Intrepid heroine Laney Bird left the NYPD in the firestorm of a high-profile case gone horribly wrong. Three years later, the ghosts of her past roar back to terrifying life and now jeopardize the young son she treasures above all else. In her debut novel, Hide in Place, author Emilya Naymark tells us about her passion for the crime/suspense genre, what it’s like to stay creative during a pandemic, and why it was love at first sight when she was first introduced to the hustle and bustle of New York.
Interviewer: Christina Hamlett
Q: There’s certainly no question that the past year of lockdowns and social distancing has had an impact on our mindsets, energy levels and even our self-confidence. Had someone told you that your first novel would make its debut in the midst of so much global chaos, what would you have envisioned the challenges and benefits of such timing to be?
A: First, I would have laughed. It figures that after ten years of teaching myself how to write, how to outline, how to get an agent and finally getting published, it would happen at the oddest time in memory.
It’s an interesting question though, because I’m still learning how this all works. Almost every day I’m surprised by some aspect of the publishing journey that never occurred to me. For example, I only a few months ago learned that traditionally published books get published on Tuesdays.
To answer the question, my knowledge of publishing was so vague to begin with, that anything I might have envisioned as a challenge or benefit would have been completely off the mark. I’m monumentally grateful to and impressed with my agent, publisher and the bloggers who have reached out to me for treating my novel and my launch as if it were 2019.
Q: Versus those who have known since childhood they were meant to be savvy wordsmiths, it might be said that you yourself came late to the table as an aspiring author. With a university degree in Fine Art, at what point did you realize your original career choice might divert to unexpected destinations?
A: It might have been somewhat of a midlife crisis realization. I love art and being an artist, and that will never change. But when my son was in elementary school and the all-consuming level of attention and care he required lessened, I found being a designer simply did not fulfill me at the deep level I needed. I still love my design career and have no plans to give it up yet, but the creative outlet writing allows is completely different. It consumes me and gives me joy. Without this outlet, I’m a sad and gloomy person.
Q: Your family’s personal journey of danger, escape and relocation could be the stuff of a gripping novel as well. Can you share with us your three most vivid memories of those times and what they taught you about survival?
A: You make it sound very exciting! I was a child when we left the Soviet Union, and to me the entire process was an adventure. I didn’t worry about survival the way my parents did because I trusted them to take care of me. But I’ll tell you three things that left a lifelong impression:
- We lived in Italy for almost six months, in Ostia, on the outskirts of Rome. My parents booked us on a bus tour of northern Italy, and I got to shlep through Venice, Florence, and Sienna. We visited the Vatican and every church large and small, every ruin, and then descended into the catacombs. This experience forever instilled in me a love of Art and History.
- When we came to New York and settled into our new lives, I couldn’t believe the abundance and variety of food available even to the poor, which we were at first. I’d never heard of things like peanut butter or nectarines. Everything was a discovery. A few years ago, I came across a stash of letters I wrote to my friends in Moscow when I was nine, and they were almost entirely about the different foods I had at school and at home. As to why I found those letters—my mother never sent them. Back then, receiving mail from the West was politically dangerous and my mother would not endanger my friends’ families.
- More than anything, I wanted to belong to my new country. I noticed that every morning my fourth-grade class started with everyone standing up, placing their hands over their hearts, and saying something. I had no idea what they were saying, but I wanted to say it, too. Using pantomime, I asked my classmates to write down the Pledge of Allegiance, translated it, and memorized it. To this day, saying the Pledge gets me emotional. It feels corny, but there you go. I could be at a high school football game or a Boy Scout meeting and I must gather myself after saying it. Every single time.
Q: You’ve described your discovery of New York as “a love and a muse.” Why?
A: I guess I’m a New Yorker through and through. What’s not to love? I mean, I even appreciated graffiti. Living in Queens gave me the freedom to walk to Manhattan over bridges, or take the subway, and have endless access to art, films, and music. From the age of thirteen, I was free to explore at will, and did. I remember once being too New York to ask Andy Warhol for an autograph, chatting with Tina Louise (of Gilligan’s Island fame) at an art opening, going backstage at concerts. Everything was an inspiration.
Q: How did writing and publishing short stories help develop the skills and discipline necessary to pen a full-length novel?
A: My first published piece started as a homework assignment from my first writing class, and that was the beginning of me learning how to assemble something resembling a story. I wrote novels all along, five or six of them. I queried with three and the third landed me my agent. The short stories happened simultaneously when I realized I could get publishing credits while querying the novels. Writing a novel is definitely a different beast than a short story, but I’ve learned to apply the same rules to both, and it has made both stronger.
