Interview: What Aya de León Looks For in a Good Thriller

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On my nightstand, I have a few books that I’m currently reading. These include Christina Sharpe’s “Ordinary Notes,” Tressie McMillan Cottom’s “Thick: And Other Essays,” Elizabeth Acevedo’s “Clap When You Land,” Dany Sigwalt’s “This Book Will Save the Planet” (illustrated by Aurélia Durand), and Evette Dionne’s “Weightless: Making Space for My Resilient Body and Soul.”

The last great book I read was “The God of Good Looks” by Breanne Mc Ivor.

As a working mom, my ideal reading experience for the past 15 years has been through audiobooks. Despite having a full load as a teacher and being the primary parent, I have managed to publish 10 novels since 2016. I had to find ways to multitask, and audiobooks allowed me to “read” while nursing, cooking, cleaning, and driving.

I wish more authors would write popular fiction about the current climate crisis. Most climate fiction falls into the category of science fiction or fantasy. While dystopian books like “Parable of the Sower” are important cautionary tales, I worry that they reinforce the idea that we are doomed to climate apocalypse. Scientists agree that we still have time to save our planet, but we need to make significant societal changes and divest from fossil fuels. We need popular books to accompany the building of a popular movement towards climate justice.

In my early 20s, I read a dusty used paperback called “The Spook Who Sat by the Door” by Sam Greenlee, which changed my perception of spy fiction. It was a Black Power-era spy novel that allowed me to enjoy a spy story without having to root for an agent of empire.

My favorite suspense novel hero is Jane Bond, James’s twin sister, from Mabel Maney’s “Kiss the Girls and Make Them Spy.” It combines social justice politics with humor, making it both entertaining and thought-provoking.

A good thriller for me involves great character growth, fresh plots that touch on social justice, and a balance between tension and humor. However, if there is excessive violence or threats against women and children, it takes away from the thrill and becomes more of a sense of dread.

Surprisingly, I have Nigerian thrillers from the Pacesetter series on my shelves. These were written by African authors in the late 1970s and 1980s. One of them is “Coup!” by Kalu Okpi.

If I were to organize a literary dinner party, I would invite Audre Lorde, Toni Cade Bambara, and Stacey Abrams. Lorde and Bambara were early writers who explored trauma, politics, and creativity. Abrams is a political force, and I am fascinated by her transition into working on climate issues alongside her career as a romantic thriller writer.

There are books that I have put down without finishing, not because they are not good, but because they delve into tragic topics that I cannot emotionally handle at the moment. As a working parent, there are time constraints and responsibilities that prevent me from fully immersing myself in heartbreaking stories. However, I intend to come back to them when I have more emotional bandwidth.

I don’t believe in feeling embarrassed for not having read certain books. It’s a product of internalized classism, where we have been made to feel inadequate if we haven’t read classic literature. I choose to let go of that shame and focus on the books that I have read and enjoyed.

About Michael Brown

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