Allen Eskens evokes mystery and the human experience

From a law degree to award-winning novels, mystery novelist Allen Eskens encaptures his many directions through his nine published books.

Eskens spent a day at Minnesota State as a feature in the Good Thunder Reading series to workshop, craft and read Thursday. 

“My focus when I write is I use the mystery part of the story as a vehicle to tell the human part of the story,” Eskens said. 

Esken’s novels are not a series, but rather surround a community of characters who trade off main and minor roles. Some characters take inspiration from characters in Esken’s own life. 

“When I was writing the character for, ‘The Life We Bury,’ I made Boady, the teenager, grow up to be this law professor, which just kind of mirrors what I did,” Eskens said. “Boady as a teenager is kind of who I was as a teenager, and then as an adult, you know, following the law path.” 

Esken’s law school experience at Hamline University came in between his initial bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota, and the MFA program for creative writing at MSU. 

“I came to writing after law school as a creative outlet, and I really never thought of it being more than just a hobby,” Eskens said. “For 20 years, I studied writing. I wrote just for my own fulfillment, and it wasn’t until I wrote my second manuscript that I thought maybe the manuscript might be good enough to get published — and turned out I was right.”

Eskens, who was studying the creative writing process for fun, published his first novel nearly 14 years following his departure from MSU. 

“When I was here (at MSU), I wanted to learn. I wasn’t doing it for the degree, I wasn’t doing it for the letters after my name, I just wanted to learn how to be a better writer,” Eskens said. “It’s nice to come back and feel that recognition that going through the program does actually help you become a better writer.”

Despite his numerous titles, Eskens considers the many emails and messages from people he has never met before, “the most gratifying thing.”

“I’ve won a number of awards. I’ve been a finalist for a number of awards even more. I’ve been a bestseller. I’m published in 20-some languages, but still, it’s that email that says, ‘I just finished your novel. There’s tears on my cheeks. Here’s why.’ That is the most gratifying thing,” Eskens said. 

MSU MFA candidate Annie Lindenberg shared the stage with Eskens prior to his reading Thursday, and shares a similar feeling. 

“Sure, when I write something that sounds beautiful it’s wonderful, but to write something that connects with someone is the highest praise,” Lindenberg said. 

As the graduate assistant of the Good Thunder Reading series, Lindenberg has worked with numerous reputable authors, but her feature in Esken’s evening was the first time she was able to input a short story of her own. 

“A lot of writing happens in solitary spaces, and to get to read alongside someone whose words are loved by many and share in that atmosphere of excitement with my own writing was unreal,” Lindenberg said. “This is by far the largest crowd I’ve ever read in front of, and it was nerve-wracking but also exhilarating. I felt honored to both get to read with Allen and to feel such love from everyone in attendance.” 

Lindenburg’s story “Sunlit Smoke” is currently available to read online in Barnstorm Journal, with forthcoming publication “From the Dinner Table” in Cutleaf Journal. 

Eskens numerous titles are available for purchase online, with a new release outside of the regular community coming Spring 2025. 

Photo Caption: Allen Eskens spent a day at Minnesota State as a feature in the Good Thunder Reading series to workshop, craft and read Thursday. (Dylan Long/The Reporter)

Write to Mercedes Kauphusman at mercedes.kaupphusman@mnsu.edu

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