Amanda Eyre Ward is the author of Close Your Eyes, a penetrating exploration of the long-term impact upon lead character Lauren Mahdian of losing both of her parents — her father was convicted of murdering her mother — at the tender age of eight. Lauren is extremely close to and emotionally dependent upon her older brother, Alex, except as to one topic: Their father’s guilt. Alex believes that their father was wrongly convicted, while Lauren believes that he committed the heinous crime and has steadfastly refused to have any contact with him, even to the point of ignoring the letters he writes her from his prison cell.
As Amanda explains, the story was inspired by a 1988 New Year’s Eve murder that occurred in her home town.
The Inspiration for Close Your Eyes
I grew up in Rye, New York, a small town outside of New York City. In 1988, I was sixteen years old. I smoked cigarettes in my room, thinking Trident gum would mask the scent. I made a fake ID and laminated it at the library, then used the ID to visit bars in nearby towns: Bumper’s, Streets, Tammany Hall.
On January 1, 1989, my friends and I woke up, heads pounding, in the living room of a stranger’s apartment in Manhattan. We walked to Grand Central and rode the Stamford local back to Rye. By mid-day, we heard that during the midnight hours of New Year’s Eve, there had been a murder in Larchmont, a neighboring town.
An Indian couple, both doctors, had been stabbed to death in their bedroom, throats slashed, their bodies mutilated. It seemed impossible that something like this could happen in the suburbs. Fear travelled silently along the Boston Post Road, past Baskin Robbins and the Smoke Shop, to Dogwood Lane, where I lived with my family in a stunningly beautiful home. To me, the message was clear: danger was everywhere.
The murder was not solved. Four-and-a-half years went by. My parents split up, and I went to college. I thought about the murder from time to time, trying to understand how a stranger had broken the spell of Rye, smashed through the safety we had all thought money could buy.
In 1993, we found out that the murderer was one of us, a teenage boy, a local. The son of a bank president. He had been blind drunk, he told a room full of people at an AA meeting. He was afraid he may have broken a door pane, entered his childhood home, where his family no longer lived, taken a knife from a kitchen drawer, and savagely attacked the strangers sleeping in his parents’ bedroom. He later said he didn’t remember anything about it. He had been in an alcoholic blackout, but now he had nightmares.
At his trial, a psychiatrist said, “Probably the most typical behavior during a blackout is finding the way home….It’s almost as if he were going back in time and eliminating the people that he sought to blame for all his problems back when he was seven years old.”
He is now in jail.
The story of the New Year’s Eve murder has always stayed with me, and eventually evolved into Close Your Eyes. I think, in writing the book, I wanted not only to understand what happened to a boy who was one of us, what made him into a murderer, but also to create a world where this wrong was righted, and a broken town was sewn back together. I wanted to imagine a town that was loving and safe, a place that might never have existed in real life.
Amanda Eyre Ward was born in New York City in 1972 and, four years later, her family relocated to Rye, New York. She attended Kent School in Kent, Connecticut, where she wrote for the Kent News.
At Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, Amanda majored in English and American Studies. She studied fiction writing with Jim Shepard. After graduating, she taught at Athens College in Greece for one year before moving to Missoula, Montana, to study fiction writing at the University of Montana with Bill Kittredge, Dierdre McNamer, Debra Earling, and Kevin Canty. She earned her MFA before commencing work at the University of Montana Mansfield Library.
In 1998, Amanda moved to Austin, Texas and began working on Sleep Toward Heaven. She wrote for the Austin Chronicle and worked for a variety of Internet startups. The following year, she won third prize in the Austin Chronicle short story contest for Miss Montana’s Wedding Day. She published Butte as in Beautiful that same year.
In July 2000, Amanda married Tip Meckel, a geologist, in Ouray, Colorado, and they spent the summer in New Orleans, Louisiana, where she wrote short stories The Beginning of the Wrong Novel and Classified. She also finished Sleep Toward Heaven, which was published in 2003 and won the Violet Crown Book Award. It was also optioned for film by Sandra Bullock and Fox Searchlight.
Amanda next moved to Waterville, Maine, and began writing in an attic filled with books. Her second novel, How to Be Lost, published in 2004, was a Target Bookmarked pick, and has been published in fifteen countries. After one year in Maine followed by two on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Amanda and family returned to Austin, Texas. Forgive Me, her third novel, was published in 2007 and her short story collection, Love Stories in This Town, in April 2009.
Close Your Eyes, published just last month, received a four-star review in People and the Dallas Morning News wrote that, with its publication, Amanda “put another jewel in her crown as the reigning doyenne of ‘dark secrets’ literary fiction.” It quickly became an Amazon bestseller.
Currently, Amanda writes every morning and spends the afternoons with her two young sons.
Amanda has generously provided a copy of Close Your Eyes for me to award to one lucky reader (selected at random)! Click here to read my review and enter to win, but hurry because entries close on Sunday, August 28, 2011, at 11:59 p.m. (Pacific time)! [Note: Only comments posted in response to my review count as entries in the giveaway!]