Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is happy to shine our Friday spotlight on Mystery and Literary author William Kent Krueger (Kent). I asked him to tell us about himself and his writing, and this was his response:
Before publishing my two stand-alone novels Ordinary Grace and This Tender Land, I was best known as the author of the New York Times bestselling Cork O’Connor mystery series, which is set in the great Northwoods of Minnesota. My work has received numerous awards, including the Edgar Award for Best Novel, been translated into more than two dozen languages, and optioned by Hollywood. I live in St. Paul, a city I dearly love. I go by Kent.
Where can people find your work? (Besides Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester–though they should totally check here first!)
My works are available anywhere good books are sold, both in stores and through on-line retailers.
How can we follow your work and share your awesomeness?
I’m on Facebook, Instagram, and I have a website: www.williamkentkrueger.com. I post frequently about what’s happening with me and my work, and I keep a calendar of upcoming appearances (virtual visits these days).
For readers unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe what you write? What can readers expect from This Tender Land?
Although I typically write mysteries—seventeen in my Cork O’Connor series—I have published two stand-alone novels that I consider companion reads. Ordinary Grace was published in 2013. This Tender Land, my most recent novel, was released last fall. This Tender Land is set in the summer of 1932. It’s the story for four orphans running from the law because they’ve committed a terrible crime—but for the right reason. To escape capture, the embark on a long river journey that eventually leads them down the Mississippi River. I’ve always wanted to write an updated version of Huckleberry Finn. This is my Huckleberry Finn.
What was the inspiration for This Tender Land? What were the steps you took to bring it from initial inspiration to the finished book?
Toward the end of my fifth-grade year, our teacher read to the class The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. I absolutely loved that story of a kid who was not so different from me having great adventures on the Mississippi. Shortly after that, I read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I was hooked on Mark Twain. Across all my years as an author, I’ve wanted to write my own river adventure. I tried several times but was never able to find the right structure for the story. Four years ago, I hit on what I believed was the answer. I would pattern the story after Homer’s Odyssey, and the characters in my tale would have encounters that would mirror many of those which Odysseus experienced in his long journey from Troy back to Ithaca. After that, the story came to me fairly easily, though it still took me another three years to complete the work.
What character did you love or hate the most while writing? And why?
The narrator of This Tender Land is thirteen-year-old Odie O’Banion. I love this kid. He’s everything I wished I’d been when I was his age. He’s rebellious, fearless, adventurous, fiercely loyal, and resourceful. In a way, I suppose, through Odie, I experienced the kind of adventures vicariously that I wish I’d had as a kid.
What piece of advice would you want to share with other writers?
When I used to teach writing, the first thing I would say to my students was this: If you’re here because you think you’ll get rich and famous or you think it’ll be really cool to call yourself a writer, I can pretty much guarantee disappointment. But if you’re here because writing is your passion, because it’s what your heart says you must do, then I can almost guarantee a different experience. And I think in the end it won’t matter whether you become rich and famous. Because you will have spent your life following your heart, and what could be better than that? But I also told them this: If you’re true to that journey, eventually you’ll discover the writer you were always meant to be, and you’ll be writing the stories you were always meant to write, and that’s when the doors will open for you.
What else can we expect from you in the near future?
I’ve just completed revisions for #18 in my Cork O’Connor mystery series, a novel titled Lightning Strike. It’s a prequel to the series, and I’m quite happy with it. Normally, the book would be released this fall, but due to the coronavirus, publication is being delayed until the fall of 2021.
#15, 16 & 17 Cork O’Connor Books:
While you’re writing, do you prefer music, silence, other? Please elaborate!
Until the shelter-in-place order due to the pandemic, I did all my writing in coffee shops. I love the ambient noise in these places. Honestly, it’s much too quiet at home (though I’ve adjusted). Mostly what I need is the coffee and a couple of hours when no one will bug me.
Are there any groups, clubs, or organizations that you would recommend to other writers that have helped you in your career?
Every writer needs a good editorial eye. If you’re lucky enough to secure a publisher and a good editor, then you’re set. But that’s become rarer and rarer. I was fortunate in that long before I published, I joined a writers’ group, all of us dedicated to writing mysteries. We called ourselves—and I love this—Crème de la Crime. Although writing groups can be problematic, Crème de la Crime was one of the most helpful elements in my development as a writer. My advice, if you’re looking for a group, is to seek out writers who are working in the same genre as you. I believe it’s much more helpful if comments come from others who understand the dictates of your particular genre.
Thanks, Kent, for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer so many questions for us!