kaliber .38: William Kent Krueger, we don't know very much about you as a person. Could you tell us a little about your background and your professional life before you made your debut as a novelist with Iron Lake?
William Kent Krueger: I grew up a bit of a gypsy. My family moved around the United States a good deal in my early years. I'd lived in eight different communities in six different states by the time I graduated from high school. However, I tend to call Oregon my home.
I attended Stanford University for one year before my participation in protests during the Vietnam War resulted in the loss of my scholarships. I spent two more years in college in Colorado, before finally dropping out all together.
In my life, I've tried my hand at logging, digging ditches, laying pipeline-good jobs all. To support my wife as she earned her law degree, I became a university bureaucrat, then an administrator of a university research laboratory. This was the position I held when Iron Lake was published. I left that job a little over a year ago to devote myself full-time to writing.
kaliber .38: When and how did you begin to write?
William Kent Krueger: I have always written. I have always believed that at some point writing is how I would make my living.
I began my current process-that is, rising at 5:30 a.m. and going to a local coffee shop for an hour or two to write long-hand in a notebook-during the years I worked construction. I'd read that Ernest Hemingway found the early morning hours his most creative, and I thought I'd give it a try. For me, it has become a way to center myself in every day and to move forward toward the goals I set for myself long ago.
kaliber .38: How came you wrote in a coffee-shop?
William Kent Krueger: I began writing in coffee shops because they provided me with a neutral environment. At home, the phone rings. The dishes cry out from the sink to be washed. There is a television. Children often mill about. When it's quiet, I sometimes find the quiet distracting. In the coffee shop, nothing is my responsibility. It's all white noise. I am in the world, but not required to respond to it. I feel free to create. If I want to listen to the conversations of the regulars and pick up a story to use, I do it. I observe mannerisms, speech patterns, and I use them. So its a paradox, in a way. It doesn't distract me, but it offers diversion if that's what I'm looking for.
kaliber .38: Iron Lake is one of the most professionel debuts we've ever read. How long did it take you to complete the book?
William Kent Krueger: I began Iron Lake in the spring of 1992. I completed the final revisions in the summer of 1996. It took me four years because I was working full-time and because I was learning how to write a novel.
kaliber .38: The story is filled with Native American legend and lore, with cultural and linguistic details of the Anishinaabe People. As far as we know, you personally don't have any indian roots. What inspired you to write about American Indians, and how did you acquire your information?
William Kent Krueger: During the time I was enrolled in college, my major interest was anthropology. While I was contemplating the start of the manuscript that became Iron Lake, I happened to discover the novels of Tony Hillerman. His work opened my eyes to the ways in which two of my passions-writing and cultural anthropology-might come together to create a satisfying piece of fiction.
To do justice to the Anishinaabe people, I read everything I could get my hands on that informed me about the culture. When I sat down to write the novel, I tried to be sensitive to the issues of race and stereotypes and to the truth I believed, that at heart all people belong to the human race and are motivated by the same kinds of emotions. I tried to think of all my characters as human beings first of all and then as members of a particular culture.
When I finished the manuscript, I asked two Ojibwe readers for their opinion. Although they did make specific suggestions about how an Indian might more appropriately react in a particular situation, they were quite happy with the general sensibility of the book.
kaliber .38: When you wrote Iron Lake did you know it would be the start of a series?
William Kent Krueger: I didn't have an ultimate vision when I began to write the novel. At first, I wasn't even certain it would be a mystery. By the time I'd passed the half-way point, I realized that all the emotional turmoil in the lives of the characters wasn't going to be easily wrapped up. I had created conflicts and concerns that, as a writer, I wanted to pursue. It occurred to me that to bring the characters to the place I imagined them eventually to be, I would probably have to write three books. And that is what I have done. In many ways, Purgatory Ridge is the resolution to the issues raised in Iron Lake.
kaliber .38: An important character in your novel is the Windigo. According to an Anishinaabe legend, the Windigo is »a giant, an ogre with a heart of ice«, that comes out of the woods to eat the flesh of men, women and even children. There's only one chance to fight and kill the Windigo - that is, to become a Windigo oneself. But one must be careful, because even if you kill the Windigo one is still in danger of staying a Windigo forever. What do you personally find fascinating about this legend?
