William Kent Krueger: Magic in the Northwoods
Excerpts from the interview by Lynn Kaczmarek in the February/March 2001 issue of Mystery News
It’s 6:30 in the morning with snow falling silently, melting as it touches hands and fingers and nose. And at this time of year, it’s still dark. Kent Krueger walks the streets of St. Paul to his local coffee shop, the St. Claire Broiler where, with pen, spiral-bound notebook, and a cup of coffee, he recreates the magic of the Northwoods. Writing this way is a discipline, he said in our recent conversation, that he established when he was working full time. “Because you didn’t have laptops back then and there came to be a magic in the process for me. It’s sort of like whatever I do flows from my head through my heart, down my hand onto the page…and I don’t want to monkey with that.”
After a few hours and many cups of coffee, Krueger heads back home where he’ll decipher what he’s written and enter it into the computer, editing as he goes. “…and there it is on the screen in an entirely different form. And I will print it out on the page and there it is in yet a different form." There is more business, a workout and a shower, and then Krueger heads back to the St. Claire Broiler for a few more hours of “the creative stuff.”
There are characters; there is a story; but in the beginning, it’s all about place. “I begin with place,” says Krueger, “and I populate it with the kind of characters who would live in that place and everything kind of comes from there…I’m unabashedly a regional author.” Each of Krueger’s three books features a different area of Northern Minnesota. Iron Lake is named for one of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes and the Indian reservation that surrounds it. It is to this place that all the books return. Iron Lake is the heart of Kent Krueger’s series. Boundary Waters features the most uncivilized area of Minnesota, the Quetico-Superior Wilderness, two million-plus acres of forest, white-water rapids, and uncharted islands of the Canadian-American border. And although Purgatory Ridge seems real, Krueger made it all up. “It’s based on real rock formations that exist. I named two…and then I added a third that fit my needs. I tamper with geography…” It’s fiction, after all. It’s magic.
There is something magic about Kent Krueger’s writing, something that wraps around the stories and the people and the place. As I sit here trying to understand it, I wonder if it is the shadow of what happens to Krueger when he writes – the magic that moves from his head through his heart, down his arm to the page. Like Krueger says, “…if all that magic doesn’t happen, why write?” Why, indeed. And perhaps that’s it: Krueger’s writing is infused with his sheer enjoyment of the act, with the magic of imagination.
Read the complete interview in the February/March 2001 issue of Mystery News