When Lauren and Alex climbed into their tree house, they had no idea it would be their last night in New York. Close Your Eyes follows the siblings, all grown up and living in Austin, Texas, as they uncover the truth about their mother’s murder and why their father took the blame. Amanda Eyre Ward (Sleep Toward Heaven, 2003, etc.) found inspiration for this page-turner in her own backyard. Here the Austin-based author explains why her hometown of Rye, N.Y., was not the idyllic place it seemed.

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I understand the murder was based on a true story. What happened?

When I was 16 there was a murder in Larchmont, N.Y., where an Indian couple, doctors, were murdered in their house on New Year’s Eve—savagely with a knife from their kitchen. There was no motive, so it was four and a half years before a guy from my town confessed in an AA meeting that he was having flashbacks to a night on New Year’s Eve when he had been a teenager and had blacked out. It turned out that he had broken into this stranger’s house, but it was the house that he had grown up in, so I guess in a drunken haze, he thought he was killing his parents. 

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Why did you want to write about it?

It was sort of a double whammy. As a teenager, you feel like Rye is really safe and manicured, and the city was always wild. We’d go into boutiques in the East Village and it was so dangerous and exciting, but Rye was always very safe. So for one thing, there was the idea that it isn’t safe, and then that it turned out that it was one of us that did it was another thing that haunted me. I started thinking, which among us is capable of things like this and why?

Why did he do it?

Well, he was pretty messed up. He was the son of a bank president, and he had been diagnosed with some sociopathic tendencies. My research showed that if you have an alcoholic blackout, you don’t ever remember what happened because what happens chemically is that you stop forming memories, whereas this guy says that he started to remember it, which doesn’t happen.

So it could be that he knew all these years and it tortured him, but he never would have been caught. There’s a whole interesting angle that I had in the book and then took out about the fact that in AA, if you admit something, it becomes privileged information, like you said it to a priest or something. So they couldn’t prosecute him for a long time, but eventually they did.

Did you change the story a lot during the writing process? 

I did have a very hard time doing the murder mystery because in order to write a murder mystery, you need to be able to move the characters around at your will. In order to write a character-driven novel, you need to give the characters leeway to do what they’re going to do. So for the first time in this book, I found that I had those two impulses competing against each other. I think that’s why this book went through eight billion drafts.

How long did it take you to finish?

It takes me about three years for every book. I do have kids, but I work three days a week and then think about it the rest of the time.

That’s not a bad life.

It’s wonderful. I’m so fortunate, I really am. And I think I’m very lucky to have moved to Austin when there was still time to be a novelist because it’s so much cheaper here and it’s just easier to be able to sustain a life where you can afford lunch and be working on your novel every night for a long period of time. It’s so easy, it’s like living on a cruise ship. I couldn’t have done that in New York. You can only eat ramen for so long. But I go to New York all the time.

What did you do in New York City?

I worked a bunch of places. I was at the Museum of Natural History for one whole summer and it was just surreal. I was in the accounting department, which was behind the amber exhibit. They were doing some caterpillar experiment, so I got one at my desk. It’s an amazing view of the city when you’re temping behind the scenes. I also know it’s really exhausting. I remember thinking, what is this going to add up to? But now I look back on it for inspiration. That’s what it adds up to—a fascinating life.