Minnesota Writers Week: William Kent Krueger

'Windigo Island'
'Windigo Island' by William Kent Krueger
Book cover courtesy of publisher

William Kent Krueger is something of a St. Paul icon. For years, you could find him in booth No. 4 at the St. Clair Broiler, working on his latest book. He's since moved on to another cafe, but the indelible characters he created at the Broiler stick with him. He's written more than 15 novels, including the Cork O'Connor series set in the northern woods of Minnesota.

O'Connor, the hero of Krueger's series, is a retired cop from Chicago with Irish and Ojibwe heritage. He moves to Minnesota to escape the city, but he can't seem to escape crime.

An excerpt from the latest book in the series, "Windigo Island:"

Fear is who we are.

Cork's old friend Henry Meloux had told him that. Though not quite in that way. And it was only part of what the ancient Ojibwe Mide had said. These were his exact words: In every human being, there are two wolves constantly fighting. One is fear, and the other is love. When Cork had asked which of the wolves won the battle, Meloux's answer had been: The one you feed. Always the one you feed.

In his own life, Cork had known more than his share of fear. He carried scars from multiple gunshot wounds and was scarred, too, in ways that never showed on skin. He'd lost his wife to violence, lost friends in the same manner. More than once, men whose hearts were black holes of hate had targeted his children, and he'd come close to losing them as well. In all this, fear had sometimes been the wolf he'd fed. But as Meloux had wisely observed, love also shaped the human spirit, and it was this element of his being that Cork had consciously done his best to feed. In far more ways than fear, this wolf had shaped the man he was.

There were different kinds of fear, Cork knew, and some had nothing to do with violence. They were sought out purposely, sought for the sake of excitement, an adrenalin rush--a roller coaster ride, for example, or a ghost story. When he finally spoke with the three boys, he understood it was the desire for this kind of fear that had brought them to the cursed place the Anishinaabeg called Windigo Island.

On The Daily Circuit: Writing About Minnesota

William Kent Krueger joined The Daily Circuit on Jan. 26 to kick off its Minnesota Writers Week, a week of interviews with local writers working today.

On writing about Minnesota

"I've always believed that one of the ways I write about Minnesota that pleases people is that I bring a fresh eye to the place. I wonder, sometimes, when you grow up in a beautiful place if you become a little jaded to the beauty and uniqueness of it. I show people who've been here all their lives what's under their noses — you forget how gorgeous, how unique Minnesota is. I hope that's what comes through in my work."

On his writing space

"I write in a coffee shop. I do all my creative work in a coffee shop. It tends to be a very noisy space with lots of other people involved in it. It's the most welcoming space imaginable to me. I can't write in a quiet place, I simply can't. That may be in large measure because of the way the writing process developed for me.

When I decided I wanted to get serious about writing, my wife was in law school and I was the sole supporter of the family. We were living two blocks from a place called the St. Clair Broiler, a legendary cafe. It opened its doors at 6 o'clock in the morning, so there I was every morning at 6 o'clock with my notebook in hand.

[...]

The Broiler and I parted ways a few years ago, but I still do all my writing in coffee shops.

It's not uncommon at all for me to have the coffee poured and I'll bend to the work — an hour later I come up and my coffee's cold and I've been somewhere else for an hour."

On what piece of art, outside of literature, inspires him

"Honestly, the only thing I can say is geography. I have traveled so much across this country. I've lived in small towns, I've lived on farms, I've lived in big cities. I've lived in every geographic and cultural region, pretty much, in the United States.

In my early years, I looked at all of those places for what would inspire me to write the kind of stories I wanted to write. In the end, it was Minnesota. It was the geography, it was this place itself that inspired me so much."

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