Local, award-winning author Allen Eskens has reached national attention with his bestselling mystery/crime novels.
Allen grew up in central Missouri, and now lives with his wife, Joely, in greater Minnesota; where he recently retired, after practicing criminal law for 25 years. Eskens holds a journalism degree from the University of Minnesota and a law degree from Hamline University. Following law school, he studied creative writing in the M.F.A. (Master of Fine Arts) program at Minnesota State University-Mankato; as well as at the Loft Literary Center and the Iowa Summer Writer’s Festival.
Allen’s chart-topping, celebrated list includes: The Life We Bury, The Guise of Another, The Heavens May Fall, The Deep Dark Descending, and The Shadows We Hide. Recipient of the Barry Award, Minnesota Book Award, Rosebud Award (Left Coast Crime), and Silver Falchion Award, Esken’s books have been translated into 21 languages and his novel, The Life We Bury, is in development for a feature film. “I want to continue telling stories that resonate with readers…and I hope to continue living up to the faith they place in me.”— A. Eskens
Do you work at a job other than your writing profession?
I practiced law as a criminal defense attorney for twenty-five years. My office was in Mankato, but I travelled throughout southern Minnesota. I started studying creative writing as soon as I graduated law school, hoping to find a creative outlet for my overactive imagination. I soon discovered that I had a passion for telling stories, and I set to making creative writing my life’s goal.
What is your latest book and briefly, what is it about?
I wrote a novel in 2014 called The Life We Bury, which became a national bestseller and tells the story of a college student, Joe Talbert, who gets pulled into a thirty-year-old mystery through a class assignment. It also addresses Joe’s struggle in dealing with his mother and autistic brother. My most recent novel, The Shadows We Hide, is the sequel of The Life We Bury and continues Joe’s path to understand his family and himself. The story begins with Joe learning that a man who might be his absented father may have been murdered in southern Minnesota (a fictional town called Buckley). The Shadows We Hide is currently a finalist for the Minnesota Book Award and the Barry Award—a national award for mystery novels; and I am very happy with how it is being received by readers.
Tell me about the first time you knew you wanted to become an author.
I came to writing as a way to scratch a creative itch. I spent twenty years studying the craft for my own enjoyment, never thinking that I might one day be a full-time writer. It wasn’t until I wrote my second manuscript, the one that would eventually become The Life We Bury, that I gave thought to writing as a profession, and even then, I saw it as something I would do on the side. After my novels took off, I closed my law practice (in 2016) and have been writing for a living ever since.
What is your genre of choice and what inspires you to create your material?
I am considered a mystery writer because my novels revolve around a crime, but I write with a literary edge. My writing philosophy is to use the mystery aspect of my book as a catalyst to tell the story of the people in the novel. The character drama and relationships in my stories are the parts that give depth to the novel and are the parts that I enjoy writing the most. I don’t want to just tell my readers a story; I want to engage them and make them feel something. I want to evoke. That challenge is what inspires me.
What kind of creative patterns, routines or rituals do you have?
Before I sit down to write a novel, I spend months, if not years, thinking about it, daydreaming the many tangents it could take. Then I outline it in great detail, building the plot, the characters, and the themes. Only when I am satisfied that every aspect reverberates, do I sit down to write. Once I have the first draft finished, I revise and revise and revise. I do my writing in a lounge chair in my basement; my rescued coon hound snoring on the couch beside me.
How do you deal with low-creativity times, and where do you sell your work?
Because I prepare my novels ahead of writing them (daydreaming and outlining) I don’t have low creativity times—or if I do it is in the daydreaming stage, so it doesn’t seem like low creativity. My books are sold in bookstores everywhere, and online, in paper, eBooks and audio.
What, in your opinion, is the most difficult step in creating a “masterpiece”?
The hardest part of creating a quality novel is the work of understanding writing craft. There is so much more to writing a novel than simply telling a story. The greatest compliment I receive is to hear that my work touched a reader and made him or her feel emotion or contemplate a deep thought. That doesn’t happen by accident. Before I started to study writing, I had no idea about the level of technique that hides in plain sight on the pages of the books I’d read. That level of understanding doesn’t come easily, but with hard work, it eventually does come.
Do you have any interesting anecdotes about an experience involving your writing?
After my books started selling well, I encountered a number of experiences that I hadn’t expected, most good, but a couple just down-right strange. On the good side, with my book being published in 26 languages, I began to receive fan emails from people around the world, telling me how much they enjoyed my work.
But the strangest incident occurred one day when I went to the Goodreads website to check on my book reviews. I saw the listing for my books: The Life We Bury, The Guise of Another, The Heavens May Fall, The Deep Dark Descending, and The Shadows We Hide. But then I saw one more book: The Last Caruso, by Allen Eskens. I happen to know that I never wrote a book called The Last Caruso. I contacted the website, and after some investigation, I was told that it was someone trying to make money off of my name by posting their book on my page; in the hopes that my readers would buy their book, thinking it was the next in my series. The website took it down right away.
Professionally speaking, what is your goal?
My goal is simple. I want to continue telling stories that resonate with readers. I hope to expand into other forms of storytelling, such as screenwriting, but will always come back to novels. I am honored to have received the kind of attention that has led to my books finding their way onto a number of bestseller lists. That success is all due to word of mouth—people reading my books, liking them, and passing the word on to their reading friends. I hope to continue living up to the faith they place in me.
By Pat Garry, contributing writer