Interview Discussing Nothing More Dangerous with Allen Eskens

Allen Eskens has proven himself to be one of my favorite authors. You probably know him from The Life We Bury. His latest novel is a stand-alone novel about Boady Sanden, a fifteen-year-old boy who finds himself in the crossfires of CORPS (Crusaders Of Racial Purity and Strength), a white supremacy group and his black neighbors who have moved to Jessup, Missouti to straighten up the local factory after an embezzlement scandal. 

This story isn’t just another story about racial injustice, it’s much more than that. It’s about friendship, small town dynamics, and integrity. Boady sits in his Catholic school cafeteria and overhears a group of older boys plot to spill chocolate pudding on the only black girl in the school. In a spur of the moment decision, he sticks his foot out and trips one of the boys as he’s walking over to the girl. This sets off a series of events that will forever change Boady’s life. 

Lida Poe has gone missing. Being a small town in Missouri during the 1970s, a black woman going missing doesn’t exactly make the front page of the newspaper. Jessup is a town where the local factory employs about half of the townspeople. When Charles Elgin, a black man with his wife, Jenna, and son, Thomas, is sent down from corporate to investigate suspected embezzlement, Jessup isn’t the most inviting of places. 

Though a bit unexpected, a friendship between Boady and Thomas soon flourishes, but they find themselves the target of CORPS. How far are they willing to go to find out more about Lida Poe? When staring in the face of hate how will they react?

If you enjoyed To Kill a Mockingbird, Ordinary Grace by William Kent Kruger, or Where the Crawdads Sing, this is a must read. 


Interview with Allen Eskens

I loved this book, I reserve my five-star reviews for truly spectacular books. I was honored by being able to ask Allen Eskens a few questions about Nothing More Dangerous. I hope you enjoy and rush out to buy a copy of this book. 

At the beginning of the novel, you state that this book was twenty years in the making. What made it challenging for you to write?

In 1992, when I started writing Nothing More Dangerous, I wasn’t a writer. I had never taken a creative writing class and I didn’t know what I was doing. It started as a short story that I wrote just for my own enjoyment. I liked Boady and wanted to turn that short story into something more, so I started studying the craft of writing. I studied and wrote for twenty years, and although I had a completed manuscript, I knew that it wasn’t ready. I put it aside, wrote and published five other novels and over the course of that time, I grew as a writer. I returned to Nothing More Dangerous two years ago and wrote it from scratch and am very happy with how it turned out.

The first encounter Boady and Thomas have of each other is them literally colliding next to the pond that Boady goes to spend his time. Personally, I feel this has a bit of foreshadowing of their friendship. Was this intentional and what significance does their meeting have?

I wish I could say that the circumstance of Boady’s and Thomas’s first meeting held a foreshadow, but in truth, I wanted Boady to have to work to earn Thomas’s friendship, so I made their first meeting fraught with problems, all caused (intentionally or unintentionally) by Boady. 

One of the things I love about your writing is the characters are so dimensional and you really feel connected with them. I read this book aloud with my partner. My favorite character was Hoke and his was Jenna. How do you create your characters? In this book are they inspired by anyone you know?

The first thing I did when I returned to Nothing More Dangerous (after writing my other 5 novels) was to outline the story from beginning to end without looking at the previous manuscript. I knew the story but I wanted to write it from scratch to avoid the mistakes I had made in the previous draft. The first thing I did in my outline was to list every character and write what motivated them in the story. I gave every character a backstory. If I know who they are, deep down, I can write them with depth. All of the characters are drawn from my imagination, but they are real in my head (and in my outline) before I sit down to write.

This question is a bit cliché, but I have to ask it. Nothing More Dangerous is a great title for this book. Can you tell us a little about why that title spoke to you and how it represents the story?

There is nothing more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

I draw my titles from the themes of my stories. In the novel, Hoke is telling Boady about the nature of prejudice and racism, and he recites a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. that “there is nothing in all the world more dangerous than sincere ignorance.” That is a perfect encapsulation of Boady’s starting point in the novel.

The story takes place in the small Ozark town of Jessup, Missouri. Which, while it is a small town, it’s really quite diverse. The story is centered around race, but really is much more than that. What challenges did you have keeping this balance of diversity and have the story not just be another story about racial injustice?

I think the key was to keep the focus of the story on the characters and the human dynamics. I wanted to show that racial animosity is often a rationalization for something else that is going on. For example, if you look closely, you will see that much of the racially charged violence about the shift in power for this small community and not so much about skin color.

Lyndsay Faye Dazzles with The Paragon Hotel

Two copies of Lyndsay Faye's novel The Paragon Hotel.
4 brilliant stars to Lyndsay Faye’s The Paragon Hotel!

Alice “No Body” James wants to get as far away as she can from Harlem, she finds herself on a Pullman car with two bullet wounds  straight through her chest, headed for Oregon in 1921. “No Body” is a nickname for her capacity to hide in plain sight. Which I think a lot of us can relate to in some aspect, but “No Body” is whoever you want her to be- or rather, whoever she feels she needs to be. On this Pullman car, she meets Max, who takes her immediately to the only hotel in Portland that accepts people of color. While Alice isn’t black, it’s clear she doesn’t fancy herself for a normal doctor. Max takes her to The Paragon Hotel where she meets and quickly befriends a resident, cabaret singer, and the ever so eloquent Blossom Fontaine. 

Blossom is my favorite character and I could listen to her talk in her whimsical and witty way forever. Blossom has had the opposite experience of Alice, she has at least as many secrets as Alice.  However, Blossoms’ secrets are the kind where she has to be relentlessly herself and defend it in a way where her persona does not waiver, but remain fixed always. 

The novel is a double-helix storyline of Alice and Blossom’s friendship at The Paragon Hotel and Harlem, where Alice finds herself in the middle of feuds between the five families of the Italian American Mafia. The story unwinds to reveal an ending that reminds us things aren’t always as they seem and illustrates the depths that we will go to keep others from finding out our secret. 

I had the pleasure of meeting Lyndsay Faye at novel., one of my favorite booksellers in Memphis. To celebrate the launch of Dustjacket Reviews, I had Lyndsay autograph two copies of The Paragon Hotel to giveaway. There are two chances to win: one copy will be given away on Instagram and the other will given away on Facebook. This giveaway is open to US residents only. This contest is open Jan 15 to Jan 25 midnight (CST). The winner will be announced on Saturday, Jan 26. Thanks for reading and following on social media.