Scary Short Stories

March 30th, 2014

I’m a writer in part because of the scary stories I used to hear around campfires when I was a Boy Scout.  There was something wonderfully exciting in all the terrible possibility beyond the reach of the firelight.  In my adolescence, I became a spook story junkie.  Discovering Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House was an absolute—and chilling— delight.  I read and reread Algernon Blackwood’s The Wendigo.  I checked out every book on my library’s shelves by H.P. Lovecraft.  Naturally, the first stories I tried to write were scary short stories.

In my twenties, I became “a serious writer.”  For years, I labored to create the Great American Novel.  In vain.  Then, in the throes of a midlife crisis, I decided to write something people might actually want to read.  I looked around and discovered that an enormous number of folks read mysteries.  So I turned to writing crime, to pretty good effect.  Thus far, I’ve published fifteen novels in the mystery genre.

Games Creatures PlayBut I’ve never lost my love of the short story.  Because most of what I write is dictated by contractual obligations with my publisher, I don’t write short stories as often as I used to.  Usually I wait until I’m asked to contribute to an anthology.  Then the juices begin to flow.

These days, I publish one or two short stories a year, almost always of a criminal nature.  I find them so very refreshing because, once I have the basic idea in mind, it doesn’t take long to create the work.  And, oh, do I love the effect of a good short story.  It’s like a blow from a prizefighter, quick, unexpected, and it leaves the reader stunned.

Although I enjoy writing stories in the crime genre, it’s always a special treat when I can add a scary, other-worldly spin to the mix.  Charlaine Harris, the creator of the stellar Sookie Stackhouse series, has given me that opportunity a couple of times.  Most recently she and Toni Kelner, who’ve teamed many times to create best-selling short story anthologies, asked me to contribute to a collection focused on the recreational past times of not-so-human beings.  I wrote a fun, frightening little piece I called Hide and Seek.  The anthology itself is titled Games Creatures Play.  In addition to my story and stories by Charlaine and Toni, there are offerings by lots of stellar names in the mystery business: Jan Burke, Dana Cameron, Laura Lippman, and Joe Lansdale, to name just a few.

The anthology goes on sale April 1.  It will be available in bookstores everywhere and for purchase online.  I hope you give it a read.  And if you do, keep in mind that the chill you feel against the back of your neck might have nothing to do with your drafty old house.

The Days Run Away

December 29th, 2013

One of my favorite lines of poetry comes from Charles Bukowski, the great California poet, novelist, and postal worker:  “And the days run away like wild horses over the hills…”   I watch them go now, the days, in exactly the way Bukowski said, and every year they seem to vanish faster than before.  What they leave behind is a cloud of dust and memory.

The Bookshelf, WinonaAs the dust settles this year, and I consider the memories, I’m a little overwhelmed.  It’s been a momentous twelve months.  Between early March and late August, I published two books, something I’ve never done before.  I toured for both these novels, visiting old friends in bookstores across the country, and making lots of new ones.  In fact, I signed at eighty stores, mostly independents.  I love these booksellers who, in this market so dominated by the online giant Amazon and by big chains, are like scrappy kids battling bullies in the schoolyard.  In truth, I owe independents a great debt.  During the kerfuffle that went on between my own publisher, Simon and Schuster, and Barnes and Noble, when my books—and those of so many S&S authors—were ignored by the big chain, it was the independent booksellers whose dedicated hand-selling helped both Ordinary Grace and Tamarack County hit the New York Times bestseller list.  To all of you who own the small brick and mortar stores out there, God bless you!

William Kent Krueger visits the Duluth Public LibraryI also visited more libraries than ever before, thirty-five altogether, all across the Midwest and the Rockies.  Oh, do I love library events!  Those in small towns are especially memorable, because often they’re accompanied by a potluck dinner.  There’s nothing that makes a Minnesota author feel more welcome than a potluck meal.

