Growing up in various states including Wyoming, Oklahoma, Texas and Ohio (where he spent his fourth year in Worthington), William Kent Krueger always knew he would become a writer.
But what this novelist with “not a drop of Native American blood” in him didn’t know was that he would be producing a famous detective series set in and around the tribal lands of Minnesota and that its protagonist would be part Ojibway.
“Lightning Strikes” is the 18th and final book in Krueger’s Cork O’Connor series – a prequel that explores the teenage years of the half-Irish, half-Native American former Tamarack County Sheriff turned private investigator. . Krueger (his name is Kent) will speak about the book at an event on April 27 presented by the Delaware County District Library.
Born in Wyoming, Krueger briefly attended Stanford University in California until he was expelled for participating in an office-taking protest in the 1970s. He has worked in logging, construction and freelance journalism until he published his first book at age 48. “Iron Lake” launched the Cork O’Connor series in 1998.
In addition to the series, Krueger, 71, is the author of two acclaimed independent novels, “Ordinary Grace” and “This Tender Land.”
He has lived with his wife of nearly 50 years in St. Paul, Minnesota, but recently spoke with the Santa Fe, New Mexico Dispatch.
Question: In “Lightning Strikes”, readers see Cork as a boy. Why did you decide to write this one?
Kruger: Over the previous 17 books, I have mentioned individuals and events in his life that were significant and impacted him. My agent kept telling me it was rich territory. The truth is that I had no other idea. But I had a ball with her. I pretty much modeled his adolescence on mine. I was a Boy Scout, delivered newspapers, and got new insights into my parents.
Q: Will you return to his adult life?
Kruger: Yes, in the next book, “Fox Creek” (coming out in August), I bring him back to adulthood. I have two other Cork novels under contract, so there will be at least 21.
Q: The series is filled with Ojibway characters, traditions and sensibilities. How did you become interested in writing about Native Americans, particularly the Ojibwa of the northern Midwestern United States and Canada?
Kruger: At first it was a mercenary decision. I thought there was no point in trying to write the great American novel. I wanted to write something that people would want to read, and everyone reads mysteries. I had never been a big mystery reader, but I started and one of the first (authors I read) was Tony Hillerman (who writes Navajo mysteries). And I thought nobody was doing that with the Ojibwa in Minnesota.
Q: How did you learn enough to write about the Ojibway?
Kruger: At first, I knew next to nothing, but I had majored in anthropology in college. I did and do a lot of reading… on rituals, traditions. I’m always on the internet to find out what’s going on with Native Americans…. The issue of cultural appropriation is one that I discuss a lot with readers. I try to point out that I’m a white man who encroaches on a culture that’s not my home and I work hard to get it right, but that’s not from an Ojibwa perspective. I try to dispel a lot of stereotypes about aboriginal people.
Q: Do you hear from Ojibway readers?
Kruger: I do, and those who have contacted me have been appreciative. Some of my Ojibway friends also read the drafts before they are published.
Q: Is it hard to carry a character like Cork O’Connor through so many books?
Kruger: I didn’t find it that way. Cork is getting older and her children are getting older and relationships are changing. And I have fun with a lot of things, structure, narrative points of view. I try to expand my storytelling skills.
Q: Your books – not just the Cork O’Connor series but also “Ordinary Grace” and “The Tender Land” – contain supernatural elements.
Kruger: Yes, but I prefer to call it a spiritual element. One of the things I’ve always believed is that there’s so much more going on in life than what we usually see with our eyes or understand with our brain.
Q: What do you remember from your year spent in Ohio?
Kruger: My dad worked for Standard Oil Co. of Ohio, and we moved to Worthington, which I loved. It was 1960 and the suburbs hadn’t developed around it. It had this wonderful small town feel and I think it still does. Whenever I’m back in Ohio, I try to go through Worthington.
In one look
William Kent Krueger will be attending an event presented by the Delaware County District Library from 7-9 p.m. April 27, at The Barn at Stratford, 2690 Stratford Road, Delaware. Tickets are $25 and proceeds go to Friends of the Library. For more details, visit www.delawarelibrary.org.