'Looking out at the water, my mind floats freer': How author Aaron Elkins is inspired to write best-sellers
Mystery novelist Aaron Elkins. -- Photo by Diane Urbani de la Paz/Peninsula Daily News
By Diane Urban de la Paz, Peninsula Daily News
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Elkins, who's lived on the Olympic Peninsula on and off for 25 years, turns 73 this month.
He and his wife, Charlotte, make their home at SunLand, the subdivision built around a golf course.
Elkins could spend his days golfing; he really doesn't have to work, but he's got this thing about forensic anthropology, skeletons and their secrets.
About two dozen novels ago, Elkins created Gideon Oliver, the "skeleton detective" who gallivants around the globe, solving mysteries involving strange, very old bones.
Elkins' latest, Uneasy Relations (Berkley Prime Crime, $23.95), opens at the Olympic Bagel Co. in Port Angeles, where our man Oliver is having a chives-cheese-egg bagel and reading the Peninsula Daily News.
He's discussing a disturbing article with his wife Julie, an Olympic National Park ranger.
From there, the novelist whisks his reader off to the Rock of Gibraltar, where a bunch of Paleolithic anthropologists are huddled over Gibraltar Woman — a skeleton of a female human — and Gibraltar Boy, the Neanderthal baby skeleton found clutched to the woman's breast.
Homo sapiens mystery
So one mystery is about whether homo sapiens and the Neanderthals lived in harmony until 25,000 years ago.
But Uneasy Relations also delves into an odd pair of "accidental" deaths — a woman killed by a landslide and a man burned to death in his bed — during the Gibraltar conference.
Oliver, ever the sleuthy scientist, is hot on the trail of the real causes of their demise.
Elkins will read from and sign copies of his new book at 7 p.m. Friday in the Raymond Carver Room of the Port Angeles Library, 2210 S. Peabody St.
Admission is free to the event, which is sponsored by Port Book and News bookstore in Port Angeles.
Elkins went to Gibraltar to research Uneasy.
He always travels to his stories' settings, since such trips are mind-broadening, prose-nourishing and tax-deductible.
But much of the thinking that went into this book — and into the novel he's now working on — happened on the humble blue seat of a Clallam Transit bus.
"I think well; I plot well, when I'm moving along," on a big vehicle, Elkins said in a recent interview at the Adagio Bean & Leaf cafe in Sequim.
So when he needs to embark on a long train of thought, he gets to the Transit Center in time to catch the 7 a.m. No. 30 commuter to Port Angeles.
From there he catches the No. 14, which heads west toward Forks.
Cruising along the lake
Cruising along the edge of Lake Crescent calms him.
"Looking out at the water, my mind floats freer," Elkins said.
The Clallam Transit drivers know him as the guy who gets on, gazes at the lake and writes down his reflections.
Often, "things start to gel" around East Beach Road.
In that case, he disembarks for breakfast at the Lake Crescent Lodge.
Some days, though, he goes all the way to Forks.
Other times he takes an eastward trip on the No. 52 to Diamond Point.
Whichever, the whole thinking session costs him a $2 day pass.
Elkins discovered the North Olympic Peninsula in the early 1980s thanks to research for his second novel, The Dark Place.
It's set on the West End and at Lake Quinault, which the writer found deliciously fertile for strange goings-on long before Stephenie Meyer set her Twilight teen vampire tales out there.
He also found this part of the world especially conducive to the writing life.
Before moving to this far northwestern corner, the Brooklyn-born Elkins lived in the San Francisco Bay area.
Among other degrees, he holds a doctorate in education from the University of California at Berkeley and has taught at San Francisco's Golden Gate University.
The deep, dark woods
The Olympic Peninsula, however, lured him away with its deep, dark, quiet woods.
Even back in the 1980s, Elkins said, the Bay Area was expensive and stressful. The Sequim area was much less of both.
And up here, "you can think."
With 25 books under his belt, the Edgar Award for excellence in mystery writing and fans around the world, Elkins is at work now on novel No. 26.
He wouldn't give a working title but let slip that it's about the discovery of a ballet dancer's skeleton, the marks left on it by the dancer's athleticism, and Oliver's poking around some strange events in Oaxaca, Mexico.
So even as Elkins continues his tour promoting Uneasy Relations — he has to go to Phoenix for some readings in August — the novelist is immersed in the new story.
"When you're writing a book, it is more real to you than your daily life," he said.
"I'm deeply involved with my characters," so when readers come up to ask him about plot twists in Uneasy Relations, he sometimes must wrack his brain to remember what he made happen.
Around the world
Elkins' books have taken him from Tahiti to Russia to the Amazon to Alaska — yet when he returns home to Sequim, he said he doesn't usually feel like relaxing.
Charlotte is an avid golfer — and she writes novels about the sport — but Elkins recently gave it up after 30 years.
"I'm much happier now. I don't get the game," he deadpanned.
This Sequim resident prefers the keyboard — and the view from the bus.
Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-681-2391 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last modified: July 29. 2008 9:00PM