by Amy Doeun
More than 100 people gathered in the Spare Room at Chucker’s in Rush City Oct. 13 to hear New York Times bestselling author William Kent Krueger speak about his most recent book, “Manitou County.”
Judith Kissner, of Scout and Morgan Books in Cambridge, hosted the event.
“You don’t do an event with Kent Krueger at Scout and Morgan and have people happy. … I knew I needed somewhere that can accommodate at least 100 people,” she said.
She thought of Holly Schellbach and her business, Chucker’s Bowl & Lounge.
“We are one-half event center and one-half bowling alley,” Schellbach said. “I don’t know for sure, but I am pretty sure that Corcoran O’Connor is a pretty good bowler.”
Corcoran O’Connor is the celebrated main character in Krueger’s mystery series. Krueger first began writing at the age of 40.
“I was having what a 40-year-old has — a midlife crisis. … I didn’t know very much about the story I was going to write,” he said. “I knew it would be set in Minnesota and be about a man in midlife.” And so Corcoran O’Connor (Cork), the half-Irish, half-Ojibwe protagonist of one of the most successful mysteries series came to being.
“Manitou County” is the 15th book in the series. Over the years, Krueger and O’Connor have aged a bit. Krueger said that when you start a series like this you have a choice whether you are going to create a “static or dynamic protagonist.” A static protagonist stays stuck in time – an example would be Sherlock Holmes. O’Connor is a dynamic protagonist that grows and changes over time.
Krueger is not originally from Minnesota.
“I was a gypsy, but once I stepped foot in Minnesota, I knew I had found home,” he said.
While he shared some personal background he said, “I don’t interest me much anymore.”
So much of his talk revolved around what makes a good mystery story. In addition to character and plot, he noted, “putting at the heart of your story a contemporary social issue of the time” is no longer common. Krueger said that there used to be such a thing as a “social novel” that dealt with such issues, but this type of writing has lost some popularity. However, he feels that mystery and crime novels have filled the void in drawing the public’s attention to the issues of our time. Matters he has addressed include Native hunting and fishing rights, gaming and the sexual trafficking of “vulnerable native women and children.”
He went on to say that occasionally he will get complaints that “my admittedly bleeding heart sensibilities come into the story, but I have never had anyone tell me that they will not read me because of it.”
Near the end of the presentation, Krueger read the opening scene of “Manitou County.”
“I think it is pretty good,” he said.
The reading drew the whole crowd into the story, which takes place in the Boundary Waters in November.
Krueger often travels to research his novels.
“Guess where I was last November — the Boundary Waters,” he said. “I wanted it to be bleak and cold, and it was, but it was also beautiful.”
He is already working on volume 16 in the series, which will be out next fall. This installment moves from Minnesota to the southern desert of Arizona.
“Guess where I was this July — the southern desert of Arizona,” he quipped.
There, Krueger got a surprise: the seasonal monsoon that comes nearly every afternoon in July to the area, complete with thunder, lightning and strong winds.
“It was not was I was expecting,” he said.
But by being there in the place and time he wanted his story set, he was able to discover something he did not know previously and incorporated it into his story.
When he opened the presentation to questions, amid the various plot questions one woman asked, “What do you think about the recent phrase, ‘It’s just words, folks?’”
“Well, we are going to keep this literary,” he said with a laugh. “My father was a high school English teacher; he taught me that words have power. Words move us in very mysterious ways. We have to be careful. I want to use my words to move people towards hope.”
In addition to a passion for words, Krueger also has a passion for independent bookstores. He said that when he was growing up every neighborhood had its own independent bookstore.
“And then came Barnes and Noble, and Borders and then Amazon,” he said. “Now Borders is gone and there are rumors that Barnes and Noble are on their way out and what will be left — the independent bookstores. …A nd Amazon, this faceless entity in which books are nothing but commodities to be moved. One thing they will never be able to give readers is me and authors like me. … I hope part of the reason you are here is because you believe in supporting independent booksellers.”