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Contact: Elena Hartwell - elenahartwell@gmail.com and visit me on the web at www.elenahartwell.com

A Conversation with Allen Eskens, Award Winning Mystery Author

Allen Eskens grew up in the wooded hills of Missouri and, after high school, migrated north to pursue his education. He acquired a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from the University of Minnesota, and a Juris Doctorate from Hamline University School of Law. He honed his creative writing skills in the M.F.A. program at Minnesota State University and took classes at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival and the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. 

THE LIFE WE BURY, Allen's debut offering, was named the Best Debut Novel of 2014 at the Left Coast Crime Conference, winning the Rosebud Award. The Life We Bury was named a finalist for the Edgar Award, the Thriller Award and the Anthony Award for Best First Novel. It was also named a finalist for the Barry Award for Best Paperback Original novel and the Minnesota Book Award for Best Genre Fiction.

THE GUISE OF ANOTHER, Allen's follow-up novel, tells the story of Max Rupert (one of the secondary characters from The Life We Bury) and his brother Alexander. Both are detectives with the Minneapolis Police Department and both get pulled into a dangerous cat-and-mouse hunt for the truth about a dead man with a secret past.

Allen Eskens shows us how to evoke emotions in our writing

The Interview - Part II
Scroll down to read Part I

What's your writing process like?
First, I do a thorough outline and there is no specific pattern for that as it is more daydreaming and jotting notes than it is actual writing. But when I sit down to write, I try to get 5000 words a week. I also think it is important to edit those 5000 words to make them sing as much as possible before moving on the next 5000 words. Once I have a first draft, I break the book into sections and revise. For example, in my next novel The Heavens MayFall, (due out on Oct. 4) I tell the story from the points of view of two co-protagonists (Max Rupert and Boady Sanden from The Life We Bury). So in revision, I break the story into each character’s chapters and revise them individually to make sure that I am satisfied with the character arc of each. Then I put them together and revise the novel as a whole.

Character development is very important to you as a writer, and part of why your work is so engaging. What advice can you give writers to help them develop their characters into fully formed people with rich inner lives and backstory?
I think character development is about making the character relatable to the reader. The more the reader can associate with the character, the more the reader will feel what the character is feeling. Give the character problems that the reader understands. Almost everyone understands loneliness or being in debt or anxiety over the future. The writer doesn’t need to make these central to the character, but when the character has to struggle with these problems, they become more real to the reader. Give the characters a past, even if it doesn’t all make it on to the page. I, as the author, know that past and it will influence the motivations and decisions of the character during the story. 

What are you working on now?
I am working on my fourth book (as of yet untitled). It is the last book in a three-book arc for Max Rupert and is all about Max seeking revenge—something that Max would have been incapable of doing at the beginning of the three-book arc. His character has moved from being a boy scout in TheGuise of Another to being a man who could contemplate a cold blooded execution in the final book of his journey.

Final Words of Wisdom:                                                                                                                                        My final word of wisdom is “EVOKE”. I believe that being a writer is more than telling a story. I believe we writers should use our talents to evoke emotion in the reader through the telling of a story. From the very beginning of my outline process I ask myself: where is the personal story? What do I want the reader to feel as the story unfolds? Can I make it so that this story stays with them emotionally after the last chapter? That is really the hardest part about being a writer, and it is the most satisfying part when I hit the mark. A writer may not meet that goal every time or to the extent they hope for, but they should shoot for it every time.

Award winning mystery writer, Allen Eskens: The Interview Part I

Your education as a writer started in Journalism then went on to graduate work at the Minnesota State University, the Iowa Summer Writing Festival, and The LoftWriting Center. How have those different experiences helped you forge your voice?                                                                          
Before studying creative writing, I already had a degree in journalism and had excelled in legal writing in getting my law degree. But I had to retrain myself when I endeavored to write creatively. Those other forms of writing focused on being direct, declarative and brief. Legal writing, especially, focused on tapping the intellectual and analytical centers of the brain. Creative writing, on the other hand, is all about emotion. I had to create a place in my head where I could let my creative side flourish. For example, as a legal writer I never used contractions. As a creative writer, I had to retrain myself that contractions were not only allowed, but essential. In retraining my brain, I found myself drawn to narrative voices that were as far from the formalistic writing of my past as I could find. Those voices inspired me to try to create an equally distinct narrative voice in my own work.
How has your career as an attorney impacted you as a writer?
As a writer of mysteries, my background as a criminal defense attorney is very important. I spend my days dissecting police investigations. I have to be as knowledgeable in investigative techniques as the police in order to do my job well. This dovetails well with my writing. I believe that readers are very sophisticated in ways police procedures and writers need to stay ahead of that curve.
Your first novel, The Life We Bury, has been wildly successful, both in critical acclaim and commercial popularity. How did that early success impact you writing your second book?

I had my second novel, The Guise of Another, already written before The Life We Bury hit the bookstore shelves. All of my books have a slightly different feel to them because I want each story to stand on its own. That’s one of the reasons I have characters that cross from one novel to another, as opposed to a series. With that said, one of the lessons that I learned from the success of The Life We Bury is the importance of depth. I see the mystery aspect of the story as pulling the reader forward and the personal journey of the characters as pulling the reader deeper into the story. Readers enjoy the twists and turns of the mystery, but the part of the story that stays with them is the depth of the characters and their relationships.
Check back April 15th for Part II