Thursday, February 3, 2022


Emilya Naymark: Writing About Women is Writing About Suspense

I always felt that truly great women’s fiction was great suspense fiction. When I set out to write my crime novels, I knew I’d write them about women, and about the things we do to protect those we love. 

Whether you’re in the nature or nurture camp, there’s no denying women face both societal and internal pressures to be caretakers. Women are more likely than men to become the stay-at-home parent, and if not, they are more likely to adjust their careers to fit child rearing and elder care. According to the Pew Research Center, roughly 28% of all mothers do not work outside the home, vs. about 7% of all fathers. These numbers have barely changed in the past thirty years. Women also make up 58% of all caregivers in the United States, with 30% of that number providing more than twenty hours of care per week. That’s usually unpaid work, often done alongside childcare and paid work. 

Women face both external and internal pressures to give up their time for the health and happiness of others, and they do it, mostly with positive results for all involved. Now, in fiction, this is an endless goldmine with a kaleidoscopic range of conflict. 

Threaten a child or a marriage, unearth a destructive secret from the past, endanger the family home, and now you have a perfectly suspenseful conflict for a novel. Push it a little and you have a crime novel. 

In Hide in Place, the first in my Laney Bird detective series, Laney has to accept that her past might have provoked her teenage son’s disappearance. And then she must find him. Does she always follow the law? Eh… 

In the second book, Behind the Lie, a wife and mother is so consumed with safeguarding her family, she cannibalizes her own wellbeing and sanity. Breaking the law is a minor price to pay to keep everyone she loves happy and healthy. Isn’t it? 

There is a certain insanity built into being a modern, first-world woman. We are told we can do it all—enjoy a fulfilling and well-paid career, raise smart, decent humans, cook gourmet meals, take our parents to their doctor appointments when they age, attend every sports activity, play, and PTA meeting, and, above all, remain charming and entertaining whether we’re hosting a dinner party or a play date. Advertising tells us that if we’re heavier than we want to be, more wrinkled, flabbier, sadder, sicker, it’s really our fault. We haven’t tried the diet, or the lotion, or the mindfulness routine, and why have we still not bought that bottle of organic cider vinegar? 

And I thought, let me take a woman who desperately wants success at being the perfect wife-mother-sister-daughter-friend, etc., and throw impossible challenges at her. How crazy would she get? How far would she go to sustain all those balls in the air? How many crimes would she be willing to commit? Well, the answers are: kinda crazy, pretty darn far and quite a few. 

Even so, I wanted my characters to be relatable. I’ve known women who worked ridiculously hard at their paid and unpaid jobs and were still depressed because they thought they were failing. Showing this internal pull toward an unattainable ideal became extremely interesting. In Behind the Lie, this pull affects all three of the female characters whose lives intersect one blistering July night. The pull is different for each—one wants to hold her family perfectly insulated from life’s cruelty, one wants to live agelessly, forever, and one just wants to keep up. 

It’s not a spoiler to say none of them attain their goals because the goals themselves are unrealistic. But I found watching them try deeply compelling, and I hope my readers will as well. 


EMILYA NAYMARK is the author of the novels HIDE IN PLACE and BEHIND THE LIE, out February 8, 2022 (available for pre-order). Her short stories appear in A Stranger Comes to Town, edited by Michael Koryta, Secrets in the Water, After Midnight: Tales from the Graveyard Shift, River River Journal, Snowbound: Best New England Crime Stories 2017, and 1+30: THE BEST OF MYSTORY. She lives in the Hudson Valley with her family. 

Find her online here: 

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