one is truly ordinary, of course. But it would be easy
to be fooled by William Kent Krueger.
look at him as he sits in the front window of a diner in
St. Paul, Minnesota — tapping at his laptop, sipping
his coffee — is to see someone who could be any guy in
any coffee shop anywhere. He wears a khaki ballcap, a
faded denim shirt and a neatly trimmed beard, and when
he glances up, his blue eyes are merry and gentle. He
looks like a nice guy. He is a nice guy.
observers cannot see inside his head: They can’t see
the steely determination that drives him, or the dark
thoughts of betrayal, conspiracy, kidnapping, rape and
murder that fascinate him.
you’re a writer, you’re always looking for
conflict," said Krueger, known to his friends as
Kent. "It’s conflict that drives great
sees conflict, or the potential for conflict,
everywhere; it is his stock in trade. He is the author
of a string of mysteries starring Cork O’Connor, a
private detective who lives in a remote town in northern
Minnesota. Over time, Cork has survived blizzards and
Lake Superior storms, tracked down bad guys, rescued a
baby, encountered a beheaded dog, lost his wife in a
plane crash, nearly lost his son to a shooter, been shot
himself. Through it all, he has been at odds with
himself, his Irish half not always in sync with his
Island," Krueger’s 16th novel (and 14th Cork O’Connor
book), was published Aug. 19. It is the mystery of a
young Ojibwe girl whose body washes up on an island in
Lake Superior and whose friend has disappeared, and it
delves into the world of the sexual trafficking of young
last five novels have made the New York Times bestseller
list and sell all over the world. (His seventh novel,
"Thunder Bay," is called "Roar of
Blood" in Japan.) He is just "a few good
months away from selling his 1 millionth book,"
said his publicist, David Brown of Atria Books, to whom
Krueger has dedicated his most recent book. He is tied
with Louise Erdrich for winning the most Minnesota Book
Awards — five.
his heart belongs to his 2013 stand-alone novel,
"Ordinary Grace" — not a Cork O’Connor
mystery, but a quiet coming-of-age story set in southern
Minnesota during the summer of 1961. It won several
national awards, including this year’s Edgar Award for
best novel, and became the favorite of book clubs and
"one community-one reads" across the country.
the book that was pushing inside Krueger for years,
trying to get out.
was almost 50 when he sold his first two books,
"Iron Lake" and "Boundary Waters,"
in a bidding war. That heady success ("one of the
most exciting moments of my whole writing career,"
he said) came after 15 years of diligent, daily work.
served a very long apprenticeship," he said.
those 15 years, Krueger got up early every morning,
walked two blocks to his neighborhood coffee shop and
wrote for precisely one hour and 15 minutes.
7:15 I closed my notebook, paid for my coffee, and went
outside, because at 7:20 a bus would pick me up and take
me to the university where I worked," Krueger said.
"I did that day in and day out."
those 15 years, he had some modest successes. He sold
some short stories, won an artist fellowship, giddily
quit his job to write full-time — and fairly quickly
went back to work. But he kept writing, arriving at the
coffee shop every morning as they unlocked the doors at
was able to establish discipline, but I became aware of
the fact that I was doing a great deal more," he
said. "I was feeding myself. I was feeding that
artistic hunger in me."
64, he makes his living writing books. He is a popular
speaker, and his book tours take him all over the
country. But he still gets up every day at the crack of
dawn, walks to the coffee shop and writes. He writes
when he’s on vacation, and when he’s on book tours.
He writes for four hours on weekdays, two on weekends.
seen him at conferences," said Gary Shulze,
co-owner of Once Upon a Crime Bookstore in Minneapolis.
Between sessions, Krueger isn’t socializing —
"he’s in the nearest coffee shop, typing away. He
doesn’t take a break. He works his butt off."
discipline is what allowed Krueger to write
"Ordinary Grace," a novel he had been thinking
about for years.
summer I was 13 years old is a summer I have always
remembered extremely well," he said. "I wanted
to go back and recall that summer." He also wanted
to write a story "that would allow me to explore
more deeply questions for a spiritual journey."
Grace" is told by a narrator named Frank Drum who
is looking back on the summer he was 13. ("Frank is
the me I wish I would have been," Krueger said.
"Frank doesn’t follow the rules. I was a Boy
Scout.") The story hinges on several deaths that
happened that summer and the repercussions for Frank and
process of writing the book was unusual for him. "I
always think the Cork O’Connor novels out pretty much
completely before I begin to write them, so I know how
they begin and how they end," he said. "I didn’t
do that with ‘Ordinary Grace.’ The story just rolled
out of me. I just followed it. I would come here in the
morning not having any idea what I was going to write
that day, but just believing that whatever it was was
going to be right."
worked on it for three years, carving out time between
writing Cork O’Connor mysteries. He had no contract
for the book, which he found liberating. "I would
write whatever I wanted to write. I was doing something
that I was so compelled to do."
reviews were almost entirely positive. The Detroit Free
Press compared it to "To Kill a Mockingbird";
the Star Tribune praised its deep characters; the
Washington Post said his "elegy to innocence is a
deeply memorable tale."
its publication changed Krueger’s life? His approach
to writing? Nah. He still gets up early, walks to the
coffee shop, writes for hours.
is working on a companion book called "This Tender
Land," which is set in the same place, and he
thinks there will be a third book, but he doesn’t yet
know what that is. Meanwhile, he has a contract for at
least one more O’Connor book and hopes there will be
more. "I have no intention of abandoning
Cork," he said.
"Ordinary Grace," he said, "freed me. I
don’t have to write only Cork O’Connor novels now. I’m
liberated. I can write whatever I want to write."
morning. Starting at 6 a.m.