Fits the bill: Author used Austin as backdrop to latest book

Allen Eskens. Photo provided

Allen Eskens. Photo provided

Allen Eskens is no stranger to Austin.

When Eskens was writing his book, “The Life We Bury,” he wanted a blue collar community for his main character, Joe Talbert, to hail from.

Austin fit that need perfectly, and Eskens had traveled to Austin often to visit his daughter.

The Life We Bury

The Life We Bury

But now, Eskens is coming to the Austin Public Library at 7 p.m. on April 28 for a new reason: to help cap the 15th annual Austin Page Turners citywide read.

Eskens’ novel “The Life We Bury” features a character who is an Austin native. The book is about a college student, Joe Talbert, who interviews Carl Iverson, a man dying from cancer who is the murderer of a 14-year-old girl. As the story goes on, Joe gets deeper into Carl’s life and also returns many times to his hometown of Austin to protect his younger brother from a bipolar, alcoholic mother and her abusive boyfriend.

When writing the book, Austin fit into Talbert’s story because Eskens wanted him to run away from a town with a blue collar background, and Hormel has a long history with the Hormel Foods strike of 1985.

“I thought it fit the feel of what Joe was leaving behind,” Eskens said.

Eskens has a connection to Austin, as his ex-wife and daughter lived in the city for several years, so he visited several times for school activities and got to know Austin.

 A creative blend

Eskens grew up in a blue collar home in Missouri and didn’t have writing in his blood, but he was heavily involved in theater in high school and went to college originally to study theater. But Eskens changed his major to journalism at the University of Minnesota and earned a Juris Doctorate from Hamline University School of Law.

For many years, he’s worked as a criminal defense attorney in Mankato, but he found himself craving the creative side he’d loved with theater.

So Eskens decided to start writing, and he started taking writing courses.

Eskens spent several years attending writing workshops and seminars, including the Iowa Summer Writer’s Festival. He also has three-fourths of a Master’s of Fine Arts degree from Minnesota State University, Mankato,  but he wasn’t looking for credits behind his name — he wanted experience.

“I was looking to understand the craft and that served me very well,” he said.

While he noted everyone has a story, he knew he needed tools and skills to be able to tell that story in a way that evokes emotion and features strong characters, a gripping plot and other techniques to bring the story to life.

After his daughter, Mikayla, went to college, he started devoting more time to writing a novel.

As he was studying writing, Eskens worked on a manuscript, which he described as a more literary piece, but he eventually put that work aside to start anew on a novel, which would eventually become “The Life We Bury.”

 Knowing the process

To Eskens, it was important for him to hone his writing skills to able to utilize the creative twists and because readers are now more attune to the investigative process through other novels and television shows like “CSI.”

Eskens has had to maintain a disciplined approach to balance his work with his writing. But he said he worked on his criminal cases with zeal, but left it at the office

“When I went home, I left the office at the office and I worked on writing,” he said.

But Eskens also utilized inspiration and knowledge from his career as a criminal defense attorney.

“I’m drawn to mysteries just because that’s part of my job as an attorney,” Eskens said.

Through his career as an attorney, Eskens knows investigative procedures, which benefitted him while writing “The Life We Bury.” Knowing how the police approach cases came in handy. For example, the story features a cold case the police believe is solved, so the police are only tangentially involved as Talbert investigates the case. That helped Eskens write the story in a way where Talbert can investigate on his own.

He also knew how the courts work and what information would still be available and preserved.

Eskens also knew that files for murder cases would be preserved in case there was even appeal, where most cases would eventually be destroyed. He also knows how DNA processing works and that a lab in Ramsey County had been shut down, which plays into the plot.

 Finding success

Eskens has seen a lot of success from “The Life We Bury.” He was nominated for seven awards and won three. It also saw long stretches on the Publisher’s Weekly and USA Today best sellers lists.

“I am so humbled and happy about how it’s done and that people are enjoying it,” he said.

Eskens’ second book, “The Guise of Another,” came out Oct. 5, 2015, and his third books set to come out Oct. 4, 2016. After that, he’ll have one book left to go on a four-book deal.

Still, Eskens enjoys writing, so he was going to do it whether he was published or not. He calls getting published and the positive response icing on the cake.

Eskens still works full time as a lawyer, but he didn’t rule out the possibility of one day writing full time.

“I love practicing law, but I’m passionate about writing,” he said.

Eskens is no stranger to citywide reads, as he’s been selected for similar programs in Hastings and St. Peter, both of which he’s enjoyed.

“It gets me exposure and the events that you do as part of those programs are just a blast,” he said.

Eskens was absolutely ecstatic about wanting to do it.

Eskens wants the talk on April 28 to be a discussion, not a monologue. He wants many people to attend for a lively discussion, but he doesn’t want the discussion to include any spoilers.

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