional separation from his child) unforgiveable but, for me, the deeper the scar, the more compelling.
Tom has an interest in obsessing about his past, which is something I’ve been guilty of as well. It’s always difficult for me to close a book and toss it aside, and that’s how I (and I think Tom) view life. You read something beautiful, and it’s hard to simply turn the page.
How did your own life experience impact the story?
This was the third book I wrote, but the first to be published, and I’ve realized, somewhat guiltily, that my writing always shares the same theme: a character trying to understand how they lost love, and how to move on. I worried about revisiting that topic until I came across a quote by Fitzgerald where he said, “Mostly we authors repeat ourselves – that’s the truth. We have two or three great and moving experiences in our lives – experiences so great and moving that it doesn’t seem at the time that anyone else has been so caught up and pounded and dazzled and astonished and beaten and broken and rescued and illuminated and rewarded and humbled in just that way ever before. Then we learn our trade, well or less well, and we tell our two or three stories – each time in a new disguise – maybe ten times, maybe a hundred, as long as people will listen.”
Like he was about most things, Fitzgerald was right.
Why is the discussion Tom has with his students about “The Count Of Monte Cristo” important to the story?
There’s an intentionally unsubtle moment in the early stages of the novel when Tom switches his class from reading A Farewell to Arms to The Count of Monte Cristo, and I deliberately overstated the idea that Tom turns away from a pacifistic approach to one deepened by vengeance. Monte Cristo is the best book I’ve ever read about revenge, and the difficulty of not losing your soul in the process. I wanted to put my novel, and this trilogy, in the shadow of Monte Cristo.
To critique my own work, though, I probably spent too much time in the class discussions. I recently read Alissa Nutting’s spectacular debut, Tampa, and I’m envious of how cleverly she incorporated a class discussion of literary books into her story. There’s a lot in her book I’m envious of, actually. She’s a hell of a writer. Wait, this is about me…
What can we expect from Tom in the second book in the series?
Tom will learn that he can’t walk away from Mack as easily as he hoped. I like where the first book ended, but the events of I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead have fundamentally changed Tom more than he realizes. The second book is going to find him plunged into a war, and he’s not going to be in such a reactive role. He’s going to have to do what he can to survive. He’s going to have to go dark.
On a side note, I’m hoping that Black Opal Books publishes the second book in early 2015, but I also plan to write a serial novella in between books. I wrote a prequel for I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead called When the Deep Purple Falls (http://www.amazon.com/When-Deep-Purple-Falls-Aymar-ebook/dp/B00GEQ3NI0) that provided the back story of Diane and Bardos. I released that novella on a weekly basis, and it was a lot of fun, and a good way to build interest for the novel. These novellas also give me a chance to revisit and deepen the “Dead Trilogy” universe, and showcase characters other than Tom. So, if all goes well, a little intermediary novella will be out in the fall, and the new book published in the spring of 2015.