Books — Mystery Writer Tom Eslick

Mystery Writer Tom Eslick


By Robert Greene

The real mystery is how it works

Author Eslick talks publishing and his new novel

The easiest part of the book-publishing process, said author Tom Eslick, is actually writing the damn thing.

“You have to get rid of any romantic notions you have about writing and look at it as a business. First of all, don’t believe anybody,” the mystery writer said of publishing firms, “because nobody really knows anything. You have to be very proactive. You have to really go out there and market yourself.”

Over the next couple of months Eslick will be doing just that, through a series of book signings and appearances geared to promote his new novel Mountain Peril. It’s a mystery, set in the White Mountains, and the hero is a teacher/mountain rescuer named Will Buchanan. During a search for a missing boy, Buchanan stumbles across the body of a woman, not far from where a corpse was found a month or so before.

Are the corpses connected in some way? Naturally, Buchanan and his girlfriend Sheriff Laurie Eberly want to know how, why and whodunnit. Mountain Peril is the third Will Buchanan novel, following Eslick’s  Deadly Kin and Tracked in the Whites. A fourth book, Snow Kill, features a different protagonist.

“If Will and I have anything in common,” Eslick said, “it’s practicality. He’s not a Renaissance man but he has a lot of useful skills.”

One of those skills is tracking, which would most likely come in handy when you’re sniffing out crime in the White Mountains. Eslick and Buchanan also have a career in common: teaching. Eslick teaches English and literature at Proctor Academy in Andover and Buchanan teaches high school science. Eslick has a third career as a songwriter and performer. (In addition, Eslick is an avid hiker and mountain-rescue volunteer.)

In spite of his love for words, Eslick came to the writing game late. He waited until his children went to college then, admittedly jealous of his boys’ academic life, signed up for graduate classes at Emerson College in Boston. Over the next few years, Eslick traveled to Boston weekly and earned enough credits for a master of fine arts degree in writing. He also wrote a few books.

“I decided I wanted to focus on fiction more than on writing songs,” he said. “The first task was to get 300 pages together that made sense. That’s pretty daunting.”

Even more daunting was the fact that Eslick wanted to write books that would actually sell.

“I wondered, ‘What if I write in a genre that actually sells instead of trying to write the Great American novel,’” Eslick recalled.

Doing a little marketing research, Eslick found that romance novels and mysteries, in that order, are the two best-selling genres in American literature. Not wanting to write romance, Eslick turned to the sleuth set. His forté thus far is action-packed mystery plots that run their course in the familiar setting of the White Mountains and local communities. He’s received some good reviews and the latest book is being published by Viking Penguin, a big step up from the smaller companies that published his earlier novels. But does that mean Will Buchanan can become as well known as Robert Parker’s Spenser or Alex Cross, hero of James Patterson’s often disturbing novels?

Maybe, or perhaps better describing Eslick’s attitude, whatever. A successful series is both a curse and a blessing. As a writer, you can develop a character over a series of years, giving them success, heartbreaks and challenges until they develop a life of their own. On the other hand, you really can’t do anything too interesting with them, or you’ll lose readership. Spenser, for example, can never retire (for real), get a sex change, or become a born-again Christian.

“People are really strange about things like that,” Eslick said. “In my first novel I killed a cat. I got more people writing and talking to me about that cat. I wanted to tell people to relax, it wasn’t a real cat.”

Eslick is not the sort of novelist who writes every day. He sees book-writing as a project.

“If Viking told me that wanted a novel in six months, I’d sit down and write them one,” Eslick said. “If I sat around waiting for inspiration, I’d never write at all.”

Keeping up appearances

Mystery writer Tom Eslick will talk to fans and sign copies of his books at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 3, at the Manchester Barnes & Noble and at 2 p.m. April 10 at the Barnes & Noble in Nashua. His new book, Mountain Peril, is on the shelves now at 274 pages for $26.95.

Eslick’s website is

- Robert Greene

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