Averil Dean usually finds inspiration for her characters’ names in literature, but the protagonist of her psychological thriller Alice Close Your Eyes came from the story of a real-life Irish witch, not a journey through Wonderland.
Zola: Protagonist Alice from your new erotic thriller Alice Close Your Eyes is a novelist. She reveals that she pulls character names from gravestones in the local cemetery. What’s the most unique place that has inspired the name of a character of yours?
Averil Dean: I’m not terribly original in naming my characters. I tend to go for classics: Alice, Jack, Molly, Michael, Elizabeth, Nigel, Jessica. I do have a Verity in this book and a character named Stilts who came and went in drafts gone by. Mostly I choose names from other works of fiction, though Alice got her name from an Irish woman named Alice Kyteler, who was accused of dark magic in 1324 but disappeared before she could be arrested. Her fate remains obscure to this day. It seemed appropriate to name the character for her, given the dark subject matter and ambiguous ending of this book.
Zola: You dropped out of high school at age 16, a fact that you’ve said you always carry with a degree of shame. Why do you think there’s such a stigma with not completing high school?
AD: I think the stigma comes from a cultural rigidity about education. When people talk about a good education, they mean an institutional one; when they refer to an educated individual, they mean someone with an advanced degree from a prestigious university. All of that is valid, but seems to disregard other forms of intellectual enrichment. It doesn’t address the most fundamental requirement for education, which is curiosity. My family is undereducated by university standards, but we are relentlessly curious. We read, we study, we listen. And we form our own opinions.
Zola: Has the publication of Alice Close Your Eyes helped?
AD: I’m not sure publication has helped me overcome that stigma. People will make judgments about me and my choices and there’s little I can do to change it. But I do think that as I get older, I care less about the opinions of others and more about what I can do to keep moving forward with my life. Writing is a big part of that. Not publication, writing.
Zola: In your acknowledgments, you mention having discovered that writing is best undertaken in the company of fellow sufferers. What exactly do you mean by fellow sufferers?
AD: Well, it’s mostly tongue-in-cheek, but I’ll admit that for me and most of my friends, writing is difficult and emotional and messy and isolating, like being locked in a marriage with someone whose every statement drives you insane. It helps to be able to laugh at ourselves, and remember that writing is not a lifelong stint in a coal mine. It’s only words, and words are a struggle, but not a life-or-death one. Sometimes you just need to get over yourself and get something on the page. That’s where the friends come in.
Zola: You’ve said you began writing in 2010 on your late father’s birthday. What about that day brought you to write? How did you eventually decide to try making it into a career?
AD: My dad was easy to love but hard to understand. One of the things that frustrated me was his passivity, the way he’d talk about doing something and then immediately talk himself out of it. He loved to read and always wished to write a book–I think he’d have written a damn good one–but he never did anything about it. On his birthday that year, as I was remembering him and the unwritten book, I began to see some uncomfortable parallels in our lives. I was also a reader and a collector of words and phrases, and I was full of opinions about what made a good story. But I hadn’t done anything with that passion. I decided that day to sit down and write a paragraph–on a whim, really, to see how it felt. That paragraph turned into a page, then a scene, then a chapter, then book after book after book.
It might be premature to call this a career. We’ll have to see how it goes.
Zola: Alice Close Your Eyes is set in Vashon, a small island in Puget Sound, which makes for a very claustrophobic story. Your next project is a psychological suspense novel about a triple murder — do you use a very distinct setting to frame that book as well?
AD: My next book is set in the fictional town of Jawbone Ridge, near Telluride in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains. The town sprang up around a 19th-century copper mine and is precariously situated on the edge of a ravine. Every now and then a piece of the historic township gives way under heavy snow and slides down the mountainside, so most of what’s left is tied to the trees and propped up on nests of two-by-fours. The setting is isolated and claustrophobic, everything teetering on the edge of oblivion.
Much of the action takes place inside the Blackbird Hotel, a tall, crooked old building set slightly apart from the rest of the town, which the three murdered lovers are in the process of renovating at the time of their deaths. The story is about the way we hold on to things that can’t be saved, the way we sometimes love each other the wrong way. I wanted to place the story in a setting that would mirror the futility of the characters’ relationships. I’ve had a lot of fun conjuring the details of this little town and plotting its demise.
I’m not giving anything away by saying that, either. Everybody dies at the beginning, and the storyline moves back in time to unravel the mystery and reveal how it all went wrong. I’ve never written a story this way and am swinging wildly between “Damn, this is fun!” and “Oh hell, where am I again?”
Zola: Do you have a favorite indie bookstore?
AD: Oh, Powell’s. Definitely Powell’s, which is a two-hour drive for me now but is something I can plan a day around. Powell’s, then lunch, then the secondhand stores. Bliss!
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This article originally appeared on Zola Books.