William Kent Krueger: I first heard the story of the Windigo when I was twelve years old and it was told around a Boy Scout campfire. It scared the living daylights out of me. When I began to research the Ojibwe Anishinaabeg, I rediscovered the story. Immediately, I saw in the myth of the Windigo the archetype for Cork O'Connor - an ordinary man who faces great evil and who becomes in many ways the monster he must battle. The trick is to get him back to being a man after he's slain the ogre. The pattern of that mythic transformation helped me plot, in a very general way, the action of the novel.
kaliber .38: Your second Cork O'Connor novel is called Boundary Waters, the third, which will be availible in March 2001 in the USA, will be called Purgatory Ridge. Without spoiling any surprises, can you give us a short preview of Cork O'Connors following cases?
William Kent Krueger: As I've already mentioned, Purgatory Ridge is the emotional end of the cycle I first visualized while writing Iron Lake. It is a story of resolution, of putting to rest the hurt of the past. But I have, of course, tried to tell the tale in a way that will satisfy lovers of the genre and keep them reading at night long after they should be asleep.
I am now outlining the next Cork O'Connor. Tentatively titled Widow's Creek, it will be the most traditional mystery that I've attempted so far. In it, Cork's wife Jo O'Connor is asked to defend a young Indian man accused of homicide. It is her first murder trial, and she's afraid. She asks Cork to be her investigator. I like the idea of Cork and Jo working together. And I have in mind a number of plot twists that, I hope, will keep readers guessing to the last page. I think of myself primarily as a writer of suspense. The idea of creating a more classic mystery is an exciting challenge.
kaliber .38: Recently, you posted a message in a mailing list, in which you were looking for someone with connections to the United States Secret Service. That made us very curious.
William Kent Krueger: I just completed a non-series novel, tentatively titled All the Kings of the Earth. In it, a man plots the assassination of the first lady of the United States. Although he doesn't realize it, he will be aided by some of the most powerful people in the federal government. The only thing that stands between the first lady and her death is the Secret Service agent who loves her. Mostly it was written to be a fun, diverting read, something a little different from the Cork O'Connor novels. I'll be showing it to my publisher very soon.
kaliber .38: Does it bother you to be compared to other authors of crime novels about Native Americans; I'm thinking of Nevada Barr, Thomas Perry with his Jane Whitefield mysteries and, of course, Tony Hillerman you already mentioned above.
William Kent Krueger: It bothers me not at all. When a writer is attempting to establish a readership, comparisons are beneficial. In a genre so wide open in style and content, such comparisons help readers to place a writer's work within that broad spectrum and to decide more easily whether to take a chance on buying a book. I especially don't mind being compared to the greats like Hillerman, Barr, and Perry.
kaliber .38: Iron Lake recieved many awards, for example the "Anthony" for the best first novel in 1999. Did these awards contribute to your success?
William Kent Krueger: Success seems to me the least real of all accomplishments. I'm not even sure what the measure of success is. I suppose it never hurts to be able to put on a book cover that the author or the book is an award winner. However, I think very few readers would make a book-buying decision based primarily on that. I believe what's more important, in terms of success within the business (that is, sales), is to continue to write good books and to have a publisher who is behind you one hundred percent. In terms of my own sense of success, I simply try to write the best book I can, and to attempt something slightly different-to grow as an artist-with each work.
kaliber .38: Is there any advice you'd like to give to new and unpublished authors?
William Kent Krueger: The only advice I have that might be useful is simply this: Write what pleases you and never give up.
kaliber .38: Do you have any plans to come to Europe, especially to Germany, to feature your books in the near future?
William Kent Krueger: At the moment, I have no plans for touring in Europe. However, if the books find a large readership there, I would definitely visit.
kaliber .38: William Kent Krueger, thank you very much for this interview. We wish you all the best with Iron Lake and are already looking forward to the following Cork O'Connor novels.
William Kent Krueger: Thank you.
Thanks to Louisa MacDonald.
© j.c.schmidt, 2000
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