On the Horizon, A Sad Farewell

May 31st, 2016

William Kent Krueger and Kate BirkelOutside of the great bookstores in my beloved Minnesota, there’s only one store at which I’ve signed for every single novel I’ve written—the Mystery Book Store in Omaha.  Owner Kate Birkel began the store in 1995, and now, after more than twenty years, Kate is preparing to close her doors.  Urban renewal is the culprit and who can fight city hall?

Kate and I go way back.  The first signing I did as a published author was at Kate’s store.  We were both new enough to the business that neither of us had any idea where an author was supposed to put the inscription and signature.  So from her shelf Kate pulled a signed edition of a novel by Miriam Grace Monfredo and opened it up.  Ah, the title page, of course!

Like many a bookseller, Kate has survived by the skin of her teeth.  But she’s had a loyal clientele, folks who’ve attended all the signings, including mine, so that I’ve come to know them pretty well.

Kate’s planning on closing the store this fall, on September 30.  I’m not letting her go quietly into retirement.  I had already set up a signing at the Mystery Book Store for my next novel,Manitou Canyon, on September 17, the store’s last official author event.  I’ve decided to use the occasion to throw Kate a “Goodbye and Thank You” celebration.

Consider this an invitation to attend.  If you’re an alumnus of Mayhem in the Midlands, the wonderful Omaha mystery conference (now defunct) where Kate sold books, a long-time customer, a friend of independent bookstores, or just someone looking for a good time, I’d love to see you there, to help celebrate the spirit of independent booksellers everywhere, and of Kate Birkel in particular.

Librarians Rock!

May 8th, 2016

Library Dragons

Librarians are the most wonderful, creative people.

Meredith Vaselaar, of the Adrian Branch Library in Adrian, Minnesota, has created a world of tiny books that her four Library Dragons help to highlight.  As you can see from the photo, the books behind the dragons are of normal size, which makes the dragons and the books they’re reading only about three inches tall!  Meredith began the Library Dragons in 2014 to help patrons through one of our notoriously long Minnesota winters.  Here, in her own words, is how it all began:

“During the first two wintery months of the year, I decided to have a Library Crime Spree.  It was supposed to last about six weeks.  Best laid plans.  The Crime Spree (which later revealed the Dragons as the culprits) lasted for months, culminating in identifying, capturing, and a court appearance (thanks to the willing participation of our county judge).  The whole project lasted almost a year.  I planned to retire the Library Dragons, but our patrons felt otherwise.  Now, the Library Dragons are a permanent fixture on our circulation desk, and continue to have adventures.  They have their own blog: adrianbranchlibrary.blogspot.com

Public libraries are among America’s greatest treasures.  Librarians are the jewels that help them sparkle.

Dragons reading

2015 Highlights

December 27th, 2015

Looking back on some favorite memories from 2015…

Kent Krueger in Door County
February: My wife snapped this photo while we were in Door County, Wisconsin. That’s frozen Lake Michigan in the background.

11026085_954536751232293_2392715594648507971_n
March: I stopped for a couple of days in Oklahoma to visit family here. Here I am beneath a statue of Standing Bear, the great chief of the Ponca Nation, all of whom were exiled at bayonet point from Nebraska. When Standing Bear attempted to return to his home to bury his son, he was arrested and put on trial. In its favorable decision, the court declared that Standing Bear was, in fact, “a person” and had rights, the first legal acknowledgement of such. One small step for Standing Bear, one giant leap for all indigenous people.

11012707_960122484007053_2590278663332641487_o
In Sedona, my favorite place outside Minnesota, for a little R&R. Love hiking among the red rocks here. And the sunsets, are they amazing! For those of you who know Sedona, this shot was taken on the trail to Chicken Point.

11196241_982261735126461_1775771669084762078_n
April: I visited Ireland with my wife and sister. We’d been advised to enjoy the “bright spots” in the weather—good advice, as it turns out that conditions change about every ten minutes. The last time I was here was over forty years ago, on my honeymoon. Still a stunningly beautiful island. For those who are fans of the great John Ford—John Wayne—Maureen O’Hara 1951 film “The Quiet Man”, here I am in Conga, the village where the movie was filmed, giving the Duke a hand hoisting his co-star.

11203649_985467694805865_5709438908987381938_o
May: Preparing to end (reluctantly) my time in Ireland. This photo was one of the last taken during our stay. My wife shot it on the shoreline of Cork Harbor, just outside Cobh, which was the last port of call for the ill-fated Titanic. She thought she was capturing only my image. Look closely and you can see that we weren’t alone.

