OBOC Spotlight: Allen Eskens & Small Towns

Our One Book, One Community selection this year is The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens. Recently the Friends of Edgewater Library (near Chicago) sponsored a webinar with Eskens and author Michael Prelee on the subject “Small Town Murders” (available here). It was fascinating to hear and see Eskens talk about his writing process and gain some background on the books he’s published.

Discussing The Life We Bury, Eskens said that he made the protagonist Joe Talbert a journalist because with this profession he could gain access to information in a police investigation that others may not have. He used the strong female character, Lila Nash, as a mechanism for discussing the details of the story line with Joe. He also said that he wrote Lila’s story, The Stolen Hours, twenty years ago and set it aside while developing his skill in writing. He then revised and recently published it after having published several other award-winning books.

Eskens likes to use fictional small towns as a setting for his stories because of the heightened connection between people in small towns. They have many of the same issues as city dwellers like depression, drugs, and unemployment, but these are set against their own culture. An outsider is immediately recognized as one who is not part of the town, and this can add some interest to the story line.

If you were going to write a book, how would you get started? Eskens carefully outlines all of his books before writing. He uses this method to try out different twists to the story because if some aspect isn’t going in the right direction, he hasn’t wasted 20,000 words detailing it. He generally writes the beginning and end of the story first, and then the middle, so he can weave in clues and red herrings along the way to the ending he has already worked out. He said he most enjoys developing the character of his villains because “in their world, they are the hero”.

If you’ve already enjoyed The Life We Bury, I would recommend the sequel The Shadows We Hide, which explores Joe Talbert’s relationship with his father. You can learn more about Eskens on his website. All seven of his books are available through York County Libraries!

Bev Motich