After returning to literary aspirations that had been placed on the proverbial backburner, crime writer Jessica Ellis Laine is about to reach a new milestone: her first completed novel. The Edina resident received the 2017 Eleanor Taylor Bland Award from Sisters in Crime last October for work on her in-progress debut novel.
The novel, tentatively titled The Sundowner, takes place in St. Paul and is set to be completed by June. “It’s a story about a down-on-her-luck Latina [private investigator] named Margarita O’Neill who investigates the disappearances of women last seen in a pub,” says Laine.
Laine’s been taking classes at the Loft Literary Center, where she wrote the novel’s first 100 pages. “I’ve been trying to sign up for as many classes as I can to keep on track,” Laine says. One of those classes was a Gothic story class where Laine learned about bar culture in St. Paul, an experience that shaped her novel.
Laine began taking writing classes seven years ago after working in the corporate world since earning her business degree at the University of Illinois. After a childhood of loving mysteries and a few published essays, Laine’s not only a mystery and crime reader, she’s now a writer.
“I think, for myself, in life you don’t have justice but in a mystery you do,” Laine says of the genre. “Someone gets their just desserts in the end. There’s something very fulfilling and rewarding about justice being served.”
While her experiences made setting the novel in St. Paul inevitable, it was still a new place to Laine, who tried to steer away from writing about the state she calls home.
“I don’t feel Minneapolis and St. Paul are very similar,” says Laine. “I had lived in Minneapolis the whole time, so for me it was a fun discovery to learn about St. Paul, and I thought it would be a fun place to set a mystery, especially one that was more Gothic with the architecture and Catholic background.”
Being honored as an emerging women writer of color is especially meaningful for Laine, who cites support from mentors like writers Erin Hart and Ellen Hart as instrumental to making her novel a reality.
“I cried ugly tears when I won,” says Laine. “In today’s world, to win that and have that is very special.”
The award recognizes an emerging crime writer of color. “I feel like the only way we can get to know each other is by reading about each other and talking to each other,” says Laine. “I think it’s more important than ever to find some way to find commonalities, and I think reading and writing is one of them.”
Laine, her husband and son now call Edina home. Here, she’s found a literary community through the Edina Art Center, where she helps pull together readings. “It’s a very educated and engaged community. [The readings] are almost always full and people ask really good questions,” Laine says. “One thing I love about Edina is that people are really into the arts and great supporters. I feel like I’m in a good place to showcase some up-and-coming writers and different writers because of my connection to Sisters in Crime and The Loft.”
More author events at Edina Art Center
St. Patrick’s Day Reading and Performance
Date: Saturday, March 3, 2018
Time: 10–11 a.m.
What: A St. Patrick’s event with Celtic Collaborative featuring Irish authors Erin Hart and Paddy O’Brien and performers.
Price:: Free and open to the public.
Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History: Tales of Noah’s Wife and Esther
Date: Saturday, April 14, 2018
What: Special reading and book signing event with local author Rebecca Kanner in celebration of the Jewish holiday of Purim.