I attended several mystery conferences and book festivals, traveled a spider web of gorgeous back roads, battled through blizzards and driving rain, rose again and again in the bleak predawn hours to catch early flights, and although all this travel was exhausting, I have to say I pretty much loved every minute of it.  I adore book events, the opportunity to talk to readers and answer their questions and hear their own stories.  So many of these stories are better than any I could ever imagine on my own.

So, when I look back, I see a year that seems to have fled quickly over the hill but has left me with a profound sense of fulfillment and gratitude.  It’s also filled me with that fire I so need, which is an anticipation of things yet to come.  There’s much to do 2014.  I’ll complete the manuscript for the next Cork O’Connor novel, titled Windigo Island, which is scheduled for release in August.  I’ll also plunge back into the writing of a companion novel to Ordinary Grace, a book I’m calling This Tender Land. 

I will, of course, continue to travel.  If you and I haven’t met yet, maybe 2014 is the year our paths will cross.  I’d like that.

A few 2013 highlights:

William Kent Krueger in Cabo
February: Just kickin’ back in Cabo. A week of R&R before Ordinary Grace is released.

Love is Murder
I had a ball at Chicago’s annual Love Is Murder conference. A stellar lineup of fellow genre authors (including Lee Goldberg and Libby Fischer Hellmann, pictured above) and a host of welcoming fans, always a hallmark of this lovely, intimate Con.

William Kent Krueger in Sedona
March: When God made the earth, he created two Edens. One is called Minnesota. The other is the Red Rocks area of Sedona, Arizona.

William Kent Krueger in New Orleans
April: Me, in the Big Easy with a few jazz greats. I play the harmonica–badly. We–my lovely wife Diane and I–had a great time in Nawlins and a terrific welcome from the folks at Garden District Books. 

Snow in May
May: Here I am beside my car in the parking lot of my hotel in Des Moines, Iowa, on what was supposed be my beautiful spring book tour. What the…? Six inches overnight.

Winona, MN
Just a couple of days after driving through snowflakes, the temperature hit ninety. Here I am with two of the loveliest things on earth: My wife Diane, and, in the background, the maze of islands on the Mississippi River near Winona, Minnesota.

Grand Tetons
July: With my family, I spent a week in the Teton Mountains of Wyoming in a cabin with no Internet access, cell phone service, or television. It was heaven!

Palmer House Hotel in Sauk Centre, Minnesota
August: My wife and I spent a night in the famously haunted Palmer House Hotel in Sauk Centre, Minnesota. We had a marvelously spooky stay. The creepy goings-on were capped when a water glass that had been left on the abandoned dinner table next to ours flew off the table and slammed to the floor with a force as if someone had angrily throw it there. It shattered into a hundred pieces. No human being was within ten feet of that glass. We looked with astonishment to the bartender, who simply shrugged and said, “Happens all the time.” 

William Kent Krueger and Margaret Coel
I did a signing at Barbara Peters’ wonderful store The Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale with the always lovely Margaret Coel.

Gothenburg, Nebraska Pony Express
September: In Gothenburg, Nebraska, my wife’s place of birth. It was an important stop on the Pony Express route, and they’ve preserved the old log structure that serviced those intrepid riders.

October: Decorating for my favorite yearly celebration: Halloween! That’s me under the skull. (My wife has always been afraid success as a writer would give me a big head.)

Bouchercon 2013
Here I am at Bouchercon (Albany, NY) with friend and fellow Minnesota crime author Julie Kramer and my stellar publicist from Atria Books, David Brown.

William Kent Krueger visits the library in Detroit Lakes, MN
November: I spoke at the centennial celebration of the opening of the first library in Detroit Lakes, MN: a Carnegie, now a National Historic Landmark building. For the celebration, they commissioned a cake constructed as a perfect replica of that original library. The most awesome baked good I have ever laid eyes on!

