By Allen Eskens
As I approached the launch of my debut novel, The Life We Bury, I attended book signings and events for other authors, paying close attention to what they did and said, hoping to emulate them in my own presentations. After attending a number of these events, I began to think that my path to becoming a novelist was a bit different than most.
I’d hear authors talk about how they were terrific readers at an early age or how they wrote their first story in third grade and knew that writing would be their life’s calling. I had neither of those experiences in my past.
So, I went in search of the source of my authorial spirit, and after a great deal of exploration, I finally found the point where my life as a storyteller began. I found this archaeological gem written in the margins of my first grade report card. My teacher, Sister Ronald Marie, wrote “Allen dreams when there is work to be done.” (Ah, the birth of a writer).
As it turns out, some version of that comment made its way onto most of my report cards and into many of my parent-teacher conferences. “Allen daydreams too much.” “Allen can’t seem to pay attention in class.” “In Language Arts, Allen is completely out of it.” (Mrs. Lee, my eighth grade teacher.)
If a teacher made the mistake of letting me sit near a window, I would look outside and my eye would catch on some shiny object and I’d be gone. I’d be blazing trails through the woods, or fighting Nazis at Bastogne, or crossing swords with a classmate who committed some offense to earn my imaginary wrath. My daydreaming became so rampant that teachers would assign me a seat far from the window, even in classes where no one else had an assigned seat.
I concede that my lack of attention was a valid source of consternation for my teachers, but what they didn’t understand (nor I for that matter) was that I was writing stories. I was developing protagonists and antagonists. I was inserting secondary characters like foils and mentors. I was creating plot arcs as complete as anything I watched on television.
Despite my utter lack of attention in class, I inched my way through school, barely passing from one grade to the next. It wasn’t until high school that things began to change. I got involved in theater and discovered that I could funnel my imagination into creative outlets. Suddenly, my daydreaming had purpose.
When I was a junior, I wrote a short story for a class where I simply wrote down one of my daydreams. My teacher asked me if I ever thought about writing to get published. That comment became the seed that would eventually grow into my passion for writing.
And now I am a novelist, and I finally get paid to do what I’ve wanted to do ever since I was a little boy…daydream.
Allen Eskens grew up in Jefferson City, Missouri, and migrated north to go to college, graduating from the University of Minnesota with a degree in journalism. He then went on to law school and eventually settled in Mankato, Minnesota to practice law. As the years passed, his itch to write became overwhelming and—after a mere twenty years of studying creative writing—he wrote his debut novel, The Life We Bury. Visit Allen at http://alleneskens.com/
The Life We Bury tells the story of Joe Talbert, a junior at the University of Minnesota who receives a class assignment to interview someone who has lived an interesting life and write their story. At a nursing home he meets Carl Iverson, a man dying of cancer who has been medically paroled after spending thirty years in prison for the murder of a fourteen-year-old girl. Carl agrees to tell Joe his story and through their meetings Joe is pulled into the darkness of a thirty-year-old murder. But The Life We Bury is also the story of how Joe ran away from home to go to college, leaving behind a mother who is bi-polar and a brother who is autistic. Joe is torn by the guilt of going to college and abandoning his brother. Throughout the novel, Joe has to intercede to protect his brother and is conflicted every time he has to once again leave his brother behind. The power of that guilt weighs heavily upon Joe and will demand a resolution of its own.