11406652_1005255422827092_9181562050564037950_o
June: Here I am, deep in the Grand Canyon, rising at dawn, to raft the Colorado River. Nothing like the cold splash of whitewater rapids first thing in the morning to wake you completely to nature’s glory and your own human frailty.

11930912_1039798546039446_1652521120724814079_o
August: South Dakota is quickly becoming one of my favorite places. Here I am at the stunning Falls Park in Sioux Falls.

12045368_1055009317851702_3864040777670123191_o
September: My wife and me atop Pincushion Mountain above Grand Marais, MN.

10394468_1068219666530667_3603500372375824590_n
October: Here I am in Roswell, New Mexico, sight of the infamous UFO crash and coverup, with a couple of my new best friends.

12244332_1078180608867906_8615173249710412203_o
November: Caribou Lake, at the edge of the Boundary Waters, the very morning after the first snowfall of the year.  God, do I love this place.

The Bared Essentials

October 27th, 2015

WARNING: Anyone with a prudish bone in their body SHOULD NOT watch this video.

So, here’s the story. I’m in Carlsbad, New Mexico, for a cousin reunion and a bit of a vacation. This is an area of the country that has appealed to me forever, but I haven’t had the opportunity to explore it much. In the empty high desert of the Guadalupe Mountains, thirty miles west of Carlsbad, lies Sitting Bull Falls State Park. It came highly recommended by the locals. Several of my family headed out for a hike and a view of the falls. The day was overcast, cool (60º F), and the park was deserted. We hiked a long trail to a spot on Sitting Bull Spring just above the falls. What I discovered there were two stunningly beautiful pools of crystal clear water, an inviting oasis.

Confession: I can’t resist a swim in a gorgeous, natural setting. I’ve swum in countless rivers; the headwaters of the Mississippi, the Snake, the Columbia, the Colorado, the McKenzie, and the Deschutes, to name just a few. I’ve dipped my body in Lake Superior and Lake Michigan, cold mountain lakes in the Rockies and the Sierras and the Cascades, and, of course, an enormous number of the pristine lakes my beloved Minnesota is famous for. I simply have an affinity for water.

So when I spotted these pools, I had to experience them. But I didn’t bring a suit. No problem. I shed my clothes and did what comes naturally. And, oh, was it glorious! Bracing, revitalizing, infinitely satisfying. Another fine memory to keep me warm in my dotage.

In much of my writing, I’ve bared my soul. I figured maybe it was time to bare a little more of me.

Thanks and a tip of the hat to the event’s volunteer videographer, my cousin Paul Krueger.

Failure: The Upside

August 17th, 2015

So let’s talk failure.

10644336_898546006831368_1216796061849542633_oHere’s a photo I posted to both my website blog and my Facebook page last December. I’d just finished the first draft of the novel I’d planned to be the follow-up to Ordinary Grace. It had taken me nearly two years to complete that draft. I thought it wasn’t bad, but I knew it needed work. It had been an ambitious undertaking, dealing with a number of themes that were important to me. They were a rowdy bunch of elements, but I really believed I could corral them.

I labored over the revisions from December until June, three additional drafts, each containing significant changes. Finally my agent and I talked on the phone, and she suggested we meet in Chicago to discuss further revisions. Two days before we met, I sent her an email indicating that rather than discuss ways in which I might continue to revise the manuscript, I wanted instead to talk about how to ensure that it did not get published at all.

I think of myself as an artist. With every composition, I try to challenge myself to do something different from what I’ve done before. I work different themes, different structures, different approaches to language and point of view and even purpose. When you walk close to the edge, and I try to, the risk is that you might fall. Well, folks, I fell. But the real question is, did I fail?

I found it interesting that the moment I decided to pull this project from publication, I felt a great weight lifted from my shoulders. That weight was simply the burden of a lot of expectations. Mine, my agent’s, my publisher’s, my readers’. Admitting to myself that the writing I was about to offer would fall far short of all our expectations was surprisingly liberating. There was nothing I had to protect. And the most amazing understanding in all this for me was the realization that although I’d failed to produce the manuscript I’d hoped for, I was not a failure. I remained simply a pilgrim on this journey that offers many unexpected twists.

I tell my writing students that they shouldn’t be afraid of failure. Or more accurately, I encourage them not let failure, when it comes (and it most certainly will), throw them. They’ll probably learn more from their failure than they ever will from their success.

So I continue this journey. But I’ll tell you something. Before I abandoned the ill-conceived manuscript, I had a vision of another story, one that promised to satisfy me on every level, one that might help me create the novel that was always meant to follow Ordinary Grace. Failure can be like a cleansing rain, emptying the sky of clouds, so that you can see again the horizon. What I see there now excites me no end. And I can’t wait to get started.