- Interview by MysteryPeople Contributor Meike Alana
Allen Eskens’ latest, The Heavens May Fall, features the return of Minnesota cop Max Rupert. His friendship with Boady Sanden comes to a head when the attorney takes on a client Rupert believes to be guilty. MysteryPeople’s Meike Alana talked to Mr. Eskens about his characters and their shared universe.
Meike Alana: Your novels are stand-alone works that are completely unique from each other, but a handful of significant characters make appearances throughout the books. Can you tell us how you devised that concept?
Allen Eskens: You have asked a very big question, so excuse the long answer.
I write about a community of characters who have connections to one another, some greater some lesser, with different characters taking the lead in different novels. I came to this idea as I was writing my debut novel, The Life We Bury. I like writing stories where the protagonist goes on a personal journey that changes them by the end of the novel. I didn’t think I could do that consistently if I wrote a series that revolved around a single protagonist. Also, my protagonist in The Life We Bury is a college student and I didn’t want to have him tripping over dead bodies in an attempt to create a series.
“I like writing stories where the protagonist goes on a personal journey that changes them by the end of the novel. I didn’t think I could do that consistently if I wrote a series that revolved around a single protagonist.”
So I decided to focus on character arcs using various characters from The Life We Bury. My second, third and fourth novels, (The Guise of Another, The Heavens May Fall, and the untitled work I’m writing now) although appearing to be stand-alone novels, have a thread running through them involving Max Rupert, a secondary character from The Life We Bury. By the time I get to the end of that three-book arc, Max will face a crisis of conscience which has been building over the course of the three books. At the same time, I want a reader to enjoy each book on its own merit.
Also, with each new book, I move around on the spectrum of character versus plot. Max’s stories are a little more plot oriented. But with Joe Talbert and Boady Sanden, I’ll lean a little more toward character and a literary flavor. Because The Heavens May Fall has Max and Boady as co-protagonists, I feel that I achieved a nice mix of character and plot.
MA: Your characters are satisfyingly complex. What was your favorite character to write in this book?
AE: In The Heavens May Fall, I very much enjoyed writing the character of Boady Sanden. Boady is like me in terms of temperament. I many ways, I see Boady as being my alter ego. I think, for that reason, I can live in his head (or he can live in my head) more comfortably than other characters do.
MA: Can you elaborate on the origin of the title without giving away any spoilers?
AE: The Heavens May Fall comes from a Latin phrase, fiat justitia ruat cælum, which means let justice be done though the heavens may fall. It represents the conflict between doing what outside pressures dictate and doing what one knows to be the right thing. The notion is that we should do what we know to be the right thing even if it brings personal destruction. It is a theme that resonates throughout the novel.
“In the end, a character should be understood by how they react to the conflicts they face, not by the letters behind their name.”
MA: You spent more than two decades working as a defense attorney. Two of your main characters are defense attorneys but they have very different styles and approaches to their careers, and I found those dynamics really interesting. Can you elaborate on your development of these characters?
Attorneys are individuals with distinct personalities. Two attorneys could look at the same case, the same facts, and approach the matter very differently. I tend to have the speak softly and carry a big stick approach, where a friend of mine will bolt into court with his hair on fire and television cameras on his heels. When I am writing a character, I try not to define them by their occupation, but rather by those deeper forces that mold all of us. I ask myself, what did this character go through to make them who they are today? That information usually doesn’t make it into the novel, but I know it. In the end, a character should be understood by how they react to the conflicts they face, not by the letters behind their name.
MA: Can you tell us what you’re working on now?
I am writing my fourth novel, the third in Max Rupert’s three-book character arc (and the follow-up to The Heavens May Fall). This novel will be written in first person, unlike the previous two in the arc, which allows me to get deep in his head as he feels the pull of the dark side. I am enjoying writing this novel and am pleased with how it’s going. I am also looking forward to jumping into the head of a different character down the road and starting my next novel.
You can find copies of The Heavens May Fall on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.