Q: How much time and how many projects did it take before you caught the attention of a literary agent?
A: It took nine years from when I decided to take writing seriously and enrolled in my first writing class to when I found my agent. In between there were two other finished novels, three unfinished ones, including a weird memoir that will probably never see the light of day, and five short stories.
Q: What is a typical writing day like for you?
A: I wish I had an admirable answer, but since I have a day job, that comes first. I write late in the evening, after all other duties are tackled. I can write anywhere, but I need quiet, which means that noise cancelling headphones are my most prized possession. I can be in a living room with my family and not hear a thing. Bliss! When the weather is nice, I settle on my patio, light candles, and write until my brain stops working.
Q: Plotter or pantser?
A: Plotter once I learned how. I feel the story out by writing sketches, and once I have a glimmer of the whole, I outline deeply. For the sequel to Hide in Place I ended up with a printed outline nearly seven feet long, made of paper strips, each a chapter, taped together. Having said that, I will occasionally re-outline if I’m blocked with the story.
Q: What attracted you to the mystery genre and, specifically, writing about undercover investigations?
A: My husband was an undercover detective with the NYPD for years. He always had stories ranging from the hysterical to horrifying. After trying my hand at writing YA paranormal and speculative fiction, I decided I’d better take advantage of the fact checker at my elbow. I love writing crime almost more than anything because it gives me a chance to explore the dark side of human nature.
Q: What traits do you share with your heroine, Laney Bird?
A: I share her devotion to her child and her tendency to romanticize the people she loves. As a detective, she has a logical mind, and I gave her my own ways of reasoning. But she steps over the line frequently and doesn’t ask for help. That’s definitely not me.
Q: What do you feel is the most unique about Laney’s persona as a detective?
A: Laney puts the people she loves foremost in her life, without thinking. This is not always a good idea, especially if the people she loves don’t deserve her loyalty. The detectives I know generally do a better job of keeping their professional and personal lives separate (though that can also be a problem); and the detectives in literature are often haunted. I wanted to write a detective who is a mother above all else, and whose actions rise from that. Whether she is unique in the genre, I can’t say, but I know she felt and still feels utterly real to me.
Q: Accuracy is essential for any type of writing but especially when the content embraces police procedural methodologies. How did you go about doing the research in order to ensure you got everything right?
A: My husband! He was very generous with his time. I wrote out a four-page questionnaire for him and then interviewed him. He gave me detailed, step-by-step instructions on buy and busts, on exactly how an undercover works. For details outside his area of expertise, I turned to google and read indictments on racketeering cases, fraud, etc. I downloaded the gigantic NYPD patrolman’s guide and read through all relevant pages.
Q: Art often imitates Life in the world of writers, and mystery novels are no exception to this. Tell us how some real-life criminal cases came to be incorporated in the pulse-pounding plot of Hide in Place.
A: Oooh, I love this question. The racketeering case at the heart of Hide in Place was inspired by a real RICO case against the Russian mob that took place in 2017. The Shulaya gang of Brighton Beach, New York, had an indictment so extensive it took thirty-three pages to list and included everything from drugs to illegal gambling to prostitution, money laundering, and the theft of ten tons of chocolate. Plus, much, much more. What’s not to love about that?
Q: As I frequently tell my clients, the atmosphere and physical setting of a book can (and should) exude as much “personality” as any of its human players. What governed your decision to use the Hudson Valley and Coney Island as the story’s two opposite locales?
A: This is a great question! I moved to the Hudson Valley in 2013 and was immediately won over by its beauty. It can be harsh here in the winters because the roads were never built with large cars in mind. These areas are historic, dating back to before the Revolutionary War, and the further you go north, the less populated it gets. It’s the perfect setting for a mystery or a thriller. If the bad guy won’t get you, the weather and the isolation might.
Brighton Beach is the epicenter of the Russian mob in the United States, so setting at least part of the story there was a no-brainer. Additionally, summer at the beach in New York City is such a unique place I felt I had to describe it. The situations and locations are so opposite that they work perfectly to illustrate the break in Laney’s life. There is no going back, not to her old job, not to her old life, not back in time. Brighton Beach has the glimmer of nostalgia even as she tries to understand how and when things went bad for her.
Q: What’s next on your plate that readers can look forward to?
A: I have a short story in an anthology coming out April 2021 from MWA called When A Stranger Comes to Town, edited by Michael Koryta. And I’m about to hand in the sequel to Hide in Place, which was, if possible, even more fun to write than the first book.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: These were excellent questions! I’m very grateful to have been able to share so much of my story, both personal and fictional, with your readers. Thank you very much for hosting me.