A Q&A with author Carter Wilson about his new Aspen-set novel
‘The Dead Girl in 2A’
416 pages, $15.99
Poisoned Press, July 2, 2019
Novelist Carter Wilson has lived in Colorado since 1996, but he’s never set a book here until now.
Carter’s dark psychological thriller, “The Dead Girl in 2A,” opens with a pair of strangers on a plane to Denver and follows them to Aspen and the Maroon Bells for the book’s mysterious and mystical central action.
Based in Erie, outside Boulder, the author earlier this year won a Colorado Book Award for “Mister Tender’s Girl.” “The Dead Girl in 2A” will be published July 2.
ASPEN TIMES WEEKLY: How did you come to set “The Dead Girl in 2A” at the Maroon Bells?
CARTER WILSON: I usually think of just an opening scene and then I spend the rest of the book trying to figure out what that scene means. So I had this idea that a man and a woman meet on a plane in seats 2A and 2B. And they are viscerally convinced they know each other. They don’t know how, and they spend the entre flight trying to figure it out. The only thing they can find is that neither of them remembers their childhood. Then the woman confesses that when she gets to her destination she is going to kill herself. I knew the rest of the book was going to be about what happens when they get off the plane.
So I thought of that scene and the first question I asked was, where are they from and where are they headed? She was going up to the mountains of Colorado. There’s something mysterious about the mountains here and I loved the idea that she was drawn to the Maroon Bells, that maybe she had seen postcards of it, that it might be a beautiful place to end her life. And then I thought maybe she is drawn to it because she has been there before, but she just doesn’t remember it.
ATW: What did you see as particularly mysterious about the Bells?
CW: I have a good friend who always talked about how the Maroon Bells were so special to him, that it’s a place that’s beyond the average 14er, it’s this mystical place. I liked that element of it, so when I was writing the book, it’s grounded in reality but it’s more mystical than my other books. So, like the island in the TV show “Lost,” I thought felt like the Maroon Bells would be this space where things happened in the past lives of these characters that were extraordinary.
ATW: I was reading on your blog at carterwilson.com that you raced the Tough Mudder in Snowmass Village last year. Was that part of research for ‘The Dead Girl in 2A’?
CW: By the time I did the Tough Mudder I had already written most of the book but I had never actually been to the Maroon Bells. So the day after the race I was like, ‘All right, we’re driving up there because I’ve got to take it in and make sure it feels right, like I knew it would. That was the end cap of writing the book, taking that trip.
ATW: What books or writers made you want to write thrillers?
CW: I’ve always gravitated to stories that are rooted in reality and that deal with ordinary people in extraordinary situations. Those are the ones you can really place yourself in, especially when they’re tinged with heavy suspense. So Stephen King’s less fantastic books are it. He can take a human, personal story and make it dark and suspenseful and relatable. That’s what I always strive for.
It’s a beautiful morning. I am minutes from death.
Earlier, I checked out. Hardly said a word to the clerk. Didn’t even look at the total on the bill.
My next stop was a nearby supermarket, where I found the aisle with the household goods. Light bulbs. Tape. Screwdrivers. Then, there. Box cutter.
I paid and left.
After that, an Italian café. Expensive, as you would expect in Aspen. It was quiet, and I told the hostess I wanted to have some breakfast.
I wasn’t hungry, but it seemed at least ceremonial to treat myself. I ordered an omelet, which ended up just cooling in front of me as I picked around the edges. The waiter was very concerned I didn’t enjoy my food, but I assured him the problem wasn’t the food. He must have read something on my face, because he asked if I was okay.
I told him that was an impossible question to answer and then ordered champagne. He asked if I meant a mimosa, but I said no. Just champagne.
And there I sipped and considered my life, such as I could remember. The culmination of all I’d become, the hours learning, experiencing, and forgetting. The moments of laughter and pleasure, which were too few. The relationships, the people, even the pets I’d once had. All the living things that had floated around in my world, all for different lengths of time, plunging to various depths within me. Some leaving marks, others not. Everything I experienced that added up to what became Clara Stowe, the 34-year-old woman who sat in an Italian restaurant alone, not even eating her last meal.
I’m back in the car, making the short drive to the Maroon Bells, my final stop. My journal rests on the passenger seat. I had this romantic image of leaving it on the rock where I died, but it has a better chance of being read if I leave it in the car. I don’t know why the book being read is important to me. I think I’m ready to be dead, but not yet forgotten.
It’s almost Halloween, a holiday I haven’t celebrated in years. Halloween promptly followed by the Day of the Dead.
The aspen trees are a blaze of yellow, with evergreens spotted throughout, unchanging. I open the moon roof. Crisp air swirls around me, sun beats down. I navigate the hairpin turns cautiously, because plunging off the road is not the plan.
Finally, I arrive, and the Maroon Bells don’t even look real. They are a Disney photo, airbrushed perfection, streaks of snow and rock against the bluest of skies. I pull into a gravel lot, which is occupied by three other cars.
I get out and survey the scene. The lake is calm, not a hint of a breeze. Small ripples erupt here and there, little creatures coming up from beneath. Or insects landing for a drink.
Though I can barely make him out, on the far side of the lake, a man is fishing.
I had hoped to be alone.
I locate my rock, the one where I’ll be standing when I do it. I have it perfectly planned. Shouldn’t take longer than ten seconds, if I do it right. Then all I have to do is fall forward, into the lake, and breathe in the depth of it all.
Then I will be at the next stage. The stage of existence I haven’t been able to stop thinking about. I’ll have accomplished my greatest achievement.
The responsibility of my death.
Suddenly, two children scurry from the hidden side of the rock, up and over. Siblings, perhaps. Blond and joyous, girls. One of them, the larger of the two, stands on the top, the place where I’m supposed to stand. The other scampers, tries to get to the top, but is denied by her sister’s stomping feet. Squeals of laughter. Shouts of life.
King of the mountain.
I turn my head and locate the parents standing nearby, hand in hand, facing the Bells. “Look at this,” I imagine them saying. “Look at where we are. Isn’t this beautiful?”
Now, I have to wait.
Strange that this fills me with a flush of impatience. “What’s the rush, Clara? What do you really think will be on the other side?”
The father turns his head and sees me, offers the slightest nod. I smile and nod back. He doesn’t notice the box cutter I’m palming it out of view. Don’t want to alarm him. His children are closer to me than they are to him, after all.
So I walk, taking a nearby path that extends from a trailhead and winds to the south. A half hour should do it, most likely. I’ll check back then, see if I have the rock to myself.
It only takes minutes before I’m deep in the trees, and the shade brings on a sharp chill. But the cold feels good, making my senses more acute. Leaves crunch beneath me. Bare branches rustle in a sudden light wind above.
Deeper into these woods.
The smell of soil. The musk of moist, decomposing vegetation.
And then something else. A new scent, so deeply familiar.
My pulse quickens, and I push deeper still, yanking aside branches and stepping over the bodies of trees fallen long ago. I don’t know what I’m looking for, or if I’m even looking at all. I’m following this smell, and it’s almost as if it exists as a single line of direction, a trail of bread crumbs left for me to follow.
The woods draw tighter around me, closing in.
Mountain Mayhem: Spring flings
Casa Tua hosted a dinner last month in partnership with Wyld Blue, the chic boutique in the Elks Building downtown featuring a collection of housewares, childrens’ clothes and women’s fashion.