Shake Hands

August 31st, 2013

It’s over, the long standoff.  Simon and Schuster, Barnes and Noble, they’ve shaken hands and gone back to work, one publishing books and the other selling them.  It’s been a battle hard on a lot of us in the trenches, those of us whose livelihoods depend on the visibility a chain like Barnes and Noble can provide our work.  In the time when B&N would allow no S&S author to do an event or signing in their stores, when no store in the chain could order more than a couple of our new books, we worked hard in the other markets, knuckling down with the independent bookstores and with the smaller chains, and employing the internet in dozens of innovative ways.  Through it all, we wondered: Can we still make it?

For me, at least, the answer is yes.  I just learned that Tamarack County, the thirteenth in the Cork O’Connor series, will debut tied at #15 on the New York Times bestseller list.  This despite the fact that the resolution of the issues between my publisher and Barnes and Noble came too late to be of any use.  The lesson for me?  There are two, really.  First, and most important, the bookselling world is still a large and vibrant one, and no single entity dominates.  All the wonderful indies and all the other smaller players still make a profound difference.  And second, this whole crazy situation has just reinforced my awareness that if you let yourself worry too much about of the incomprehensible business of the publishing world, you’ll just go nuts.

To those of you who bought Tamarack County and helped it hit the NYT list, I offer you an Ojibwe thank you: Migwech.

Rose-Colored Glasses?

August 17th, 2013

Tamarack CountyTamarack County, the next in my Cork O’Connor series, goes on sale this Tuesday.  My last four novels have been New York Times bestsellers.  Tamarack County may not join the others on this list.  That’s not because it isn’t good—it received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist—but rather because it won’t be on that front table in every Barnes and Noble in the country.  Nor can I appear in any Barnes and Noble stores to help with the promotion.  This is because Simon and Schuster, my publisher, and Barnes and Noble are still at odds with one another over economic issues, e.g. the cost of in-store placement.  They’ve been going at it for months and months now.  When I tour with a new book, ninety-five percent of the stores I visit are independent booksellers.  I love supporting the indies because they’ve always been very supportive of me.  But the reality is that very few books reach the stratosphere in sales without a significant push from the big chain store.

I can’t do anything about this situation, but you know what I’m hoping?  I’m hoping that fans of my work will help spread the word that a new Cork O’Connor is available.  And I’m hoping that readers will descend on their local independent bookstores and purchase the novel there, and that Tamarack County will still find its way to the bestseller lists.  I’m thinking wouldn’t it be a wonderful example to S&S and B&N that readers can find good books on their own.  And maybe these two giants can finally shake hands and get back to business.

Yeah, I’m a born optimist.

The B&N Ban

May 30th, 2013

I just learned that I can’t visit any Barnes and Noble store with the release of my upcoming novel Tamarack County, the thirteenth in the Cork O’Connor series.  There’s a spat going on between my publisher, Simon and Schuster, and the bookstore chain.  No Simon and Schuster author may visit any Barnes and Noble until further notice.  It has something to do with money, but nobody seems to know exactly what.

I’ve been setting up my tour for Tamarack County, which comes out on August 20.  I’d arranged two events at Barnes and Noble stores in the Twin Cities, two stores that have been strong supporters of my work from the beginning and that sell enormous quantities of my work.  Then I got the word from New York: No visits to B&N.  I called back the Community Relations Managers of both stores, the wonderful women I’d work with to set up the events.  We all scratched our heads and said it was crazy, but there it was.  The gods had spoken.

There’s more.  Many S&S authors’ works are no longer being ordered or displayed.  I suspect this rift, which has been dragging on for months, has drastically affected my sales and the sales of other Simon and Schuster authors.  And I can’t help but think that the entity benefitting most from this kind of nonsense is Amazon.  Readers who can’t find authors at B&N and who have no local independent are going to pop onto the Internet and buy there, it seems to me.  Or they’re simply not going to buy at all.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love my publisher.  But this business is difficult enough as it is, and I bust my rear end to sell books.  Then this kind of chicanery gets thrown into the mix.  I have a friend who used to wear a T-shirt at writers’ conferences: Publishing Business—Isn’t that an oxymoron?

Damn straight.